My Mother’s Keeper

“It is not length of life, but depth of life.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I hung up the phone, my thought was, “I will never see her alive again.”  It wasn’t a revengeful or hateful thought, it was reality.    The purpose of my phone call was to restore balance in the hopes that we might salvage dignity between the two of us.  Unfortunately, her answer and reaction to my phone call was less than affectionate and I  sensed her disapproval by her tone, words and dismissive attitude as she hung up the phone before I had a chance to finish what I was saying.

Unfortunately, she was family and most closest to my mother, her sister.  Years before this I can remember my mother quoting her sister’s words that she uttered to my mother during a difficult time, “just because you’re my sister doesn’t mean I have to love you or like you.”  I don’t remember why those words were spoken, but I remember my mother feeling exasperated.  I was a young girl and I remember my mother feeling somewhat beaten emotionally by my aunt as my mother felt that she couldn’t make her feelings known and it was best to just avoid the conflict and  go along with whatever her sister said or wanted.   Unfortunately, this was the sentiment of everyone around my aunt, no one dared to say anything or go against her way, because if you did, the cross you had to bear was great.

The sad thing was that my aunt had a side to her that could be angelic.  In her stoic and stubborn way she could come into your life and give you everything she had.  This confused me as a young girl because my emotions would be chaotic around her as I never knew when the other side was going to show, so I had a hard time being myself as I never trusted my aunt’s intentions.  This confusion didn’t help the situation as I came across indifferent and aloof.

As life moved forward, I frequently witnessed this struggle between my aunt and my mother.   My mother would often talk to me about some of the struggles and my answer was always the same.  I told my mother to express her feelings to her sister.  My mother’s answer consistently was,  “you don’t understand, it’s not worth it.”  Many times I wanted to pick up the phone in my mother’s defense, but I knew this would be against my mother’s wishes, so I resisted the urge to do so.

There came a time when something happened that was so shattering to my mother,  I conscientiously had no choice but to phone my aunt to discuss the situation.  As I stated my concerns and asked her to clarify the accusations she made about another family member, I immediately understood why very few in our family had tread those waters before.  The venom unleashed was like a snake bite;  quick and paralytic, so much so it stopped my breath.   I did not retreat, I continued to take my stand and my aunt ended the conversation abruptly and slammed the phone down.

The next thing I knew she was ringing our doorbell.    As she walked through our doorway, she was very, very angry.  It didn’t end well as she verbally attacked my mother and I demanded that she leave our home.  To my disappointment,  my mother was upset with me.   My mother was furious and even though she agreed with what I said, she felt that the storm on the horizon was not worth the victory of the battle.

The reaction was swift, my mother was cut from my aunt’s life.  I felt fine about that fact,  as I thought we needed the break.   However, my mother was not happy and was very traumatized by the whole event.  The silence from my aunt went on for an eternity and eventually my mother had to grovel back into my aunt’s life.  I decided that no matter what happened, I would remain on the sideline as clearly this was my mother’s wishes.    Several years after this incident, unknown to me, I would become my mother’s keeper as our family was thrown into the deep and nasty claws of Alzheimer’s.

Slowly and surely Alzheimer’s ate at my mother until it became apparent my mother was a shadow of the woman she had once been.  The brain stealing disease was robbing my mother of her life and it became clear that I had to move her from her apartment.  In the years leading up to this moment, I hadn’t really seen my aunt all that much. During the time that I  dealt with my mother and the Alzheimer’s was extremely difficult and stressful.  When I look back,  I’ve come to understand that I went into survival mode to get through one of the most difficult periods of my life.   I had two young children and my husband and I both worked full time.

During the early stages of my mother’s Alzheimer’s I knew something was wrong and I would spend a lot of time driving back and forth between my mother’s apartment and my home.  As the symptoms worsened, I had a hard time getting doctors to diagnose my mother properly.  Like many Alzheimer’s patients the more symptoms she showed the more stubborn she became.  She refused to leave her apartment to come live with me and she refused any other suggestion of moving from her apartment.

Eventually, events and circumstances led to her being forced to move, and she chose to  move across the country to live with my brother.   During the relocation and preparing her apartment for the real estate market,  I heard that my aunt had been visiting my mother.  However, she usually visited during the day when I was at work, so I never saw her.

As we moved closer to my mother’s moving date, my mother became very stressed  and agitated. At the height of this stress I received a call from my aunt.   Once again, I found myself forced into defending my mother’s well being.    The conversation lasted all of three minutes, but it is a conversation that I will never forget and it was the start of a journey down a slippery slope to the end of that relationship.

The night my aunt hung up on me, was a phone call that I had hoped would lead to some kind of resolution between the two of us; a negotiation of peace.  John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” resonates in my head as I write this.  Peace or a peace of mind was the goal but the conversation ended far from peacefully.  Given our history, it wasn’t all that surprising.  As I hung up the phone, I knew I would never talk to her again.  At the time I examined my conscience and I don’t think “a clear conscience” is the correct term here, I think I just swept it all under the rug, the dirty grime hidden until I could deal with it another time at some point down the road.  The grime remained hidden under that rug for 11 years.

Several weeks ago, that dirt and grime was removed from under the rug, where it had been hidden conveniently all those years before.  My brother texted to let me know that my aunt had passed away.   Unknown to me, she had been fighting cancer for the last several years and like so many, she lost her battle.  The grime that had been under the rug for so long, came back up so quickly and before long I realized that the act of burying the emotions had been convenient, very convenient for me to not take the time to cleanse myself of the dirt and grime that had built up under the surface.

Unfortunately, her death brought all of those feelings back and plenty of anger as well.  I was asked by everyone if I would attend the funeral.  I wanted to, I wanted to pay my respects but the more I struggled with that thought the more I realized that I couldn’t bring all of that dirt and grime, now released from under the rug, to the funeral.

Regret is ironic,  I once read that a successful life means no regrets.  I’m not so sure that is correct.  I think mistakes and regrets are a part of life and how we deal with those mistakes and regrets can only make us stronger.  I do regret and my regret is that I didn’t listen to my mother.  She was right, I didn’t understand, it just wasn’t worth it.  The emotions between my aunt and I ran deep and even in death, she made it clear to me that those emotions still ran high.

