Sunday, August 7, 2016

Goodbye Gord. Thank you.



We went to The Tragically Hip concert on Friday night.

I had been waiting for this day. This concert. This show. I'd been waiting for this one last experience with Gord Downie-- Canada's coolest older brother, for what seemed to be forever.

There was a bitterness to yesterdays sweetness though, because through the excitement there was grief that this was goodbye.

Cancer is eating his brain, and instead of dying at home he is living the fuck out of his life across Canada with one last hurrah. If the rest of the shows have been like the one in Winnipeg yesterday, then it's apparent that Gord is giving all of himself to his fans and to his art. He is doing what he loves, and he's not letting the vicious c stop him.

He is the most alive dying man I have ever seen.

It was surreal. It was loud, and everyone was wearing their Hip merch, old and new. It was like a cult of fans who had known The Hip for some of the most important years of their lives trying to hear the soundtrack of their lives just one last time. Trying to be part of something that actually meant more than just dollars and choreographed dances. Trying to see if they could spot the terminal cancer in the flamboyant Gord Downie. Trying to savour every second of the last time.

It was truly an honour just to be there.

The MTS Centre was packed. More people would have been there, but the demand for tickets was too high. Everyone there won some sort of karmic lottery. Robots snatched up all the tickets to sell on StubHub on the day they went on sale, and he general public never stood a chance unless they were part of a fan club, or a particular credit card holder. Or, unless like Chris and I, they had a friend who was willing to sell tickets to them.

But for a show like this; a band like this; a part of your Canadian soul and identity, you just had to be there to say goodbye. Whether people were ripped off by scalpers or StubHub, or whether they got their tickets at face value, what the fans got was an experience that is invaluable.

They got to say goodbye. They got to feel that goodbye...

Gord Downie was supposed to live well into deep wrinkles and old eyes that had seen a lot. He was supposed perform countless more times, singing from his soul like the performer that he is. He was supposed to write more songs and poetry, and watch his kids grow and hold his grandbabies. He was supposed to live to see his own legend grow.

He won't though. He will die, and a part of us will die with him.

While his impending death truly is tragic, right now he is still alive and he is still giving one helluva performance. Winnipeg  was an incredible sendoff to a man and a band who have been part of the soundtrack of my life since I was a kid.

Thank you Gord. May you find peace in whatever you believe, and may you live out the rest of your days happy, feeling loved and pain-free. Thank you for being part of my life for...Well, for what seems like forever. Thank you for doing this tour, and for sharing yourself with all of us.

We love you Gord.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

On life and death.



We are interring my grandma tomorrow, on her birthday. She died in November, but the ground was frozen so we decided to wait.

I bought a box to put her ashes in and I dropped it off at the funeral home the other day. The funeral director brought her remains out-- a cardboard box, smaller than a shoe box, filled with a tagged bag of sand. That was it. That was all that was left of her. This bag of greyish coloured sand.

It's hard to believe that someone so mighty; someone who, until recently, had been a part of what I know as forever is now just a box of sand.

I've tried to look for signs that she is still with me, and that there is something far more divine after this life. I've consoled myself and others by saying that she has finally been reunited with her beloved George, and her sisters and brothers.

I wear her necklace because it reminds me of her.

I realized that I am not at peace with her being gone. I am not at peace with what I believe in. I get scared when I think about death, or what it must feel like to die. I get scared when I think about me, or the people I love not existing anymore...

What if there is no heaven? What if this is all there is? What if there is a heaven, but I won't go because I don't know exactly what to put my faith into?

When I think about it I want to cry and throw up all at the same time.

When the funeral director showed me the sand I didn't make a big deal about my feelings. I've learned that big feelings like the ones I am having are hard to share. People get scared or uncomfortable, or they think you are being dramatic-- She was an old lady, she lived a hell of a lot longer than a lot of people. I should be so lucky to have had her for so long. Get over it.

I know. I really should.

