Forgiveness

 

I have spent a fair bit of time in the last week thinking about what forgiveness means to me and how much better my life has been since I decided a few years back to start forgiving folks for my own good. I wasn’t particularly concerned with how it made them feel, and in most cases, they aren’t even aware that they were forgiven for their trespasses against me.

I wrote a few months back about a horrific accident that occurred here in the country that I call home and my own survivor’s perspective of the aftermath of these sort of events. I was focused mostly on the hope that all the support the boys and their families had following the accident, would continue through the years to come.

This past week it was announced that the driver of the semi that struck the bus has been charged with 16 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. The general consensus seems to be that he blew through a stop sign. He will have his day in court, or many, and based on the comments I have read (don’t ever read the comments section!) he will likely be far safer in jail or prison than he will ever be out on the streets again, unless he changes his appearance drastically. That saddened me. Really saddened me and brought up feelings I have long held onto related to my own “accident”.

Prison will not be the worst punishment he endures- not even close.

While I was never charged with anything following mine, my passenger in the car with me died that afternoon. She was very young- only 20. So, I am in the unique position of actually somewhat understanding what is going through that man’s head right now- and none of it is good. The only reason I didn’t receive criminal charges was because it was a known trouble spot of an intersection, and following my crash, the transportation safety board removed that particular vehicle crossing and made a new entrance. Here, it takes so many accidents/deaths by number, before they will make changes like that.

I was sued twice following – once by the step-father of my passenger, and once by the train conductor- each request was for a million dollars. I had been warned it would likely happen, as in the case of family members who lose a loved one, it is pretty standard practice. In my relative naivety, until the insurance company contacted me, I thought I was personally responsible for paying those millions, as I received my copy of the first letter prior to the insurance company receiving theirs.

I was still recuperating physically and hadn’t even begun the work on my psychological wounds when I received the letter from the step-father. I was in a pretty dark place and only dealing with those things that were absolutely necessary, like finding someone to drive to grocery store with my bank card to buy food for my kids, and doing my best to wake up alive every morning.

Every night/morning for over a year, I would jerk awake sometime between 1 and 3 hearing the horns and the screams and tasting the blood and smelling the gasoline, and feeling the weight of April’s body slamming into mine as that train hit us. Every single sense I had, wide awake and stabbing at me like unforgiving needles.

Not one inch of my body or mind was spared on those nights.

I would lay there and look up at the ceiling after the terrors and wonder if this was why I had been spared death, and not her. I wondered about suffering and retribution and about heaven and hell and how we all pay the piper in our own ways and in our own time.

I would try to understand the why’s.

Why her? Because she was pure and full of light and love and her journey here was over. She had done everything she was sent here to do. She had taught and learned the lessons and fulfilled her contracts with others.

Why not me? Because I deserved to suffer and be in pain. I had run and dodged and slipped my way through every dangerous event and place I had allowed myself to be a part of. Now I had taken a life. I had murdered a young girl with my stupidity and inattention to my surroundings. Only the good died young, as my mother used to say, so I was pretty damn sure I was left here with the purpose to feel this pain for the rest of my days. 

I worked with a psychologist who specialized in PTSD, and slowly started to heal. She utilized EMDR therapy on me, which was exhausting emotionally, but was extremely successful with my psychological trauma. It was the first and only time in my life that I went in search of help of that kind, having been brought up in a home where we kept our private problems in-house, and not to be shared with outsiders. During my time with Robin, other things came out that I had long forgotten, so it turned into much, much more than it had originally been meant to be. I saw her until my extended health benefits dried up. She had provided me with the tools I needed to take my first steps onto the path of actually living again.

Not surviving, not healing, not enduring- actually wanting to move forward and live again, for my sons and even for myself.

I will always hold a special place in my heart for her help in showing me the way through it all to the other side. At the end of our last session, she gave me a big hug and told me I needed to truly forgive myself or I would never recover fully.

5 years after my accident, I received a letter from a psychologist that was treating the mother of my passenger. He asked me if I would allow him to send me numbered questions from his patient, who was struggling to move forward with her own life following the loss of her daughter. He was working with her on forgiveness. On forgiving herself for past events during the time she was raising her daughter, and on forgiving me, in order to let go of the hate she held in her heart.

I sat on a chair in my kitchen for over an hour, holding that letter in my hand.

