Category Archives: Grief

Not My Story

If you’ve been reading me for a long time, you’ve probably noticed that I post a lot less about E. these days.

Partly this is because of lack of time. I post less about everything these days and my Google Doc file of “potential blog posts” keeps getting longer and longer.

Mostly it’s because I’ve decided that E.’s life is not mine to share.

When he was a baby, his life and my life were intertwined. Writing about learning how to be a mother meant writing about what he was doing.

He’s six now.

He’s a big little kid (or a little big kid depending on how you look at it).

He has his own thoughts, wishes, dreams, plans, questions, and opinions (this child is NEVER short of opinions).

Writing about him without his permission feels like a violation of his privacy, but he’s too young to be able to give me permission to tell a story- he wouldn’t truly understand what giving me permission means and what the ramifications are of something being published online (he’s desperate to be able to put “how-to” videos on YouTube when he makes, say, a conveyor belt out of toilet paper rolls and old linens, and can’t understand why I keep saying no).

The problem is, I desperately need someone to talk to about him, and (as I said recently) I don’t have the right kind of friend nearby.

E. is not easy to parent.

I know all kids have their challenges, but I also honestly believe that some kids are harder work than others.

Nothing drove this home more than chatting with one mum after school one day when she told me that the teacher had called her about her daughter. “That’s the first phone call I’ve had from the school about any one of my kids,” she said (she has three- the eldest is in grade four). “I guess one of them had to be the rebel.”

At the time, I was right in the middle of a months-long stretch where I touched base with E.’s teacher (bless her) every single day after school. We talked with E. about what went well, what hadn’t gone well, and what we could do to make things better the next day.

I went home after that conversation and cried.

I feel like most of this past school year has been spent trying to figure out what is going on in E’s head.

I’ve been to eight appointments (not counting follow up discussions with his regular doctor) with three different specialists.

His teacher and I have filled out questionnaire after questionnaire.

I have spent hours Googling, even when I know I should NOT be Googling.

The end result is that the developmental paediatrician thinks that E. probably does have something going on. It’s mild enough that for now we’ve avoided a formal diagnosis (because E. has made huge strides in the areas where we were concerned over this past school year), but we’ll revisit this in a year’s time as the demands of Grade One are going to be much heavier.

I don’t like labels.

I especially don’t like the label that the developmental paediatrician thinks probably applies to E. because it brings with it a lot of assumptions for a lot of people, assumptions which, for the most part, are not applicable to my son.

At the same time, if E. does need more support to be able to thrive in the school environment, and a label is required for him to become eligible for said support, then I will do whatever is necessary to make sure my child gets what he needs.

It’s hard though.

I’ve cried a lot in the last couple of weeks.

It is hard to think that my beautiful boy’s brain is likely to make it harder for him to cope with school (and with life) than it will be for his peers.

It is hard to realize that I have many, many more meetings with teachers ahead of me, that the school may not be able to look past the other stuff to see what he is capable of (and he is so incredibly bright, so capable, so curious).

It is hard to think of myself as a special needs mum, even as I recognize that I am his first and best advocate.

It is hard not to be scared of what the future will bring, especially if you start Googling.

It is hard to know that P. will be at a much higher risk for the same thing and to also know that it will likely be years before we will be able to tell whether her brain is wired like her brother’s or not.

It is hard not to think that this is somehow my fault, that I have done something wrong somewhere along the line to cause this (even as I read over and over again that it is not my fault).

It is hard not to feel guilty that he was five before we put in the paperwork to start asking questions, that we didn’t investigate earlier, that I kept telling my gut to be quiet when it whispered that something was going on, that I thought he would grow out of it or that he just needed more time to adjust.

In my heart, I know that E. is going to be fine in the long run.

Scratch that.

He’s going to be more than fine.

He’s going to be amazing.

P. too.

But the road to get there just got a lot rockier.

And I wish I had someone to talk to about it.

 

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, E.- the seventh year, Grief

When you can’t go home again

My mother is planning to sell her house. It is the right decision: she is newly widowed; the house is much too big for her and too hard to maintain; the property is rural and isolated and requires too much work; she is a long drive away from her siblings, children, and grandchildren; and she does not have a strong support network of friends in the area where she currently lives.

