It Isn’t Just a Log …

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There’s one remaining piece of a large tree branch sitting at the back of my yard, leftover from a pile of trimmings that were cleaned up more than a year ago.  It was easily missed and I only noticed it was still there months after the job was done.  I rarely visit the back of my huge yard, except to take out the trash and that’s usually when I’m also getting ready to go somewhere else and not taking time to observe anything near the path.

This little log isn’t in my way, and the two or three times I’ve seen it laying there, I’ve thought I should pick it up and toss it but I don’t.  It’s not a priority, it doesn’t appear to be in the way of my lawn care guy – the grass is always neatly trimmed even though this log never seems to get moved.

Today while standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes I observed a man in the alley trimming a neighbour’s trees and loading pieces into a truck, and I thought about my log.  It’s out there covered in snow (until I brushed some off for the photo) and sitting above the surrounding area just enough that it’s visible from the house.  And I wondered what I could do with it; the first idea that came to mind was a cool crafty Christmas decoration, like a few I made ages ago with scrolls of the sheet music for Silent Night printed on parchment colored paper rolled up and attached to the wood with big red ribbons …

And then it happened.

You see, it doesn’t actually have to be Christmas for my mind to be swept away by all the little Christmas things that used to be part of our lives.

Before I go on, this isn’t a Christmas post in January.  It’s isn’t meant to make people feel sorry for me and I already know about and appreciate the real meaning of Christmas; this is about human experience, not religion.

When you’ve grown up with and carried over into your own family the many fun and happy experiences of nearly half a century of Christmases shared and then something changes, something goes away forever, and nothing comes into that space to bring about a new joy, there is sadness and emptiness.

Families change over years. Usually they’re growing, first with children being born and raised, then with marriages and grandchildren.  Traditions are started and passed on.  Most of the time the changes are happy ones.

I used to love getting ready for Christmas, crafting up all sorts of new things to decorate the house and make everything fun and exciting for my kids and my husband. I was the happy little Christmas homemaker!  It gave me joy to prepare and sew and bake and turn the house into a jolly space.

Of course, once our kids were grown up, some of that naturally changed and mellowed, and there are no grandchildren yet so our celebrations had already become more about fun social interaction and lots of fancy food treats than about waiting for Santa.

But now that Pat is gone, we seem to be in a strange place.  The things that used to be exciting about Christmas – getting together with family and friends, sharing meals, playing games – also happen at other times of the year that aren’t so closely associated with the big annual event that brings on emotions, stress, and at times, at least for me, confusion.

My brain wants me to remember it and to feel about it the way I always felt, but my heart seems to need a quiet, relaxed time with no pressures or expectations, no hurry, no pomp and circumstance.  I want to enjoy it, but then get on with things and not drag it out.  It’s nothing anyone else can change or fix and it doesn’t matter how many people I see or don’t see over the holidays.  Christmas comes, I laugh, I cry, and then it goes.

Obviously I do want to see my family and friends, and I’m able now to get into the spirit of Christmas to a certain extent, especially since my daughter loves to bake and decorate herself so I try to put in a good effort.  I think my son likes the meals and snacks the most and whether or not we had a tree probably wouldn’t matter to him!  But in general, I often have as much or more fun and enjoyment with them on other days of the year to which there are no strings attached.

Of course, I still want to celebrate Christmas, but it won’t ever be the same and the part of me that’s waiting for that just needs to catch up.  Some of it is middle age and learning that many of what I saw as Christmas experiences can really be enjoyed any time at all.  Some of it is the fact that our family has grown smaller rather than larger.  And some of it is because he isn’t here anymore to share it with me, with us.

So while I might have snatched up that little log and turned it into something cute several years back, I think I’m just going to let it sit there for now.  And one day, if the right idea strikes me, it will become something beautiful. It has potential and it sparks memories, so it’s already more than just a log.

The Little Things

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Yesterday marked five years since my husband’s accident.

I’m not one for paying a lot of attention to the anniversaries of sad occasions, mostly because once something like that happens there are plenty of other days all through the year when the sadness hits and I remember him with love and often tears every day of my life.

But somewhere in my mind as that date approaches it will always trigger a kind of apprehension as I find it also affects the holiday season for me because my last memories of “normal life” with him were over Christmas and New Year’s of 2012, and because that Saturday morning was spent putting away Christmas decorations before he went to work.  It was the last thing we did together on the last day that was normal; the last time I spent with him before saying goodbye and sending him off for the day that would end tragically.

So there is sadness and grief and mourning that will never end.

BUT this year, I also found myself smiling as I was reminded of some of the simplest things I enjoy now that I either didn’t like or didn’t know about before I met Pat.

