This joy makes me thankful. These thanks make me joyful.

Happy New Year, all. I like to look back at the previous year and see what I can see.  I like looking at the full arc of that year’s story, somehow.

summer catLast year was a good year for me. I’m learning to take a breath or two, and to just be. I’m learning to grab joy when I see it. I’ve learned there is joy in the doing of things, and in the not doing of others.

I’m learning to chill out. I’m not always successful, but that’s okay. For finally figuring out that it’s all okay, I am thankful.

foggy mountain tipperary

foggy mountain tipperary

Last year I walked the wild Donegal coast, and fell asleep listening to rain hit the roof of our Inishmore Aran Island cottage. We discovered the Roses of Tralee by happenstance, and had high tea in a castle all to ourselves. Last year we drove – gobsmacked by beauty – through the foggy mountains outside of Tipperary.

Last year I went on a road trip to the Florida Keys with my Stepmother. I love road trips, and that one was special. I explored Quebec City with the man I love, wandered PEI with my daughter, and took great day-trips in my own not-explored-enough Nova Scotia with a dear friend.  For these travels with people I love, I am thankful.

I made that!

I made that!

Last year I discovered weaving. I cannot describe adequately how wonderful it is to learn something new. I am a student at heart, and to find something so rich with lessons is a joy. It is a craft and an art, with sometimes tedious lessons in patience (warping, untangling, threading) that reward me with  beauty and accomplishment.  I’m still a baby on this journey, but I am so thankful I saw something I loved and took steps to embrace it.

Speaking of seeing something I love and embracing it, my dear husband Mr. 761 was home for the holidays and though he’s going back to Kandahar next week, he will soon be home for good – waking up in his own warm bed on 01 February with no need to go back ever again. I think 5 years is long enough, no?

For his return, I am thankful. For my life with him I am so very thankful.

For the continued health and happiness of my astonishingly wonderful children, I am thankful. Both have challenges – being in your 20’s is no picnic, and they each have their fair share of stuff to deal with. Having them both home with us at christmas was so great. They are women I would be happy to know, even if they weren’t my children. If I was their age, I’d want to be friends with them. As it is, I’m very proud to have them in my life, and I am reminded daily of their coolness. They’re funny, smart, and beautiful, both of them. For them, I am so very thankful.

Last year I reconnected in a real, warm, and joyful way with a long lost friend. That has been a real gift. There is nothing like the friends one makes in childhood – even with all the intervening years, we reacquaint ourselves easily. New friends are great, but with old ones there’s such a depth to it. For her, and for all my friends old and new, I am thankful.

The year  had loss too, and while not thankful for that I am nonetheless thankful because, well, it could have been worse. I am sad that people I love are in pain, and I hope that time helps to soothe those hurts. I am thankful that I can have a part in helping. I saw great courage and grace in a friend who died exactly how she wanted. For her, I am thankful. For her caregivers who thoughtfully and lovingly shepherded her though those last years, I am thankful.

For the happiness that is my life in general – I am so very thankful. I know I am very lucky, and I count my blessings on a regular basis. Here’s to a fruitful 2014. Here’s to embracing thankfulness and finding the joy when you can.

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Happy Birthday, Sistah!

A while back (in 2010, though it hardly seems possible that much time has passed) I wrote a post about sisters. It was about my daughters as sisters, my nieces as sisters, and about me and my sister.

nancy and kerry 2013Tomorrow is my smart, funny, beautiful sister’s birthday, and I’ve been thinking of her all day. I pretty much said all I needed to in that earlier post, but I want to add that the years since I wrote that post haven’t exactly been easy ones.  It is a sign of my sister’s grace that she came through these past few difficult years of loss and and reflection with that grace intact; with her humour and spirit and twinkle.

She wears a lot of hats – wife, (step)mother, teacher, caregiver, friend.  The people in her life are lucky to have her, and to share their lives with her.  She has always been a touchstone for me; a quiet rock of strength, and a motherlode of silliness. I love her very much.

I am blessed with siblings who I can easily look up to; they are genuinely nice people, and I  germany trip 1998am so very glad that we have one another.

Go forth, and hug your sister today. I love you, Sis. Consider yourself hugged by me. Hope you have a Happy Birthday tomorrow,  and we will see you in the Spring.

xo

The other day I told someone that “I am a weaver”. Then I giggled.

This past summer Mr. 761 and I went to Ireland for two weeks. It was everything you would imagine a two-week trek in a beautiful country with the person you love can be – relaxing and gorgeous and interesting and memorable. We both can trace family back to Ireland, and while I cannot claim an eerie feeling of “I’ve-been-here-before” because of this familial link, I can say that I felt very comfortable there, and could go back in a moment and stay for a long number of moments quite happily.

malinbeg

Malinbeg sheep

There was something about the west that I loved very much; the south-and-west too. Counties Cork and Kerry. Clare and Donegal… oh, Donegal. I loved it there.

