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.

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.