Canada Day

It happens most afternoons: Just before I nod into the haze of a geriatric nap, my mind teases me with recollections from a former life.

With my eyes closed, the images develop in my imagination like photos taken by an instant camera. They are from 40 years ago, but they remain as vivid as the aroma of my morning coffee.

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Balance & The Art of Letting Go

Balance to me, at this point in my life, is about the art of letting go.

For the first 50 years of my existence, I was gathering and taking and acquiring all manner of things: money, homes, friends, partners, loyalty, favours, safety, peace and most of all –  love.

Around the time of my 50th, I had an epiphany of sorts, and the thought popped into my head that I really didn’t know shit about anything. Who was I to be counseling loved ones and friends when they came to me for advice? How could I possibly give anyone direction when I had always blown around like a leaf in the wind most of my life, accepting and constantly adjusting my sails, according to the ferocity of the storms and tragedies? I had done a fair bit of living, so possibly I was helpful in that I could relate to many things, and provide tips or life “hacks”. But in truth, I did most of them a disservice even attempting to direct them on the right path.

In the last few years, it has been all about letting it all go for me.

I have let go of trying to control anyone I love and have become quieter and more attentive to their physical cues. Everyone knows I am still here for them, but that maybe it is just to sit with them in silence, or give them some home made soup, or a hug if that is what their bodies seem to be signaling to me.

I am no longer throwing on my cape and dashing to rescue every loved one anymore. They need to learn their own lessons, after all- we all do, even if sometimes those lessons leave scars.

I am relying on my instincts and my body more then I ever did in my past.

I am not holding on to toxic partners, for fear of being alone, because I have come to realize that I actually love my own company and look forward to whole days where I can do what I want, eat what and when I want, and do what feels perfectly right for me.

It felt a bit selfish in the beginning, but now it is feeling mighty fine.

I am also letting go of material things I have hauled around with me from home to home for years. Holding onto items that mean nothing to me anymore. Downsizing, is what they call it, I guess.

I am also downsizing on resentments, anger, bitterness, grief, and unrealistic expectations of how others should treat me. It’s up to me to set those boundaries and rules.

I want to minimize on the material and maximize on the experiences and the moments.

I recently was in Mexico with my sons for my bonus daughter’s wedding.( Ain’t no steps in THIS house except the ones leading up the stairs!) As many my age have experienced, getting all the “kids” together in one place once they have grown up and moved on is a feat in itself.

Well, I had them all close by for a whole 8 days and it was a series of the absolute best moments of my entire life.

Most of the wedding attendees were younger than me, with the exception of the groom’s Mother. And yet- it seemed my hotel door was constantly swinging open and shut with the arrival of one of them or the other.

They came to sit with me and watch the sunrises and we all came together at the end of those long, hot days to watch the sunsets together at the ocean.

They popped in to invite me for dinner with their families, in the event I was dining alone.

The one family had a little one that I would just take by the hand and walk slowly with through the glorious landscaping and along the beach. Or just sit with…play with his baby-fine hair as it blew softly across his cheek from the ocean breeze.

I sat the morning of the wedding on my patio, watching the sun rise and closed my eyes and said a prayer for the first time in many years.

I thanked God/Creator/Buddha/Mohammed- all of them.

Thanked them for the beauty and the warmth and the opportunity to watch my strong, healthy, handsome sons playing in the ocean and laughing- oh my GOD, so much laughter!

Asked that they bless the marriage we were about to witness later that day, and keep that young love alive for the rest of their lives.

I took a straw hat of my mother’s and a bandana that my brother wore so often you could see through it. Packed them in my suitcase on a whim.

My brother’s bandana is tied around a little palm tree trunk- a thin little trunk that must indicate it has years of growing and stretching to the sun before it.

My mother’s straw hat I filled with all the pesos I had left in my purse, some chocolates, as well as the boldest and most fragrant of the beautiful tropical flowers that made up my corsage.

And a note, (that I likely incurred $20 in internet charges for) in order to write it in Spanish for my housekeepers that week. I thanked them for their graciousness and their hard work.

That is my balance- the holding on and cherishing of the moments that matter, but also at the same time, letting go of that which I no longer need to carry with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost

Lost in the thought of the last time I saw your eyes looking straight into my heart and the goodbye you could not speak, but we both knew was arriving.

i’m leaving you soon. you’ll be ok. thank you for loving me. you’ll be just fine. you are so strong.

The sight of you wrapped in a heated flannel, strapped to the chair because they knew you would not stay in the bed.

i know, if we just keep moving nothing bad will happen. i know, Mark. i have been where you are.