But there, I got lost in a whole bunch of deep feelings and I didn't want to sound crazy. I was calm and I thanked the funeral director and I left.

When I got into my car the lump in my throat became too big and I started to cry.

I cried for her and I cried for myself.

I've struggled a lot with her death, and with the idea of death in general. This isn't new, I've always been afraid, but my fears have intensified since the birth of my daughter and the death of my grandma.

When Riel was born, my mortality hit me so fast and so hard I didn't even see it. I remember the second she was born, I was forever changed and I was euphoric. Here was this brand new life with everything ahead of her and yet there was this part of me that was already grasping at all the time I have with her. I remember thinking that all the rest of my life would never be enough time. I was so overcome with emotion that I just held onto her and I cried.

Perhaps it was hormones, or a realization of how precious life and love are. Whatever happened to me that night changed me and it changed the way I see life.

Eight months later, on the night my grandma died I remember smoothing her hair and telling her to let go. She was in a deep, medically induced sleep. Her breathing was forced and she was never going to wake up again. She was lingering in the land of the living, but death was all around. Even the weather sensed it. Tiny raindrops fell from the sky, as if to weep for her in her last hours of life.

In that moment I wanted her to die because life seemed so forced and I wanted her to be at peace. I wasn't thinking about the days, years or lifetime after she died. I wasn't even considering that her death would leave this emptiness and sense of wonder. I was just in that moment and I just wanted her to be at peace.

When someone is dying, it's hard to watch those final moments.

That evening her pastor came. He held her hand and he read Psalm 23:4

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff comfort me."

It seemed so cliché. I wanted to laugh and weep all at the same time.

I left her, intending to come back. I had to get my daughter home, and my parents were there to sit with my Amma as she drifted away.

And then my mom called me, maybe an hour after I got home, and she told me "Shell, she's gone."

My grandma meant different things to different people. I won't lie and say that she had great relationships with everyone, because she didn't. But, her and I had something special. She was one of my greatest loves and even though she was old and I was lucky to have her for as long as I did, my fear and my grief know no such logic.

I miss her. I miss her and I am so scared that I will never, ever see her again.

In life there is nothing more true than the fact that we are all going to die. It's the one constant. I remember asking Amma if she was afraid of dying. She said no. She believed in God and heaven, death wasn't an end for her.

Monday, April 18, 2016

For my Riel on her first birthday...

Riel,

Today you are one year old. What a year we've had!

You slowly made your way into this world at 10:08 p.m. on April 18, 2015 after more than 24-hours of labour. Looking back, I don't know how I did it, or how anyone does it. Giving birth is such a powerful and surreal experience. Before I actually did it, I was so scared and unsure. Yet, when the time came, motherhood came over me and I became so strong and able. My friend Melissa (a midwife) told me that you had to work just as hard and I did for you to be born. Her words and the meaning behind them pushed me to keep going, because I owed it to you.

When you were finally here I held you close and I cried and I cried. You were so little and new, yet it was like I'd known you my whole life. I never knew how incomplete life was before you. 

It's so strange how much we change when we become mothers. We can plan and anticipate what is to be, but babies and life don't follow plans all that well. In fact, when I was pregnant I set out to fit you into my busy life. I didn't want anything to change and I didn't even consider that you wouldn't fit, no matter how tiny you were. No, you changed everything and turned my world upside-down. But, from the moment I met you I was madly in love and I embraced the new journey.

Our year has been the best year of my life.

Seeing how much you change and grow is astounding. Every day it seems that there is something different or new. There is so much change in such a short time, sometimes it's hard to comprehend.

I won't lie and say that there haven't been moments that were hard, or that there were times when I just wanted to feel like myself again. Motherhood is constant. Even when you're asleep, or are in the care of someone else you are the forefront of my thoughts. I have to give you all of me because you are so small, and you still need all of me. 

But childhood is so short, and I will get myself back soon enough. 

