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.

Full Moon in May

Mother Moon, do you recall at the beginning of this year, when I brought my children out into our snow-covered postage stamp backyard to meet you? We performed our first moon ritual as a family, with both mamas lending their feminine energy to our circle. Each of us wrote a full moon wish on a piece of paper (even little Noodle) and we burned our wishes as offerings before releasing the circle and heading inside for hot cocoa.

I asked you for the truth. You’ve delivered it in ways that have torn my very soul from my body.

Tonight’s moon is not to be taken lightly. It’s my first moon phase in this new life, and I’ve never felt more uncertain and unsteady. I realize now that I must be very careful about what I call towards me. You clearly don’t mess around.

Please grant me the ability to access love, even when I’m moved to feel hurt, anger, betrayal and fear.

Grant me the foresight to make careful, considered decisions for my own future and the future of my children.

Keep sending me moments of beauty and joy so that the moments of sorrow and grief do not cast such dark shadows.

Draw love to me in every form that you believe I can handle right now.

Continue revealing the truth. I will believe it, even if I don’t want to.

Protect my children. Help them see me, and see the love I have for them, and the gifts I have to bring to their lives.

Please grant me financial prosperity and continued success in my work. I need this stability desperately right now.

Send me breath when the sorrow feels too great. Show me there is more than just my suffering.

Help me build a home that is emotionally stable, safe, and a place where I can heal.

Bless all of the incredible friends and family, near and far, who have shown me that I am not alone and that I am worthy of love.

Let me turn this pain into beauty, and let that beauty help others move through their own suffering.

Guard my health so I may survive this time and benefit from the inevitable changes ahead.

As always, I am grateful for your light and divine feminine energy. I realize that even in the midst of this suffering I have an abundance of blessings. Underneath the heaviness, there is a part of me that is both curious and hopeful about where I will be at the end of this cycle. The path forward is unclear, but I will trust that I am exactly where I should be.

Getaway

Long before my life…what’s the phrase I want to use here? Caved in? Fell apart? Transformed? Long before everything changed, I’d agreed to house and pet sit for my dear friends Nat and Mike in the east end of Toronto. That’s where I am now; laying in their bed, the white noise of a little fan near the window drowning out all other sound. I’m up too early on a Sunday morning, but maybe I’ll nap after I write this.

I’ve been here since Wednesday, with Noodle at my side for three full days. I needed time, just the two of us, to have fun and go on city adventures. The first night we rolled in, we hit the beach for fish and chips, a first for him. He liked the food, but he liked the sand more, so it was up to me to finish our single serving. It was hard to convince myself to eat a pile of fried stuff while watching twenty-year-old women in bikinis playing beach volleyball. The seagulls were grateful for the fish and chips donation.

We trekked to the water’s edge. It’s remarkable how much time a young kid can spend throwing things into the water. I found an almost perfectly round white rock that reminded me of the full moon, and another tear-shaped rock with a stripe around the edges. I tucked these in my bag and then realized that I’ll need a nature table in my new home, wherever that may be. The beach was littered with gorgeous, fit bodies, couples in love, and young families with children. Why does heartbreak feel so much like panic? The worst has already happened, so what am I afraid of? I put my toes into the lake and with the shock of spring-cold water, asked for my pain to be taken away.

We noodled around on the playground. The sand was hot lava. Then we went to meet friends for ice cream. I drove to the wrong location, so by the time we finally sorted ourselves, I had a wired, tired five year old boy. He was like a shark in the way he couldn’t stop moving. And then, we added ice cream to his little body, which thankfully he barely touched. The Beaches are always bustling with people. Every time I’m there, I feel like I’m on a holiday. This time, I tried to take in all the sights and sounds while trying to keep my kid from picking things up off the city streets, listening to my friend try to make conversation, and most importantly, trying not collapse in a sobbing heap.

Home then for a quick walk with the dog and a bath to rinse out all the sand in Noah’s hair. He was beyond tired at this point, and I braced myself for the onslaught of emotion. Sure enough, he started sobbing. Homesick for the rest of his family, not completely sure if I’d brought him here because this was our new home, it was a mess. How do you console someone when they’re crying for the same things you are? I remained steady, and loving, and we moved through our routine for the rest of the night. Tears turned to giggles, we read the new Star Wars book my friends so sweetly left for him, and soon he was snoring. Not mommy though. I had to start my work day. I got in two solid hours before I began drooling on myself, and then was out cold as soon as the light was out. Hmm…maybe a new strategy for getting proper sleep? Work until I’m delirious, wake only when I have to. Nap if necessary. Repeat.

