Getting there

Getting there

Monday, April 9, 2012


There are times when I question what I am doing, dear friends. This has been an incredible year in my life, filled with new people and new adventures. There have been many, many incredible moments - but it hasn't always been easy. Dramatic change and growth can come with pain as those around you struggle with the change, and as you find yourself struggling. You knew who you were, but not always who you are becoming. And, at times, you question yourself. I know I have.

And then there are moments when something happens - or you meet someone - that lets you know that you are on the right path. It is nothing short of serendipity when they appear in your life, and often at the moment when it is least expected. This happened to me in January when I met Wally.

I was attending a conference, and our seats for dinner that evening were assigned. When I went to sit at my table I realized I knew two of the people at it, but not well. And then an older gentleman came and asked if he could sit next to me, and I said yes, of course. And so Wally sat down, and we began to talk.

Wally is a First Nations elder from a community close to mine. In his sixties now he has led a pretty amazing life, but not all of it wonderful - not at all. In fact Wally has seen much pain, including an alcohol addiction that cost him several years of his life. But Wally got sober, and now counsels others about getting sober, too. He is involved with First Nations youth, and sentencing circles, and his community.

Wally asked what I do, and I told him about the blog I write about my community. I told him how I try to tell the stories of my community and the people in it, how I try to share those with the world with what limited skills I have. And as I told him Wally began to smile.

The more Wally smiled the better I felt. You see, I'd been feeling a bit down at that point, questioning some decisions I had made. I wasn't sure where I should go next, either, and feeling a bit directionless as my personal growth and change seemed to be outstripping my ability to cope with it. And then Wally said something to me, something that changed me even more.

Wally looked at me and said "Theresa, three weeks ago I asked the creator to show me someone who cared. To show me someone who listened to the stories of others with respect and without judgement. After three weeks I had almost given up. But today the Creator brought me you, and restored my faith."

I was speechless. Wally had just given me the greatest gift, and he didn't even know it. It all gushed out then, and I told him how I doubted myself and my choices and my direction. And Wally listened with respect and without judgement. Wally simply let me talk, and then Wally gave me a hug. And then he thanked me. For being me.

It was hard for us to leave that table that night, I think. In many ways we could not be more different, this First Nations elder and I, and yet we had connected in the profound way that rarely happens in this world. I gave Wally what he had asked the Creator for, and Wally gave me the strength and the courage to keep going - because, after just a short conversation, he believed in me. And it gave me belief in myself again.

I got an email from Wally just the other day. This summer I am going to drive down to visit him, to spend some more time listening to his story. And, well, because Wally makes me believe in myself. Every once in awhile I think we need someone like that in our lives - and I am so very, very lucky to have found Wally. The greatest part? I think he feels the same way about me, dear friends.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Finding The Light

Three years ago today my mother died. There is a finality in that sentence, dear friends. It was an ending, and a very difficult, traumatic ending. But it was also, for me, a beginning. It was the beginning of a new life journey for me, because my mother's death changed me. It changed everything.

My mother was in her 80's, but her death was unexpected. She had been in good health, so the phone call from my sister saying that she had been rushed into intensive care came as a shock. I flew home the next day, and the ensuing days passed in a blur of anxiety and grief, and pain. I thought I was handling it well - I thought I was okay. I was anything but okay.

After the funeral I came back to my home city, a province away from the city where my mother had lived and where I grew up. I thought life would go back to normal - that I would grieve but that I would get over it, that nothing significant would change. After all, I had lost my father three years before, and I had recovered from that. I underestimated what losing my mother would do to me.

I won't go into the details as I've written about them before, but I spiralled into a depression, a bleakness I had never known before. I suffered strange ailments, and I lost a tremendous amount of weight (being overweight this did not imperil but was worrisome all the same). Finally, my husband stepped in. He saw that I was drowning, and he threw me a lifeline. He sent me to see a therapist, and it likely saved me from spiralling even further.

During the therapy sessions I made a decision. I decided to live. I decided to live with joy, and excitement, and anticipation. I decided to make every moment count, because you don't know how many moments you have left (none of us do, really). I decided to treat life as an adventure, not as something to fear. And I began to change yet again, stopping that downward spiral and climbing instead. I decided to take that worrisome weight loss and make it something good - and began going to the gym regularly. I began to eat better, laugh more, and hug freely. I had always loved my daughter, and my husband. But it intensified as I recognized how brief our time on this planet can be, and I held them, and my sisters, even closer to my heart.

And then, last year, I began a new adventure. I began writing again, first this blog, then another blog, and then I started to get paid to write other things. I rediscovered a dormant passion, and I discovered an entirely new world. I made new friends, embraced new ideas, and became involved in new adventures. That life adventure I began after my mother's death grew in ways I never anticipated, and led to where I am today, three years later. And it astonishes me.

I have always had a wonderful life, with an amazing husband and a daughter that I think, in my biased way, is close to perfection. I've always had incredible family support from my sisters, and I have been blessed with friends who love me despite my foibles and idiosyncrasies. In the last year, however, my life has become full and rich beyond all my expectations. My universe expanded in ways that I didn't even think were possible. And the funny thing is it all began for me with the most tragic of events. It all began when my mother died.