I used to eat mild cheddar cheese and only mild.  Pat loved strong cheese and didn’t enjoy the mild, so I was gradually introduced to medium and then to old and eventually found my love of good strong cheese that I have today – the stronger the better.  The one stage I couldn’t get to was the blue cheese stage.  He loved it and I still can’t handle it.  But I’m grateful he got me to tolerate and then love strong cheese!

I hated yogurt and couldn’t understand why anyone would eat it, let alone grow bacteria themselves and make their own! LOL  Pat loved yogurt and ate it regularly, and when our son came along it was one of the first foods I introduced to him as a baby and he gobbled up even the plain stuff.  Yogurt was a staple in our house for Pat and both kids; eventually I tried eating some of the fruity varieties and over time I developed a taste for it.  I’ve loved it for years now, I eat it regularly, and if all I have in the house is plain and I want yogurt, I’ll make it work.

I’m sure I probably heard music from Peter, Paul and Mary at some point in my youth, but never really paid attention to them as a group. Pat knew their stuff very well – he was into totally different music than I so I was exposed to a variety of it over the years, some of which I liked and some not so much!  But Peter, Paul and Mary are, to this day, one of my very favourite groups and their music is deeply rooted in my heart.  I also learned to enjoy music from Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bachman Turner Overdrive, the Eagles, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles, along with a lot of other random music that wouldn’t have been on my radar when I was single.

One of the gifts Pat gave me the first Christmas after we started dating was a mix tape he had made with songs from his collection that I got to know and enjoyed while we went for drives in his Scirocco. Today while driving on the highway, I had to smile when I chose the 70’s music station and found myself singing along.

Peanut butter was a take it or leave it thing for me until I met Pat who practically survived on peanut butter and bread!  He didn’t even need the jam.  I don’t honestly know if a day went by that he didn’t grab that snack, even well into his more recent years, and it eventually became a treat for me which isn’t always a good thing because when I get a craving for it, I’ll eat it right out of the jar on a spoon! And when I do, I think of him.

Thanks to his routines, I always remember to check my tires and my washer fluid before I head out for a long drive and I never let my gas tank get low during the winter.

And sometimes when I stop to write myself notes so I don’t forget things now that I’m middle aged, I smile when I’m reminded of how many little notes he used to write for himself even before we got married – I called them “IMP” notes, because he always wrote that at the top! – how they were spread out everywhere, and how I used to tease him about them.  But he always remembered what he was supposed to remember.

So there are many significant and beautiful memories that I carry in my heart.  But sometimes it’s the little things that come to mind that make me smile and remember how much he did for me, how much he taught me, and how much he showed me about life that I didn’t already see.

Five years ago seems like forever, and then it seems like yesterday.  Because his spirit will always be with us 🙂

 

The Meltdown

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Definition of meltdown

1:  the accidental melting of the core of a nuclear reactor

2:  a rapid or disastrous decline or collapse

3:  a breakdown of self-control (as from fatigue or overstimulation)

I’m sure everyone has their own experience of a meltdown or perhaps, like me, you’ve had a variety of them under differing circumstances.

I don’t remember using the term “meltdown” much, if at all, before the past few years of my life when it became the most descriptive word I could use to put a label on my complete losses of emotional control.  I know that only the third of the above definitions refers to emotions, but I would have to effectively combine all the above definitions into one to come close to some of my own experiences: the rapid collapse and melting of my core resulting in a breakdown of self-control.

I suppose I’ve had what would be considered meltdowns in the past, from frustration and exhaustion with a situation I was going through, people I was dealing with etc. when the stress became too much in the moment and overwhelmed me.  Sometimes throwing up your hands and screaming it out in the sanctuary of your own home is all you can do and you know it will pass but you need to get it out so you can breathe again and think a little more clearly.

I’ve also “melted down” on occasion when I’ve been afraid of something; I remember a time when I was pregnant with my first child and I got suddenly violently ill one day.  It lasted for hours and while I was leaning over the toilet, in between crying and being sick, I was praying that God wouldn’t take my baby (my mother had suffered several miscarriages and I was afraid of what was happening to me).  But there was a solution once I saw the doctor, it was just a wild stomach flu, and all was fine again as it passed.

The hardest ones are those that come from pain.  Broken heart pain.  Because there is no solution.  The pain doesn’t pass, and even when you think you’re doing pretty well, you suddenly aren’t.  There’s no situation to resolve, there’s no doctor to make it better.  And you know that once it’s over it won’t be the last.  Those are the kind of meltdowns I have now, at what seem like the silliest times, over the smallest things.  But the truth is that they aren’t over small things at all.

Broken heart pain meltdowns are always about far more than just what is happening in the moment.  They’re about everything that has happened up to that moment and about the things we cannot change or fix or make disappear.  They aren’t about moving forward or time healing.  They’re about never being able to mend a broken heart.

