Tag Archives: loss

2016

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Starting 2015 caught me off guard. I didn’t expect the day to cause such pain, because new years was not a day that I typically spent with my mom or uncle. This year, I was prepared that it would hurt.

A new year. A year that I will see, but that they won’t. A year of memories to be made, memories that will not include our beloved mom and uncle. A year of seconds. The first year that we will look back 365 days and not have them there.

It’s hard to explain, and yet not hard at all. Special people are missing, and all I can do is miss them. To stop missing them, would hurt more than to miss them with every fibre of my being. On good days… and bad days. In happy and sad moments.

Eric and I are entering 2016 trying to make some big decisions as parents. At least, decisions that feel big, even huge, in this moment. All I want to do is call my mom. Not because I have a specific question that I need an answer for, not because there’s nobody else we can talk to, and not even because I have something particular that I want to say, but simply because she’s my mom.

When I was pregnant with Madeleine, an extended relative hosted a baby shower for me. My mom was there. She was always there. One of the planned activities was for all of the mothers in attendance to share a story with me about motherhood. They each gave brief stories – some funny, some full of love, some about the challenges of navigating motherhood. When it was my mama’s turn, she told me about the time I fell off the counter and landed face down as a baby. Then she told me about the time she fell down the stairs holding my oldest sister in her arms. She told me that she wanted me to remember those stories the first time I dropped, or otherwise injured, our new baby.

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And, I did drop Madeleine. She rolled off the change table. I was standing in front of her and my hands were pulling at the box of wipes, so I tried to catch her with my leg. I basically kneed her into the drawer and then she fell to the ground. I laugh about it now, but I felt awful when it happened. Even though I felt awful, I did remember my mom’s stories. I remembered how much I adore my mom even though she has made mistakes. I remembered that even my mom, who always seemed like super mom, like a woman who just took motherhood in stride, once dropped not one, but two of her children (and who knows about the other two, haha!).

I want to call my mom. I want her to tell me that Uncle Rob is at the house. I want her to say, “Uncle Rob wants to know….” And I want to hear his random question. I want to know more about when I was young. I want my mom’s comfort. I want them to still be on my team, cheering my small family on. I want to know that no matter what decision Eric and I make, that they would be with us on the rollercoaster.

My mom taught me that a mother, like any person, doesn’t need to be perfect. She also showed me in a million different ways how to do good for others, not just as a mother, but as a friend, a colleague, a mentor, and a community member. She showed me enough that I learned what I think she wanted me to, but it wasn’t enough that I was done with absorbing her love and lessons.

A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take. Cardinal Mermillod

 

remember

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Every November Canadians remember. Each year I lovingly pull out a photo of my Grandfather, and pause to reflect on what he and so many others sacrificed for our freedom. Last year, in the chaos of losing my mom and uncle, the day slipped past me. This year, though the loss is still fresh, the chaos has subsided, and I find myself in a place of remembrance once again.

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This is the first year that Madeleine has begun to understand the meaning of November 11. Her kindergarten classroom had a veteran join them yesterday. I was really curious to follow-up with Maddy, to see what the veteran had shared, what she had absorbed, to answer any questions she had lingering. It took me by surprise when I asked Maddy, to find that she was so upset about Remembrance Day, that she couldn’t really talk about it. She started shouting at me, and ended with, “You know that they’re not alive anymore!”

My heart felt so heavy for her, that at four years of age, the reality of death was so real for her.

I spent some time reflecting on what death means for Maddy. How will experiencing a sudden death change her? At four, Maddy knows that death leads to chaos, sadness, anger, anxiety…. I could go on. How will that shape her? Perhaps this experience will increase her empathy towards others, make her more forgiving and accepting of others. Perhaps she will cherish the love and time that so many friends and family share with her in a different way than other young kids. How will this loss change her understanding of Remembrance Day?

It hadn’t crossed my mind that the realness of death that is already part of her world would help her to be deeply grateful to those Canadians who willingly gave up so much, so that we could enjoy the freedoms we have today. Yes, at this age, it is hard for her to wrap her head around, and presents itself as anger and confusion. But as she matures, and is able to process those feelings, I think that her understanding will be deep. She will hear stories of her Great Grandfather, and understand his sacrifice, the sacrifice of so many, and their families. She will know the importance, deep in her soul.

We Remember.

still searching

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Shortly after my mom and uncle’s accident, I was at my uncle’s house with Eric and Madeleine. I was still pregnant. Walking into the empty house was like walking into a room without oxygen. The idea that my uncle left the house on October 18, and that since then, nobody had slept another night there, left me breathless. It literally knocked the wind out of me and I had to consciously take deep breaths.

At some point while we were there, my “uncle’s car” drove down the road. Now, obviously this was not my uncle’s car. My uncle’s car was in pieces. I had seen the photos. And yet, as I stood in the living room looking out the window, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the road. Even though my mind knew better, my heart had a strange hope hiding deep inside. Hope that the car would turn into the driveway. That my mom and uncle would get out. That this was all some misunderstanding. At the time, I found it completely bizarre how I could “know” that they were gone, dead, never coming back, and yet, at the same time harbour hope that I would still see them both again one day.