It is a big house that got away from my mother and stepfather over the last few years as he became increasingly unwell. It is in an economically depressed area. Up until a couple of weeks ago, when I’ve thought about the reality of Mum selling the house, my thought process has largely revolved around the fear that my mother will want to sell the house and not be able to, or that she will sell it for such a pittance that she will not be able to move closer to me and my sisters, even if we help financially.

I’ve been afraid that the house will be an albatross, a millstone wrapped around my mother’s neck, dragging her down and chaining her to the past when she is willing to move forward and explore a new future.

When I saw my mother last week, she commented that the real estate agents who have been in to see the house have called it a “breath of fresh air”. There are, apparently, not many houses of its size on the market, and there are buyers who want a larger house.

They don’t think it will be hard to sell.

Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but in that moment, when the sale of the house became a real possibility, the door that I have been keeping resolutely shut cracked open and the emotions that I have been holding at bay flooded in.

Because it’s not just a house, of course.

It’s our childhood home.

It’s the place my city-born son loves to visit most of all.

It’s where I can see all the stars.

Selling the house is absolutely, without a doubt, the right decision. And yet, last week, when I was sitting in the bedroom that used to be mine, looking out the window at the snow and the trees and the landscape that my body recognizes as “home”, it seemed impossible to comprehend that it might be one of the last times I was there, that at some point very soon visiting my mother will not mean returning to the place where I grew up.

It’s another loss.

How do I make the space to grieve it?

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Filed under Family, Grief, Loss

Microblog Mondays: (Un?)Welcome Memories

Microblog_MondaysI started a five year journal (this one) in May 2014 (on E’s third birthday). I knew I wouldn’t be able to manage the pressure of a “full” diary (I’ve tried multiple times and, except for travel diaries, always get bogged down after a few weeks), but I also knew I wanted something a bit more quotidian than this blog or the notebook where I write down E’s milestones and witty sayings.

This particular journal was perfect- even if I miss a day or two (or a week, as has happened), I am always able to go back and reconstruct what happened in enough detail for an entry.

I don’t have a single blank day. And, for close to two years, the journal entries are a mix of notes about E., my PhD, places we went, things we did, dinners we ate, books I read, etc. Just ordinary days in an ordinary life.

I didn’t know, of course, that 2016 was going to happen.

Here’s the thing: my journal preserves memories that I wouldn’t otherwise have. I usually reread the entries for that particular day from previous years and there have been many occasions where the entry has triggered a flood of memories about a day or an event that up until that moment I would have said I’d forgotten about completely.

So I don’t know that I would remember that particular sliding outing at E’s school with my Dad, or that lunch with my stepfather on the patio with the waitress who messed up all of our orders without the prompt of the journal entry.

The entries are nothing special. I didn’t know, of course, that those visits would turn out to be the last visits. I thought we had years left.

There is a stark contrast in the journal between the entries I made before my father’s accident and those that come afterwards. Rereading is physically painful. I don’t recognize the woman who made the entries in 2014 and 2015 or the life that she was living.

I’m hoping that one day I’ll be glad to have those ordinary visits preserved in more than just my memory.

Right now I feel like I never want to touch this journal again once it’s full.

Would you want the memories of those last ordinary days, or would it hurt too much to be reminded of what you had lost?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Family, Grief, Loss, Microblog Mondays, Writing

Microblog Mondays: The (Not-So) New Normal

Microblog_MondaysOn Saturday, it was a year since my father’s accident. As I said to my sisters that morning over our WhatsApp group chat, he has survived, and we have too.

My Dad sent round an email that broke our hearts. He has fought so hard and accomplished so much. He has defied the doctors’ expectations time and time again. He has, despite our initial fears, decided that he can still have a meaningful life, even though it is not the life that he wanted, not the life that he had planned.

And yet his email made it clear just how much he still struggles to reconcile himself to this life.

I am still struggling too.