I honestly, don’t think she ever forgave me and my regret is not so much that I acted out or stood up to her, my regret is that by saying it out loud, I brought it right to the surface and my aunt was no longer able to hide behind her armour and like any good warrior, she came out fighting. My mother knew that and she knew she didn’t have the strength to fight.

To pull the rug from under one is bound to bring to the surface the dirt and grime that has been hiding for so long.  Leave them with dignity is what my mother would have said, and this is something my mother always did.  She always took the high road, even when she knew that she was right.  The greater good and the best outcome was more important to my mother and all these years later, I think she was right.

Our lives can’t be defined by regret as a life of regret is equivalent to living in a wasteland with no end in sight.  Our future can be defined by the changes we make because of mistakes and regrets.   In the future I will lay down my sword and resist the temptation of going to war.  My mother would be happy, as she found my way very stressful and often wondered out loud why I made things so difficult for myself.

As I continue to walk the journey we call life, I’ve decided to take the path that has smooth rocks rather than the path with jagged rocks.  As for my Aunt, she was an adversary and she knew how to go to war and wouldn’t stop until she won.  The truth is neither one of us won, there was only loss and it was loss of time.   Surely there will be battles to fight, but the only purpose of those battles for now on will be to prevent the war.

Johanne Fraser

EVERY END HAS A BEGINNING…

“Death is a stripping away of all that is not you.  The secret of life is to die before you die and find that there is no death”  Eckhart Tolle

As I begin to write this I am sitting on my front deck with my two beautiful companions, Lumi and Kaos, watching the neighbour hook up his trailer to leave for their annual camping trip.  As I sit here sipping my coffee, his two boys, most likely ages 8 and 10, are running and jumping around the front of their property so excited for this epic camping trip.  The cars and other trailers have arrived one by one as family and friends pull up to the house, obviously joining my neighbour for the trip.  As each car and trailer arrives, the boys do a little dance which sets my Belgian Shepherd off and I have to stop him from running toward the reunion barking like a fool.  As exciting as this little party is, it just pisses off Kaos as he doesn’t know who all these people are and in his mind I need protection from this frenzy of excitement.   I pray he is just as brave during a real threat!

As the convoy of cars and trailers leave, my world goes quiet again and I return to my computer to muse over my writing.  My intention was to write about death and suddenly my thoughts and words take on a different form.   As I watched my neighbour’s family dance and felt the excitement in the air, I ventured back to the boys when they were that young and our annual camping trips.  Life seemed to be so full back then, our lives intertwined with the boys lives as my husband and I wanted to share all of our knowledge and give them as much life as we could, because we both knew that time was short and if we didn’t give them our all, the time would be gone in an instant.  Never before have I realized the depth of this as I sipped my coffee watching the scene across the street unfold before me.  I realized without an ending there is no beginning and without death there is no life.

My mind wanders to my shift last night at the local hospice.  I am part of an army of volunteers whose job is to help transition those facing their last breath over to the other side.  Just looking at the previous sentence, it sounds and looks like a monstrous and depressing job, but it is not.   Being at the hospice is like breathing in the air that we breath and it is as peaceful there as it is here, sitting on my deck sipping my coffee with the sun shining on my face and watching the leaves on my maple tree move from the odd breeze that sweeps through during this season’s hot spell.   When I first inquired about volunteering at the local hospice,  I admit I had an agenda.  I had just become a Reiki practitioner and I wanted to use the knowledge and skill to help others.  Using Reiki on the dying sounds like two opposites as Reiki uses the life force around each and everyone one of us to help those with varying ailments or in different stages of life.  Many hospices have Reiki practitioners on hand to not only help the dying, but to help the grieving family members as well.   To this date I have never used Reiki with any of the patients at the hospice.  I have been asked to use my Reiki skills at different hospice events but I have not used Reiki on the hospice floor.  However, my Reiki skills has given me an advantage when working with the dying.  A Reiki practitioner is merely a tool to pass on the life force energy, just as a hospice volunteer is merely a tool to be an assuring presence to the dying.  All volunteers are expected to take a 33 hour intense training program and essentially the program is meant to weed out people as not everyone is meant to do this job.  The training is meant to help the volunteer with what to expect but until you start working at the hospice, you really have no idea how you will react or how you feel while visiting the dying.

Last night as I arrived at the hospice, I stood at the front lounge and took note of the two names on the stand by the nurses station, in behind the name tags were two butterflies lit up by a tiny bulb.  The names represent the patients who have recently died.  As I said a little prayer, I marveled over one name as I worked with this man the previous week,  The date on the tag was the day before and, working with him the previous week, I didn’t think he would last that long.  However, I noticed as I glanced over the volunteer log notes that he had a lot of family in visiting, every day he had visitors and I realized he lasted that long simply for love because his body was ready to give up the week before.    I work at the hospice once a week and my shift is in the evening from 5:00 – 8:00 pm.  I head to the hospice after a full day at work.  I like the evening shift as so often family members of patients can’t get to the hospice in time for dinner.  It is during dinner I find I am the most busy as some people need help  to eat, others need to have their food cut up and some just want someone to listen to their complaints about the horrible state of the food.  It is in this motion, life itself, that I hear and sense the most amazing stories that lie behind each and every patient.  I find it ironic as I leave behind work and at work it seems that everyone is full of self importance in their position or their seniority or who they are.  They worry if someone has a better parking spot or if someone gets something more than the other.   At the hospice no one cares, everyone is the same and they are all facing the thing that we most fear;  DEATH.

My conversations with the dying are more normal than my conversations with the living.  I’ve come to realize the reason why is essentially the same as the approach my husband and I took with our boys when they were young – time is short and we wanted to give them all our knowledge and love because the moment would be lost in an instant.  The dying face the same dilemma and what I have found is that most don’t want to hide from that fact with useless conversation filled with things that don’t matter.   It’s interesting to me that I have dealt with all walks of life in the process of dying – doctors, lawyers, tradesmen, housewives, police officers and people without homes. The only reason that I have that knowledge is because of the volunteer logs and the volunteers usually find this out from family members.    No one talks about what they did for a living when they’re dying and no one cares because what you did for a living has absolute no bearing on how or when you will die. What does matter is how you lived and how you loved.   Dying essentially comes down to this;  love and dignity and this is  the reason why I volunteer for the Hospice Society.  The Society recognizes dying as important as life itself and every person no matter of their origin or their beliefs are given what they need most – dignity and love.

