Tag Archives: remembering

Our Lives After Their Death

There’s a full moon tomorrow. I’m in a weird headspace.

In social media, I’m seeing snippets here and there from those I’m connected with, remembering the passing of our good friend Derek Miller last year. My thoughts on Derek, as his death took the world by storm by way of an incredible blog post, were posted here.

Someone once graffiti’d a lot of sites in my new neighbourhood, and this one made me think of Derek last week — a lighthouse, a beacon, at the end of a long path, and at the foot of it, “The things you really want, you can’t buy.”

Derek’s death became a lot of things for a lot of people, and I’m having trouble even now identifying what it meant to me, but I know his blog post, and his passing, were part of why I spent the next few months realizing how unhappy I was with my life. The thing was, I knew someone like Derek would simply comment, “Well, then change it.” So, I tried to figure out what I needed to change, why I was so deeply unsatisfied with everything.

He may have “just” been a husband, father, and all-around geek, but I got the sense that there was really nothing else Derek wanted from life. He had everything he wanted. He was where he wanted to be. All he wanted was more life, more of the same with the people he had around him.

All The Things I Wasn’t

I found myself thinking a lot about, well, I’m not where I want to be. I don’t have what I want. I don’t have the people in my life I want (ie: love). Let’s not even talk about the bigger picture.

I’d been kind of skating through life and sort of ignoring anything below the surface. I’d stopped being a good writer (in my view) and stopped living the deeper, observant, involved life I’d once had. I’d been depressed before, but this wasn’t depression — this was plain old unhappiness.

Derek’s death somehow was a slap in my face, like a loud shout of Wake up! Get it right! Time’s ticking!

And, it took a while, but I think I’m where I am now because I’d realized through him of just how far afield I was from the things I considered basic requirements in life — time to write, close to the ocean, quiet, and so many other little things that speak to who I grew up being, who I was in my 20s, when I was most “myself.”

I’m new here, in Victoria, so I’m ironically even more “alone” than I had been in Vancouver. I’ve not been looking for a new tribe yet, but I will begin later this month. Because that’s another lesson I’ve learned through him. Some people just make our souls feel better, and we need them in our lives. We are better people when we have better people around us, and there are few we can’t learn something of life from, but others offer a master class in it.

Two Lost Souls Swimming in a Fishbowl

When I sat in that theatre for his remembrance, listening to all those amazing people paying homage to Derek, hearing their stories, I couldn’t stop thinking about the degrees of life. This couple, Derek and Air, they were in the same crowd I’d run with nearly 20 years before. But by inches and degrees, we must have missed each other here, there, and at different times. Somehow, some way, we never connected until the end of Derek’s life.

What if I’d paid more attention? What if I’d slowed down? What if?

I’m not done learning lessons from Derek’s life. Or anyone’s life. I’m just not done learning.

Next week, Mother’s day rolls up again, and the Hallmark Machine is playing that message loud and clear. So, these days, I’m thinking a lot about the people I’ve lost in life, the legacies they’ve left me, and whether I’d feel I’d done enough if I were to leave this realm tomorrow.

Coming Back to Life

Getting here, moving, that was a start toward the life I’d like, and the legacy I seek to leave. But I’ve barely even begun on my way. I was off-track so many years that just getting back on-track is a hell of a journey in itself.

I’d like to think there’s plenty of time for me to get it right, but that’s foolishness. Sooner is better than later.

So, as the full moon messes with my frequencies, and the hazy oppressive clouds dampen the world beyond windows, I’m lost in thought about who I am today versus who I’d like to be, when I really should be writing a project quote and starting my day job’s work.

Sigh. I don’t know how to finish this post. I’ve tried six different endings and I keep deleting them. Maybe there is no ending. Not for me, not for this, not yet. Maybe there is just a beginning.

Well, then. That’s how it is.

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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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Breathe, Grasshopper.

I tend to see patterns in life, from time to time.

These days, there are a few things cropping up here and there, all through my rehab, and it’s starting to echo in other aspects of life, but I’ll spare you the excess drama there.

One is the idea of ending the crazy by focusing on the moment. Another is that of breathing deeply and purposefully.

They both sound pretty basic.

Think about now? Okay. Got it. Breathe slowly? Uh-huh. Got that. Rocked it. Moving on.”

But, um, you’d be wrong.

Some say 75% of adults are breathing incorrectly. If your shoulders move when you breathe, you’re doing it wrong. Your diaphragm hits belly-level, so your gut should fill and expand rather balloon-like, I’m told. If not, yer doin’ it wrong.

