Amazing Grace -Wise Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

Life is a beautiful disaster

Life is a beautiful disaster at the best of times and it is during our darkest times that we are challenged to find some sort of meaning in the midst of chaos. Never is this truer than when we experience tragedy, especially when it is the death of someone we love. So much of our identity, our hopes and dreams and plans for the future are wrapped up, in and around the special people in our lives and when one of them is suddenly taken away from us, looking forward can be a bleak venture.

This weekend was especially hard for me, there is really no rhyme or reason to grief, no magical step by step manual that you can pinpoint where you are and where you need to be. I think for me the best I can do is take things moment to moment, which was how I was trying to live my life way before my husband left this world so tragically.

At the moment, even tomorrow seems uncertain, so it is best for me to honor the feelings that come up as they arise. This weekend everything was wrapped in a blanket of deep sadness. In that regard I would describe grief as being  like the Cha-cha, taking a step backwards after taking a step forwards. Some may classify that as failure or being stuck, but it is movement and I have to believe that any sort of movement is a step in the right direction.

It seems like such a short time ago that I was waking up with happy anticipation and that has sadly been replaced by a blanket of dread. I dread even a day without Kirk so the thought of facing my life without him is overwhelming. I remind myself that moving through the day moment to moment is the best that can be expected of me and at the end of the day I celebrate the small victory that I made it through yet another one. Amidst the bleak despair if I am lucky enough to be gifted moments of light I try my best to hold unto them as long as possible, as it is in those moments that I am able to look towards the future with a tiny bit of hope.

This weekend I had made multiple plans and I was quite excited at the prospect of getting to that point in my journey that I could actually be excited about leaving the house for not one or two but three days in a row. Friday night after work I met a friend and we went raspberry picking, we had dinner and shared some stories over a glass of wine. I was in bed that night exhausted by 10 p.m. I had been having a good time and then all of the sudden I became literally overcome at the thought of never having dinner with Kirk again, never driving in a vehicle with Kirk again, never listening to Kirk bitch when his smoothie had raspberries in it because he despised how the seeds got stuck in his teeth. I woke early on Saturday but I wasn’t able to leave my room. I feel close to Kirk there and the thought of facing anything outside my room made me feel choked.  I was lucky to be given weekend passes to the Edmonton Folk Festival but tried desperately to pawn them off on my teenage daughter. In a reversal of sorts my daughter temporarily took over the role of voice of reason and told me that I wasn’t going to sit around, I was going to kick the ass out of that day and if that was too much to ask for, I could be just as sad at the folk festival as I could at home cleaning the house; only it was less lame. She was entirely right of course and as we weaved our way through Edmonton on city transit I was reminded that Kirk would have told me the exact same thing.

There is nothing lame about the Edmonton Folk festival. It is such a mish mosh of people and personalities that I was immediately reminded of the beauty and the fragile-ness of life.

Life is glorious sunsets, panoramic mountain vistas, ocean spray, sunrises, laughter, dancing, hot sand, cool drinks, loud music,  acne, gas, bills, mortgages, jobs, stress, heartache, birth, death and taxes. Life is all or nothing. There is no promise of a pain free life and unfortunately we need to experience all of it.

Music has always brought people together and we are always aware of how lucky we are to get to experience music live, it is such a connecting experience.

My daughter and I found a spot on the grass to lay our blanket, surrounded by babies, teenagers, parents, grandparents and people at a time in their lives that they can’t recall their age but their toes can still tap out the rhythm of the music. That alone was beautiful and I allowed myself to see and feel that. Music has always brought people together and we are always keenly aware of how lucky we are to get to experience music live. It is such a connecting experience, bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate stories brought to life through music and melodies.

Irish Mythen is an Irish born-Canadian Contemporary Folk singer and songwriter with the wonderful gift of comfortably uniting people through her stories and her strong and fantastic voice. In her intro to Sweet Necessity she talked about being a singer-songwriter on the road and discovering the things that were the most important things in life, the things you long to come home too. These sweet necessities are the things that money cannot buy. She followed with a powerful song called 55 years that she had written after meeting an elderly man at a festival that had just lost his wife. They had been married for 55 years and had never spent a night apart and after he wandered off into the night she wondered about how that must have felt for him, the first time crawling into his bed without his true love. Tears were spraying out of my eyes even before the first strum of the guitar and as my daughter held my hand I was once again reminded of how lucky I was to get that kind of love, and that grief is love’s souvenir. I cannot rush my way through it, I need to carry it with me as I move through my days and honor all of the feelings as they come my way. I cried for that beautiful old man that lost his wife, I cried for Kirk, I cried for me and my children and our families and friends and I cried for people that I didn’t even know that would one day be faced with the same heartache. Pain is not selective. It is what we do with our pain that matters.

I looked at her with envy thinking that that was supposed to be me someday.

That night I was once again exhausted and I faced the same difficult morning; not wanting or ready to face my own reality. My daughter once again reminded me that we had plans for the last day of Folk Festival and that I could be just as sad there as I could be anywhere. The travel through the city was worse on Sunday, I remembered how funny it was traveling with Kirk on City transit and was reminded how we would never do that again. As we laid in the hot sun on our blanket listening to 78 year old Blues legend William Bell I thought of how much Kirk would have appreciated this and how connected he was to music. He communicated with me a lot through music, often sending me songs and always insisting that I listen to the lyrics because they were everything he wanted to say. My eyes leaked all day and it felt terrible. It felt like having annoying eye allergy and your eyes feel constantly wet and crusty in the corners. Tears were imminent.