I traced my fingertip over and over the stamp edging, round and round, while my mind wandered to how I was going to deal with this request. In the days following, I asked my son, and my mother for their advice on what they thought I should do.

They both told me to not respond at all; their concern was for me and the progress I had made, and they worried that I would slide back if I had to relive any of it again.

What neither of them knew, was that I had never stopped living it. Not for one moment of the time since it had occurred. It was so entrenched in every part of me, it was now cellular.

Like the blood flowing through my heart, or the oxygen moving through my lungs.

I wore it like a branding on my soul and always would.

I ended up answering her questions and sent them back to the psychologist. I was more concerned with her healing than I was with my own. Some of them were very difficult to answer.

I lied on the ones that I thought would only hurt her more. Questions about her relationship with her stepfather. Questions about why she left home. Questions about if she had ever shared information with me about her mother’s decision to side with her stepfather, rather than with her. I lied about her forgiving her mother for that. I lied and said she told me only a day earlier that she loved and missed her mother very much.

I answered truthfully on the questions that related to the accident itself.

She was dead instantly- she didn’t linger or suffer- she didn’t cry out in pain.

In the moments leading up to the impact, she was laughing and singing and excited and full of life and love.

I licked the envelope when I was done answering her questions, and walked the letter to the nearest mailbox.

I remember sitting on a rock after and looking at the clouds in the sky, through teary eyes, watching them slowly move and morph in shape as they drifted lazily above me. The sun was in the exact position it was in on that day in June, casting the same warmth, blinding me with the same dazzling rays, but this time I was alone.

While I was sitting there, a white butterfly caught my eye, and I watched as it fluttered and danced and flew closer and closer to me. From blade of grass to tree branch, to post, eventually landing on the top of my hand.

Its wings were transparent in the sunlight and I slowed my breathing and sat perfectly still, watching it settle in on my hand, twitching its wings softly on my skin. Seeing the flesh of my hand through its wings- watching in wonder as it sat there on my warm hand.

It stayed with me for as long as I needed it to and then flew away up towards the clouds in the blue sky.

I watched it until it disappeared from my sight and then got up and headed home to my children.

 

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Sticks & Stones

From the comfort of my chair this past week, I have bemusedly watched the extraordinary ruckus evolving over one woman’s use of the c-word as a descriptor towards another woman. And while in my younger years, that was the worst word that anyone could use to describe a woman, I am pondering why it just doesn’t strike me as the worst,  or even newsworthy anymore.

Add in the fact that the recipient of that particular arrow of truth deserved that and even worse, made me shake my head in disbelief that in a week full of horrifying news about 1500 missing children, reversals of women’s rights and vile racist twitter rants (shame on you, Roseanne), the fact that one woman called another woman a feckless cunt is what rang the outrage bell for so many.

There were times in my past that even having the word bitch thrown my way would have staggered me if flung carelessly from a male mouth in my direction. But I grew up and I grew older and I staggered and sometimes crawled through the struggles and losses that were written into my book of life, and I came to realize that words spilling from someone else’s lips, especially someone whose opinion I neither asked for nor could care less about, meant nothing.

Yes, words hurt, and history has shown that the female gender is incredibly adept, sly and manipulative about the ways in which we can tear each other apart and spit each other out. What we lack in physical strength, we have always compensated for in our emotional arrows and insults that we fire at own kind. We have always been oh so careful in our roles as nurturers to not tear the males down within our orbits – making excuses for them, protecting them- falling on our own fucking swords over and over  again and then proudly showing them the blood of our self-martyring as symbols of our love and sacrifice for them.

I hold women to higher standards than men, and while I am aware that is wrong and feeds into the martyr syndrome I just described, it has been my own personal experience that women are just better at the loving emotional support that most of us need during the changing seasons of our lives. (minus our middle school ages).

I expect women to support and mentor and teach and raise each other up. To correct and school each other when we damn well need it, but to also be there with arms wide open and with intentional, focused love and forgiveness when we stumble and fall. Tearing each other down at the first sight of blood in a feeding frenzy just alienates us further, and increases the perception that we are indeed those derogatory words so often used to hurt and minimize us all.