Last night I was on the floor for about 30 minutes and I realized there was a new patient in the room where another patient died the day before.  The nurses were trying to help him transition to his new surroundings and he was scared and agitated.  There was no family member with him and he was too weak to be walking anywhere.  He did not want to lie down for fear of dying and he kept trying to get up to go where I don’t know but he had two nurses working with him trying to calm him down.  I asked if there was anything I could do and one of the nurses asked if I would sit with him.  I did, I sat with him for most of my shift.  He didn’t talk much, he just wanted the reassurance of someone there. I sat beside him at the edge of the bed the whole time and I kept suggesting that he would be more comfortable lying down and he refused to do so.  Finally after sitting for quite some time, I noticed that his eyes were getting very heavy, I again offered to help him lie down, this time he accepted my offer.  After I adjusted his pillows, his bed and bed rails, I sat beside him and he put his hand out to mine and he asked me to hold his hand as he fell asleep.  As I held his hand I massaged his hand very gently hoping to give him a sense of peace.

I can only assume that holding his hand gave him the peace he needed as he became less agitated, his body then started to relax and he fell into a peaceful sleep.  I sat with him for a little while longer to be sure he was asleep and then I tucked him in and went about the business of fussing with blankets and removing items from his bed and turning out lights.  As I was fussing about, I thought somewhere this gentleman began his life with his mother holding him and assuring him that everything was ok and that he was protected.  As he reaches the end of his life, he wants the same, he wants someone to sit with him and assure everything will be ok and that he is protected.  It’s what we all want and as I drove home last night I thought about this and I realized every end has a beginning.

Johanne Fraser

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A GIRL NAMED TESSA

“Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay.  Loss is our legacy.  Insight is our gift.  Memory is our guide.”  Hope Edelman

Last night my son came home from his shift at work wearing a white shirt with a purple basketball wrapped in angel’s wings on the front of the shirt with the number 23 written inside the basketball, the  name “Tessa” written under the basketball  and the word “strength” scrolled down the left hand sleeve.   The grocery store (Fresh Street) where Brendan works supports a basketball tournament dedicated to the memory of a girl named Tessa.  Management bought the shirts from the organizers of the “Tessa Foundation” and employees are allowed to wear the shirt all week in support of  the “Tessa Tournament” coming up next weekend.

Tessa was a girl who, like any other teenager, lived big dreams.  She was talented athletically and a bright girl who loved to learn and more importantly loved life and seemed to blossom in the love of family and friends that surrounded her.  Tessa was a high school student in the school where I work and ironically, I’ve come to know Tessa in death more than I knew Tessa in life.  Tessa had boundless energy and she used this energy to fight the biggest obstacle of her life; Cancer. Sadly she lost the battle January 27th, 2012 at the heartbreaking age of 18.   A life taken in an instant, devastating her family and friends as they faced the challenge of life on this earth without their daughter, granddaughter, sister, girlfriend and friend.

Tessa faced her battle with cancer and ultimately her death like she lived her life, with strength and courage.  It is through this strength and courage that she shaped the lives of so many around her.  Not only friends and family, but people she did not know.  Looking at my son’s shirt last night as he walked through the front door, I was immediately struck with the thought that through death, Tessa has inspired so many people and her spirit still resides with this community in the most special and dedicated way.

Over the years my children have played in several  memorial hockey tournaments.  Like many parents,  I would browse through the Tournament Program and read the article dedicated to the young boy the tournament was named after and take solace and strength in the fact that at that moment my family was healthy and well and moved on to cheering the boys’ team throughout the tournament.  For most of us that is what the tournaments are about, we show up, our children play and then we go on with our lives.  For the parents and family behind these memorial tournaments, they are forever changed by the absence of their loved ones and for a brief moment in time they are able to share their memories and love with their community.

When Tessa left this earth in 2012 my oldest son was 12 years old.  It never occurred to me that he would  join Tessa’s spirit in his quest to help out the impoverished as he applied to his school’s Mission Trip group to join the call to service in the Philippines.   A group of thirty-six students and teachers travelled to the Philippines in March of 2016 to help build shelter, share love and build relationships in a world where the underprivileged are often over-looked.  Tessa’ s mother was also part of the group that went on that trip and part of the funds raised through the “Tessa Foundation” was dedicated to build a house in Tessa’s name.

Like Tessa’s boundless energy as she seemed to know no boundaries; love knows no boundaries.  As I watch my boys grow into young men, I am reminded that there are those who don’t have the luxury of watching their children grow.  I continue to be in awe of those who face the challenge of losing a child as they share the love of their child to enrich their community in the most loving and special way, giving all of us a gift, a gift of humility and hope as we continue to face the challenges in our lives with love and dedication giving us the insight to cherish every day.

Johanne Fraser

Stepping through the stones

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t”   Steve Maraboli

Stepping onto the balcony through the double doors just off my bedroom was a morning routine for me.  I would wake up stretch and step outside to breathe in the fresh air enjoying the tranquility of the man-made pond three levels below.  I was living in an apartment complex on the top floor facing the interior court-yard.  The Strata Council had recently upgraded the pond to include a small waterfall and stocked the man-made pond with Japanese goldfish to create the illusion of peace and tranquility in a suburban world. That particular morning I was stretching and breathing in the fresh air when out of the corner of my eye I saw an ironic scene.  Standing in the pond was a large blue heron.  I caught my breath because for a second the man-made environment looked like a page out of National Geographic with  this beautiful bird of feather swooping in with its majestic beauty.  As I watched the scene unfold before me, I realized that this beautiful creature was eating the Strata Council’s beloved Japanese goldfish.

The next morning I ran into a member of the Strata Council in the underground parking lot.  “Love the wildlife you guys are creating in the court-yard” I yelled out as he walked to his car.  He looked a little perplexed and I said “the blue heron in the pond, did you see it?”   “No, but someone told me, we are going to do something to stop it as all the Japanese goldfish will be gone.”  “Good luck with that, I’m sure there will be more blue herons in that pond before the week is out.”

