Category Archives: Personal

Life and family

After he was gone: confusion and grief consuming

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TorahThis week I went to Jewish Yom Kippur services. This is the part of the Jewish High Holidays celebration and this particular day is called the Day of Atonement, where we atone for our sins throughout the year and ask ‘God’ for forgiveness for our everyday transgressions – large or small – and promise/vow to do better in the coming year.

An integral part of the day included a lengthy Yizkor service honouring the memory of our dead loved ones.  We read poems and Jewish death liturgy. It was an intense service where the words spoke to me again and again. I was enveloped in mourning those who passed before me. I believe this was the beginning of my week spiraling down into another deep grief depression.

This week I met with a friend – an editor – who agreed to talk about a submission I wanted to write for a book anthology on death, and to bounce around some ideas with her for an outline. As we talked, the memories flooded back again. Tears welled up. I was living the last moments of his life, questioning the rationale for what happened – Why did he die? Did I do all I could? Why couldn’t I save him this time? Could we have done something differently?

writingAfter my friend left, I tried to start writing my piece, but it didn’t seem genuine. The words and thoughts were stilted. It didn’t capture what I felt. It wasn’t conveying my feelings. I began wondering whether I really wanted someone to judge my personal writing and possibly reject it because it didn’t meet their standards. When you pour you soul out and others dismiss it as substandard would it be too difficult to bear?

Even after evening with my weekly meditation group didn’t relax me. The act of meditating became a futile attempt to calm a wandering mind focusing on finding words for the anthology story and coming up with empty platitudes, stale remarks and boring analogies.

The fact that our Canadian Thanksgiving is this weekend probably added to my muddled mind. Another holiday without Bob. The enveloping sadness that was taking over.

That night I couldn’t stop thinking. The yearning of my loss morphed into a need to be held, but there was no one there to hold me and tell me it would be alright. I was, again, back in the time of feeling bereft.

Today, I am wrung out from crying, wailing and flailing my fists at unfairness, aloneness, desperation. Can someone please bring him back, reverse time, make this as if it never happened?

Grief is a never-ending cycle. Slowly, through time, the positives in life begin to outweigh the negatives. We are more present, living in the moment rather than living in the past. The bad days don’t go away but we begin to see the triggers and rationale. But  that doesn’t negate the grief. It slowly heals, then we fall back and, like a Band-Aid® being ripped off quickly and without care for the pain it inflects, the wounds, partially healed, are revealed and the anguish and heartache return.

It’s been 16 months since he was gone. I have fewer people to turn to. Who wants a call in the middle of the night from a woman who can’t stop crying? Shouldn’t I be over it? Is that what others think? And yet the grief continues. It doesn’t take a holiday. It is part of my life and comes up unexpectedly again, and again, and again.

I know I did all I could to try and save him, but it was his time. And now I must live without him. I still don’t know how to do that. I haven’t figured out what my purpose is. After a day and night like I just went through I just feel wrung out. It’s easier to crawl into bed and never come out.

A belated farewell to Robin Williams – sometimes it feels like it’s about me

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Robin William’s death was beyond tragic. If I could have been with him I would have told him how I struggled with this myself. I wrote a few blogs about a recent bout I went through. One was a suicide note: After he was gone: Darkest Days.

A friend  wrote me an imploring e-mail reaching out to me. I changed the wording after I had settled down… a bit After he was gone: Darkest Days 2.

I obviously have a strong affinity for those who are left behind after the death of a loved one. When Williams’ wife posted about allowing them privacy during their “profound grief,” I was struck again by my own personal journey. I have used that exact phrase in my own blog. Ironically (not in a funny way), I recently posted a blog about my grief journey and my own battle with depression: My new reality.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone even reads my blog (save for a few good friends). A few people post on Facebook and other social media, and some tell me they read it. Some say they don’t read it. Fair enough. But without the tangible feedback those in the world of their own depression feel alone.

Reaching out is scary. No one touching you when you reach out is worse.

