Tag Archives: mourning

Of Luck, Books, Loss, and Learning


Well, it’s been an interesting week. I’ve had family visit, some weird things go down, emotional highs and lows, and it’s just before 7 on a Friday night after a mentally-grueling day. Tomorrow, I finish my final edit on my first ebook and send it out into the world. My baby gets its walking papers.

Speaking of lows, Wednesday was the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death, and that oddly wasn’t a low this week. In fact, it’s the first time since she died that I didn’t think about her in a “Mom died today” kind of way on her death anniversary. Newer and stranger still is that this doesn’t make me feel guilty. After all, I’ll never forget my mom and I’ll never not be sad that she’s dead, but it’s like I said many years ago, that with each passing year that pain just becomes a little less dominant but a little more permanent, like a scar or faded tattoo, it’s a new part of me.

It’s just a thing. Death, grief, you don’t ever stop missing people you love. That’s the nature of it.my sunset

But I guess there comes a time when we realize we are as much shaped by our losses as we are our successes, and that becomes okay. Well, if you’re like me and you’re happy with the person you’re becoming in the face of all the things you’ve been over the years, then yeah, it becomes okay to be forged through fire and come out of it as steel, whether it’s by people dying or other adversity. It’s really okay.

The older I am, the happier I am about being a strong(er) person.

Stronger, But More Grateful Too

So, it’s a crazy week, right? I’m publishing my first book and now lapsing into reflection about the many years that have passed, the hardships I’ve known, and how tonight I’m thinking about a bike ride to get some pizza, some wine, some sun. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but two years ago I would’ve killed to be able to casually plan to drop $30 on a Friday night pizza/wine combination. Money was still very tight for me 24 months ago. I was having a lot of “budget days” then. And cycling into the sunshine for it, that’s another thing I feel grateful for. Life after back injury is no small gratitude.

Many times over the last 15 years I would’ve given so much to have my “lows” this “death anniversary” week merely be insomnia and a rough day at work. I chuckle at the thought of that being the “low” this week. It’s a good thing, to move on.

I’m sure some reader, somewhere is all “Pfft, you should’ve moved on years ago,” and to them I would merely say fuck you. One doesn’t choose to move on. One can try. One can even force the issue, but the reality is, you don’t move on until you move on. I’ve tried, I’ve forced it, I’ve rammed it into myself. It didn’t take. One of those things.

Last year, I had a friend tell me her daughter’s death day, year 14, was the last time it had wracked her with grief, and year 15 was when she had finally processed it and made peace with it too.

You don’t choose catharsis, catharsis chooses you.

Of Lucky Numbers and Me

My mom sold real estate in Chinatown, probably the only fishbelly-white redheaded woman ever to do so before year 2000. She ate a lot of wontons, loved stirfry, was the token white lady on the company tour to China, and loved immersing in their culture.

She was always thrilled when she’d find or get a new listing that had three or more 8’s in the address, including postal code, because she knew it’d be popular with the very traditional Chinese customers, who were often the high-rollers. It’s an “auspicious” number, foretelling great wealth and good fortune. Abundance in life. Lemme tell ya, I’ve had auspicious abundance since last year, when I moved into my apartment that has three 8’s in its mailing address.

Well, I registered my book today. The ISBN number not only has three 8’s, it also has four 9’s. Nine, it turns out, is the auspicious Chinese number for “long-lasting” and loyalty.

I don’t see these numbers as applying to just this one ISBN, but rather to my future as a writer.

Shush! It’s my fucking superstition, I get to interpret it any way I like. I’ll be auspiciously abundant and with great longevity.

The numbers have spoken.

And now I have some numbers to translate into pizza and wine. Hello, Visa card! (It has 8s and 9s too. Huh.)

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Memories of the Peripheral Dead

A friend who keeps her Facebook locked down pretty tight shared about how a 31-year-old man was found dead of methadone overdose in his cell not too long ago, and how the man was once a boy whose file came across her desk when she worked in a law office. “He didn’t stand a chance,” she said.

