Let it go- WISE Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

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The gift of our lives should be greater than pain and larger than fear, but when we are in the grip of grief, trauma, depression, heartache, loss or betrayal; fear can be immobilizing.

Pain can be a great teacher

Pain can be a great teacher if we are open to the lessons it brings, if we meet it with curiosity instead of alarm it will teach us and allow us to move through it with grace. One way or the other pain demands to be felt.

There is no promise of a pain free life, pain is inevitable, but if we resist, ignore or fear pain we initiate suffering. Suffering is not necessary.

I knew that the feeling of being enveloped in a dense dark fog was not going to lift overnight

I am not afraid of pain; I held the door wide open and welcomed it in. When my husband passed away in June, pain and plenty of it was more than expected.  I knew there would be an abundance of tears and endless heartbreak and longing. I knew that in my pain that I would find strength I never knew I had and wisdom I never knew I needed. I knew that the feeling of being enveloped in a dense dark fog was not going to lift overnight.

The thing I didn’t count on was how much I would come to depend on the pain. It is my receipt of love after all and I would spend nights wrapped up in it like a blanket. In a previous post I talked about the luxury of hope and embracing and holding onto those moments, but as they started to emerge for me I caught myself chasing them away and holding onto my dark blanket of despair. I had found a new person in my grief and as much as I thought I longed to have the old Michelle back I found myself identifying with the new familiar one and holding space for her and keeping the light out. I found myself wondering who I was in the world without my husband and who would he be if I wasn’t here in this world holding vigil for him. The grief and the unimaginable pain was the proof that his life and his story mattered and I became afraid of letting any bit of it go. I lived in fear that if I softened to the pain and moved through it and allowed the light to shine on me that his memory would fade, the love we shared wouldn’t matter and his spirit that I felt so close to me, guiding me, would diminish bit by bit until it disappeared.

Or so I thought…

I told all our loved ones that we needed to honor him by being well and being happy, but somehow, even knowing what he would truly want, I was honoring him by holding tightly to my pain as that was the manifestation of the love we shared and the connection between my physical life with him and our lives now. Or so I thought…

So here I am with all of this love in my heart that I want to give him and I think I can’t so as a consolation I close off my heart and I sit in my misery somehow thinking I am honoring the person who meant the world to me, who wanted nothing more for me to feel happiness and love always. When I put it in black and white it seems incredibly strange that I would think that way. I certainly know better, I think we all do. We know that at the deepest level of our soul we are always safe, loved, grounded and connected. Fear may protect us temporarily but it is not a place to live.

Fear should not define us; everything we long for is on the other side of fear

Fear should not define us; everything we long for is on the other side of fear. I want desperately to continue to feel the love that my husband and I shared with each other and with our children; I will not achieve that if I keep draping myself in the agony. In fact, in some conversations with some very wise and inspiring people I have come to believe that as I continue to move through the pain and the grief and as I allow moments of light to energize me, and the cloak of despair to decline, my memories will be stronger and more beautiful than they are now, swathed in a dismal haze.

It is amazing how gratitude can elevate to our highest vibration possible

I was walking through the park the other day with my dog and all of the colorful flowers are still in the bloom but the air is changing, even the copious sunshine couldn’t mask the hint of autumn that blew through the trees. Periodically the wind would come up and swiftly blow through the trees, showering the earth with leaves that had already dried out and curled up. It was absolutely beautiful. It is amazing how gratitude can elevate us to our highest vibration possible and I have plenty to be grateful for. Though my life right now is not one I would have chosen for myself, I got to experience the depth of true love and the lessons I learned by loving and being loved by Kirk, during the good times and the bad, I will hold in my heart forever. For just a moment I let myself feel those winds of change and not be afraid, and in that moment I felt Kirk clearer than I had in weeks, cheering me on.

I have been so afraid of what is on the other side of my fear so I really had to decide what I wanted for me and my children. I want the winds of change to blow me in the direction of emotional freedom, gratitude, joy, health and love. I want to multiply that love Kirk and I shared as a couple and as a family and put it back into the world. This world could sure use a little more love and kindness.

My response to this fear that restrains me is to summon all of the courage I have to not jump over, resist or hold the pain, but to move through it keeping my heart open to the unique gifts of the universe.

Are you holding unto fear? What is it trying to tell you? What is on the other side of your fear.

Let it go-see what remains.

Every single day is a new opportunity, for you and for me. Today lets decide what it is we want to see in the world and lets project that.

xoxo-michelle1

Total eclipse of the heart-Wise Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday 

We are all guilty of telling ourselves the same tired stories from our childhood and we so often dismiss how important the dialogue we share with ourselves and others is to our lives and our well-being.