So today I had a trifecta meltdown.  Bet you didn’t know that was even a term, did you?  Yup, it was a frustration, fear, broken heart pain meltdown.

I was hanging some outdoor blinds.  The fact that I have to do this in order to keep the sun and heat from blasting into my house is already a frustration beyond description. I HATE SUMMER.  I hate bugs, I hate heat, I hate the sun shining directly on me.  It makes me physically ill in ways I won’t describe here in detail.  It makes me unable to concentrate or sleep properly.  There is nothing at all about it that I enjoy.  And the temp was expected to reach 24 today so I needed to get it done because after the town crew removed most of my trees last year, and until I can get a few new ones planted, the only thing keeping those UV rays from barbecuing my windows will be those outdoor sun and heat blocking blinds.  I thought I’d have time after the snow melted a few days ago to hang them before the roasting began, but alas, here we are again with no spring at all.  Just six months of annoying snow and then summer. (And no, disliking one thing doesn’t equal liking another.  It’s not the cold of winter I despise, it’s the constant, inconvenient, messy, hard work inducing snow.)

Hanging blinds is never a fun project, but I thought I could start early in the morning, take it one step at a time, go slowly so as not to fall off my ladder, and get them up before the sun got around to the front of my house.  So, with a positive attitude and feeling like I was taking care of business, I gathered my tools and extension cords, dug my ladder out of the shed, put the screws in my pocket and went to work.

I didn’t even think to spray myself with deep woods off – a blatant error on my part because I am the best insect repellent ANYONE ELSE could ever have.  Just sit next to Ann and nothing will bite YOU.  Sure enough, two minutes in, standing at the top of my ladder with my hands full, there’s a bee and mosquitoes and I’ve got a welt on my neck (insert profanity here …).

I drilled the holes I needed, climbed down, and got the bug spray.  This was the beginning of the end, although I didn’t know it just then.

Back out to move the ladder and drill the next set of holes – thankfully the blinds came with a template that you tape up first so you don’t have to do any measuring yourself, which is, incidentally, a wonderful idea that every single blind company should incorporate…

My yard isn’t level.  Anywhere.  Safely steadying a ladder is always a challenge.  After becoming annoyed with the ground under my step ladder and worried that if I leaned too much one way I would end up crashing down in some kind of twisted position that required a call to 911, I decided to haul out the extension ladder to see if I could arrange it differently and get to where I needed to go.  Got it out on the lawn and it wouldn’t extend, so after kicking it in a few places to no avail (insert more profanity here …), I grabbed the hammer and pounded one end until it moved.  Then I carried it over near the window, shifted it around a few times, and gave up because I promised myself I would not take any stupid chances.  Down went the big ladder, and I went back to the step ladder.  Once it finally settled into the ground, I managed to finish getting the first set of brackets in place on the smaller of two windows.

The next window was too long for me to tape up one end of the template and be able to grab it from the other end once I had repositioned the ladder yet again so I had to climb back down and go into the house for a “reacher” as my mom calls it.  I have one because my now deceased aunt had one and I brought it home with me “in case” I might need it to reach for something.  This might be the first time I’ve used it, although my memory in summer heat is not reliable at all.  It proved helpful once I had climbed back up the ladder and needed to reach the hanging end of the template so I could tape it up and drill the holes.

Fast forward to getting the second set of brackets screwed onto the house – nothing too interesting other than more sweat and itchy bug bites and the fact that each time I had to go back in the house, I had to face the hot sun beating down on my step as I came out of the still shady front yard.  You know how the radio always tells you the temp is different in the city than at the airport?  Well I can do that in my yard. “It’s 17 degrees at the front, and 35 degrees on the side step, watch out for those UV rays …”

I was ready to try putting up a blind, thinking that I probably had to wait for Kate (who’s been sick for a week and was at the hospital being diagnosed with pneumonia just to keep things exciting) to hold one end for me, but when I unpackaged it I found it much lighter weight than I’d imagined, so I forged ahead.  Once I had steadied the ladder in place for probably the tenth time so far – between moving it from one end of the window to another and then to the other window and so on – I climbed up, blind in hand.  Of course I couldn’t see properly to the other end to get it in properly.  I struggled with it a few times and finally gave up.