I took too many pictures to count – enough to tire even the fondest family members and facebook friends. I kept trying to capture moments in time, because I was so moved.

sheep

who can resist their charm?

Everything about that trip was gentle, somehow, even the wild Aran Islands and the lonely heartbreakingly beautiful Donegal coast.

If I think back, years from now, only a few of those pictures will be clear and like-yesterday in my mind. And they aren’t what you’d think, either…. they are not pictures of monuments or castles (which we certainly saw and enjoyed), but are instead of simple homely moments: like the sheep in the road near Malinbeg, or the sight and sound of the looms in that tiny studio in  Annyalla, and the big studio at Avoca, or laughing in the pub in Limerick. It was driving through moody fog-covered mountains and marvelling at hedgerows and holding hands whilst walking together through lonely graveyards, lush rose-filled parks and villages. It was a two-week montage of  quiet unhurried Full Irish breakfasts, wandering aimlessly, and surprise landings. We are very fortunate people.

We tried not to buy trinkets and souvenirs. We tried to travel lightly and keep our one-backpack-each liz christy stole and catunstuffed with stuff. This was made easier when we learned Aran sweaters aren’t made in Aran, and Waterford Crystal isn’t made in Waterford. But there were a few points where I could not deny my urge for things, and those times were almost always weaving-related. We ended up shipping a blanket home (and saved VAT – it was a deal!), and I carried my new Liz Christy stole home on the plane, marvelling at the colours and textures (it is seen here, with my cat Flowerpot who also has wonderful taste).

Near the end of our trip we wandered over to  Swallow Studios, in Annyalla, near Castleblayney Co. Monaghan.  We petted the dog, and watched the weavers, and bought the above-mentioned stole by Liz Christy (and a tiny batik by Louise Loughman). I realized that what I kept coming back to was the textiles. The weaving and looms, and the textures and colours and craft. I started off by joking that we would need to get some sheep for our backyard (still kind of want some btw) but ended up looking to see if there was a way to learn this sort of craft back at home.

I feel a bit sheepish really. I live in Nova Scotia, after all. I don’t know why it surprised me that a quick google search while standing in the hotel in Castleblayney showed me a multitude of weaving/textile artisans and workshops right near my house back in NS. But it did, and I’m glad.  When we got home, I started off with a day-long workshop on weaving with a rigid heddle table loom called a “cricket loom”. I looooved it right away.

But I need to back up a bit first. The workshop was at a beautiful farm wool shop  called kitty purlGaspereau Valley Fibres, a short drive from my house. A shop that I’d never heard of, because yarn at that point kinda scared me. You should go there, or to it’s “townie” sibling The Wool N Tart (try the lemon tarts, they are delicious). It has a great selection of natural fibres and equipment for spinners and weavers as well as knitters. (They also have a resident cat, “kitty purl”, whose picture I put here for the sake of symmetry with the cat pic above.) It’s like a candy store, but with yarn.

Why did it “scare” me? I seem to lack the requisite coordination and concentration for knitting and crocheting – they seem mysterious and… knotty. It feels like a secret society that I needed to be inducted into at an early age, or never. My time for that seemed to have passed me by, and I cannot think in three dimensions with knitting. Perhaps someday, but those crafts just don’t speak to me.

Weaving does.

cricket loom

pic from internet of cricket loom

So, I took the workshop and gave myself a week before I went and bought the cricket loom. I’m so glad I did. I spent the next few weeks in  a frenzy of learning to use it, to be comfortable with the set up, and reading about weaving. I made some nice things, if I do say so myself.

It seemed at first as if it might be the loom for me. But then…

Then, one day I went online and saw a used floor loom, and it was pretty much no time at all between seeing it online, and having it set up and… looming in my sun room. It is of uncertain provenance and I’m finding all sorts of lovely quirks about it. When I walk in that room, it smells of birds eye maple, canvas and… loom.

my loom

I own a loom, y’all.

This loom and I are still getting acquainted… it’s a much more complicated animal than my little cricket, but very much worth it. I took three days of study with the wondrous Pia Skaarer Neilsen of Wonderous Woolerie, a weaver/teacher/fibre artisan and it was the best thing I could have done. Thanks to her, I am armed with at least enough knowledge to if not fix a mistake, to recognize one. Perhaps more importantly, she showed me how joyous it can be to do what you love.

I have found that I love the methodical, contemplative nature of weaving. I love the textures and colours and feel of it all. I like the alchemy of making fabric out of yarn. I love the calm deep concentration necessary to warp the loom (put the strings on it), and the creativity that flows out of playing on those strings with other colors and textures.

I love the process, and the mechanics of it; the tension and pulleys and gears and levers. I love (but don’t yet really understand except in a very rudimentary fashion) the notation  – the musical score, if you will – of weaving diagrams. I love the arcane and somehow Dickensian vocabulary: heddles and harnesses and beaters and castles and lamms.