There is a common theme we use surrounding suffering and struggle. We uses words like ‘cope’ and ‘survive’ and phrases such as ‘get by’

As well intentioned as we may be I believe that this dialogue has been exhausted and it doesn’t feel relevant to my rapidly changing situation.

In June I lost my husband, my best friend and the father of my children to a long battle with mental illness. Surviving and coping with his illness was an every day burden for him.  The very first day in the world without him was one of the hardest things I will ever have to face, along with the realization that our family, our children and myself will need to face all of the days to come. Loss makes you realize how precious life is and for me I now believe we should direct our energy into leading the best lives possible. To thriving.

Grief has more ups and downs then the my elementary school teeter totter during recess, but it sure makes you appreciate the value of moments.

On the weekend I was dizzy with grief, feeling one minute like I was floating on a calm ocean at sunset and the next a Tsunami hit. It was overwhelming but not unexpected and I have embraced tear stained as my new make-up trend.

I found myself in a fleeting moment of hope and anticipation and began to contemplate some of the things that my children and I have on the go in the foreseeable future and I realized that those worn out words and phrases do not have to continue to be a part of our story.

A word popped into my head that I was so excited about. I even convinced myself that I had made up the word until google confirmed that another wise person had beat me to it. The word and the concept is THRIVIVAL! The idea that instead of merely existing in the face of adversity that we can instead learn to live vigorously, cherishing each moment of our lives. Instead of just surviving, we can thrive.

Should our goals be set on coping, on surviving this relentless emotional storm, or should we focus on the strength in the inevitable change and commit to living our lives with purpose and intent, choosing a life rooted in love and doing well and being well?

I think the answer is clear. I believe our route is thrivival and though we may stumble occasionally on this hilly path the journey will be worth it.

Kirk would not be content to see us just get by. Nothing short of a life well lived would be sufficient; and with him as our guide we will navigate this new world with intensity.

If you are reading this I hope you will join us; take a look at your own life and make the choice to not only do what you love, be a person you love and put that love out into the world and make it a better place. You are the univere. Brace for THRIVIVAL

xo Michelle

 

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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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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Take these broken wings-W.I.S.E. Project 2017

 

“take these broken wings

and learn to fly again

and learn to live so free

and when the voices sing

the book of love will open up

and let us in” ~Mister Mister

I have been quite vocal about Mental Illness on my blog for awhile now but never in my want or need to raise awareness did I think I would be in the spot I am right now.

On Fathers Day I spent the day with my husband, the father of my children. It was a great day. We were in his garage where he liked to listen to music, watch TV and hang out with friends. We laughed a lot and talked about our upcoming vacation. The girls had made their father a book for Father’s Day and we read it out loud and shared a lot of laughs together. At 5 pm on Fathers Day Kirk passed me my ringing phone, I saw that it was Haley’s music teacher and I knew immediately that I was late for a rehearsal that I had forgotten about entirely. We had to run out quickly but Kirk and I talked on the phone on the way and he asked me to hurry home because he wanted to cuddle and watch a movie. He texted me throughout the rehearsal sending me hearts and I love you and some weird emoji of him giving the finger which he said was a joke. I missed a phone call from him as we were in the middle of rehearsal. At 5:45 he messaged “I love you” and I replied “I love you. See you soon”. I arrived home at 6:25. I came in through the front door, said hello to my daughter and her girlfriend who had just returned from the store but continued to walk towards the back door to go to the garage. I saw from the kitchen but didn’t trust my eyes until I was on my knees at the threshold of the garage door screaming and my husband was hanging from the ceiling. 

We have weathered the stormy waters of depression together for years but things had been good and it wasn’t on my radar to be worried. I know that Kirk often talked about being tired but I think he was much more than physically tired. He was fighting a battle that even I could not begin to understand the magnitude of.  Sometimes we are so tired that we need sleep and sometimes we need peace. Something happened that day that I cannot begin to imagine. In a breath, he went from anticipating a quiet movie night curled up to me; to leaving this world. The horror for me, my girls, our family and friends combined could obviously not compare to the horror he suffered in that moment as a victim of his own mind.  I will never know.

Friday afternoon my girls and I arrived in Larch Hills in the Okanagan/Shuswap area of British Columbia. The trip here was a Christmas gift to our girls, a summer vacation away from everyday life, we had intended to bring the dogs and my husband I were going to renew our wedding vows to recommit to each other after a difficult 2016. It has turned into a journey to healing.