Photo I took in Vancouver’s Olympic Village. Unknown girl: breathing/being.

And being grounded in the moment? Well, for example, can you tell me exactly what your body is doing right this second? What do you really feel? If you’re not sure about it, that’s a no. That’s what being fully in the moment means. It’s about knowing what’s truly going on around you, what your body is doing, and more. It’s hard to attain, ‘cos we’re so interminably distracted by the go-go-go of life.

Part of why I’m changing things up by leaving for a smaller city is I’m just so lost from any given moment. I’m incomprehensibly distracted. It wasn’t bad enough that I had the constant drone of both traffic and airport traffic surrounding my neighbourhood and my work, but now my apartment pipes and my refrigerator both do nightly practice of imitating Wookie death-rattles.

Add to that the constant-whiny buses and the roaring-fast traffic encircling my work and home, and it’s amazing I can finish sentences, let alone blog or write longer works. Focus is hard when you’re constantly on Pedestrian DefCon 3 and you’re not built for it, like sissy-pants Me.

But I digress.

So, I have this new chiropractor who’s all Zen-Master-Geek-Lord about back health, which is to say he’s weirdly good in a “Dude, that’s too easy!” kinda way.

I have this new theory that, like doctors over-prescribe medications, docs like chiropractors can over-adjust patients just because we’re under the guise that we’re broken and need fixing. My new chiro will only make the adjustment if he thinks I’m restricted. If he’s not, he won’t do anything.

He has me breathing for homework. Everyone else has been all “Gimme 20 push-ups” or whatever, usually involving extreme effort, all of which has gotten me only 70% of the way I want to be, after 9+ months of back-rehab stupid, and a second such serious injury in three years.

Zen-Master-Geek-Lord, however, has me pursuing breathing exercises, followed by simple advice. Like after I asked him “But what abdominal muscles should I be contracting when I walk?” Zen-Master-Geek-Lord replied with “Never mind. That gets confusing. You tell people that, they start thinking too much, and counter-intuitive stuff happens.  Just walk one inch taller. That’s all.”

So, I have, and it seems to be helping. And it sounds STUPID that I should require such SIMPLE advice, but this is how we get injured.

We get injured because we UnLearn basic nature. Our human nature is, breathe deep by expanding your belly. One day, you get hurt, or sick, or something, and you start breathing differently.

It takes an average of 21 days to learn a new condition. Ergo, it takes 20 days to unlearn one. I don’t know when I stopped breathing right, but I’m betting it was long, long ago. What else don’t I do anymore? I’d like to find out.

I’ve unlearned a lot of good things in all areas, and I want to change that. I’m looking forward to attaining Change: 360. Life full of learning and unlearning for a while. Sounds fun to me.

Life’s stressful as I head to the new-world days, but it’s been stressful for ages, for all the wrong reasons, and now it’s because I’m embarking on newness. That’s awesome.

But when I’m stressed and tired: I forget to breathe. And when life went in the toilet with my injury earlier this year, my bad breathing probably got worse. Breathing deeply doesn’t feel stellar with serious back injury.

Lately, I’ve had three different health professionals remind me to breathe, and more asthma issues more often. It’s funny I should be told now that part of my injury is that I’ve stopped breathing correctly and it’s resulted in muscles around my diaphragm weakening, causing my chronic back issues in the lumbar region, and that the asthma’s likely more behavioural than biological.

And knowing that just breathing correctly is fixing my back, when exercising daily wasn’t, is kind of bizarre and Twilight-Zone–ish.

I breathe more in the summer. It’s not hard, here.

All this is affirming for me that it’s the simplest things often have the most profound pay-off, or consequence, in our day-to-day, and also that neglecting fundamentals can have rippling effects. Affirmation comes in another form, too, in that the idea of moving away just to knock a whole lot of speed and stress off my day might be the right plan… especially if I wanna focus on the moment and take the time to breathe on a constant basis.

I’m very, very excited about the year to come. I don’t mind taking the opportunity to ground myself, take some breaths, and save my energy for humans instead of for mundane things like endless work commutes.

It’s good that I’m seeing patterns. The above may or may not compute for you, but it resonates loudly for me. It’s the “seeing things” mode I need to achieve before I can find my will to write, and write often. Hallway vision, as they say, has been AWOL for a good long time. To unlock the “Be a Writer” Badge might be a little inconvenient time-management-wise before my move, but it’d do my soul a world of good.