I love the way it’s making me learn something new, at every turn. Think about it – when was the last time you really learned? It’s wonderful, really. My brain is firing in so many different ways all of a sudden. I’m happy to return to using my hands and my brain, after so many years of pretty much ignoring my need to make and do. It feels really good.

I sometimes dream of it; I problem solve loom issues in my sleep, or at least try to.

weaving at pias

I’ve met so many great people in the course of this new adventure: weavers and spinners and yarn people. Artists and craftspeople and funny previous-owners of looms. They have been, to a person, joyful and thoughtful and generous. This was, I think, a very lucky direction to have taken, here in Nova Scotia by way of Ireland.

That lovely gentle trip to Ireland brought me all of these gifts; I didn’t even know that I needed this, and now I wonder how I could not have known.

I am curious about other people – what have you discovered, like this?

 

Their tops are made out of rubber/Their bottoms are made out of springs!

There’s a phrase that has been running though my mind lately: count your blessings.  I’ve been feeling as if I turned a corner a while back; I no longer seem to feel like  a delicate little flower, or a victim of something. Nor, really, do I feel like a “survivor” of anything, though  surely I have survived.

It occurs to me that even taking into consideration all of the crap that made up the past 4 or so years, there was a lot of good. So yeah, I can take stock and count my blessings and now that I am on the other side of it I can even fall prey, some days, to the danger of minimizing it all.

So really, it’s a matter of perception. What angle I feel like looking at it from?  Is it really that simple?

Yes it is, and… No, it’s not. Sometimes stuff is just crappy, and it was. My daughter was in chronic unrelenting pain. Neither of us had any sleep; the help from the community was sporadic and often counter productive (though my friends were and are amazing), and it didn’t matter what I did, I could not take her pain away.  That was awful. It was awful that we tried so many things, and although things are way better now, I am not even sure what worked and what didn’t.

Time, I think, helped. Time healed and soothed some of her angry nerves, and time allowed us to heal our emotional hurts and to quell our fear. Time allowed her to wean herself from a grossly toxic, close-to-irresponsibly-prescribed massive cocktail of drugs that would fell a person twice her size. Time allowed us finally to sleep, to heal in that primal way that only sleep can do.

It hasn’t entirely stopped me from feeling helpless sometimes, though it did allow me to create a situation where there are other people on the front lines of it all – something that helps soothe that worry that I can’t do it all. (Time has also shown me how jaw-droppingly stupid it is to think that anyone can do it all. Jeez, the ego involved in that little martyrdom story is something I don’t feel like exploring overmuch.)

Recently my amazing daughter (the eldest, not the younger, who is equally amazing) gave a speech at a panel discussion  where she talked about what it’s like to be a 22-year old woman living in a nursing home. It was so very well done – delivered with  eloquence and clarity, and not a little humour.  She was talking about what it feels like to be a sort of “one-off”:


tigger 3“I’m kind of like Tigger… Yay I’m the only one!

and then some days I think…

Oh. I’m the only one.

Gawd. The pathos in that last little sentence, with it’s little hiccupping skip of self-recognition…. I will not sugarcoat it. It brought me to tears that after all she’s been through (and make no mistake – it was always way worse than what I was going through trying to “fix” it) that she has found a home, but it is one in which she still sometimes feels like she’s a sort of one-of-a-kind.

She wants what we all want – community, and belonging, and a home. She doesn’t want to be in a home but rather wants to make a home, just like all of us do. She’s getting there – she has shown a gift for making connections with people, and she has undeniable charisma that helps her to make new friends easily. In the inventory that is her life, the stock on her shelves is undeniably one-of-a-kind, and all the more precious for that.

One thing I’ve done in the past year or so is to start to learn to be still. To stop… bouncing (to continue the Tigger metaphor).  Being still, for real – not just wanting to be still, or having a pious pretence of stillness, but a real honest to goodness attempt to stop has helped. I have the incredible luxury of having the time and space to  find that quiet inside me; I do wish that I’d been able to do so  a few years ago, but the sheer volume of *noise* inside my head made it too hard. It will be, I think, a lifetime’s work – to find that stillness, and to embrace it. Once you’re still, you see that there is a universe of blessings to count. I promise – just try it.

I think, too, that the stillness I seek is not entirely there yet –  it’s the process of listening to the swirling in my head, to acknowledge it, and embrace it, that brings it closer. That is what quiets it. Acceptance of the messy noisiness of it all – acceptance of the fears and random tantrums and (here’s the hard one – the joy).

same sad story

serendipitously found platitude

It may be as simple as finding blessings to count. I’ve made a bit of a fetish lately of recognizing the beauty in small things and rejoicing in it.  I’m smelling roses (and peonies and hyacinths and dirt and wet doggy and the wondrous food in my kitchen). I’m just embracing it all, or trying to. When I get caught up in bullshit that really doesn’t matter, I forget that in the grand scheme of it all, I am just a small Tigger, trying to make my way, and that I can choose to be happy that I’m the only one, or I can be… well, sad that I’m the only one.