My daughter nudged me to look at this elderly woman who was wildly dancing to the rock and roll/swamp/blues stylings of Canadian band MonkeyJunk. I looked at her through teary eyes, and my heart did a funny thing, perhaps a pang.  She had white hair, and she was wearing a white short sleeved sweater with brightly colored embroidered flowers, fuchsia shorts and matching sunglasses. If you googled images of smile or sunshine you might find a picture of her. I looked at her with envy thinking that that was supposed to be me someday. I was supposed to be that happy older lady in the brightly colored clothing, dancing like nobody was watching and shining as bright as the sun. I contemplated that for several minutes, turning my attention back to the crooning guitar and the beat of the drum to drown out the breaking of my heart, over and over again. I looked over at the woman again, still dancing as if freedom was her middle name. I estimated her to be in her seventies and I am pretty certain that heartache hadn’t passed over her. In 70 years I am sure she has experienced her fair share of pain, yet she danced as if her heart had never been broken, free from the shackles of emotional torment.

I know if I want to dance with freedom at 70 plus years old I have some work to do, I need to heal my heart and reconnect with my soul. I need to seek and find some grace.

I heard a word last week that is not a dictionary word but Deepak Chopra used it “SynchroDestiny”, alluding to the fact that events and encounters are more than meaningful coincidences; they are actually choices we make that are leading us towards our destiny.

“When we’re aware of our essential nature and the possibilities that are always unfolding around us, we enter a state I call SynchroDestiny. We awaken to the field of infinite possibilities, and are able to apply our intentions and attention to manifest the spontaneous fulfillment of our dreams and desires. “ –Deepak Chopra

I have felt pretty strongly in the last several months that people I meet and the experiences that I have are somehow all connected and leading me towards my purpose. I was meant to be at the Folk Festival and see that woman, dancing like she was eighteen at Woodstock. She was meant to be a part of my journey. I know if I want to dance with freedom at 70 plus years old I have some work to do, I need to heal my heart and reconnect with my soul. I need to seek and find some grace.

Author Anne Lamont presented a Ted Talk where she talked about grace and I searched for it and as I listened a meaning was revealed that I had not embraced on my previous listen.

Anne Lamott says:

Grace.

Grace is spiritual WD-40, or water wings. The mystery of grace is that God loves Henry Kissinger and Vladimir Putin and me exactly as much as He or She loves your new grandchild. Go figure. The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and heals our world.

To summon grace, say, “Help,” and then buckle up. Grace finds you exactly where you are, but it doesn’t leave you where it found you. And grace won’t look like Casper the Friendly Ghost, regrettably. But the phone will ring or the mail will come and then against all odds, you’ll get your sense of humor about yourself back. Laughter really is carbonated holiness. It helps us breathe again and again and gives us back to ourselves, and this gives us faith in life and each other. And remember — grace always bats last.

 

So I am buckling up and asking for help and I am also taking measures to discover who it is I am meant to be in the world right now and in the future. I am taking an online Self Discovery course by the Chopra Center facilitated by Deepak Chopra.

Speaking of SynchroDestiny; I met Deepak in the winter when I attended his talk on the future of well-being. I also bought his book “You are the Universe.” I was immediately fascinated with the book but it was a slow read for me as I was underlining and using sticky notes and highlighters and then reading and discussing parts of the book with Kirk so that he could help me understand. Kirk had a brilliant mind and could grasp a concept much quicker than I could, I always put things through the filter of my heart and maybe that complicates things.

Our natural state is that of joy, creativity and abundance but throughout our lives we are reminded of our limitations and live within those constricted beliefs.

Through this course I am learning to honor my feelings but to let go of old hurt and anger that traps me in old experiences. Our natural state is that of joy, creativity and abundance but throughout our lives we are reminded of our limitations and live within those constricted beliefs. As a young child our lives and the opportunities available to us seem boundless but as we were educated about our limitations our possibilities became narrow and confined. Stored emotional pain can also significantly limit our potential to create and seek unlimited joy. For instance holding unto anger traps us in the past and clouds our perception of unison and doesn’t allow us to see the signs that the universe is offering us.

I know that dealing with the pain and trauma of this loss now is the the very best thing I can do for myself, my children and my emotional and spiritual well being. Otherwise I run the risk that the pain will resurface as aggravated poison at an equally inopportune time-showing up as hostility, anger, anxiety or fear. My goal is to deal with the feelings now as they come and begin to slowly take those hard steps towards emotional freedom. If I allow myself to let my mind take over I very quickly find myself trapped in a Karmic prison, a prison with no walls or locks but the trappings of my own terrified mind.

I am also taking a 3 day Meditation course at Lifestyle Meditation, to learn to fully integrate meditation into my lifestyle. Meditation has been a go to for me for awhile now, saving me from myself on several occasions; but I would like to fully immerse myself in the experience of meditation and mindfulness and connect to the science and philosophy in a solid way so that I can not only continue to evolve in my own personal practice but I can confidently influence others that can benefit from incorporating meditation and mindfulness techniques in their own lives and wellness.

Often what we are searching for is searching for us as well and I believe that grace is seeking me and I am indeed seeking grace.

Be Wise friends xo

Michelle

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Can’t fight the moonlight-Wise Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

I can’t help but notice the difference in the way that people are reaching out to me and connecting with the blog and the Facebook page since I lost my husband. When I had a simple little happiness/mindfulness project I obviously got some positive feedback but it has been nothing in comparison to the response I have received most recently. Even though I talked about depression and the affect that it had on my marriage for quite a while, my posts were wrapped in hopefulness and confidence. Though I hope that my most recent posts are cloaked in a bit of hope as well I am fully aware that they are enveloped in heartache and that can be pretty heavy. I have started to worry that people much prefer the Michelle that is broken wide open, aching, heartbroken and lost, to the optimistic and encouraging Michelle.

People are lost, afraid, ravaged by shame

It has certainly given me something to think about until I started to recognize the common theme from the people that were reaching out to me and it is undeniably suffering. People are lost, afraid, ravaged by shame, shattered by hurt and impaired by fear. They are anxious and they feel alone. We all crave the warmth of genuine human connection but our afflictions sometimes hold us back. When we are overcome with anguish we don’t want to share our misery with happy shiny people and because people shy away from talking about their own pain, we often assume we are alone. Alone can be a pretty dark place when you are suffering.

We often don’t realize that our stories connect people. When we are willing to be vulnerable and lay our broken hearts on the table to be picked over we are offering a life-raft to authentic human connection. If sharing our agony and our struggles but also our optimism in the face of our greatest fears can let one person know that they are not alone I for one think it is worth it.