I would give anything to gather up the 3 women who were discussed ad nauseam this past week. To invite them into my home and offer them tea or a shot of bourbon and then question what the hell got us all to this place where one was tearing other women down in racists tweets, another was posting a clueless picture of herself holding her child with pithy wording about how nice it is to have your child in your arms, during a week when almost 1500 misplaced children were reported . Ask the last one how frustrated and angry she had to have been to aim and fire that taboo word out on public television at the complicit one whose life is so entitled that she is blissfully ignorant and unaware of the walls that most of us have had to kick down in order to find our own places and spaces within this patriarchal society.

I would sit with them and try to understand what their individual experiences have been  thus far that brought them to those penultimate moments in their lives this past week. Listen with non-judgmental empathy, and hopefully work toward a commonality of some sort that we could all embrace together. Dig through the layers, peel the onions, and cry the necessary tears. Laugh together, and listen and learn from each other how we get to these moments where we forget that most important learning passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter since time began.

In telling our own stories and sharing our pain with each other, we can only grow stronger. It will  only be in the safety of our sacred goddess circle – in the telling and re-telling of these truths and in the sharing of our crone wisdom to our own daughters and other women’s daughters, that we will be able to open the doors to healing and understanding.

At the times that I have been most broken in my own life, it has been my tribe of women who have stepped off fearlessly and then down into the morass with me and held my hand.

It is women who have made the choice to suffer beside me in my pain. To unflinchingly absorb that which was simply too enormous for me to endure alone.

Joanne, who came hundreds of miles immediately to tend to my sons’ hearts and well-being following my accident, when no one was sure I would survive another day. Who has answered her phone too many times to count, only to listen to me cry long distance without saying a word. Who has listened with her whole heart to my jagged pain, and who has healed me in so many ways without ever saying a word. Who once asked me the question that jump-started my journey of discovery, ” When are you going to love yourself as hard as you love everyone else?” If I ever met my soul mate, it is Joanne. That is a truth I know on such a deep soul level, that nothing and no one could ever convince me otherwise.

She was absolutely sent to me by a divine entity and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that I would take a bullet for my “Dodo”.

Cindy, who taught me that softness can frequently get you far further than strength can, and who showed me by example that forgiveness is often the best way to heal your own broken heart. Who sat with me following the loss of my first child, in my own dark night of the soul, holding my limp, cold hand in hers. Who refused to let me slip away into madness, and who held onto me so tightly and lovingly for the rest of her short life, that I was able to endure her loss by reaching down deep to the lessons she taught me and sharing them with the child she left behind.

Marilyn & Evelyn, the sisters. My mother and my aunt. Who stood beside me as that impossibly small casket was taken out of the car and carried toward us all. First their hands intertwined. Then their arms around each other, a merging of strength for each other and for me. Both of them reaching for me after it was all over. Pulling me between them, and holding me up with them. Infusing me symbiotically with the knowledge of their combined years of suffering and of the fact that it is in the enduring and the surviving that we grow from girls into women. Pulling me along to walk with them, until my legs were strong enough that I could walk again on my own.

It is now the time for me to share these lessons with the younger women I know, and to pass on the wisdom of those that have walked and suffered and endured long before me. To share the love and strength that has been shared with me and to work to keep the circle intact long after I am gone.

All of us have been called bitches in our lives and some have even been called *cunts, but no matter what you call us, there is absolutely no way we will be silenced, or kept down, or defeated.

 

* even spell-check doesn’t approve of this one!

 

 

Samantha

Fierce2

Years ago, when I was not even 20, I saw a psychic who told me I would have 3 children. She looked very carefully at the lines on my hand, and softly said,” I see two tall men and a small woman standing together looking at your stone.”

There are two inconsistencies with her message that have appeared over the years.

As a matter of fact,  I gave birth to 3 sons, with the first dying within an hour of his birth, and I never gave birth to any more children following my youngest son, Nicholas.

The second inconsistency would be the whole “looking down at my stone” rubbish, as I do not want to be buried and my kids know if they put me or my ashes in the dirt, I will haunt them for the rest of their lives and might even show up as a ghost to traumatize them while they are having sex some time in the future, after I am long gone.

I would do it, and they know it.

When the boys were young, and I knew I wouldn’t be having any more children, I decided that the small woman must be one of their future wives. Future me maybe hits it off well with one of their wives and she will come with them to the “stone”, which better translate to grassy wood or stream or wherever they decide to toss my ashes. I have already expressed that I don’t care where that happens, as I will be everywhere, so the location of my remains does not matter in the least to me.

The story of how I met my Samantha is pretty convoluted.