I can choose to be happy, or not.

What I know is that I keep learning things from my daughters – my brave, lovely, resilient daughters. They are their very own individually perfect fierce bouncy Tiggers, and they are beautiful for it.  They are indeed what I count as my most blessed blessings, and it is from them that I learn to be still, and to bounce.

So what’s next? Dunno. But for the first time in a long while, I’m kind of excited to see. I’m interested to see how (re)learning to count my blessings is going to change things. I believe quite strongly that by concentrating on different things, by taking the time to learn how to be mindful, I am altering myself in profound ways. I am mindful, too, that to get to this point I had to go through all that other stuff.

I am not going to say it was a blessing that my loved ones were in pain, or that my being reduced to a fearful ball of raw nerves was a good thing. From this side of it, I most fervently suggest that it was awful and I wish it hadn’t happened, but I do see the irons forged in that fire, and I warm my hands on the embers that remain.

I started this post by saying I don’t feel like a survivor, and that is the case. I say this because really, what did I survive? Life?  Life isn’t easy, nor fair, nor is there a grand plan. I take pleasure in that knowledge now, because I have figured out that trick – to be still and reduce the noise. I’ve figured out that taking stock is necessary, but that silence is almost a necessary component, in order to allow for the counting. When you’re doing it on the fly, you lose count, lose track, become distracted. When you can take a deep breath, a moment is all you need to help you bounce back.

And that’s the most wonderful thing about Tiggers – they bounce.

364 Days…

It has been 364 days since my father diedlove lee

364 days is a long time, and it has been a busy year – a year of loss and healing and working and (re)building. It has been a good year.  In some ways, these last 364 days have been good because of what happened on that 365th day.

Does that sound odd? I suppose it does.

It seems to me that it’s not all that odd, when you think about it. When you are there, holding someone you love,  helping them through their final days and witnessing them leave the earth, you start to get a bit of perspective. Death is sometimes something we pretend doesn’t happen, or maybe it’s something we fixate on, with fear.

But as sure as taxes, we’re all going to die someday, sooner or later.  I do not know when my time is up, and I absolutely hope it’s not any time soon. I’m not going to waste my how I will always remember himtime being afraid of that, or of much else for that matter. If the last 364 days have taught me anything it’s that we need to just continue on – loving, and creating, and accepting.

Loss is hard, and I would very much like to have him back here, bitching about how the Beloved Patriots didn’t make it to the Super Bowl. We miss him, and mourn his death. Some days it comes back to me, fresh, because I realize anew the finality of it all. He didn’t have an 80th birthday, and this new year is the first one since 1932 that he wasn’t on the planet.  I have only once (thank goodness) unthinkingly grabbed the phone and with the idea to call him.

I’m grateful I knew him, and grateful that I was a part of him. In the past 364 days many people have told me just how much of an impact he made on their lives, and that’s very powerful. I am left thinking of my relationships with the family I have left, and hope that they know how very special they are to me, and that we are all in some way connected to one another through him. That’s a big deal, and nice to think about. We all leave a legacy, you know?

So yes, I miss him and wish he were here. But I have no plans to have a little cry tomorrow, or even to commemorate it with much more than a nod to that 365th day’s passing. I’m just going to hug people I love, and be grateful for all that these past 364 days have taught me.

Decade

I remember, vividly, the day I turned ten. My big present that year – the one I really remember – was that I was finally allowed to cut my hair a bit. Every day was a struggle with my mother tugging at my hair and trying to put it in a pony tail. Always a “high” ponytail. Always with ribbons that matched my outfit.

Big fat yarn ribbons. Completely uncool and colour coordinated.

big. fat. yarn. ribbons.

So yes. Hair was a site for a power struggle between my parents and me. Eventually I won, and on my tenth birthday, in the dappled sun of the backyard, my mother grasped my single down-to-my-bottom braid and snipped it in half.

Such freedom! It didn’t matter that it was uneven, and crookedy (um, don’t try this at home. Go to a hairdresser, people), and kinked from being held in check with the braiding.

Oh! It danced around my shoulders and it was blissfully free from the heavy ordeal of daily scraping with a comb, the daily chore of accidentally-on-purpose losing the damn ribbons….

Free.

I’m sure I got other presents that year; I vaguely recall wanting Earth Shoes more than anything else in the world. I do not think I got them.  (Hey, don’t judge – it was Rexdale Ontario in 1975, after all. What else was I going to want?)

Vividly, I remember going bravely into school the next day, hair swinging, and feeling proud and a bit anxious.  Miss Fox (who wore mini skirts and who turned into Mrs. Smith, after she got married) touched my hair and said to me “Joanie, you are a whole decade old now!”

A decade.  A whole decade.
And wow. It was a long time coming, that first decade.

On the other hand, this past decade has flown by. On Friday, Mr. 761 and I will have been married for ten years. Ten long and lovely happened-quick-as-anything years for which I am so grateful.