Unfortunately, sharing our tragedies and our hardships also leaves us wide open to judgement and speculation. Not everyone is able to reach inside and touch their own blackness , so they deny their own truth while projecting unto others instead. On our own journey’s it is an important  to recognize that and do our best to keep it out of our energy.

Sometimes we are guilty of understanding only from our level of perception and there is nothing wrong with that if we are willing to just hold space with someone who is suffering, to bare witness to their pain without trying to take it away, minimize it or find reasons why they are at fault for it.

Pain

We don’t know what to do with it. I remember being a kid and falling off my bike and scraping my knees and my mom chasing away my tears and trying her best to whisk away my pain as soon as possible. Our whole lives we want to do the exact same thing as our Moms did by getting rid of our own pain, and sometimes the pain of others, as soon as possible. The problem is we never learn to sit with pain or find the lesson in it and when it becomes uncomfortable we to often pass our pain on to others to avoid looking inward and resolving our own fears and heartbreak.

It is sad really. It is not our responsibility to fix others but it is also not acceptable to hurt others in order to dismiss our own suffering.

He carried pain, wounds and regrets that he was unable to reconcile

My husband was an amazing and loving soul that suffered depression and anxiety and he was attacked by his own mind. He was the life of the party but often felt alone and isolated. He was the best father and husband but too often felt like he wasn’t worthy. He was his worst critic, never feeling good enough. He was always the loudest person in the room yet admitted to me that he often felt alone in a room full of people and that even the thought of it made him cringe. He worked insanely hard and often felt cheated. He never thought that people took things as seriously as he did and when things didn’t work out he took it upon his heart.  He sometimes craved a different scenery or a change of pace but when he slowed down the voices that were loudest were the ones that told him that he wasn’t good enough. He carried pain, wounds and regrets that he was unable to reconcile. He used alcohol to crowd out the voices and numb his pain but unfortunately you can’t selectively numb. When you numb pain, you also numb joy  and then you are left in the tattered wreckage of your own mind. My husband was high functioning, so people told him that he was OK or that he would be OK. Nobody could feel his pain and unlike other diseases they couldn’t see it either. He even got really good at hiding it from me. He was loved by so many people and liked and respected for so many things that it is hard to fathom how he could ever lose sight of that, but depression is not selective, it plunges the most amazing humans into it’s destructive darkness. So often when people try to share their suffering, they are told that everything is going to be OK and as desperately as they want to believe it, it is not always possible for them to do so. There is still a great deal of stigma attached to illnesses of the brain and therefore people are afraid to reach out for fear of seeming weak instead of sick or worse yet crazy. Kirk collected a group of friends around him that similarly suffered and he was able to open up and share with them and champion and cheer-lead for them. Like all pain, people with depression need to be recognized and taken seriously and not judged for something that they cannot control. Sadly, this is not always the case.

More funding and research into disorders of the brain, early childhood trauma,  the effects of sexual abuse and violence, PTSD and depression, anxiety and mood disorders is urgently needed. Less stigma, better and more thorough methods of diagnosis and treatment and more qualified doctors to ease wait times and prevent, short dismissive visits. As the rate of people trying to seek treatment steadily increases the Mental Health system and those trained in primary care are often ill equip or understaffed. Logistically it is a nightmare inside of a nightmare.

No two experiences of grief, trauma, loss or suffering will be the same. Unfortunately their is no band-aid solution

I love my husband  immensely and losing him to this type of battle has been horribly devastating for me and my family and all of his friends. There are so many unanswered questions and and so much life left undone. He fought hard, he fought many battles. He will always be our hero. Just like someone loses their battle with Cancer, Kirk’s illness took him from us. It is cruel like any other disease but possibly more so because of the unknowns. We had an entire life planned and now I am forced to be grateful for the memories we made and accept that things are different now. I wish I could have taken away  his suffering as much as I wish someone could swoop in and take mine; but the human experience requires that we put in our own work, harbor a strong belief that we are not alone or weak and hold onto hope that things can get better. Sadly, love alone cannot mend a broken heart or fix a broken brain.

No two experiences of grief, trauma, loss or suffering will be the same. Unfortunately there is no band-aid solution or easy button. People suffer with illnesses and their families suffer as well, people suffer in relationships and people suffer who are not in relationships, people suffer from stigmas, from judgement and misunderstanding. My husband taught me to look at the big picture. When we are willing to see the bigger picture that is out of our view, to love more and judge less we become a lighthouse for others instead of a storm.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. ~ Dalai Lama

Healing takes time and it can be horrible. I have met and talked with so many people in  various stages of suffering and or healing. It is not a race. It requires one small step every single day and the knowledge that one step forward and two steps back is not failure, it is the cha cha.

Your stories are powerful vessels, and when you speak them, you own the rights to them and you can write your own daring ending. You have the power through sharing your stories, whether it be to a friend, a neighbor or a stranger to forge legitimate connections and  let others know they they are not alone in this world. Human connection shrinks the mass of space between us.

Life can be callous and cruel. If the best we can do is be kind to ourselves and extend love to others instead of judgement then I would like to believe that is a good start 

Often I hear “You are so strong, I don’t know how you do it?”

To be honest I spent most of the weekend is various stages of disbelief, deep pain and emptiness, but when I have a moment of clarity I try to grab a hold of it. Depression is something that my husband and I worked through together for several years, it was important for me to work on myself and be as strong as possible so that when there were times that he needed me to hold it all together I could put in my best effort.  I know that days like these are inevitable and that I will have many more but I also know that occasionally I will need to take steps towards acceptance as well, as I move towards the healing process. Yesterday I signed up for Deepak Chopra’s Self Discovery Workshop that has given me access to a group of loving, brave and encouraging people from all over the world, I went for a hike and I  spent the afternoon talking to an old friend that is also in the midst of a heartbreaking struggle. In speaking with her and upon gentle but persistent coaching from my sister in law I realized that there are some things that I am holding in my energy that are preventing me from taking steps towards healing.