She is the daughter of a man(child) I was involved with for many, many years. He had lost contact with his daughter years previous to our getting together, as her mother was bitter about the circumstances of the breakdown of their relationship, as far as I can surmise from the information that has been shared with me. Samantha has confirmed that to him, so it seems to be that it was indeed the reason she was kept from him until he located her (with my help), when she was about 18.

I wish I could say that it all turned out lovely, but it really didn’t, at all. Samantha’s upbringing with her mother was the stuff nightmares are made of, and despite our hopes that she had had a lovely childhood, she most certainly did not. She eventually called child services and had herself and her brother removed from the home her mother and stepfather resided in and never lived with them again. So, she basically brought herself up, in a rotten broken system, and moved in with a boyfriend and his mother at the age of 16. Not surprisingly, she didn’t make the best choice in a boyfriend.

Knowing her and her delicate heart, I suspect she was attracted to the home and the mother figure more than the boy himself. The normalcy of the environment.

At the time she came into my life, she had walls around her that Trump could only dream of. This tiny little girl barely 5’1, with a permanent tight-lipped expression on her face and language a sailor would envy. (That actually endeared her to me, as I come from a long line of creative cursers.) She talked a real tough game. Acted like nothing could ever make her crack and it was very difficult to ease into this new relationship for both her father and for me.

I made the decision to hold back and allow whatever relationship we would have to be decided by her. She was an adult already, and I was not sure what my place would be in her life at that time- friend, big sister, Dad’s wife, or evil step-mother. Plus I felt her relationship with her father was more important work. Sadly, they struggled to connect right from the start, and that broke my heart for both of them. He wanted to treat her like the 7-year-old he last saw and she had been basically taking care of herself AND her little brother her entire life, so did not welcome that from him. No matter how many times I tried to tell him that, he ignored it and carried on, which just made her more angry- and she was already a girl hosting a lifetime of anger inside of her small frame.

I honestly think she was smarter than anyone gave her credit for and knew he couldn’t be trusted with her heart, so she refused to allow it to happen. Not from anything her mother said to her, but from her own gut feeling and years of analyzing broken people and their motivations. She saved herself from more heartache.

I know her father loves her as much as he can love anyone in this world, but he really isn’t one to count on. He comes and goes. He’s here, then he’s not.

Broken.

I separated from her father a couple of years back. At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure how she would proceed, or with who.

She chose me.

Immediately and with more support than I could have ever expected.

I have spent a lot of time getting to know Samantha and my love for her has a permanent place in my heart, in that special space that once only had room for my boys.

During the last 2 years, she has severed ties with her mother, and does not talk to her at all. She has now severed ties with her father, as well, in what I suspect was her feeling that it was only fair, as she was making that choice with her mother. The last time he tried contacting her, she asked him for space. She was planning a wedding and was not in the frame of mind to deal with trying to fix their relationship at that time.

She had found a nice guy, lived with him for many years, and didn’t need that male relationship, as her guy was a big old bear of protection between her and the world around her.

During the time she made these difficult decisions, I listened to her. and allowed her the time to figure out what was best for her. If I have done anything, I have tried to encourage her that perhaps someday her mother and father will change and that there is always hope for that.

Not to give up the hope. Ever.

I have also told her that she has every right to make whatever decisions she wants with her life. I gently suggested that she was always so angry and blowing up at minor issues, and that I have noticed that this doesn’t happen anymore. I never say a negative thing about her mother or her father, but I also don’t think she owes either of them anything.

Having raised sons, this is all new to me.

The bar is higher here and she expects more of me than my sons ever have.

The daily calls or texts- ” How do I check my credit score” , ” What temperature for the chicken” , ” I have a chance at a new job- what do I do”, ” do you think I drink enough water”……endless questions and requests for advice!

It was me and my boys who were her family at her wedding in Mexico in November, and I was the mother of the bride- I have the dried corsage and pictures to prove it!

Recently, we left the hospital after visiting her grandmother, and I suddenly blurted out to her that being old and vulnerable scared me more than dying did. I have worked in healthcare long enough to see the elderly languishing in chairs, some of them strapped in and medicated, to prevent falls. I have also prepared investigative reports on abuse and neglect, by staff and families. I am aware of the realities of long-term care.

I was the driver, so I kept my eyes straight ahead, full of tears, and tried to shake the feeling off. Focus on the road. Get us both home safe.