The other night I had a friend over. I read my bog post My new reality to her and she cried. I realized that it’s too painful for people to read. So if they find it too painful to read about other people’s struggles then it’s no surprise that we keep our demons to ourselves.

Rest in peace Mr. Williams. Your demons are purged. You are missed profoundly by those who loved you most. but you aren’t in pain anymore.

It’s O.K. I’m Over It

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My daughter tells me about an event that happened recently. She tears up, obviously upset. But when she’s done recounting the incident she dries her eyes, turns to me and says “It’s O.K. I’m over it.”

How can you just be “over it?” I think. It’s just like saying “Whatever.” It’s dismissive, like you don’t really care about it. Or do you?

I started thinking about this. Being a writer, rejection comes often. You have to have some mechanism to move on without letting it get to you, so maybe this is the perfect way to do it. In that moment, I decided to apply this seemingly nonchalant attitude to things that were bothering me. Of course I would allow myself some time to wallow in my personal feelings of misery and nurse my bruised ego, but not long enough for it to dissuade my belief that the idea had merit and someone out there would find it interesting.

Recently, I sent a draft proposal for a non-fiction book to an agent. His reply wasn’t what I would consider “favorable.” He didn’t totally reject the idea, but felt that in its present form it wouldn’t fly.

I took his remarks to heart because, up until that point, everyone I told about my idea showed incredible enthusiasm. My “test group” wasn’t just close friends and relatives, it included other writers and non-fiction authors I admire; even everyday people who don’t count writing as their full-time profession. In every instance they gave me hope. But when I e-mailed it to this agent I received what I perceived to be an outright rejection.

And so I fell into this slump thinking “What made me think this was a good idea? If he said it wouldn’t work he must be right.” Over time, of course, I realized where he was coming from and that my style of writing and target readership were different than what he may have felt I should aspire to. There were other mitigating issues as well.

Today I wrote another writer and encapsulated the information in succinct form then said, “But I’m over it.” And suddenly I loved those four words. They could become a writer’s motto. “Hey, I just queried a magazine with a story idea and they rejected it.” Fast forward after self wallowing and say, “But I’m over it.”

So can this little ditty actually bring peace to a bruised ego? Will it help someone who’s been looking for a job for over a year only to receive rejections? Is that what Colonel Sanders said when he was told his idea for Kentucky Fried wasn’t viable? I’m not sure.

What I do know is that anyone who finds themselves confronted by negative words or reactions should have some way to pull themselves back up and bolster their ego. Better to employ a quick, sure fire healing mechanism.

Whatever. It’s O.K. I’m over it.”

New year, new day, new hour…but the fight continues

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depressionI haven’t posted anything on my blog since September 2011. I have started several posts, but never finish them. I think I have to face the demon that haunts me before I can start blogging again.

I told myself that I was going to make a new start this year. I told myself the same thing last year. Other than a few small changes, things remain pretty stagnant.

I have this hill that, at some point in my life, grew into a mountain. When I am able to climb – hands in the soil, nails full of dirt – and get near to the top, I slip back down again. It’s a recurring nightmare, but I’m never asleep.

It may seem cliché. Everyone knows someone who claims to have this malady. Those who don’t understand say: “It’s mind over matter, so get over it.” I wish it was that easy. Even with the intervention of medical remedies it never really goes away.

So no matter what people think of me I’ll post it. I suffer from depression. More often than not it’s well hidden. When it’s not I am usually alone – by choice. Everyone feels sad some times. But those of us who suffer from depression feel it tapping us on the shoulder even on ‘good days.’

To most people I look ‘well adjusted.’ I smile when I’m supposed to. Often it’s because I want to, but when I don’t, as I said, I prefer solitude.

Sometimes I swim – constant and unending laps in a pool; trying to clear my mind, empty it so I can start fresh, or refreshed. It helps, temporarily.

For me, depression has been a prerequisite for writing. Poetry was my medicine when I was younger. It helped. But now depression impedes my desire to write.

I want to write something that people will read and connect with. I want to create words that have meaning, quoted and remembered long after I’m gone. But I don’t have the faith in myself to believe this will happen. This may just be my legacy – the sadness that envelopes me in a dark shroud.