My husband worked away a lot in 2016 and spent a great deal of the year in the throes of depression. The trigger I believe was a work injury that left him struggling to do his job as well as he would like to and being away from his family for extended periods of time. I recently found a message from him shortly after he left for that work trip saying things didn’t feel right there without us and he much preferred to be at home where he could walk inside and the girls and I were there. Even still, when the depression hit him full force I didn’t recognize it immediately and I was really thrown by his actions and the things that he was saying to me. He made several attempts to try to get me to leave him saying he was no good and I could be so much happier without him. He later admitted to being overcome by something that he had little control over. He tried to drink it away and spent many an evening alone enveloped in blackness.

He described what he was feeling as if something was pulling him away from us and he wanted us to be safe and happy before he spiralled into the dark abyss. He talked about ghosts and demons and how he could no longer keep them at bay. It was a terrifying and heartbreaking time for both of us and there were nights that I would stay on the phone with him till he fell asleep and I was certain he was OK. There were others that we barely spoke. Everyday he was battling the stresses of his job, worrying if we were ok and fighting something that he had very little control over. He suffered the emotional scars of childhood trauma and often told me that he was like a little boy crying in the corner; waiting desperately for someone to save him. As someone who had an immense and unwavering love for him, his fears and recollections broke my heart. I wanted nothing more than to save him but at some point, I came to the realization that I alone could not save him, so it was essential to save myself. No matter what Kirk thought was best for me, I would never have walked away from him and not looked back when he was depressed any more than I would have left him if he was suffering with cancer. When you love someone the way I love him you are always all in, regardless if you are guaranteed anything in return. I know that his attempts to distance me and keep me safe during times of darkness was his way of loving me just as fiercely and fully as I loved him.

In 2015 Kirk found himself in the middle of a serious bout of depression and he was unrecognizable to me. I know that a lot of people think camp living and being away from home and his family were causes but the causes of his depression happened a long time ago, the onsets were most likely triggers, like camp living, being away from his family and using alcohol to cope. This episode happened while he was working at home in Edmonton. He was building a restaurant and working as if he were three people but that is just what he did and he was often taken advantage of because of it. He only knew one speed and he had a deep need to work as hard as humanly possible. He always had something to prove and he was always in a competition with himself. As much as working himself ragged had an affect on his mental and emotional health; it also provided him with a great deal of confidence and validated him in ways that you and I can only begin to understand. Kirk was never satisfied with just doing a good job. He had to do it better and faster than anyone before him. Since moving to Alberta in 2007 he had mastered oilfield modular camp installations, commercial renovation, commercial and restaurant development as well residential renovations. If he had not done something before and it took some time to learn, he would just work longer hours to get it done right. When anyone in the chain of command failed to do their part to get a job done on time he would take on their job as well, even if that meant sleeping on the floor at a jobsite for a couple of hours so that all deadlines were met, all promises and obligations were fulfilled and he could come home to be with his family knowing that the client was happy.

In the summer of 2015 Kirk became someone I did not know. I have often thought over the years that alcohol was a trigger for him and perhaps that is true in ways but it was also his medicine. At camp, drinking with his buddies and co-workers prevented him from being alone at night when the grip of whatever chased him was strongest. Alcohol though, like any medicine, only treats the symtoms and although it may have numbed him enough to think he was holding it together there are certainly lasting and damaging effects of using alcohol to numb pain. Over time it also took away his joy and dulled his memories. 

I can recall Kirk being almost catatonic during that time in 2015. He would look right through me and he would tell me that he knew I was always there but he couldn’t always feel me there. He seemed so lost, like he was an empty shell. I was in shambles trying to figure out how my husband had gotten so far away overnight. He was destroyed by it as well and it was not an easy time. We went to a doctor together and through speaking with both of us the doctor believed that he might be bipolar. Kirk and I had both thought for a while that that might be the case. I admit that during our younger years I sometimes thought that he was just a jerk and didn’t understand his struggles. I know that even growing up his depression and anxiety and possibly ADHD presented as anger. The realization that he suffered depression and anxiety wasn’t something we discussed at length early on. As our relationship developed over the years we saw our share of struggles but we also developed a deeper trust and Kirk started to open up to me about things that had happened in his childhood that forever hurt and tormented him and that he felt like he couldn’t get away from. Much of his life was categorized by high highs and low lows, which led to bad choices and destructive behavior. As we matured and we developed a closer, more honest relationship he tried very hard to smooth out  those peaks and valleys and was committed to being a good father, husband and provider.  When the doctor referred him to a psychiatrist, with the assumption of bipolar disorder it felt like a small victory for us. Our relief however, was sadly short lived. Kirk spoke to a Psychiatrist in the summer of 2015. He said he bared his soul to him, not leaving out a thing, including his struggle with extreme highs and lows, things from childhood that followed him into adulthood, alcohol and drug abuse, anger, anxiety and sometimes delusions that had at one time or another resulted in suicidal thoughts. The Physiatrist told him that he was fine, suggesting only that he might have a mild case of ADHD but didn’t recommend medication because they probably would make him worse. He did not recommend therapy to Kirk either. Kirk said he felt like a number on a page with a long list of numbers and the Dr. ticked him off the long list and moved on.