Sure enough a couple of days later, standing on the balcony I was greeted with two blue herons enjoying their breakfast from the lovely pond the Strata Council worked so hard to create.  Quite the drama unfolded in the following weeks as the Strata Council covered the pond with chicken wire and a host of other tricks to stop the blue herons from eating the Japanese goldfish.    No longer did the pond have  the feel of tranquility, it looked like a war zone and those bloody blue herons managed to get through every barrier the strata council put in front of them.  It didn’t take long before the Strata Council threw in the white towel, removed the chicken wire and we all enjoyed the pond with the sounds of the trickling waterfall without the Japanese goldfish.

Much has happened in my life since the days of living in that apartment complex and I find myself in a similar situation living with two teenage boys.   When the boys were young my husband and I were able to control their environment by laying down the chicken wire controlling the maze in which we all lived.   As a parent I often stressed about making the right decisions with the boys as I fully understood the power I had over them in their younger years.  To live by example in everything I did was important because their brains were like sponges taking in our environment, our actions and our words.  Were we perfect, far from it, but my hope and dreams for my boys were to raise two decent human beings.  My husband and I were under the illusion, like that strata council, that we could create the environment and if we laid down the stones properly as the strata council did with that pond so many years ago, somehow navigating through those stones would be easier as time moved on.

Stepping through those stones that we laid so many years ago has become increasingly difficult as they are slippery in emotion and opinions.  I have learned like the strata council, that you can not control the wild as it has a mind of its own.  No different with children as they reach teenage years prepping to become adults.  It’s not so much that we have thrown in the towel, it is the realization that laying down those stones all those years ago have paved the way and now it is time to let the boys lay down their own stones and give them the freedom as to the directions those stones will lead.

Now and then I see a glimpse of the little boy with the curly hair or the little boy with the mischievous grin peek through the big teenage boys.  Christmas use to be fun with the boys when they were anticipating Santa.  Hiding the gifts and placing the gifts under the tree on Christmas Eve so the boys could find their gifts from Santa the next morning, brought my husband and I so much pleasure.  The past few years we have given the boys cash for Christmas so they can go out and shop at the boxing day sales and buy what they want.   This year we decided to buy the boys something they could use for school and home by investing in laptop computers.  Some how the boys knew they were getting something more significant than a few dollars to go shopping. I don’t think they knew what they were getting but the day I brought the computers home and attempted to scurry to the basement to hide the goods, I was greeted with two boys waiting for my arrival on the front staircase.  One boy had curly hair and the other boy had a mischievous grin.  I yelled at them to get back up the stairs and they both laughed and said “Whatcha got”.  “None of your business get back up the stairs or what I have will go back to the store”.

They laughed all the way back to their rooms and my heart was smiling as I headed down to the basement to hide their Christmas present knowing full well that the two of them would be filled with anticipation when they found the time to sneak down to the basement when my husband and I were sleeping to find the hiding spot to get a glimpse of Christmas before the presents were wrapped and placed under the tree.  I hope I never stop seeing the boy with the curly hair and the boy with the mischievous grin and that their stepping-stones always have a path that lead to the two people who laid down that first stepping stone so many years ago.

WALKING WITH LIGHT

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”  Melody Beattie

Thanksgiving weekend for me is a chance to hangout and catch up with rest, refresh and rejuvenate and of course plenty of food to fill the belly.    I try to live my life in gratitude every day not just one weekend during the year.

To live one’s life in gratitude also means living your life with a wholesome perspective.  If your view of the world is always negative, never admitting to faults, never picking yourself up from your falls, then you are approaching your life with a pessimistic, cynical and gloomy view leaving you open to disease and creating havoc with your spirit.

To live with gratitude doesn’t mean that every day you have to be the happiest person on the planet, it doesn’t mean that you never grumble, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have negativity in your life, and it certainly doesn’t mean that human relationships are not a source of frustration.  We all live with these emotions and frustrations, but how the individual approaches and reacts to life’s struggles is where gratitude can take hold and change one’s perspective ultimately creating a fulfilled and happy life.

I am an empath and the very nature of an empath makes it difficult for me to deal with negativity as I wear other’s emotions as they are my own. As a child and a young woman I did not understand this chameleon ability and at times thought I had lost my way as I didn’t understand why I was so chaotic in my emotional makeup.  Once I understood that I was taking on other’s emotional state, I changed my approach and looked inward to gain a better understanding of my spirit.  I discovered many things about myself and I believe others can discover the same.  The most critical discovery for me was that I was stronger than I realized.  I believe this to be true for everyone, I think if we connect to our spirit, or our inner child, I believe we all have strength beyond our dreams.  I discovered that I have the ability to walk with light rather than walk with darkness and I also discovered that when you walk with light you attract light and the same happens when you walk with darkness you attract darkness.

When I walk into a dark room my senses are closed, cautious, on guard, insecure and hesitant.  However, when I walk into a room filled with light my senses are open, happy, free, confident and assured.  It is possible to always be filled with light even when facing darkness and the best place to start is with gratitude.

Today we have more technology than ever and most of us fill our space with commitments and agendas and we allow our phones and computers to distract us from the very essential elements of life.  We don’t take time to just sit and talk about nothing in particular, we don’t take the time to walk  with nature and we don’t take the time to notice our breath.  It is vital to our emotional  and our physical state to take the time to relax, breath and give thanks for what we have today and give blessings to the many bright lights that fill our lives leaving the darkness behind.

To all my Canadian friends and family, I wish you a Thanksgiving weekend filled with light and gratitude.

 

Through God’s Eyes

“If a Buddhist, Hindu,Muslim, Catholic and a Jew stood in front of God, who would you say he loves the most?  These three questions are really just one question, and it is this:  Have you actually convinced yourself that God plays favourites?”  James Blanchard Cisneros

My mother was a good mother who had all kinds of advice for her children, especially her daughters.   Her advice was always one of self-preservation and she use to make me laugh when she said things like, “when you go on a date, always have an exit plan, leave by the back door if you have to and always carry a quarter so you can call a cab.”  The one piece of advice that she repeated over and over again was, “never discuss sex, politics or religion with a group of people, unless of course you want to start a storm, throw in a comment about sex, politics or religion and then sit back and watch the fireworks.”  My mother did that at times, she would make a comment, innocent comment about sex, politics or religion and then sit back and laugh.  She had wit mixed with the most innocent face, so much so that when the fight was over no one knew who started it.

