My Ah-Ha Moment

Throughout my life, I have had my most profound thoughts while I am not thinking at all, but rather moving through my day; standing at the counter chopping vegetables for a meal, driving the route to work early in the morning. The route I know like the back of my own hand, that is done with no conscious thought, really. Folding laundry. The mundane necessary tasks that are done with a mostly empty mind.

While standing in the shower today, I had what Oprah likes to call an “a-ha” moment. That moment that occurs when you suddenly realize something that you have been struggling with your whole life, or a difficult answer to a question you didn’t even know you had, I guess.

I have had a rough three years since my brother died. Been on auto-pilot and just kept moving forward, in spite of the fact that I should have just taken time off to deal with his passing and the very difficult fact that he lived with me during the end stages of his illness and had left a very huge hole in my existence with his leaving.

I would sit in silence, alone, and try to understand why his was the hardest loss I have endured thus far in my life. Having lost Father at 17, Son at 22, Cousin( like a sister) at 26, Mother at 42, and finally Brother at 49, my rational mind was telling me that I was older, wiser, more hardened and should be dealing with my grief faster, for lack of a better word.

And yet I was struggling daily, hourly, sometimes in ten minute intervals.

I could not listen to music for a year. Too much of a risk that I might hear a song that reminded me of him, or it would open up a memory that would increase the pain that I was so desperately working on keeping at bay.

I felt FULL of pain. I felt like I was smothering in my grief for my brother. I felt the physical pain and weight of his death sitting on my shoulders and upper back and mostly in my heart.

I would obsessively check my blood pressure every 30 minutes, thinking that I was having a heart attack or a stroke. I could feel such sharp pain, it would leave me breathless and hyperventilating, thinking I was dying too.

But, because I was alone, in the quiet, I would let that pain in. I would sit with it, and wallow in it at times, and allow it to fully wash over me. It came in waves. Sometimes, pretty big waves, which seemed to not want to end. At times, I felt like I was never going to be able to come back to myself or even be able to catch my breath. The intensity of that pain was so powerful, and so large, it dwarfed any emotions I have ever felt, aside from childbirth.

It felt like birth in reverse. Like a closing off, or amputation.

And when it came over me, rather than shutting it out, or running away in my mind, or getting up and leaving the house to force myself to keep it together, I would sit back like we all do on a plane when it is time for take-off. Hands gripping the seat arms, and feeling that  pull of the plane taking off into the sky.


I allowed myself to be washed by it. I allowed it and all the feelings associated with it in.

And I came to the conclusion today, during my moment in the shower, that I wasn’t just grieving my brother, I was finally grieving them all properly and fully.

My rational mind has known they are gone from my life, some for many years, but my emotional being has kept carrying them with me.

When I lost my father, I was so incredibly young, that I ran away from it all. I self-medicated with alcohol and weed and stuffed it so deep, I didn’t even dare try to understand that loss. When I was present, I was helping my mother deal with material things, like cleaning out his clothing and going through about 6 suitcases full of paper and deposit and withdrawal slips from the bank.

With my son, I was also very young, and dealt with that by turning my face from the sun until I was pregnant again and had another child to look forward to. I remember pretending to be alright to my husband at the time and to my mother and close friends. I didn’t like the pain I was causing THEM by being honest about how much I hurt, so I quit being honest.

When my cousin Cindy died, I had children who needed their mother and her son who needed someone to be strong. I took her son home with me from the hospital as everyone seemed to forget in their own grief that his mother wasn’t there to care for him any more. Someone needed to go through all her personal things and ditch things she wouldn’t want her mother to see, and pack up her belongings neatly. Someone needed to hold her two lost, grieving brothers close and reassure them that things would be OK. That someone defaulted to me.

When my mother died, I had two teenage sons who loved their Nan very deeply, and so I tried to hide my emotions from them in order to soothe them into a false sense of security. I once again, had to deal with the packing up of a lifetime of belongings, and the financial issues that we all deal with, the estate and the paying of final debts. In fact, I can remember the only time I actually broke right down and cried deeply was in my basement about a month after she died, when I was going through hastily packed boxes, looking for light bulbs, as I needed one and just KNEW she would have at least five boxes of four in one of the damn boxes. I found one of her socks and suddenly just lost my mind. Sobbed hard, but quietly in that basement, not wanting my sons to hear me upstairs.

Yesterday, I woke up early to a beautiful spring day. I started cleaning windows and as they got cleaner and cleaner, and I could see the beautiful sun shining through them into my home, I felt freer..lighter…happy. I had music blaring and was just a physical beast. I did all the windows, I moved furniture around, I cleaned from top to bottom of my house and threw out minutia and dirt, bag by bag. I was so full of energy and the need to clean up that clutter and the dust of winter, that I didn’t even realize until today that I was actually cleaning up more than my home.

I can attest to the fact that we need to grieve fully and allow ourselves the time to let it work its way through us. I want everyone I love and even those I don’t, to know that it is healthy to sit and be still. To live with pain and allow it in fully.

It hurts.

So bad that some days you feel like you will die from it, or that it will take you to places you can never return from.

But in order to move forward and be in the now….really engaged in your own life and the endless possibilities that the future has for us all, you need to invite that pain in like an old friend. Get to know it. Learn that you are stronger and more fierce than it and allow it its rightful place in your life.

One of my favourite quotes from the movie Vanilla Sky is so pertinent to the way I am feeling now that I just have to leave it here:

“You can do whatever you want with your life, but one day you’ll know what love truly is.

It’s the sour and the sweet.

And I know sour, which allows me to appreciate the sweet.”








The Stupid Broke-Down Rusted-Out Merry-Go-Round

A year and a half ago I made the trek back to my home town, to fulfill a promise I made to my baby brother. Shortly before he died, he asked that his ashes be put into our father’s grave.

The cremation itself was quite an accomplishment, as he had never cared for the idea. I found out during that discussion that he was afraid that he could possible be burnt alive, due to someone’s mistake, or incompetence.

Having worked in healthcare for years, most specifically with hospice patients, I was pretty sure that this had never happened ever in the history of all time. ( Please don’t show me any stats and prove me wrong!)

Once I reassured him that he needn’t fear, he was totally on board with cremation so that he could go in with Dad. He liked that idea and I thought it was nice as well, being as our Mom insisted on being scattered here and there and I STILL have a portion of her in a lovely, discreet box in my living room, awaiting the mutual availability of my sons to go do it with me. ( Truthfully, none of us have the heart for it and have every excuse not to.)

While I was back home, the day following my brother’s memorial service, I took my man , my stepdaughter and her boyfriend out to the lake my family had a cabin at for my entire childhood. We spent all our summers there, swimming, boating, playing in the sand,  & endless hours at the  dinky playground with only three stupid rusted out playground items to play on.

I will be honest. I was pretty tired and hung-over on this day. The memorial had gone well and we had been hosted following the service, in our friends’ beautiful yard –  flowers, sunshine, music and plenty of bevvies. Relieved that I had actually made it through my eulogy without a breakdown, I was ready for a drink..or ten.

So, the next day, we are at the lake. We spent some time in the water, we walked the old board walk. I was a regular Anthony Bourdain, telling stories, sharing history of the lake, the cabins, the geography.

Everything was fine until we walked through the shady coolness of the trees and I was at the playground, without knowing it. Someone made a joke about the disrepair of the equipment and how nowadays, helicopter parents would be apt to sue if their precious snowflakes got cut on a jagged edge or rusty handle.

One moment I was laughing; the next I was frozen.

I was back there in the 70’s with them all. With the eyes and ears and heart of the daughter and sister I was. I am neither of those things now..nobody’s daughter, nobody’s sister.

My “new” family had walked on ahead, chatting, laughing, not noticing I was standing still.

That is where I finally broke.

After years of watching my brother dying- of watching him in pain and regret and wasting away.

Seeing that stupid fucking rusted out merry-go-round sitting still in the shade and quiet sent me over the deep end.

For one soul-shattering moment in time, I went back. I could SEE my parents sitting on the porch of the cabin. Enjoying the shade and a cocktail together.

I could HEAR the sounds of the music coming out of the  radios of the cars the teenagers cruised around in.

I could SEE my brother’s silky blonde hair wafting in the breeze of the merry-go-round. I could SMELL his wet puppy smell that all young active boys carry with them. I saw his dancing eyes and his whole life in front of him and how it all ended up and it broke my heart absolutely.

I can say honestly that I felt a piece of my very heart tear itself loose and drop there on the ground,dead. Forever to be hidden under the sand and leaves and snow in the winter.

It happened in the time it would take to count to ten and then it was gone.

And all because of a stupid rusted out merry-go-round.








Twenty nine years ago tonight at about this very time, I felt the beginning stirrings of my first-born son inside me.

He was signalling me that his time had come. We would be meeting soon.

I performed the necessary silly tasks that every expectant mother- to- be performs, hair washing, leg-shaving…giggling at my then-husband’s nervousness and teasing that I really looked just fine and should likely just “sit quietly” and wait.

I kept getting up to answer the cries of “trick or treat!” at my door. Handed out candy and smiled at little princesses and firemen on my doorstep, knowing that in the future, I too, would be doorstep begging for free candy with my little one inside me.

After my Mom showed up and assessed the situation, and following a call to my Dr, we three headed off to the hospital.

My labour was typical and I handled it like a pro, according to my usually critical Mother. I remember it being a time I went deep inside myself and blocked everyone out. The only sounds I heard were my own breathing and the sound of the fetal monitor.

My Dr appeared at my bedside, performed an examination, looked a bit perplexed and left the room rather quickly.

My husband followed him out to find out what was going on. He was and still is a Nervous- Nelly type. I barely noticed either of them leaving. I was riding the waves and doing my breathing and content in the thought that everything was going as planned. Nature, after all.

Strange Dr. appears and tells me that he is the Obstetrician on call, and that my baby is breech. Asked me if I had had ultrasounds at all during the pregnancy and I told him no. Remember, this is almost thirty years ago and I was a healthy, 21 year old woman, with a very typical pregnancy and a regular family doctor overseeing it all.

Suddenly, he is harshing my mellow birthing experience and wanting an ultrasound and then wanting to try to “manually” turn my baby within me. As I found out later, this man had zero bedside manner, but brilliant clinical skills and experience.

After an excruciating ten minutes that felt like ten years, with his hands inside me twisting and pushing and rolling at my tummy from the outside as well, he told me he was going to have to perform a caesarean section and that judging by the fetal monitor, it  should occur ASAP.

Suddenly, all the lights are on in the room, I have nurses and anaesthesiologists poking at me, as well as a lab tech drawing blood for god knows what. They are telling my Mom and husband what is happening, and ushering them out and to wherever they stick people to sit and wait in agony while their loved ones are rushed to surgery.

I remember waking up in a pitch black room. It was utterly silent and I thought I had died. I was heavily drugged and felt horribly disoriented. So much so, that it took me a few moments to ever remember that I had come to the hospital to give birth. Too quiet to be a hospital. I felt pain in my stomach when trying to move and was just about to try and find a call bell or even move out of the bed ever so carefully, when I heard a sound that scared me so badly, I pulled the sheet over my face in an instinctual childish reaction.

The sound was that of a grown man in unbearable anguish crying somewhere where I could hear the pain echoing off the walls outside the door. I heard a quiet rhythmic thumping and sobbing..endless heartbreaking sadness spewing from within someone’s deepest places.

That man was my husband.

My son, Adam, was born Nov 01 1986 @ 0115 in the morning with no kidneys, which meant that his lungs did not develop. He survived inside me, but once born, could not live on his own. As I learned later, one of the biggest reasons these conditions are lethal is because if there are no kidneys or the kidneys do not function and make amniotic fluid, the baby’s lungs will not develop. The amniotic fluid is necessary for the baby’s lungs to grow and mature.

After he was delivered and prognosis shared with my Mother, she sat in the nursery with him swaddled in her arms, and simply rocked him until he died.

I was asked if I wanted to hold his deceased form in the blanket and I said no. When I tell others this, they are sometimes quite shocked and I see the looks on their faces. Expressions range from shock to sadness to bewilderment to distaste.

I never felt I had to justify that choice to anyone ever and I never have.

The reason I didn’t hold my dead, silent, still, son is not because I didn’t love him or want to hold him, smell him, touch him.

I knew in my heart if they tried to take him from me, which they most certainly would..I would shatter.

I would shatter inside to the point there would be no more me left.

I would fight and snarl and roar and scream and bite and HOWL if they took him from my arms like they took him from my belly while I was sleeping.

I had survived much already in my life, but I would not survive that.

So, I didn’t.

He was buried with my father on a gloomy grey day with just a handful of family present.

When my Mother saw the tiny casket coming, being carried quite easily by one man, she had to walk away, her sister holding her in her arms. She just could not bear it. I understood that, too. I really did and wished that I could walk away too and not see that. There is no sight in this world sadder than a tiny white casket. Nothing.

I have struggled to find the meaning in losing my first born son. Adam..the first.

I believe now that it made me a better mother to the two boys who followed.

Two more sons, the youngest, Nicholas, identical to Adam in every feature, according to my Mom and husband.

With my Mom and brother gone now, and my husband at the time now an ex-husband, I am likely the only one who remembers him at this time of year.

My first son, Adam Edward, always in my heart, where he is safe, warm and loved by his mommy.