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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Heeling(Healing) Soles(Souls)

I have been feeling a little vulnerable lately and not even well enough to tap away at the keys.

Today I decided it might be good to wander about on Word Press for a bit and the first place I always wander is to Calen’s.

Her Sandbox Challenge this week was this:

What message just for you is hidden in this ancient writing?

maya writing.1

My first thought upon looking at the image was how remarkably similar it was to my heels. Then the thought popped up that I have been meaning to book a pedicure for the last month or so but that real life has intruded on even that one hour of peace and comfort I could have provided for myself. I really could have booked that appointment- had the number on my cell and would be basically two taps with my finger directly to the shop.

But I have been so tired. SOOO incredibly tired and low energy. Useless.

I have completed the tasks that need doing, like working and taking care of my cat, but other than that, I have basically sleepwalked through the last few weeks.

I know what started it.

It was seeing the news that humans have now sunk to the low of caging children.

I like to think I am pretty cynical and jaded, and I truly told myself that there was no possible way he would be allowed to sink this low, without someone…ANYONE…stopping him and his need to feed his fractured ego with evil-doing.

But, as has happened many times in the past- I was wrong.

I read, I watched, I listened to audio and then I shut down. I just could not take anymore.

And my feet and the rest of me suffered for it and continue to suffer.

I have some sort of strange rash appearing on my back, which I think is atopic eczema. The irony of this affliction is that the worst thing for the little dry patches is water.

Dry, itchy, aggravating. Especially when I cant reach it except with the spaghetti scoop which comes to bed with me every night.

My feet and my back and my soul all make me feel dry and itchy and aggravated and out of sorts.

Barren and empty, like desert flowers begging for any sort of nourishment to make the cracks disappear and replenish the cells with the fluid of life.

I need to know that I am not the only one feeling the cracks and caverns and schisms occurring right now in the world.

Am I the only one who sees fire and burning and hears children crying for their parents?

I don’t take good care of myself when I don’t feel well emotionally.

I really let myself go.

I am not sure why that is.

Is it the effort and energy required from an exhausted woman or is it disinterest or the knowledge that one day this husk that carries the me that matters will not longer require tending?

What any logical woman would do would be to book that appointment for the next few days and even add a manicure to the appointment, as there is no better feeling than having both sets of nails done and pretty.

But it seems so pointless to me right now.

I instinctively know that my looks are not going to matter in the next while for the work that may need to be done and what my part in it may be.

I’ve let my hair grow long and rarely wear it down unless I am brushing it, which I do often. Brushing my hair soothes me and my spirit, for some reason. My hair is drying out too, and I have stopped colouring it. It is pure white like my mother’s in the front- beautiful white. I frequently braid it, to keep it off my face and out of my way. Then I unbraid it, while reading tweets about monsters and the people who lie and abet them with their evil.

I don’t speak of the terrors I feel often, as I can tell people are sick and tired of all things political and don’t want to hear it. Those people would rather sit back and then moan and wring their hands once it is all over. I know those people. There were so many of them during the Holocaust.

So, so many.

My hypervigilance is a symptom of my PTSD. I know that. But I also know I am not crazy and I can feel the danger.

I can even taste it some days. It tastes like metal or copper. A bit like blood, in fact.

I am doing what I can in order to soothe the trauma-beast within me in whatever way I can to keep it from becoming more hungry.

I might drive out to the mountains this weekend and spend a day sitting on a log thinking of nothing but the scent of the air around me.

It is supposed to rain.

I can tilt my head back and open my mouth and let it in.

I can wiggle my feet while the rain falls over them.

Maybe it will fill up the cracks and heal them.

Maybe I will breathe deeply again.

Maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Feast of Friends

“I should’ve died in my 20s. I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s. I feel like I’ve stolen a car –a really nice car– and I keep looking in the rearview mirror for flashing lights. But there’s been nothing yet.” Anthony Bourdain

 

Today is always a hard day for me. A day to be endured and survived.

Lived through.

When I awoke and saw the horrible news that Anthony Bourdain had taken his life, and on this particular date, I was slammed by so many feelings at once.

I know many are mocked when they grieve a public person in a personal way, but the ignorance in that sentiment is that these people have been in our homes. Sometimes daily.