I was brought up Catholic and my earliest memory  was the Sunday morning ritual of getting all dressed up and joining my three siblings, my mother and father for Mass.   I was never afraid of God, I always felt welcomed in his home and I was in awe of his grace and acceptance of so many people who visited his house.  Through the eyes of a child, I thought everyone got God and that everyone felt him like I did. My parents divorced when I was a child and it was during the divorce that I saw what I thought was God’s plan begin to unravel.

There was much bitterness and resentment between my parents and my mother filled the house with hostility against my father.  I didn’t feel any of the hate and hostility toward my father that my mother felt and I couldn’t understand why my parents  turned their back on God’s love.  After time things fell into a routine and my father had visitation rights.  My father was a foodie and during our visits, my father and I spent a lot of time talking and eating.  My father was a smart man and I give him credit to this day that he never said anything negative about my mother other than that I was to listen to her and she was a good mother.

At the age of sixteen my father revealed to me during one of our conversations that he was a man of no religion and that he was agnostic in his beliefs.  He said to me, “I don’t believe there is a God and I’m sorry to tell you this Jo, but heaven and hell don’t exist either.  Heaven and hell are right here on this earth.  I’ve seen heaven and I’ve seen hell and when you die you are buried in the ground and that is the end of the road.”  My father served his country in the second world war and I knew he had seen devastation, but I didn’t realize how much the experience effected him until that moment as he was a typical ex-serviceman who didn’t talk about his experiences.

My childhood experience of sitting in God’s house believing that we were all in God’s presence was shot and his comment took me by surprise.  I asked him “why did we all go to church every Sunday if you didn’t believe, why didn’t you drop us off at the church door and pick us up later if you didn’t believe?”  Thinking back, I was grasping because I was sure that there was no way that he could sit in that church and not feel God’s presence in some way, he must have forgotten.  His answer was simple and in his answer I started to comprehend why my parent’s relationship crumbled into divorce.  He said ” I did it to please your mother.”

Several years passed and my father and I talked about many things but religion never came up again.  The year I was just shy of 18, I was visiting family in Toronto.  I had no plans to visit my father in Montreal but my brother called me and said he was going to Montreal for the long weekend and asked me to join him.  I jumped at the opportunity, not only to see my father but many of my friends still lived there and Montreal is a happening place for young people.  The weekend went by fast and I hardly saw my father as I was out with my friends the whole weekend visiting all of our favourite clubs and dancing into the early morning hours.  Finally getting a chance to sit down with my father, he asked me if I would stay the rest of the week so he and I could visit our favourite restaurants and hang out.

The house had been filled with activity that weekend as people were in and out and the Monday afternoon after everyone had left, the atmosphere took on a stillness.   The peace was welcomed after a busy weekend.

After dinner that night my father and I sat down together and he complained about a pain in his shoulder.  The way he was holding his arm, I gathered that the pain was shooting from his shoulder down his arm.  I suggested we get him to the doctor the next day because I didn’t like the sound of it, but he was insistent that he was fine.  Our talk that evening led us to many places and he talked about his love for his children, circumstances of the divorce from my mother, his experiences during the war and his lack of belief in God.  We argued back and forth about his agnostic view and I was able to meet his reasons of non-belief with my reasons for belief.  Before I knew it, the time was 3:00 am and I told him I was exhausted, gave him a big hug, declared our love for one another and turned in for a few hours sleep.

I woke the next morning with an odd feeling that something wasn’t right and when I walked into my father’s room he was lying horizontally across the bed and he was  a shade of grey I had never seen before.  His lips were blue and there was a smell in the air that I instinctively knew was the smell of death.  He was still breathing but I knew that death was imminent.  I realized his lips were moving and he was trying to raise his hand to reach out to me,  I bent down closer and he whispered that he loved me.  I told him that I loved him and before I knew it the ambulance arrived.  As I watched the ambulance attendants take my father away on a stretcher, a morbid feeling came over me as I realized that would be the last time I saw my father alive.  By the time I arrived at the hospital he was gone.

The week I was supposed to hang out with my father turned into a week of viewings and a funeral.  I was stunned most of the week, but when I came up for air I kept going over that last conversation that my father and I had.  He knew he was dying and to this day I believe he wanted to die.  My father had many personal burdens, burdens that weighed him down during his life, and I believe he wanted the pain to stop.  It was interesting to me that he kept  insisting that God wasn’t there for him that last night.  Ironically, I believe God sent me there to be with him in his final hours, his child that had a strong enough faith to insist that God loved him and was still at his side.  Unknown to my father, the final hours that we spent together was part of God’s plan.    Death is a part of life and how we live and how we love is through God’s eyes.

COMMUNITY GARDEN – FRIDAY’S PHLOG FOR JUNE 3,2016

community gardenLast weekend we took a stroll through a seaside community and we stumbled across this little gem in an “out-of-the-way if you blinked you missed it” location.   I’ve always been enamored with community gardens and the gardens make my head turn every time I drive by one.  Walking past this one during our walk-about gave me the chance to walk through the community paths, allowing me to take my time inhaling the fragrances and enjoying the handy-work of the community.   The gardens are a living testament of what humans can create using a blank canvas to produce beautiful brushstrokes with our blood, sweat and tears.  When I was a young girl my mother told me a story of my Irish grandfather growing vegetables in a community garden in the inner city of Montreal.  She told me that he lived to go to that garden.  My grandfather died when I was a young girl, but his presence made an impact in my life.  He was a tough,no-nonsense kind of guy who said what was on his mind.  I remember his tough presence but that didn’t stop me from looking deep into his eyes to capture a soul who wanted more.  Imagining him tending to his crops in his community garden gave me a sense of peace for a man who sailed on a ship from a far-away-land where he was left with nothing to a land that promised him so much more.  What he found in this new land was hours of hard labour that did not provide enough for the many mouths he had to feed.  Walking through the community garden last weekend brought me serenity and a sense of calm.  I hope my tough Irish grandfather found that same sense of serenity in his community garden in a land that promised him so much more.

where there is death, there is drama

“In the end these things matter most: how well did you love?  How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?” Buddha

I’ve always been a straight shooter with zero tolerance for bullshit and I come by that honestly as my father was a straight shooter.   Where there is death there is drama – I hate to sound so cold but it’s true.   I remember my father talking about a man he knew that had died.  He didn’t like the man and according to my father, neither did anyone else.  Yet somehow in death the man became this great man and all loved him.  I can still hear my father’s voice as he said ” the man was an asshole, the only difference about him now is he is a dead asshole.” Don’t get me wrong,  I never speak ill of the dead but if I didn’t like someone in life, I don’t like them any better in death.  My father had a point and a lesson taken from that man’s death was to treat people like you want to be treated.