So, now that I’ve written about it maybe I can start writing something again.

My finger hovers over the ‘enter’ key. I hit it. This blog is up and posted. My soul is revealed. And tomorrow, hopefully, will be a better day.

A Bicycle Built For Me – Part 3 – Triathlon anyone?

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You know what they say about falling off a bike (or is it a horse). Anyway, you’re supposed to get back on right away.

So the next day I did another round about in the subdivision. It was a longer trip this time. Felt o.k. Then I got bold. “I should try riding on the main street,” I thought to myself. “How else will I get anywhere outside of this suburb.” Without thinking further I make a quick turn to the left, then right onto a busy street.

It’s one thing to say you should drive your bike on the same side of the road as traffic going in the same direction. It’s another to actually do it. The cars were coming up behind me. I started to panic. Not knowing if the car behind you will push your bike into the ditch or across the street into an oncoming car can be scary.

I felt my heart rising into my throat. I was swept away by a wave of panic. Caaann’t Brreeath…”Don’t!” I told myself. I manage to turn right, ride a bit further, then turn right again and I am back in the subdivision. I am in my driveway. I put the bike away.

I don’t ride the next day. Instead I ponder how I’m every going to get out of the subdivision if I can’t ride on the street with traffic. I drive around in my car and see people riding their bikes on the sidewalk. It may not be legal, but they’re doing it. “I can do that,” I think.

I am driving to my health club becoming hyper aware of all the sidewalks. One on the left. One on the right. None there.

The next day I put on a backpack and head out on my bike to my health club.

I have my MP3 player playing quietly into my ear to calm myself but I am slightly panicked about the thought of having to stop – slowly or suddenly. So far so good…Then I see it. There’s another bike rider heading my way; a young guy, no helmet (yes, I’m wearing mine this time and my head is a sweaty mess but I’m doing the right thing). I decide to stop and drop. I don’t fall. I wait for him to pass. Duh, dork. But at least I didn’t fall.

Further along the way there’s a young woman walking on the sidewalk with her back to me. As I get nearer I say, “excuse me” then mumble about being a bit shaky on the bike. She smiles and lets me pass.

I arrive at the club hot, sweaty, my heart beating loudly and my limbs shaking but I am elated! I lock up my bike, take out my gear and go inside. I want to tell everyone, but it’s the long weekend and there are fewer than a dozen people there and I don’t know any of them. Oh well, I know I did this.

I do a stretch and weight workout, then 20 laps in the pool. I get dressed, put on my helmet and go out to my bike.

“I really should take a photo of this for the blog,” I’m thinking. I take out my Blackberry and hold it way out in front of me and snap a photo. I get the top of my helmet. Ugh! I try again, and then I hear someone say “What are you doing?” Boy, he’s going think I’m nuts but I explain and he says, “Let me take the photo!”

“Alright, I say, but don’t make me look bad.” I feel ridiculous and I’m sweating in the heat but I need to pose for posterity, otherwise who’s going to believe I really did this?

He takes the photo. We talk about my blog. I give him the website address. I start walking away and say “don’t watch me please.”

Later he posts on my blog, “I know I promised to not watch you ride off, but I did :). You look very good on a bike.” I take that as a compliment.

When I get home I think, “I just did a triathlon” – bike, workout, swim (bike again). I post it on Facebook and get several LIKEs. I am really proud of myself. So proud, in fact, that I get on my bike the next day, ride to the gym, swim and ride back home again.

The entire bike ride is much more relaxed this time. I was not in panic mode…well, maybe a bit unsteady, but my heart didn’t beat too loudly. I think this is starting to feel normal. I hope that this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between me and my bike.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me.

A Bicycle Built for Me? Part 2 – You daredevil biker you

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I can’t keep secrets from my husband so the next day I tell him, “I bought a bike.” Followed quickly by “it was on sale.”

“Ah Ha,” he says, sipping his first coffee of the day. Later he remarks, “I saw it in the garage. It’s nice.”