I recently joined the What’s Your Grief online book club, and the first book we’re reading is Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. I am only half-way through, but I love the title – magical thinking – that bizarre hope that a person you have seen dead with your own eyes, is really not dead. And, a week ago when I started the book, I thought in my head, “yes, yes… I know what that’s about. I used to have that.”

Then, tonight, while waiting to be seated at a restaurant, I got a glimpse of a man who looked similar to my uncle. It knocked the wind out of me, just like that black car did many months ago. After my brief glimpse, I woman stood between us, blocking my view. And, wouldn’t you know, I squirmed, without taking my eyes off of this man, until I could get a full view to confirm that it was not my uncle. Those brief seconds felt like forever, and I desperately hoped that this man was the man whose lap I had sat in as a child. I hoped that I’d be able to run up and be wrapped up in his huge hug. That I could cry into his shoulder and tell him how awful it was thinking that he was gone.

I’m not sure why, maybe because of seeing that man at the restaurant, I chose to read Love You Forever to Madeleine tonight. At the end of the book, we were talking about how mommies and daddies love their babies forever and ever even when they get sick and old. Madeleine burst into tears and told me that she didn’t want Eric and I to die, and then asked if Grammy was old and that’s why she had to “go up there” (her 4-year-old way of speaking of the abstractness of heaven). In that moment, in a very different way, I had magical thinking. I wanted to tell her that of course we won’t die on her. We’ll be here for as long as she needs us.

But, now, even more than ever, I know that I can’t tell Madeleine that. Because even though I don’t want to ever leave her, that is not within my control. I want to be able to forever nurture her, and reflect back to her who I see her as – a perfectly imperfect person. I don’t ever want either of my girls to feel the pain that I feel, to be motherless. But, that is the price we must pay for deep love and connection.

 

 

 

but, why?

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But why is the sun visiting Australia now?

But why is it time for the sun to go to Australia?

But why does time keep passing?

But why is time passing part of life?

But why don’t you know?

But why should I ask daddy?

After a visit with a university friend of mine who currently lives in Australia, Maddy has had her interest in understanding the sun sparked again. She quizzed me for a half hour about Australia tonight. She often asks me questions that I can’t answer, and never accepts that I don’t know something (I should probably bookmark this to remember when one day she never accepts that I do know anything 😉 ).

Time. It does just keep passing. Asking why is to ask a question that many have pondered and none have answered. Time, both a blessing and a curse. Non-grief time feels somewhat standard. It speeds up with age, and tends to be relative to the number of new experiences you are having. Grief time is like an elastic band. Everything feels so far and so close all at once. To those of you in non-grief time, October 18, 2014 might feel like more than half a year ago. For me, it feels like yesterday. And yet, at the same time, it feels like a lifetime since I heard my mom and uncle’s voices. It feels like a lifetime since I felt the soft skin on the back of my mom’s hand. It feels like a lifetime since I spun my mom’s necklace around her neck and quipped that someone must be thinking of her.

I asked my grief counsellor if she thought that this elastic-grief-time is our brain’s way of protecting us. She said, “yes, it could be.” In one sense it deepens the pain, when you realize that it has felt like forever since that “last time.” In another sense, it allows us to feel the closeness that we crave – a split second of time where the heart and mind temporarily forgets that it’s been forever and it feels like just yesterday.

On October 18, I felt like I wanted to die. Or, at least I knew I didn’t want to live in a world that didn’t include my mom and uncle anymore. I didn’t want to live and I didn’t know how to live in that world. That world shouldn’t exist, and so I wanted to refuse to be a part of it. In the acute stage of grief, and a bit beyond, I cried so much, that crying was my normal state. To not be crying, was weird. The sadness of that time was the deepest pain, not being able to be in the world without feeling disconnected. Anytime I found myself around anyone who either didn’t know or didn’t acknowledge what had happened to me, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “MY MOM AND UNCLE ARE DEAD! I DON’T HAVE A MOTHER!”

Seven and a half months have passed and the shape and form of the pain has changed, but it’s still as present as ever. I no longer have that feeling of screaming at the top of my lungs, but I do find it difficult to be in social situations still. It’s particularly difficult being amongst those that don’t know. There’s something to be said about draping your house with a marker, or wearing black. A message to the world, “I’m grieving, be gentle with my heart.”

Still, the sadness is pervasive. It’s always there, but it’s depth varies now, compared to the early days when it was always deep. Crying is no longer my most common state, but it is still common. I read this the other day (there was no citation) and it really struck a chord with me,

It’s not the kind of sadness where you cry all of the time, but more like the sadness that overwhelms your entire body, leaving your heart aching and your stomach empty, making you feel weak and tired. And yet, you can’t even sleep cause the sadness is in your dreams too. It’s almost a sadness you can’t escape.

To know me, now, is to know sadness. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m learning to be okay with the fact that I will never truly be okay. But, in accepting that I will never truly be okay, I think I will be okay. The greatest gift you can give to me and others who are in sad phases of their life, is to accept them, sadness and all. I will show up if you let me be me.