Last night was a full moon and the energy surrounding a full moon is phenomenal. It is the best time to set intentions and to release the things that do not serve you; things that are blocking you on your journey. I know that for me this will be the most difficult journey I have ever faced and I know that I have some baggage that I need to get rid of so I sure as heck am not going drag around anyone else’s. I am going to throw away any negativity that has been directed at me since my husband’s death and try to accomplish one goal each week this month, no matter how small and celebrate it. I am going to encourage our children to do the same. I smudged my entire house and garage to promote healing and peace and I feel like I am working towards something.

You are never alone. We are all in this together.

 

                                                                  Namaste 

Image result for Let that shit go

 

 

Unsteady-WISE Project 2017-Tenacious Tuesday

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Silence by Photofied

AM I DOING THIS RIGHT???

I am not OK and that is OK, it has to be.

I wish I had a better answer and I am sorry if it makes you uncomfortable.

Thanks for holding space for me.

You cannot take my pain, but knowing that you want to means a lot.

I keep reading about the steps to grief and I think I am doing this all wrong because nothing is happening in any sort of order, and sometimes I experience all of the supposed steps in incidental order several times a day on a loop and other days I feel nothing at all, just an indescribable loneliness. I am tired. Most days I feel a heavy exhaustion and my brain seems to have been dropped into a dense fog. Not only have I lost my husband but feel like I have lost myself, I am buried in the wreckage of grief and loss and sadness. I am being honest about not being OK, but that is OK, I am not supposed to be. Society wants us to be OK, spot on, ready to rumble at all times. That requires faking smiles and pushing your pain down into your belly to deal with at another time. Trust me you will deal with it eventually. The rubbish of unhealed trauma collects inside us and weighs us down, bubbling to the surface at the most inconvenient times. So right now I need to be OK with not being OK as much as it sucks. Part of me accepts that wisdom, hope, love, forgiveness and healing are going to be a part of a tenacious journey that I can emerge from stronger and and more aware.

Most people are so great about checking up on me and I am hyper aware that they would probably rather I answer “I’m OK” when they ask me how I am but I can’t because I am not.  Everyone says “If you need anything…” The truth is I don’t know what I need. My needs change minute to minute. Sometimes I wish people would tell me what I need but in all honestly that would likely piss me off. I have heard every possible scenario, I have had people tell me I will be OK in a couple of weeks and others tell me that it will years before I feel like myself. Neither seems right or suitable to me.

Some people are uncomfortable with my grief so they keep their distance. Nothing about grief is comfortable and you can’t say the wrong thing by saying “I am thinking of you.”

I hate how I feel right now. It is all consuming. I am not OK and the one thing I am smart enough to know is that that is OK. I am not supposed to be. There is no step by step manual for grieving. I am right in the eye of the storm and my feelings and emotions are swirling around me and I can barely feel one before the next one invades my space. This enormous pain is the receipt that I loved and loved well and I need to accept it, just like I need to accept that my husband is gone.

I caught my oldest daughter consoling my younger daughter a couple of days ago by saying “Don’t cry, don’t cry!”

As witnesses to other peoples pain we are uneasy. We are eager to stop it, ignore it or to try to take it away.

Pain demands to be felt. There are valuable lessons in pain. If we do not allow our pain we either unknowingly pass our pain along to others or it manifests in our body in other ways, as sickness or physical pain. Pain has a purpose and will help us navigate our way through grief and loss. Unfortunately there is no shortcut, we cannot navigate around pain, the only way is through.

Death is not the only type of loss. Break-ups, loss of a job, loss of self in an abusive relationship, loss of confidence due to bullying, loss of trust due to abuse or a traumatic experience are just a few of the things that I can think of that can spiral us into grief. Whatever you are surviving right now touch it, feel it, make friends with it, learn from it. You may not be OK today or tomorrow but the right step today, no matter how small will provide you with the hope to emerge from your pain with everything you need for a good life intact.

My late husband Kirk said “Life is like a heavy weight boxer, you just need to keep swinging!”

Lets keep swinging.

I am unsteady and uncertain but holding on.

~Michelle

 

 

 

Rise up-W.I.S.E. Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

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Phoenix Rising

Phoebe House Dewling was born in Newfoundland in 1889 and her first daughter Melvina was born when she was 21 years old. I don’t know much about Phoebe’s young life. I don’t know whether she had dark or light hair, whether she was thin or curvy or if she liked reading or preferred to knit and sip tea. I don’t know if we had met today if we would have anything in common, whether we would embrace and share stories or sit unsettled in silence. I do know that in 1917 a widowed Phoebe, having lost her husband Richard; arrived by boat to Halifax with her young daughter Melvina. Phoebe raised Melvina on her own until she remarried George Tancock in May of 1926. George and Phoebe had two more children back to back; a son Theodore followed by a daughter Phoebe like her Mom. Two years of marriage and two children later George died at sea leaving to grieve his 37-year-old wife, 18-year-old step daughter Melvina, two-year-old Theodore; and he was sadly predeceased by his wife’s namesake Phoebe who died shortly after her birth.

So much loss and sorrow.

Phoebe was my late husband Kirk’s great great grandmother. A couple of years ago I became fascinated with her story and the sadness that embraced her young life. I scoured through passenger lists, following the young widows journey from Newfoundland to Halifax, searched census information and imagined her struggles as a young mother and as a newlywed and mother once again when she married her second husband George. I felt anguish when I found George’s death notice, leaving her widowed with a young child once again, having already lost a husband and then a daughter.

I recall sitting in the rec-room with my husband, totally beguiled to tears by the threadbare story of his great great grandmother that I had mostly woven together with Ancesry.ca documents and filled in with my own sadness and angst. I imagined that George had promised Phoebe that they would grow old together, just as my husband, her great great grandson had promised me. George lost a battle to the Sea when he was 42 years old and my husband Kirk lost his own battle with depression and mental illness at 43 years old.