I guess that’s why I’m learning to stop and breathe. Maybe writing needs me to pause a whole lot more to get through the crap of daily life and find the marrow.

Next week becomes both about being still and moving forward. Taking breaks, but starting to pack. Balance, grasshopper. Breathe.

2012, you’re looking good. Can’t wait. Om. [takes a deep breath]

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Remembering Funny

I’m catching my breath after the two-part Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour episode with Tallulah Bankhead. I laughed and laughed and laughed.

It was the 100th anniversary of Lucille Ball’s birth this weekend, teaching me something I previously didn’t know — my mother died on Lucille Ball’s birthday. Kind of weird. Mom loved Lucy.

The top three shows for my mother — I Love Lucy, Columbo, and the Carol Burnett Show. All three were funny as hell, I thought. Peter Falk really had great comedic timing in a subtle way.

So, Saturday was the 12th anniversary of Mom’s death. People tell you that loss never really stops. Well, it doesn’t. The hurt kind of even hurts more now, sometimes, because I realize now how long forever really seems to be. It was a different kind of hurt this weekend, since I’ve been down with a cold and stuck watching re-runs half a century old on a hot August weekend.

I don’t remember if my mother was very funny. I don’t think she was. Just the average kind of funny. She sure knew what funny was, though. I grew up with I Love Lucy, Carol Burnett, the Apple Dumpling Gang, and classic slapstick kind of humour like that. Dad introduced us to Porky’s and Porky’s Revenge, so, you know, we got a little balance there. Both Dad and Mom were fans of MASH and Three’s Company, too.

All the other little kids at Catholic school were shocked we were watching that sin-filled Three’s Company. “They live together! There’s s-e-x!”

Still, I don’t think we were a particularly funny household. There weren’t miles and miles of laughs, ever. We weren’t unfunny, either. I think we laughed enough, that’s for sure.

I remember being distinctly unfunny, myself. I couldn’t tell a joke to save my life before the age of 10. I was funny just “being myself,” since I’ve always been an odd one.

My brother, he was a laugh riot sometimes. He’s still very funny but we have differing opinions on some of his methods, since I can find him really irritating… which is fitting, since he’s my big brother.

As a kid, though, I thought he was hysterical. If he wanted a laugh, he got it. He seldom blew the joke’s punchline.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make people laugh much until I got older, into my mid-to-late teens. As a kid, most of my jokes involved me flubbing the timing, blowing the punchline, and receiving a split-second blank stares then confused guffaws. Or, just a swat from my brother, since siblings are allowed to be jerks.

Being funny, that was important to me. It was a life goal. I couldn’t imagine living life without being FUNNY.

Then… I introduced my brother to Saturday Night Live. I was 11.

I remember it being fall of 1984, I’d just turned 11, and I was sleeping on the sofa, sick, while my parents entertained friends. I woke up after a few hours sleep, turned on the television, and am surprised now that I didn’t hear a choir of angels harmonizing as I discovered something that just blew my mind: Saturday Night Live.

As Billy Crystal would have said, it loohked mahvellous. Eddie Murphy was Buckwheat, wookin’ pa nub.

In the next couple years, I’d be getting into SNL and Second City TV and Johnny Carson. And, oh, The Blues Brothers. It was a crash course in Funny. by 14 I was getting my comedic cues from John Hughes movies, too.

Throughout it all Lucille Ball was a constant, so was Carol Burnett. I knew I’d never be slapstick kind of funny the redhead queens mastered, but I wanted to make people laugh.

These days, it’s still something I love to do. If I make a stranger laugh during the day, it’s great. If someone can’t breathe because my timing’s so good when telling a funny story and they’re laughin’ so hard, I’m on top of the world. I don’t look like I’m elated about it, I always have that sorta-surly Irish-girl look, but I’m secretly on top of the world when I get a good laugh.

Once upon a time, I had a nightmare. It was when I was 19, and I was becoming “in with the out crowd” and getting lots of friends, not a lot of whom I could call “close,” but who typically wanted to invite me to parties ‘cos I’d be interesting. So, the nightmare hit one day and I had it a couple times. It went like this:

I’m driving down a treacherous seaside highway in my hatchback, a bunch of friends in different cars behind me, as I lead the pack and our caravan weaves down the coast.

Suddenly, my car careens and I shoot through the embankment, off the road, over the cliff, plunging hundreds of feet to the rocky coast below — my car exploding into a fiery inferno, and me most certainly as dead as can be.