I felt her hand reach out for mine that was on the stick shift, and she squeezed it and held on for a long time.

She said ” Shannon-  I would never let that happen to you- I promise.”

And I glanced at her quickly, and realized that in spite of the paths we had both taken, and the ones we chose not to take, and the people in both our lives that had fallen away over the years,  I had been given the gift of a daughter.

And not one I created myself- one who chose to love me and invite me into her heart as a mother.

Looking back, I wonder if her father was only a bridge to get to the side she was waiting for me on, like a little child, lost and looking for help.

Or perhaps, I was the lost child, waiting for her to come and find me.

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

Marcus Aurelius

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boys of Winter & Prairie Things

I was sitting in Dairy Queen on Saturday, grabbing a quick bite before heading to my friend’s husband’s memorial service, when I was suddenly, and without any control at all, overcome with tears. I sat there for a few moments, trying to stop the flow, and kept my head down, in order to hide my face from those at tables surrounding mine.

People that were with their children, no doubt fueling up prior to spending a Saturday running errands, taking the kids to indoor leisure centers or movies or even the pool. Endless possibilities and even more activities that every Canadian family has spent Saturdays doing.

Maybe even headed to play hockey.

The tears didn’t start because I was heading to a memorial. My friend’s husband had lived a long, full, productive life and after a relatively quick battle with cancer, had succumbed to the sweet hereafter, with his family and loved ones surrounding him. Medicated, pain-free and at peace.

On Friday evening of April 6th, a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team  was struck by a semi trailer 30 kilometers north of Tisdale, Saskatchewan. The team was on its way to Game 5 of a semifinal against the Nipawin Hawks, also in Saskatchewan, when the crash occurred around 5 p.m.

I heard about the accident on Friday evening, saw brief new items, which were very minimal, as the accident scene was still active, with reports of a code orange event having been called. I systematically shut down as many visceral imaginings as I could, took some medication, and called it a night. Due to my own intimate experience with motor vehicle accidents, and the subsequent post traumatic stress disorder that evolved following, I simply cannot see too many disturbing images or sit with tragedy for too long, before the anxiety starts for me.

I am ashamed to admit that.

Who am I to have the chemical luxury of not fully feeling and empathizing with the pain and suffering of those whose experiences so closely mirror my own?

I feel like a coward when I do this. When I reach for the medication.

I can rationalize that I am only protecting myself and my fragile mental state. I know I have to keep myself safe from intrusive thoughts and anxiety. I can cognitively defend my decisions, having been diagnosed by medical professionals. I instinctively know when it is time to disconnect from the world around me in order to regroup and still my racing heart, my shaking hands, and slow the talons of razor sharp fear digging at my insides.

But I will never not feel like a coward when I do it.

I am a mother of boys. I grew up on the prairies in Canada and most of my memories of childhood are being out in the cold, with my friends, on the ice. Skating, sledding, snowmobiling.

Prairie Winter
Photo credit: Ian McGregor https://www.flickr.com/photos/ian_mcgregor/

It’s how we make the best of so many months of cold weather and snow.

Most of the boys I dated as a young girl had dreams of making it in the NHL. They were on community flooded rinks by the age of 3, with hockey sticks in their hands. My parents and my friend’s parents billeted boys from other places, who chased their dreams of being the next Bobby Orr or Ken Dryden. Boys who left their homes and traveled…by bus…every weekend…to play hockey. Across highways and secondary roads, with the hoarfrost on the trees and the piles of silvery snow glinting the sun’s reflection for miles and miles of farmland.

Boys that age are so full of life! That young male energy, with testosterone bouncing off the walls. There is nothing that can come close to the sound of a group of young males that age all laughing and horsing around. The communal ebullience of the upcoming game zapping through the air on the bus like chain lightning. That bravado that seems to be worn so comfortably and without apology only by boys that age, with their entire lives ahead of them.

I won’t go into details that I have since read or seen via media, as my words today aren’t meant to focus on the logistics of the accident.

It is about the tragedy of so many young lives taken far, far too soon, and the years of recuperation and recovery ahead for the survivors; the timeless grief that those left behind will now live with for the rest of their lives.

As a mother, my heart breaks for the parents, spouses, siblings, and children left behind that have had their worlds turned upside down. Those broken souls that will now begin the very real and painful work of trying to put as many pieces as they can back together again.

