If Animals Were Messengers

I moved all of my possessions out of my home on Saturday. A home I never wanted to leave. A home that all of the members of my former family remain in. I moved all of my possessions out of my home, into storage at my aunt’s house. Because I have no home to move those boxes to.

This is a scenario that would never unfold in a traditional marriage. The courts would decide who would leave, or who would stay if either spouse wished to remain in the family home.

My cousin and my brother helped me schlep a pick up truck and cargo van full of my belongings. I fed them pizza and beer, and my eternal gratitude. I didn’t cry, or get emotional. I just wanted to get out. Get it done. I’d packed everything a couple of days before. I’d purged mountains of my possessions. My ex helped me. That felt like a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from. The only thing I couldn’t handle was dividing up the Christmas decorations. I can’t begin to think about Christmas yet.

The enormity of the morning’s activities didn’t sink in until I was showered and made up and on my way to officiate one of two weddings I had on deck that evening. Then, it was another one of those drop kick moments. When my legs feel like they’ll buckle beneath me. When no matter how hard I try, I can’t believe this is my life. This is cataclysmic. Seismic. A catastrophe of epic proportion. Don’t cry, you’ll ruin your makeup.

Then, as I was stopped at a traffic light, a blue heron flew over my car. Blue heron brings messages of self-determination and self reliance. Progress, evolution. The ability to stand on one’s own.

My mind drifts to thoughts of her. How she’s in my home more than I am now. How she’s sliding so seamlessly into my place. Like a light bulb that gets screwed in when its predecessor sputters out. I can’t stop thinking of her, but everything I read tells me that’s normal. Given these kinds of breakups.

A monarch butterfly flutters maniacally over my windshield, in a frenzied effort to get the hell off the highway. Butterfly means that massive changes are afoot. She’s in your path to ask you to embrace those changes in your environment and your emotional body. Release any expectations regarding the outcome of the change around you and don’t try to control it. Allow it to flow through you and around you. Accept change with grace and eloquence.

I think of how little I am left with, and how much my former life meant to me. How much of my identity is rooted in the people I called home. How I never, ever imagined my life without him in it. To share the stories of my day, to hold and taste and adore. How I never would have wished to lose my son half of the time. Or see my daughters only every other weekend.

Two ravens squawk at each other before leaving behind a carcass on the side of the highway and flying up and over my car. Noisy raven urges you to speak up for yourself and heed the messages you are receiving. Raven is the keeper of synchronicity. You are in the right place at the right time. All things are falling into place for you. The people around you are reflecting to you the things you most need to learn about yourself.

I arrive at the wedding. The venue is a marina in Port Colborne. The weather is perfect, and everyone is in good spirits. I allow my own struggles to slide somewhere else inside of me, and surrender to the bubble gum pink beauty and the possibility of love. I unite lovers. I unite families. As I’m completing the paperwork, a blue dragonfly lands on my knee.

Dragonfly says pay attention to your deepest desires. Think your dreams into reality. Live your life to the fullest, change habits that need changing. A dragonfly landing on you indicates extremely good luck.

All of these messengers in one short afternoon. The most significant afternoon of my life, it seems. I think of days earlier. I was on a hike with a new friend, who seemed to know exactly what I needed and took me to see the fireflies. As dusk settled in, I watched a beaver slide into the old canal. I had no idea beavers lived this far south.

Beaver represents hard work and collaboration with others to turn your dreams into reality.

Then as we walked along the path, the trees looming over us like shadowy sentinels, the entire forest lit up with a thousand sparkling lights. Fist fulls of diamonds in the moonlight.

It’s this glow within me that will save me. This blazing heart that will fill me with love and illuminate the way ahead. It’s my own firefly light that will shine on all that is good and beautiful in this world, and no matter what I’ve lost, I will always see that there is so much yet to be gained.

I had lots of fun looking up the symbolism behind these creatures on this site.

The Process

Thanks for your patience. I’ve been wading through this complicated new reality, not always keeping my head up, and not always feeling like I wanted to share.  The grieving process is like that sometimes.

