Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Grieving Girl's Guide to Life

About 5 years ago, the guy I was replacing at work had a hell of a year. He had fallen in love the year before with a co-worker in his language classes and had just proposed to her. Shortly after the ring was on her finger, she became pregnant. They sold their condos, bought a big house in the country, bought a car, had a wedding, had a kid, then found out they were going to have to move to India in a few months.

"You know," I remarked, "you can space out this adulting thing. You don't have to do it all at once."

"I know," he chuckled, “But sometimes all the adulting just happens at the same time."


To catch up:

When my mom died last December it was one of those things where when people ask “was it unexpected? Was it sudden?” my only answer was “kind of? But also not?” Basically, what I could say was “Five days in the hospital and she was gone”.

And that's that. It was, and continues to be, the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, but life kept going, almost immediately. Two weeks after she died, I found out I got a job in the U.S. and would have to move in 2016. Two weeks after that, my maternal grandfather died. Two months after that, I found out that getting a visa for TB to work in the U.S. would be superfun! (note: it would actually be the opposite of superfun) and it would be  much easier if we just got married. But he insisted that he wanted to ask me, so I agreed. And on June 30th, under a sky full of stars, TB proposed to me with a story worthy of any Simpsons fan (more on that in a later entry)

Since that moment I've been running. In order to keep my upcoming job I have to become fluent in Spanish before next summer, which, when you're starting with a half-level above "dos cervezas, por favor" is a challenge, to say the least. The second half of 2015 has been full of getting my grandfather’s house ready to sell, planning a wedding, and conjugating verbs like it's my job (it is).

In 2016, language gods willing, I'll pack up my house, rent it to someone who won't destroy it,  find and rent a house in the U.S, and start a new job, all while grieving the two best people I ever knew.
I have no idea how I’m going to do it all, or if it’s even possible.

But adulting doesn’t wait until you’re ready – it just happens and expects you to catch up.

Thanks for running with me.

*Adapted from an earlier post on Offbeat Bride's forum before they closed in November 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

One year.

This blog has remained so quiet, not because I've had nothing to say, but rather because I've had too much. Every time I looked at an open page the weight of the white felt like a burden, so I quietly closed the window and moved on. But I wanted to mark today because, of course I do. I won't try to sum up how things have been, but suffice it to say, 2016 has the potential to be the weirdest year of my life to date. But we're not there yet; we're still here. It's difficult to capture this year which has been, simultaneously, disquieting and quiet. Quiet is good, though. Quiet is welcome here.

If you'd asked me a year ago where I thought I'd be now the answer is where I currently am; in bed. It was hard to foresee a time when I would be able to push the covers off myself, put on clothes and head out into the world. But about a month later, I did. And then two weeks after that, I did it every day for a week. Then I just kept going, because you basically are left with two choices in this life: wither or tumble. So I tumbled back to work, through deadlines and meetings, through birthdays and wine in cheap paper cups, through lunch dates and portfolio changes and everything else that was thrown at me. And yes, sometimes it felt hollow and hard, but other times it felt normal and fine, and good, and sometimes even great. And the world unfolded as it does, leaving me more afraid and worried than I've ever been, but also so surrounded by love.

And there is, of course, always her. I remember realizing one day that she wasn't the first thought I had when I woke up in the morning and a small part of me was relieved. But every day, she's there. Just under the daily routine, waiting. I haven't figured out what to do with her yet. But for now, we can share the same space in silence, like sitting next to her on a church pew or park bench.

I wanted to share the words I wrote a year or so ago for her funeral. It would be easy to say these were the hardest words I ever had to write, but that would be a lie. They were the hardest words I ever had to read aloud, but writing them came quickly, all at once in a late night cascade. I withered while they tumbled.

I still have no idea what I'm doing and Im still scared every single day of my life. But I've made it one year. It's possible. And that's enough for today.


Friends, family, well wishers, in the interest of honesty, I would like to begin with a confession: I didn’t finish this speech until hours before we all gathered here. This is not unusual – since I was 8 years old and had to complete a report on the rather vague topic of “Canada”, I have never started a paper, project or presentation more than 2 days before it was due. I’ve had book reports where I haven’t even taken the book out of the library until the weekend before. And throughout my school years, primary through to University, I could always count on my night owl mother, rolling her eyes, exasperatedly sighing “Oh ______” and then rolling up her sleeves, sitting down at our electric typewriter, then our monochrome computer, then our PC and using her rapid-fire typing skills to commit to paper whatever drivel I’d managed to coax out of my beleaguered brain at 1 in the morning. I only tell you this rather embarrassing fact about myself, because it’s a really good example of what kind of mom my mom was. She would admonish you, encourage you to do better next time, and then sit down and bail you out. Every time. Not because she wanted to protect you, but because she knew you better than you knew yourself. And she knew you were trying. And she loved you.

My mother had more love in her than should have been possible for a mere mortal. So many of you have mentioned her kindness, her smile, the way she never had a bad word to say about anyone. And yes, yes that’s how she was in public, but let me tell you, in private? She was exactly the same. She was kinder than anyone I’ve ever known. Almost infuriatingly so. You could rant and rave about something or someone to her and she’d nod and listen and agree with you, but even then, you could tell just by the look in her eyes that she thought you could do better. And begrudgingly, you’d try to, without even realizing she’d tricked you into being a better person.

It was a joy to know my mother. She made friends easily, and couldn’t have chosen a better part-time job than Avon representative. Customers became companions within a few campaigns, and every time she thought of giving the business up, she always came back to it, because it gave her a chance to chat and laugh with the people she’d grown so close to. And also because she got her mascara for 40% off.

My mother’s tastes were not easily defined. She was as at home at the Chateau Laurier for Afternoon Tea as she was at Miller’s Oven in Manotick, enjoying a piece of blueberry shortcake. She loved classical music and world travel, but also enjoyed bargain-hunting in Syracuse and, inexplicably, the Big Bang Theory. She was game for just about anything, and we always shrieked in delight when she’d deign to do something silly, like take a goofy Christmas card photo, or make a face for the camera, because she always left the monkey business up to the three of us. But sometimes she would cave, giving us a little glimpse of the goofball she could be, if the scenery wasn’t always being chewed by her hammy family.

She was the first person I wanted to tell something to because she always had the perfect reaction. She was overjoyed, bursting at the seams with pride when it was good, and aghast at the world we live in when it was bad.

Music was one of my mother’s great loves. A talent that she and my father shared, and which has bypassed my and my sister’s generation entirely. And yet she bore our failings with good humour, of course, telling us our ear-piercing, godawful version of A-Ha’s Take On Me, was not the worst thing she’d ever heard, which is a lie. She introduced us to her love of musicals early in life, and loved to plunk away at her keyboard whenever new music came in for her choirs. I actually think my sister and I may be her choir’s longest-standing audience members, always there for a Christmas concert or a Family and Friends event, though we fully accept we are not their target audience.

My mom always enjoyed a good glass of wine. Or a bad glass of wine. Just wine, really. She was great at a party, always the mingler. My sister and I loved going to events with her because she always got the really good gossip from people without even trying. And, even better, she was willing to share the best stuff. I have inherited many things from my mother – my eyes, my empathy, my inability to watch sappy Tim Hortons commercials without crying– but her ability to drink consistently throughout an evening and still carry on in-depth conversations with all those around her is not one of them. I’m sorry mom, I know this continues to be one of my great failings.