I suddenly thought of a face I hadn’t pictured in a few years. For a few weeks, I taught ESL to an student staying with an Asian family in the mid-late ‘90s on a cul-de-sac in Surrey. Some years later, I saw a photo of that family on the front page of the paper. The father killed himself and his four family members in a murder-suicide.

I’d never liked being in that home. There wasn’t anything evil going on, but sometimes unhappiness is so thick it’s like trying to walk into a windstorm. It slows you down and defeats your balance. The gloom in that home was omnipresent, but I never imagined it could have that kind of outcome.

I don’t know why I felt like writing, and the words aren’t coming now. I’m lost thinking about how some people seem to both live and die in vain, and their legacies ripple further in death than they might have in life, but those legacies are more of how wrong things can go, and how many of us on the outskirts sense the trainwreck to come, but are defeated before we can even get involved.

I know I pushed my student, who seemed as depressed as the family she lived with, to step outside the language bounds, get creative, and try to find some kind of passion to write about, but the futility of it was crushing, and I was, in the end, dismissed of my tutoring duties because I was focusing more on ideas and communication than I was on nitpicking grammar and teaching an endless list of rules.

In those fleeting moments when worlds collide, one person on an upward trajectory while the other’s on the down, there’s no telling how long which of those influence plays out. Maybe years later, like the dozen years I have lived past that family, a shadow of our connection will linger.

Somewhere inside, I guess, the idea of that family dying in vain, for a stupid moment of complete despair and rage in the father’s mind, has long struck a sad chord inside, and the fact that I’ve even thought of them, though I can’t remember their name or locate a news story about them, is something I feel obligated to record.

Even that sense of obligation makes me a little sad right now. How many people forget about this family altogether? Like they were just vapours floating through a limited life?

But there you have it. Some people live in vain, die in vain, and are a struggle to remember after the fact. I suppose there’s a part of me feeling like I’d like to be anything but a struggle to remember.

I like to think I’m succeeding.

I’m sorry I can’t remember more of her, the family, or that sense of omnipresent gloom in their home, the memory of which gives me chills as I type.

Do not doubt the range of pathos and trial that some people live with. Don’t delude yourself into thinking the awful stories are uncommon.

And don’t think that you’re likely to change their stories either. We can’t make people change. All we can do is jump out of the way when the existential shrapnel starts to spray.

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An Open Letter To My Mother

I wrote the following post on the 6th anniversary of my mother’s death.

Now, it’s more than 6 years later, tonight being the 13th anniversary of when her tumour was found.

I’ve been meaning to post this writing here for years, but dragging it up is, well, heavy.

Tonight, I’m more bothered by loss than I have been in quite some time. As the months and years go by, the pain tends to lessen for the most part, so much so that you feel like a traitor for not being a mess on a day-to-day basis. Moving on can feel like betrayal.

But sometimes, on rare and distant days, it comes back so hard and raw that you think it’s only been weeks. Usually, I find this happens when things in my life are going in a new, better, awesome way, in ways I wish more than anything I could share with my mother.

Good things… Like my incoming move to Victoria, which is where she took me for the most fabulous weekend when I was in the 4th grade.

Instead, it’s my dad I call with good news, and I’m lucky I still have him. I’m not even 40. It should be both of them.

Next Tuesday would be my mother’s 70th birthday. She passed at 57.

If you want happy, find another blog today.

I don’t want to re-read this, so I’m posting it word-for-word as it was first published on August 6th, 2006.

Thanks for reading.

Steff, February, 2012.