The other morning I woke up at 8:00 am, took my canine companion for a walk in the rain, still wearing my pjs, unloaded boxes from the trunk of my car, fried some bacon, scrambled some eggs in the bacon fat, made coffee, sat down at the table near the window overlooking the garden and I felt good.

A few nights ago, I cooked dinner for myself, poured a glass of wine, settled into the cabana in the backyard (I’m house sitting again) and binge watched the new season of Queer Eye on Netflix. That show has literally injected pure joy into my heart on numerous occasions through the last several months.

I feel good.

Not all the time. Certainly not the day I spent sorting through bins of stuff while my ex helped me purge garbage bags full of old clothes and fabric I forgot I even had. Certainly not when I found out the apartment I thought I was moving into wasn’t going to work out. Certainly not when I went to see the first couple of alternative apartments available in my budget and was terrified of both the filth and the neighbours. That was a double-whammy of a day when there was also a full moon and I was in the throes of PMS, but these moments of bad feeling are quickly replaced with a sense of hope, and a sense of peace. There’s a voice somewhere just beyond me that keeps insisting that it’s going to be okay, and that voice feels very true.

There isn’t a single part of this separation that has gone the way that I want. It doesn’t matter. I’m not in control. I’ll work with what I get, and keep trusting that voice. Maybe I wasn’t meant to spend this year of healing in a basement. Maybe my moments with my daughters, though far less frequent, will be of greater connection and quality. Maybe constant trips to the home we made together when we were a family would have made it too hard to really let go. Maybe living with my parents for the summer was always going to be a safer place to land as I start this new life. Maybe lawyers are painfully slow because there are more conversations that need to be had, and greater understanding to be achieved.

I’m spending more time thinking about what I want than crying over what I’ve lost. So, on this bright and sunny morning, a moon into my single-hood, here’s what I want for the summer:

Quiet Saturday mornings for writing and eating home-cooked breakfasts

The feeling of liberation that comes with getting rid of mountains of stuff I don’t need (both physical and emotional)

Continued work opportunities to create this new life for myself

The fun of dreaming of a new living space

Dinners with great conversation and people who I feel good around

A camping adventure or two, and one that includes the kids

Someone to teach me how to become an expert paddler

Weekly hikes

Time for reading, just for fun

The courage to embrace the lonely and overwhelming moments, sit with them, and know that they aren’t forever

Great moments of bonding with all of my kids

Continued acceptance of change, even if I don’t understand other people’s choices

A safe, clean home of my own in a place that feels good

The momentum to create a routine of ongoing physical activity

I think this is a great list, but I’m always open to suggestions. For example, a dear friend challenged me to get a massage. I never do things like that for myself, so I’m going to schedule an appointment. So, can you be a pal and throw some of your own suggestions below for the #summerofme?

A Letter to Present Me from Future Me

Dear Catherine,

(I’m sorry, I just can’t call you Cat. It’s absurd.)

You don’t think you’ll make it through this, but you will. You’re right about one thing, however. You won’t be the same. Nobody is ever the same after grief like this. It’s okay though. Remember how the other grief you experienced made you really learn to appreciate the fragile beauty of life? This will make you appreciate the fragile beauty of holding someone else’s heart. Most importantly, it will help you appreciate the fragile beauty of becoming the keeper of your own heart.

All of those things you’re doing that make you feel better? Keep doing those. Also, be prepared because you’re going to start having to do other things too. Those things you’ve been scared of. You know they’re going to help you get better as well, and if you take a long hard look at the present, you’ll see the time has come. Trust deeply in your ability to survive through this. It’s not going to kill you, and I’m not going to spout any more cliches than I already have.

Your children love you, deeply. If you keep on loving them the way you always have, this love will continue to thrive and flourish. Don’t pull away because it’s complicated. It was always complicated, and now it’s actually simpler in ways that matter more than you can know right now. You may not have the paperwork to prove you are ‘mother’ to all of them, but those two young women have the fiercest, most passionate fairy godmother in the history of guardians. You’re going to rock that role, and they will always be grateful for your persistence.

