Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Empty Cup

It happened so slowly. By millimeters. Over time, the responsibilities piled on, and the stress mounted. Little by little, I would pour myself out into first one project, then the other, and then ... the toll started to get heavier and heavier. 

My body noticed it first; however, my mind had other things to attend to, and I missed those warning signs. Lost sleep, inability to stay asleep. I would wake up tired, sometimes two hours before my usual waking time, sometimes three. More and more often this would happen. My back and legs felt heavy, achy, tired. My feet hurt. I had headaches more frequently. My chemical sensitivities started acting up more. 

As the stress increased, my ability to maintain my weight - or to lose weight - vanished. Oh, not all at once, to be sure, but it became more and more difficult to lose. And incrementally, I started to gain. It was discouraging. But I didn't make the connection. I took on more and more. Life got way more stressful and I couldn't figure out how stuff just piled on.

As it progressed, I became less and less tolerant, more and more impatient. My filter - that little internal monitor that keeps me from saying or doing things to offend people - started to erode, to slip away from me. I couldn't concentrate. My motivation was shrinking. I procrastinated on crucial tasks. I isolated from other people and convinced myself I was too busy to spend time with them. Things got worse. 

And then the work doubled, tripled, overnight. Something I thought I could do, suddenly became a lot harder. I started feeling my age - and beyond. 

I started dreading going to work because it took time away from doing things I no longer had enough time to do. Like homework. The course I am taking in University is the hardest I have ever taken by far - and I feel unequal to the task.

And this morning, I finally broke. On the way to work, I started crying. I was overwhelmed. And I reached out to the only person around my age that I absolutely KNEW had my back: my husband. As I described my symptoms, he became alarmed. He knew - as I had begun to suspect - that I was well on my way to burnout. 

He was right.

I got this image free from Pixabay! Check them out at
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 The saying goes, "You can't pour from an empty cup." My cup had been evaporating so slowly that I didn't even see it was getting low. And now I was looking at the dregs. 

So again, I reached out. I see a doctor tomorrow, and will see a psychologist before the end of next week, hopefully. I approached my boss, who was awesome by the way, and asked for some time off to regroup. I was able to free up some time to look after myself, and to concentrate on my studies for a little while. How long, I'm not sure - but at least now I have options. When I started the day, I didn't think I had any.

Now I can turn my attention to my cup - to start to clean out the sticky crud at the bottom and to fill it with cool, clear water instead.

Now I can get some rest ... and focus on what matters most. To my surprise, I found out that it was ... me.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

BE that person!

For many years, I have dreaded Mothers Day. MANY years. I have viewed it as a quintessential guilt trip, an excuse for members of the previous generation to lord it over the younger one and for others to jump on board and make a person feel five times guiltier because she doesn't gush platitudes about her own mother. 

And really, with the kind of upbringing I had - which can only be described as violent - who can blame me? Yet - since having children of my own, I have 'allowed' the celebration of the second Sunday of May ... for their sake. I always felt like a hypocrite about it though, knowing how much I detest the approach of that day and having to wade through all the gushy, mushy stuff on store shelves, social media, and even store flyers.

But my view is changing a little lately.  Maybe it's happened partly as a result of losing one of my children (October 2013). Or maybe it's because I realize that I have been punishing my present self for having had a rotten past.  And guess what? That's not fair.

This free photo is from Pixabay; check them out!
https://pixabay.com/
I saw a little sign posted in one of the bathroom stalls at work, and its message has been haunting me the last little while, especially with the approach of Mothers Day.  It says, "A great future does not require a great past." 

And as I ponder the approach of yet another Mothers Day ... perhaps my focus is starting to change. As a result, the dread I normally feel is slowly being replaced by ... something else I cannot quite identify yet. What I do know is that I cannot change what happened in my past. I cannot change the fact that I cannot feel what many women my age feel about their mothers, because I did not have that kind of close, trusting relationship with her that my friends had with theirs. 

But I can BE that mother. I can BE that person who engenders trust, love, and loyalty in people, especially in my only remaining offspring. I can BE her because I HAD to BE her for MYSELF. In the last nine years or so, I have had to literally re-parent myself and tell myself all the things she would never have dreamed of saying: that I was worthy, that I was good at things, that I was appreciated, that I was loved simply for being myself.  And I can tell those things to my own daughter - because they're true, and because in the telling of them, I am not diminished, but rather, I grow.

So this year, I am saying this - Happy Mothers Day to my daughter. Happy Mothers Day even if you are NEVER a mother yourself; I hope I have given you the best present I could give you: my love, and my self, in a way that you could understand and take into yourself.