I cannot even begin to describe how I felt after that visit. I cannot even begin to imagine how Kirk felt. He was in terrible pain and his mind was full of fear and worry and other things that I cannot pretend to understand. He was in a terrible spot and he was not given any medical support and he had trouble communicating to his family what was going in in his head. Even knowing that depression never really goes away, we somehow got through that time and continued to love each other and hold unto each other as tight as we possibly could. For the first time in our life together I was truly afraid for my husband during that time and started to reach out to people in our families and circle of friends for help. It was a hard thing for people to understand, there was a mixture of surprise and disbelief and even the suggestion that I walk away and save myself.

Through most of Kirks life and our life together depression loomed over us like a storm cloud; there were many long stretches of time that it seemed far away. I referred to these as the “in betweens”

The memory and fear of the darkness faded into memory, at least for me. I am not certain how much of the darkness faded for Kirk or to what extent that he was able to keep it at bay. I have to face the reality that he loved us so much that perhaps he hid a lot of his pain from us. That being said though, I know that our love and our good times were real, every time Kirk reached his hand out and asked me to dance, every time we talked about going home to Nova Scotia so we could be with Jeff and the girls or we looked at property in remote B.C. and talked about growing old and rocking on our chairs on the porch; I never doubted that he wanted and intended to do that with me. We made such beautiful memories together as a couple and as a family and even though Kirk had a number of very close friends there was never a question in my mind or his that we were each others best friends for life.

Fourteen months passed before the thick of the depression ripped through our lives again. It seemed to come out of nowhere and as I mentioned  his injury was the possible trigger but I am not sure how long it attacked him from the inside out or how long he was able to hold off the demons before I knew about it. Depression is a sneaky beast and it can quickly thrust you into dark rooms with no doors. I could very clearly describe how I felt during those times and my struggles, what I am not certain of is just how bad it was for him. I only know what he told me and it was heartbreaking.

I know that I had to fight through my own hurt and pain and be a friend to him so that he could feel comfortable enough to talk candidly to me without fear or judgement or hurt feelings. It is hard for people with depression to communicate with the ones they love because they cannot handle their hurt feelings. We had never faced a time in our marriage that was more honest, yet it was wrought with extreme emotional heartache. Kirk truly felt like he was being torn away from us and he was determined to make us safe and happy before that happened. It was a scary time but through love and understanding we were able to give ourselves the strength we needed to get through those grey days. I found Kirk a therapist and he tried once again to take steps to make things right in his life. Therapy was not something Kirk could commit to long term with his changing job landscape and he wasn’t honestly ready to go back in his story and sit with the pain and walk though it again to get to a place of acceptance and a path to healing. As painful and impossible as that seemed to him, he sat with the pain every single day, there was no shortcut around it.

He was able to set some boundaries with work though and time apart from his family. Christmas break last year was a time of healing for us and within a very brief time we were at a new, honest and warm place in our relationship. He promised to tell me when the darkness descended instead of trying to push me away. We made so many memories in the last seven months and stayed so close that you couldn’t put a breath in the space between us, even on the days when we were not physically together. We decided to renew our wedding vows on our summer vacation to recommit to a new and more honest way of loving each other and making the health of our relationship a priority that we put above work.

In the last couple of months Kirk had a job change that although he didn’t want it led him back to a company that had always treated him well and a job that he excelled at. He was doing well at work, excited for upcoming projects and very enthused about the crew that he was working with. He invited me to meet his crew and stay a couple of days which was really nice for both of us. In all his days in the Oilsands we never had that opportunity. He was home five days after my visit. He was going to be working in Edmonton the week prior to our vacation and he was excited about that and a week in the quiet hills of British Columbia. One of his last texts to me was “we are going to have a beautiful week together.”