There were bleak moments in that first year when I thought I would never get over her death, never get past the pain, never again find the light and live forever in the dark. There were times in the second year when I saw the light glimmering in the distance, when I could see that I had begun to grasp something that was leading somewhere. And in this, the past year, I found myself bathed in that light. I found myself surrounded by new friends, new experiences, new adventures - and yet still in the loving arms of my husband, my daughter, my extended family, and my friends. It has been a journey that I could have never predicted.

This is the very first anniversary since my mother's death when I can say that I am okay. I still miss her - oh, how I miss her! But I think this year I have found some healing. I think this year I realized that the most tragic of events can set you on a trajectory that can change your life. This year I discovered that you can take something that has almost broken you entirely and not only heal from it but use it to make yourself happier than you ever imagined. This year I found the light. And I think maybe it was my mother's very final gift to me, dear friends.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Daffodils and Synchronicity

It’s funny, sometimes, how synchronicity seems to strike your life. It seems to happen a great deal to me, people entering my life at the exact moment I need them, or bringing me a word or a thought so relevant to what I am experiencing in my own existence at that point. It happened to me again this week, dear friends, and on this, the month of the 6th anniversary of my father’s death from lung cancer, I wanted to share it with you.

It began with a message from a friend who has taken on a new job with our local branch of the Canadian Cancer Society. He asked if I would be willing to meet with the Executive Director for our region, and I said yes, of course. I said yes because it is interesting to me professionally to help non-profit organizations through my community blog, and because I love to meet new people and show them what my city is about. What I didn’t expect, though, was that this meeting would be far more personal than professional. I should have realized, of course, since I watched my father suffer and die from lung cancer 6 years ago, and thus cancer touched my own life very intimately.

We met for coffee this morning, my friend, the director, and I, and it wasn’t long before I found myself telling them the story of my father. I thought I was telling them because it would show that I too care deeply about the fight against cancer, but as I told it, tears beginning to sting my eyes, I realized I wasn’t telling them about it because of that at all. I was telling them because my father’s death, even 6 years later, has a profound impact on me. I was telling them because that experience, his cancer journey and eventual death, was one of the most difficult journeys of my entire life, and I felt the need to share it.

The director is a charming man, and one who has had his own cancer journey. The words he said to me today almost made me cry, but also smile. He said that my story is the kind of story that inspires him in his mission. He said that I clearly have passion for my own life mission. His mission might be more direct in the fight against cancer, and mine might be a bit more scattered (I am passionate about so many things, so many issues), but we are so similar in that when we care about something we act. We make it our mission. And we find inspiration in those we meet along the way.

We talked for about an hour, exchanging stories of how cancer had touched our lives, about medical care, about the cancer society, and about how I can help them. We spoke about many things, and some of them were professionally very interesting to me as a writer. But it was the personal stories that resonated, that rang loud and true and clear to me. It was the stories of those we knew who had died from cancer or other diseases, of those we had loved and lost, and those who are still fighting. The director may take my story as inspiration, but his kind words inspired me, too.

The director spoke about taking the one core value of the loved one we have lost and trying to embrace it in our own lives. I have been thinking about that ever since our meeting. My mother, now gone almost exactly three years, believed in love and family above all else. I have, therefore, embraced her heart, and love my family with a ferocity and intensity that she would not only admire but understand. My father, now gone almost exactly 6 years, valued thought and ideas, and so I have spent most of my life pursuing new ideas, and trying to find new ways to see the world. I think I’ve done quite well embracing that which was most important to my beloved parents, and today I felt a quiet pride in that accomplishment. I know that if they were proud of me for no other reason they would be proud of that.

When I left the meeting today the director explained that April is Daffodil Month, the month they wear a daffodil to remember those they have lost. He was wearing a small silver daffodil pin on his blazer, and he removed it, handed it to me, and told me that he wanted to give it to me in memory of my father. It was for me to remember him, to remember his values, and, I think, to remember my mission, whether it was to fight cancer or fight any other battles I feel are worth fighting. I almost cried at that moment, and I am crying now as I write of it, because while my father has been gone 6 years he will never leave my heart. I will never forget his days in palliative care, his months of battling cancer, but more importantly his decades of life, and of being my father. My father was a fighter, who fought for his ideals and his beliefs and his thoughts and, in the end, his life. He lost his battle with cancer, but I am here to continue that fight. I will assist in the fight against cancer in whatever way I can, and I will take his strength, and my mother’s heart, to whatever battles await me, regardless of what they are.

In the end, dear friends, I went for coffee thinking it would be professionally interesting and instead came away personally touched and uplifted. I had connected with someone and shared a deeply personal story – and I am so very glad I did. The anniversary of my mother’s death is this weekend, and my father’s is next week. This has always been a terribly painful time of year for me, especially so since my mother’s passing three years ago. This year, though, I feel differently about it. I still miss them. I still mourn them. But for the very first time I feel like I can celebrate their lives instead of just grieve over their deaths. For the very first time I approach this week with tears but also with genuine gratitude and joy for all they gave me, from life to my blue eyes to the character traits that have made me the imperfect, but improving, person I am. This year it’s like a tiny yellow daffodil peeking out of the snow and being met with warm spring sunlight. This year the synchronicity of my life is healing me, one coffee date, and one small silver daffodil pin, at a time.