Because I want to BE that person, my dear. Because YOU are WORTH IT.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

New Vistas

In my last post, I was about to go to a couple of interviews for practicum placements, and I said that I might have an offer on the table by the end of that interview day.

I did. And I accepted without hesitation!

My university, once I had informed them of the details, was very quick to accept my practicum proposal (12 minutes, no kidding!) and now I am looking at being an intern starting in September 2018. For real. Me.

There is still a lot of work to do before I can get to the first day of my internship, and it will take a lot of hard slogging in between, but in this moment, as I have crested the hill I have been climbing so arduously the last few months, I can see a new landscape opening up to me. I see some of the road ahead. I can almost see what some of the journey will look like. 

Photo "Double Rainbow" courtesy of evgeni deniv at
www.freedigitalphotos.net

One friend mentioned to me, when I was chatting with him the other day,  that after one man climbed Mount Everest for the first time and stood on the summit, he realized that at some point he would have to climb back down again. And that is part of what I'm experiencing as well ... but I also know that I will have help. 

I won't have to go it alone. I will have the assistance of a great practicum supervisor, my professor and practicum advisor, my classmates, my employer, and my family and friends.  Even though I will be living alone for the first time in my life, doing things I have never done before, I will have a support network that I know will come alongside / beneath me and help me to adjust. I'm not worried in the least. 

Funny isn't it.

Next week I will be attending a workshop on the kind of work that I will be doing as a practicum student and the clientele with which I will be working. And then, in the weeks that follow, I will be working with my practicum supervisor to formulate my learning plan so that I can submit it to the university in early June.  After that, I will be taking care of some details that have more to do with accommodations, work arrangements, and transportation, so that I am settled in my "new place" before I show up to my first day at the practicum site. But all that will unfold as it needs to. There is the overwhelming sense that I am doing what I was meant to do - and that events will play out the way they are meant to play out. 

For the moment, I am enjoying the view. And the view, if I may say so, is spectacular...  

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Around the Bend

I like to be able to see a clear path ahead. I like to know what is coming so that I have time to prepare. I like it, but it doesn't often happen.

There are bends in the road. Where I live, the members of my family joke about how the designers of the roads must have been on a drunken binge because the roads twist and wind and nearly turn back on themselves so much that if you took all the curves out, and went in a straight line, you could get to your destination 80% quicker. 

Mind you, the scenery would be a lot more boring. :) 

Photo "Serpentine Path Stones On A Park Lawn (concept)"
courtesy of arturo at www.freedigitalphotos.net
Lately, in my work and professional life, things have been taking quite the twisty path.  After my best prospect for a counselling practicum placement fell through in my city, I received rejection after rejection until I had exhausted all possibilities. It was quite discouraging.

I had also looked into placements outside of the province, but these seemed unworkable... until one day my husband indicated that he would be willing to make whatever sacrifices he needed to make to allow my dream to become a reality - and if that meant me living in a neighbouring province, then so be it. 

Really?

Yes, really. So I contacted these prospects and tomorrow, I will be attending two interviews with these places. By the end of the day, there MAY even be an offer on the table. In the space of about two or three short weeks, I have gone from ultimate discouragement to first a glimmer, and now a beam of hope. And not a moment too soon.... with only three weeks until my practicum arrangement must be approved by my grad school, timelines are tight. 

And yet ... and yet aside from the usual jittery feelings preceding an interview, the deep inside part of me feels a sense of calm about the whole thing, like I don't need to be concerned about it.  It will be what it is. And it could be quite wonderful. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat. And before you know it, I will be around that next bend in the road. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Hating Waiting

I hate waiting.

That's probably why I spend so much time doing it, I joke. But the joking is wearing thin right about now. It seems that the last few years, all I have been doing is waiting: waiting for the next university course, the next blood test, the next phone call, the next email. 

It wears me down. Especially lately, now that I am waiting for any word of any agency that is willing to work with me for my counselling practicum this coming September - and while I wait, my university's non-negotiable deadline (for submission of a practicum proposal) of April 30 ticks away. 

It was less irritating as long as I was doing something (like sending out literally dozens of feelers since my best option pulled out two months ago), but I've exhausted every option, receiving rejection after rejection, and all there is left to me is the waiting. And of course there is the "not knowing"... and all that implies. It is hard to get motivated to do much of anything with that hanging over my head. And by "that" ... I mean whether or not I will be even DOING a practicum this year, or postponing it yet another year while the mental health care system in my province tries to figure out what to go do with itself. They (whoever "they" are) say they are crying out for counsellors, but they want trained ones, people who already have their certification. They don't have the space or time to invest in someone who is perfectly willing to help them - because they want pre-qualified people. It's supremely frustrating. 