I read something recently that said the relationships that we are assigned in life whether they are meant to last forever or not are assigned to provide us with maximum soul growth. My heart and my soul grew in immeasurable ways as a result of my love for Kirk and the love he gave to me. I learned as much about love and life from the good times as I did from the bad. The quote that was going to be displayed at our ceremony site overlooking the Shuswap River was from Wuthering Heights “Whatever are souls are made of, his and mine are the same” That book has been a long-time favorite of mine and I have a copy beside my bed that Kirk bought for me a month ago at a little book shop downtown. The book is driven by the torture and heartache of unrequited love. Last night when I picked it up I thought of my love for Kirk and his for me and how we never missed an opportunity to express our love for each other. I go to bed inundated with questions and wake up much the same way but my grief will never be wrought with regret. I will never wonder was I enough, did I do enough, did he know I loved him and supported him? I know in my heart that he knew, every second; except for perhaps that fateful one.

My heartache is not something I need to get over or move past. There is no magic expiry date to the pain that the girls and I are in. Instinctually our minds want to play out scenarios of what if on replay, even knowing that it serves only to intensify our pain and will not bring him back. Our journey is through grief, not to get to the other side of it; as that does not exist. Our hearts will never be ok with him not being with us but if everyday we move forward one small step instead of looking back in anger or trying to build a life on a foundation of what ifs; we will one day learn to accept where we are. We are different now and life will be different now. Our spirits are enduring and we will still smile and laugh and embrace experiences and opportunities, even through the sadness. As we heal we will love differently and see the world differently as we are forever changed and so is the world for us. Our sadness is ok, our pain is ok. We will be OK.

There are times in my life that I have lost myself in sadness and pain and had to work towards loving and accepting myself. I put in that hard work and when people say I am strong it is because I am strong and the moments where I lose it doesn’t take away from that strength, it means that I not only had the courage to love myself, I loved another person fully and I am feeling every bit of that loss.

Yesterday was a hard day and Morgan and I went for a hike to clear our heads. When we got to the lookoff point we remarked what a bitch it was going to be to get back because it was all uphill. We started out strong but I had to stop a couple times to catch my breath and I was either fighting off mosquitoes in the thick of the woods or the sun in the clearings. Our surroundings were beautiful; fragrant green trees, wild daisies and strawberry bushes, sunlight steaming through the trees while birds sang. I said to my daughter that hiking was like life, you keep pushing and climbing, taking moments to swat away the pests and others to take deep breaths and appreciate the beauty around you.

I thought about a hike that Kirk and I and the kids did in Slocan Valley a couple of years ago.  I was having a hard time with the elevation and I told Kirk to go ahead but he stayed with me encouraging me. That is how he was in life, he climbed and pushed and struggled through, barely able to swat away the pests or appreciate all the beauty that life had to offer but he never missed an opportunity to encourage someone that was struggling.

That is my guy, the person that I will remember. The countless memories and times we shared will help us to one day fly again!

Saturday in the Park

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Hurt, fear, anger, disappointment, pain.

It has been an incredibly sad and emotional couple of days and though I wish I could numb the cruel sting of it we cannot selectively numb pain because when we shut out the darkness we also shut out the light. We have little choice but to feel the emotion, the fear and the discomfort of the uncertain days to follow.

John Lubbock said that happiness is a thing to be practiced, like a violin. It is times like this, when tragedy strikes and innocent lives are lost that I have to be reminded. I am embraced in sadness and disbelief over something I have no control over and even knowing how important it is to not let hate win, happiness in this moment feels wrong.

To all of the wounded and heavyhearted souls in Orlando, I see the wreckage that you are staggering through, you are achingly overburdened with grief and sorrow and so many of us wish we could help. Losing a loved one has it’s own anguish, losing a loved one to violence is unimaginable. When your loved one is murdered for simply living a life without boundaries, for being themselves, for loving freely and wholehearted there is simply no words I can offer to ease the pain or make any sense of it. The LGBTQ community is in mourning, the world is in mourning. We share in your grief.

I wish I could help you navigate your way through the horror, to take the weight off your chest, to tell you that someday you will smile again.

 

I feel helpless and you feel hopeless.

We have to remember to breath.

I promise to use my voice to share hope and not give hate an audience. I need to recognize the helpers because that is where I will find love and  peace.

I am going to take five minutes to pretend it is Saturday, in the park along the river, just you and me and the falling stars…

In that five minutes I will seek light in the darkness. I hope that someday soon you can do the same.

“it’s the kind of heartache you can feel in your bones”