My mother instilled in us a deep love of family. She loved hers with all her heart and I can’t count how many of my friends became “Honourary ” with a wave of her hand. Her brother Ron was a treasure to her, her closest friend and constant confidante. They were two peas in a pod, more alike than any non-twin siblings have any right to be. She started a craft business with her sister, Deb. She never let us leave a trip to the ‘States without making sure that there was scores of cheap pipe tobacco for her father in the glove box. She loved my sister fiercely, and it was a delight to watch them work together, whether it was perfecting a parallel park, or mastering a particularly tricky cross-stitch pattern. She used to play non-competitive combined-score Scrabble with her mother for hours at our dining room table, and I like to think they have now taken up the habit again.

I’m 32 years old, and I have never missed a birthday, a mother’s day, a Christmas, a Thanksgiving, or an Easter. Because family was love, family was everything. And we did so much loving in the 64 years we had her. But it still feels like we could have done so much more.

And should you need to know further proof of her love, recall that she was with my dear father for 38 years. I love my father completely, but sometimes 38 minutes can feel like I’ve run a marathon. But she still listened to him, and even though she rolled her eyes and sighed more often than you might think humanly possible, she loved him, whether they were travelling through Europe or just sitting in front of the fireplace on a wintery night.

I feel like I could sit here for hours, sharing memories, telling you about a Christmas Eve spent eating oranges and coffee cake in an aging hotel room, about the way weeding her garden felt like church to her, about an unfinished Christmas stocking, about morning puppet shows, about how she’d once wanted to teach music to children in Northern communities, about how the only things as good as her hugs were her strawberry pies. But frankly, there are sandwiches to be eaten, and wine to be drunk, and if I told you everything to love about her, we’d be here for another 64 years.

In times like these, it’s normal to feel helpless, to feel like you want to do something to ease the heartache, to make this terrible journey that we must all make, just a little easier. It’s become almost a cliché - “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.” And already so many of you have gone ahead and done so much. We deeply appreciate every meal cooked, every kindness extended, every trip made to be with us. But what more can we do, you ask. Well, okay, since you asked so nicely, I’ll tell you. If you knew her,tell us about her. Tell us about the stories she’d tell when she was with you. Tell us about how she was when she was younger. Tell us what she loved, and what made her laugh, so we can add to the long list of memories we’re cloaking ourselves in like a blanket. And most of all, tell us the things that she wouldn’t tell us herself, because I bet she was hiding some really righteous gossip.

Talk about her, think about her, laugh about her. Because I have to believe a love like hers doesn’t just disappear. It has to go on, in all of us. It’s too powerful not to.

Monday, July 27, 2015


I've got this thing for the number 15. It seems like big things, bad and good, happen for me on the 15th. I broke up with my long-term boyfriend on a 15th (of February. I'm a jerk), I moved into my first apartment on a 15th, passed the test that gave me my current job on a 15th and my anniversary with TB is on the 15th. I remember thinking to myself last year that 2015 was going to be insane. It just had to be. Superstition was on my side. I mean, 2014 had been an effing rollercoaster ride. More travel in one year than I’d done in my whole life, landing a job I wanted, cool responsibilities at work, and, of course, more loss than I could fathom.

Imagine my surprise, then, that 2015 has been one long flatline of mostly even-keeled quiet. No travel outside the country, no big changes on the job front, just a lot of keeping my head above water and trying to go through the motions of everyday normal. Whoo!!
I had wondered if I should even do anything for my birthday – having a birthday on a holiday always leaves the question of a party up in the air – but once I heard my best pal Jax was in town for the first time in probably 7 years I knew I had to do something.

Sparkler fights: fun and inadvisable
Two years ago my birthday was, by far, the best party I’d ever thrown. 30-40 people showed up, there was chaos and trays of drinks set on fire and our brand new dog was scared shitless (just kidding, she’s never shitless) by the revelers and their propensity toward picking her up like a baby.

This year’s fete was a lot smaller- a more manageable 15-20 people- and a lot less work. We decided to have a barbecue, get some beer and then let off some fireworks and sparklers in the backyard.

Proof. (pun cheerfully intended)
Confession: TB barbecued, bought the beer and then let off fireworks. I put on a tshirt and made jello shots.

It was actually pretty great. I had two friends from miles away come out, at one point there were three dogs in my house – two pugs and a boston terrier – so you know I was into that, and everyone seemed to have fun. We let off the fireworks in our (very close to power lines, very urban) backyard and didn’t know we had an audience until tiny voices began chanting “We want fireworks! We want fireworks!” and we realized there was a trio of pint-sized piros watching from our neighbour’s balcony. So, you know, at least they weren’t going to rat us out to Bylaw.
Pepper pug is as much fun as she looks

People went their separate ways around 9:30 or so (my birthday fell on a Wednesday this year so the bureaucrats turned into pumpkins) and then we headed down to watch the professionals do their explody colour magic. We ended the night with Jax, TB, my sister and I playing “Cards Against Humanity” where I found a brand new favourite card!

And yeah, I missed her. I missed her when my dad’s name was the only one written on my card, and when her alto voice didn’t match his bass singing me happy birthday over the phone. I missed her wearing her traditional red and white outfit (complete with socks) and I missed the ease with which she’d pick out a great birthday gift (my dad, on the other hand kept wringing his hands until he panicked and bought some random chez lounge. My sister set him straight and I got an awesome zero gravity chair for the backyard instead.) This will be the first year of my life without her and the first birthday of mine she’s ever missed. But, like mother’s day and easter before it, my birthday was still good. Different, and maybe more reflective, but still good.

I remember a moment, when we were outside and the fireworks were blasting and we were shrieking and drinking and laughing and I just thought “I am happy.” It seems impossible that I’d get to that point again, and it was fleeting, but it was there. It is possible. Happy Birthday to me. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Take me to Church

"Being in my garden feels like church to me."

It's something she used to say, somehow making it sound both off-handed and reverent. As a child, I never really understood what she meant. Summer was full of so many wonderful things: swimming pools, garage sales, bike riding, popsicles - what was so great about standing in your own backyard, fingernails full of dirt,  sweat pouring down your forehead, back aching as you tugged at a stubborn weed?

I think I get it now.

Swiss chards and mustard greens - grow little hipsters, grow!

When we bought our house in September 2012 it already had a cute little planter box, mostly left unloved as the previous owners had been gone since April. There were some bushes spilling over from the neighbours' side, a stubborn pine tree hanging over the fence that did no one any good, and a largely empty stone-wall-bordered garden that ran the length of the fence. Lots of potential, but not a lot actively going on.

An awkward view of part of the fence-length garden
Since then, I've been given bleeding hearts and strawberry geraniums and rhubarb from my mom and dad, taken some incredibly hearty chives from my grandfather's garden, bought a lilac bush and a mock orange and a blackberry bush, and potted some lungswart and irises.  Last year we placed a pallet beside the planter box and I keep adding to the collection of pots we have on it so far, filling them with black earth and whatever looks the showiest at the garden centres. Our vegetable garden seems happy and fruitful (little edible garden pun there for you) and this year looks like it might be its best year yet.

Chives, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, greens, peas, and squash all doing their thing.
There's something deeply satisfying about a hobby that takes something small, gives it attention and watches it bloom. I feel like I'm responsible for creating a little joy, for making the world nicer, even if only in the smallest of ways. It's the same sense of pride I take when I look at Lily, no longer the terrified shaking lump we first met, but now a sweet, funny, sassy neighbourhood watchdog, loving, goofy and, okay, occasionally pretty skittish, but so totally ours. Our garden isn't perfect or pretty or pinterest worthy, but we made something out of nothing and that's never not remarkable to me. Every day I carefully part leaves, run my fingers over new growth, inhale the scent of mint mingling with chives and lilacs and think how astounding it is that all this can come from taking the tiniest thing and giving it love and attention.