I remember your dad telling me that this man he used to work with said to him one time "Don't ever wish your childrens' childhoods away, because one day they will be gone." 

That hit me. It hit me hard.

There have been moments when you have been hard-- crying, fussy, sick, overtired... and I found myself wishing that you'd just stop being so helpless, or I start wishing that you were just a little bigger so I could reason with you. Then I remember that this time is so short, and that I don't want to wish your childhood away. 

Tomorrow a new routine starts for us. I start back at work, and you'll be in the care of someone else. I never thought I'd feel so emotional about this, but I do. I don't want to miss anything. I know you'll be fine, but I am so scared to miss anything, including the hard moments.

I love you my girl, you are the light of my life. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

fat.

I have to go back to work in April and I am already starting to feel overwhelmed about it because I am still fat.

Yeah, I went there.

I'm not trying to body shame myself. I mean, if the last two years have taught me anything, it's that my body is an amazing and powerful vessel. It created life! I am lucky to have a body that works, and for the most part I try to be body positive, especially since I have a daughter who I want to be a good role model for. I never want her to hate herself or her body because she doesn't meet an ideal.

That said though, even people who strive to be body positive have moments of insecurity and doubt. Going back to work fat is mine.

Before I gave birth, I promised myself that I would get back into shape on mat-leave. A year is plenty of time to develop and balance a healthy lifestyle, plenty of people do it. I could too.

I had this notion in my head that I would saunter into work in my pre-baby and pre-boyfriend attire. (Because let's be honest, I gained weight before I was pregnant.") I wanted everyone to "ohhhh" and "ahhhh" about how great I looked and how skinny I was.

Yes, this is vain, but this is what I wanted.

But the truth is I still haven't found my groove. I haven't found my groove at the gym. I haven't found my groove at meal planning. I haven't found my groove with the kids, in my relationship, or with myself. I haven't found my groove in this life. I mean, I am doing well and enjoying life, but everything is a big fucking balancing act that I haven't mastered yet. Often my days are dictated by the temperament of my eight month old daughter.

Genetics also plays a key role. I have a large body, I come by it honestly.

A few years ago I lost a bunch of weight because I went to the gym six or seven days a week and because I had a super restrictive diet due to a bad gallbladder. Even then, eating no fat whatsoever, I still wasn't "skinny."

But, this time around I could have been better at working out and I could have "dieted" from the get go. I could have done a lot of things but I didn't, and I'm still not. Not in any sort of routine, anyway.

More than losing the weight, I need to lose this insecurity, because it's like cancer. It's gnawing away at me, and for what? -- My insecurities are certainly not going to motivate me to go to the gym more. In fact, hating myself usually motivates me to do nothing at all. I need to stop beating myself up for not "bouncing back" or not looking like the other new moms who just had babies. I need to stop getting frustrated when I can't get a workout in. (I hand it to you mothers who are able to, you are superheroes. keep going!)

I need to find that place where I am comfortable in my own skin, no matter how lumpy or stretched out it may be. I need to stop beating myself up and being a fatphobe because it makes me ugly and the world has enough fat-haters already. I need to enjoy life and do great things without letting my insecurities hinder me

Most of all though, I need to stop apologizing to people for the way I look. I do it all the time without even realizing it and it's a really self deprecating habit. Like, I'll run into someone and they will be talking to me and I will somehow slip it into the conversation that I still have to lose the baby weight, or that I'm still fat eight months after having a baby, or that none of my old clothes fit...

People can and will observe and judge for themselves. I don't need to point it out. I don't need to explain or apologize for my appearance. I just need to love myself and stop being so goddamned self conscious..

I've always been my healthiest self when I am loving myself.

I need to get over it.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

On motherhood.

Annnnnd, I shared a For Better or For Worse comic strip. I am my mom now.
I need to write more.