As a fighter myself, I pray that the survivors who lived through the terror of that crash can reach deep down inside themselves and find the strength they will need to live long, productive, happy lives in spite of this tragedy. I hope that all that know them will stand with them in support and hold them up when they feel weak and scared.

I hope that they never have to explain to anyone in the coming years why they suddenly start crying in a random Dairy Queen  on a sunny Saturday afternoon and that their communities of loved ones and friends realize that things will never, ever be the same.

This morning, I read that one of the victims, Logan Boulet, was an organ donor- he signed up for one when he turned 21. Because of his selflessness at such a young age, 6 lives will be lived due to his generosity of spirit.

A gofundme account set up shortly following the accident, has so far received  $5,730,448.00. I think the original goal was something like $10,000.00.

Ryan Straschnitzki, upon being given the news by his parents that  he is paralyzed from the chest down responded with “well, I’m gonna get onto the Olympic sledge hockey team.”

May we always hold the prairie boys of winter, those boys that were lost, within our hearts and memories and may we always be ready, willing and able to help those that survived in the coming months and years with putting the pieces back together once again.

Oh, Canada.

 

Circles, Chains & Old Men

He leaned close to me as he left my home 2 weeks ago, and I moved closer, as well, expecting his customary good-bye kiss on my cheek. With a rattly whisper that only the elderly have, he said in my ear ” July 1968. Look for me and help me understand.”

I said “of course” as I received the good-bye kiss and after making sure his coat was buttoned right, I sent him out my front door, wondering what he meant, and worried a bit about him, as I could sense his distress.

I met Moe almost 20 years ago, when he was speaking at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that I was invited to attend to watch my friend pick up his 1 year chip. As I walked out of the meeting and to my car, Moe started walking faster to catch up to me and walk by my side. He told me he had sponsored my friend and had witnessed his many struggles, that he believed until my friend loved himself, and came to terms with his trauma from his childhood, he would continue to struggle with his addictions. We walked together, talking, and I felt myself warming to this wiry little man, who in his 60s, had me walking faster to keep up with.

When we arrived at the parking lot, he handed me what he called his “card” – actually a scrap of white paper with his name and phone number hand written on it, and told me to call him if I ever wanted to grab a coffee or chat. I think at the time, he thought we could work together as support for our mutual friend.

Over the years, he has been in and out of my life. We have gone years without contact, and then he will reappear suddenly or call me out of the blue and ask how things are going with me and my boys. When his wife died, he took over caring for her developmentally delayed daughter, who is a few years older than I am. Sometimes he needed advice on medical issues with her, or just someone to write a letter advocating for more care for her. He seemed to struggle with bureaucracy.

Shortly after I met him years ago, he shared with me that the last time he drank, he woke up in jail in Toronto, and suffered his last hangover there.  He spoke of the struggles he had endured, but didn’t share specifics and I didn’t ask, always cognizant of the A.A. code of silence and the promise of anonymity. I didn’t feel it was my place to start asking questions, as he was simply “old Moe” to me and had, within the short time I had known him, taken on a fatherly sort of role with me. He showed up for birthdays, holidays and even once to help me move. By then a 70-something year old man, he convinced my teenage son that knocking down the back fence was the smartest way to get the trucks as close to the door as possible.

A true rebel, with a twinkle in his eye and a wise cracker if you ever met one.

Every pet and every child or baby in the world goes straight to Moe. They sense his gentle nature and he sits quietly with them, frequently putting them so at ease, they fall asleep in his arms or lap. He talks about his love for his mother and how she never judged anyone. How I remind him of her. The Catholic upbringing and the altar boy stories. How once he had his first sip of wine at 7, he was at church so often, his mother thought he had aspirations for priesthood.

He told me so many stories, I wondered if they could all be true or were they just  ramble-bragging of the sort that old men do, once their virility is starting to fade and the days ahead are much more mundane and boring than the days past. Lots of war stories and hints of knowing “connected” men back in his Cabbagetown days. Stories of stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down- beer off the back of trucks, racks of women’s fur coats left unattended, and fruit and vegetables stuffed into pockets, for eating later, during the time of day that those more well off had dinner plates in front of them.

This past year, he has suffered falls and he broke his collar-bone 6 months ago. He is slowing down now at 83, and has lost 3 close friends in the last month. He blames himself for one of them, telling me if he had driven over to this place when he didn’t return Moe’s call, maybe he would still be alive.