I'm not religious, but I think I understand what my mother was talking about. Faith as small as a mustard seed is all you need to make big things possible.

Friday, May 15, 2015

It's not the big things

"But it is not these big holidays that make his loss hard for me, it’s really not. He was good at big things but he was best at the small things, at making me feel seen and heard and understood, remembering all of the things that made me Nora and loving me in spite of and because of them."

- Find the rest of Nora's awesome words about her husband, Aaron, here 

Nora gets it.

I crashed a little before Easter. I was given some assignment or another, went back to my office to make some edits and then just stared at my back office wall and felt the grief come in a wave. I closed my door, silently cursing the tiny window that looks into the hallway, and turned away from it, letting the quiet sobs rack my body. In between sobs I called my friend C who was in an airport in Moscow, trying to cram an overpriced sandwich in her mouth before boarding the plane to Armenia. 

"You got this girl. Fuck, I should have called you sooner. Easter, Passover, shit, I should've known this weekend was going to be hard on you."
"*I* didn't know they'd be hard! I was fine. It just happened!"

Of course, you're always fine until you're not. And thanks to C, just as quickly as it descended on me, it was over. I pulled myself together, collected the paper someone had slipped under the door (seriously? You can't wait 15 fucking minutes? Okay, then.), made the edits and went on with my day. 

I had been silently dreading Easter for a while, until that point. I was convinced it was going to be a shitty reminder of a holiday I don't care for (don't like ham or scalloped potatoes, not religious, can take or leave milk chocolate or jelly beans) that was only kept going because of the people I'd lost. The human brain is so weird. For years I groaned as my mom made us dress up, go to Church, eat a dinner I didn't like, all while taking up chunks of an otherwise perfectly nice long weekend. It occurred to me then that there was no one to make me do that any longer. I am what I always longed to be - an adult. And while I wouldn't go so far as to say I wish someone was ordering me into a poofy dress and shoving a plate of milky taters my way, I missed it, sort of. I was really struck at how the loss her and my grandparents has led to my own forced autonomy. 

The day itself turned out to be okay, uneventful, calm, and with TB's parents out of town, very lowkey and family-free. Passover fell on Good Friday, so I did that instead, singing the songs, eating the food and reading the words that connected me to my father's history instead. Easter Sunday was spent with Netflix and discount peanut butter cups, and while I couldn't get the nagging feeling out of my head that I should have been doing something, in retrospect, my only wish is that I'd spent less time worrying about it in the first place.

This was my thought process going into Mother's Day. Of all the tough days I had planned for after my mom died this one was, punnily, the mothership. A day meant for worshiping moms and all they've done for you. For many of my fellow 30-somethings, this meant a day to thank their moms as grandmothers, posting charming multi-generational photos of their happy, intact families. Torture for the unmothered, in other words. But I decided to take my therapist's advice and just face the day as it came, no concrete plans, no expectations, just as-is. 

And it was okay. Really. My sister, dad and I went to a plant sale together, where we bought seeds and flowers and raspberry bushes from a bunch of nice, if slightly odd, plant folk. We went to brunch, where we miraculously found a spot at once of my favourite breakfast places. Even surrounded by mothers and their kids, it was okay. We toasted her with excellent cups of coffee and mimosas, ate so much other patrons stared and talked about nothing of consequence. My father bought me a bouquet of flowers just because, and we went to my place and barbecued a chicken with a beer can up its ass, then polished off a bottle of wine. I stayed off of social media for the most part, which was a good move. And I didn't cry, not once. Mostly because, as Nora says, the big days, the holidays, the missed events, aren't always the monuments to sadness you think they'll be. Instead, it's in the small, silent moments - the fastening of a necklace, the curled up leaf of a lily, the death of a beloved celebrity - that you realize she's gone, and you wish she wasn't. 

Happy Mother's Day, mom.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Nothing Special

Watching someone die isn't like the movies - add that to the long list of things that cinema romanticizes. Death can be ugly, thrashing, coughing, noisy. Death can be sudden, uneventful, unaccompanied by the flatlining of a machine and fists upon a chest begging the person to "live, Damnit!" My grandfather's was quiet. So quiet we weren't sure exactly when it happened. I count his death as 2:37 in the morning, because that's when I saw the small blip on the monitor make the shape of a top hat, then rest. Unassuming, just as he was. "I'll just show myself out" he might have been saying.

There was a pause right after my grandfather died, just this side of awkward, where we weren't sure what to do. There's a little bit of a mental shift in that moment, when you go from surrounding your loved one to being in the room with a dead body. They wheeled out one of his roommates in order to give us privacy, and we spent a moment or two saying something to a person who was no longer there to listen. I don't remember what I said, but I must have said thank you, I must have said goodbye, I recall saying that I knew he wasn't here to hear me. I remember kissing a cheek growing colder and calling TB to let him know I'd be home soon. But the most stark thing I remember is walking out to the parking lot and seeing two people, one male, one female, illuminated by the overhead glare of the emergency doors. The man was speaking in low, hushed whispers, and then suddenly this high-pitched mechanical whine issued forth from the woman's chest as she balled up her fists against the man's shoulders and sank into a crouch. I remember saying "Wow. Someone's having a worse night than us." I said that, knowing that in a few short days we'd be burying my grandfather next to a grave that was still fresh. But my pain was dulled, an outcome I'd predicted as soon as I hung up from that late-night phone call. Hers was still brand-new and raw.

I don't know why I needed to tell that story today, but I think it has to do with my last post about perspective. Some days I feel like I'm lucky, but mostly, selfishly, I'm just relieved to know I'm not alone.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Here comes the sun

I'm nursing a micro hangover today and, armed with my made-up science that vitamin D would help it, I chose to sit outside for lunch today. The sun hit the side of my face in a steady swath of light as a coworker and I gossiped, eyes rolling and tongues clucking like the 1940s hens we are. With temperatures in the high teens all this week, I think it's safe to say that winter's finally behind us - thank god. This truly has been the winter of our discontent - a meandering, lollygagging mess of a season that sleeted over everyone's good cheer and reduced life down to a cycle of being cold and warming up.

Every step forward feels unsure and awkward these days. It's not fear exactly (though CS Lewis' remark that grief feels so much like fear is really spot on most of the time), but more of a tugging at the heart, the stomach, the ribs, telling you that moving forward is dangerous, that staying still is best. Even if things aren't ideal, the idea of making plans and following through on them seems foolhardy and unwise. The gut instinct is to just keep taking calming breaths and convince myself that everything's fine right where it is. And mostly, that's what I do.

Literally me.
I mentioned that with my therapist recently, and we talked about the resiliency of humans, and how, for some, even when our lives are demonstrably "worse" than they were before, as soon as we've begun to adjust to our new normal we want things to now stay exactly as they are. After my mom died, I was desperate to hold on to everyone around me. Then my grandfather died and I became panicked, looking for some kind of superstitious pattern or charm to keep me and my loved ones safe. Now, as I adjust to this life without them, there are moments where I'm okay, not quite happy, but okay, but I tell myself that will only be true as long as everyone stays exactly where they are, forever.
Which is impossible, I know.

I suppose this is coming to the surface now because this week, one of my mom's best friends died. She was a wonderful woman, warm and kind, attending my mother's funeral even as she herself fought brain cancer. My mom cried at the dinner table when she heard about her friend's diagnosis, fresh on the heels of another friend's illness. "All my friends are dying!" she burst out. We joked that she was the healthiest of the bunch. At my mother's funeral her friend and I shared a small, tight hug after the plates of sandwiches and cookies had been cleared away.