_______________

 

blackness. utter blackness found me as i rocked fetally in the corner, on the cold hardwood floor that february night.

rocking, rocking. alone in blackness. perhaps a metaphor for my future, i wondered? blackness. aloneness. isolation. fear. nowhere to go.

because of cancer. angry cells gnashing and clawing at what little health lived in you. mutations eating you from the inside out. tumours spongeing up your blood, leaving you in the throes of anemia, a wasted, pallid mockery of the beauty you once had been.

the prognosis? grim. rare, they said. aggressive. “mysterious.”

a rare, mysterious killer,” as if that somehow made my fear more palateable.

we’ve done what we could,” he told me. the liar. the fucking rat bastard. what they did was break the tumour, dropping the grapefruit-sized mass on your ribcage. they spilled the cancer’s seed back into your fertile belly.

it burst. it spilled. it took hold. you produced a harvest of cancer. a veritable bounty. a cancer crop.

you succumbed to a web of tumours so large, so intrusive, that they obstructed and shut down every major internal organ.

but the rat bastard never told me he dropped the ball, and with it, what little chance you had at life. no, i had to wait as my rage consumed me, drinking myself into increasing stupors nightly. months later, i learnt the truth: butterfingers.

i sunk to new lows. cavernous lows. sub-terranean.

i drank more after that. filled with fucking hatred for a medical system that almost works. for doctors working too long of shifts, having too shaky hands. for that slip of the finger.

i gulped through a nightly bottle of red through much of that first year, lost in a whirlwind of that angst and hatred.

my future held blackness.

i’d been down so long, with love, at the bank, and now this, the threat of being rudderless. a daughter without a mother.

and six years have passed in the longest time of my life, in a heartbeat, in a haze. i don’t know where those years have gone, but i’m stunned at all they encapsulate.

and i’m so glad to be on this side of it now. my god, the changes i have seen, the depths i have gained.

i don’t expect this grief to ever leave me, and truth be told, i hope it never does. knowing what i’ve lost keeps me tethered to what remains. keeps me holding on to that which i still have.

and what i still have are the lessons you taught me. the woman you were. the woman i should become. that i have become. and the bounties it all brings.

in your dying days, a clarity of values found you. you realized what you had squandered, that you played the game well finally, but far too late in the game. how great this gift of life is, how important dreams and desires are, and since your death, i have striven to hold those values as my own.

but this year, this time, your death day is different. this time, it comes after the steepest, sharpest incline of growth i’ve ever had. brushing with death and dreaming of greatness, this past year has been the year that has finally given me a sense of self like none i’ve ever known.

that sense that you yourself only obtained within months of your death. the sense of self i only gained from escaping mine.

there’s a strangeness to my grief this year. i have imagined you on a payphone in heaven, in a cloud of whiteness, beaming with a proud smile as we talk of my small accomplishments, of the dreams taking shape before me, and a warmness fills me.

then i open my eyes and the flatness, emptiness, this strange new normal returns.

but that’s just another part of me now, a part i sometimes embrace, when the time is right.

_______

…six years.

come 4:14 a.m. tonight, it’ll have been six years.

six years since i awoke with a shot in the dark, confused why i was sitting up in the night with this sudden unavoidable sense that all the good in the world had been snuffed in an instant.

six years since my door cracked open and your neice entered to find me awake, a faint stream of light pouring in the door, hitting me in the eyes.

steffani…” she started, tears in her eyes.

and then i knew what had been snuffed. across town, in a hospital, you wheezed your last breath and expired the moment before i awoke.

devastated, i was consoled by one thing — even in death, we remained tangibly linked.

and no matter how alone i ever feel, that stays with me, that mysterious bond that keeps you in me.

like that moment during your memorial in that rented space on jericho hill, as the clouds broke, the sun began to shine, and the reverend said, “i’m sure shirley jean left this life thankful –” when a gusty wind crashed a window open and roared into the service, blowing copies of my eulogy across the checkered floor.

silence befell us all as just sat there for a few brief, miraculous seconds as the breeze worked the room, then quelled, remaining calm for the remainder of the service.

but we all suspected the weather had little to do with it. it was a rare moment where disbelievers suspend skepticism and, without speaking of it, everyone knows something slightly inexplicable just occured.

since then, i’ve always suspected you’ve been in my life in some capacity, though i’ve never been conscious of how.

some days, you’re a feeling. a fuzziness that hangs over me and covers me in a soft coat of contentment. a haze of easiness that leaves me impermeable to the cruel world outside.

other days, i remember the woman i lost, the mother who made me who i am, and a tsunami of sorrow engulfs me, pulling me under, leaving me turning, churning in a tidal wave of terror, alone, reaching, trying to break the surface, but choking, suspended a wall of liquid horror.

fortunately that fear seldom finds me now, but it’s still something i know will return. after all, it’s what loss is, and that i understand.

but in that loss i have found so much of myself, and i’m grateful.

for that, thank you. xo.