In some ways it was very hard. Anyone who reads this space knows that some days that decade took about 20 years to pass. On the whole, though?

Nothing. Like the blink of an eye.

It is, I think, because I was in the right place for me; with this family I’ve taken on, who have taken me. This place, where I could make a difference and be changed in the process. This place, with my partner, and my children.

It wasn’t always easy and I’m no saint. I’ve done things that maybe I’m not so proud of, but on the whole I think we’ve all come out the end of this decade much better off than when we started.

A decade ago, our kids were almost-9 and 11. The changes I can see in both of them leaves me breathless. In that way, this decade has been both so very very long and yet over in a heartbeat. How can those sweet things be these lovely grown women now? How can they have changed so drastically when we, their parents, have hardly changed at all?

A matched set

We have, of course, changed. We’re older and a bit fuzzier around the edges, but I know that speaking for myself I am so happy to have stood in our backyard ten years ago and married my one true love. I won’t go on and on again because I’ve written about it before. Suffice it to say, marrying him was the best idea I ever had. Marrying them was the best idea – and make no mistake, they came as a matched set.

This decade has seen drastic changes in my life –  a marriage, two children, different jobs, and the loss of people I love. It has been work as well as joy. Out of those ten years, Mr. 761 has been in war zones for 3 1/2 –  almost 4 – of them. Not ideal, but we’ve managed, and taken the good out of each circumstance.

In the dappled sunlight on this side of the last decade, I feel freer, like something is dancing around my shoulders. Like that braid, cut so long ago, we might be a little uneven and crookedy, but it feels good, and I’m happy to be unfettered by constraints.

Thank you, my love, for our lives together. Happy Anniversary.

Look at us, a whole decade old!

She only likes me for my body….

That was a search term that got someone to my humble corner of the internet yesterday.

It’s more interesting than “cranberry oatcakes” but I’m befuddled over how this search term sent someome to me. It feels racier than I tend to think my blog is. Is there something I’m missing? Some secret sexiness that I haven’t intended but through some strange alchemy appears on search engine results?

Image

terrific image by my friend at http://peiphoneography.com/

What’s interesting about this is that I had been intending to write about my body today.  The last time I wrote about my body, it was because someone had searched for “fear in a box“… I like this, it’s like a game – search terms appear on my stats page, and I have to find a way to wrap them into my  Box 761-iverse.

Not sure what to do about this one. There are all sorts of tortured conceits I could twist about – my own body consciousness, my feeling invisible in the world because of it, my thinking it might be kind of nice to be wanted for my body, the beauty of my big brain…. blah blah blah.

But you know, I’m kind of bored with the whole thing. I’m eating better, I’m trying to be more active, and I’m overweight. I want it to disappear without my having to exert myself. It won’t.

The boring truth is that as with anything else, only time and effort will fix it.

I prefer to think about this as being from some other perspective. Say, what if my husband wrote that search term?  Let me tell ya, I like him for more than that… don’t worry, my love. You keep writing blogs like this and you’ll have nothing to worry about.

Image

Life is good, my friends. I’m feeling lighter and happier than I’ve been in years. My family is happy and whole and healthy. I’m taking great big gulps of this and savoring every moment. I’ve spent the past too many years waiting for that “other shoe” to drop. It’s not that I don’t still, in my secret self, expect another shoe… it’s just that all of a sudden I don’t really care.

I’m fairly sure I can take whatever that shoe throws at me (man, I wish I had an editor. They would tell me that was not a great sentence). I’m sure that even if another shoe does drop (oh, I get it. It throws a shoe at me! phew. oh… wait.)….

Ah hell, I’ll just go barefoot from now on. That way, if a shoe drops, I won’t need to wait for the other.

Image of bare feet on the beach

Another great photo by my friend Patty. Click here to see more of her work.

Every blade in the field, every leaf in the forest, lays down its life in its season…

On 04 February 2012 I wrote as my status line on FacebookImage

“RIP Lionel Gerard Langevin 1932-2012
Beloved father, husband, uncle. Irascible old coot, poet, charmer.

We love you, Dad.”

It’s a sign of the times that I wrote that while still sitting in the room where he died. I wrote it using my phone, guiltily, but feeling like I needed to get the news out.

Don’t judge – my world had just tilted, altered forevermore, and I felt like sharing. It was, somehow, immediately important that I announce it, to mark it, do it in real time.

Thing is, I fell back on that urge for immediacy because I wasn’t sure what else to do. Dad’s death was a while coming, and near the end of it he was in ICU and we had all agreed there wouldn’t be any more life-saving measures. They shut off the machines, and we sat with him for a peaceful, quiet, half hour until he left us.

While we all had the time to said goodbye to him, it felt insufficient; how do you do that? It’s just so utterly and completely not enough but too much at the same time.

So, I’ve been saying goodbye in  different ways, every day since, too. Maybe it will never be enough. I know that I feel the world is colored for me a bit differently now – things are often filtered through our loss of him. My siblings – alone with me now, orphans in the world – are impossibly more precious to me. My (step)mother, as dear to me as always but all of a sudden I worry more about losing her.I worry about her health, her stress.