The next day we walked the dog, discovered a playground, and then Noah built an epic amusement park out of toddler-sized Lego bricks while I cracked my computer and got some more work in. Our afternoon destination was the Aquarium. He’s shark-crazy right now, so this first visit was sure to blow his mind. He fell asleep in the car, which was great because with a Jays game to compete with, there was no parking to be found. I drove around for an hour looking, reminiscent of the time I briefly lived in Manhattan. I decided to take my chances on a side street, where I was relatively sure I wouldn’t get towed. Surely, I wouldn’t get a  parking ticket on top of everything else? (I didn’t. Thank you parking gods!)

Noodle had to work himself up to go see the sharks. We cut our teeth on freshwater fish and octopus. This reminded me of when he was a baby, when he was OBSESSED with horses. He only had a few words, and one of those was ‘NeighNeigh’. We took him to the Royal Winter Fair, so he could see these great beasts up close, and he was terrified. I couldn’t understand how getting close to something you loved so much could be scary. I think I get it now. With enough distance, these creatures are alluring and magnificent. Close up, you realize they can kill you.

After lunch, and some indoor playground time, he was ready to take on the sharks. Noodle was delighted with how the tanks seemed to stretch on and on. He really took his time, searching for each species, and we read lots of the info cards. Impressive because I didn’t think his attention span was up for so much research. As we finally wrapped up, we visited the gift shop and chose a plastic shark head full of tiny aquatic creatures. These came in handy, because our next stop was with a warm and lovely couple who I’ll be uniting in marriage next month. Thankfully, they liked kids.

Then dinner in Kensington Market. A tired and overstimulated kid doesn’t care about exciting bustle and vibrant street life. They think it’s bullshit that we have to park so far from the place we’re supposed to be. We met my dear cousin for pho, and like so many of my nearest and dearest, all she could do was shake her head in bewilderment and shed some tears on my behalf. On our behalf. I get the same question over and over:

“What happened?”

I may never have the answer.

A spin around the block with the pooch and then we dropped into bed. This time Noodle tried to read the Star Wars book to me. My heart feels next to exploding with every new word he masters. He’s unlocking the universe, one syllable at a time. It occurs to me to make more space for pleasure reading, now that I’ll have more alone time. I slept that night like I had no worries in the world.

On our final day together, we use our ROM membership to visit our dino friends, see the animals, and of course, the mummy. We contemplate why there is an alarm in the mummy’s glass case. Is it climate control? Is it in case he gets up and wanders around after hours? Is it because treasure hunters may try to steal him and remove the ancient ruby hidden in his chest cavity? We eat lunch and split a chocolate croissant, choose a dino Lego set and matching moon and stars necklaces for his sisters, and then we head home. We take the dog to the playground at the end of the street and I make friends with my first single dad. He’s not my type, but I’m encouraged by how kids make the best of ice breakers. Maybe someday…

After some play time, we head to the beaches for dinner with Kathryn, one of my very best friends, and my dear, sweet Dave. Noodle is amused to learn that these people who he doesn’t recognize used to hold him and sing to him and sometimes even feed him while mommy was onstage, or when they came to our Toronto house to visit him. He cozies right up to both, as if he can sense that they are my lifeline right now. As if he loves them because they love me, complete with all my mess. They engage him until he’s too tired to chat, and then they hold him close while he amuses himself with a shark game on my phone. I’ve used up all my data this month trying to create distractions. Both for the boy, and for myself.

That night, I sleep as close as I can to my son, knowing it will be days and many miles before I see him again. I never dreamed I’d have to see him only fifty percent of the time. I never imagined being without him until he was grown and fending for himself. His sweaty head smells like summertime and his own unique delicious blend of earthy goodness. How do people do this? How do people move through this loss and still feel like their lives are full?

On Saturday, I delivered Noodle home to his dad. I painted on my mask, squeezed myself into a little dress and a pair of heels, curled my hair and headed off to marry a beautiful couple as their bridal party and I overlooked Niagara Falls.

“To find love, we must first take the chance of risking our heart to one another.
For it is only then, in the very act of offering ourselves, that true love is discovered.”

In this life I’ve taken so many chances. I think it’s time to fold for a while.