I hadn’t thought about Phoebe for a long time but she popped in my head today and I felt some of her sadness and struggle that I had always imagined on a whole new level.

Yesterday I attended a Transformational Healing workshop and was in the company of the most phenomenal women, each with amazing stories and struggles. Some of the stories moved me and at times, even in the face of my own agony I wanted to steal the pain of another to lighten their burden.

A voice inside me told me to deal with my own pain first, to allow myself to feel whole again so I could extend my wisdom of rising from great pain to help others.

In that room full of women, in various stages of physical life and struggle I was reminded that we are Warriors. From the beginning of time women have faced enormous tragedies and carried on in the face of pain.  Women have always been leaders in their communities, feeding the poor and nursing the wounded and sick, and holding space for their families’ pain all the while dealing with their own. They offer love and forgiveness and hope and they share those lessons with their friends, family and neighbors. Women show up, even when it’s hard and even when they think that it may not make a difference they keep on every day. I know this, I have always known this, I watched my own mother; widowed at 32 years old with three teenagers, she kept being a mom, our wisdom and our leader; even as she moved through her own great pain.

Writing has been a solace and a struggle for me this past month, I have talked about grief, about mental illness, about suicide and being deprived the luxury of hope but the message that I want to share today is that of  embracing hope.

Yesterday I was curled up in the fetal position, bound by deep sadness and emotional pain but today I am feeling the gift of hope. I know that my husband cannot be with me physically but I know that he is leading and guiding me and I need to stop fighting against that. I was feeling like any step I make is a step away from him, but it is actually just a positive step forward. Our relationship is not over, it has just changed forms and if I allow him to he will guide me towards all of the things that are meant for me.

Kirk encouraged me in so many ways; I have always said that he believed that I was so much smarter and capable than I could ever dream of being. He truly saw things in me that I allowed fear to get in the way of. The things that he wanted for me were things I also wanted for myself but could never quite grasp that I was worthy or capable of them. Fear was my crutch and fear was my cage, as it was for him in much different ways.

I read a quote recently that said FEAR can mean two things, Forget everything and run or face everything and rise. The choice is clear.

I have mentioned in a prior post a conversation that my daughter and I were having with Mandy Trapp, the owner of Lifestyle meditation where we were talking about coping mechanisms and she said “hmmm, I don’t like that, how about thriving mechanisms?”

That really resonated with me and it is never very far from my thoughts. Even those days when I don’t want to leave the comfort of my bed and I am clinging to my Kirk pillow crying and feeling nothing but despair, there is a little voice that whispers “when you are ready…”

For years we have bought and paid for that message that we just need to cope. Coping is just getting by, managing, and handling, muddling through! Why are we being taught to cope and not shown that we can thrive. What a strange concept!

Losing my soulmate to his battle with the demons of depression has been crippling. I have a lot of feelings to feel and a lot of dismal days ahead but he is showing me that I need to start taking my trash out. The garbage is piling up inside of me and I can’t keep pushing it down and piling more on top. One day soon I need to start taking that trash out one bag at a time, put it at the curb and watch the garbage truck pick it up and cart it away.

Being a part of a transformational healing circle was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had. What I got to see is women that desperately want to be well but have spent their entire life holding things in and pushing them down and now they are overwhelmingly sick and struggling, I see women that have felt the weight of the world, of depression, of addiction, of shame and hopelessness; and though they fallen down and lost their spark they rose as the whole damn fire. Their struggles are not gone but they continue to face them head on with grace and resilience. I saw in every single woman in that group something admirable and I learned from every single one of them about who I am, who I want to be and who I can be.

I know my struggle is new and fresh and I know that this good hour that I am having may fade to black in the blink of an eye but I see who and where I want to be and there is a great deal of hope in that. I see the person I want to be for myself and the person that I want to help lead my kids through this tragedy and to a place where we can rise up.

There are many people suffering the devastating effects of illness and disease that have been denied the luxury of hope, not the least of those being depression and mental illness. For those of us with the comfort of hope in our lives we need to embrace it, nurture it, love it and watch it grow.

Let’s rise up!

“and still, like air, I rise.”

~ Dr. Maya Angelou

The Luxury of Hope

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When high profile celebrities like Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Chris Cornell of Audioslave, Soundgarden and Temple of the dog fame commit suicide, people take notice and discussions are had and opinions are shared. The contemplation’s we hear over and over is how they had everything and it must have been drugs and how selfish they were to leave their families behind.

People are talking, that is a good thing. People talking out their ass, not so much, but unfortunately we live in the digital age when anyone with a keyboard can share their opinion, most of them have no basis in fact or knowledge of the subject, certainly not compassion, but as mob mentality works, a bunch of people agree and what could have been a healthy discussion surrounding mental health, brain disorders, depression and anxiety has turned into a literal shit show and nobody’s mind has been changed and several people are hurt and pissed off.

There is a large stigma surrounding the topic of suicide and mental health and attempts to have real and intelligent conversations and to create change has never been more challenging. The truth is expansive and sometimes it is OK to sit a subject out and just listen, maybe learn something. Talking is healthy, offering your baseless opinion is not helpful and quite frankly it does not make you a leader or a “voice to be heard” it makes you an asshole.