The impromptu braiding of your long hair after lovingly brushing it out of your ashen face.

they hated your long hair. endless bitching about how you looked like a girl. it was beautiful.

Strands of silver weaving throughout the chestnut and my snipping of the tangled ends stuck to the wires all over your chest.

let me do it. i’ll make sure it doesn’t hurt you. i wont let anyone hurt you. i promise.

When you reached out to take our hands on either side of you, I knew.

i’m not ready. i can’t do this. oh god, not now. you are so strong. you can come back from this.

When the time for leaving came, my walking backwards, making a silly face to see you smile, anything for one more smile. Telling you I would be back tomorrow.

there won’t be any more tomorrows for you and I. we is over and soon just me.

Your head turning ever so slowly towards me, and your sad eyes looking into mine.

i will always be with you. you will never be alone in the world. i will be beside you. forever.

 

I will never be lost. My brother is always with me and wouldn’t allow that to happen.

He will always tell my heart which direction is home.

t8qac

 

 

 

 

 

Eulogy for My Brother, Mark

What to say about my brother, Mark?

Well, we aren’t in church, so I can skip the part about telling you all what a Saint he was, because that isn’t the first word that comes to mind when thinking of him.

Everyone who knew Mark saw something different, I’m sure.

Over the course of his life, he was a son, a brother, a husband, an uncle and a friend.

I used to get frustrated with Mark’s inability to be tactful in his dealings with people. Rory pointed out to me that Mark did not HAVE that little switch in his brain that most of us have; the one that tells us to keep it to ourselves or stay silent when we should. Mark was so brutally honest about his opinions and his feelings that he was unable to keep anything to himself. I truly believe he felt that we all NEEDED and WANTED to hear every thought, good or bad, that he had about us. He wouldn’t feel true to himself or those he loved if he wasn’t being “straight-up” 100 % of the time.

One of his frequent complaints to my Mom when he was growing up was “Why am I always in trouble and SHE never is?” And my Mom would reply “She knows when to keep her mouth shut and you don’t.” Mark never learned that skill….ever.

He loved us all, with his whole heart for EXACTLY who we were at EXACTLY the moment he knew us. He took us flaws and imperfections and all and loved us not despite our flaws but loved the flaws just as much. The flaws to Mark were what made us who we were.

One of Mark’s greatest traits was his generosity and his amazing ability to forgive those who had wronged him.

Oh, don’t get me wrong- he had a hit“list”. And he usually referred to it once a year at a family gathering and would ask if any of us had anyone who needed to be added that year.

Mark hated to hear of stories of injustice occurring to regular folks. If any of us shared a story with him of someone we knew being wronged in some way, he was the first one yelling for someone to find his keys as he was going to go “make it right!”

And over the years, I watched him charge blindly into situations, some of them terrifying to me, without a thought for his own safety or personal freedom…he just knew someone needed his help and he knew if he didn’t deal with the situations, no one would.

So, he made some enemies along the way, but there is no one who will ever be able to say that my brother was a coward who sat back and did nothing when someone needed his help.

Mark was the most loyal person I have ever known in my life. That is something our parents taught us from a young age.  We could beat the stuffing out of each other daily (and we did as kids), but God help the person who came after either of us if the other one was around.

I will miss that now and also his incredible memory. It just isn’t fair that someone that put that many foreign substances into his body should still have a memory like an elephant!

We spent a lot of time in the last couple of years reminiscing about the past. I think he knew his time was limited and it felt good to relive some of his favourite memories all over again.

He told me, during one of our chats (when he was actually trying to prepare me, saying goodbye and telling me he was so sorry we wouldn’t be able to be old & grumpy together as we’d always planned), that he believed he was going to a better place.

He had such a child-like wonder and inquisitiveness about what he would find on the other side…like it was going to be his next great adventure or trip. We had endless discussions regarding spirituality, morality and different belief systems. He wanted to know where he was going and if it would hurt at the end.

When the topic would become too much for me emotionally, he would throw in a joke about how chances were that I would die before him anyway, as I was such a shitty driver and also clumsy, so I could fall down the stairs any time. He was aware of his health problems; I was a ticking time bomb of clumsiness and crappy driving!

I have regrets that during those dark times for him I could not fully go as deep into the depths as he needed me to go. No matter how many times he told me during my life how strong I was, I couldn’t allow my heart or my mind to go to that place where someday he wouldn’t be here. I can barely do it now that it is a reality.

What I learned and take away from his illness, is how much was still left after so much had been taken away.

While he slowly lost physical ability, endurance and strength, he seemed to grow immensely emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. It was almost like he had to shed his old skin in order to be prepared with new tools when the time came for him.