It's not that I don't have the inkling to write, I do. I just feel like I have nothing to say. Nothing that people will be interested in reading. Nothing that I can turn into a poignant lesson. Nothing that escapes my world of dirty diapers, sleep-training, constant requests for milk or snacks, temper tantrums, whining, burned dinners, stupid arguments with a three-year-old and a 39-year-old... Or, whatever else is forecasted into my day.

There are some days that the most exciting thing I have to brag about is the gigantic booger I picked out of my baby's nose, or some sale I found on something our family needs or regularly uses. I had intended to spend my year off getting back into shape, writing more, and doing freelance work-- even going back to part time work as a server, all while raising my baby.

So far I have accomplished none of this.

My life is chaotic most days, but it's the kind of chaos that isn't sexy or even particularly interesting. It's messy, busy, dirty, and exhausting. Frankly for most people it's also probably really boring. I can only imagine how quickly my friends grow tired of hearing stories about my baby and my step kids. I don't do much else right now, so I seldom have anything else to write (or post) about.

I waiver between whining about how hard being a mom and a step-mom is to marvelling at the wonders of it. -- This experience is rich in so many ways. I often have a house full of kids who say and do the funniest things. I get to watch all three of them grow and change, and I have a part in that. It's really neat.

I have a responsibility to all of them-- For the older two, I am their Shelley. I am not trying to be their mom, but I do play a mom role when they are with us. We have a special relationship, and I love them like they are my own. For the baby, I am her mom. At this stage of her life, I am her everything that she is learning to slowly venture away from, and grow her own wings so to speak.

I love the kids. I love our life. I love our blended family. But it's really, really hard sometimes.

It's hard, but not the way I thought it would be. I knew that becoming a parent and step-parent would mean that I would have to make sacrifices. I knew that the kids would always come first, but it didn't click just how much they would need me at times, and how much of myself I would lose.

There are some days that I seemingly spend every waking moment tending to the needs of someone else. The baby, she's in a really sucky phase right now. She's mobile and she's into everything. She is strong and often fearless. While she wants to explore her world, she usually wants to do it while I am right beside her. If I venture away, she begins to whine or cry. Most of the time she doesn't want to be held or comforted, she just wants me there, watching her.

The older two kids, who live with us half time and with their mom the other half, are self sufficient for the most part, though the requests for snacks, treats, to play with them, to put on a show, to wipe a bum, to break up an argument, for a drink of milk, to play outside, or to just look at them while they do something are plenty.

This is parenthood, and I strive to be good at it, but sometimes -- often times -- there is this sinking feeling that I am not doing enough with them because I am always doing something for them. And I don't mean doing something for them in that entitled, "I have to teach them to do things on their own, because they are spoilt" sort of way, I mean I'm always doing something for them because they are all young and they are still learning, and they need me to do things for them. They're kids.

I think that's the hardest part: Somebody always needs something, and even though I love them, it's hard to always give. Some days I feel like I have nothing left, and they are relentless in the things that they need or want.

But I digress, while I sometimes feel like I have nothing left of myself for myself, each of the kids give me something back in their own way.

Like, when I am tired, haggard, have pureed lentils all over my shirt and in my hair, the three-year-old will ask for "tuddles" (cuddles) and tell me "Shelley, you boot-e-ful." He is such a sweet boy.

The six-year-old is such a good big sister to both her little brother and the baby. She is so nurturing, and the two little ones adore her. I know she is only six, but she is so helpful it's a godsend. She has such compassion for the little ones, sometimes I will look up from whatever I am doing and I will see her teaching or encouraging one of the little ones to do something. She is a shy little girl, but she is a born leader.

And the baby, well she does this thing where she will look over and smile at me for no reason, and even when I feel like I have failed or that I am not enough, she will smile at me like I am the greatest person in the whole wide world. It makes me feel loved and like I am doing something right.

Parenting is hard. It's downright brutal sometimes. But, when you have kids time moves quickly and they are always changing. One day I will probably yearn for them to want and need me as much as they do right now.