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I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

My hand aches. My heart aches.

fly, baby

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I started my university career in 2002. It was a very quick transition from spending my summer in Honey Harbour working with 3 and 4 year olds at the Delawana Inn, to one night at my parent’s house, to my new apartment-style residence with new roommates.

The summer, like every summer through high school working at camp, was fun. Being at camp was like being with ‘my people’. If you’ve ever attended or worked at a camp, you’ll know exactly what I mean. My mom would drive up to visit me on my days off, my sister mailed me delicious cookies and other treats, and my friends sent me lots of snail mail.

Leaving camp that summer was hard, but the quick turnaround to university was even harder. I remember I cried on the way home from camp the day I left, my mom just driving, not needing to say anything. Change is just hard for me, and I was very nervous about moving away from home for school.

The day my mom and dad drove me to school, was a day later than everyone else. I was the last of my roommates to move in. I was petrified. While we were moving in, I met so many lovely folks, some of who are still among my dearest friends.

My dear friend Tara often jokes with me about that day. I stuck to my mom’s side, and when anyone asked me a question, I just looked at my mom with a deer in the headlights kind of expression. My mom did more talking that day than I did. I was quite shy back in the day – I know you might be shocked by this, but my residence don later described me that year as the quietest loud person he had ever met…. or maybe he said the loudest quiet person.

After we had unloaded my belongings, my parents took me out to eat, afterwards dropping me off in front of my residence. I don’t remember the exact words that were exchanged, but I remember I was so nervous, and I told my mom I was worried that I wouldn’t make any friends. What if nobody liked me? I can’t quite remember what my mom said to me, but I remember how she made me feel so loved, giving me the courage I needed to go back into my residence on my own. She told me to just be myself. She wanted me to fly.

One of the best things my mom ever did for me, was to love me for exactly who I was, without hesitation or expectation. She loved me because I existed. She loved sharing in the activities I loved, like dancing – spending hours upon hours curling my hair, sitting at the dance studio, and driving me to and from competitions. Through her support and unconditional love, she gave me the ability to develop confidence in myself. She made it okay if not everybody liked me, because she showed me that regardless of what another person might think, I was loveable.

She led by example, teaching me to trust in those who did care for me, and teaching me to be kind and respect those who I didn’t click with, for one reason or another – or at least to continue to aim for those ideals.

Mom on my wedding day, 2008

Mom on my wedding day, 2008

When I think of moving to university and starting, for the first time, my real life away from home, I think of these lessons. I think of how my mom heard my anxieties and fears about leaving, and gave me the love, encouragement, and little push that I needed. I remember that she trusted and believed in me – she believed that I would succeed at school, she believed that I would develop long-lasting, supportive friendships, and she believed that I could do it all on my own. She believed I could fly.

Thank you, mama. I think I’m flying.

 

 

The everyday

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A year of firsts – the first time for everything to happen without my mom and uncle. We still have a lot of big firsts to get through, Easter, Mother’s Day, birthdays, and what would have been my parent’s 44th anniversary. A lot of people reach out on those big days, and for that I am so thankful. They are hard days, and I’m sure they will be for a long time. But, for me, what hurts more than those big days are all the other days in between.

The hard times are when we’re in the car and Maddy says something hilarious, and I pick up my phone to text my mom. When the clock hits 3:30 and I have a moment of excitement that my mom will be home from work soon and I can call her to talk about nothing… and everything. Every morning when I wake up to face another day without my mom, and every night when I climb into bed with the knowledge that I survived another day. The helplessness of seeing so many others with the one thing I desperately want, but having no power to make it my reality.

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The tough moments are when we run into issues with our house and I want to ask Uncle Rob what he would do. Drinking a Pepsi and thinking about how Uncle Rob and I always fought on the same side of the Pepsi vs Coke debate, making jokes about our superior taste buds. Emailing photos and videos of the girls to extended family, the absence of my Uncle’s email address on my screen so glaringly obvious.

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The enormity of forever.

I am constantly balancing two worlds – while my body is physically present, my mind frequently wanders in and out of that physical world, thinking of my mom and uncle more times than I suspect many realize. It’s a daily battle with grief, managing feelings of sadness, anger, shame, and loneliness, while working to not get bitter or resentful. It’s processing a feeling, only to have it resurface again and again.

When I have the energy, I fight to make connections with those who are willing to connect, even though I am often simultaneously feeling anger towards them for a number of irrational reasons. I am actively forgiving those who don’t get it and who unintentionally create additional hurt. I am determined to not allow my grief to shape me into a person that I don’t want to be. I am working towards forgiving and being kind to myself.

The hard in-between-the-big-days days are a balancing act of facing my feelings head on, openly admitting them through a variety of activities to take the pressure off, and giving myself a break. Protecting my heart and saying no when I need to, while also challenging myself and saying yes when I think I can. Searching for beauty, while wrestling with the fear that seeing beauty somehow diminishes my loss. Reminding myself to trust that my soul knows what it needs to survive this loss, and blocking out what the world thinks I need or what I should or shouldn’t do.

The everyday is Eric’s soft voice at the end of the day telling me he’s sorry…. because there is nothing else to say.