Exactly two weeks before he died he was telling Rory they were going to be in the Okanogan in the summer jet skiing, while also making plans for a winter cruise with Cal and I.

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Infamous “smoking in his sleep” move.

I still don’t know if he was trying to remain optimistic for everyone or if he truly thought that if he had things planned, dying would have to wait.

The memories of Mark that seem strongest for me at this time are:

Mark as a typical pain in the ass little brother- always wanting to go everywhere I was going; me being held responsible for his safety. Removing slivers, wood ticks, leeches, bee stings, and trying unsuccessfully to remove his tongue from the clothesline pole the January he was 7 after I told him they tasted like cotton candy. He lost some skin that day but at least it prevented him from telling on me.

The two of us together in a room alone at the funeral home looking down at our Dad when we were younger than my boys are now. The absolute silence and togetherness of that moment and the strength we gave each other.

Waking up in the hospital room in the dark after my first son died to hear quiet crying and looking to my side to see my brother in full Gene Simmons make up with tears running down his face. My Mom had contacted him right in the middle of a hell of a Halloween party with the news, and he had come straight to the hospital to see me. We actually didn’t say a word to each other- he just held my hand and cried for me as I was too sedated and numbed out to cry for myself.

Mark on his wedding day- so handsome, so happy, so in love. I think that may have been one of the best days of his life, all his family and friends in one place celebrating their marriage and also the opportunity for a kick ass party when the formal stuff was over.

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Money-Drop Visit

Finding $100.00 bills all over my house after he had been to visit one time when the boys were babies.

In their piggy banks,

in the cookie jar,

in my coat pockets,

stashed in my car.

I even found one in a box of tampons in the bathroom. He had obviously noticed that I was struggling  financially and knew I was too proud to ask for help. So he helped and just went on his way without us ever talking about it again until I tried to pay some of it back.

He told me to shut up about paying it back.

Said he didn’t need it and he knew I spent it on something far wiser than he would have.

Hugging him close to me days before he died, in the middle of an acute episode of pain, hearing him cry for the first time in twenty-some years. He was hurting, he was afraid and he was finally allowing me to be the strong one again after years of him doing it. It was full circle back to our childhood with me rubbing his back and “shhhshhhing” him, telling him everything was going to be alright, and that I would make everything better. Just “shhhhh.”

 

 

I always knew in my heart that my big strong brother would not wither away. I told anyone who would listen that he would go on his own terms and his own timeline, which he did.

Watching as his life slipped away in the hospital that day, surrounded by his nephews and Gary and Jack, I was so very grateful that he had such strong loving hands upon him to ease his transition.

At the moment his spirit left his body, I physically felt it fly straight through me like a shattering burst.

1424320229906.jpgIt hit me hard enough to send me to my knees if Cal hadn’t been there to hold me up.

That energy was my brother’s soul impatiently dropping what he didn’t need any more- that tired, failing body and blasting off like a shooting star to whatever is out there- his next great adventure.

He took a huge chunk of me with him that day but also left so much of himself in my heart that will forever be with me until we meet again.

Safe travels, Muck – love you forever – Yaya XO

 

 

Brothers and Other Addicts

kidsThe Early Years

When I’m thinking rationally with my adult hat on, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that my brother fell “victim” to the family “disease”.

That, of course, removes any blame from his otherwise pretty broad and fearless shoulders.

It also removes me quite nicely from the guilt of not catching it.

From my mother’s account, he was difficult right from the damn start. She was married for the second time and had produced a (gasp) daughter the first time at age 32, so had to basically take one more for the team and try one more time for the heir apparent at the age of 34.

After suffering through nine months of hell, losing weight and puking her guts and stomach lining out daily ( according to her), my brother, Mark, came sliding into the world. Weakly, thin, blue, and in most desperate need of an immediate blood transfusion. He was given new blood and a shit ton of drugs to just keep him with the living.

I have read enough to understand that the statistics regarding traumatic births and the need for resuscitation and desperate measures immediately following a birth can lead to addiction in later life. ( See? Adult hat appearing once again).

But I can tell you right now, that I believe in my heart that a whole lot of other things conspired within my brother’s universe to lead to his addiction and eventual death at the age of 47.

He was dealt a shitty hand, I think, and I am just now realizing with survivor-like guilt, that there was really never going to be a “happily ever after” in his lifetime.

I got the Aces and he got the 2’s, so to speak.

Strike 1: Our Dad was a drunk. A lovely guy, really…but a drunk. Back in the sixties, when we were born, boys and girls modelled themselves by their gender-alike parent. Lucky him.

