What’s Your Agenda

“He who does not know the art of living cannot know the art of dying.  Mahatma Gandhi

My shift at the hospice started like every other.  I stopped by the volunteer office to check the volunteer log before my shift to look through notes from the previous volunteers to see if I could spot anyone who needed more attention that night.  I noticed there was a new patient; a fairly young man from Jamaica.   The notes were the usual volunteer notes, “chatted for a while, served him tea, he was sleeping, he had visitors.”  One volunteer’s note caught my eye and it said “is having difficulty with the family dance.”  The note was subtle but I understood it immediately.  Reading through the volunteer log, this gentleman had lots of visits from family and he was having a rough time with it.

Every family has their family dance and when someone is coming to the end of their life, the family dance can intensify.  When death hangs in the air, there is no room for fake, manipulative, pretentious behaviour.  You simply can’t get any more real than death and only authentic and honest mannerisms will do.  However, there are some that use death as their playing field leaving families and the person dying in a precarious and vulnerable state. I headed out to the floor, checking on patient after patient, helping them eat, removing their finished plates, fixing sheets and hanging out in their room for chitchats.   I got to the new patient’s room and he was sitting in a wheelchair watching tv.  He had finished eating and I asked him if I could take away his plate and get him more tea, coffee or water.

He nodded and as I picked up his tray and asked him if I could get him something else he said, “yes you can get me $5000.00.”  I laughed and I said  “if I find some cash, I’ll send it your way.”   He looked at me and said “good answer, but of course you’re a volunteer and you people have all the answers.”  His tone of voice was not nice and it stopped me in my tracks.  I was standing beside him with a tray of dishes in my hands, and as I looked down into his eyes, he was very angry.   I said “hey the tone of your voice is not nice, what is up with that comment?”  He seemed surprised by my honesty and he shook his head and said “What’s your agenda?”  Still standing with a tray of dishes in my hand, I was perplexed by the question.  “My agenda, what do you mean what’s my agenda?”  “He raised his voice and said your agenda, you’re not here out of the goodness of your heart, you have an agenda like every other bloody person in this place, everyone here has some kind of political bullshit agenda, what’s yours?”

I stood with the tray of dishes in my hand and stared at him for a moment longer, at that point I had never faced this type of bitter and angry attitude at the hospice and his forcefulness threw me somewhat.  I slowly lowered the tray of dishes onto a side table by his bed and pulled up a  chair beside him so I could be at eye level.  I looked him straight in the eyes and  I said “let me tell you a story.”  “Years ago my stepfather had a massive heart attack and ended up brain-dead and laid in the hospital in a coma for months.  My mother and I visited him every day but there was nothing we could do for him.   One evening while visiting my stepfather there was a new patient in the bed beside him.  The man was crying so I walked over to see if I could help, I noticed that his food had been delivered and he was unable to open the packages due to extremely swollen hands from arthritis.  I opened his food and helped him eat.  He simply was hungry and extremely frustrated by his situation.  I chose dinner time hours for my volunteer hours at this hospice because of that man.  So often family members find it hard to get to their love ones in hospices or hospitals at dinner time,  so I felt this time was the time that I could help out the most.   If you call that an agenda, then that’s my agenda.”

He stared at me for a while and I saw it.  It was a subtle change in his eyes, but I watched as his eyes and face softened.  He gave me a bright smile and leaned into me closer and said “are you Irish?”  I said “yes I am of Irish descent, my Grandparents sailed from Ireland to start a life here in Canada, why?”  He said “Because I have only met one other volunteer I like here and she’s Irish too.  You remind me of her and now I have two volunteers I like.”   I laughed and said you know what they say, “Don’t mess with the Irish.”  He laughed and said “Don’t mess with the Jamaicans.”

I spent most of my time talking to him that shift and he told me many things about the family dance, his political views and when I didn’t entirely agree with him we argued.  He loved the debates we got into and he said to me, “I talk to people about this stuff when they come in here and they don’t stay, they just want to talk about the fluffy stuff.”  Some of his views were strong and he would not back off when you told him what you thought.  My older brother has very strong views and if you challenge him, he will go right back at you, so I am use to that kind of exchange and it doesn’t bother me.  However, as I told this patient, “most people want to live on the surface, they don’t want to venture too deep as venturing too deep might open some doors that they don’t want to open, so you have to trail lightly my friend.”  He said, “Johanne, I am living in a hospice, I am not going to trail lightly, if someone can’t handle it, go away.”  “Touchè  I said, you have a point.”

As we continued to talk he said to me, “I was given two weeks to live and it’s been three months  since I was given that news.”  He then showed me a the different alternative medicine products by his bed and he said “I swear to you these medicines are keeping me alive.”   I didn’t dare say it but I know it’s true.  They say to beat cancer it is 10% treatment and 90% attitude.  This man has the attitude, he is feisty, gusty, full of hope and has immense faith in God.   He mentioned that the doctor came by the day before and I am assuming that he told the doctor that he wanted more blood test to see where the cancer was.  Apparently the doctor said to him,  “We don’t do that here, people come here to die.”  His answer, “suit yourself doctor, but I came here to live and I will live fully no matter where I am and I’m sorry if you don’t like that but that is what  I intend to do, I intend to live and God is my saviour not you.”

Before I left that night, I gave him a hug and said “I’ll be back next week” and he said “I will be here.”  As I walked across the parking lot to my truck after my shift that night,  the thought that crossed my mind was “I’m certain he’ll still be here next week.”  I passionately believe that souls cross each other’s path for reasons.  To listen to him was inspiring and exhausting at the same time. He brought to my spirit an awareness, an awareness of how precious time is and how important it is to live life to the fullest and to tell those that you love just how much you love them.  There isn’t a minute to spare, and the dance of living and dying goes on every single day.