“It was on sale.” Didn’t I say that already? Duh!

My husband is working afternoons so I decided it was time to set my wheels in motion and take that bike out for a spin (I’m not quite at the comfort zone to step up to the pedals with my husband looking on). I hop on, riding the brake down the driveway and turn left. Best to stay on our street and go around the crescent – little traffic, few prying eyes. It was exhilarating, but scary. And I’m thinking, “Really, how do I look riding this thing? Do people think I’m nuts?”

So, as any writer would do, I posted about my new purchase on Facebook. My friends were supportive but also concerned.

“Do you have a helmet?”

“Uh, no, I didn’t get one.”

“Do it,” several say, and others click on the LIKE button…one, two…let’s just say “several times.”

The next day I go to Canadian Tire. I try on helmets. There are no mirrors. I take one out of my purse, put it on the shelf and try a helmet on. A young kid walks by and whistles. I’m mortified. I grab two helmets and head to the isle with large mirrors. I try them on again. I settle on one that’s within my price point and fits snugly. I also buy two lights for the bike (for night riding and turn signals) and an odometer/speedometer that tracks 18 things in total.

Later that evening I gingerly take the bike out of the garage. My neighbour and her daughter are in their backyard and see me.

“Hey! What’s that?” they ask.

“I bought a bike,” I say proudly.

“So where’s your helmet?” the mother asks.

“I, uh, will wear it next time.”

“Okay” she says, adding her typical droll, drop-dead sense of humour, “just don’t expect me to be feeding you gruel out of a straw,” and she makes that sideways face to show what she means. I can’t help laughing because she’s funny, but she’s probably right. I will get up the nerve to put it on tomorrow. I wave goodbye and head out.

I decide to take a longer ride this time, so I go down every crescent on each street, still staying in my cozy subdivision with little traffic. The sound of a car approaching gives me goose bumps. I slow down at the stop signs and look both ways. No one coming, I make my turn.

Then it happens. I come to a stop sign and hear a car. It’s moving to fast. I can’t race it. I’m going to have to stop. Remember, my stops aren’t pristine (as I pointed out in my previous blog). This one’s a disaster. I hit the brake, drop my left foot to the ground and the bike topples.

A young couple is standing nearby with their kids in tow. The woman has a looks worried.  “Are you alright?” she asks with genuine concern.

“I’m fine,” I say quickly. But I’m not. I’ve got a scraped knee and a bruised ego.

I head home slowly and park my bike back in the garage.

More to come…

A bicycle built for me?

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Sometimes we have this moment where we “think” we should do something. Then we shake our heads realizing it’s beyond our grasp or capability. But I’m stubborn. I think I can do anything. If I could ride a bike as a kid, it seemed a natural assumption that I could do the same now.

So one day when I say to my husband, “I think I want to buy a bike.” He just looks at me.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You see, my husband is what I call a ‘processor.’ He doesn’t always reply immediately. It may take him days. In fact, it’s probably one of his most redeeming qualities. For example, imagine if I said what many wives ask their husbands “Do you think I look fat in this?” Like most men, my husband would have to give the obligatory, emphatic answer “NO!”?

But not my husband. He would mutter “no” under his breath. Later he might ask “why would you say that?” Then he would analyze it some more. Then he would say “I don’t know why you would think that.” Translation: “No, you don’t look fat in that.” In the end, somehow, I feel that he has taken my question seriously because he has taken time to process the question and analyze it.

So, what does that have to do with a bike? Well, remember, I told him that I was “thinking” about buying a bike. A few days later he looked at me and said, “I can’t see you riding a bike.”

Why not? I think. I can do this. I want to do this. I think about it for a few days then, suddenly, one afternoon I was working at my desk, and I shot up on my feet, went out and drove to a store that sold bikes.

I stood there, looking at the bikes chained outside and panicked. “What do I ask for?” When I was a kid they looked at your height and said “this is the right size for you.” And I said “I like the pink one.” And away we went.

