A Simple Life for Simple Me

Calen’s question this week asks what can I do to simplify my life.

This should be an easy piece for me to have a go at, and yet, I find myself dilly dallying about here, picking up my phone to every ping sound, eyeballing my cat as he eyeballs me, and half listening to news playing quietly in the background about someone shooting up YouTube headquarters. (Nope, not today. Maybe not even tomorrow.)

What should have been a simple task is turning out to be not very.

See what I did there?

Honestly, I made the decision this weekend to simplify things for myself by not putting on a huge Easter Sunday dinner like I usually do. It has been snowing again this past week and I have been hibernating like a bear, and not wanting to go outside at all.

The thought of dragging groceries out of my car and through 4 feet of snow piles to my house was dancing through my mind and then I received a call on Saturday that sealed the deal.

A dear friend of mine was at the other end of the phone, and she started the call with “He’s gone, Shan. Ten minutes ago.”

Her husband of 48 years had taken his final breath in and that was that. He had been in hospice for about 2 weeks, when they couldn’t handle his agitation at home any longer, and her adult sons made the call for transferring him. She didn’t put up a fight, and I love that they took that decision right out of her hands and heart for her. There won’t be as much guilt later on.

I asked her if she was OK and if the boys were with her and she replied that they were going to her son’s house to tell the grandchildren and that she would be home later in the early evening. She asked if I could meet her there and I agreed that was a good plan.

Flashback with me quickly to Thanksgiving weekend of 2006 when my Mom died. I hadn’t even considered it was Thanksgiving weekend after losing my Mom. I was keeping myself moving, moving, moving….gathering her belongings from the nursing home she was only at 4 days, calling movers for prices on moving her things from her home to mine in the next 2 weeks, throwing money at my sons to “run grab pizza or something to eat”.

A knock at my door on Thanksgiving morning to my friend and her husband. Both of them carrying huge boxes. Boxes full of fully cooked food. Enough to feed a small army. Thanksgiving Dinner…times 10.  Turkey, Ham, sides, salads, baked pies, home made rolls, even the gravy and paper plates and cutlery. I was so shocked at their generosity and caring that I broke down. I remember her husband hugging me tightly and telling me it was just what you do when someone loses someone…not a big deal…farm folks, you know.

I returned the favour on Saturday, minus the food mountain, as she was suffering enough losing her hubby, and didn’t need my cooking to add to her troubles. I arrived with huge hugs, an ivy in an antique birdcage, and wine. For some strange reason, she finds me hilarious and giggles like a school girl when I talk like a sailor on shore leave, so I commenced that as soon as I got my coat off and brushed the tears out of my eyes.

She made a fire and I poured some wine and we sat there together. Sometimes quietly, sometimes laughing so hard, we were coughing and sputtering. I listened while she told me stories about meeting him way back when she was a naive prairie farm girl, and I cried with her when she recounted for me his last moments.

She needed to talk and I was her captive audience. Stories about her boys when they were young and family camping trips. How her hubby drove her nutty with his ideas for inventions. The fact that she likely had 400 pounds of metal stored in and around her garage that would need a trip to the dump. Metal that she had been bitching about for years, but that he thought could be used for a project. She just knew he was going to die and leave her to sort out that bloody scrap metal!

We started a list of things she would need to get to this week.

I showed her how to send map directions with her new cell phone for people who wanted to attend the celebration of life this coming weekend .

Theirs wasn’t a perfect marriage but they held on for all those years. He wasn’t an easy man to live with, and we all knew that, but he had such a charm about him, and she loved him so much that sometimes when she looked at him, she transformed right back into that 16 year old girl again.

The wine helped her to wind down and I ended up staying the night with her. She fell asleep in her husbands big chair, and I covered her up with a blanket and slept on the couch.

Her sister was arriving in the morning, so I knew she would be in good hands then. And her boys will also be there when she needs them in the coming days.

Back to simplifying my life, you ask? How did all that relate to the question, you ask?

Well, because I decided being with my friend was more important than hosting my sons, stepdaughter, and assorted plus 1s, they took pity on me and decided to take me out for dinner on Sunday evening instead.

No groceries to buy, no cooking, no cleaning up, and didn’t cost me a dime!

I mentioned in another post that I have made the conscious decision to live for the moments from now on. I can still have those moments of connection with those I love and care about, without making everything into a big production that leaves me exhausted and bitchy after it’s all over.

That is how a simple girl simplifies things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love

Love

At 4: Falling asleep in a random place and magically waking up in your bed, all covered up and somehow still feeling the kiss placed gently on your cheek by someone who cared.