 

 

PASSING THE TORCH

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”  Denis Waitley

I remember watching him take his first step and cringing as he lost his balance and fell too close to the coffee table.  Thinking he was going to hit his head, I rushed forward to soften his fall.   He giggled and grabbed my hand to steady his stand and then ran from my grasp only to fall again.  Brendan never really walked, he ran and I knew he was running from the protective and suffocating barrier of his parents.

Every step of independence Brendan took, I prayed that he walked in the right path, used the stairway banister to balance his step so he wouldn’t tumble-down the stairs and stepped carefully when playing outside so he didn’t fall on the concrete.  However, the reality was that he didn’t always follow the right path, he rarely used the banister to balance his step consequently, falling down the stairs and he encountered countless scrapes on his knees and elbows because he didn’t care if he was running on the concrete or the grass.  In all those instances, he learned, he learned how to navigate the paths to his liking, he learned how to climb the stairs without falling, and he learned to fall and tumble on the grass rather than the concrete to avoid the cuts and bruises from the hard surface of the concrete.

Watching our babies become toddlers, children, teenagers and grown adults is a daunting process that consistently leaves parents with feelings of self-doubt and asking ourselves “am I doing right by my child.”  As Brendan finishes his last year of high school, I find myself learning to parent all over again.  Every day I ask myself the same question, “when do you know everything there is to know about parenting?”  I’m finding out the answer is that you don’t ever know everything there is to know about parenting.

I’ve always been a believer of free will and I wholeheartedly believe that people should have the freedom to make their own choices without judgment from their teachers, peers, family or parents.  When it comes to raising children, teenagers and young adults, this theory is put to the test and at times I feel like I am with that little curly-haired boy, with eyes as wide as saucers, who ran from my grasp giggling as he fell to the ground.  It is my job to stand back and let him fall and struggle to get back on his feet again, knowing full well that he will continue to run from my grasp.

I struggle not to question him as though I am interrogating him.  At the same time, it’s hard to spend time with him as there are many aspects to his life; his girlfriend, his friends, school, sports, his exercise routine and work.  Brendan is right where he should be as a young man and he seems to be in good space enjoying his time.  As a parent, I am thrilled for him and finding myself realizing that my parenting days are numbered as I have given him every advice and guidance I can give him and it’s time to let him be who he wants to be, love who he wants to love, and choose the living he wants to choose.  The day has come for me to pass the torch.  The symbolic image of the Olympic Torch comes to mind as  I am passing the fire of life to my son giving him the freedom to carry that fire to the next generation.

As I watch Brendan carve out his own path carrying his fire, I think of that little curly-haired boy running from my grasp.  I remember thinking back in those earlier days, that by the time this little boy is a young man, I would feel like a super parent; surely by that time I would have all the answers.  As I sit here writing this, I feel more baffled today than I did with that little curly-haired boy.  I am not as assured or as confident as I thought I would be and at times I wonder what my next step will be.  It’s not that I don’t feel needed or loved, it is the feeling of vulnerability in the action of  letting go of that little curly hair boy’s hands and turning my back to start my own path, a path to finding that torch again and letting the fire ignite my passions and desires as I continue to walk in this circle of life.

WEIGHT ON MY FEET

dog-park-3

feeling the weight on my feet,

as I trail through the snow,

breathing in the cool, crisp air,

heightens my senses,

to life at that moment,

as I stroll through the trees,

touching their branches,

feeling exhilarated,

as the snow licks my face.

walking through the snow,

gives me reflection

on what path to take,

leading me in a direction,

meant for my embrace.

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.

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.

THE EGO HAS LANDED

“Enlightenment is ego’s ultimate disappointment.  Chogyam Trungpa

How much better the world would be if people checked their egos at the door.  Egos take up so much space and I see egos everywhere.  I see them at work, I see them at my children’s hockey games, I see them at my children’s football games, I see them at the mall, I see them at church and on the street.  If you look close you can see them too, they carry a certain aura that you just can’t miss.  They exhibit themselves in arrogance, power,  vanity,  rudeness, elitist and entitlement.

Egos are not authentic, they are not real, they are a perspective of who someone thinks they should be rather than who they could be.  Egos think that they have many  opportunities by using and abusing the environment around them without care or concern how it affects the beings within that environment.  I spot egos from a mile away and I absolutely detest egos.  Should you have the nerve to question ego, the anger, bitterness and absolute meanness that can unleash in your direction is overwhelming.

It’s tempting to get back at ego, make ego pay, call ego out, but the truth of the matter is to engage in such unworthy actions simply sets ego up against ego in a war where there are only takers and no winners.    Ignoring ego, not reacting to ego and letting ego follow it’s own path is a walk toward enlightenment and peace.  Calling out souls and reaching out from soul to soul is who we are meant to be and gravitates our being on a path where ego has no home.

In an egomaniac world it can be hard to stay true to one’s values and ego hates beings with core values.  Ego will chase core values down like a hunter stalking his prey and kill core values at the root so ego can achieve the ultimate goal of power and intimidation.  Ego and Narcissist are friends and when they get together it can be a powerful tea party.  Plotting and planning and executing their selfishness and need to be the centre of the universe taking down any being who dares to question their motives.  An exhausting game, even for the ego and narcissist.  A game that ultimately leads to isolation and loneliness but in ego and narcissist’s shallow and limited minds they won as the ego has landed.