I believe that no one dies before their time and every life on earth has their own destination time to death.   Life is short and you have to take the time to make sure your loved ones know how much you love them.  In every death there is much to be learned;  how one lived their life, good or bad, is a lesson for the rest of us.   Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and not one of us is better than the other.   After all we all have the same destination – death.  We can’t escape it and sooner or later it’s coming.  How we treat people and how we love is what tells all about us in life  and in death.

Corinthians 13:4-8

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

A great musician died yesterday and I have no idea how he lived his life. I only knew his music.  He was a talented self-taught musician that defied human logic.  The video below is a look at just the man and his talent.  The world was blessed to witness his talent and the video below cuts through all the celebrity circus and takes you to the core and raw Prince Rogers Nelson.  I hope Prince’s life was filled with the same amount of love as his talent.  Enjoy…

 

THE POWER OF POSITIVE

 

“Each problem has hidden in it an opportunity so powerful that it literally dwarfs the problem.  The greatest success stories were created by people who recognized a problem and turned it into an opportunity.”  Joseph Sugarman

When surrounded in negativity, it can be hard to see anything positive.  The more you fall into negative space the more negative your life becomes.  A vicious circle and it can feel never ending and take you to a place where you don’t see any light.

My childhood was filled with negativity, so many negative dynamics shaped my environment and dictated my daily emotions even though the dynamics were completely out of my control.   As a young child I knew that the dynamics would not change and I had to find a way of facing the dynamics and figure out a way to check out and find my positive space.  I spent a lot of time outside, we lived in the city but I found nature in fields and parks and spent my days either finding spiders and snakes or just hanging out.  It was here I found my light and each night I went to sleep, I knew that the light was waiting for me in the morning. If I couldn’t get out of the house, I found happy spaces in the house – it is how I survived the negativity swirling around me.

I would like to say that I continued to be positive and never checked into that negative space, but as I journeyed on in life and became a teenager, rebellion took over and I found ways to be with negative people in negative spaces.  However, the light was always just a throw stick away and eventually I found my way back there again.

Now raising two teenage boys I find myself with negativity swirling around me that seems to be out of my control.  I really try not to be negative but the very nature of living with two teenage boys going through incredible hormonal changes can be extremely negative.   At times my 16 year old when faced with a problem,  can only see the negative side of the situation and when I try to bring forth the positives that can come from the struggle, I face rebuke and confrontation.   All of this is normal as our family faces continuous growing pains, but I find myself looking for my positive space by venturing out into the fields and the parks again to refresh myself in the light and find joy in watching insects, looking for snakes and feeling at one with nature.

Nature and time to myself replenishes my soul and allows me to breathe giving me the freedom to be who I am meant to be all the while pondering the problems that I’m faced with in relationships, friendships, home and work and with each problem I ask myself “what can I bring to the table to make this situation work?”

Amazingly when I give myself the space, I am less reactive to the negativity in my life and I am able to put myself into the shoes of the people I’m dealing with leaving me with less anger and more love allowing me the opportunity to connect, truly connect with the people I love.

 

FINDING ABUNDANCE THROUGH SIMPLICITY

“To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.”  Buddha

It seems like my whole life I have watched people build a life of material objects to fulfill their happiness.  They will obsess over material things and get what they want only to be bored and move on to something else.  It’s not that I don’t value the material things in my life – I do.  However, the obsession with having the right look, the right car, the perfect furniture and the shallowness of thinking I am superior because of what I have in a material way has never been me.  My husband and I are blessed to be able to afford the house that we live in and I enjoy the fact that I have a roof over my head,  but when I really look around, I see four walls, four walls everywhere.  I don’t think this house represents  who I am as a whole person,  nor am I going to find some bliss of happiness by spending a ton of money to fix up the house to make it appear as if I live in the pages of magazine where surely no one could live happily as magazines display a perfect order an order I don’t believe exists.

The older I get the more I am simplifying my life.  I am simplifying my life in every way.  I eat simple, cook simple, play simple and love simple.  I follow paths of simplicity by simply enjoying nature, enjoying simple laughs with my children and my husband, casual conversations that don’t necessarily lead anywhere other than simple enjoyment of another person.  I want to take the time to get to know people, not what they do for a living, how much money they make or what kind of car they drive.  I really don’t care for any of that and the truth be known I find it incredibly boring.  I want to know what a person likes, what makes them laugh and who inspires them.

Interesting because in this social media frenzied world everyone is talking about how perfect their lives are and living with abundance but their interpretation of abundance is full of material things to make their life rich and abundant.  The truth is we could live with less than half of the material things we have and live an incredibly rich life.  The more we have the more baggage we carry and the more baggage we carry the less our spirit soars.

If you are thinking I have a house with hardly any material things, check yourself because I have way more material things than I need.  I live with my  husband, two children and  a mother-in-law, all who carry emotional baggage that translates into material objects.  I want it all gone and if I had my way I would back up my truck and trash it all, but I have to respect other people’s personal property and honour their wishes.  As time moves on and I have started to live in a more simplistic state, I am finding that slowly but surely the pack is following.  In the last five months my husband has been on a roll to get rid of his clutter and material baggage and my youngest is almost ready to give up the rest of his childhood toys that he no longer uses.  Matt and I have gone through his toys and gotten rid of most things but he is having  a hard time letting go of his lego – several huge boxes of lego.  I keep telling him that another child would be so happy to own this lego and he might as well let it go and make someone else happy.