When I finished my PhD in December 2014, I got a card from my Dad and my stepmother. In it my Dad had written quite a lengthy message poking fun at himself by commenting that whenever he has told anyone about his daughters’ accomplishments the response has always been stunned silence followed by “Well they didn’t get that from you!”

I don’t have the cards my Dad gave me for any of my birthdays or for Christmas. I don’t tend to keep cards unless they were given to me by Q. (or made for me by E.).

I kept this one.

I didn’t know, of course, what was coming.

But keeping it has meant that I can turn to the card and still see my father’s familiar signature, his instantly recognizable script.

He’ll never write like that again.

Layer upon layer of loss.

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

 

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Filed under Family, Grief, Loss, Microblog Mondays

New year, old grief

I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen.

For months now, my family has been marching to the drum of “just get through 2016”. And even though it threw up one more unexpected complication (in that my poor Mum developed shingles right after Christmas, which meant that we couldn’t go and see her since P. isn’t yet vaccinated), in the end we all sent each other relieved/celebratory messages when the clock finally clicked over (or the next morning in my case since the idea that I will stay up until midnight, even to see a festering, wretched year out, is laughable).

And then 2017 got started in a big way with the birth of labmonkey’s son (on New Year’s Day, no less). I’m excited to meet the little guy, and excited that P & E will have a close cousin (geographically speaking), and relieved that everything went relatively well (actual message to a good friend of mine: “My sister had her baby and no one died!”).

And yet.

*********

My mother is still widowed.

I am still wrestling with what I discovered when I went to stay with my mother for a week in October. As her executor I helped her sort out a number of administrative issues still outstanding from my stepfather’s estate. Along the way I learned, to my abject shock and horror, that my stepfather had been steadily digging himself and my mother deeper and deeper into a financial hole, one that within a few years, if he had lived, they might not have been able to get themselves out of.

It has changed my memories of him.

It has forever altered our last few conversations, when he lay in his hospital bed and spent so much time telling me (telling all five of their children) that he could die at peace because he knew that my mother would be looked after financially.

It wasn’t true. My mother is not facing a lifelong sentence of poverty in her retirement solely because my stepfather died the day before his 65th birthday and not on the day itself (which would have invalidated the life insurance policy that has meant my mother could square their debts and start with no financial burdens, although no financial cushion either).

My mother should be able to be comfortable. She should be able to do some travelling. She should be able to spoil her grandchildren a little bit (because she will always spoil others and never herself), but she needs some luck in the next year or two for that to be true.

And it was so very nearly a disaster.

I don’t remember my dreams very much any more- too many nights of broken sleep thanks to P. But when I do dream about my stepfather, I’m usually fighting with him about his funeral.

I’m sorry that he’s dead.

I’m relieved that he died.

I’m carrying so much anger and there’s nowhere for it to go.

*******

And then there’s my Dad.

Because of the shingles, we ended up staying with my stepmother for the entire visit. We saw as much of my Dad as we could, but juggling two kids in an ICU room is not exactly easy. It will be easier when they have bought a new house (or renovated their current house), but this visit really drove home that it will never be easy again.

I don’t dream very much about my Dad either, but there was one dream, the first dream, that I will never forget. I had it in September, when E. had started school and P. was still sleeping well and I finally had a bit of quiet space to myself. In the dream, we drove up to their house and Dad answered the door. He was old Dad, the Dad from before the accident, right down to what he was wearing (black jeans and a green pullover sweater that my youngest sister had bought for him). He invited us in, and then the dream jumped to the dinner table and Dad was pouring wine for everyone. In the dream, I said to him, “Wow, Dad, so the operation with the pacer gave you back the use of your arms!” And then, in the dream, everything went blurry and grey and Dad’s face became so sad and there was a long pause before I finally said, “But how are you walking?”

Even in my dreams, I knew what I was seeing was impossible.

It still hurts so much.

It is worse when I see him.

When I’m at home and getting his emails or Skyping, it’s easy to take the most positive view of the situation possible, to focus on the future and the next steps that need to happen, to plan and organize. It becomes possible for my mind to skirt around the realities of my father’s new life.