Chester Bennington was vocal about suffering through child sexual abuse by an older male, he spoke of suicidal thoughts and using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. He was vocal about the horrors that he encountered in his own head and described the space between his ears as a “bad neighborhood” and how keeping busy by being a husband, a father, a bandmate and a friend was the only was to stay out of that bad place. I watched an interview where he talked candidly about his pain and anguish and the radio DJ that he was talking to was a bit uneasy with Chester’s honest and forthright portrayal of fighting the beasts of depression that plagued him. Chester seemed intent on staying on track as he was discussing his life, his music, his lyrics and the expectations that are placed on celebrities to have these perfect lives. Chris Cornell was fairly vocal about his own struggles as well, perhaps in a quieter way but if you ever sat down and read any of the lyrics that they wrote their pain and struggles are framed in their music forever. I was so choked up after Chris Cornell’s passing and my husband and I read the lyrics to Like a Stone and were overcome with emotion. The music that soothed us for years was the story of someone else’s inner turmoil. Kirk got it on a much different level than me and I finally understand that. I remember one time remarking to Kirk about him having a “depressive episode” and he said, “I don’t think it is a series of episodes, it is just one big one, it is never far away”

In a 1994 Interview with Rolling Stone Chris  was asked if he perceived run-of-the-mill depression as a comfort zone, he replied, “The problem is, no one really knows what run-of-the-mill depression is. You’ll think somebody has run-of-the-mill depression, and then the next thing you know, they’re hanging from a rope. It’s hard to tell the difference. But I do feel that depression can be useful. Sometimes it’s just chemical. It doesn’t seem to come from anywhere. And whenever I’ve been in any kind of depression, I’ve over the years tried to not only imagine what it feels like to not be there, but try to remind myself that I could just wake up the next day and it could be gone because that happens, and not to worry about it. And at the same time, when I’m feeling great, I remember the depression and think about the differences in what I’m feeling and why I would feel that way, and not be reactionary one way or the other. You just have to realize that these are patterns of life and you just go through them.”

Cornell’s suicide made us question whether you can really outrun the beast. Chris had completely changed his life and his lifestyle, he went to rehab, he gave up drugs and alcohol, he fell in love and got remarried, yet as he told Men’s Health Magazine, “For me, I always had one foot in this very dark, lonely, isolated world.”

Is there an escape from that or do you just run and run and run until you get too tired and the demons catch you? They are stronger, faster prey and they are always waiting. In my disbelief and sadness over the death of an idol Kirk kept telling me that “he just got tired babe. He was too tired.” I know now that he knew that feeling all too well. We had talked plenty about going to bed with and waking up with the same ghosts and the impact that has on your body and mind. He too got tired.

These are high profile celebrities so we hear about their suicides. Unfortunately their circumstances are not unique and money and fame is not a cure all. Suicide is happening every single day and it is taking the lives of the people we love. 

The brain is so important to every single thing we do in our lives and if something is not firing right in our brain it can  make our lives absolute hell, yet unlike Cancer where we commend those who suffer for their bravery and we applaud their fight as radiation rips through their weakened bodies in an attempt to fight the evil that lives inside of them, and then if they lose the battle we call them heroes, instead; for those that suffer the devastating effects of mental health disorders and lose their battle we call them selfish. Instead of seeing a person that that is brave and fought as long and hard as they could while facing the terrifying destruction of their own self from the inside out; we call them a coward. We call them weak.

Often suicide is not a choice, it is the result. Sometimes suicide is not a careful plan it is a saving grace, a release from the pain. As horrible and tragic as it is we need to stop blaming the victims of these horrible diseases. We need to end the stigma and stop inserting our fears and our bias and calling it truth. The truth is expansive, and the hard truth is that no two people have the exact same reality. Our personal world is constructed by our brains. Our interpretation of the signals we receive create our day to day reality as we interact with people and our environment. No two realities will be exactly the same. Because our brains are different our perceptions will be different. Some mental illnesses have been linked to an abnormal balance of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells in the brain communicate with one another. I cannot stand in judgement of anyone and say for certain what goes on in their brain and I can certainly not begin to imagine what goes on in the brain of someone who suffers a debilitating illness that affects some of the most important organs, systems and functions in their body.

If you choose to sit back as a keyboard warrior, shouting your judgements and baseless accusations you are a SELFISH, WEAK COWARD.  I hope I did not stutter.

When I was in grade 6 I recall being a bit infatuated with Greek Mythology and there was a story about Pandora’s box. As the legend goes in ancient Greece there were two brothers named Epimetheus and Prometheus who upset the gods and upset Zeus who was said to be the most powerful of all gods. To punish the brothers Zeus constructed a woman of clay, having the goddess of Athene breathe life into her, Aphrodite made her beautiful and Hermes taught her to be both charming and deceitful. Zeus called her Pandora and sent her as a gift to Epimetheus.

Epimetheus had been warned about accepting gifts from the gods and though he knew better Pandora was so captivating and beautiful, he was taken by her and agreed to marry her. Zeus gave Pandora a beautiful box as a wedding gift with one stipulation, she was never to open it. Pandora was intrigued by the box but put the key on a high shelf and agreed not to open it. Several times Pandora faltered, her curiosity getting the best of her and she reached onto the high shelf for the key fitting it into the lock only to feel guilty and change her mind at the last second. One day Pandora gave in to her curiosity believing she would go mad if she didn’t open the box. She slid the key into the lock and opened the box slowly, anticipating fine silks, gowns, jewelry or coins. None of these were packed in the box. To her horror, Pandora found that Zeus had packed the box full of every terrible evil he could think of.  Out of the box poured all the evils of humanity; poverty, disease, plague, misery, sadness and death, all shaped like tiny moths stinging Pandora over and over and she slammed the lid shut. Pandora could hear a voice calling from the box, pleading to be let out. Epimetheus finally agreed that there could be no worse horror than had already been released, and he slowly opened the lid once more.

The only thing that remained in that beautiful box of horror was hope and it fluttered out of the box like a beautiful dragonfly, touching the wounds created by the evil creatures and healing them. Though Pandora had released pain and suffering to the world she had also released hope to follow them.

Every single day we encounter the horrors of disease, sickness, poverty, misery, sadness and death. Imagine for one second if you were denied the luxury of hope. That is what mental illness can do to your brain. It can take away your hope! Until you are in a place where you have no hope you cannot in good conscious stand in judgment of someone who has been denied something that you take for granted daily.

 

I have shared this excerpt from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt many times and I will continue to share it a million times if that is what it takes.