And then it happened: the rapid collapse and melting of my core resulting in a breakdown of self-control.  Everything was just suddenly, randomly, publicly wrong because I don’t have my husband and I was in tears.  And if you aren’t sure how it escalated to that point so quickly, I will tell you:

  • I was hot and tired.  I hate being outside when it’s warm and this project was taking MUCH longer than anticipated so the sun was now moving around to me. (frustration)
  • I was bombarded with fearful thoughts of how I’m going to get through the forecasted extreme hot dry summer over which I have no control and for which I have no solution because my previous successful options for cooling off have been taken away from me due to other issues. (fear)
  • I had no way to hang the stupid blinds myself.  MYSELF.  I shouldn’t have had to be out there myself.  I shouldn’t have had to try to figure this out myself.  I should have had my husband there to help me, to climb the ladder and drill the holes and screw in the brackets and put up the blind with me being the extra hand to hold the open end and tell him when it was clicked in the right place.  I have to do everything my damn self.  (pain)

And I lost it.  Randomly, suddenly, publicly, right there in my front yard over a blind.  But it wasn’t over the blind.  It was because of the broken heart pain that is always there and never goes away.  It just simmers until it boils.  And today it boiled over.  Again.  And as I stood there holding that stupid blind in my hand, staring at my house, crying like a baby, and swearing out loud because I try so hard to do things myself, to be independent and learn and build and fix, I knew it was just a blind, but it was a blind I couldn’t deal with MYSELF.

I knew I could have called someone to come and install the blind.  I could have found someone to help me for free; I could easily have paid someone to do it.  But it wasn’t about the blind.  It was about every single thing that I have to do alone, to figure out alone because he is gone.  Him.  My husband.  My extra set of hands. My strength and support.  The other half of my heart.

I was picturing myself calling my friend to please come and just hold the other end of the blind for me, but I knew I would be crying and have a hard time explaining how this simple task had me in tears.  I knew if I tried to hire someone, they probably wouldn’t be able to come right away and I wouldn’t be able to ward off the 24 degree heat this afternoon which is why I had persevered to that point already.  And then as I was making a final attempt to get it locked in place before completely giving up, my sweet neighbour lady – who, unbeknownst to me had been working in her own yard – walked over and reminded me that I probably shouldn’t be up on that ladder without someone standing by and she offered to get her own ladder so she could stand at the other end and help me.

And I was grateful.  Because that’s all it took to get the blinds up.  Five minutes of help from an extra set of hands.  She didn’t see me crying, but when I told her I was having a moment because it’s times like this that just keep reminding me my husband is gone, she gently sympathized, saying that her husband always helps her on the ladder 🙂  As it should be.

Until next time …

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Book

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Well, I finally did it – I got it all put together and printed as a book.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it or not, and there’s been something nagging at me for a while, since I started blogging about the story of my husband’s brain injury.

I’m just not the self-publish-and-promote-myself type of person, you know?  I’ve always figured I could just put things out there and if people wanted something, they would come for it, whether it was my music, my handmade crafts, my quilting services, or now my story.  I don’t see myself sitting somewhere selling my own book, but if someone is looking for a story, and it can help them somehow, I’m happy to share it.  I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but that’s me 🙂

So when a company that helps people get their blogs published into books found me – I didn’t even know about them until they followed my blog, which I’m sure is a great marketing strategy for them! – it seemed like the right time to get it done, to take a step.

I ordered one copy just for me, to see what it would be like to have my story in book form.  I have to say it was an overwhelming experience to hold it in my hands and read it as a book rather than a series of online posts.  We read so much online these days, but there is something more real about a book.  Hard to explain, but I’m sure book readers out there will know what I mean.  And it’s lasting.  So if the whole internet blows up one day, I will still have the book.  My family will still have the book.  Of course I have files and I could print things out on paper, but it’s not the same as a real book.

So here it is, the story from start to finish – or at least to Pat’s finish line.  I’ve already had inquiries about ordering copies for others in my local area, so I’m placing orders in bulk and if anyone is interested, please contact me.  The company is in Europe, they ship quickly, and they set the base prices, so no, regardless of what you pay, I’m not going to get rich!  In fact, because of the quality of the paper they use the price is higher than you might expect so adding anything for me just seems like too much.  But that’s OK because I never did it to make money.

I did it for personal reasons; it was therapeutic, and it’s the kind of thing I wished I had found to relate to when I was in the middle of it all.  And it’s also for Pat because through it he will be remembered in a concrete way and he would want to help others by its being shared. And while he will always be remembered by us and others who knew and loved him, somehow a book seems concrete; who knows where it can travel to, whose hands it might end up in down the road, or who it could help even years from now?  Books are lasting and often carry with them their own stories apart from their actual contents.  There’s always a story “of” a book as well as the story within it.  Each reader will have their own 🙂

 

To Read, Perchance to Dream …

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I actually cashed in some Chapters/Indigo Plum Rewards on the weekend.

No big deal for a lot of people, and you’re probably wondering why I would even mention it.

But for me, this is monumental.