You can’t skirt around it when your son is helping your father eat his dinner and casually wanders off after putting a piece of naan bread in your father’s mouth and all your father can do, your great, tall, powerful father, this pillar of strength in your childhood, is open his eyes really wide and make some noises around the bread that is clogging up his mouth so that you notice and come over and take it out.

My father is a real-life superhero. He has chosen to embrace the life that he has been handed, a life unimaginable from the one he was living a year ago. He has defied the statistics and the likely outcomes and the risk factors time and time again. In the last eleven months he has relearned to eat and to talk, twice. He has mastered using an eye tracker to control a laptop and has moved on to voice-controlled software. He can drive a power wheelchair with his head. He is on the diaphragm pacer (and off the ventilator) fifteen hours a day, every day.

He wants to live at home.

He wants to travel.

I honestly believe they will be writing about him in medical journals.

I could not be prouder.

But every time I see him my heart breaks again.

**********

I don’t cry very much these days.

This surprises me, as I used to weep at everything even before I had children.

When I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, back in December of 2015, when I was pregnant with P., I cried for pretty much the entire last third of the movie, plus the entire way back home (real ugly crying too).

I cried a lot in February, and March, and April.

But I don’t cry anymore.

I know I haven’t processed my grief, my anger, my loss.

I know it’s all sitting there under the surface.

I don’t know if I’m not crying because I’m just worn too thin to feel or if I’m afraid if I start crying and feeling I might never stop.

*******

I’m so angry.

There are lots of healthy, happily retired couples in my neighbourhood. They like to go and have breakfast together and read the paper, or they have morning tea with scones, or they have lunch with wine and salad and paninis. I see them when I’m out walking (always with one or two children in tow).

I hate them.

It is an instinctive, visceral reaction when I see them.

My parents should be doing that too.

*************

2017 happened.

2016 ended.

My mother used to like to say that “The calendar fixes everything.”

Time heals all wounds, and all that.

But the calendar didn’t make it better.

It didn’t make it go away.

There was no magic, no miracle.

No unexpected happy ending.

We’re still moving forward, one day at a time, in a reality that we could never have imagined a year ago.

Time heals all wounds.

I don’t know how much more time I’m going to need.

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Filed under Family, Grief, Loss

We lost too

I am having a very hard time with the election results.

I feel like I’ve been having a near-constant anxiety attack since Wednesday morning.

Part of it, I know, is that P’s nighttime sleep is particularly terrible at the moment, and lack of sleep is a major trigger for my anxiety. I am sure I would not be feeling quite as awful as I am if I had been facing a Trump presidency well-rested.

But.

I would still have been feeling awful.

Maybe I shouldn’t be as sad and frightened as I am. After all, I am Canadian, not American. I couldn’t vote in the election. He’s not going to be my president. And I’m white, middle-class, heterosexual, and of Christian heritage (if an agnostic now). I could argue that I’m not one of his major targets for intolerance, insult, and hate.

Except, I am, of course, because I’m a woman. And as Trump made it abundantly clear during his campaign, he doesn’t care about women. He doesn’t respect women or their bodies (and don’t get me started on women’s autonomy over their own bodies). He bragged about sexually assaulting women and then normalized the assault by claiming it was “locker-room talk”, as though it is just something men do, gosh darn it, can’t help themselves.

I think he is vile.

And while he may not be my president, his presidency is going to affect and shape my country.

Not just because he claims he wants to rethink NAFTA.

If he pulls the USA hard to the right, Canada will have our hands tied on so many issues.

His poisonous platform that relies on inciting fear of the “other” could creep up north of the border.

In our last federal election, one of the defining moments was when the Conservative party (then in government with a majority) revealed their plan for a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline in which you would be encouraged to dob in your neighbour for doing strange and frightening things (translation: not taking the kids to hockey and stopping at Tim Horton’s on the way back home).

It was revolting.

It was disgraceful.

And it was decisively rejected by the Canadian electorate.

The Conservatives relied heavily in their campaign on fear and intolerance and Canadians all across the country stood up and said (politely, because after all, we are Canadians), “No, thank you. That’s not who we are.”

We gave Justin Trudeau and his Liberals a majority government, something which the polls had not suggested was within striking distance.

But.

