Archives for posts with tag: Grief

The truth is, I wanted to be able to write something this weekend about all that I have to be grateful for. I know there is a lot. For some reason every time I sat to write, nothing came out.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that I have long loved (my dad’s birthday often falls on it) and felt conflicted about (just ask any of my Indigenous friends to explain). This year, Thanksgiving weekend was particularly hard. I could feel it coming in the days leading up to it: I was melancholy and tired. Then the tears hit. I couldn’t stop missing people who have died. I felt overwhelmed by a number of different circumstances. Mixed up with the sadness was undeniable resentment.

I recently read about resentment being one of the opposites of gratitude. As I prepared to share about this idea at The Dale on Sunday, I couldn’t help but see myself in the middle of it. What does it look like to break through resentment and find freedom from its chains: the chains that prevent action, preoccupy thoughts, and propel unhealthy choices?

I suspect the starting point is confessing our resentments, which is not easy. One of the things I treasure about The Dale is how so many of my friends confess so freely. There are few masks, which challenges me to remove mine. So, through many tears I poured the hardship of the weekend out to Dion and then again at The Dale. In that act I felt heard, which in turn helped me feel less alone. Not news, but it turns out carrying resentment is very…human.

There is a space created for understanding, forgiveness, and grace when we confess. In turn, we are freed to develop a new spirit of gratitude. The act of gratitude takes practice, almost like working a muscle in order to make it stronger. I acknowledge there are many things to be thankful for, even in the midst of great struggle. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that the seemingly “little” good things in life are actually very big and definitely worth noting. Resentment is hard to hold on to when there is a burgeoning spirit of thanksgiving.

I’m still tender. A serious wave of grief hit, and it has yet to break entirely. There is a lot about life that is hard, for each of us, in so many different ways. It is impossible to make sense of it all. What I believe is that life is a gift. I choose to believe that all things will ultimately be restored and made right. In putting away my resentment, I get to sing a new song, a song that can be sung everyday. Even on this Thanksgiving weekend.

 

 

Advertisements

On May 14th of last year my brother Logan and I went to spend some time with our mom. It was both Mother’s Day and my birthday, a double whammy that seems to happen every few years. We had a good visit, the kind that was full of shared stories and the occasional bought of laughter. Eventually I had to run off to a birthday dinner, but not before mom had the chance to point in the direction of her present to me. She was a great gift-giver, even when it required buying things on-line from her hospital bed.  That day she gave me a sturdy blue and white striped canvas bag, one that she hoped I would fill with things like flowers, baguette, good coffee beans and of course, chips.

I had no idea at the time, but that would be the last opportunity I would have to chat with my mom. I heard from her on the 17th via an email filled with family news, and gratitude for our visit. On the 19th we got the call that she was not okay. What transpired next still feels a bit like a dream, though it was all very, very real. The doctor carefully and sympathetically told me and Logan that we needed to bring together family and friends because the end was near. A huge group held vigil throughout the weekend. And then on Victoria Day, surrounded by her immediate family, Elaine Clare Grant (nee: Muirhead) took her last breath.

Nearly a year later, I find myself struggling to cope with the way my beloved mother’s death, Mother’s Day, and my birthday have all become intertwined. I suspect the acuteness of this will soften with time, but for now, on the eve of this first anniversary, it hurts. For the majority of yesterday I did a little better than expected. I looked at Cate and marvelled that I get to mother her; I was greeted by multiple people at The Dale as “Mom”; I felt safe to acknowledge how complicated a day like Mother’s Day is for so many people, including me; I thought of the many mother-figures I have in my life; Dion and Cate took me out for dinner. It wasn’t until the later evening that I started to panic: how can the day be almost done and I haven’t seen my mom? Of course I knew the answer, but as Joan Didion so aptly wrote in her memoir, it’s the kind of magical thinking that happens after someone dies.

The long and short of it is this: I miss my mom. Nearly every day I think of something I want to tell her. In all of the ongoing challenge of life (and there is a lot), I long to hear her voice offering comfort, wisdom, and love. She understood. I also know that as a result of so many years of persevering, mom was weary (though she never complained). It is a relief that she is no longer bound to a bed or wheelchair. Mom’s faith sustained her in life and promised her so much beyond it. I like to imagine her walking, maybe with a striped bag on her shoulder like the one she gave to me, filled with things that she loves. As Mother’s Day 2018 drew to a close, imagining her smile made me do the same.