I have pretty much exhausted all possibilities in my province. I know it is the smallest one in Canada, but still!! Anyway, to that end, I have expanded my search to include sites that are out of province, yet still close enough to allow for relatively easy visiting. I have been looking at apartments for rent in some of these places, thinking that I will need to move away - if temporarily - to make my dream come true. That it has come to this is rather upsetting, but I see no other way for it. 

My friends and co-workers have been very supportive and I have had many suggestions from a lot of people, and I have followed up on each one. However, it has all been to no avail. Either the sites don't have enough work for me (they themselves are part-time), they disagree with my university's requirement to allow recording of some of my sessions for evaluation purposes, or they just don't have the space to put me.

Photo "Opening Door Knob" courtesy of
sixninepixels at www.freedigitalphotos.net
Hopefully, I will be able to navigate these rough waters and come out the other side at least holding onto a life-buoy. it is hard to hold my head above water - and the sense of panic is very real at times. There have been times this last month when I have been so close to giving up and dropping out.

My professors tell me I will rock this counselling world - but they are not here with me to see the state of affairs. My family and friends tell me that they believe in me, and I appreciate that, but my fate lies in the hands of those people who are (pardon the expression) looking for their pound of flesh too. 

I am expecting a call from a couple of prospects (out of province) sometime this coming week. Whether that will result in me obtaining a placement is anyone's guess. I have learned that I need to be flexible, and i have the loving support of my amazing husband and daughter for whatever I will need to do to make this work. I have begun to consider options I never thought I would have to consider, options that scare me half to death. Yet here we are.

So for now, I take a deep breath, take one step at a time, and put one foot in front of the other. I have come too far along this path to stop now ... but it's just that .... I hate waiting.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Do Not Cross

One of the things I have been learning since 2009, when I embraced a lifestyle of acceptance and freedom from the need to control people by either intimidation, manipulation, or care-giving, is the concept of boundaries.

I didn't know that boundaries even existed in people's lives until I was well into my forties. Nobody respected mine growing up, and so I didn't know I had any to respect. But being in therapy in 2009 taught me many things, and one of them was that everyone has boundaries, and that there are just some boundaries you don't cross - even if you feel you have the right to do so because you're someone's parent, or spouse, or best friend.

You just don't.

I guess I've become so super-sensitive to it in my own behavior that I see it really clearly when someone else does it. My daughter gave me a perfect example of what I mean by crossing boundaries, as we were chatting this morning about this very thing. She said that until I learned about boundaries (mine and others'), I would see her reading a book in her room, walk into her room, grab the book and read a paragraph or two (to determine content) and then decide whether she would be allowed to continue reading it. I called it protecting her heart and mind from the evil messages in the book. She felt as though I was treating her like property. 

I was. Without knowing it, that's exactly what I was doing. 
I cringed at the thought when she told me about it. It was perfectly normal for me at the time, but I would never dream of doing such a thing now.

In my counselling program, I've been learning about how to listen to someone. Mostly, I have learned what listening is NOT.  It's NOT getting the gist enough to remind me of something in my own life, and turning that conversation into something about me.  It's NOT thinking of what to say next.  It's NOT dreaming up a solution to the person's problem and trying to "fix" it.  It's NOT a game of one-upmanship, where my suffering is worse than the other person's and they have no right to be upset.  It's NOT belittling the person by saying that they don't have a reason to feel the way they do because it could be so much worse.  It's NOT about me at all.  It's NOT about trying to get the person to stop being sad, or angry, or whatever they feel that might be uncomfortable for me.

What it IS, is about understanding what it is like to be that person. It's about being able to come alongside that person and feel - even if only briefly - a little bit of their pain or distress.  It's about THEM. Their feelings, their experiences, their perceptions.

Photo "Crime Scene Concept"
courtesy of ponsulak
at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Telling them what they SHOULD do is not allowed. Telling them how they SHOULD feel is doubly not allowed! That yellow crime scene tape that indicates danger past that point? That's what is all over those actions. They imply judgment, and a lack of faith that the person is able to solve his or her own problems. That screams, "Danger! Do not cross!"  Ignoring the warnings - cutting that tape - leads to disaster.

It's okay to ask questions if these lead to a deeper understanding of the person's feelings.  The important thing for someone who is hurting is not for the person listening to take the pain away; it is for the person listening to LISTEN, to really HEAR their heart, their feelings, their take on things. People need to feel validated, ... not violated. I was thinking of this last evening as I was talking to a family member on the phone. In spite of my own personal opinion regarding this person's choices, I was not there to pass judgment, agree or disagree, or give direction or even my opinion. I was there to LISTEN - nothing more - because if I gave advice to this person, they would cut me out of their life and that would be a loss for both of us! 

