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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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

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

Santa on Speed Dial

T’was a month before Christmas and all through our home
came the whining and arguing from each of my spawn.

They fought over books. They fought over toys.
I could not hear myself think over their noise noise noise noise!

The blowing cold wind had kept us inside
until finally I held up my cell phone and cried,

“You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I’m telling you why.
I have Santa’s phone number on speed dial.

They both went as silent as a holy night.
Until one of them whispered, ‘do you think she’s alright?’

I stood with my phone in my outstretched palm
Their worried eyes stared at me; could I really go on?

But today I was feeling so smart and so slick,
That I thought up a lie and I thought it up quick.

“Yes, of course I have Santa’s phone number, my dears.
He gave it to all parents at the mall last year.”

And this snowball kept growing, not quite according to plan
until suddenly it was larger than Frosty the Snowman.

I led them down a tale of homes where Santa’s sleigh won’t drop.
And I only paused a moment when I heard someone holler, “Stop!”

“Enough! Enough! No need for alarm.
We’ll play nicely. Please! Put down that phone!”

And what happened next? Well my children might say
That they watched my heart grow 3 sizes that day.

Will I really stop Christmas from coming this year?
Let’s just see how things look as we get even nearer.

We will still hang our stockings by the chimney with care
with almost full certainty Santa will be there.

And they heard me repeat as I walked out of sight,
“Peaceful Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

Erica Richmond
@pixiepaperdoll7

my Battlefield

Under this exposed battlefield

i have nourished life.

It is here that i hold my breath

and store my energy.

 

From third to second chakra

a patchwork of

scars, stretch marks, and ink

blanket my anxieties of love and esteem.

 

Sterile precision

marks my

growing

strength.

 

Look for beauty in the shadows.

For there is adventure in this heart

and freedom in my spirit.

 

e

Erica Richmond

@pixiepaperdoll7

 

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Big Bash Blues – GRTTaK

My friend Alison recently introduced me to the show: GrownUps Read Things They Wrote as Kids.   It’s an open mic and podcast of (say it with me) Grown-Ups Reading Things They Wrote as Kids.  Yup. It’s that simple.  And it is awesome.

After I listened to my first episode on CBC, Alison texted me and said “The show is coming to Toronto.  Let’s go!”

She ordered us tickets while I perused the website.  The opportunity to read a piece of writing from my childhood jumped out at me.  I was pretty sure I saved some old writing material (in the depths of my parent’s basement – where it most likely belongs).. But before I could talk myself out of it, I signed myself up.  (**GULP!!)

Reading this story was less about the actual story and more about me stepping on stage and out of my comfort zone.  It was about me being vulnerable … in public.  It’s easy to write stories from the safety of my living room posting them for for thousands (okay well, 20) invisible readers. But taking something that I have written (particularly something I wrote as a teenager) and reading it out loud in front of a room full of actual people with nothing to hide behind besides a microphone was taking things to a whole new level.

Thankfully this room full of strangers turned out to be an incredibly supportive bunch and I felt  more like a member of secret cult community. I have always wanted to join a geeky cool club that meets in the back of a comic book store (or this case, the back of a bar).

Special thanks to Dan Misener and the lovely Jenna for their own kindness through this experience.

I urge you to check out their websitesubscribe to their podcasts on iTunes and follow them on Twitter.  This shit is funny.  Really.  Really. funny.

Okay enough of this self-reflective mumbo jumbo – check out the YouTube of my recording followed by the transcribed version:

Intro:

This is a short story I wrote as part of a highschool English assignment. I believe I was in my OAC year (which translates to grade 13).

It’s called Big Bash Blues and it’s about how to throw a party when your parents leave you home alone. And more importantly, how to cover your tracks.

I don’t remember writing this story but I do remember the party.. well parts of it…

The funniest part is that at the bottom of the story I had to get a Peer Review and the comment left from my friend (who had been to this party) was: “Next time don’t have your party on a Sunday.” You see, Monday had been a bit rough for a bunch of my friends who one by one had gone home sick from school…

Big Bash Blues

It’s inevitable that sometime during your life you will decide to throw a party. Chances are that it will be during your high school career without your parents knowledge and there are certain things that you should be prepared for. People will do strange things at parties and you always have to keep an eye out for when they decide to glue catalogues on the counter, run around the house and have a water fight, stick beer labels to the wall or bang on a door so hard that it breaks, locking nine people inside a small room.

However once the party is finished and everyone has finally gone home the first thing you will notice is that your house will look as if it had been hit by a tornado. You will not only find cigarette butts everywhere, but you will also find beer caps, chips, pop cans, ashes, clothes and even spaghetti from a very messy spaghetti fight. Cleaning up will seem an impossible never-ending job. No matter how many times you’ve cleaned a room, chances are you’ve still missed some incriminating evidence of your big bash, so keep cleaning.

When your parents come home they will probably be expecting something to have gone wrong. They’ll ask a million questions and wait for you to cross stories or say something completely unbelievable. Once that happens you are doomed to a life of interrogation. You’ll have to think of fast excuses for every misplaced blanket, empty chip bag and how on earth you ever got spaghetti on your curtain.

However, unless you are a great liar or your parents are really gullible, they’ll probably catch on to your excuses soon enough. They’ll realize that the yellowish liquid on the counter is not from you and your girlfriends making facials. They’ll know about your rocking house party and they won’t be impressed. You’ll get grounded, lose their trust and they’ll never let you stay home alone again. Of course you might not mind a few weekends to recover. As far as not staying home alone, do you really want to go through all of that again anyway?

So once you’ve finished partying, cleaning, lying and being grounded there’s only one more question; was it worth it? I can almost guarantee your answer will be yes. Because having a party is something that you can’t go through life without doing. And now that you’ve had one, you’ll never have to do it again.

e

@pixiepaperdoll7

me reading at GrownUps Read Things They Wrote as Kids (GRTTWak)

me reading at GrownUps Read Things They Wrote as Kids (GRTTWak)

me, Alison and Paula at GrownUps Read Things They Wrote as Kids (GRTTWak)

me, Alison and Paula at GrownUps Read Things They Wrote as Kids (GRTTWak)

THIS is why it’s important – Speak your truth.

I’ve discovered, the hard way (as most important lessons are learned), that developing a thick skin is critical to writing.

“To write is to bleed words onto the page – to be entirely vulnerable – the surest way to criticism and the clearest path to metamorphic transformation.” -AmyJalapeño.com

So why do it?  Why I share my life so intimately in such a public forum – I mean let’s face it – the web is world-wide! (people might see it!)

The other day, my amazing cousin (who graciously shares much of my writing on her own website) sent me this text:

From my client:

Please thank Erica for me for sharing intimate details about herself and her life. It really was those articles that impacted me wanting to change.
I have two incredible children that need me, full on everyday. Living in a place of love and gratitude is sooo much nicer xx

That. 
That is why I speak my truth.  

Because someone out there (in that wide world) might read it and feel like my words were written specifically for them.  

Because not speaking the truth can create shame and guilt and tragedy.

And because it just feels good. dammit.

Speak your truth.  In your head. In a whisper. or on the world wide web.  Because the truth; Your truth, is powerful.

xo,
e

@pixiepaperdoll7