"Thank you for loving her," I said.
"Oh, but it was easy!" she exclaimed.

It's my strongest memory of the day.

And now another home is missing its fourth wall, another grandchild won't grow to know his grandmother's hands, another husband adjusts to a queen bed made up for one, a set of daughters is left to grapple with life without their biggest ally. And so it goes. Not just for them, or us, but for thousands every day, all over.

I'm somewhat grateful, in a fucked up way, to be able to see the world this way. To know that so many people are carrying on in spite of what's happened to them, not because of it. It's like learning a new word and then suddenly seeing it everywhere. So many people have lost so much, have suffered so much, and yet we still keep going, still breathe, still blink, still beat. Winter becomes Spring becomes Summer, whether we open the windows or not.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Packing Up

Weekends have become very important to me. I mean, let's face it, I can't remember a time in recent years when I wasn't "working for the weekend" but now they've become virtual life rafts, keeping me afloat after a week of obligations and deadlines have had me going under for the third time. Something something water metaphor.

So when it was "strongly suggested" by my uncle that we start using the upcoming weekends to go through my grandparents' house in preparation for its sale this summer, I wasn't thrilled, to say the least. To be honest, the mere suggestion stirred up a lot of emotions in me - I felt panic at the idea that we were moving forward with the selling of the house so soon, anger that my personal time was being infringed upon by such an emotionally and physically demanding task, and resentment that the only reason I had to do this at all was because my grandparents were gone and my mom wasn't here to take my place. But ultimately, I wanted to help him and my aunt out, and I wanted to lay claim to a few knick knacks, so I agreed. Its times like those that I roll my eyes upward and mutter "See, mom? I'm helping."

I dreaded it all week, worried about the feelings it would stir up, thinking about how the last time I was here was to pick out photos for my grandfather's funeral. When I walked through the front door my first thought was how it didn't smell that strongly of pipe smoke. The scent of my grandfather's tobacco- the rich, warm, almost chocolaty aroma when it was lit, the acrid, greasy trace it left on your clothes - was the most distinctive part of him. It was so bizarre to not have him sitting in his chair, raising that pipe with a "hello, pet!" as we walked in. Almost as bizarre to think that nobody owned this house anymore at all; furthermore to think that I was now technically a partial owner. 

In the end, like most things, it wasn't as bad as I'd thought it would be. We did the three upstairs closets, the upstairs bathroom, a spare bedroom, the closet of Christmas decor, and the master bedroom. It took us 5 hours - 2 more than I'd originally committed to mentally. I vowed to come away with very little, and I think I held (mostly) true to my intentions. I took a few pieces of jewellery, some sewing scissors, a metal music box that cracked me up with a "made in occupied japan" stamp on the bottom, some blankets, some embroidered hankies and small linens, and the suitcase my grandfather used for his honeymoon. I assuaged the guilt I felt over taking these items by throwing out a trashbag and a half's worth of my own stuff once I got home, dredged up from cardboard boxes that had fallen victim to our rather leaky basement.

It felt good, in some ways. Throwing out my stuff and theirs, pairing it down to what was absolutely necessary felt important and cathartic - a way of bringing Spring to the surface even if the weather refuses to comply. I don't think the actual selling of the house will feel as good - my childhood and adolescence are contained within those walls, and the idea of walking away from that era entirely, in so many ways, makes my chest hurt. 

That's the problem with compounded grief - there's so many layers to it, and so much of this time would be made easier if only one of them were still alive. If my mother was here, she would have brought home practically everything. We would have admonished her for her hoarder tendencies and she would have shushed us and packaged everything up in the basement, my dad complaining all the while that "we don't need all this crap!". But she would have told us the stories of everything and she would have bonded with her siblings and she would have provided a buffer between us and our mortality. And if my grandfather was still here, then of course we wouldn't be doing any of this at all. 

I try to avoid introspection these days - I honestly don't have time for it. It so often leads to regret and sadness, a weariness that knocks you out of commission for ages, robs you of sleep and ambition. I have a job that needs me and a house to upkeep and a future to look towards so I keep it to a minimum. But it wasn't so bad being slapped in the face with the past this weekend. I liked hearing the stories I didn't know and seeing what my grandparents deemed worthy of keeping. But as we finished room after room, and kept closing doors behind us, both metaphorically and physically, I couldn't help but think that, while "see you laters" are decent enough, endings never really get easier. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

One Foot Back to Counter It

There are things I say to my therapist, not because I necessarily believe them, but because I want to believe them. That if I say them out loud, allow them to resonate, to bounce off the walls of the small, warm converted 2-storey walk-up where she works, then they will magically turn themselves to truth.

One of those things is "grief is not linear."

In my logical brain, I know that. I know that it is as true as anything that's ever been said. That you don't just "get better", with all the days lined up in neat rows, waiting for the "5 stages of grief" to tick by. But I can't help but feel that some days are setbacks, that I am not moving forward, that I am stuck.

I hadn't cried in weeks. I was showing up for work, if not on time, then at least close, did my job, and did it reasonably well. I was taking the bus again, and I went to trivia night, and made dinner, and paid bills on time, and did everything that, just a few weeks earlier, had seemed nearly impossible. And then, easily, delicately, like someone tugging at a loose string on a beloved sweater, it all neatly fell apart. On Monday morning, I stood staring through the front window, mud room door closed behind me, and I could. Not. Move.

I mean that quite literally. The simplest act- putting one foot in front of the other, walking down the porch and trodding the 6 blocks to the bus stop - seemed absolutely insurmountable. I could feel myself growing hotter and hotter, the weight of my winter boots around my ankles, the knitted hat my grandmother had made, lying itchy on my head, and yet I stood there, dull, doughy face peering back at me in the hall mirror. I envisioned myself picking up my purse and unlocking the door, but in reality I just stood, staring. After 5 minutes or so of this, I said aloud to no one, in a voice that sounded too small to be mine, "I don't think I can."

The Little Engine that Panicked.

I slowly took off my mitts, my boots, let the hat fall from my head, and went back into the house. I sent an email to work that blamed my absence on a physical illness instead, too cowardly to admit I'd been made catatonic by something deep inside my head, and too weary to put up with the sympathetic looks I'd get once I slunk back into the office.

I wasted the entire day in a forgettably boring fashion, watching YouTube videos of the Oscars, eating whatever was about to go bad in the fridge, and annoying the dog. I told TB, who was sweet and sympathetic as we made dinner. I got a good night's sleep and had a hot shower and went through my morning routine as normal the next day, hoping that I'd at least be able to make it into a cab tomorrow, if not the bus stop. But as I slipped an orange into my totebag, I heard a noise. A high-pitched wailing tone that was half mechanical, half animal. It was coming from me. 

I'd heard the idea before that some moments take us out of ourselves, that we feel as though we're watching ourselves from above, like we're in a movie. Like bolting upright when you've had a nightmare, I always thought that was just a cliche. But I get it now. I could see myself brace both hands on the dining room table, I saw my face crumple in on itself as the first droplets of my turns-out-it's-not-waterproof mascara hit my cheeks. I watched as my legs buckled, and my palms slapped the dirty wooden floor and my tears and drool made splashes on the cracks in between the hardwood. And I heard everything. The worst noise I've ever made, and one of the worst I've ever heard. I never fully understood what it was to 'keen' before, but this had to have been it. A rhythmic, rocking, shrill explosion that seemed to come simultaneously from my chest, my throat, and the top of my head. It sounded like some kind of alert, or alarm, though with no logical course of action. Less of a "Fire! Everybody get out!" and more of a "Let us all remark on the utter unfairness that fire destruction can cause!". Like ADT if it was run by Sartre.