I’m trying to direct my attention to the things that are happening in the present moment. It’s helpful for the most part. I say that because what’s right in front of me is a collection of things that are good, hard and pretty much everything in between.

Take today.

I woke up feeling good, which I received as an incredible gift. I’ve been sick and out of sorts this past week, acutely missing my parents and hyper aware of the challenges that I face. Somehow this morning my spirit was lighter.

I love the fall and today felt more like it to me. As I write, there is a cool breeze and late day sun pouring in a window.

Two funerals took place this afternoon for women I did not know, but were connected to many people I love, including Dion and Joanna, through The Causeway and Sanctuary (a place that functions much like The Dale). My heart grieves two more lives gone and reminds me of the many people we have said goodbye to this year.

Cate has decided she wants to be a watermelon for Halloween. A watermelon! So now I sit surrounded by reams of fabric and an old hula hoop, endeavouring to create a costume that she will be proud to wear. It’s a definite work in progress.

Today we celebrated a friend’s birthday at drop-in. We ate cake and carved pumpkins.

There are a number of people at The Dale who are not housed or at risk of being evicted. They need help, like yesterday. My voicemail is full of requests for The Dale to offer assistance. It’s humbling, hard work.

I’m making a pot of turkey soup, which is filling the house with a familiar, comforting smell.

Being mindful of what’s right in front of me does not make everything easy, though it does help in the way I manage it. Similar to my experience of Sabbath-keeping, it helps me to slow down and really look at things. I am able to pay better attention to not just my feelings, but what is motivating them.

Which brings me back to today. I have laughed and cried (and likely will do both again). I feel a mixture of joy and sadness. Somehow this day has been infused with a mysterious, yet firm sense of hope. Today, in this moment, I am grateful for all of it. Even the challenge of making an outfit that resembles a watermelon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nearly every day I turn to a series of readings and prayers in both the morning and evening. This particular rhythm has only become a habit over the last year. As I walk through the valley of grief, I am relieved that this practice has produced muscle memory, the kind that instinctively takes over. And so, on those days when I don’t know what to do with myself, I at least begin and end with good words.

I recently read, “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves”. I have so many questions, many of which are the kind I suspect won’t be answered in my lifetime. I wonder what it looks like to accept the things I cannot control and to develop the wisdom to know what I can change. I looked up patience in the dictionary and found this definition: “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset”. Oh, how I long to grow the dimensions of this attribute in my heart.

One of the things I have learned a great deal about in the last number of years is being present to the moment. I began to discover that my tendency toward people pleasing and perfectionism (as though that is even possible) was deeply flawed and rooted in terrible insecurity. My worth it turns out cannot be tied to a job or a person or a skill, it comes entirely from God. This work-in-progress heart change has better equipped me to pay attention to what is right in front of me. I cannot change the past, nor can I live in the future. Instead, I must live in the now.

‘The now’ is a jumble of challenge that requires a significant amount of patience. The grief over the death of my mom is a good example: I must be present to the pain of this significant loss and endeavour to tolerate the suffering without lashing out or giving up. Not too long ago my daughter described me to other people as an optimist. Though I don’t always feel like one, I was relieved that she could identify me as that. What I want her to know is that even in my grief, I hold onto hope.

One of the things I pray each day is: “May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you. May He guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm. May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you. May He bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors”. In this time of uncertainty, I choose to fuel patience with hope, and to live with the questions. I trust that with time understanding will come.

 

I must have been two, maybe two and a half. My mom had taken me to the park at the end of our street and then popped into the little corner store when it began to pour. As I sit here listening to the rain I can remember how she ran, pushing me in a stroller, the whole block home. We were soaked. She wrapped me in a towel, put on a Judy Collins record, and gave me a snack. She tried to dry off the monkey that I carried everywhere (and later tragically lost at that same park). I remember sitting in her lap on the floor. I know to some it might be surprising that I would have this strong memory from such a young age, but I actually have many.