Smash-cut to the top of the cliff where a dozen or more “friends” all stand peering down in not-so-much-abject-horror as “dude, what a bummer” kind of faces.

One friend goes, “Wow. That really sucks.”

Another goes, “Yeah. She was funny.”

It was one of those moments of clarity when I realized I should be careful what I’m wishing for, because “being funny” is a pretty short list of what one should offer. I tried to be more, and began to collect friends who wanted me to be more than just funny, who didn’t see me as interesting filler for the guest list, who saw me as insightful or as having something more to say in life than just the next gag.

So, this weekend, I’d sort of spent time remembering my comedic roots and sometimes thinking of Mom too. No, she wasn’t “funny,” but she was well-rounded and certainly enjoyed laughing. I think she and my dad must have laughed a lot in the early days, to spawn such amusing kids.

I’m glad I was raised with a mix of genres around me — comedy, film, music, theatre, and big fun parties thrown at home. I’m glad I had parents who entertained a lot, because once in a blue moon I did manage to say something amusing, and having a whole room of adults laughing was a gift. Look at me, I’m a funny kid. Don’t you wish your kid was this funny?

In the middle of all these remembrances is a big gaping hole. My mother died at a time I was really seeing her as human — flawed and all — and when I was beginning to teach HER a lot about living life. I wish there could have been more of a full-circle event between us, but that’s cancer for you. It doesn’t tend to take rainchecks. I’m glad she found me funny and enjoyed that about me when she got sick. I’m glad we found the same things funny then, too.

I may be motherless now, but I’ve got some 30+ episodes of I Love Lucy on my PVR, and somehow it’s like I’m back in my childhood. Pretty awash in memories these days.

I’ll worry about Being Funny tomorrow.

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To Sleep, Perchance to Remember a Dream

For more than a decade, I’ve woken daily without remembering my dreams. There’s been a handful of dreams in that time that I remember. Literally, probably under 10 for 10 years.

Photomanipulation by @Chiaralily on Flickr.com, Creative Commons.

And then, this week, I remember flashes of dreams from no less than four nights now. Poof! Like that, suddenly my “dream memory” is coming back to me.

And they’re not significant dreams. Just flashes of odd snips of people on my life’s peripheries. Not like the times in ’00 and ’01 when I dreamed my dead mother came back for one last goodbye conversation — after which I’ve never since remembered a dream. Funny how that works.

I’d tell you I’ve done nothing different in my life, but there’s one thing that has changed recently: My bedroom.

I removed the distracting clutter, got rid of the ugly fucking window treatments, brought in plain, simple, beautiful flowing white sheers and a white “blackout” blind. That’s it. But, suddenly, poof. Dream memory, back.

When it comes to dreams, I’ve had some incredibly trippy ones in my life, and it’d be wild if I had that back. My drugs-before-drugs, as it were, those early strange dreams from 20 years ago, when life was simpler. If I could have filmed some of those dreams, it’d have made compelling abstract art.

I never did remember dreams often, and I’ve never been prone to nightmares,  so I’m unlikely to have either as a constant presence, but what if I could? I wonder what it’d do for my creative life, to have that odd mighty-fucked subconscious tap-in within reach, daily. Clearly dream memory is working for Tim Burton.

Someone like me, I’m constantly creative, but in a very only-slightly-left-of-centre kind of way, day-to-day, anyhow. I look at other people for whom outside-the-box is thinking small, the kind of people whose imaginations live in the clouds, and I wish I could be a little more detached from the straight and narrow sometimes. It must be… fun. I know it exists inside me, I’ve certainly had my moments. It’s something I wish I could more easily access.

Maybe there’s hope for that, yet. Maybe life can constrain that creativity out of us more than we know, like wearing a constantly too tight belt might do for one. Maybe it can be loosened. Maybe I’m loosening it now.

I mean, how is dream memory suddenly coming back to me now?

Is it merely because I changed my room from a distracting and cluttered place to a womb-like relaxation room? Did that help my subconscious take a chill-ride?

I don’t know.

What I do know is, I sure as hell will take every bit of insight my little brain can muster these days.

Cue the subconscious. I’m ready.

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10 Years On: Rembering My Dead Mother

I haven’t been funny in days.

I’m moody and full of vitamin-Cunt tonight.

I couldn’t figure it out.

What’s eating me? Why am I spiralling into a darker and darker place? Why do I hate the idea of attending any of the 3 parties to which I was invited tonight? Why does the idea of just being civil to others fill me with a questionable revulsion I can’t fathom?

Why? Why? Why? Continue reading

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