THE DAY AFTER Trump won, the same Conservative MP who had been the face behind the barbaric cultural practices hotline, and who is now a contender for the leadership of that party, went on the record saying that Trump’s win was “an exciting message” that was needed in Canada.

I hope registered Conservatives reject her embrace of intolerance just as decisively as the general voting public did in October 2015.

I hope we do not follow the same path as Brexit, as Trump, as the rise of right-wing parties in Europe. I hope we continue to champion freedom and equality.

But even if we do, it seems like we’re going to be the lone voice crying out in the wilderness, and there’s only so much one country can do.

******

I am so sad for Hillary Clinton.

I so sad for women everywhere.

I am so angry that competence and intelligence and experience could be twisted into something negative, reasons to vote against a candidate rather than for her.

I am so afraid of the damage that can be done in four years.

******

It is a measure of my anxiety that one of the first thoughts I had on Wednesday, when I realized Trump would be president was this:

“I better get Q. to hurry up and get P.’s Australian citizenship sorted so we can get her a passport. Then at least he’d be able to take both kids and get out of the country if it came to that.”

I said this to Q. a few days later. I was trying to reassure myself, to make it into a bit of a joke.

It turns out Q. had thought the exact same thing.

Our current prime minister’s father, when he was prime minister, famously once compared Canada’s relationship with the U.S. to be like sleeping next to an elephant. He said, “No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

What happens when the elephant throws a giant temper tantrum in bed?

******

Friday was Remembrance Day. I bought E. a poppy and he wore it all week. We had lots of questions from him about the symbolism of the poppy. I told him over and over how lucky we were to live in a safe country, to enjoy freedom and prosperity. E. said he didn’t like thinking about the reason we wear the poppy. I agreed with him, but said it was important to spend at least one day every year remembering those who fought and died so that we could be free and safe. I told him it was a reminder of how terrible the world wars were and a promise that there would never be another one.

I have always, always believed that.

Now, I’m not so sure.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Grief, Sleep

On being (sometimes) a grasshopper

I’m sure everyone knows Aesop’s fable about the grasshopper and the ant, where the ant is industrious and works hard and stores food for the winter and the grasshopper flits about and has fun and doesn’t worry about tomorrow and then meets a bad end when the cold weather comes (largely because the ant won’t help it). The moral of the story is meant to be all about hard work and planning for the future, but the ant comes across as mean spirited and a bit of a killjoy.

Q. and I are ants, in that we live within our means. We bought the house we could afford, not the one we really wanted. We don’t keep a balance on our credit cards. When we do take on debt (such as buying a car), we pay it off as fast as we can.

My father is an ant.

My stepfather was, to a certain degree, a grasshopper.

My father, thanks to his ant-like tendencies, has the financial resources to pay for the extensive care he is going to need for the rest of his life. He will not have to live in some sort of institutional setting because he cannot afford otherwise.

My stepfather, thanks to his grasshopper nature, enjoyed more than a decade of retirement from his long-term career.

If my stepfather had been in my father’s accident, and my father had ended up with my stepfather’s cancer, their outcomes would have been even more bleak. My father would have died only eighteen months or so after retiring from his second career, and my stepfather would not have had the financial resources for private care.

But I feel like both of them are reminders that we should all channel the grasshopper, at least some of the time.

My father is 63.

My stepfather died the day before his 65th birthday.

Neither of them is going to get the decades of retirement that financial planners urge you to consider when thinking about the future.

They both made time to travel, to visit family, and to enjoy hobbies. They both squeezed a great deal into their lives.

But I can’t help but feel that they were both cheated of so much.

Being at home with a small baby, I do spend a certain amount of time wishing for the future. I can’t help it- I’m not a baby person. I love P., but I will enjoy her more when she is bigger.

At the same time, I find myself thinking a lot about my father and my stepfather and reminding myself to stay present, in this moment, in this life.

This isn’t a dress rehearsal.

This is all we get.

And when Q. and I are looking ahead, to places we want to go, and things we want to do, I am going to try to remember that we need to be grasshoppers too, at least some of the time.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Choose Happiness, Family, Grief, P.- the first year