A natural order as the energy flows from an older child down to a smaller child bringing both to a happier place.  My son doesn’t quite see it like that yet, he sees it as letting go of a period in his life that is gone and he’s holding on to that period with everything he’s got.  Slowly he is coming around as we talk about letting go and moving on, plus he sees that if he gets rid of all that lego, his personal space would open up giving him more room  and freedom for his paints, more room to draw and be creative using a different medium to broaden his artistic ability.

The shift is happening, we are all on the path to abundance through a  more simple life.  I also have to learn patience because the life shift is not happening fast enough for me but I know that shifts in lifestyle and attitude take time and in order for me to truly find abundance in simplicity, I have to respect everyones personal space and property.  A lesson in humility for me as I continue on this journey we call life..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Will

“Life is a combination of destiny and free will.  Rain is destiny; whether you get wet or not is free will.”  Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Lately I’ve been having many conversations with my boys about free will.  I  believe whole heartedly in free will and I live my life by free will.  This past summer we adopted a beautiful Belgian Shepherd from the SPCA.  He had been neglected and was at least 25 pounds underweight when we took him home.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that he had been abused as well.  The name on his chart said Chaos but the SPCA changed his name to Kenny to make him sound more attractive to potential adopters.

The boys loved the name Chaos but I wanted to change his name.  Finally after bouncing different names back and forth we decided to keep the name Chaos but I changed the spelling to Kaos.  From the moment I met Kaos it was apparent that he and I had a connection.  We spent time with Kaos in an enclosed room and he kept snuggling up to me and placing his body in my space the entire time.  When we finally got him home I spent the first week giving Kaos his space and letting him come to me when he wanted to.  I never forced him to come to me,  I gave him complete free will.  He willfully followed me around the house in those first few days.  Everything was new to him and he needed the space to get comfortable with his new environment.

My youngest son does not understand free will, he annoyingly gets in your space and if you don’t give him the response he wants he tries to force you  by being ultra annoying.  He does the same thing to Kaos and the dog does not like it.   Kaos lets Matt know that he is annoying him by ignoring him, growling  at him or hiding in the other room.  One day Matt says to me “how come Kaos doesn’t like me mom?”  “Because you are always in his space Matt and you don’t give him free will.”  “Free will he says, what do you mean?”  “Matt you force  Kaos all the time, if he doesn’t come to you, you use force,  if he is sitting by himself minding his own business, you get in his face, you pull at his ears while petting him even though he doesn’t like it  and you push him out of his chair and steal his space.”  “You have to give him the free will to come to you, you have to stay out of his personal space and you have to give him the time he needs to chill.”

At the beginning Kaos and I struggled with the furniture as I don’t want him on the furniture and he really liked the couch in the living room.  When he lies on that couch, I know he is taking time out because the living room is off the family room and away from the hustle and bustle.  Every day Kaos and I would struggle, he would go on the couch and I would ask him to get down and as soon as  I walked out of the room he would climb on the couch again.   It dawned on me that he needed that space to retreat to, so I covered the couch and let him have his space.   If Matt finds Kaos on that couch, he gets into Kaos’ space by practically lying on top of the dog.  Kaos usually warns him with a growl and then will abruptly leave the couch and hang out somewhere else.

Watching the struggle between Matt and Kaos has been interesting because Kaos makes no bones about the fact that he is not impressed with Matt.  Matt is clearly frustrated by this situation and when I repeat to Matt about giving the dog free will, he says to me “I’m using my right to free will to bug the dog.”  “Well then Matt, Kaos is using his right to free will by growling and ignoring you.”

As much as Kaos likes his couch he remains on the floor at night, he doesn’t climb into our beds to sleep, he lies at the foot of our bed on the floor.  For some reason one night Kaos climbed into Matt ‘s bed and made it so difficult for Matt that Matt ended up sleeping on the floor.  The next morning Matt came down to breakfast complaining that the dog had kicked him out of his bed.  He told me “every time I tried to get Kaos off my bed he growled and when I asked him nicely, he ignored me.”  The dog then used all of his body weight and pushed Matt off the bed.   “Is that free will mom?”  “No Matt, that is called Karma.”

 

 

 

 

 

Slow Cooker Apple Crumble

I’ve enjoyed having a few close friends over this Christmas – that is what Christmas is all about  – spending time with loved ones.  Between both boys there were three hockey tournaments over the Christmas holidays so most of my time has been spent driving across town, not leaving me a lot of time to prepare for  a dinner party.  Over the years I’ve learned a few short cuts and quick tips and I know my weakness.  I am no Martha Stewart when it comes to baking, decorating and presentation, so I rely on simplicity.  Simple place settings, simple drinks, simple desserts and lots of love!  Below is something I throw together and let it cook all afternoon in the slow cooker while I prepare the rest of dinner.  At the end of the day you have delicious apple  crumble and all you have to do is add ice cream.  Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays and spending precious time with family.
Slow Cooker Apple Crumble.
courtesy of: scattered thoughts of a crafty mom
Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup cold butter cut into pieces
  • 4 to 6 large apples peeled cored and thickly sliced (you want about 6 cups)
  • 6 tbsp apple juice ( I didn’t have any apple juice, so  used 1 tbsp lemon juice and the rest water)

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, stir the flour, oats, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and nuts together until combined. Add the butter and mix with a pastry blender, fork or hands until pea sized lumps are formed.
  2. Place the apple slices in the base of the slow cooker and add the apple juice. Sprinkle the flour mixture evenly over them.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours. (make sure your slow cooker actually cooks on low- many of the newer ones actually run higher.  If your’s cooks hot, you may want to shorten the cooking time.)
  4. Serve warm with a scoop (or 2) of vanilla ice cream
  5. Enjoy!

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES OF A CHILD

“The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His presence.”

