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.