I remember my mom walking me back and forth from school when I was in kindergarten. She let me invite my friends over for lunch, heating us bowls of noodles and making sure we had cut up carrots and cucumber too. She encouraged me to play outside and taught me to identify flowers and trees by name. We planted marigolds and lily of the valley and my favourite forget-me-nots in the backyard. When my first fish died she helped me bury him in that same garden bed. At night my mom would sing me Edelweiss from The Sound of Music, one of the songs I chose to sing to Cate every night of her early years.

As I begin the long and winding road of grief, it is memories like these, little moments in our shared life, that keep coming to mind. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. Memories of my mom do include what she said and did, but what reverberates in my heart is how she made me feel. When I remember her tending to my many skinned knees, it is her tenderness that sticks out. When I shared my anxieties and troubles with her, she listened and somehow managed to make me feel like things would be okay, even if they were to continue being hard. I loved being in a room full of people and picking out her laugh. Knowing she was close by made me happy.

I think why the memories I cite here remain so vivid is that they all leant to me feeling safe: being pushed through the rain, walked to school, having my friends welcomed, being taught how to both garden and grieve, hearing lullabies at night. She was a very good mother. After my aunt died, my mom spoke of her own grief for her sister and how even the best memories were difficult at first. I understand what she meant, because the flooding of recollections serves to make the absence even more real. Comfort is also found in choosing to remember. I can take myself back to that rainy day, and many others like it, where I could sit safe in the lap of my mom.

IMG_2765

 

My mom died on Monday night. This is the first time since then that I’ve been compelled to write something here. I know that many of you met my mom Elaine on the pages of this blog. She has always, and will continue to be, one of my primary sources of inspiration. She was an incredible woman.

Last Friday night (technically very early Saturday morning), I was woken by a call from my brother Logan. The hospital needed us to know that mom had taken a sudden turn for the worse and we should come. I got dressed and walked to meet Logan, because we amazingly live just one block away from each other on the same street, and just minutes from the hospital. Having received calls such as this before, we could imagine what to expect, and that proved true again: mom had an infection that was causing a high fever, her blood pressure was dangerously low, and she was non-responsive.

Mid-morning Saturday Logan and I spoke with a doctor who advised us that mom had pneumonia and likely an empyema, a serious accumulation of infection that would require more than antibiotics to deal with. Mom however was too weak to manage any invasive procedure, and so we were gently, and very compassionately advised to call together family and close friends.

What ensued over the course of the weekend was what I would describe as beautiful, precious, and deeply sacred. Mom’s grandchildren Cate, Oliver, Harrison and Teagan came, along with Dion and Amanda. My mom’s sisters, brothers-in-law, many nieces and nephews and long-time friends joined us so that we could all be together. We filled mom’s room, flowed out into the hall, and spilled into the nearby sitting room. Hospital staff commented repeatedly at our presence, moved that mom had so many people who loved her. The doctor came to me later saying, “you were right when you said people would come. This is amazing”.

Cate brought her ukulele and sang song after song for her Gran. My cousin Kate sang A Life That’s Good…”at the end of the day, Lord I pray I have a life that’s good. Two arms around me, heaven to ground me. And a family that always calls me home”. Teagan and Roy, the two babies of the family got passed from person to person, offering sweet distraction from the sadness. Joanna was always nearby. We held times of prayer around mom’s bedside, including a late night vigil where we sang songs and hymns. We told stories, laughed, and wept, sometimes all at the same time.

I slept beside my mom on Sunday night. Though she lived in a hospital room, mom managed to make it a home, something I was again struck by as I lay there looking at pictures and her collection of sentimental things. When I woke up in the morning I decided to play mom’s playlist of favourite songs from her iPad. As I listened to the words of the top song, “Hold on, if you need to hold on, you can hold on to me. What ever road you’ve chosen shouldn’t be walked alone. Hold on”, I thought about how she had done just that for so many years. Mom clung to Christ though the road was hard.