The dog was totally perplexed. Here I was, about to give her breakfast, with maybe a biscuit if she did her business outside, and now I'd decided to eschew all that in favour of lying on the floor like a simpleton. She was not impressed, racing back and forth between her bowl and my pathetic display of surrender, trying to encourage me to pick up where I'd left off.

And with a shuddering breath, just like that, it was over. The skies cleared and I was back. And I slowly picked myself up, dusted myself off (seriously, we have to figure out some kind of chore wheel, we're slobs), and went back in the kitchen to feed the dog. I glanced at the clock on the stove as I walked by it - the whole thing had taken me less than 5 minutes. I may not be good at managing my emotions, but my God, I'm efficient.

Today has been better. I've had a few close moments, but no tears today, and I'm trying to go out and meet some people for drinks in order to do something that doesn't involve hibernating in front of a space heater or staring blankly at the myriad of glowing screens I possess. And hopefully the weeks and months ahead will be filled with more moments of normalcy and pleasantness than not.

It's not a step back, I know it isn't. But maybe it's a bit of a kick. A gentle tap of the toe saying "Hey, hotshot, this thing is bigger than you. And don't you forget it."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks is dying. His piece in the New York Times is beautiful and sad and true and haunting. I love it. This part resonated with me in particular:

"There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death."

The world will be a poorer place without you, Mr. Sacks. Though I suppose you'd say the same of any of us.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

But he's a fool

One of the best presents I received this Christmas was a subscription to Netflix. As the cold and blustery winter months continue to batter us, we've been happily making our way through Archer, Portlandia, Arrested Development, one ill-conceived episode of Pretty Little Liars that has thrown off all my "recommended for you"s and a bunch of stand-up specials. Last night we decided to peruse the movies section as we munched on perfect grilled cheese sandwiches (seriously. Watch it. Life changing) and sipped upon the finest of Dr Peppers. Given our love of butt-and-dong humour, we decided to watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which TB had seen but I hadn't.

As the credits rolled, a familiar song played, albeit in Hawaiian. I hummed along with it, and TB looked at me, quizzically.

"How do you know this?"
"You don't?"
"No, what song is it?"
"You'll get it, just wait to the chorus."

As the familiar strains started up, I turned, expectantly to him, mouth open in a Muppety expression of "eh?? EH??? *NOW* do you see?" But... nothing. Blank stare. I belted out the chorus.

"Nooooothing compares! No-THING compares To Yooooou*!"

Silence. Blankness. Lack of comprehension.

"It's Nothing Compares 2 U! Sinead O'Connor? Written by Prince? Huuuuge hit in the 90s? The decade that defined our upbringing?"
"Huh. I don't think I've ever heard it."
"WHAT?? No, no. You must be mistaken. You've heard it. Here, let me pull up the video."
*gets video on YouTube*
"Come on, now you know it. Close up of Sinead's face. She's bald. She's pale. She's tortured."
"I know who Sinead O'Connor is."
"HOW? HOW WOULD YOU KNOW THAT? Why would you have any reason to know who she is without knowing this song?"
"I'm sure she has other songs."
"I'm sure she does, but that's not the point. No one says 'Oh, the Baha Men. They sing 'We Rubbin', right?I'm not familiar with them letting the dogs out, no."
"Look, there's plenty of popular movies you haven't seen and I don't rib you about it."
"That's true, but I know of their *existence*"

The conversation then basically devolved into me calling him a homeschooled jungle freak.

He is not, however, just a less hot version of me. He outranks me.
But that's weird, right? A kid who's born in the early 80s, has lived in North America all his life, has been going to movies since he was 5, loves 80's rock and 90's pop and dance music, but has never heard of what is, arguably, one of the most popular songs of our defining decade?

In truth, I'm kind of glad he was clueless about it, though. It gives me something to screech at him when he's complaining about how I've never seen Star Wars. Checkmate, Cady.

*2 U

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Nice Start

Somewhere in the sleepy moments between when TB got up to shower and I rolled over to watch the dog puke, she was there.

We were with my grandfather in his backyard, her standing and looking at me, and my grandfather in his favourite outdoor chair, playing with cats that wouldn't do as they were told. I told her about the arguments my sister and father had been going through, about my therapy, about the realizations I was having, about the conclusions I was tumbling toward. They listened, as they always did, as I ran through everything that was swirling through my head.

What made this one so different from the others was that all along, I knew she was dead, and I knew it was a dream. 

"I've been waiting for you to come to me," I said, "Not just as a side player in some larger story, but as the star, for a real visit. They say I'm supposed to feel you everywhere, all the time, or at least when I need you most, but I don't. You're there, and I'm here and that's how it is. But this, this is what I meant."

She nodded, and we hugged and I thanked them both for listening and for visiting and for just... being there. Letting me catch them up. Allowing me a moment to unload.

And then I was awake, everything fading rapidly except for the feeling of fullness, contentment, rising out my chest. Of course, writing this, it now feels like a tugging, grasping ache, a tidal wave of desire to be right back on that sunny lawn with those I love and two bizarre little kittens. But in that moment - it felt like being home again.

I'm not a big believer in religion or spirits or anything like that, but I hope you'll forgive me my little indulgence today and allow me a moment to think that maybe, a little message made its way from the great perhaps this morning. 

Thanks, mom. Now, if you'll excuse me, the dog's puking yellow again.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Tongue Tied

I'm bad at telling people.

I haven't figured out how to phrase things in a way that minimizes shock, that leaves the listener intact and allows us to move forward to other, easier topics. So far I've been settling on some version of the following:

"Oh, yeah, well, so, my mom died, actually. Like, a month ago or so, and, so, yeah. Things are.. well, I'm surviving. But there's that. Just, you know, so you know."

Slick as all get out.

I decided early on that I had no desire to make some grand social media confession. I'd done that when my grandmother died and, while it made it easier in some ways, it also resulted in some of my more tenuous acquaintances reading into everything I posted during the weeks following as some sort of "inner view" to my psyche. I got tired really quickly of heartfelt responses to Death Cab for Cutie lyrics, in other words.

Plus, this isn't really the same. The death of a grandparent is expected, in some ways. I was 28 when my maternal grandmother died, and she was 90. Though I loved her fiercely, and her death forever changed our family, there was some semblance of order. My mother was only 64. Her father buried her. There is no order there. There is no comfort in a life long-lived. I received a condolence card the other day that urged me to cherish "the lifetime of memories" we had together. I snorted. We hardly had a lifetime together. 2/3rds of a life time. Maybe 3/4. We got shortchanged, Hallmark, get the message.

I also wanted to avoid the social media rubbernecking. I think we're drawn to tragedy in some way, with an insatiable need for details that's only kept at bay by propriety. Maybe because by hearing more about someone's loss, we feel like we can outrun it, or avoid making the same mistakes. Or maybe by acknowledging its awfulness we feel like we're sending up an incantation to protect ourselves. Publicly we're all "How awful, I can't imagine. My thoughts and prayers with all of you." but quietly, to ourselves and to our deity we think "Thank you, God for making sure it wasn't me."

I know people stalk people's social media following a tragedy because I've done it myself. Looking for details on how they're doing, drawing conclusions from their reposted memes. And if you don't believe me, hours after her colleagues were told the news, my sister received a friend request from the sour girl who sits near her that hasn't spoken to her in the nearly-a-year they've been working together. Nice try, deets-seeker.

