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.

Lilac Wine

My grandmother had twelve children, eleven of whom survived through infancy. She lived with an alcoholic husband, and dealt with all of the hardships that come with such a life; poverty, violence, heartache, fear, before finally realizing her power. Each May, she’s in my thoughts. Her birthday was the 17th and her favourite flowers were lilacs. Even after the polar spring we had, the lilacs are bursting forth, and my heart is full of Grandmaman.

What would she say to me if she were here right now? She’d tell me to pray, because her faith was her shield. She’d tell me to take good care of my heart. Grandmaman would give me a crushing hug and her glasses would dig into the side of my face. She’d smell like garlic and brown sugar, Sunlight laundry detergent and that rich, earthy smell that was uniquely hers. She would tell me to never be sorry for trying to love someone.

There’s a shift in my turmoil. Each day presents a new version of moving through this pain. Now, when I’m suddenly hit with a wave of panic or despair, I take a moment and remind myself to breathe. I hold on to my love. I feel it so deeply and completely, and even though it’s not reciprocated, it’s mine. I am full of love. I don’t have to be ashamed of that, or try to stuff those emotions away. I feel love, and that love will shift and change. If I don’t bury it with anger, with questions I can never answer, with fear of what I do not know, it will remind me of all the reasons why I tried in the first place. It will heal me. It’s okay that I continue to feel this love. I just have to accept that it belongs to me now.

I can do this. I can put one foot in front of the next and re-invent myself. My grandmother got up again every time she got knocked down by life. What other choice do you have when you’ve got eleven kids? We are strong stock, the women of my family. We are survivors. I don’t pray, but I can accept that this is where I am right now. I can take back my power and move forward with grace.

I can sit in the food court of a sunny mall with my bestest besties and recognize the appreciative glances I receive. I can imagine a future me, sipping drinks on a patio with a handsome stranger while my shoulders collect more freckles. I can almost feel what it’s like to breathe and not battle tears.

After my grandfather died, my Grandmaman bought herself a new nose (she’d always hated hers), rented a tidy little apartment, and had a string of boyfriends to take her dancing until her dancing days were finally over. She wore heels until it was impossible, had her hair done every week, and never stopped flirting.

And each and every May, she filled her home with lilacs.

No Mo November (On Surviving a Shitty Month)

I thought I was dying this November.

I realize that’s a dramatic statement, but when you’ve been around cancer as much as I have, the slightest ailment is a cause for panic. I was EXHAUSTED, so much so that I demanded a full blood panel from my doc. I’ve been anemic before, and was certain this was the case. Otherwise, it was the Big C, because that’s how rational I am. I wasn’t anemic. Nor was my thyroid out of whack. All of my blood looked fine. So, what the hell?

November and I have a long-standing, love/hate relationship. (Here’s another November post, if you like this trip down memory lane.) Two people who I adore died during this particular month, and I think you can guess how. This sorrow seems to live in my cells, filling me with a non-specific melancholy that most people experience in February in this part of the world. The gray feels grayer, the cold feels colder. I can count on one hand the number of times I leave the neighborhood in a week. Maybe this grief is what had me dragging my butt.

Life has been stressful. Relationship stress. Financial stress. Work stress. This is enough to make most people want to stay in bed. Maybe the tired feeling was on account of these old demons rearing their heads? Thing are on the up now, thanks for asking.

hands and wedding bands

I officiated the wedding of my Aunt Gigi and her partner Bob this November, from his hospital bed. This occasion marked a bit upswing in my mood.

I spend a lot of time on my ass, at my desk, working away. I’ve grossly neglected my exercise routine. I’ve slipped from the nutritional choices that make me feel best. This could be what was making me exhausted.

An average-sized five-year-old often ends up in my queen sized bed, wedged between daddy and I. Sometimes he thrashes about like he’s being chased by a Ticklemonster. He’s become an ace at falling asleep on his own, in his own room. We haven’t quite nailed the staying there part. My family doctor suggested installing a baby gate to keep him contained. I found this horrifying. No judgement on those of you who have employed similar methods, but my doctor has obviously never seen a five year old take on a baby gate. Anyway, there’s another reason to feel exhausted. No sane woman could sleep in the company of a little boy who flails about and a man who snores like a demon.

So, what am I doing?

Taking vitamins, as regularly as I can. I don’t always remember, particularly on weekends, when our routine varies.

Saying NO. Holy shit, I’m bad at this, but I’m trying. I’ve had to say no to something very special to me because the mental drain was giving me anxiety. That was a tough one.

Holing Up. I’d love to spend time being social, but until that stops feeling like work, I’ll continue on this hermit-like path. You’ll occasionally see me at writing group meetings, and to drop my kids off at rehearsals. I suppose I’ll have to do some holiday shopping soon. I used to go crazy if I didn’t get out of the house and connect with other humans at least once a day. I used to appear before hundreds of people in my underwear about every other month. This homebody thing is still relatively new for me, and it’s novel. So are yoga pants. I’m a legit suburban mom with a mini van now. Most days, I’m okay with this.

Exercising. There’s just no way around this one. If I don’t move, I feel like crap. I get down on my body, I lose my drive (yes, all of it) and I feel spacey as hell. I’ve started walking for 30-45 minutes after dropping the littles at the bus stop. (Ew, that’s not a euphemism). The key to staying motivated is a good audio book. I only allow myself to listen when I’m walking. It’s working for now. I intend to keep going, even when the snow starts. Please send me your book recommendations.

Self-care. This is a difficult concept. It doesn’t mean pedicures and hair appointments, though it could. I think self-care is about doing things that make you feel good. For me, that’s putting a full stop on work after 5 pm so that I can cook for my family, or help my little dude create a book about dinosaurs. It means reading a novel for pleasure, and not because I’m getting paid to read it. It means tea and chocolate and doing absolutely nothing for ten minutes. A little bit of self-care each day seems to be helping to battle the melancholy.

Listening to my body. If want to sleep, I sleep. Even if I’m in the middle of the workday. Twenty minutes with my eyes closed, and I can easily see a difference in productivity.

So, I’m finally seeing a difference. I realize that it’s also December, which has more than a little to do with this shift in energy. Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week, because I take the mornings ‘off’ to meet with my writing buddies. These women keep me focused on my passion, and they offer the most amazing encouragement, and validation. If you’re a creator, find your people and make them a regular part of your life. Weekends are spent caring for my family and decking our halls. I love Christmas, and Yuletide, and everything connected to staying cozy and bright. I intend to carry this forward until the Spring.

Is it just me, or are there certain months of the year that consistently suck? November is mine, but I’ve survived another one. A big thanks to chocolate, and novels, and my ever-patient family.