Even if this person asked for my advice, let's say I gave it. Let's say that the advice worked. What harm would that do? the person is happy, the problem is gone, everything's cool, right?  WRONG.  The next time the person has a problem, who do you think they'll come to? That's right, ME. Again, since I'm such a wise person (hahaha) the advice works. I have therefore created a dependent relationship. And the person doesn't grow.

And if (that is, WHEN) the advice doesn't work, and everything blows up, who is this person going to blame? ME. 

See how what seems like a good idea ... isn't?

Friends accept each other and don't try to change one another. Family members, whether blood or chosen, deserve my acceptance. They also deserve to have their boundaries - whether they know they exist or not - respected.  I don't have to jump on everything someone says that I don't agree with. I don't have to constantly state things that I have already made clear in the past: my beliefs, my opinions, or my way of doing things.  That will only push them away when they might need a real connection with me.  

What I need to do when they open up, is to accept that person the way he or she is, and to let them know by example (that is, by listening and refusing to give advice) that what they are going through, and how they feel about it, is important, even if nothing changes. If that means that I don't get to give them the benefit of my experience (such as it is) right now, and merely offer my presence, I think that this would do far more good than rushing to cross that line.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 in review - Gratitude month by month

Every December 31, I take the calendar out and transfer birthdays, anniversaries, and appointments onto the next year's calendar before storing the current year's calendar away (I have calendars going back several years, which would come in handy were I ever to write my memoirs, haha!)

If I could choose a word to describe what 2017 has been for me and mine, it would have to be 'miraculous'.  Rather than theme by theme, I thought I'd take it month by month to show you how that has played out in my / our life.

January

January 4 - My brother had surgery to remove about five inches of bowel due to having stage 1 colon cancer. The surgery was successful; they got it all, and he did not have to have chemo. While he was in the hospital, he had a gall bladder attack and because of the recent surgery, they only put in a drainage tube instead of removing the gall bladder. He still has the tube... but more about him later.

January 9 - I had surgery to remove my reproductive organs due to some pre-cancerous cells inside my uterus (discovered the previous October via a biopsy done under anesthetic). I was off work for about 5 weeks. After the initial recovery period, I discovered that I had more energy and slept better at night than I had been. 

February

February 16 - I returned to work after my surgery January 9. I had been team leading since October so was returning to that - what a wonderful experience! 

February 27 - My post-surgery consultation / followup - my OB/GYN told me that everything was fine and that I had far less chance of getting other kinds of cancer (e.g., breast) now that my uterus was gone. :) 

February 28 - I celebrated eight years in recovery from codependency (see my "What is Codependency" tab). It might seem like a small thing, but my life is so much better now that I am living a more free lifestyle.

March

March 14 - my husband had an MRI on his right shoulder to determine the cause of his shoulder pain and weakness that he'd had ever since a shoveling accident last winter.

March 25 - my husband celebrated 8 years in recovery from alcoholism. Every day is a celebration really, but this is one of those landmarks we remember every year. 

March is a hard month usually; we have had our fill of winter by the time New Year's rolls around, so in March, with winter showing no sign of abating, things can get pretty exhausting and discouraging. A couple of well-timed vacation days near the end of March tides us over until the next long weekend - Easter (which was in April this year.)

In mid-March, my brother had to go into the hospital to stabilize his sugars (he is an insulin-dependent diabetic and the sugars, due to stress, were around six times what they should have been). He was home again in a few days, but while he was gone, we had to rely on extended family members to take up the slack of caring for my mother. Some of these family members got tired of doing that. It was the beginning of the end of a lot of things - though we didn't know it at the time.

April

April 14 - Good Friday - A day-visit to see my mom and brother showed us how badly Mom's dementia had deteriorated since our last visit a few months previous. I was seriously starting to worry that she might burn the house down by leaving a burner on or something.

April 17 - Easter Monday - My brother again had to go to hospital to deal with a cardiac incident. He was only in the hospital for about a week, but while he was gone, those extended family members, who I mentioned earlier, put their sinister plan into motion.

April 19 - Due to lies told to a Social Worker, Mom was taken to hospital "for her own safety" since my brother was still in the hospital and the extended family members didn't want to care for her. As a result, she became a "court-ordered" patient and wheels were put in motion to keep her in the hospital until she could be placed into a nursing home.  

May

May 26 - My husband had his appointment with an orthopedic surgeon regarding the MRI he had undergone in March. The surgeon told him that his bicep muscle had mostly torn away from his rotator cuff in one spot and that he would need surgery to repair it. The wait times for this would be about a year or so. They finally settled on August 2018.