Friday, November 27, 2015

Grief.


The other day I was in Costco and I saw this gigantic box of After Eight chocolates and I thought to myself "I should buy those for Amma for Christmas..." and then I remembered that she's gone.

I felt like someone punched me in the gut, knocking the wind right out of me. I had this burning pain in the pit of my stomach that I'd only ever felt a few times before in my life-- The same feeling I got when my mom called and told me that Amma had died a week earlier.

I know she's in a better place regardless of if there's a heaven or not. Her dementia got so bad near the end that anywhere else would be a better place than in her fraying mind and aging body. But still, my heart hurts knowing that she is gone forever.

Dementia stole so much from my grandma, but sometimes there would be a flicker of the old Amma that would emerge. Every now and again it seemed like she would steal a moment back from the brain altering disorder, and even just for a minute she was there.

And now, there are no more of those minutes. No more of the bad ones either. All that is left are my memories. I'm grateful for those, but they'll never be enough and I am scared they too will start to fade. I am scared that I will forget what she smelled like, or the sound of her voice. I am scared I will forget how her hands felt like old, soft tissue paper, or that I will forget the way she used to say "mmm-hmmm and uh-huh" with a smile when we'd tell her a story.

I feel like I lost her twice; once to dementia and once to death. Although she was old, and she lived a very long and good life, that kind of logic doesn't seem to soothe my heartache. Only time will.

I suppose, standing there in the holiday chocolate isle at Costco, I was still getting used to the fact that Amma is gone. Everything was normal until that second when I realized the new normal is that I will never buy her another giant box of chocolates for Christmas. I will never go visit her at the nursing home, I will never hug her or kiss her, and I will never see her again.

Grief is such a strange thing. When it washes over you it can make you feel a million different emotions all at once. It's such a personal experience; different for everyone, yet the same in that you are mourning and dealing with a loss.

I already know that time is the only thing that can mend a broken heart. I know that my sadness will never be completely gone, but in time my heart will begin to heal and when I think of Amma, or when I see a giant box of chocolates that I know she would have liked for Christmas, it will fill me with happiness and warmth.

Right now it's hard, but I am grateful for all the time we spent together when she was alive and all the memories we made.

I miss you Amma.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Goodbye Amma.

My grandma died yesterday.

She was old, her body was frail and broken and her mind was fading. She lived a long and mostly healthy life, it was her time. Even though I know all of this, my heart is still broken.

I miss her.

I take comfort in that she believed in the promise of a heaven and an afterlife, where I can only imagine her being reunited with her beloved husband George (who died 55 years ago, and who she still loved with every fibre of her being) and her sisters and brothers. I am happy that she is free from her dementia, which wreaked havoc on her mind and emotions, leaving her a lost and confused shell of her former self. I am grateful that I got to hold her hand and say goodbye.

We shared a special bond, Amma and I. She was my dramatic, high-strung and hypersensitive kindred spirit. Memories of her are sprinkled throughout my whole life. I am so grateful for those.

Amma was the type of grandma who showed up to every school concert, awards ceremony, assembly, sporting event, function, presentation... Sometimes she'd be the only one, but if there was a seat for her to sit in she was sitting in it, waving excitedly and documenting our five seconds of glory with blurry group pictures that she'd develop and circle the tiny speck that we were in the group.

She was so proud of all her kids and grandkids.

She'd clip and save any mention of us in a newspaper or a newsletter, and she'd save those clippings in a box she made especially for that purpose. She'd gladly read school papers and assignments with enthusiasm, and she'd wear or somehow display any type of craft you gave her. When we were kids you would have been hard pressed not to see Amma wearing some hideous handcrafted broach or necklace that was made of plastic or from glitter and tiny pompoms.

In her head and her heart she thought her grandchildren were a thousand times better than we actually were. She bragged and exaggerated our accomplishments to anybody who would listen-- to her friends, to our friends, to doctors, cashiers, strangers she met in an elevator...