Stop trying to understand why. You can see how crazy-making that is, and you know as well as I do that it doesn’t matter. Remember that sweet, handsome soul who told you that you’ll feel normal ‘when you can let go of the story of wrong/right as an identity piece’? That particular little nugget will be a game-changer for you. Let go of the wrong/right narrative. It just was. And it was totally different for each of you. Nobody was completely right, nobody was completely wrong, everyone did their best, and everyone lost something that cannot be replaced. See? There really are no winners. Just people, trying to heal and be whole. Stepping away from the story is stepping towards your wholeness.

Start writing a new story. The story of you, taking care of your finances, your children, your heart, your body and mind. Of you finishing books and putting them out in the world because you aren’t paralyzed by anxiety and sorrow. Of you connecting deeply with old friends who know each line on your face. Of road trips to visit new friends. Of adventures with your three munchkins. Of meals that you cook, to thank all of these beautiful people in your life for their kindness and compassion. Plan a trip for the fall when wedding season winds down. Somewhere that connects you to nature. Where your loneliness will feel more inspiring than crushing. Where you might kiss a stranger and learn something new about yourself.

Only you can make this better. Stop asking for the pain to go away. It doesn’t work like that and you know it. Hold that pain like an angry child until it settles and shifts into something else. Hold it while you reach for a different sensation. Send all the feelings on their way and wait for the next ones to arrive. Repeat, over and over until the feelings fall into a new pattern.

Write it all down. Share what you can without making things harder for yourself. Choose only that which truly serves you. Accept this hug and feel it across the miles and the years whenever you may need it.

I’ll see you sooner than you think.

xo

A Handful of Things

A handful of things happened this week.

What an inane statement.

Things happen every week obviously, but somehow, this week felt personal. Kate Spade committed suicide, I had two heart-wrenching appointments that illuminated just how far my life has moved from the happy, oblivious place it once was. Then on the same day Doug Ford was elected premiere of Ontario, Anthony Bourdain was found dead, also by suicide.

This still isn’t rock-bottom yet, but we’re getting closer.

I remember a time (circa Robin Williams) when I would hear a story of suicide, and my response would be a trite ‘I just don’t understand how someone could do that.’ Now, I realize that the people who can’t understand suicide are the lucky ones. Don’t misinterpret me. I’m not suicidal. I have, however, had a glimpse at the depth of suffering and despair that moves people to turn it all off once and for all. And for those of us who have caught this glimpse, with each story of suicide comes a resonance that’s frightening to admit. The difference with me is that I still cling to the hope that this darkness is not a permanent state.

But imagine if it was?

Imagine if every morning, I had to compel myself to get out of bed and face the day. If every day I was met with moments so fragile I had to close my eyes and force myself to draw breath. If I continued to sob, banging the steering wheel in frustration because I’ve been taken down by another flash of memory, yearning, aching for something that cannot be, every single day with no end in sight. If I continued to wake each night, gasping for breath, only to realize that I can’t wake up from this nightmare? If something tipped the chemical balance and I just couldn’t move away from the pain?

I have so many moments of respite. Moments where I almost feel entirely normal. Sometimes better than normal, thanks to an almost steady stream of girlfriends, loving family and pleasant distractions. I get gifts in the mail. Text exchanges from handsome acquaintances that offer hope, possibility and flash me forward to a happy, vibrant future me. What if none of those moments of light were landing? If the pain blocked the path of all of the love? Or what if I just couldn’t ask for help, an ear, a drink on a patio? How would I live with this sorrow?

I can’t shake my head in bewilderment anymore. This tiny trip into those dark corners is enough to help me understand, and I am filled with compassion. If you are reading this, and you feel like you just can’t hurt anymore, please know that I care about you. You can message me, and we’ll chat. I will listen to you. You may not see it or feel it, but you are of value and there are people who love you and need you. They are not better off without you, this is your darkness telling you lies. You don’t have to be strong, but I would ask you to hold on because nothing is permanent, and sometimes that’s a good thing. We are all filled with pain and promise and each of us has at least one deep wound that we may never fully heal. You aren’t alone.