So, by not making it public, I've been faced with the slow reveal. When things looked grim, I told three friends, two of whom had lost mothers when they were in their 20s and 30s. When things ended, I told those same three. And when my best friend, Jax, asked if she could do anything, I asked her to tell people we knew, because that was an absolutely impossible task at the time. But still, even after the obit was published and the friends were told, and work was informed, there was still a lot of people that didn't know. Which is okay, but I'm still young enough that its shocking so every time I see someone I know (which, during this season is quite frequently), I usually have to steel myself up for another awkward explanation. All I want to say is: sorry to ruin your day with my dead mother.

Once my grandfather died, I doubled down and buttoned those lips even harder. Because one is enough, two is just... well, all aboard the pity blimp, y'know?

So why, after all this talk of privacy, am I here? Because, even if it's the internet, it still feels like something of a safe space. Because reading the blogs of my friends who have suffered loss has been really helpful, so maybe this is something of an offering in return. Because when you really only think about one thing, from the moment you wake up, to the moment you wake up again, you start to get self-conscious about talking about it constantly with "real people".

Because maybe the reason it's so hard to formulate the words to explain it to people is because it's not the kind of thing you can sum up in a sentence or two.

Although, basically it all comes down to this:

I miss my mom. I miss my grandfather.

Nothing profound, but there it is.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Taking Care of Business

I remember, after 9/11, there was an awkwardness as all the comedy shows I adored started coming back. It's difficult to pick up where you left off when things are so obviously different. I particularly remember The Daily Show's return and Jon Stewart's self-effacing and excellent open monologue . Part of his opening kept rolling around in my head last Wednesday morning when, after 6 weeks off, I decided to return to the office.

"They said to get back to work, and there were no jobs available for a man in the fetal position under his desk crying - which I would have gladly taken - so I came back here."

Word, Stewart.

I can't honestly say that it was the hardest thing I've ever done - I don't know if I will ever be able to say that again, frankly, because that kind of statement is sort of laughable these days - but it was up there. TB went back to work, too, after 3 weeks of coddling my sorry ass as it made its daily trek from bed to couch, and back to bed again (with only the briefest of visits to the washroom or the fridge, to do my little human answer to "supply and demand"). And so this left me, on a bright and cold weekday morning, staring at my ceiling, as every demon I'd fought off so valiantly in the last few days came back to haunt me.

Every memory I'd pushed back, every piece of crushing sadness, every regret, every worry, descended upon me as I tried my very best to sit up, to get up, to do *anything* but lie there. The sadness stormed my brain, a full battalion, freshly rested from days of being ignored and ready to fight. Between gasps and squinted eyes and bad war metaphors I called out the name of the only person I wanted in that moment:


I joke to my friend Sarah that I say her name aloud a lot, but I can't decide if it's an oath or a curse (prayer/swear we call it). In this case it was an even-Steven split of both, no doubt about it. I don't know what I expected her to do, or how she was supposed to fix it. Even if she'd been here, I don't know that she'd have an answer to how I was supposed to get out of bed and go to work. I just needed her, and the reason I needed her was the reason she couldn't help. I couldn't even call anyone, because I'm a decent person and it was 8:00 in the morning and most of my friends were either in the middle of their morning routine, or a few hours behind me. As I sniveled and sniffed and wondered how in the fuck I was supposed to put on pants, my phone lit up. It was my friend C WhatsApp'ing me from Russia asking me how I felt about going back and cheering me up with silly banter. It was enough to at least get me mobile and dressed which, realistically, is about all the effort I usually put forth into my mornings.

It was strange, walking back into the building I hadn't seen in more than 6 weeks, turning the key in my office door, realizing I never did eat that lemon cake from Starbucks that was sitting on my desk. There were awkward moments, when someone, in the midst of offering comforting words, began going on about how much she loved her parents and how *hard* it must be to not only lose a parent but a sounding board, right? But mostly, it was okay. I only had to tell the story once, and it was to a friend, not just a coworker. I didn't eat much that week, but I did remember to drink lots of water and tea and by week's end, I even had drafted a note all by myself. Since then I've started getting back into the swing a bit. I still can't seem to get onto a bus for work, preferring the solitude of a cab, and I haven't been able to get to work before 9:45, since difficult nights mean not a lot of good REM sleep, but I'm there. Well, I only worked 3 days this week and last week but I'm there. I'm typing and I'm picking up the phone and I'm making edits and I'm grabbing coffee. I'm working.

Inside, I feel very much the same most of the time- sad, lost, pained, envious, angry - but at least now the outside is getting a fresh coat of lipstick every morning. My chapped lips are pleased with the progress.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Thank you for your generous donation

After 6 weeks of basically living in my own filth, my sister and I decided to start attacking the pile of boxes, bags and laundry that I had dubbed "Fort Grief". Cans were recycled, clothing thrown into the washing machine and half-picked-at food scooped out of the pathway of an insistent pug.

Among the papers littering the living room was a piece of junk mail, stuffed fat with promises of "three free gifts inside!" I had to laugh as I opened it, revealing a small stick pin, a page of address labels and a pad of patterned paper. I remembered receiving a similar package last year, and that pad of paper sure had come in handy. I split it with my sister about 5 months ago and all 8 pages are covered in our writing and currently enjoying their new home, tucked within the hidden shelf in my mother's casket, .

The irony of the whole shebang is of course, that the this was all part of a fundraiser for the Heart and Stroke foundation.

"Less free gifts, more making sure my mom didn't die" I muttered to the envelope before shoving it in the trash.

I took it back out and put it in a drawer, incidentally. My mom wouldn't want me to throw out perfectly good address labels, after all.

That's enough

I had a dream about her this morning. In the scant hour between when the dog woke me up with her morning freak out,  and when i acquiesced and actually opened my eyes, she was there.

There was a lot of noise at first. I was at TB's parents' house. His family had just seen guardians of the galaxy and were discussing whether or not it was racist*. The doorbell kept ringing but we ignored out, eating cookies instead. I looked out the window at my family pulling up in a van they've never owned and i was waving furiously, worried that after i ignored their 9 doorbell rings they would leave without coming in. Not to worry, they all came in, bringing Tupperware I'd forgotten at their place.

I was stressing out to my sister about what the last present i bought my mom was. I had my dates all mixed up and my sister said "just ask her". And then, there she was. My heart was instantly full of her. A cruel trick of the brain means she's nearly always wearing what she did in her casket, and this time was no exception. But still, she looked beautiful. Hair done, jacket crisp, even her teeth looked whiter than usual - proof that Crest whitestrips are truly a gift from god.

The relief of being able to ask her something was overwhelming. "Mom, " do you remember whether you received the last present i got you for mother's day?" I asked. She thought for a minute "no, i don't think so, " she replied,  "i was pretty sick then. "**

I apologized and said I'd give it to her later but she turned to me and said "what i do remember are your big, radiant smiles beaming at me. You and your sister looked beatific."

Then i asked her if she wanted to get waffles with us tomorrow morning and she said "sure". And it felt so good knowing we'd get a table for five, not four.

I don't know if this means today's going be a good day, or a maudlin one, but we're damn sure going to eat waffles.

*i cannot speak to the racistness of that particular film. My brain has questions, apparently.

**this is untrue - she was fine on mother's day and i got her flowers and gifts after that as well. But i hate to correct dream people so i let it slide.

Friday, January 9, 2015

An Amendment

Re: My last entry, 2014's year-end summary

I was struggling with the question that asked you to name a lesson you'd learned this year. As so often happens, as soon as I pressed "publish", i found the perfect line: 

I’ve learned, from Aaron and my father’s death and my mother’s graceful entrance into widowhood, that this is what being an adult is: doing everything before you are ready. There is no syllabus for life that helps your graduate to the next event. It is happening all around you, all the time. This life itself is the lesson and the test and there is no honor roll, just the sum of your relationships and actions and how you feel when you lay down to go to sleep at night.