When my children were young, I played the Santa game right until the end.  When the boys stopped believing in Santa, they  pretended to believe because they didn’t want to disappoint me.  We always had a nice Christmas and I never overspent but believing in the magic was important to me.  For a time and space all negativity and stresses are put on hold as you watch the joy on a child’s face as he or she walks toward the light and believes in pure magic.    Jesus walks with families during those moments and to me it is as if Jesus and Santa work in harmony because the magic is not in the gifts but in the joy of watching and wanting loved ones to be happy.    During my childhood there were many struggles in my family – breakups, alcohol, financial and a host of other problems.  Unfortunately, there are not a lot of happy childhood memories, but somehow the magic of Christmas and His presence touched me in those early years.  No matter what the circumstances all children should feel special at Christmas and I believe it is up to us as a community to ensure that every child feels the sheer joy and magic.

A couple of years ago I was asked to write a Christmas story for our local paper – I’m sharing it here –  “Christmas Memories of a Child”

I remember waking up and looking out the window, frustrated that I fell asleep. I was determined to stay awake all night to see Santa and his reindeers.  Every Christmas Eve I stood at my bedroom window watching the night sky until exhaustion took over from my head down to my toes.   I crawled under the covers and made sure I was facing the window continuing to stare at the night sky as I willed myself to stay awake so I could finally catch a glimpse of Santa.

One particular Christmas eve  I remember waking up and  feeling the heavy weight of disappointment  because I feared Santa wouldn’t come.   That past year had been difficult for my family, my parents had gone their separate ways and I over-heard my mother telling my sister that she wasn’t sure if Santa would make it to our house that year.    The room was still very dark and I wasn’t sure of the time but looking around, listening to the silence and watching the shadows on the wall, I was certain it was the middle of the night and I wondered if Santa had been there.  I yawned and threw my arms up in the air, stretched out my body and rolled over to look out the  doorway.  It was then that I realized there was a warm glow  illuminating my room.   I remember listening to my heart beat faster as I thought “Maybe I wasn’t too late maybe Santa was here now.”

Slowly I swung my legs over the side of my bed and quietly, while holding my breath, walked from my room down the stairs to the living room. I stood amazed by what I saw; the tree was all lit up with beautiful blue lights, which made the room look enchanting.  I gazed at the top of the tree and was fascinated by the colour of lights surrounding the angel’s wings.   Working my way down the tree eyeing  every bulb and tinsel reaching the bottom of the tree,  I realized Santa had been there.   I asked for Barbie and her camper and under the tree all set up, and ready to go, was Barbie sitting in her camper. I could barely contain myself from yelling out with excitement; instead I placed the palm of my hand over my mouth to stifle any sound because I wanted time alone under the Christmas tree that illuminated such a warm glow.  I walked over to the tree and sat on the floor to play, for what seemed like hours, before I heard any stirrings in the house. Santa came through after all,  my mother was wrong, Santa heard my wishes and made my Christmas magical.

 

AND SO IT BEGINS – FRIDAY’S PHLOG FOR SEPTEMBER 18,2015

hockey season

Once September hits we live at rinks.  My boy always wears unique gloves for hockey making it easier to keep track of him during his shifts.   Matt had a great coach last season but he was a little on the conservative side.  He looked at Matt’s gloves and said “you’re seriously not going to wear those are you?” Matt’s response – ” yes I seriously am!”

FOOD CONNECTIONS

river fishing

“Laughter is brightest where food is best.” An Irish Proverb

Call me a foodie –  I’ve always had a healthy relationship with food.  It’s simple really, I believe in eating and I don’t believe in dieting.  I eat three meals plus snack every day.  When people ask me how I stay thin I tell them I eat.  I also happen to be a ball of energy and I feel the most alive when I’m moving.  Growing up meal times were a time of connection for my family.  Being from an Irish family, meal times were a time of gathering and sometimes a time for arguing but neither here nor there we sat at the table and ate meals together.  This is something I try to instill in my children, to sit together so we can re-connect through food.  We don’t bring our phones or iPads to the table we just sit and eat.  Most of the time the boys gulp their food and move on to whatever it is they were doing before our meal, but even if we get ten minute connection time, it’s better than no connection at all.

This past month we adopted a gorgeous black shepherd named Kaos and after experimenting with different food brands, I decided to mix his kibbles in with fresh cooked dog food made with beef, ground chicken, ground turkey, brown rice and vegetables.  I also make him dog cookies for extra treats for training and to add some variety to his diet.  Kaos loves the food and literally does a happy dance when it’s time for his meals.  Similar to the food connection at the dinner table, food has become a connection to Kaos.  He knows when I’m cooking his dog food and lies at my feet during the preparation.  He watches me pack his meals in glass jars and follows me to the freezer to freeze his servings.  We were away for a few weeks camping and fishing this summer and I made sure I had enough homemade dog snacks to last through the trip.  One morning we decided to go to a different fishing spot not far from where we were camping. Drew cooked a huge breakfast that morning, so I didn’t bother to pack food because the new fishing hole wasn’t that far away and we weren’t planning on being there all day.  True to our family, we never do anything as planned, we went further than we thought and stayed longer than intended.

All I had was water and homemade dog biscuits.  It was getting to dinner time and I was starving, I decided to sit back on the bank to catch pictures of Drew and the boys and watch them fish.  My stomach started talking to me and I remembered I had the dog biscuits.  The biscuits are made with whole wheat flour, water, oatmeal, flax a little salt and cheese.  Nothing I haven’t eaten before and the cheese adds flavour to the bladness of the cookie.  I took the cookie out of my pack and started to eat it.  Kaos is usually pretty good about sitting a little away while I eat, but not this time. At that moment he was not paying attention to me and was standing way up the river with Brendan watching him fish.  All of a sudden he was literally in my face and took the cookie from my hand as I was putting the cookie in my mouth.  He laid down a few feet away from me giving me a perplexed look, he was not impressed I was eating his food. Kaos is a smart pooch and he knows the hand that feeds him, but it’s a dog’s life when it comes to food and connection.   The connection is there for a fleeting moment, kind of like my children at the dinner table, we manage to talk or argue for a few moments and then their gone.

Food is just a small piece in the connection, the aroma and taste connects the boys to my energy as the atmosphere is charged with emotions and passions and then just as fast as the food goes down, the connection is gone until the next time.  The amount of time we connect is not important, it’s the connection itself that is important.  Whatever the boys have to give, no matter how small – I’ll take it.