Photo credit to Public Domain Pictures

Monday, March 5, 2012

We Interrupt This Blog - The Mixed Bag Disc

This personal blog has been neglected recently due to other projects taking off - but since I always have time to listen to music I decided to share some of what I am currently enjoying. Some is new, some is old, but as usual for some reason these songs resonate with me at this particular point in the journey of my life, so here goes!

First up is a relatively new song. I love this song for many reasons - it's quirky, the music is interesting, and it's very easy to listen to. Even more, though, the lyrics speak to me. I think we have all had relationships, romantic or otherwise, that have ended with us being treated as strangers by the one we have separated from. It doesn't even matter how well you think you knew them - in the end they become just somebody you used to know. And sometimes you wonder, in retrospect, if you really knew them at all.

Gotye - "Somebody That I Used to Know" (with Kimbra)

Now, this is an old one. I was always a Cyndi Lauper fan - quirky, funny, a wee bit crazy, and with a wicked voice. I told someone once that this song made me think of them, because I think they were afraid to show who they really are to the world. They kept parts of themselves hidden deep, worrying that if people saw those parts they would turn away. Funny thing is that it's those hidden parts that reveal the most about who we truly are, and are most likely to resonate with those who are truly like us.

Cyndi Lauper - "True Colours"

Right, another old one. I've been on a Pat Benatar kick lately, and I'm not sure why. I think it's because she's just so damn feisty. She sang a lot about love - but I don't think she is exactly a compromising sort when it comes to getting what she wants in that department. And I say good for her!

Pat Benatar - "Heartbreaker"

And since I seem to be listening to a lot of female diva types I have to include Katy Perry. She might be dismissed as a "pop" musician but I happen to love her lyrics. She seems pretty comfortable with who she is, even when faced with difficult life events. You gotta respect that, and I love to see her working it out in her art, too. I guess musicians and writers aren't really all that different. I told someone recently that this song made me think of them - I guess I tend to associate certain songs with certain people. For me this one is much like "True Colours" - all about letting who you are shine.

Katy Perry - "Firework"

And, finally, I just love this song. There is something haunting about it, something lovely and profound. I find myself listening to it again and again. Musically complex and lyrically interesting, it's one of my favourite songs from last year.

Mumford and Sons - "The Cave"

So, there you go, dear friends. It's a mixed bag of music these days in my world, pop divas and quirky musicians. Frankly it's a bit like my life right now - just kind of quirky, although I am trying to avoid the "diva" part :)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Waiting For Sorry

There have been times in my life when people have hurt me, dear friends. We have all experienced this sort of pain - when someone has transgressed against us, have wounded us in ways we cannot explain. We have experienced the pain of that wounding, and, often, the seething anger of resentment - because it was wrong. Because it caused us to suffer. Because it left us destitute of spirit. And we want to hear to some words. We desperately want to hear two words that while they will not erase the pain will acknowledge that the pain was caused. The words are, of course, "I'm sorry".

The problem is that those words don't always come. You can wait hours, days, weeks, months, and years. Or forever. You can wait forever to hear two words that will never come, for whatever reason. Perhaps because the one who has hurt you doesn't have the strength of character to say them. Perhaps because they don't think what they did was wrong. Or, even worse, perhaps because they know it was wrong, and they know they caused you pain - but they simply don't care, because your pain - your suffering - is meaningless to them.

And in the end that is the problem with waiting to hear those words. You can carry that seething anger, that burning need to hear those words, forever. It can burn brightly inside of you to the end of your days, and it can continue to cause you anguish and pain. And in the end, who does it hurt, dear friends? Does it have any meaning to the one who harmed you? Or, in the end, does it harm only you?

Once I heard about a couple who had a lovely daughter. Their only daughter, in fact. And she was murdered, horribly, senselessly. They were remarkable people, though - because they forgave her murderer. Even in the absence of the words "I'm sorry" they forgave. Not for him, not because he deserved their forgiveness - but for themselves, because continuing to carry the pain simply intensified it. Feeding into the fire would have simply stoked it, and it could have kept burning forever, until the day of their deaths. But they extinguished the fire. They forgave a crime that I doubt most people could even begin to forgive.

And so I too try to practice forgiveness, even in the absence of the words "I'm sorry". Some of those I have forgiven are long gone from my life, and will never know I forgave them. In the end, though, I forgave not for them, but for me. I may never understand why they chose to hurt me, and I may always feel some degree of pain - but I forgive them. I forgive them because it frees me, not because it frees them. Because in the end to wait for the words that may never come perpetuates the pain. I have the power to end the pain, by simply saying the words "I forgive you" - even without ever hearing the words "I'm sorry".