- Nora Purmort, myhusbandstumor.com

Pretty much. We're all faking it. But faking it with a raised eyebrow, shoulders back, and a teeny, almost imperceptible nod? That's about as close as you're ever going to feel to ready. Relish it, it doesn't get any more certain.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2014: The Wig That Was

I've done one of these every year, since about 2002 and it felt wrong not to do it again this year, even though looking backwards is the last thing I want to do most days. I remember when we bought our house and when we got the dog, I had to stop myself from making every answer to these "I bought a house" or "we got a dog!". The same principle is going to apply here - my mom and grandfather died, it's been terrible, the end. But 2014 was 11 months before it became miserable. And one day, I'm going to want to remember those, too. Here goes

2014 Year in Review

1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?

Participated on an "expert" panel, wore a bikini, went to an all-inclusive resort, visited a prison.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Yes and no. My New Year's Resolutions were:
  • Read 12 books
  • Visit 12 new restaurants
  • Make 12 new dishes 
  • Do that hanger trick once in the winter, once in the summer, to try and downsize my closet
  • Make a list of things the house needs done and complete at least half of them
My reading resolution fell apart - my smartphone has effectively killed my love of reading. I've tried to get back into it lately, but paying attention to plot is not my strong suit these days. I really liked The Bluest Eye, read at the beginning of the year. The only other one I can remember actually getting through was a reread - Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I read it outloud to TB and he loved it. I bought a tonne of books second hand this year and joined a loosey goosey book club so I hope to improve on that once my brainmeats are ready.

Definitely did the new restaurants thing, but it's kind of cheating because i did so much travelling. In town, I visited Izakaya, which was okay but I think I need to give them another try to fully form that opinion; Wilf and Ada's , which is adorable and lovely as their old owners (and namesakes) were; Union 613, which has become a new favourite, even with the communal seating; the Cordon Bleu, which was for a work party, and that work party was a murder mystery, so I have no idea of how they "really" are, but was pleasant and well-prepared and in a beautiful setting; The Wellington Gastropub, which is fantastic, and has the most accommodating kitchen I've ever seen; Stella Luna, which, true to my friend's word, produced the best gelato I've ever had; and Good Eats, the around-the-corner sandwich shoppe that has stolen our hearts. Everything there has been awesome, and I was really really prepared to hate them, as they took over my beloved Scone Witch. All is forgiven.

I don't think I cooked hardly anything new. Off the top of my head I know I did an orzo pasta salad that's become a favourite, but nothing else springs to mind. Just twists on old favourites, mostly. I will try and change that this year. I miss cooking.

The hanger trick was brilliant - I did it twice and got rid of a couple of bags of clothes, then I sold a bunch more to consignment store and some friends. And then I bought more things. Because I'm a goober. 

Made the list for my house and I'd say I was justthisshy of completing half. Giving myself a "go" on this one, because I can, damnit.

Don't know if I'm going to be able to make any resolutions this year. Just surviving seems insurmountable at this point. Let's keep the first three and add a "try to become at least a shadow of who you once were". Sounds good.

3.  Did anyone close to you give birth?

TB's cousin gave birth to another adorable British lad, my friend Kait had her second, and a pal from University had her first. And it begins...

4.  Did anyone close to you die?

Okay, I'm allowed to answer this one with the obvious answer at least. My mom died on December 2nd, my grandfather on December 29th. They were the best people I ever knew.

5.  What countries did you visit?

You know, before this year turned into a shitstorm, it was pretty great-  I doubled the amount of countries I'd been to and did a bunch of new things. I went to Paraguay, Argentina, NYC, and Toronto for work. I went to Mexico, Upstate New York, and Montreal for fun. I was actually sick of airports at one point. Nice 1st world problem to have. To more adventures!

6.  What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

Some semblance of sanity. A lower balance on the line of credit. And a carryover from the last 2 years: an inbox that's manageable.

7.  What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Okay, we've covered the deathiversaries, and do believe I'll never forget them but, other than that, let's see...

October 28 - Attended and reported on a debate at the UN, which was neat
November 10 - a really awesome girls' day with my sister and mom
December 17 - learned where I'll be going for work in 2016

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I love the contrast here.

January -November: Presenting publicly and competently on a topic I'd only been working on for 2 months, Organizing a week-long program for a visitor who did not speak English and doing it well, getting around three Spanish-speaking cities with my very basic "Me llamo es" Spanish.

December: Writing and delivery two eulogies. Breathing in and out. Existing.

Bar is painfully low right now.

9.  What was your biggest failure?

Not getting my number 1 posting choice was kind of a letdown but that whole thing kind of faded into the background, to be honest. If you'd like to hear more about my personal failings, please visit me between the hours of 1-3am daily. I'll be happy to share my long list of regrets.

10.  Did you suffer illness or injury?

Flu-maggedon in March laid me low but otherwise, physically healthy for most of this year, I think.

11.  What was the best thing you bought?

Bought a picnic table for $40 from our neighbours that they just had out on their lawn and it's been great. And honestly? I just bought these amazing patterned long johns that I wear instead of pants lately and they. are. gamechangers.

12.  Whose behavior merited celebration?

God, where do I start? I have been utterly and completely spoiled by the kindness, understanding, humour and compassion of my friends. Jax, C, and Sarah have gone above and beyond the call of "best friend" and have checked in on me, sent me things, made me feel loved and appreciated and cared for, which has been all the more bittersweet, as I've lost the people who did that for me so effortlessly. Friends who showed up at funerals, or donated in my mom's name, or who have reached out and shared their stories of loss, or just let me know that when i want a distraction, they're there, have meant so much to me. And Owen, for all his not-knowing-loss, has been a rock for me. He visited my mother and my grandfather with me, went through funeral arrangements, holds me when I fall apart, and tries his very best to understand and love the basketcase that's replaced his girlfriend. I honestly believe that I would not be here without all of them.

My sister has been strong in a way that has just astounded me, as well. I hope I'm being half as good to her as she is to me, lately. My uncle and others who lived to make sure my grandfather was loved and taken care of are my heroes. I love them and am in awe of their seemingly bottomless well of compassion.

13.  Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

For all that compassion, and kindness, and love, and positivity my family has shown, some members are just so damn self-centred, so egregiously uncaring, that my use of the previously practically unuttered c-word has shown a 400% increase. However, now that I'm an adult I don't have to pretend that I respect, or even like these people, and it feels fantastic.

Also, Jian Ghomeshi.

14.  Where did most of your money go?

Travel, eating out, and taxis. And it feels fantastic.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Every one of the trips I went on. At some point, I was really looking forward to Christmas but... y'know.

16.  What song(s) will always remind you of 2014?

All About that Bass - Megan Trainor
I'm Coming Home - J Cole

17.  Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. Happier or sadder?
ii. Thinner or fatter?
iii. Richer or poorer?

Almost impossibly sadder.
Thinner, by about 5 pounds.
Poorer, in almost every sense of the word.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Reading, visiting, getting my family to tell me stories of the past that are now essentially gone, dreaming of pleasant things.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Idly surfing the 'net instead of working or doing something productive, crying, hanging out with the good people at Capital Memorial, worrying.