Strike 2: Our Mother was already up to the eyeballs trying to be the responsible one, keeping a roof over our heads, food in our bellies and teaching us morals, all while trying to keep control of a stealthy drunken hubby. She was angry 99% of the time, slap-happy, and tired. But never too tired to slap and swing a belt at us, as she desperately tried to raise us into “good people”. Guess which parent we chose to spend the most time with? The predictable one – two moods…drunk(happy)…and…sober(quiet/staying out of my Mother’s way).

Strike 3: Everyone was just too busy trying to keep their OWN heads above water to pay much attention to what my curious little brother was up to. Sorry. Not sorry. I had my own shit to deal with and quicksand to manoeuvre!

So, fucked he was, right from the start.

And though I make light of it here, I am profoundly saddened to the core that all of us let him down in the ways we did.

Towards the end of his life,he once looked at me with an unbearable sadness in his eyes, and joked that we grew up in the same foxhole. We were survivors of the insanity that our home life was. He would sometimes be pissy and say that I “got a pass” from most of our Mom’s verbal and physical abuse. I just learned really early on that keeping your mouth shut and flying under the radar was the easy route through the blitzkrieg.

He never learned those lessons. Ever.

And yet he was her favourite;her baby: him with the loud, look-at-me voice so much like hers; him with the natural affinity for physical affection, so much like her. I guess he gave her the cuddles as a child and the love and affection as a boy and man that she never accepted from dear old fall down drunk Pops.

I have a couple vivid memories from my brother’s youth. One was him being mauled by a neighbour’s dog when he was around 4. I had once again been forced to take him with me (goddamnit!) out to play and headed right over my friend’s place to play with her dog. I swear, that little dog chased its own tail around, let us all play around with it for about a half an hour, and then just randomly snapped and went right at my brother’s face. Fifteen kids at least standing in a yard, and the dog zeros in on my brother’s face.

I remember the skin and the blood and the screaming…and I remember my brother running blindly away,trying to find his way down the block back home, blood streaming down his face..skin hanging…and me running even faster…AWAY from him and his pain and fear. A lesson for him on that day, and a reminder for me of how damaged we both were already at those tender ages.

That’s a little something called fright or flight instinct and I was obviously already well versed in that by the  age of 5 1/2.

The shit had hit the fan and I was getting the hell out of there before the hammer fell. I was supposed to be watching him. Keeping him safe. And I had failed. Abysmally.

He ended up with stitches all over his face. Came pretty close to losing an eye and most of his bottom lip, but he used it to his advantage for the rest of his life by telling people when asked about the scars ” You should see the other guy!” That instinct to turn tragedies into humor is something we both learned by osmosis.

A coping skill that served us both well.

The second memory digging at me today involves a harmless prank he and his gang of buddies pulled off when they were about nine. They had all stolen laundry soap from their homes and came up with the idea of pouring it into the fountain outside the hospital entrance in our fairly small town.

Looking back now, having raised two boys of my own, that is a pretty creatively, awesome prank. One I could have almost got on board with AS a Mom!

Unfortunately for my brother, our mother saw things much, much differently.

Being a small town, they got fingered and I.D.’d before they even arrived back home.

My mother met him, at the door, with a broom. She was swinging like Mickey Mantle before he was even all the way inside of the house. The shame he had brought on our family. The atrocious horror of the neighbours all knowing one of her kids had done such a reprehensible thing!

She actually broke the broom hitting him with it. I tried to stop her, first grabbing at the broom, then attempting to grab her swinging arm. Nothing stopped her, and my interfering actually ramped her up even more. She started jabbing at him with the broken end, practically using it like a spear. I caught a bit of that spear action to my side, just as she said in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t get the hell out of the way, I was gonna get some too.

Shots fired.

I retreated.

Left him to it.

Listened as he begged her to stop.

He wouldn’t cry.

I have so much respect for him today for not crying. I got accidentally speared once, not even a direct hit, and I was already bawling like a baby and can feel the hot tears sliding down my cheeks now,  just in the remembering.

Afterwards, we sat on the floor of my room, and listened to some music, keeping both it and our voices down, so as to not start her up again. I remember washing him up the best I could, and telling him he should have known the natural outcome of a stupid prank like that. Telling him he had to learn to not piss her off. Telling him it wasn’t really her fault… she was just worried/tired/mad/overwhelmed/broke…whatever she was in that moment where she lost her mind so totally and completely that she would beat and stab at a nine year old boy with a piece of broken wood.

Looking back,I think that was the moment in time that we made the mutual decision/pact to keep each other as safe and out of harm’s way as we possible could.

The love we couldn’t express verbally, would be shown in loyalty to each other.

Like brothers in arms.

Foxhole, indeed.