May 29 - My brother received a writeup of the allegations that put Mom into the custody of the province.  He showed me a photo of each of the pages. Everything they said was either a bald-faced lie or a gross exaggeration and misinterpretation of the facts. He had no money to fight it in court. We advised against fighting since it was the province (not the extended family members) who would gain financial control over Mom's affairs.

June

June 9 - After two years of talking about it, we finally got our tub "replaced" - we used Bathfitters and we were very pleased with the results! This was a big deal because the old tub (a purple one from the 1970s) was such an eyesore and so was the badly done tile job around it. Now we have a sleek, easy-to-clean tub and shower surround. 

June 16 - I started seeing a counsellor to help me deal with the stress of the situation with Mom and my brother. The therapist and I immediately clicked!

June 20 - My husband and I celebrated 36 years as husband and wife. 

July

July 10 - I headed out to Calgary for a 2-week intensive finale to my Group Counselling course. A good friend of my daughter's picked me up at the airport and drove me to campus. My room-mates were pretty good and even took me to the grocery store that afternoon so that I could have food for the coming week. Such a contrast to the last year I was there!

July 13 - That friend and her partner had me over to their house for the BEST steak dinner I have EVER tasted - and the partner even helped me with a computer problem I had been having. :)  They offered to take me out to breakfast on the 16th - Arielle's birthday (she would have been 25). 

July 15 - A classmate contacted me and drove me out to Canmore - close to the Rockies - and I saw the mountains up close and in person for the first time ever. NO comparison to only seeing pictures!! it was a spiritual experience for me mostly because Arielle had seen a similar sight when she and a friend drove to Calgary from Edmonton about a month before she died. 

July 16 - Breakfast at Denny's - what more needs to be said?  It was busy because it was a Sunday morning, but the food was great and my daughter's friends put themselves out to make the day a little more bearable for me.

July 21 - The flight home. My daughter's friend's partner drove me early to the Calgary airport, so I spent a LOT of time waiting at one airport or another. I was supposed to arrive at 11:10 pm, but due to the absolute worst thunderstorm of the year on the Eastern seaboard (affecting flights leaving LaGuardia in NY), my connector was delayed.  It arrived two and a half hours late in Toronto, and then when it finally took us to the Maritimes, the same storm was affecting our ability to land in PEI (five inches of rain on the runway). We diverted to Moncton, spent an hour inside the plane while the pilot was on the horn with officials in both places, and then finally took off to land in PEI around 3:15 am. I could have kissed the tarmac when we landed here! 

August

I spent more time than usual in the sun. After my time in Calgary and the intensity of Summer Institute, I welcomed the chance to relax whenever I could. Aside from a dental filling and a couple of birthdays, there's nothing written on the calendar for this particular month. 

However, my daughter did decide to take a course through Athabasca University online, a precursor to eventually transferring the credit to UPEI. It was a big move for her psychologically, and although she was anxious, we were confident that this was a good move for her.

My brother was diagnosed with cataracts.

September

I began a four-month hiatus from school. No courses that I needed were being offered in that term, so I paid my program fee (to hold my place in the program) and then prepared to fill the time with something else. I must admit that I didn't know WHAT I would fill the time with, so September I spent a lot of time lurking on Facebook, playing computer games, and watching television: luxuries I only sipped in moderation when I was taking classes.

I took to calling Mom about 3 times a week, and my brother at least once a week. During this time, he was learning how to manage a household on his own for the first time in his life, so I was giving him tips and tricks to getting things done and bills paid on time. I also helped him stick-handle through the process of trying to get quotes to put in an oil-fired furnace to replace the wood furnace he could no longer tend (he had qualified for a grant for this).

October

Photo "Young Plant" by amenic181 at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
I rediscovered crochet in October, and began one birthday project for my brother, and started my Christmas projects. Finally there was something productive to do with my evenings and weekends!

October 9 - Thanksgiving - We had friends over and I cooked a turkey with all the trimmings, including some deep-dish pumpkin pie I made myself. The food was good, but the company was better!

October 26 - What was to be a trip to NB to take my brother to an ophthalmologist's appointment (pre-surgery) ended up with me going to the Moncton hospital after learning he'd had a heart attack the day before. Fortunately the damage was minimal. Yet he was still having chest pain.

I remember having a great visit with him, including telling his kidneys to return to function, and telling his pancreas to behave themselves, in preparation for an upcoming cardiac procedure. 

While I was there, I visited my mom, who was still in the hospital awaiting placement, and who thought she'd only gotten there about a week ago (it had been over six months.) It was a good visit, not at all like I might have feared.