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A Stitch in Time

I sold a sewing machine last night, for far less than I’d wanted to, and found myself ever so emotional after the fact.

I remember the day my mother bought that 1917 Singer (Model 027) oak-cabinet sewing machine, some 30 years ago. We’d had a yard sale, with my parents constantly on their “reduce the clutter and make some bucks for the mortgage” kick. An old lady came by to browse, admiring a couple of the antiques my mother was trying to unload so she could obsessively pick up more antiques, feeding her  new passion.

They got gabbing, as yard-salers are so likely to do. Naturally the old woman started talking about this old sewing machine. In the end, Mom took a walk, bought the thing, and Dad got stuck not only cleaning up the yard sale, but taking all their earnings over to pay off the old woman and tote the heavy damn machine home.

I’m sad. I’ll miss the machine and what it represented. Memories of Mom hunched over and pumping the treadle, stitching together my clothes and bedding. A rolling shadow across a winter night’s living room wall: Mom and her mission to clothe us all.

The last time she ever sewed on it was sometime in ’98, making a fleece jacket for my almost-a-toddler nephew then, hunter-green with teddy-bears all over it. I found the patterns in the bottom of the machine yesterday, then decided to recycle those, too.

The woman who bought it was a new grandmother, moving into a smaller apartment and excited about the life ahead of her as she’s about to turn 60.

My mother never hit 60.

It was a bitter-sweet night. I fought some tears as I imagined how much my mother would approve of that woman taking possession of the machine. I remembered sadly the excitement she had for being a grandmother herself, the oath she made me give her about how good an aunt I’d always be after she died.

Our lives don’t go how we want them to, they never do. Little things around us can remind us of that. As much as I loved that machine, I think it made me remember sadness more than happiness. Never a good thing.

***

I’m 37 in about 6 weeks now. Sometime before then, I have to arrange for a windsurfing lesson. My mother did windsurfing only once, and I still remember it.

She went with my brother — it wasn’t my kinda thing (read: meant actually using energy and burning calories) — but I remember how the next few years began to be of rapid change for her, as if doing the windsurfing was her way of saying I’m Changed, I’m Tough, I Want More.

She then learned to sail, got her real estate license, separated from my father, climbed mountains in China, raced boats in the Mediterranean, and had an affair with a sailor who lived on his yacht, all in the decade before her death.

I would very much like to become my mother’s daughter, and look to be on schedule to do so 10 years earlier than she did. It makes me laugh that I now see what role her windsurfing may have played in her life, since I didn’t think of that connection when I seized the “70%-off” Groupon deal for a $15, 2-hour lesson — mostly because my goal had been to learn to surf this year, but becoming unemployed meant that couldn’t happen for financial reasons, and I thought “Windsurfing’s a good consolation prize.”

It’s funny how life works. I can surmise it was the windsurfing that threw open her threshold of change. I’ll never know for sure, but I’d like to believe so, as my lesson looms in the next two weeks.

I’m in this place of late where I’m thinking of where I’m going next — the long-term future I face in life, and what all might entail with that. My mother was in this place in the months before her death, before she even knew she was sick.

It’s a very weird place to be now. They say that the mid-30s are when a young woman misses her dead mother the most — because she’s now becoming the woman she saw her mother as being, a woman she never saw the “after” phase for, because her mother died too young. The loss, they say, can become more core-shattering and filled with a deeper longing than she’s ever experienced before, even years after thinking she’s done “mourning,” just because of that experiential transition between ages that we all go through. Without the corresponding parental figure there, it’s sort of a more bump-in-the-night experience, one of loss and wonderment.

