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…

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

 

 

 

 

Hurrah! At last I’m 40!

*Preface: As I write this, I feel all of my 40 years. I took off on my bike to find a quiet place to write and my knees are super achy from my (very rare these days) morning run + 3 days of gardening (yes, I was delighted to spend my May long weekend at home playing in dirt and plants).  Also, I had to choose a place to write that was close enough to home that I could get back for when, inevitably, I have to pee (I’m partly blaming childbirth on this one!)

40.

A new Decade.

I like the sound of that.

It’s not that my 30s were terrible. There were some definite highlights:

I gave birth to my 2nd child, Moxie and have immensely enjoyed spending this past decade with her and her older brother, Rain. 

I traveled. I had developed the desire to travel (alone) when I was 26 and spent almost 3 months with my backpack throughout Guatemala, Honduras and Belize.  In my 30s, I explored more of the region in Costa Rica (10 day adventure tour) and Nicaragua (a week of scuba diving on my favourite place in the world, Little Corn Island).  I embarked on a supa-dupa-triple-fun solo road trip throughout the Maritimes and landed in Fredericton at my besties Beth and Joe’s wedding.  Speaking of road-trips, I drove the kids from Mississauga across Canada to Vancouver Island and then down to Seattle.  We met up with great friends and a family along the way.  (Kim, Dottie, Tim, Joel, Andrew, Leanne, Carmanah, Tuna, guard dogs, chickens, and Jill – thanks for opening your homes and hearts to us) It was a trip of a lifetime!

I distinctly remember turning 30 (which I guess I should, it’s only been 10 years..and 40’s not *that* old..). I was 7 months pregnant and living a life that fit me like a beautiful wool turtleneck. It looked so perfect from the outside but inside it felt uncomfortable and constricting. It didn’t fit and it was unraveling.

Two years later, I was a single mom. I had made a decision to leave 95% of all my friends and belongings so that I could start again. 

If my previous life had been a sweater, this new phase was like running around topless. It felt free and terrifying and yet I was suddenly quite comfortable in my own skin.

I had no idea what I was doing and I made a ridiculous amount of mistakes (daily).

But I was doing it. On my own. With my kids. We were a team. We were Team Adventurers!

Just as things were becoming familiar and comfortable, we lost their father to suicide. This shifted all of our journeys in life. It still does. 

Last year, I started dating K and we quickly decided to join families in Peterborough. The kids and I needed a change and I liked the idea of what Peterborough had to offer as a small, artsy community (confession: The first time I ever visited Peterborough was when K and I signed our lease. I tend to move through life on gut feelings.)  So I quit my job and we rented a gorgeous house near the water within walking distance to downtown and easily adapted to our new surroundings.

We all felt completely at home in Ptbo, but combining families is apparently more difficult that I had thought and by the end of 2015, I was a single mom again.  Only this time, I was in a new community, had no job, and was recovering from open hernia surgery.

This is when I start running around looking for that sweater again.

Thankfully, I didn’t find it.  

And thankfully, I am surrounded by amazing friends and family (old and new). You all deserve gold stars in supportive friendmanship.

Since then, I have gained employment (though my contract is up next month, if anyone has any leads…), purchased our home (thanks for your help Mom and Dad), and started dating K again. .. only slower.

The kids are thriving and I am in love with showing them small community ways of life (I was raised in a community of 2,600 so Ptbo is more in line with my roots).

Life is good.

This is exactly how I want to start my 40s.

Now I feel like I should offer some sort of old age wisdom…… Or is that what you do when you turn 50?

Let me share some of the things I’ve learned (the hard way), particularly in my 30s.

  • Break up with word “should”. Do not believe that you should have to act, think, feel, dress a certain way. If that sweater doesn’t fit, take it off. And don’t get caught up in what should or shouldn’t happen. Trust me, they happen.  Or they don’t. That’s just it.
  • You are only responsible for your own happiness. Be kind. Be respectful. Be responsible for your actions. But don’t obsess over the happiness of others. You are not responsible for the happiness of your friends, colleagues, random people you meet on the street, your family and not even your kids. Happiness is an inside gig and they will have to figure it out on their own. Just as you will have to do the same. Do what makes you happy.
  • Enjoy your own company. Yearn for it. Make it a priority. Make friends with the voice inside your head. She’s pretty dang cool. And this voice will stay with you and keep you company for the rest of your days.

Music break!

“If I get old I’m living easy

Find a nice old country home.

Let the land do what she wants to

Leave her wild and overgrown.

And when I’m sure my days are numbered,

Find a nice place in the fields.

And thank that little voice inside my head

For such great company.”

~Elliott Brood, If I get Old

  • Be real with yourself.  Life is not perfect nor does it have to look that way. It’s messy and gorgeous and sometimes a lot of the time, it’s really fucking hard. Experience every emotion unapologetically. And don’t trust people who are always telling you to smile.
  • Lastly, make goals. And as cheese bread as it sounds, write them down. This is where I struggle. I can think of hundreds of things I want to do but putting it to paper scares the bejeebers out of me. I used to think that it was because I had commitment issues. (I even wrote about them: http://commuterlit.com/2012/05/monday-the-empty-space/) And maybe that’s partly true. I have also blamed my limited attention span – squirrel!! But I think I’m most afraid of fucking up. What if I never get to check it off the list? What if I fail? I mean, I guess I could write new/revised goals…but what would my journal think??  *Sigh… My goal for my 40s is to write down my goals.