I worry.  It’s all about negotiating loss, right?

Oh so many gone from us. Grandpa, Auntie Madeline, Uncle Red, Grandma, and now the "baby"... Lee. Rest in Peace, all.

There was nothing we could do – and oh how we tried – nothing that could protect him from this happening. It was fast and it  felt like it came out of nowhere, but at the same time I’d been dreading it, expecting it, for years.

I think I said my goodbyes to him many years ago when he first got sick – maybe we all did, in a way. Even though he was cancer free, it changed him. His death, then, took about 8 years. Eight long dry complicated and stupid years.

It upsets me a bit to think on that, but in the end, who the hell am I to judge? He lived his life – it was his. And if there’s one thing his funeral, and the days leading up to it showed me, it was that I had maybe forgotten how dense and varied was the substance of his life. The last few years, especially, were subdued and quiet and a little old-hennish in some ways, but even that isn’t an entirely clear picture. He had a long life (79 years) that was full of travel and hard work and success. He had people who loved him, who were charmed by him, and who he loved back, in his way.

He had a terrific funeral, surrounded by so very many friends and  family. The roly poly irish priest made jokes, and we cried and laughed and were very proud of him. It was a privilege to see his fellow Knights of Columbus standing up for him, obviously moved and feeling the loss of him in their ranks.

My brave, composed,  and wonderful sister read from Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 (to every thing there is a season… in my head those words are always in the voice of the Byrds and who knew, sitting and listening to that record in my sister’s room in 1977 that someday she would read it at his funeral?) The more I look at the words, the more I realize just how perfectly chosen were those readings – go back and look at them, as literature, you don’t have to be religious. They’re smart, and help those left behind.

As with my mother’s funeral, we sang Amazing Grace (which I always hear in Al Green’s voice). I can’t hear that song without tearing up, ever.

Dad’s indomitable wife, family on both sides, and his gracious and loving friends buoyed us with their boundless generosity and regard for him, and fed us such good food. My facebook status that day was

Thank you, everyone, for all of the sympathy and support. My dad was an amazing guy and had a full, rewarding life. His death continues the trend – his many wonderful friends and loving family are making this an oddly pleasant experience.

And it was – oddly pleasant, I mean. And that’s the way it should be.

Death is pretty final, and I know that when I’m crying it’s for me, for us – the people who are left behind. I hate that he died; I hate how he died. I hate how he lived his last years – lacking his natural charm, tired, without enough joy. He had lost his brother, then his sister just a few months ago… so much loss, again, to negotiate.

But that oddly pleasant funeral was useful – it made me remember the whole man. The man who married my mother when she was 16 (!),  who worked as a tool and die man, who went to night school and worked hard, and saved his money. The man who rose high in the company his illiterate father had cleaned the floors of, who worked all over the world and grabbed it all with both hands. It made me think of the happy laughing man who went on bike rides with me,  who held my hand, who was the one I called for when I fell. He was the guy who never let us win at monopoly, who took us to the races, who drove us up and down the Alps’ twisty mountain roads, with us screaming the whole way.

He was not a good driver.

He is the man who taught me that if you’re going to do it, do it right.

I thought of my divorced Catholic dad marrying his Quaker wife in a North Carolina synagogue, and saving everything from that day – including the speeding ticket he got on the way down to his Florida honeymoon.

He taught me about the beauty of compound interest, and of a good filing system. He taught me the power of reading, didn’t laugh when I told him every number has its own personality (called synesthesia btw), and never said a bad word about any of those awful boyfriends of mine that he met. All he ever asked was “is he catholic?” but he didn’t care about my answer, not really.

He showed me how big the world is, and how easily I could claim it, with some effort. He showed me that we were citizens of it, and that we had to be involved and responsible.

He especially taught me how important it is to be present in the lives of those who love you.  It doesn’t matter how he taught me those lessons, only that I learned them.

My brother and sister and I talked about how we knew Dad was always there for us. That no matter what we did or said or how we tested it, he would always be there to help us out. It’s true, and I hope that my kids know that I am the same – no matter what, I am here to love them and help them and teach them.

No. Matter. What.

Loss is funny. One day I feel it like a cavity in my tooth – something to worry and poke at  to feel the edges of the hurt. Other days it’s pretty gentle, and it feels natural and grief-less. It feels somehow normal. It took me years, literally years, to work through the crap I’d been carrying around about my mother after her death. Having always been a bit of a daddy’s girl I figured I was in for it now – but the opposite is true. Somehow in our fumbling, pretend-it’s-not-happening way, we must have made our peace. When he died it was so very sad, but it didn’t feel like unfinished business. It felt like my very-much-loved Pop died. What we’re left with is loss, not grief. It’s sad, but not sorrowful.

how I will always remember him

I dearly wish he were still alive and I’d like to have called him more this past year. I wish you all had known him – he was clever and charming and yes, an irascible old coot.  I wish that I’d spent more time with him, I wish I’d been more generous of spirit with him – that I hadn’t been so hard on him in my heart of hearts. These disappointments of mine though are just ordinary regret, nothing that will scar.