October 30 - My brother had his cardiac procedure and it went perfectly! They put in two stents in the vessels on his upper heart muscle because there was a 90% blockage in one and a 70% blockage in the other. His kidneys didn't fail and his sugars actually improved with the decrease in stress.  Within hours, all the pain was gone - just gone!! - and he was able to get a full breath and even was able to walk for more than 50 feet by the end of the following day!

He was still waiting for the furnace project to get going, however, after he got back home. He was keeping the electric thermostat on 58 degrees and using the blanket I had crocheted for him to keep warm when the temperatures started dipping. The hospital stay gave him a reprieve from that, but the weather wasn't getting any warmer and with a badly insulated house, things were pretty chilly.

November

After involving the NB Ombudsman as well as some creative plans to get the furnace work done, the grant people finalized the agreement with an installer to put in the furnace. They started the work on my brother's birthday, near the end of November. 

Interestingly, the nights didn't get as cold as they usually did that time of year. 

He also made arrangements through Social Services to get transportation to and from medical appointments. This was a big relief for everyone!

My daughter decided to attend UPEI as an "unclassified student" while she was taking some upgrading to qualify for a program there: the Kinesiology degree. This was a huge deal for her.

December

December 3 - My brother's first delivery of furnace oil happened early that Sunday morning and he texted me, "Sis, it's 68 degrees and so warm." 

December 8 - Mom was moved into the nursing home. At last count she seemed to be settling in, but the staff was discouraging visitors that she would associate with her going back home. As yet, we have not yet seen her.

December 11 - Many discussions with UPEI Registrar and Student services later, we had the joy of seeing our daughter register for a Kinesiology course at UPEI to start January 3, 2018. 

December 13 - My brother had an appointment with his surgeon (the one who did the cancer operation). She's been monitoring his creatinine levels to give her an indication of how well his kidneys are doing. Before the cardiac procedure they were at 600 (the high end of normal is 113). He told me on the 13th that even though the doctors could not explain how, his creatinine was now at 225, and that he was in the best shape he has been in for several years! What a great Christmas gift!

December 23 - A good day-visit to see brother - we gave him his Christmas gifts. He cooked a scrumptuous meal and enjoyed our company to the full!  He still has his drainage tube but now has a target date for the surgery to remove it (and the gall-bladder): March 2018. That is quite the relief. We are still waiting for word from the ophthalmologist on the date for the cataract surgery. They want to talk to his cardiologist first. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.

December 25 - This was the first Christmas we have spent alone (with just the 3 of us) since Arielle passed away. It appears we were ready for it - a quiet one with just us - and a good turkey dinner to share and lots of leftovers!

December 26 - Shepherd's pie with friends who came over for supper and the evening. A good time was had by all! Precious memories built and exchanged, and nobody left the table hungry, haha.

December 31 - Today. We are planning a quiet evening at home with a dear friend.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
2018

The year ahead looks bright with many significant changes coming up and lots of bends in the road ahead. Yet all we have seen, as R. W. Emerson said, leads us to trust our Creator for all we have not seen.

I wish my readers all the absolute best of all things for 2018.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Sounds of Silence

I've spent most of the day feeling quite down. 

Aside from the fact that I have been concerned about someone I can't seem to reach for some reason, or maybe because of that (in part), someone reminded me this morning of that gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that I felt when my youngest was living in Alberta. It was the feeling that I'd never see her again: a feeling of dread, of fear (even panic), and of anger that there was nothing I could do to change it.  

So I've been flooded with memories of those days back in 2013, and I've been allowing those feelings to come to the surface so that I can feel them and deal with them. It's hard, but it's better than stuffing those feelings down underneath the surface, and having them pop up unexpectedly.  

Permeating all of that is also the unspeakable sadness that goes with the outcome of those days - she never made it home alive. 

Even though the television has been on and there is that noise in the background, there is a very real sense of stillness, a feeling of incredible silence, of unspeakable isolation. The background noise of grief took center stage for today. And I chose to let it come, and I breathed and felt my way through it.

And it is still going on. It will last however long it lasts, until it's done - another wave-crest in the flood of loss as I just try to stay afloat and ride it out. 

Photo "Lighthouse At Sunset" by
Serge Bertasius Photography at
www.freedigitalphotos.net

Of course it will pass. It always does. Yet it is a journey, a passage from one place to another, this silence, this sadness. Nobody likes to talk about it when they're going through it, only when the "victory" has been won and the yucky parts are done. But this is real stuff. Life really is messy, and sometimes the only victory that can happen is the one-breath-at-a-time survival of the wrenching moments that claw into the soul. It's part of the journey to healing. It's part of embracing life. 