We spend time with them when we can’t face the thought of being with our own people and trying to explain why we hurt. We hope they take our minds off our own shit and we feel not so alone in the world when they are with us.

Sometimes it is just their voice on the television, during our self-imposed disconnection to space and time – on our couches or in our beds, that keeps us tethered by a delicate strand to the rest of the world.

June 8 2002 is the day I had a horrific accident in my car with a freight train.

My passenger, a beautiful young girl, died on top of me in the car. (Official version to keep questions to a minimum.)

In reality, her head was severed from her body and was in my lap.

I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following that accident, and had no control over the thoughts that appeared in my head forever after that.

Over the years, I have gathered many tools in my toolbox, and am pretty happy with my ability to quickly pull them out as needed. It is exhausting, but I always quickly remind myself that the alternative to surviving and being left in this state is not and has never been an option for me.

I am fortunate in that I have not ever suffered with depression as so many others do. My thing is crippling anxiety and panic attacks, and as long as I can get myself to my safe place internally, all is good.

Following my discharge from the hospital all those years ago, I spent many, many days at home on my couch, watching Anthony on A Cook’s Tour, and would drift in and out of my opiate dreams to the sound of his voice. I could fall asleep on a tour of Tokyo, and awaken in Cambodia with Tony, traveling the narrow aisles of the market, joking with the locals and joyously taking in the beautiful tastes and culture of the places we traveled together.

I just knew his was a soul I connected to. He had the same absolute enjoyment, interest and fascination with other cultures and their ways of living that I have always had. The intuitive respect and understanding that the differences are what brings us closer together.

His was a wandering spirit, as is mine. I know he was not always in the same place his physical body was in, and that his mind went even more places than he ever showed us on his many programs.

And to be superficial but honest? He was so hot.

Most recently, his passionate support for the #metoo movement made me love and admire him even more. For a man of his age and generation, to stand beside and sometimes in front of women that were being brutally crucified on social media, showed me his heart and what a wonderful human being he was at the core.

To have someone like Tony as an ally for this movement, firing shots at misogynists on Twitter and in the press, made me so incredibly happy.

Years ago, after recuperating from my physical injuries and in a good place with the mental ones, I thought of writing him and thanking him for “being there” for me during my recovery. I wanted him to know that he played such a huge part daily in my healing. And then I scoffed at myself that someone as famous as him likely receives so much mail, that he couldn’t possibly have time to read it all.

Hearing that he took his life today makes me wish I had reached out to him back then. Just on the off-chance that he did see that letter.

So he would know in those places inside him that hurt, that he had healed another person just by being himself and sharing his life and experiences with us all.

That he had made a difference in my life and at a time when I was most vulnerable and alone, he provided me with something more important than a culinary masterpiece – he gave me hope that if I could survive one more day, I could perhaps travel with him from my home to the next exotic place.

Rest in Peace Anthony – what a life and legacy you leave behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

PTSD

I just found this online by accident and wanted to share as it is the best explanation I have ever come across yet as to what living with PTSD is like.
I, thankfully, have not suffered the debilitating effects of depression,  but certainly can relate to anxiety of varying levels every day of my life since my accident.
You understand you aren’t reacting rationally and yet cannot control yourself.
It is exhausting.

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
– David Foster Wallace

June 08 2002

The day my life changed forever and I became my second self.

Fact: It was a beautiful sunny June day, warm but comfortable. A beautiful day for a country drive. I had spontaneously offered to drive a young girl to see her boyfriend that day.

Background: I had met her a month before through an acquaintance. She was new to the city and was struggling to catch a break. She was a lovely little free spirit – 19 years old and alone in a new city with a lousy job at 7-11. Her name was April and within an hour of meeting her, I knew her entire life story. She talked a mile a minute and laughed and touched you while she was excitedly telling you everything about her. I worried for her. Her open heart and being alone in the city, so I offered to let her stay with me for a couple of months until she “got on her feet.” I had recently left my husband of almost twenty years and was settling into a new home with my two sons;  she may be of help to me while I was helping her, watching the boys for that hour or so after school before I got home from work.

I was like my mother that way- helping others, taking them in, getting them sorted and sending them on their way. I was not selfless- I knew she could help me too, but from the bottom of my heart, my primary purpose was to keep her safe. I felt such an intense feeling that I needed to protect her…from..something. That feeling of mine will become  a mockery  as this story finds its way out of me. My only hope is that I can somehow explain in a way that makes sense, a truly senseless tragedy, that to this day confuses me to my core  in regards to why April had to be a part of it.

Fact: We were driving in my car away from her boyfriend. She had visited with him and kissed and giggled and laughed her way through the entire time she spent with him. She was on top of the world, motor-mouthing to me about how she was so in love and how they would get married some day and the names her children would have, and how I was the BEST person she had EVER met for helping her out and taking care of her like a MOTHER would. She was sitting sideways in the passenger seat and talking with her arms and hands flying with emotion and I laughed as I told her to  sit properly in her seat and to put her seat belt on before we reached the highway. I couldn’t see out her side of the car at all and didn’t see anything until it was just….this….much…too …late. I strained to look around her as we came to the train crossing, and not seeing anything, I drove forward. The last words out of my mouth in the split second of realization that occurred were” Oh FUCK.”

RCMP Accident Report: The Northbound Canadian Pacific train struck the passenger side of  vehicle at 1535 June 08 2012. The car was pushed for approximately 30 meters, with the occupants remaining inside the vehicle, with occupant belongings being ejected out the shattered passenger window and rear windows. Witness reports stated there was a smell of gasoline and burning rubber, and that one witness (occupation: Registered Nurse)  crawled under the train to get to the victims inside the vehicle.

Eyes wide open in shock, mouth gasping for air, hurts, hurts, hurts, HURTS, HURTS HURTS,FUCK IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS OHMYGOD WHAT IS HAPPENING TO MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE??? SOMEBODY HELP ME PLEASE, MOM. MOM, MOM, MOM, PLEASE HELP ME ANYBODY HELP ME OHMYGOD IMDYING IMDYINGMYSONSMYSONSMYSONSRORYNICKYRORYNICKYRORYNICKYRORY OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!WHAT HAVE I DONE??????? I LEFT THEM ALONE I LEFT THEM ALONE NO MOTHER NO MOTHER I’M SO STUPIDSTUPIDSTUPID!!!!! WHAT IS ON TOP OF ME? WHAT IS THAT? I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE BUT I CANT GET THIS OFF OF ME WHAT IS IT? 

closing my eyes. too bright, too much, too hot,  close them for just a minute, put your head back and rest and close them for a minute, they are burning and something hot and sticky is in them and on your face and you suddenly smell your newborn son’s neck. the car is filled with the smell of new baby and the sweet smell envelopes you and you want to close your eyes but just for a minute and you hear your Dad’s voice and you can almost see him but he won’t help you and you cry a little and moan and almost pant like an animal and you hear his voice saying, “no, not yet, no, no, no, not yet – OPEN YOUR EYES!”

hard to breathe and whistling sounds and you sit straight and look down…and you push…that…off of you. you push hard and cry and try to breathe and then you push the arm away and you push…the other…away and you turn to your door and you slide out like a snake and fall to the ground. you get up to stand and fall again. you do this three times before someone holds you down and tells you to stay down. she tells you that you are badly injured and need to stay down. she is crying but she doesn’t  even know you…she cries as she holds you down gently.you try to tell her that if you can stand up you are alive but she can’t hear you. you have no voice left, just whistling, whining puffs of nothingness.

on your stomach with your face in the prickly grass and ditch weeds, you can smell the earth and the dirt and you can feel the sun hot on your back and the blood and your tears and the dirt become one and you hear the others whispering but you don’t care as you think about your babies and everyone you ever loved and those that loved you and it goes so fast in your head and spins and whirls that you feel dizzy and want to sit up. you almost feel like throwing up but you know that these people are sad already and you try to keep all that down and let yourself go..go..go.

you are in the ambulance tied to a board and the lady with the blonde hair is asking you who to call and you can’t say your mother cus she is old and far away and you know that is the call that will kill her so you tell her to call your brother who is reckless but strong like you and who will come for your sons if you die and they need him. she wants to know your children’s names and how old they are and what you would say to them if they were with you right now and you watch her try to write in her little coil notepad and her hands are shaking and you can’t breathe but she keeps talking and asking and writing as the ambulance moves to where they are taking you.

she asks about April’s family and numbers and you try to turn your head as far as you can in the brace

            and then close your eyes

                                              and disappear….