His poetry he passed to my sister and his charm most definitely went to my brother. I hope that leaves me more than his “irascible coot-ishness”, but I must humbly admit to some of that in my makeup. I know there are more things in me that speak of him than I will ever know. I cherish them,  will learn from them, and thank him.

This has been a year of loss. Mine, though bittersweet, is already a little more sweet than bitter.  You were much loved, Pop. Rest in peace.

My previous post about G’pa Lee here.

I killed my cat, and other stories: Box 761 Death Edition.

Okay. I’m using that title to shock you.

Doesn’t mean I didn’t do it, but the preferred term is “euthanize“. Sounds much nicer, right?

Bo 1996-2011

Bo was my cat, but before he was mine he was my mother’s. He was a 24-toed (normal cats have 18), black-and-white puppy-like cat who was the charismatic and goofy reminder to me, daily, of my sweet, complicated, and sometimes troubled mother.

Shortly after Mom was diagnosed with the lung cancer that would eventually kill her  she and I had a chat about chats… they were great company, and therapeutic. I lived a 4 hour drive away and worried about her through the week – lonely, ill, alone. I told her they could help lower one’s blood pressure, etc. It was a short conversation, nothing really meaningful.

The next weekend  when I arrived at her house, there they were: two kitties. Oh I wish I could find their kitty pictures; they were so very cute. Bo was awkward – how many awkward kittens do you know? From the start he was  such a character.

She was delighted with her tiny charges (too young to be away from their mother, I always thought). She bought them in Perth, maybe Smith’s Falls (?) – towns I for some reason always get confused.  Whatever. She got them from a pet store (kitten farm, I always figured) in one of those places, anyway. I guess it doesn’t matter much, though not having that small detail bothers me, a bit.

Mr. Bojangles (because he’s polydactyl and tap danced when he walked) and his sister Shirley Temple brought a lot of delight to my mother. Shirley was the brains of the operation, you could see her try to herd Bo towards the food when it was time to eat (otherwise, we weren’t sure he’d find it, to be honest). They were delightful and sweet and really a completely ill-conceived purchase, but who cares, right?

my beautiful mother, 1935 - 1996

Three  too-short/too-long months later my mother was dead, and we were exhausted.  It was a hard death, and a painful three months leading up to it.

I was so out of it that the day we were supposed to finalize things with the funeral home I parked my car downtown and locked the keys in it – still running – and I didn’t notice. It ran out of gas in downtown Brockville while we tried to kill time before my long-suffering big sister had to go take care of business. That’s one of those stories that you never actually look back on and laugh at (I’m sorry again, Nancy, I really am).

It’s just kind of sad.

I can barely remember anything because of the weird white-noise in my head at that time, the hyper-surreality of it all. To this day, there are things I am not sure I’m remembering correctly; I just can’t get a grasp on them entirely.

It wasn’t easy, and it never is, losing someone.

What it is though, is weird. It’s weird getting used to someone taking medicine, or being in hospital not to get better but to fight death, to prolong the time before the inevitable. It’s weird feeling some relief when your loved one dies, but it’s better than watching them suffer.

That was an awful time. A time of confusing emotions and fear and pre-emptive loss. We had a complicated relationship, my mother and I, so it follows that her death was not simple for me. I loved her fiercely, but was often just confused by her otherness to me. I think she felt the same way. She once told me that I was too much like my father, perhaps that’s it.

She was in a lot of pain, and drugged, and often loopy; she was angry and vindictive and scared and sweet and confused and funny. She got paranoid, and plain nasty sometimes – I remember after a particularly obnoxious statement to me I hissed to her that I hoped it wasn’t the last thing she ever said to me, because she’d regret it. For both of us, I am thankful that it wasn’t.

Oh, the pain we cause those we love, right?

Don’t worry, there was sweetness too – many goodbyes and late night talks beside her bed – not about anything important, just talking and trying to be normal in a decidedly abnormal twilit hospital room. We talked a lot about her lost babies – too many, miscarried and lost, so many babies and so many lost dreams. We talked about whether she would see her babies in heaven, whether they would be grown or not. We decided that heaven is whatever you want it to be. I hope she met them there, and is having coffee and figuring crossword puzzles with them all right now.

But by then end of it, I was wrung out, and had stepped back from it a bit. You can’t sustain the emotional rollercoaster that someone’s  death creates without stepping back, sometimes. I couldn’t anyway.

So, she died. It wasn’t like on tv, people – it’s hard work to die, to take that last breath, to allow yourself to give up your ghost.  She laboured at it, and it was awful, even with the help of (a lot of) morphine to ease her way.