At 7: Curled into your mother on the couch, being told secrets and stories to calm you down, frozen bag of peas on your lips- shuddered breathing, after violently losing both your front teeth during a fall from the top bunk, whilst amusing your brother with your gymnastic prowess.

At 11: First kiss behind the barn in the sweltering heat of July, feeling that rush of awareness that the boy you peeked at from around doorways and behind trees, noticed you in spite of your shyness and naivety.

At 14: The feeling of your best friend’s hand taking your shaking hand and leading you out of the school and to home when the mean girls came to call in middle school.

At 17: The bluest eyes you had ever fallen into, looking straight into yours and smiling the widest, happiest smile and feeling that click in your heart – knowing the path in the road had been decided for you.

At 21: Feeling the first kick and inside you and not knowing how it would end.

At 23: Holding your second miracle in your arms and staring into his eyes in awe, in the silence of the night, your heart and your soul making silent promises, feeling like there is only the two of you in the entire universe awake at that moment in time.

At 25: The sight of that same wee one suddenly seeming so large and holding your third and last miracle in his arms, looking down at his new brother with that same serious gaze he analyzes the world around him with… and then quietly weeping in gratitude as he reaches ever so gently to touch his lips to the top of his brother’s head.

At 36: Nurses asking you how many sisters you have, as every one of your far-away friends has figured out the rules, and  calls the trauma unit identifying as a sister, in order to get news on your condition.

At 37: Riding 20 hours on a greyhound bus in a neck brace and walking into your mother’s house to prove to her that you are in one piece. That first careful hug and feeling her hot tears running down your back when she won’t let you go.

At 38: Laying on the couch with his hands stroking your hair while you whisper, “please don’t make me love you- I’m too broken and scared.” His promises and assurances that he will never leave.

At 48: Your brother telling you for the last time how strong and smart and capable you are. Letting you know you never once let him down or left him alone.

At 53: Loving yourself wholly and completely and allowing that love to flow freely and to be accepted freely, by the same little girl who woke up in places she didn’t fall asleep in.

The girl who can sometimes still feel the kisses and the stroking of her hair by the people who loved her before she could love herself.

 

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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.

My Voice

I have been noticing that by the time most women find their voices and their truths, they have basically been deemed irrelevant and uninteresting by virtue of their age.

I have seen it happening at work with younger colleagues but mostly in my personal and social life (such that it is!).

I was honestly gutted when 45 won that election last year. Gutted. Slayed. Bewildered & very, very saddened.

It hit me like a ton of bricks that the patriarchy is alive and well and still running the show. I was not a huge fan of Hilary Clinton. I can admit that. I admired her years of public service and the things she had accomplished in her career, but also side-eyed some of her statements and interests. I was dragged into lively debates with my kids on the whole Bernie vs Hilary thing. Ad nauseum.

 

I live in a so-called Socialist Paradise – Canada, so I certainly have reaped the benefits of a robust social safety net and access to health care, regardless of what the balance is in my bank account.

So, I get why some believed Bernie was the one to go with, even though I am one of those voters that votes in the safest alternative. She would have been that.

I just cannot get past the fact that in my heart, I believe that she lost because she is a woman– and an older woman, at that. One to mock for her sensible shoes and her tidy, but boring pantsuits. The way the media slammed her in regards to her appearance and her energy levels ( even though both 45 and the Bernster were older than her!) was the finishing touch on my forming my belief.

When I was younger, I was taken aback at the loud, feisty females who proudly proclaimed themselves feminists. I was surrounded by men that viewed feminists as “bitter hens who couldn’t find a man”. “Man-haters”. “Bra-burners.”

In my mind there wasn’t a need to be so loud and confrontational about things. I was a babe in the woods, still nodding my head and rarely speaking up or joining conversations that the men were having. Still wrapped in my belief that some man somewhere was always going to be handy to make sure my needs were taken care of.

My ex-husband used to like to tell people that my mother was a “man-hater”. This seemed to occur following any statement that he made that she might have her own opinion about. She was 50-something when this started occurring regularly.

He would laugh and try to shut her down by proclaiming ” oh, you just hate men- you are bitter is all.”

She was most certainly not a man hater.

She had just reached an age where all the years of listening to some blow hard pontificate on every subject under the sun had caught up with her, I think. She was full up with having things man-splained to her. My Mother, who read an average of 4 books per week and worked full time; who never missed the news or reading the paper daily. She sat for years and listened to men decide and tell and direct and make decisions about her life.