Monday evening I decided to go home for a brief break. I ate a bit of food that a friend had generously dropped off and got changed. As I was finishing up, my phone rang. It was my aunt saying death was suddenly close. I ran all the way to the hospital, praying that I would make it. As I got closer, Victoria Day fire works started to shoot off in front of me, and I became even more overwhelmed. I did make it. At approximately 10:25 pm, surrounded by family, mom breathed her last breath. We remained with her for a while, even toasting her with wine served in styrofoam cups (all we had) and eating chips, two things that she loved, and always together.

We had a funeral and burial yesterday. As a group we hovered around her grave for a significant amount of time, her grandchildren and grand-nieces and nephews playing with each other. I kept imagining her sitting there, happily tucked in to her wheelchair with a huge smile on her face. She loved being with her family and so this felt like an appropriate book-end to the last week, one that started and ended together.

Mom, I know you are no longer bound to a bed or wheelchair, a truth that makes me smile. And I can’t believe you are gone. I began to miss you the moment you left. I took the photo below of the view outside your window on Monday. You would have loved the sunset. I know life was hard, but at the end of the day you always thought it was good. I love you, always.

IMG_7270

 

When I walked into the Monday Drop-In last week I did not have the capacity to manage the barrage of questions and comments that came my way. Just the day before I had received the news of the death of a friend. Couple that with lack of sleep/general busy-ness/mounting concerns and it equalled me: the one coming undone.

My teammate Joanna maneuvered me into the washroom where we prayed. Actually, with her arm slung around me, she prayed. I became a puddle of tears. In order to catch my breath I left the building for a short walk. As soon as I exited the front doors I saw two of my friends: Chaz and Steve. {Sidebar: I don’t often use people’s actual names in my writing. For this post they are, used with permission and because I think they ought to be publicly thanked}. Chaz and Steve admittedly live life very hard and it shows. “How are you doing girl?” said Chaz. “Crappy”, I responded.

Chaz picked up where Joanna left off: he put his arm around me and said he understood. You know how sometimes people say that and you want to shout, “NO, you don’t!”? This was not one of those times. Chaz showed a depth of empathy that I believed. He then dug around his pockets, pulled out a stack of brown paper towel and provided what I needed to dry my tears.

Steve quietly stood by with his head down. It wasn’t until later in the day that he ushered me over for a hug. He said, “Erinn, I couldn’t eye-ball you earlier because I felt your pain. I know what it’s like. I don’t like seeing you cry because I love ya”. Steve has buried nearly every one of his family members. He thinks he has more than the nine lives of a cat because he just keeps surviving things he likely shouldn’t. I am completely honoured that he cares about me the way he does and chose to express it.

Throughout the day I was supported by Joanna, Chaz, Steve and countless others in the Drop-In who gently slowed my spiral down through a word, a hug or even just a knowing look. This is community. What a relief to be a part of it.

frayed rope

 

 

I turned on the computer and was met with the horrible news: 26 people killed; 20 of them children. I think I croaked out, “oh God, no” and began to weep. I felt sick.

I immediately thought of my Cate. She goes to a school quite similar to the one in Connecticut, except that it goes to grade five instead of grade four. I stand in the schoolyard five days a week, kissing Cate goodbye in the morning and hello in the afternoon. I remember as though it were yesterday her first day of Junior Kindergarten. She seemed so small and everything else so big.

And now so many parents, just like me, are simply saying goodbye to their beautiful small ones. Nothing about this is right.

I have no idea what was going on inside of the mind of Adam Lanza. I am completely dismayed that he was somehow able to have a firearm in his possession. I mourn the systems that are so broken to begin with and just don’t protect people the way they seemingly intend to. I can’t comprehend how the families and friends left behind will move through Christmas. I wonder where God is in all of this.

I have so many questions and no answers. I hang on (sometimes by a thread) to the faith and hope that lingers in my heart. I believe that there will come a day when mental illness, anger, weapons, fear, misguided pride, injustice and murder will all be eradicated. Until then you and I get to be a part of ushering in the kind of kingdom that will one day reign, one where we recognize we belong to one another. Cate doesn’t just belong to me and Dion- she belongs to a much larger family. As Mother Teresa once said, “”If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten [this]”.

Today I want to remember.