I'm grateful for my husband and my daughter, upon whom I lean when I need to. They see me struggling and - unbidden - they come alongside to help me, just like I've seen them struggling and have come alongside to help them when they needed it. 

And in the silence comes a sort of weird kind of calm. It's a reminder that I've traveled this road before and that I had help then too.  And so - I know that I am not alone, even though it might feel like I am. And because I've been through this before and come out the other side relatively unscathed, I'm going to be okay this time.

Maybe not without scars, but I will be okay. Maybe not today, but I will be okay. For today, I will listen to the sounds of silence and not stifle their voices. Nor will I dwell on them or try to stay here. It will be what it is. It will pass when it passes. And ... though it's not easy, I guess I'm okay with that.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Next Right Thing

I had a bit of a scare yesterday.

I had planned to drive my brother to an appointment with an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon; he has cataracts) so I went for the 2-hour trip to his place (out of province).  When I got to his house, I realized that he either wasn't there or he was unable to open the door for me. Some frantic calls later, I learned (thanks to a great RCMP officer) that he had been admitted to hospital in a neighboring city the previous day. He gave me the telephone number at the nurse's station of his unit and also his room number. I called and got an update - he was in the cardiac care unit but was stable. The relief I felt that he was alive and being cared for eclipsed the anxiety of what might lie ahead for him.

Photo "Footprints On The Beach Sand"
courtesy of foto76 at
www.freedigitalphotos.net

Since I was already there and within an hour's drive of the hospital he was in, I decided to go to see him, which I did. Braving the open highway, and multiple exits to the city I was going to, was worth the extra stress of making the trip!  He was in good spirits and so glad to see me! He was hooked up to an intravenous tube with a couple of extra bags - nitro-glycerine and heparin - and to heart, blood pressure, and oxygen monitors.  It was comforting to see the numbers and the regular rhythm of his heartbeat on the screen.  We chatted for a while about this and that, and I decided that while I was in the building, I would go and see Mom, who has dementia.  I promised my brother that I'd come back and see him before I left the building to go home.

I had called Mom's unit so often, and hospitals are laid out in pretty much the same way on each floor, that it was easy to find her area after having been to his. When I got there, I found her in a common area with a few people. She was playing Skip-Bo, her favorite card game, and trouncing everyone while she was at it. She barely looked up when I came in, except to express surprise to see me - which is normal for her. As I chatted with one of the other visitors, I watched while her right hand repeatedly picked the brightly-colored cards out of her left and played them on the discard pile. She was still unbeatable. And when she won, she didn't show pleasure, only a slight disappointment that the activity was over. And then she forgot she had done it. It was like she was home, except that ... she wasn't.

Once one of the people left, and we herded Mom back into her room (reminding her three times to not forget her walker), I shared with the other visitors (honorary Bro and Sis) the news about my brother, while managing to keep Mom from cluing in to it.  That's easy these days because she doesn't hear well and only can focus on one person at a time: whoever is in front of her usually.  I got a chance to visit with all of them, though. As visits go, it was pretty good. :)

Later, honorary Bro and I went down to see my brother in the CCU while honorary Sis and Mom kept playing cards in her room. The events just flowed, like they'd been prepared for me in advance, and all I needed to do was walk into them and take my place. Seeing her didn't fill me with dread or sadness; she was still Mom. 

The whole day was - I was going to say easy, but that isn't the right word. I was just ... living in each moment as it came without wondering where the next one would lead. It was an odd experience, unlike any other, but it felt completely natural. I just did whatever came next. Naturally.

"Do the next right thing" is a slogan that I have known about for close to nine years. The beauty of it is that word "next" because it implies that there is always a next time, and a next, and a next. Yesterday was supremely stressful and there were a lot of ups and downs in it (including the harrowing drive to the hospital at high speed on fairly unfamiliar roads among unforgiving drivers in high winds that buffeted the little car I was driving). But each segment of the day - including the drive and all the components of it - was one more step in doing "the next right thing."  I have rarely been more aware that I was exactly where I should be and doing the very thing that I was meant to do in that moment. It was like those moments were being orchestrated, conducted by a Master Designer, to meet not only their needs, but my own in the process. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

It Still Counts

I was awake around four this morning. Those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will understand when I talk about re-experiencing and how that interrupts sleep cycles and causes all sorts of nasty stuff like irritability, anxiety, fear of crowds and public places, and hypervigilance (the obsession with staying safe and keeping your loved ones safe). And the ones fortunate enough to have benefited from therapy know that talking about their trauma is a necessary part of their treatment because they process it instead of blocking it out.  