But this is the 21st century. There are 10 to 21 to God-Knows-What speeds. There’s mountain and…to heck with it. I stop procrastinating and walk though the door.

Wouldn’t you know it. He’s young, cute, with an armful of colorful and cool tattoos. I wander in and start looking at the bikes. He follows me. “Can I help you?”

“I, err, I want to buy a bike,” I mumble, hoping he doesn’t laugh at me.

“What are you looking for?” he asks matter-of-factly, adding, “Will you be riding this casually?”

“Yes,” I reply, nodding emphatically. That’s what I want.

He shows me a few models. We talk about price point and sizes of the bikes. He takes me outside and unchains one of them.

“You need to try it out,” he says.

Are you kidding me? Ride a bike in front of you? Can I even remember how to pedal?

“Well, I’m a bit rusty,” I say.

“You won’t know what to get unless you try it,” he gently prods.

After I admit I don’t know much about the gears he shows me how to work them, in a simple easy-to-understand way. He tells me to go with my gut. Does it feel right? Is it comfortable?

I hop on and ride around the parking lot, hoping I don’t fall down and make a fool of myself. My stop is less than pristine. He shows me a few ways to make the stops easier. We decide the bike is too small for me. He goes inside and gets another one. We do the test again. I feel more comfortable this time. He isn’t laughing. I can do this! We settle on that bike, which happens to be on sale – BONUS!

Just to ensure that I look like a complete dork I ask if they have bike baskets. I mean, if I’m going to take this seriously I’ll ride it to the store and where will I put my purchases? Lucky for me he doesn’t laugh.

“We have lots,” he says. I pick out a wire basket. They install it. I pay for it. He takes it to my car and shows me how to remove the front wheel so it will fit in the trunk. I do it several times, afraid I will forget how to do it when I get home and then I’ll have this bike without a front wheel on it just sitting in my garage. I get it home and manage to put it together. I park it in the corner and pet it a bit.

Then I have this wave of guilt. What was I thinking? I just bought this bike.

More to come…

Things I learned from my granddaughter…

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We had our granddaughter (age 7) stay with us this week. I realized quickly that all the angst that goes with parenting disappears with grandparenting. Things like dishes to wash can be put off until later. Reading a book together before a chore gets done is o.k. Wearing chocolate from an ice cream cone on your face won’t permanently damage your pores. Things don’t always have to be done on precise schedule; flexibility is always a an option.  Here are a few of the other things I learned:

  • Play now, there’s time to do whatever tomorrow.
  • Don’t sit at the side of the pool – Dive In, Swim, Enjoy.
  • Fun doesn’t have to be expensive. Laughter is priceless.
  • It’s o.k. to treat yourself. Buy an ice cream treat from the corner store and eat it BEFORE dinner.
  • See the world through a child’s eyes and take joy in the little things.
  • Indulge in small pleasures every single day.
  • Laugh until your sides hurt, then laugh some more.
  • Body noises are actually funny.
  • Eat potato chips instead of salad and pretend they’re a vegetable.
  • It’s o.k. to dance around naked and sing after you come out of the bathtub.
  • Be proud of everything you do. A pictured colored outside the lines can still be beautiful.
  • Children grow up far too fast. Make the most of your time together.

What things have you learned from a child?

My daughter rented a U-Haul

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My thanks to fellow writer Paul Lima http://paullima.com/, whose listserve posting prompted me to write this.

My daughter couldn’t stay at overnight camp for more than a night. She called to say the “bed was too lumpy,” crying through sniffling (a combination of tears and allergies). I think she was reading the Princess And The Pea too many times with the line about the lumpy bed. She asked if we could pick her up. I said it was too far away and too late. She asked if she could take a taxi home. I said it was too far away and too late. At the camp, they tried to cajole her into staying but she would not be swayed and so we picked her up and brought her home and told her “no more away from home long distance” until she was sure she could do it.

My daughter took advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime. When she turned 15, my parents offered to send her to a summer school program in Paris, France. I told her if she said “yes” she was committed and that there were no taxis and no mom and dad to pick her up. She went, but called home every day and said she wished she could come home. I missed her terribly. The last day she stayed up all night with her “Paris friends” and cried because she didn’t want to leave them.