                                                          THE MAN IN THE ARENA
Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”
delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

 

Seasons in the Sun-W.I.S.E. Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

I have a thousand things that I want to do today but my mind is incapable of sifting through them and putting them in any sort of order. I got up today and showered, I put clothes on, I fed the dogs, I diffused some essential oils, put in a load of laundry, washed dishes, swept the family room, read one page of a book several times and listened to Brené Brown’s Rising Strong as a spiritual practice on audible, I also opened my computer. It is noon on Sunday. It may not seem like much and it is certainly not all that I had planned to do when I was driving home from work on Friday. For some reason in those moments when I was driving down the road I had a sense that I could spend the weekend doing all sorts of productive things that when I woke up on Saturday felt impossible. On Saturday, I felt immobilized in my grief. Being in the world without Kirk feels incredibly scary and even knowing that we can and will move on and that we will be ok, right now I am existing in fear and I feel powerless to leap over it. I feel like every day if I inch my toes forward just a tiny bit, I am making steps towards making steps. The steps feel scary, though they should feel like a step in the right direction they also feel like a step away from Kirk. I know that my daughters are feeling the same way, they catch themselves in a moment of lightness and they immediately feel sad because we sense Kirk all around us and we feel like the minute he thinks we are OK we won’t feel him anymore.

I have been struggling with a tweaked back all week. It is nothing major, it is from a tumble down my basement stairs and it re-occurs periodically during times of stress. My chiropractor is great and would fix me up in seconds but I have been reluctant to get rid of it, almost as if it is a comfort to feel pain physically, instead of just mentally. It lets me know that my pain is real and when my mind is struggling to overcome the mental pain I know that my body has stepped up to take on some of that burden. It then occurred to me how difficult it must be for people who suffer from depression and disorders of the brain and how that pain over time can manifest physically and make everything hard.

“Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fever, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern, just the slow erosion of self, as insidious as cancer and like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience, a room in hell with only your name on the door.”

~ Martha Manning, Undercurrents

 

Kirk and I were together for 19 years, we struggled through those hard years when you don’t really know yourself so it is hard to truly know each other. I spent a great deal of my life learning to love myself so that I was able to love Kirk without crowding him out with my insecurities and worries. I had to process the importance of vulnerability in relationships and embrace the reality that to love another person fully you couldn’t protect your heart, you had to be all in, and love and life doesn’t come with any guarantees. The beauty of putting the hard work into loving and accepting yourself and embracing vulnerability over pride in your relationships is that you can love someone exactly as they are. You eliminate that overwhelming need to change your partner, because you realize that you are only responsible for changing yourself. When you love someone for who they truly are you get to see and be loved by the best version of them. When you love someone as they are they feel invested in, and a person that feels appreciated will always do more than expected. I always loved Kirk and I know that he always loved me, but it was really in the last several years that we learned to love each other well. We were still far from perfect; I don’t think a relationship exists that is perfect, relationships are just imperfect people that refuse to give up on each other even when things are tough.  We had many tough times but we also had many good times and through it all Kirk was more than just my husband; he was my lover and best friend.

Several days after Kirk left the world I was in our bedroom and a binder fell off the shelf and landed on my toe. I recall that some strange things had been happening and after yelling an obscenity I looked up, threw my hands in the air and yelled “what are you doing to me?” I knelt and picked up the binder and about six papers folded over, had fallen out of the binder and onto the floor. I started to shove them back in the binder but for some reason I opened them. A couple of months before Kirk and I were laying in bed and we each did this survey that asked us key questions about what we thought each others’ strengths and weaknesses were as well as our own and some questions about our relationship. There was a question that asked, “what would you change about your relationship?” Kirk had answered “nothing”. There was a question that asked what you liked best about your relationship and Kirk answered, “We don’t hate on each other anymore, we just love.” If that binder hadn’t fallen on my toe I am not sure when and if I would have ever come across those papers. It was such a powerful memory for me and the thought that it may have never been recovered, either physically or in my mind, was sad. I remember how grateful we were feeling that night because once again we felt like we had outwitted the demons of depression that tried to pull us a part. I can remember feeling so close to Kirk as I was curled up to him that night that I felt like I could crawl inside him. That may sound absurd but I am not sure how else to describe it. Depression robbed us of a lot of time and joy, so we loved really hard during what I called “the in be tweens”.  Knowing that depression for Kirk really never went away, if anything it just became more manageable or he got better at hiding it, of that I cannot be sure. I cannot say with certainty how he was feeling, but I can say that according to what he wrote and how he made me feel, he was in a good place at that time. Kirk also had high functioning anxiety and he counteracted feelings of shame and inadequacy by working as hard as a person could possibly work. He was a machine and although physically he was often spent, he did derive a great deal of satisfaction from the hard work he put in to every task he took on. It is impossible to say what goes on in another persons head but I recall him telling me one time what it felt like to have depression and anxiety, he said it felt like someone ripped your heart out of your chest, filled it with hornets and put it back in, it was one moment feeling absolutely nothing and the next feeling everything all at once, it was feeling alone and overwhelmingly lonely in a room full of people, it was 1000 thoughts running through your brain at 100 miles per hour, it was feeling like you are not good enough for the people you love no matter how hard you try and being exhausted but not able to sleep. Too me it sounded tremendously crushing and I honestly wonder, even now; how he was able to be so much to so many people and work so hard with that overpowering burden. He did though, because he was so much more than depression and anxiety and the demons that haunted him in dark times. He was a father, a son, a friend, a confidente, a co-worker and my partner. He was laughter and love and joy and fearlessness.

My favorite song growing up was Seasons in the sun, Kirk never liked it but he would play it for me periodically because he knew it reminded me of simpler times. He had a his own lyrical version of course that included the unforgettable line “fingers in our bums” and of course I would pretend it infuriated me when he sang it that way. Seasons in the sun always represented to me the easy carefree days of childhood but it popped in my head today and it is actually a song about dying which I guess I always knew but today the lyrics hit me harder than ever. Kirk and I often talked about how hard times really made us appreciate the good times. Would we really appreciate the sunny days the way we do if it wasn’t grey now and then. Lately the days seem to be dimmer and they just fade to black and start over again. Maybe grief is like a season, and sort of like a brutally cold winter where we bring out our mittens and wool socks; only in grief we unpack the memories of our good times and we wrap ourselves in them until the spring comes.