So I guess I had better warn my readers that I am about to describe a traumatic experience. If you can't deal with that right now, you are welcome to stop reading at this point. If you want to continue, you might want to grab a tissue. Especially if you're a parent.

Four years ago today seemed like any other day I had spent since my youngest daughter moved to Alberta and eventually ended up on the street, living in her car.  I was always wondering if she was safe, doing everything in my power to give her the tools she needed to get even half a chance out there. 

The previous evening she had asked for some money so she could sleep in a motel and have a shower to be ready to view an apartment the following day. I agreed and sent it.  

But she never got there.

All morning I was texting her from work, reminding her of her appointment. No response. I tried calling her again and again. No response. I gave up around 12:30 because I figured she was on the road by then.

She wasn't.

I remember what I had for lunch because I was eating it when the phone call came from my husband at 1:10 pm.  He told me that she had been in an accident. No, she wasn't okay. It was head-on at highway speed. She had died instantly.

I felt as if someone had drop-kicked me in the stomach. My breath came in gasps - I wanted to scream the words but they came out in disbelieving sobs instead. "Oh my God.  Oh my GOD!  My baby! My baby is ... DEAD!  Oh God!"

Suddenly the world seemed very, very small. There was barely enough room in it for me to breathe, almost like those scenes from horror movies where the camera gives an extreme closeup and there's a delay, an echo, in the words and actions - and they feel jerky, disjointed, surreal.

"Do you want me to come pick you up?" he patiently asked me after I stopped talking ... if you can call what I was doing talking. 

"Up, oh yes, pick up. Yes that would be good."

"I'll see you in about 20 minutes. Okay?"

"Umm, yeah. Okay.  Umm, drive safe," I said automatically. 

People at work had formed a small crowd around me, I noticed as I hung up the phone. Someone handed me a tissue. Apparently my face was wet. I can't remember who all was there, but I know there were concerned faces all around me.  I heard voices expressing sympathy - but they sounded like they were coming from the other end of a metal tube. 

I was still clutching what was left of my lunch - a spoonful of peanut butter and a couple of dried mango slices - as my manager suggested that I go to her office. She guided me there, sat me down in a chair, and waited with me for my husband to arrive.  She expressed her condolences, and asked if there was anyone she could call for me to let them know. I obediently gave her the number for the church I attended. She called them and told them the news while I ate the rest of my lunch - which felt drier than usual in my throat - because all I could think of was that I needed to keep my strength up, that my family would need me to be strong. So it became all-important for me to finish eating. Strange what trauma will do to the mind.

As we waited after my manager hung up, she leaned over and hugged me, rocking a bit, and started to sing softly in my ear, "Come to the water, stand by My side, I know you are thirsty, you won't be denied...I felt every teardrop when in darkness you cried, and I want to remind you that for those tears I died..." - the chorus of a song that (there was no way she could know this) I sang with my brothers as a teen. Of course that helped to set off a fresh wave of tears. I appreciated her expression of caring; I needed it!

When my husband arrived, those with clearer heads met him at the door. Others ushered me downstairs to meet him. One dear lady took charge and arranged to have someone drive us home - my manager took the front passenger seat and let us sit together in the back - while someone else drove behind us in a car and followed our van back to our house. 

These memories are fresh for me today because - well - it's one of those anniversary days. As I think back and remember, and relive those moments and the grief that overwhelmed me during those days and weeks that followed, the one thing that overarches everything is the one thing that heals the most: the love shown to me and to my family from all who knew us. And I mean all, from my best girlfriend who took my daughter's death as hard as I did, to the co-workers who all were so affected by it, to the doctors who worked in our area at my work, to those who came to the wake and to the funeral, to the hundreds and now thousands of people who have read my blog post about it (look in my archives on this blog for my October 24, 2013 post). 

Image "Snowflake Background" by oana roxana birtea
at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Those who know her story (which I told in that post I mentioned) know that she lived her life by the motto, "Every Snowflake Counts" - which to her didn't mean that everyone is unique and special like a snowflake, but that every bit of good that a person does, no matter how small, is helpful. It counts. There is nothing insignificant. 

It still counts. Folks who know me well, know that 2017 has been particularly hard for me emotionally, partly because if my baby girl had not had that accident, she would have turned 25 this year. So this anniversary date is a bit more raw than one might expect after four years. Grieving is not something that one ever stops doing; it takes a different form after a while, but it never goes away. 

My friends have been so supportive and so compassionate - and so patient - toward me and my family. To them I say, it still counts. Your love and your kind thoughts and words do not go unnoticed; I appreciate every bit of good that you intend and that you do and say. And I just wanted to say it.

Thank you. Thank you all. :')