My daughter sat in the back of our van that was filled to top with her worldly possessions and her two favourite stuffed animals. This was her first year at university and she was going to be in St. Catharines, away from home here in London, Ontario. She got homesick but loved it there. We didn’t think we’d survive as empty nesters, but we did, probably because we knew it was short term. She did an exchange in her favourite city, Paris, France (once again) for one term. I went there and travelled with her during a two-week break from school. We missed her, and she us, but we all managed.

My daughter rented a U-Haul a few times over those years, moving back and forth from St. Catharines when she had a co-op, or was done school for the summer, and again when she moved back to London this summer.

My daughter rented another U-Haul a few months later to move into her first “single” apartment. She backed the U-Haul up with precision but then we heard a loud “Crunch” sound. She was focused on the back wheels staying on the driveway, forgetting she couldn’t see the top of the truck as it mashed up our eavestrough, turning the corner into an accordion.

My daughter is hiring a moving company as I write this. She is moving her worldly possessions, which includes furniture and a full kitchen of pots and pans, dishes and more. She is moving to Montreal. It is the closest city she can get to that’s like Paris, without being too far away from family, but she will be farther than she’s ever been for what could be the rest of her life.

My daughter is 24 now, soon turning 25. It’s time for her to do this, but that doesn’t make it easier for me. We have always been very close and it hurts my heart that she will be so far away. I know this is a natural progression in parenthood, but it’s one of the most difficult. I pray that the sun shines on her in her new ventures and that she finds a life that is fulfilling. I know that we will all be fine, but it’s really hard letting go.

Experience of a Lifetime, Part 3

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After a leisurely day of sightseeing, it was time for the event we came here for – to attend the wedding of a cousin – a young woman from London, Ontario – to a young man from Jerusalem.

To say this was the most beautiful, incredible wedding I have ever been to is an understatement. The weather was perfect. There are no pretences. Everyone was there to have a wonderful time and parents of the bride and groom, and immediate family, are there to ensure this happens.

Here is your experience: It is just before sundown. The guests begin to arrive outdoors. The weather is absolutely perfect. It is calm, no breeze and the temperature is comfortable. There is a stage covered with a chuppah (also spelled hupah, huppah, chupah, or chuppa) – the canopy under which a Jewish bride and groom stand during their wedding ceremony.

As North Americans, you arrive on time – the time given on the invitation. The Israelis arrive up to two hours late (apparently normal for wedding guests in Israel). But no worries. Food and drink are flowing – wine, hummus, fresh vegetables and so much more.

Bride and her father

The bride and groom come out to greet their guests before the wedding and then leave again until the ceremony. Photographers call for family and friends to come in groups to have their pictures taken.

Then, it’s time for the wedding. As North Americans, you rush to the seats set up on either side of the white-draped walkway. You sit down for a minute, then realize that everyone is standing (and some are even having conversations in the distance, paying little attention to the couple or the ceremony).

The bride, groom, and Rabbi are under the chuppah as well as parents and siblings. Everything is said in Hebrew. Then comes the traditional smashing of the wine cup by the groom (with his foot) and he kisses his bride. You go up on stage to offer congratulations and go inside.

It is beautiful. Gorgeous. Sparkling lights with huge vases of tall, elegant flowers are on every table.

Don’t expect to sit down for long though. Two DJ’s are hovering above the dance floor in front of a screen projecting psychedelic colours and shapes throughout the night. The music is cranked up.  A huge boom goes back and forth allowing guests to see what’s happening on the dance floor via video on the wall. The bridal families dance and are soon joined by many guests. The lights go up, and everyone sits down for the first course. The lights go down, and everyone returns to the dance floor to dance, and so it continues meal course after course, dance after dance, late into the night.

You wander outside later to get fresh air and walk by the bar laden with cakes and sweets and every dessert imaginable. After wine, drinks, dancing and festivities it’s time to call it a night.