I certainly understand that these days. Some of my recent accomplishments have rung painfully hollow, leaving me emptier than I could have imagined, mostly because I know it was so important for my mother to find herself as a stronger, more independent woman than she felt she’d been, and that she would really enjoy watching the process I’ve been going through. I can imagine the things she’d say, and that hurts at times.

It hurts today.

There’s nothing a child wants more than to show their parents just how far they’ve come. I never had that chance with my mother, someone I admired more than most people I’ve ever met. To get robbed of that is a lifetime of loss and “something’s missing”.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself, it just is what my life is. I wouldn’t be who I am with my mother alive today, so I’m not really wishing she never died. I don’t know what I wish. I just know I feel this whirlwind around how full of “searching” she was at her death — like I am now — and how torn she was about her obligations.

And it was all tied up in that little sewing machine that’d been eating up a third of my storage space for the better part of the last decade.

And now it’s gone.

But here I am, still on this journey to take me someplace that I think my mother could tell me an awful lot about, from first-hard experience, if only she was still alive.

But she’s not.

So I get to experience it all, and find myself in quiet moments at the end of the night, when I get to think, “Gee, how would Mom have felt today? What would she have learned? What would she tell me?”

It’s been eleven years this week that she died.

I always worried I’d forget her face, her smell, the way her hands felt when she held mine to console me. And maybe there’s an aspect I forget, but somehow it’s more real to me than ever before, it hits me deeper than it ever has.

They say the first sign of true adulthood is when you really start understanding where your parents were coming from, what they had to endure to get where they were going.

Lately, I feel like I was a child until this year. Now I really get it. I get what kept my mother awake at night, what made her want for more.

When youngins in their 20s tell me how mature they are, I keep chuckling, because I remember how wise I thought I was (because everyone told me I was) at such a young age.

I didn’t know jack. Still likely don’t.

Funny, selling an old antique and getting a little cash for groceries proved to be one of the most emotional experiences of the last year for me, and one of the largest lessons in how I’m Not That Kid anymore.

I’m not that kid. Not a kid. I’m a woman pushing 40 who’s learning more and more of the simple truths that makes quiet everyday-days feel A Little Bit More Meaningful.

Goodbye, sewing machine. Hello, wisdom.

And please, don’t do the whole “Oh, I’m sure your mother is watching” blah-de-blah thing, okay? It just rings so hollow sometimes, regardless of how you intend it. I know. Trust me, I fuckin’ know. But thanks. Just don’t.

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Stumbling Through Sunday

Do you ever have those days when something hits you and you begin to think that, this day, for whatever reason, will come to be an important one in some grand scheme of things?

I’m having one of those days. I feel like it’s a day on which my mindset’s going to shift in a new direction. I don’t know why, but I just feel like I’m learning something new about myself this weekend. It’s not really hitting just yet but it’s there.

See, it’s one of those days I’m going to remember for good or bad, anyhow, ‘cos it’s the seventh anniversary of Mom’s passing. I’m in a pretty good mood today, though. It’s not like I’m down at all, I’m not. I’m feeling pretty good about things. I’m thinking a lot, though. I was out all night last night and fell asleep on a couch, made my way home at 5:30 in the morning, timed to catch the sunrise, then I slept another four hours at home. I think riding home on a quiet Sunday morning with a late summer sunrise was a pretty contemplative start to my day, and sleeping on it a bit wasn’t such a bad thing, either.

I may never be the book-smartest person anyone ever knows, but when it comes to just thinking, I’m a great thinker. I love to ponder my life and the things that go down in it. There’s that saying, A life unexamined is a life unlived. I cannot tell you how profoundly I associate with that sentiment. It’s in reliving my life through my thoughts and recollections that I really glean the meaning of it all. I guess it’s why I’m most saddened when I see people scouring the newsmedia for interviews with their idols or gossip on the stars because I just feel there’s so much more each of us can learn from our own lives that we choose to bypass simply because the western world feels it’s best to “move on” after any life experience had. Why in God’s name anyone should feel the need to live vicariously through others is something I’ll never, ever understand. Fucking weird.