For all of you who are saving me;
the new friends unwavering in their love,
the old friends I fall apart with
and know exactly how to piece me back together,
the handsome ones who remind me my heart can be mended,
my mom and dad who can’t stop worrying,
my brother who just wants to see me smile again,
my children who have anchored me,
the almost-stranger who held me tight and told me that she sees me,
to any single one of you who reads these words,
these words that keep propelling me forward
you are the light that I reach for
every single day.

Morgan’s Point

The women in my family know heartbreak like the words to a favourite song. It seems to be written in our DNA, part of the marrow of our bones. So too is the ability to breathe in the beauty of each fragile moment. We are nature lovers who seek solace in our gardens, artists who make music, textile art, paintings and words. We love deeply, we fail spectacularly. We are caretakers and hard workers who make cozy, welcoming homes in any circumstance. We delight in family, and food, and gatherings. We raise babies, and we survive.

In this new life, I follow the path of my ancestors.

The other day, I drove 45 minutes to meet with a wedding couple at their home, where they are getting married in June. (Did you know that I’m a wedding officiant?). They just happened to live on the same road as my Aunt Jackie’s favourite house, and so after interviewing this very sweet pair (who met in later years through a match-making service #hope) I drove to the end of Morgan’s Point Road and walked down to the beach that is part of my aunt’s former property.

Jackie hosted us there over countless lazy weekends in the summer time. She held reunion barbecues, holiday gatherings, and parties on the regular because she was a spectacular cook who loved to entertain. Her home was full of exciting music, delicious smells, fresh flowers and light. I always had the sense that she felt a deep, spiritual connection with this place, overlooking the often turbulent Lake Erie. I slept in the hammock as a child with the warm summer breeze tickling my sunburned skin, listening to the crashing of the waves. Morgan’s Point was Jackie.

Morgan’s Point was also where her relationship came apart. Where she became a single mom to her son.

I don’t know what I was looking for, visiting the Point. A message from a relative I felt a strong connection to? Some reassurance that things would be okay? A ghostly encounter in the place where her ashes were scattered? I prowled the property line and snapped a few photos vaguely wondering what I might say to the owners if they discovered me in the bushes:

“My aunt used to live here.”

“My family spent one particularly warm Christmas here, shaking the house with our drumming and dancing around a raging bonfire like crazy pagans. I smoked pot with my cousins. Don’t tell my mom.”

“I ate shark for the first time on that back deck. I only did it to impress my cousin’s gorgeous half-brother. I still have a crush on him and it’s two decades later.”

“I just came here to know that I’m not going to die of a broken heart.”

Thankfully, there was nobody home.

I sat on the beach and took a half-assed selfie. I’m getting to the age where selfies feel foolish, but I know I must resist this feeling. Giving in would mean giving up. There were hundreds of little flies swarming the driftwood logs where I tried to sit for a moment of reflection. A moment of connection to Jackie, her essence. Sure, the lake was pretty, but in no more magical a way than any other lake. The flies felt like they were discovering a new home in the mess that was my hair. Finally, I selected a glittering black rock from the beach. Something to remember the moment. Or the complete lack of a moment.

Because a house is just a house. A beautiful property is just a piece of land. Home is made by people, connections, moments; the memories created behind the bricks and mortar. The imprints left by little feet racing across lawns and hurling rocks into the waves. Jackie wasn’t at the Point because we are not tied to places. Everything I need of Jackie is part of me already, courtesy of DNA and grey matter, where a thousand memories of her strength and beauty are stored. All I need to do is close my eyes and hear her wailing the chorus to ‘Blue Bayou’. When I was a girl, the way she sang that song made me burn to understand what it was all about.

I’ve always thought of myself as a nomad. This will sound preposterous to anyone who knows how much stuff I own, but it’s true. I can feel at home just about anywhere. So, I guess it’s time to purge and pack. To find a new place for memories and moments to play out. Time to start dreaming of a space to call my own, to live modestly and within my means while I repair and heal.

Still, Morgan’s Point is awfully pretty. You should visit it sometime if you can.