So that’s it – thanks for being part of my new decade celebration – let’s go for a drink sometime! But for now….. I have to pee!!!

xoxoxo,

e

@pixiepaperdoll7

Approaching Doomsday

A couple weeks ago, one of the kids asked me how long it had been since…you know.. Daddy… I said that we were coming up to 2 years.

“What’s the date?”

“May 6th”

“I don’t want that day to come. I don’t want it to be another year without him.”

From that point on, it’s been referred to as Doomsday.

We must all have been subconsciously thinking about this upcoming anniversary. A couple nights before this conversation, I dreamt about you for the 1st time in ages. You were waiting for us at the arena for Rain’s hockey game.  The kids and I had been excited to see you again (yes, even me) after so long.  We were anxious to hear about your extended vacation.  You greeted us with the same big goofy smile you always had for the kids. Then I woke up. 4:01am and I was wide awake and shaken.  In efforts to fall back asleep I thought about the day’s events (trying to ground myself in reality). Suddenly I wondered if I’d remembered to turn off the BBQ after dinner. I tried to assure myself that I had of course turned it off, I always do. But then came thoughts that maybe you had come to me in a dream as a warning (so much for reality). You had come to save us from an impending explosion – you *are* supposed to be our guardian angel, right?  As I grappled with varying degrees of reality, my tossing and turning woke up Keith who graciously went downstairs and outside to confirm that the BBQ had indeed been turned off.  Nothing to worry about.  Good to know you continue to be more jack-ass than angel.

Even still, it was kinda nice to see you again. Next time stay longer. There are things I’d like to say to you (in person, not just those conversations in my head).

We’ve sort of adapted to this new normal..but let me assure you…it still sucks.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to write, Rain and Moxie’s dad is deceased on various forms. And it sucks. Every time.

And while the kids are growing up to be such incredibly thoughtful, imaginative, gorgeous souls, they are also now processing and thinking about your death in an older and more complex way.

They’re looking to me to help them answer questions that I can’t even understand.

Why didn’t Daddy talk to someone about his feelings and ask for help?

It’s ironic that your anniversary falls within Mental Health Awareness week.  I know that I should be out there promoting the shit of out this..and usually I do. But right now it’s like everywhere I look, I’m reminded of your death and the days/months/years leading up to it.  And I want to scream every time I see that hashtag #GETLOUD

I’ll get loud alright…

Mental illness is BULLSHIT !!!

Suicide is BULLSHIT !!

Your death is BULLSHIT !!

Me having to deal with all of this is BULLSHIT !!

The kids having to deal with all of this is even more BULLSHIT !!

Those late night tear-stained conversations are the most bullshit of all……..

I hate that you’re missing so much of their lives. And I hate that they’re missing having you in it.

You continue to be missed. You continue to be loved. And we will remember you and honour you on Doomsday when it arrives. But right now, I think this is bullshit and I’m going to #GETLOUD about it.

xo,

e

 

@paperpixiedoll7

Unicorns – by Moxie

On Monday morning, first day of March Break, I was in the bathtub getting ready for the day when Moxie (my 9 year old) came in and sat on the floor beside me.

“Mom, I wrote this thing a while ago but just decided that I wanted to share it with you,”

In my head I was thinking that I needed to rush through my bath so that I could get ready for work and get her and her brother packed up and off to the bus station so they could spend the week with their grandparents. But instead of putting her off I said, “Sure Moxie, I’d love to hear what what you wrote.”

and thank goodness because this is what I got:

“Many people don’t believe in unicorns. They say there is no evidence so they are not real. I personally believe in this majestic beast, but real or not, they are a sign of hope. My family has had a difficult past but even so, the hope that lies in us is much stronger than the grief inside us.”  ~ Moxie Hooper (age 9)

wow.

Needless to say that as soon as she mentioned our ‘difficult past’ (what a diplomatic way to say her Dad took his life), I was incredibly thankful that the steam from the bath disguised my teary eyes.

I asked her if I could share this on the Team Adventurers blog and she agreed (as long as I fixed the spelling) .

There is not much I need nor want to add to this other than,

you should always:

  • believe in majestic beasts and,
  • never lose faith

because “the hope that lies in us is much stronger than the grief inside us.”

 

xo,

e

(and Moxie)

#TeamAdventurers

 

#BellLetstalk Day (2016)

It’s #BellLetsTalk Day (2016) and instead of writing another full post about how mental health has impacted our family, I’ll let my previous writing speak for itself.

Regardless of whether you become involved in this campaign, I do encourage everyone to keep talking about mental health.  I wish I had insisted on more of those conversations. As difficult as they would have been, they would have been easier than the conversations I’ve had to have with Rain and Moxie since Jason’s death. Not to mention the conversations I’ve had to have with myself.

Stigma Fighters – my story

Dear Jerk

Dear Jerk (6 months later)

Happy Birthday Jason

Happy Birthday Jason (2015)

The Black Dog

In the words of Bob Dylan, Play it Fu**ing Loud!

Hoop’s Memorial Hockey Game

My Life with (and without) kids. Before and After.

#BellLetsTalk Day (2015)

Fantastic (Canadian) videos in support of mental health awareness:

Amelia Curran – You Are Not Alone

Brian Byrne – I miss you most – The Arizona Project

Keep talking. You are not alone.

xo,

e

#TeamAdventurers

@pixiepaperdoll7