20.  How did you spend Christmas?

It's weird, knowing that a Christmas is going to be the worst you've ever had. That being said, it wasn't terrible. The tree was beautiful. The weather was mild. I had a meltdown the night of Christmas Eve that sucked all joy out of it, but Christmas Day was okay. Spoke to and laughed with some friends, opened presents with my sister and dad and watched Lily be dumb, had my uncle over for breakfast, made Christmas Dinner, visited my grandfather, ate the meal with that same uncle and my cousin. Finished opening presents around 1am, then drank a bottle of sparkling wine with my sister and dad and poured some out for my mom. Quiet, small, but okay.

21.  How did you spend New Years?

Again, not terrible. Went to the suburbs to my family's house with TB and the dog. Invited my uncle over. Played charades, watched the ball drop, drank more sparkling wine, traded stories, called it a night around 1:30. Warm, cozy, and okay.

22.  Did you fall in love in 2014?

With the aforementioned long johns.

23.  How many one night stands?

I could use a new night stand actually. <---- Keeping last year's answer because it is GOLDEN

24.  What were your favorite TV programs?

Game of Thrones, Archer, Portlandia, Modern Family, Rewatched all of Mr. Show, Mad Men. Lot of good tv this year.

25.  Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

Family drama is amazing. Channeling your anger into one terrible person can feel so, so good.

26.  What was the best book you read?

I'm going to say The Bluest Eye, even though I fully admit it had no company. I tried to start The Magicians, re-start The Night Circus and re-read The Book Thief, and failed on all accounts.

27.  What was your greatest musical discovery?

I don't think I really listened to too much music this year. The Songza "Happy indie Pop" playlist was my favourite way to wake up, though.

28.  What did you want and get?

A space heater for our frigid 1918 house, a hammock, a container garden, a posting abroad, a true vacation (as opposed to "a trip")

29.  What did you want and not get?

A chance to regroup before the next blow, my first christmas morning ever with just my family, a more organized life, a new roof.

30.  What was your favorite film of this year?

The Lego Movie was just great.

31.  What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Threw myself a little shindig at my place. Figured out that lemondrop Jello shots are infinitely easier than lime ones and went to town on those, invited the people who were still in town and we drank lots and ate a fair amount. The next day, on my actual birthday, my family came over and we hung out, ate dinner and, for the first time in ages, went down to the bridge to watch fireworks. It rained, but we insisted, and my sister gave my mom her umbrella so that she'd stay dry. In retrospect, I'm so glad we went. And then I was 32.

32.  What would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

To have not suffered the losses I did, obviously. But other than that - an office with a window. Or even keeping my old office. I have an office in a hallway now. I'm nothing.

To have my awesome friends be less than 1000 miles away, in every direction.

33.  How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?

"Barely Acceptable". I stopped wearing blazers and dress pants, largely because i got too fat for 'em. Then I switched tights to leggings. And dresses became sweater dresses. And heels became flats became ankle boots. This time next year I'll basically be conducting meetings in a onesie.

34.  What kept you sane?

Borrowing Sarah's answer of 2003 - I was kept sane?

Playing games on my phone was once again MVP and I have no shame about that. 0hh1 is the most incredible therapist.

Our vacation in April was the most amazing way to unwind that I've ever experienced.

But really, my friends and family. I hate reaching out for help, but I'm so glad I have been. And Lily. God bless her little broken self. I am immensely thankful that dogs don't really understand human suffering. They just know that it's breakfast time and that you need to get the fuck out of bed.

35.  Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Jon Hamm is still cut from marble, Joel McHale made a comeback. And of course, for the 14th year in a row: Paul Rudd.

36.  What political issue stirred you the most?

Ferguson and similar stories filled me with such sadness and anger, as did the myriad of  continuing "rape culture" stories that seemed to be part of a never-ending flow. It was a really sad year for news, it feels.

37.  Who did you miss?

My mom and my grandfather forever and a day.

The dozens of friends I have around the world who made their presence known, but distance prevented me from hugging them outright. The last cohort of colleagues who moved to warmer climes gutted me quite a bit, actually.

The person I used to be. I'm hoping I get to see her from time to time, though.

38.  Who was the best new person you met?

My colleague, Laura, is fabulous and emotional and down-to-earth and eccentric and Latin and great. I also got to know a few people better, including my favourite trivia quizmaster, and that was a delight. I "re-met" a cousin of mine who lost her mom when she was 31 and she was a life raft at my grandpa's funeral. I'm hoping we get to talk more this year.

39.  Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.

Last year's was more apt than I ever thought it would be. It might be too much to count on it this year but it's worth repeating:

"There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate."

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

In reality, I think I've learned:

"That's the thing about pain [...] it demands to be felt."
-John Green

40.  Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"The smell of hospitals, and winter, and the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters, but no pearls."

-Counting Crows, "A Long December"

This is the most depressing and repetitive one of these I've ever done, but I'm glad I did it. Even bad memories are part of the building of you.

Sunday, January 4, 2015


6 days after I wrote that last entry, my grandfather, my mother's father, also passed away.

It was almost funny, walking back into the same funeral home almost exactly three weeks later, meeting with the bubbly and efficient Adrienne again, hearing her admonish us for not following her last instructions - "I don't want to see you back here for a long, long, time" - same room full of caskets, same catering menu, same pit in the centre of your chest that threatens to consume all of you. But a little different, of course. And, in some ways, just a little bit worse.

I did both their eulogies. I did one for my grandmother, too, four years ago. This has made me the de facto eulogizer in my family now, a task I would happily leave to literally anyone else - if I weren't so damn good at it. Unfortunately, it's half because it's easy to write about people you love so intensely, and half because, let's be frank, I've gotten some decent practice recently. The theatre degree continues to have unforeseen uses.

I'd be lying if I said I'm okay, though for some moments I'm "okay". I eat, I dress myself, I bathe, I laugh, I play with the dog, I watch my newly-acquired Netflix. I survive. In those moments I can see a bare glimmer about 50 miles in the distance, of how, one day, I might be able to rebuild a life for myself. But the nights are harder. Around 10 I can feel it coming in, like a tide, or a cloud cover announcing an impending storm. And before I even know to run for cover, the thoughts are there, smothering me, unable to let me alone for even a moment.

Sometimes I think about regret. I force myself to conjure up every shitty thing I ever did to them, or think about how things would have been different if only I'd paid more attention, forced them to get second opinions, helped out in some way. I think about how scared they might have been, or lonely. I think about how I can never give them presents, or affection, or tell them I love them ever again. I know it's useless, and probably damaging to think this way. So then I think about anger. I think about the way some family members treated them. I think about the things we'll never get to experience, the things that other people take for granted. I think about intact families in malls, multi-generational groups of women, arm-in-arm, getting pictures with Santa, eating in food courts, blowing on the bellies of oblivious infants. I get so angry that all I want to do is push those families down the stairs. I've taken to muttering "You'll get yours" under my breath instead, and it helps, even if I acknowledge this is pretty much the Most Shitty Thing to Think.

Sometimes the regret and the anger are too exhausted to come, so then I invite fear. Fear that this is my life now; that, one by one, month by month, everyone who means something to me will disappear, leaving me behind. Fear that the support I have right now will fade away as people expect me to "get over it" and I will have to go through life as I do now - a shell that smiles and says the right thing and nods at what you're saying when inside I am roiling, boiling lava, a heatwave of panic and despair that moves up and down my body like some Hellish tide. Fear that this shroud I put on every morning will always complete every outfit, every day. Fear that I am not strong enough to rebuild any of this life, never mind myself.

And when the regret and the anger and the fear and the despair and the panic have all tucked themselves in for the night, I settle back into agony. Because there's always, Always, a little more agony left at the end of the day.

Grief is a generous guest. He never lets you deal with anything alone.