It seems to me he has always loved to take the blame for things out of his control. I reassure him that life is like that- random, and that we all have our time on this earth and our stories are written before we get here, so basically fate or chance carries us along. I sense he knows the end is nearing for him, and while that eventuality has made him less impatient with the little things , and more accepting of his limitations physically, there is an undercurrent of urgency buzzing within him, like a hot electrical wire.

He has been visiting more often, laughing after our chats, with the comment ” how much do I owe you for the therapy, dear?” or “cheapest head-shrinker I ever saw!”

I gave him a key to my house, as he lives in the basement of his step-daughter’s house, and sometimes feels unwanted and expresses a need to “run away”. Hearing that broke my heart , so I quickly fetched a spare key I had lying around and tucked it into his tiny hand, the skin so thin and tissue-papery that I could feel the bones underneath like a baby bird’s. I patted his hands gently and told him to use that key anytime he needed.

I have the sense he is wanting to close his circle in a neat fashion and be prepared for when he meets his maker. He is cleaning house, wanting to make his peace, and in the twilight of his life, searching for answers to all the why’s he still has.

So when he left that day, I thought about his request and decided I would look up that date and his name in Google, and see what he was asking me for. I knew instinctively that it must have to do with his past and understood that if it could be found with a simple Google search, it must have been something fairly news-worthy.

I remember feeling a bit apprehensive as I typed his name into search engine. My hands were shaking a bit, and I felt uneasy, like a voyeur.

It was one of those moments that you know have the ability to change your life in an instant.

And it did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Akhilandeshwari

Akhilandeshwari is a South Asian Goddess who is known as ‘She Who Is Never Not Broken’. Akhilan-“ means, “never-not-broken” and “deshvari” is a Sanskrit term for goddess.

As human beings, we are broken over and over during our lifetime. Broken from grief, from heartbreak, from loss and traumas, both physical and mental.

A question I am frequently asked is how I have endured and survived some of the times I have been broken- both literally and figuratively.

The truth is that it was at those times in my life when I was most broken that I have made deep acquaintance with my pain and suffering. Mostly in silence, frequently with hot tears running down my face, but always with an open soul and inquisitive mind.

I learned at a very young age that I was going to be the only one to save myself.

For many years, I ran and ran and then ran some more. I managed to keep my life busy and full. I kept the lessons and the learning and the inevitable time for reflection at bay until I was forced to face all the broken pieces of me.

As a dear friend calls it- the time was coming for excavation, a time that would be forced upon me for digging deep inside.

To remember. To reflect. To open doors leading to places I had been trying to avoid going for years. And I had a whole lot of places I had been avoiding.

Emotional pain was always something to be avoided at all costs, and if I had to hurt in that way, it was best to stuff it deep and forget it if I could.

Maybe i could find someone else in even more pain than me and try to help them. That sounded better than having to look at my own. Find someone even more broken than myself and try to love them back together again. I have had whole relationships that started from that very criteria.

Distractions. Deflections. Denial.

I am indeed like Akhilandeshvari, she of “never not broken”.

I like to think that I finally stopped running and invited my pain in for tea.

But it didn’t really work that way.

One day a few months following the death of my brother, I found myself crying and quite honestly couldn’t stop. I sat on my couch, totally alone, and for the first time in my life, I allowed it all to wash over me. All that sticky, hot, aching pain.

I invited it in and let it wash all over me. I sat with it, my home growing dark as the hours slipped by around me.

The losses, the abuses, the neglect, the regrets – everything I had kept behind those doors for years. I felt at times like I was psychically shattering. My heart ached and my lungs felt full. Every part of my body was like a sponge, taking in more and more pain as every one of those doors opened, one at a time.

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Look at it. Deal with it. Look at your part in this.

Call it a Come to Jesus moment, or a transformation, or even a nervous breakdown if you will. All I know is that once I allowed it to happen and really spent the time picking through all the broken pieces, I began to see the prisms of light within me and within my broken pieces.

I believe that people are drawn to me because of my brokenness.

I think they must sense that if they share their own stories of suffering with me, I will listen and be with them in their pain.

I am not fearful of pain anymore, mine or anyone else’s.

Pain has provided me with the lessons I most needed to learn and has been the best tool for growth I could ever ask for.

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.