Men who for the most part who had never seen the inside of a grade 8 textbook in their lives.

Then I guess somewhere around her 50th year, she blew. And looking back at it all now, it was really quite glorious.

So, what I haven’t done due to holding back is become much more vocal about my opinion on things, out of a fear of being labeled a “man-hater”.

I actually have an opinion on a lot of things.

A variety of things.

The glass ceiling at work.

Equal pay.

Politics.

The current reconciliation program with our Indigenous Canadians and the racism I see daily towards our original land owners.

I want to tell my son that it isn’t a “cute” look when he tells people he just throws his money at his partner, and lets her worry about the bills and deadlines and groceries and every other damn thing he thinks is beneath him spending his valuable time on.

I want to tell the man I report to at work that just because he acts like one of my children, he wont be treated with near as much patience and that I am not the “fixer” just by virtue of having the vagina.

I might even cut my long hair off just to spite the last asshole I was in a relationship with. Years of dealing with all this hair just because he found it more visually appealing to him….

So, I have been holding back on being that woman.

And it’s over now.

Only women bleed- my ass.

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The OG Shannon

Individuality.

Something we all strive for, I guess, since we first looked at someone and hoped we were not like them at all. Our core uniqueness and character comes from the fact that we all see and experience life through different eyes and distinct perspectives due to experiencing particular events in our lifetimes.

I am aware that I think very differently than others think and also respond to events in ways that others cannot understand. By now,  I am long used to the reactions I get, so don’t tend to let them bother me in the least. I am pretty much an open book to those I invite into my inner circle. That circle is actually pretty small, the older I get, as not everyone can be trusted with knowing the real me, in all my uncensored glory, and with the tact sometimes of a drunken 3 year old.

I am fortunate where I work, as most times when I comment in inappropriate ways, they think I am joking around. That works great for me, as I don’t have to pretend and can basically say what is on my mind at any given moment in time. Of course, I am very aware of my audience at all times, so behave accordingly when I absolutely have to.

Examples:

  1. Co-Worker standing at my desk waiting for me to acknowledge their presence.

Me: “Can you be helped?”

2.  Co-Worker complaining about flight delay during departure for her 20 day   Mediterranean vacation. Launches into long, whiny, entitled rant on losing 2 hours of her holiday time sitting in the warm heated airport waiting for “her” plane to be de-iced twice prior to boarding.

My reaction:

hangover

So, in a nutshell- very low tolerance for bullshit and pity-parties, and some pretty intense black humour.

I could blame the humour on the Irish in me, but really think it is due to the life I have lived and even more so the things I have seen.

I’ve seen a lot- both in my personal life and in my career, back when I worked Hospice.

My experiences make me unique and quite the individual- some have even suggested I can be “a handful” at times.

I wouldn’t have it any other way!

 

 

 

 

 

Chillin’ like a Villain

Calen asked us this week to write about what relaxes us and what brings us pleasure.

The mingling of the words relaxation and pleasure together immediately made me think of music, which has always been a part of me for my entire life, like a my limbs or an essential organ.

I have never lived a day without music of some sort, playing somewhere…either outside or inside of me.

I can completely zone out to time and space with the right song playing, and that has been such an incredible blessing to me so many times in my life.

For a period of time following the deaths of loved ones, I tried to turn the external music off, as I found it made me too emotional and I lacked the control to keep that emotionalism at bay. I needed to work and live and coexist in environments where people might react if I suddenly started snotting and wailing it up in public.

(Pro-Tip: Crying children get sympathy – crying menopausal women get straightjackets or Prozac.)

There was also the tiniest part of me that felt there must be silence in my life, so that I could properly grieve in an appropriate, somber manner- giving that sacred time the silence and my undivided attention. Eliminating something that gave me pleasure, as there should be no pleasure while grieving.

So off went the radios for a few months.

But then a strange thing happened- my internal music never stopped on command.

I had no control over the music playing in my head or heart, and if there was no external music playing, the melodies continued playing inside me. I would hear a snippet of a conversation and my brain would automatically find the most appropriate song lyric I knew and I would be mumbling it to myself or would suddenly hear the melody playing in my head. I would have those ear worms for hours at a time, almost like it was a punishment for not allowing the presence of music into a life that so craved it.

So, music is my relaxation and my pleasure but also my pain and sometimes a burden to bear.

Even when tears are falling down my face from the memories the music extracts frome me, at the same time it  provides such cathartic outcomes, that I cannot deny myself the pleasure of it.