Goodbye Michelle my little one
You gave me love and helped me find the sun
And every time that I was down
You would always come around
And get my feet back on the ground
Goodbye Michelle it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky
Now that the spring is in the air
With the flowers everywhere
I wish that we could both be there

~Terry Jacks, Seasons in the Sun

Shotgun Rider-W.I.S.E. Project 2017

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I was driving to Larch Hills in British Columbia with the kids at the end of June, we had planned a family vacation and vow renewal but the trip turned into an opportunity to delay reality and work on some healing time and an occasion to spread some of Kirk’s energy and spirit in some of the places in the mountains that he loved.

We all take on roles in relationships and Kirk was the driver in ours. I drove occasionally when we were together but Kirk was a terrible passenger so it was likely on road trips that he was behind the wheel.  He randomly and often sent me Tim McGraw’s song Shotgun Rider and when we were together it was one of the songs that we waltzed too. I liked being his shotgun rider and every single time he sent me that song I teared up.

On the way to Larch Hills our roles were forever reversed and I had a great deal of anxiety about the long drive and about carrying my husbands spirit in a handsome ceramic urn, resting in a silk lined box. Trust me when I say that it is just as weird as it sounds and it caused a lot of uneasy conversations and awkward moments between the kids and I throughout the entire trip. Questions like “Is Dad in the truck? Do you want to bring Dad inside? Is Dad going to sleep in your room? Can Dad be my partner in Scrabble? DON’T knock your Dad off the table. Spreading ashes is arduous as well, it requires a great deal of mental energy. Admittedly there was a lot of beauty and therapy in spreading the energy of the person you love in all of the places he loved. It took on a life of its own.

After sleeping for less than two hours the long drive on a holiday weekend was extremely tedious. I feel like at some point that Kirk put his hands over mine on the wheel and instilled in me a confidence that I have never had while driving. I have never driven the Kicking Horse Canyon stretch of highway, for some reason I have always had an irrational fear of it. I found myself sailing through it confidently and I knew for sure that Kirk had my back the entire time. We had been in and out of radio service throughout the mountains but when we turned the volume up during that uneasy stretch of highway Tim McGraw crooned

 “I don’t ever want to wake up,
Lookin’ into someone else’s eyes
Another voice calling me baby
On the other end of the phone
A new girl puttin’ on her makeup
Before dinner on Friday night
No I don’t ever wanna know, Oh Oh
No other shotgun rider, beside me, singin’ to the radio, Whoa Oh, Oh Oh”

 

I knew in that moment, with certainty; that he was right there with me and this time he was my Shotgun rider. Big fat tears rolled down my cheeks and it is one of those moments in your life that is agonizingly horrible and achingly beautiful at the same time.

Bravery, courage and vulnerability are frequent words on my blog. They are powerful words that have a big place in my life but I don’t think I could have ever imagined the magnitude of those words in relation to grieving the loss of my husband.  Some days just putting my feet on the ground feels brave. As a strong woman, who has always considered myself independent, it is unnerving for me to feel so unsafe in the world. There were many times over the years that I know that I had to be the sturdy one but the truth is that Kirk had this larger than life personality and I felt protected, even when he was away. Being in the world without him feels incredibly scary and uncertain and my confidence in myself and the entire world has been inconceivably shaken.

I always thought of courage as doing something even though it feels scary and for me loving someone through every imaginable scenario for nineteen years has taken an insane amount of courage. I thought it was daring to love someone fully and completely because relationships are ambiguous at best. I wonder now if I ever truly considered the impermanence of it all; the question of mortality.

Brené Brown says that vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage are not always comfortable but they are never weaknesses. Vulnerability means choosing courage over comfort, it is in fact the most accurate measurement of courage. In a world where our ultimate purpose is to love; we often get caught up in our own pride and our own fears. Loving someone doesn’t come with any guarantees, but if we protect our hearts from feeling discomfort we also shelter them from joy. Loving my husband, not just when things were great or during the difficult times, but now when I can only put my love out into the world without any expectation of getting it back; is possibly the most vulnerable I have ever been.

I feel an unthinkable emptiness that I cannot begin to describe. One of the last things that Kirk said to me was to hurry home so that we could curl up and watch a movie. I want to curl up with him so bad and right now it doesn’t feel like that feeling will ever go away. I feel incredibly robbed. Depression; the thief of joy has stolen my lover and my very best friend.

Today; July 13th , we would have celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary, boasting almost 19 years together. We would have posted a vacation picture announcing our vow renewal and talked to each other, as we did every year; about how grateful we were to have made it through all the struggles. I have always believed that you are lucky if you find one truly special person in your lifetime that changes and challenges you. Whether or not that relationship lasts you come out of it with wisdom. Kirk was one of those truly special people that challenged me, loved me, taught me and believed in me. Even the struggles, the tears, the hard lessons and the endless efforts were bound in love.

The result of that type of passionate love and enduring friendship is crippling heartbreak.

We had plans, we had Netflix series to finish, movies we wanted to see, children to raise, grandchildren to spoil, places we wanted to go and so much love to give! There was a homemade potato salad in the fridge that Kirk was so excited to eat with his barbequed hamburgers. It feels like my life is suspended in mid air!

My heart and soul hurts for all the memories we didn’t get to make and all of the milestones to come that our kids will long for their Dad.

I wouldn’t trade a second of our time together; even the struggles we shared; but right now, I can only take baby steps. I am not prepared for any big steps that will take me further away from the love of my life and right now it takes all my strength just to be present.

I know that sadness will linger in our lives but eventually it will be mingled with occasional laughter and happy times; even though right now it feels far away.

Broken hearts take time to heal. It wouldn’t be right or honest of me to pretend otherwise. I have decided that the very best I can do today is to acknowledge the sadness and pain that lives inside me and resides all around me,  not to try to fill the empty spaces or ease the discomfort. I have decided to simply allow my self to move through this at my own pace; knowing that there will be good days and bad days and that one day I will be ok. My girls will be ok.

Grief is not a journey that you can walk in a day and this is not a race anyway!

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