And moving on, that’s just silly. I mean, hell, people come and go all the time, but no matter how impermanent we feel things to be, it’s only that way when we choose to have it be that way. I reflect on my mom from time to time, though she’s falling further away with every passing year. There’s an echo to memories now as if they’re almost due to fade away. Slippage, that’s what it is. One little bit more, and poof! Gone they’ll be.

But at least I’ve had another dance with them, you know? And it’s all written down now. I feel good about that. I wrote this on Friday and it really tripped my head. I have been so angry — so angry, so long — at the amount of writer’s block I had. I still am, too. For six years! And look, LOOK at all I’ve written in just 21 months! More than a thousand postings, probably a couple hundreds drafts, and hundreds more private writings. My GOD, imagine what I’ve missed out on recording! Six– six years, all that block!

I just never realized why the loss of that was so important to me, but this weekend, I get it. I understand. I’m angrier about the writer’s block that I am my mother’s death. How strange is that? But I guess it’s just that I realize what it is I’ve lost of my mom, but I’ll never know what I lost in writing. Know what I mean?

Strange realization, that.I have book ideas, you know. A movie idea, children’s books… So much to write, and all that time lost.

Still, I’m glad. I’m still in a good mood. Now I’ve got a reminder of why I write. For awhile there, I was beginning to wonder why I bother. I was bitter. I was a little too caught up in depression and in turn was realizing that I simply didn’t feel like having a record. The thing is, that’s only in the moment. For a moment, I feel like this shouldn’t be recorded for posterity, but down the line, now I know how much I wish I’d been recording more… You know? Life passes so quickly. It’s a shame to have wasted any. It’s tragic to forget any.

You see. I have to start podcasting now. That is my Sunday night. I’ll be heading in for about 3 hours work today, and when I do, I’m buying an expensive steak, then a bunch of quality veggies, and I’ll make a nice supper later, but in between all that will be finally playing with my podcasting stuff. I’ve cancelled everything I had going. It’s podcasting time.

I’ve been avoiding it. I’m scared, truth be told. Feeling a little shy, am I.Yes, I get performance anxiety, too. A lot. I’m also having a “Gee, I mean, what have I really got to say after all?” moment. I’m just some girl who grew up in a big black seaside house throwing her two cents into the cosmic mix. I ain’t all that, baby. It’s hard to reconcile who you are on the inside to what the world sees of you. So what have I really got to say? God, all I have to do is go back and read some then, haven’t I?

Anyhow, I don’t want to do the podcasting, but I know how much I’ll hate myself if I don’t, and I also know it’s nothing more than fear, so I gotta just kick my own ass and get it down. Tonight, like I say, it’s gonna go down. No, that still doesn’t mean there’s a firm airdate. Soon. But hopefully all the problems I’ve had with Dell and my new computer have run their circle and now there’ll be no more external delays. If it’s all on me, then it’s gonna come together quick. It’s like fucking for the first time — there’s that heavy mix of anticipation and fear of failure. When you’re finally done, the orgasms’s not awesome because the sex was great, but because it’s done, it’s over, and from now on, you know each other and you don’t have to worry about the unknown element causing any grief. The dance has been danced, and the game is on. I wanna get myself to that stage: fuck and be done with it, and then the cherry’s popped and the game’s in play.

Like I sez — soon. (I’ve been moaning about my Dell grief on the other blog for weeks now. Seems I’ve been explicit enough with Dell about HOW MUCH I FUCKING HATE THEM RIGHT NOW that they’ve become a lover with something to prove: I’ve just received an email saying that should I be running into anymore technical problems, I’m to notify them with my case number and a tech will be sent ASAP. Right, okay then. We’ll see.)

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