My whole life I've known this day would come. Partly because my grandma was always old and partly because when we got older she would follow us around her apartment with masking tape and a pen saying "Put your name on the things you want when I die."

I suppose you could call her a planner. She said she didn't want anybody fighting over her stuff after she died, so she opted for this "calling dibs" method instead.

Amma was an artist, a sculptor, a proud Icelander. She had refined taste and never left her apartment without lipstick. She always looked perfect and polished. She loved shopping at the Bay-- because that was were she landed her first job in the 1930s the hosiery department. She loved good food, especially desserts, and she was always up for a phone call or a visit.

Amma was a real special lady.

It's the strangest feeling, when someone has been a part of your forever and then they're not anymore.

My grandma's dementia had advanced a great deal in recent years. Life had become really hard. Last week she fell and broke her hip. She had surgery, but she was so frail and it was her time. Thanks to the doctors and nurses at the Seven Oaks Hospital, she passed away in comfort, without pain last night.

Amma, I love you so much. I am so grateful for you and all the wonderful times we had. I'm so thankful that you and Riel got to meet each other. I will tell her stories about you, and us, and about all of our shenanigans. You are in my heart forever.



Thursday, October 22, 2015

OPINION: Nobody should be shamed for their attire.

Yesterday the CBC posted an opinion piece by a woman of the name Jo Holness called 'Jo Holness Takes a Stand Against Women Wearing Tights in Public.'

Holness begins her essay by proclaiming that she is a "long time fan of the vagina." She speaks of her admiration for the vagina by using a number of different names for it, for five whole paragraphs before she gets to her whole point of the essay.  


After awkwardly marvelling the wonders of the female anatomy she drops this bomb: "However, as much as I admire the range and ability of your garden variety hoo-haw, I think I could quite happily live the rest of my days without seeing one more of them packed into a pair of whisper-thin tights or yoga pants."

From there it just gets worse. Holness writes "As a woman of the 21st century, I believe we have every right to put on our bodies whatever the heck we want — from burqa to bikini — with no apologies to anyone..." before killing her entire point with: "But just because you can do something, does that mean you should do something?"

Barf.

My gut feeling is that the writer was trying to be funny...Witty even, but instead the entire piece comes off as condescending and judgemental. Quite frankly, it's a weird fit for the webspace of the public broadcaster who has done such an incredible job covering some of Canada's most marginalized women; The nearly 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women. 


I am so mad about this post. I am mad that the CBC published something that is so shaming towards women. I'm mad because in this day and age we live in a society that thinks it's ok to objectify women and girls and then tell them what they can and can't wear. I am so mad that I keep seeing social media posts about young girls being sent home from school because of their clothes. I am mad because this opinion piece is just another step back for women... We already live in a society that makes us prove that we've been raped or sexually assaulted before anyone even believes us because our word is seldom good enough. We live in a society that is so quick to blame our "slutty" attire and our attitudes rather than our attackers. 

This opinion piece just reinforces all of that slut-shaming bullshit.

Aside from the sexist undertones, this post is shameful in that it's making fun of people for what they wear. Look man, I wear tights and yoga pants regularly. I wear them even more now that I've had a baby and my pre-pregnancy clothes don't quite fit me anymore. I also wear them because they're comfortable. I wear them because they're easy. I wear them because I want to wear them. As far as I know my vulva isn't showcased, but if it is, stop looking. 

In 2011 (and probably a number of other times) I have written about tights not being pants. I remember vividly trying to be funny while hammering home my point about how I wore some see-through tights and unintentionally showed everyone "the goods." It will take you five seconds to do a Google search and find this post. Looking back, I fully admit that I was a jerk for trying to tell anyone what they should or shouldn't wear. 

Jo Holness is entitled to her opinion about yoga pants. I'm disappointed that the CBC chose to publish it.