And yesterday, a coddled and comfortable fifteen years and 5 months later, Mr. Bojangles was stroked and whispered-to while our lovely vet Bruce reverently and gently sent him to sleep in my arms.

huh.

I’m not going to belabour the point here – you know what I’m getting at, right? I will be able to remember Bo’s death in a way that I cannot do my mother’s, and it’s not only because well, he’s just a cat. Those last too-short months of my mother’s life were so crazy, so full of fear and anger and love and loss and confusion over her care, her pain, her struggle. We did what we could, but it’s hard to have meaningful, pure memories of a time so full of conflicting emotions. With Bo, I had time to prepare, to love him extra-hard, to let him go before it all got too hard and it was muddied with pain and fear.

The choice to euthanize Bo was not one I took lightly, and it caused me pain. I cried about it – I’m not ashamed to say. He was senile, and still didn’t always know where his food was; he meowed and mewled and howled and caterwauled through the night; he was becoming incontinent. He’d lost weight, and his heart murmur was getting worse…. He still had some quality of life:  quiet moments, sleeping on the guest bed, cuddling on my lap at night, playing sometimes with the other cat.

The arithmetic of it was that Bo’s quality of life was declining and there were more bad times than good. He was not going to get better.

So I did what I needed to do, for him and for me. We will all miss him very much; he was one of our family. I am easeful, though, in my mind that he had a good life, and a good death.

Rest in Peace, my Boo Boo Kitty, and say hi to Mom for me, okay?

just… breathe.

What’s so much better? I am.

Not sure if you recall my previous post about my withdrawal efforts, but I’m getting there. Pharmaceuticals are a bitch, and I’m staying away from the damn things from now on. I’ve been doing some reading on Paxil, and although I really appreciated the almost immediate relief it gave me, I wonder now if it was worth it (and wonder if my relief would’ve been effected just as well with a sugar pill. Who knows?).

If there’s one thing I should’ve learned by now, it’s that no matter how crappy things are, they will always get better. Always.  Time will take care of it, usually. Not the inevitable counting of minutes, days, hours but some applied effort, some time to take a deep breath, some time to see the arc of the story unfold. Usually, things become clearer, right?

Breathing is the key for me these days. I mean, how many times have I counselled my daughter – take a deep breath, relax – while she was in the midst of a spasm? How many times have I seen that breath turn into instant and an almost magical soothing of those tortured muscles? How many times do I have to see that until I take my own good advice and take a few deep breaths myself?

I don’t doubt that there is better living through pharmaceuticals. Not at all. For me, though, I’m starting to have a sick feeling that the drugs are worse than the condition for which they were prescribed. For me, I think that maybe a more holistic approach will work. I don’t have a condition that has to be treated with medication; it got me through a bad time, and then it caused a bad time. This is a common story, and I’m lucky that I’m not dependent on these drugs in order to function in the world.

So, no. I’m not saying that breathing, or warm baths, or a walk around the block are solutions entirely. What I can say for myself, though, is that all three of those things seem to be helping me. They’re helping me a lot. One reason they’re helping is that I finally decided that I needed the help, if that makes any sense.

These days I’m not pretending to work at relaxing. I’m really putting in the time, and it’s making a difference.

Imagine that. Just… breathe.

Sarajevo

And now for something completely different…. Mr. 761 and I are leaving for  two weeks tramping around Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro. We’ve planned some of it, but are leaving much of the Montenegro leg of the trip to our whims. It’s a little wee country so we’re going to wander about and stop where something grabs our fancy.  So far, what we have planned is to fly into Sarajevo and spend several days there. We’ve arranged for a room in a pension right in the old town – not grand, but will serve our purposes. I plan on being out and exploring most of the day.

After a few days in Sarajevo, we’ll be  travelling down the coast to Dubrovnik, Croatia. I’m

Dubrovnik: a walled city. A gorgeous Adriatic coast line, and no cars. Such loveliness!

especially excited about this one. We can’t rent a car and drive through three different countries, really, so we’re going to bus/train it down to Dubrovnik.

After Dubrovnik, we’ll wander over to Montenegro (train?) and then rent a car and really explore. We’ll have about a week there and then Mr. 761 goes back to KAF from there, and I fly home to Canada and the breathtaking autumn in Nova Scotia.

Montenegro

More Montenegro

MORE Montenegro!

Now, I have to admit that while breathing is helping, the planning and anticipation of this holiday is also helping. I can’t lie to you about that….

This will be the second trip that Mr. 761 and I have ever taken together (I do not count driving to Disney in Florida with the kids, as much um… fun as that was. Sorry kids!). We decided on these places because they are new to both of us – it’s so much fun to explore and discover these new places together, I think. Mr. 761 will keep up a running dialogue with regard to food and atheism and toilets; I will do my best to wax on about the history and beauty and food and romance. Between us, we’ll be able to give you all a fairly complete (if quirky) view of this part of the world…. stay tuned.

He will, alas, go back to this:

while I return to thislifted from the internet

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Some articles of interest: