Good Grief

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief lately. (full disclosure: I’m always thinking a lot about grief). I don’t want to brag, but I’m kind of a grief expert. It’s been a constant presence in our lives for over three years and I’ve studied it from all angles. Well… I’ve studied our own grief.

It so happens, we don’t actually own the monopoly in this area. Shocking, right?

My daughter’s BFF lost her dad just over a year ago and my boyfriend lost his partner and mother of their son just over 2 years ago.

Sometimes I look around our ever expanding kitchen table and wonder if I’m actually running a support group for kids who’ve lost a parent (donations welcome), but holy fuck am I ever glad we all found each other.

Because of them, I’m stepping out our world and witnessing grief from an outside lens.  I’m learning that grief is different for everyone and that we all manage it in different ways. I’m learning not to push my own ways of coping onto others (even though I *am* an expert). And as I loosen the reigns on my ownership of grief, I’m also expanding my definition. Grief comes in all shapes and sizes and it’s not all about losing a parent or spouse. With any loss comes grief.

In fact, grief is not even always about missing the person. It’s often more about the missed opportunities. It’s about knowing there’ll never be another chance to try again. It’s about being forced to give up that picture in your head of what things are supposed to look like. It’s about acknowledging (through clenched teeth) that you just can’t save everyone. (you can repeat this back to yourself if you need to: You Can Not Save Everyone.)

According to the textbooks, we lost the kids’ Dad due to a “traumatic death”. Yes, it was sudden and traumatic and in many respects it was different than losing someone who had battled a (more visible) disease for years. And yes, for me grief and trauma are so intertwined that I am incapable of discerning where one joyride ends and the other takes over. But does it matter? Isn’t all death traumatic? From what I’ve witnessed around my kitchen table death club, grief is grief (trauma included, free of charge).

Other free bonuses to grief include (but are not limited to) the following:

  1. impossible sleep patterns.
  2. separation anxiety.
  3. random triggers.

Let me say that again (because clearly, I like repetition). Grief is impossible fucking sleep patterns, separation anxiety to the max and random triggers outta nowhere! All of which can apparently go on for three years and counting. There is a common understanding in our group, that people you love could disappear. Sometimes without warning. But even if you have warning, you’re never really ready. Which is probably why sleeping is so hard.. zzzz….. oh wait, where was I?

And so we’re gentle with each other. We fist pump each other as we take turns with exhaustion. We’re learning to recognize the special blend of melancholy that shows up in ourselves and each other and hold space for that to happen. We’re not trying to fix things (my biggest challenge) because we don’t really want, or need to be fixed. Grieving is good. Get that shit out. Cry. Bathe yourself in sage smudges. Stamp your feet. Scream at the injustice of life. Scream at the people who tell you to just be positive and that good things happen to good people. Fuck that. Bad shit happens to good people every single day, no matter how positive you are. Everyone around my kitchen table knows that. Mark special dates and anniversaries and celebrate them.  In my (expert) experience, even if you try to ignore them, they’ll creep up behind you. And while we’re celebrating, celebrate life with as much exuberance and ridiculousness as you can muster. We may be sleep-deprived and a little anxious but we certainly know how to have a good time.

If you are grieving (and who isn’t), find your space at a kitchen table or make room at your own for others. Who cares if they aren’t experiencing exactly the same kind of grief as you. Always cook more food than you need. Set extra placemats for those who just show up. No judgement. No fixing. Don’t worry – there will be an abundance of love and laughter (particularly if you’ve developed a fondness for dark humour, like the rest of us). We’ve got this. We’ve got each other.

xo,
e

Twitter: @pixiepaperdoll7
Instagram: @pixiepaperdoll

Amendment:  As I was just about to post, I learned that a friend from high school has passed away. She was part of my kitchen table club (from afar) since her husband died a couple years ago. We hadn’t seen each other in over 20 years but would send occasional messages of support and stories of the trials and tribulations of raising kids from this unique perspective. She was a beautiful soul and a loving mother and my heart is breaking beyond control for her family. Please keep them in your thoughts. 

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Happy birthday – the kids are alright.

Happy birthday Jason,

This year we celebrated your day in typical birthday style; with your favourite food (meat!) and a round of “Happy Birthday Dad” before diving into cake. As always, we talked about you lots (do your ears burn in the afterlife?) and shared funny memories, most of which have been told millions of times but never cease to bring a smile to our faces.

I’m sure you had no idea that your birthday is the day after World Suicide Prevention Day and that you took your life during Mental Health Week.  I mean it’s not like you were following suicide survivors or mental health experts on Twitter – Hell neither was I back then.  But regardless, I have no doubt that you would find some twisted humour in this irony and find comfort that they are another reassurance that I couldn’t forget these dates if I tried.

The last message I received from you was asking me to tell the kids that their cat had found his way home (apparently he had wondered off during their visit with you – I’m guessing too many love squeezes from little kids).  I’m not going to lie, I rolled my eyes at your insistence. It was a busy week. I was trying to wrap my head around your recent behaviour and this seemed pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But now, looking back, I’m glad I attested that the message had been passed along and they were relieved at the news.

You loved our kids, first and foremost. I know that. They know that. And if nothing else, these anniversaries are a natural opportunity for me to continue to reassure them of your love. The week before you died you told me I was a good mom and that you knew I would always take great care of them.  I told you that they needed you too but I’m not sure you heard me…

Since your death I’ve been angry, sad and terrified that you left this parenting thing all up to me. You should be here too –  sorting out the hockey season, meeting new teachers, dealing with (pre) teen complexities and just watching them grow with me. Despite our separation, I never wanted to do this alone. Lucky for me (and our kids), we have found an amazing tribe and feel less alone than ever before.

For the longest time after your death, the kids and I just clung to each other to keep safe. I hadn’t realized how much so until recently.  It was a necessary part of our grieving and sometimes we still cling. But slowly, we’ve opened ourselves up. We’re working through our grief, we’ve survived more disappointment and fall-outs and now, we are regaining our trust in the world.  Things are good.

So this year for your birthday I just want you to know that the kids are alright.  They’re strong, creative, inquisitive individuals who hold a love for this world deep in their hearts. They are a perfect blend of both of us (obviously they are most like you when they drive me crazy and say things that make me roll my eyes). We talk about you often, not just on special dates. They miss you terribly but we’re doing good.

Happy birthday, Hoop.

love,
e

 

#TeamAdventurers
Twitter: @pixiepaperdoll7
Instagram: @pixiepaperdoll

 

Addendum:  

For those of you who have been following our journey for the past 3 years or those who have just discovered us today, thanks for your time.  While my intent was never to be a mental health advocate (I write for my own head clearing), I am always incredibly honoured and humbled when people reach out to me with their own stories of how mental health has touched their lives and how in turn,  my writing has affected them.
While I am happy to start a conversation and to help assure you that YOU are not alone, I am also not a mental health expert.
If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, please know that there is professional support available.
For those of you living in Ontario, contact The Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600.

Dear Jerk.

Happy Birthday Jason

Dear Jerk (6 months later)

Stigma Fighters

#BellLetsTalk Day

In the Words of Bob Dylan, “Play it Fu**ing Loud!”

The Black Dog

#BellLetstalk Day (2016)

Happy Birthday Jason!

Approaching Doomsday

Three Years…

Bliss.

Everything is better when you’re on vacation. obviously.

The sun shines brighter.
Food tastes yummier.
Even the dreariest days are just an invitation to curl up and breathe in some stolen moments.

I’m heading back to work in the morning after 10 extraordinary days filled with intimate acoustic shows in coffee shops, fits of giggles on my deck with lifetime friends, piles of books, bike ride dates, dreamy afternoon naps, kayaks, heart pressing hugs, a meditation retreat, family reunions and so much love.

I am currently so blissed out that nothing can faze me nor prepare me for my return to reality in the morning (mere hours away).

I’m wearing a special blend of denial and a sweet conviction that I can keep this feeling alive in a world of alarm clocks, deadlines, meetings and meal-planning.

A close friend and I used to describe this feeling as a vacation high and when we would return to work (typically after exotic getaways), we would rally together to help each other keep it as long as possible. #VacationHighForever

This time, I’m lucky. I only have to keep the high for 2.5 days at work and then I’m off again on a first ever blended-family camping trip for a week!! (Now there’s an adventure – stay tuned!)

But really, aside from the obvious… what is stopping us from keeping (at least a portion of) vacation bliss all the time?

This break in routine has really shaken something loose in me. Or rather, it’s confirmed and emphasized the importance of leading with my heart.

No matter what is happening around me, I need to take time to pause and listen. If the vibration is out of synch with my natural rhythm, it’s best to move on to option B (or C, or D, or T).

Life is not a competition. It’s not about who can win more, earn more or do more. It’s also not about being able to do whatever I want and have everything work out perfectly (because trust me, that did not happen on vacation either).

It’s about knowing that there is an abundance of love and beauty for everyone. And accepting it with an open heart.
It’s about keeping my actions in line with my priorities.
It’s about holding space for others, without the ownership of being responsible for them.
It’s about waking up every morning with a heart full of gratitude.

Because at the end of the day (work day, vacation day, retirement day, Saturday..) it just keeps coming back to love.

So, find love. Find beauty. Find bliss. Accept them into your heart and express your gratitude daily. Keep your high as long as you possibly can.

But don’t forget to set your alarm clock!

xo,
e

#TeamAdventurers

Twitter: @pixiepaperdoll7
Instagram: @pixiepaperdoll

Summertime and the livin’s easy.

I’m pretty sure that my boyfriend had his son’s summer fully planned (campgrounds booked, summer camps registered, family visits scheduled) in March.  I’m also pretty sure that was when I was first asked to submit my own summer vacation requests at work.

Yo guys. It’s still snowing. I can barely make plans to put on real pants and leave the house let alone plan my summer.

The actual date of my final vacation request submission: June 27th (2 days before the last day of school).

I’m not much of a planner. (this is the secret to all of my kick-ass road trips!)

And to be fair, Rain and Moxie are now old enough that they don’t need constant adult supervision, nor do they want it. Trust me, I’ve put in my time of coordinating 10 weeks of summer. I’m done.

But mostly, I just didn’t want to.

I didn’t want to have to wake them up before work and drag them out of bed to make lunches for summer camp.

I didn’t want to spend hours searching out summer vacation spots and all the logistics that go along with that. (how many pairs of underwear do we need? did we pack enough food?)

I didn’t want to feel like I was rushing all summer long to cram as much awesomeness down our throats in fear that otherwise we’d be wasting this time sensitive and precious season.

So I didn’t.

Well not really.

I did book us tickets to go camping at Shelter Valley Folk Festival for a weekend.

I will be coordinating the merchandise table at the Peterborough Folk Festival again this year (come visit!)

We are going camping with my bf and his son for a week (three cheers to him for booking the campsite in March!!).

The kids will spend about a week with each set of grandparents. (Yahoo!)

We will spend a weekend in our hometown having some much needed family-time with aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and grandparents!

And there will be incredible paddling trips sprinkled into the mix with a close, family friend. (they’ve already been happening almost weekly since April).

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So for sure, there will definitely be some pretty awesome stuff coming at us. But in between those weeks, it will be unstructured, easy breezy summertime sublime.

Doin’ Time – Sublime

Last week was week 1 and a blank slate.

I was at work and the kids were home all day. They stayed up late every night reading, giggling and sneaking their iPads while I slept (somewhat) soundly in my upstairs bedroom.

They slept late every morning. I left a note with a couple chores to do and reminders (eat breakfast, brush teeth, put clothes on…).  The first couple days, they spent a LOT of time on their iPads. In their pjs. Typically in bed. Food was optional. As was teeth-brushing. (So much for my reminders).

I’ve never really set limits on screen time. Mostly because they’ve always been able to self-regulate at a pace I can live with so it didn’t seem worth the hassle of timing, tantrums and god forbid – planning – their screen time usage for the day!

And sure enough this week they did decide on their own to go outside to play road hockey, climb their favourite trees at the end of the street and they traded their iPads for paper (books/drawing/writing).

On their second day home, they biked downtown to the Farmer’s Market. I’d suggested they could go get a snack with their allowance. Moxie bought 4 tarts and Rain bought a whole pie, all of which became their entire lunch that day. (Eat lunch. check).

The next day they biked to the beach (fresh air AND exercise!). This also included a stop at Mister Convenience where they pooled their money so Rain could get some groovy new sunglasses and Moxie could get candy. (Eat lunch. Check.)

By the end of the week they were on their iPads less and less. They rediscovered the giant Lego bin and they (along with the neighbours) spent hours in our living building all sorts of creations.

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I’ve also started a musician of the week activity where they have to listen to 3 songs by a featured artist and be prepared for a family discussion about them and their music at the end of the week. First was Joni Mitchell, this week is Run DMC.

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Rain is also playing baseball a couple nights/week and refereeing soccer about once/week. (you gotta make some dough to buy the pies)

All in all it was a pretty rad week.

This week they’re spending about 4 days at my parents.  No doubt, they will all have a blast!

Me? I’m working and living the easy summer life at home with Lucy. She totally feels me on this summer lifestyle thing.

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I’m also learning how to fix my bike up at our community bike hub, checking out (mostly free) live music in town whenever I can, going for runs around the lake and spending a lot of time on my back deck with popsicles. I love the slow pace of hanging my clothes on the clothesline, stopping at the farmers market before work and picking herbs out of my garden. Nothing epic to see here…just bliss.

 

And secret confession? Tonight’s the first night they’re gone and despite my list of things I was going to get done around the house, I’ve brought home take-out, went for a run and then just sat outside on the deck writing for hours.  (apparently I follow check-lists as well as Rain and Moxie do in the summer.)

The kids will be back home by the weekend and they’ll have about a week and a half before the next grandparent trip.

Maybe they’ll spend it sleeping, eating sugar and staring at a screen until their eyes are completely glazed over. They’ll survive.

Guys look, I love adventure. I mean, I love it in a way that burns through my veins and gives me cravings that keep me up at night.  And if you are off having an epic adventure somewhere in the world, I will definitely feel pangs of envy. But right now, I’m pushing the summertime easy button and it’s kinda like magic.

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xo
e

#TeamAdventurers
@pixiepaperdoll7 (Twitter)
@pixiepaperdoll (Instagram)

 

Three Years…

Dear Hoop,

This coming Saturday marks three years since your death. Three years of replaying every last conversation we had. Three years of seeing you through my rearview mirror as you buckled up the kids and said good-bye for the last time. Three years of watching you live and breathe in our kids. Three years of questioning your actions. Three years of living with my guilt.

But this year I had decided to ignore the anniversary. I’ve moved on (didn’t you get the memo?). I am happy. I have an amazing life.  I am so fucking balanced that acrobats and accountants are wondering how I do it. (stop laughing, it’s true..mostly.)

Yet somehow you have managed to slip into my subconscious.  Despite my best efforts, you have snuck past my mental roadblocks and have invaded my dreams. For weeks now I’ve been tormented with the most horrendous nightmares that I’ve decided to just stop sleeping all together (The local coffee shops can thank you for the influx in sales).  I won’t go into the gory details (’cause obviously you already know them) but for real… STOP IT!!!!

And I’m not the only one feeling you this week.  Sunday was like all of us were PMSing on steroids.  Even Lucy was hissing at everyone that walked past her.  We didn’t have to mention your name or reveal the impending date but it was there.

Last night at dinner I was casually talking about our upcoming weekend plans when Moxie looked me straight up and said, “but what about Daddy-Day?”

God dammit.

Oh right, D-Day. You remembered.

Deep breath. That’s okay, I do better when I’m not in the elephant’s shadow anyway.

Me: Of course we can do something to remember Dad. Let’s think about some options. But in the meantime, do either of you want to talk about it or do you have any questions?

Her: Well I learned a lot about depression when I wrote my speech and I know that there are lots of kinds of depression so I’m just wondering… what kind of depression did Dad have? I mean.. he didn’t seem depressed?

Me: You mean he didn’t seem sad?

Her: yeah.. how is that depression? Wasn’t he really happy?

*Insert an hour of me rambling on about how you WERE so happy when you were with them and how much you loved playing with them and how all of that happiness was so very real….despite the fact that underneath, you suffered from depression.  Sweet Jesus, I really wish you’d left me a guidebook or at least an FAQ list of how to answer their top 5 questions.

So we made a rough plan to do something to remember you on Sunday (’cause sorry, it’s not all about you and our Saturday is already scheduled).  It will probably involve food.  And it will probably involve some sort of activity where we share stories and send messages to you.  And it may involve some sort of exorcism to get you outta my subconscious.  But we will take some time to remember you.

And rest assured. you continue to be missed. every day. no matter what date it is.

 

xo

e

Twitter: @pixiepaperdoll7
Instagram: @pixiepaperdoll
#TeamAdventurers

 

Important Resources (because although I can speak about my own personal experience, I am NOT an expert):

If you are currently supporting a loved one with mental illness, please, seek out expert support.  Find support for your loved one and for yourself.

If YOU are considering suicide at this time, please, I urge you to call a crisis line in your area.

 

related previously posted:

Dear Jerk.

Dear Jerk (6 months later)

Stigma Fighters

Approaching Doomsday

Unicorns – by Moxie

 

 

 

 

I run to lose weight….(wait for it…)

I got home from an exceptionally long Monday & was on the brink of shrugging off my originally planned run. Excuses were there for the taking: I was tired. (Yeah I know..join the club). I’d already missed the last 4 days..what’s one more? I can’t leave the kids for another 30 minutes, that’s poor parenting. (Psst…they’re too busy playing outside with their friends to notice). I’ve pretty much lost my layer of hibernation so what’s the point? 

Then I read a post by Jennifer Pastiloff who, looking fierce AF stated, “I exercise because if I don’t, I’m a mess.” #preach 

Running clothes on & out the door I started to think about why I run and realized it IS to lose weight. The kind of weight that sits in my mind. It’s not clutter or cobwebs or dustbunnies. It’s heavy & makes it hard to move. It’s atrophic. Being outside alone with my thoughts & minimal distraction helps me shake that shit loose. I practice my own style of active meditation (even though I like to insist I suck at meditation). I come home clearer. And lighter. 

Side benefit is setting a good example for the kids about how to deal with daily stress & anxiety. Had I not gone running, I most likely would have poured a glass of wine for dinner &/or scrolled through social media numbing my brain. And let’s be honest, I still might pour a glass of wine & tada here I am on social media..cause (thank Gawd) I’m not perfect but I’ve managed to changed the tone of my evening. 

I’m not fast. Nor do I typically run more than 5km at a time. But this is not a contest. And even though I’m not trying to win anything, I gain so much …. by losing this weight. 

Thanks for the reminder Jennifer!!! 

How do you lose that extra weight in your mind?

xo,
e

(Ps-how lucky am I to have this gorgeous lake to run around?!?!)

twitter: @pixiepaperdoll7

instagram: @pixiepaperdoll