As a child I loved books. I read many, so many in fact that part of the explanation for my eyesight changing rapidly during those younger years was the amount of time I spent reading books.  I had an aunt who loved books and every gift she gave us included books.  Whenever she cleaned out her own library, we got more books.  Thanks to her love of reading, my own children inherited many classic collections.

I don’t remember when I shifted from reading to other pass times while making sure that my children had lots of books and that I read to them often, usually daily.  Even as an adult, I enjoyed children’s books, and I found particular ones especially entertaining.  But I had lost my own desire to read for fun and found that I only picked up a book when I wanted to learn about something or someone, finding non-fiction to be my genre of choice.  That is, when I actually did read something, which wasn’t often at all.

My daughter has been an avid reader and book lover all her life.  I’ve spent a lot of time with her in book stores over the years, me perusing the non-fiction while she got lost in the wonderful land of dreams.  I envied her on more than one occasion; I wished that I could lose myself in a good book for a quiet afternoon or weekend, that I could experience the anticipation of getting home from work or some other activity and settling in to find out what happened in the next chapter of a book that had captured my interest.  Many snowy and rainy days I watched her curl up with a coffee and a blanket and enter another world for hours on end and wished I could do the same.

I love the smell of books.  I love the look and feel of the paper in the ones that have uneven edges.  I DO judge books by their covers and there are some really cool ones that even have raised designs on them!  I love to be in bookstores.

But I’ve always felt a bit sad that I didn’t actually love reading.  Any rewards I built up over the years were the result of purchases made at Christmas for my book loving girl 🙂

And then it happened.

I was standing over a book display while Kate searched for something to add to her library – and she does have a library such that when she still lived at home we had to keep close track of the value of her book collection in our home insurance records – and I was so  frustrated by my lack of interest in reading.  I just wanted to read, to be “a reader”.  I felt left out of a huge world of wonder.  I wanted to go home that day with something I could curl up in a chair with and lose myself in for a few hours.  I knew that was what she was going to do!

So I picked up a couple of books that looked interesting and read the summaries on the inside covers, checked with Kate to make sure she didn’t know of anything particularly bad about them (I cannot handle horrific or bloody themes, or graphic sexual content!) and I settled on a couple with themes from the second world war era which has always caught my attention; one was a true story.  I started to feel excited, I made my purchase, and I came home, got settled, and started reading.

Don’t laugh, but that was just two weeks ago and I’m now finishing my fifth novel, having ordered three more online last week and picking up two at Indigo on Saturday, taking advantage of the rewards I have collected buying my daughter books!

Now when I go to the bookstore with her I’m no longer just enjoying the atmosphere and feeling like I’m missing something.  I’m part of it now.  I’m searching for stories that will take me away to other lands, other places in time, and I’m anticipating getting home where I can cozy in and read.  I’m totally enjoying it and thankful that I’ve finally found my way back to being a reader!

For now, I will sign off, as I simply must go and find out what actually happened to The Woman in Cabin 10 …

 

 

Passage of Time

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Does anyone else ever find themselves thinking, in a philosophical sense, “how did I get to be this old?”  Of course, I expect that everyone ponders this question and I do realize that I’m not as old as some who will be reading this, but that’s not the point.

I was daydreaming today while out for my walk (which isn’t a great idea when there’s a skiff of snow on the sidewalk, but I managed not to slip while lost in my thoughts …) and thinking about my aging body, mobility etc. and I wondered how it is that I’m over fifty.

What is “fifty” anyway? Or fifty-one?  What does it mean?

I remember when I was a child looking towards the turn of the century, thinking about how far away it was and that I’d be a whole thirty-five years old by then (I think I was probably about ten at the time).  It was so far away.  But it came and went and is now almost seventeen years behind us.

I also remember thinking that if my parents remained in good health, based on their ages when they had me I would probably be over forty when I had to face losing one or both of them and that by then I would be a fully grown, experienced and wise adult who could handle that loss (of course as a child you know that you would be lost without your parents, but being over forty is beyond imagination).  I’ve since learned that you are never “old enough” to lose a parent.

I have children who are older now than I was when I got married; older than I was when I had them.

But sometimes in my mind, I am still young; I’m still the child, the newlywed, the young mother until I look around me and realize that everything has changed.

It makes me think of all we learn about our souls being immortal while our bodies age and deteriorate and I wonder if that’s why this happens in my mind sometimes, as my thoughts move through my life’s experiences frame by frame.  Maybe it is precisely that eternal, spiritual, intangible part of me that sometimes sees it all as if it were one big event outside of the constraints of time.

I am just me, I’ve always been me, and I’m not sure that there is a fifty-one-year-old me or a “me” of any other age anywhere along the way.  Is that why it’s sometimes difficult to grasp the passing of time?  Because it’s really only the body that is aging while the spirit is free to exist in any moment of time that has already passed by merely remembering?

The mind is a tricky thing, storing every moment in a pile of moments that often seem to blend together in a way that makes it seem as though any one of them could be right now.  Memories come back with flooding emotions and suddenly I can be right there in that place, feeling whatever I felt at that time, but experiencing it right now in the present.

Changes in our bodies mark time.  Calendars mark time. Seasons mark time.

But sometimes I think our innermost selves exist outside of time in a realm we cannot possibly understand, even though we are sometimes allowed to see just enough to be left wondering …

What is fifty anyway?  Or fifty-one?

 

That Special Someone

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I was thinking recently about how, when I was a teenager and growing into an adult, I would observe couples together at social events or in our house when my parents had company.  I would think how nice it was that at the end of the evening, each couple got to go home together, that they would have each other to share stories of the day with, to cuddle up close at bedtime, that they each had someone special who was their own.  And I looked forward to having that experience when it was my turn.

When I got to live life as part of a married couple, those evenings were as I imagined they would be: the comfort, the companionship, the sharing of stories of the day.

Now, I have moments when I recall certain memories that only he and I shared, certain things that only the two of us experienced together.  Those live now only in my own mind.  I can talk about them, but no one actually shares them.  He was THERE.  No one can actually remember with me now, or fill in the blanks as my own memory fades. It’s a simple thing that we don’t really appreciate fully until it’s gone … like many simple little things.

And now, like others I’ve spoken to who find themselves in similar situations, I don’t really fit into groups of couples anymore, and they’re everywhere!  Couples who were friends are still friends, of course, but socially it’s difficult for me to join in on occasions where couples are the norm.  It just hurts to be there.  A lot.

I observe the random loving glances, the shared smiles or laughs, the small physical encounters as they brush past each other.  And it’s still beautiful to see – I will always appreciate it – but I’m not a teenager anymore, imagining what it will be like to have it one day.  I know what it’s like. I know what I’m missing.

That special someone. The one who could finish my sentences, the one who knew me inside and out, better than anyone else in the world and sometimes better than I knew myself.  The one who was the other half of me.

No matter how true my brain knows it is, there are sometimes moments when I cannot grasp how he can actually be gone and how I can be here.  Alone. Still breathing.

 

 

Facebook Memories

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You know that annoying new feature on Facebook that regularly shows you memories from years ago?  Yeah, that one.  The one that’s constantly showing me pictures from a sad and tragic experience, pictures I only look at in my home on occasions when I’m able to do so without bursting into tears.

I guess it isn’t enough that Facebook asks me every single time I log in “What’s on your mind?” (like they really want to know) it now feels the need to PUT things onto my mind that weren’t already there in Kodak living color in that particular moment when I might just have been having a very happy day remembering all the nice and fun things I have to remember and avoiding giving too much time to those thoughts about how sometimes parts of my life just suck because my husband is gone and I miss him terribly.  Every. Single. Day.

And then, BOOM! There’s a picture I deliberately keep tucked away.

Doesn’t Facebook know that our lives go through cycles and that when we post something in the moment for a specific reason, maybe three years later we don’t need it flashed back at us because we can look it up ourselves if we really really REALLY want to?  I mean, we’ve already shared it once, is there some need at Facebook’s end for us to share it again?  Of course, there’s always a nice little note that it won’t be seen by anyone else as a past memory unless we choose to share it.

Thanks, but I CHOSE TO SHARE IT THREE YEARS AGO WHEN IT HAPPENED, NOW PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE!  Are they running out of data or traffic or interesting shares?  Are people just not posting enough stuff anymore that they’re turning to reruns? Geesh.  Maybe other people get a wide variety of memories brought back up in their faces, but my stream seems to follow the same path every time, right into a Kleenex commercial.

That’s what is on my mind, Facebook.

(Before anyone feels the need to tell me, yes, I do know I can turn off the memories that appear, and yes, once in a blue moon there is one I enjoy seeing but I’m not a fan of reruns unless they’re ones of my favorite old TV shows.)

 

“GRAMPA!!!”

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My kids’ Grampa, Flintstone Park, 1995

The door opens, a child barrels into the house, jumps into the arms of the man waiting with joyful anticipation, and yells: “Grampa!”  The man swoops the child up in the air and they hug each other with big smiles on their faces.  And I burst into tears.  Because it’s happening on a TV show and I know it’s something I will never experience in my home; it’s a small thing, in the middle of a comedy show that makes me laugh time and again, but it hits me hard just as many little things do when I least expect them.

Growing up, I always felt that I missed something in not having grandparents around the way other kids I knew had them, sometimes just down the street.  I only knew one grandparent – my dad’s mom – as my mom’s mom had passed away before I was born and sadly I have only vague memories of her dad because I was very young when he died.  My dad’s dad was never in our lives, or in his.  His mom lived until I was sixteen years old, but we lived about 800 miles away and only saw her about once a year.  I know she was a very good lady, but unfortunately, as my brother and I were the youngest of thirty-one grandchildren, she seemed old for as long as I can remember.  We had chats during our visits, but she wasn’t healthy enough to run around and play or to have us bouncing on her knee, and because of the huge family, our visits were generally crowded with activity, people, food, etc. and seldom quiet enough to actually bond closely.  I know my dad and mom had great respect for her, and I know many stories of her that confirm her character and determination in caring for her family and getting through very difficult times.  Circumstances dictated the nature of our relationship.

So when we had our children I was so grateful they were going to have grandparents close enough to build relationships and watch them grow up.  As parents, we’re always glad when our children can have something we didn’t have, or that we didn’t have enough of compared to what we would have liked to have.

When we brought Michael home from the hospital and over to my parents’ house the first time, my dad looked at him in his little car seat and told me he would pay me $10,000 for each one I had if I just kept making more!  My parents were part of my children’s everyday lives from the start, and when we moved to Alberta, there were regular visits and phone calls, and many memories were made.

Of course, both Grammas and Grampas are very special, but the relationships are different, at least that is what I have observed myself and in some other families too.  Grammas are a lot like moms; they can be fun but they also teach, correct, worry, and try to keep things somewhat organized and safe because they want to make sure their grandchildren grow up to be responsible people with good manners who obey the law and, well, you get the point. They’re often more relaxed than moms, and they’re good at reminding moms not to be too hard on kids.

But there is something about Grampas; just as dad is often perceived as the “fun” parent while mom is busy enforcing rules, making sure the house is clean, and trying to prevent any major injuries, Grampas seem to be the calmer ones, letting the kids have fun, go on adventures, try cool things, probably because they are being entertained themselves just by watching!  Grampas are full of mischief and stories and secrets.

Our children weren’t in the stage of life to be parents yet when Pat had his accident.  But during his time in hospital in Ponoka, he always lit up when little ones came to visit other patients and wanted to get close to them.  I remember him saying that he really wanted to have a grandchild.  I asked him what he wanted to do with a grandchild and he said, in his childlike way: “I could hold them on my knee and kiss them.”  He had it figured out.  he would have been a wonderful Grampa.

But while my children were blessed in having grandparents play an active role in their growing up years and even into adulthood, even though I was happy to see that they had something I had missed, here we are now and they will miss something else that I can’t give them.  If they have their own children one day, there will be stories to share, pictures to look at, and questions to answer. But they won’t experience the joy of bringing home their new baby and seeing the look on their dad’s gentle face that I know would be there: the sweet smile, the tears, the pride.  They won’t later hear their little voices holler with glee: “Grampa!” and neither will I.

After laughing through most of the above-mentioned episode, it took me a little time to gather my emotions together.  I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the slightest thing can still hit out of nowhere and feel like a stab in the heart in the middle of an otherwise uplifting experience.  We didn’t just lose him for now.  We lost our future with him that was still to hold so much, and this cute little boy on a TV show just reminded me of one more special thing I won’t get to share with the one person I was meant to share it with.

And, as it must, life moves on …

 

Rebel with a cause, part 2 of 2

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It was a dark and stormy night…

Ok, I won’t make you wait any longer.  Just make sure you’ve read part 1 before you go any further.

Grade eleven Social Studies:  We were given the assignment to write an opinion essay, remember?

I chose the school system as my topic.


I’m pausing here so you have time to laugh or gasp or choke or whatever you want to do.


Better now? OK.

I don’t remember all the details, but I touched on some very current and pertinent points for the time period, respectfully but honestly, including something about independent thinking being encouraged unless it led to questioning or criticizing “the system”.  It was a great paper, no bragging intended (I can’t necessarily take credit for the things that came easily to me).  I did hand it in with some concern about how the subject would be received, but I was damn proud of it.  I got an A.

Fast forward to grade twelve English, same teacher, Mr. Cramp. (Let me pause here to give him credit for being a far better English teacher than my previous one had been!  I liked him during Social Studies and I liked him for English, until …)

It was time for our big novel study to be done as a class and Mr. Cramp chose George Orwell’s 1984.  The first day we were to start reading, we had a substitute teacher and a double block class – usually silent reading for one block and then a regular class for the second.  I opened the book, read up to page 16, was disgusted by the scene described there, closed the book, and put it on my desk.  I took out some other work and quietly passed my time.  Not long after, the sub noticed and then started walking up and down the rows of desks until she got to me.  She asked quietly why I wasn’t reading the book.  I answered quietly that it offended me and I didn’t want to read it, but that I would continue working  and talk to my teacher when he got back.  There was no fanfare; everyone else continued reading.

My dad called that evening from Vancouver where he was for a meeting, I explained the situation to him, and he assured me that I did not have to read the book if I didn’t want to read it.

The next day, Mr. Cramp returned, and I was asked to stay after class.  He told me that the sub had left a note saying I refused to read the novel and that I had caused disruption in the class.  I assured him I hadn’t caused anything of the sort, that I’d answered her question respectfully, and that I’d worked quietly so as not to disturb anyone.  He then wanted to know why I refused to read the book.

I told him it offended me, that there were immoral sections in it and it was not the kind of material I wanted to read.  At one point in our debate, I even reminded him that I knew he was a church going Christian and that he should understand why I wouldn’t want to read something like that.  He chose it because it was considered a “classic.”  I questioned what constitutes a “classic” and who gets to decide.  He wasn’t pleased and things got more heated.  I asked to be allowed to read any one of the many other books on the suggested reading list for our grade and was denied.  We debated for a while longer and we both left unsatisfied.  Again, to his credit, he wasn’t harsh or rude with me, but he was very upset and understandably frustrated.

So began the power struggle between us: the classroom discussions – unrelated to the book – that I remained quiet for even though I knew the answers to questions he posed and he knew I knew them (sometimes I was the only one who knew them) but wasn’t putting up my hand, and the various quizzes I was doomed to fail after assigned chapter readings (even though a few of my other classmates tried to give me daily summaries in Biology whenever it fell before English on our schedule!).  I was disappointed in him and while I wasn’t willing to be rude to him, I had lost my interest in participating energetically. He couldn’t break me.  I think he probably always knew he wouldn’t win but, as the teacher, he also couldn’t bring himself to bend.  Perhaps he even wanted to but wasn’t allowed to, who knows?  Regardless, though we had once shared a good rapport we were now just mutually respectful adversaries.

My biology teacher – an eccentric but fun little guy – casually teased me one day that he heard I was refusing to read a novel in English class.  I responded that I didn’t think it appropriate for teachers to sit in the staff room and discuss something like that when it had nothing to do with anyone else.  He just laughed.  I knew then that probably all the teachers were aware of my stand, but I was long past caring.  I was, after all, nearly old enough to vote, so I certainly had the right to stand up for myself and my values.

During parent teacher interviews it was common for students to walk their parents around to find their classrooms (huge school!) and I sat outside while mine went in to meet with Mr. Cramp.  The typical time slot was about ten minutes, so after half an hour, a couple of the other parents waiting in line were joking with me, asking just what kind of mark I was getting in the class (one of the other parents was, ironically, the principal from the junior high school science teacher incident described in my previous post!).  I told them I actually had an A.  That gave them all a good laugh.

When it was over, my parents said that he had expressed his concern over my refusal to read the book and the fact that he knew I was avoiding class participation since the issue began.  They expressed their support of my right to not read the book.  He made sure they knew that it would affect my mark because I wasn’t able to participate in the assignments or the quizzes.  We were aware of this and I did drop from a high B to a low B average for that section.  And, as part of his perspective, he then brought in the matter of the paper I had written in grade eleven about the school system, using that to further his point about my non-compliance.  Dad reminded him that he had given me an A for a well-written paper.  He admitted it was well written despite its indication of my tendency to rebel on certain matters.  I can imagine from what I know of my parents and what I knew of Mr. Cramp, that the whole meeting went off without raised voices or rude comments.  But it remained a standstill nonetheless.

At the end of all that came the book report I wrote in its entirety while working coat check at a New Year’s Eve parish dance.  I used class notes and came up with a paper that earned my teacher’s 87% grade – not up to my usual level (in my day, 87 was an A minus) but a very reasonable result for not having read the book.  And he knew I hadn’t read it, but he was reasonable enough to mark my writing on its own merit.

If you’re still here, good job paying attention!  I didn’t realize that I remembered so many things so clearly until I started writing them down.  It’s pretty obvious that I’m strong willed.  It’s also obvious that my parents stood with me when I stood up for something important to me.  None of these situations show that I “won” anything.  But I also didn’t lose.  I stayed true to myself, I was respectfully assertive, and I learned that even if you can’t actually beat the system, you don’t have to let it beat you.

I came away from my many years of school with two favourite teachers I remember fondly to this day.  Neither stifled my spirit; both showed me that being an effective teacher was about far more than the subject matter, and that respect is earned. It doesn’t just come with age or degree.

Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you about kindergarten, when I was so bored and angry about having to use those big fat red pencils to print when I could already write my name in cursive script, that I deliberately scribbled outside the lines on all the pictures on a counting sheet, just to make a point.  THAT was talked about in a parent-teacher conference too …