I wrestle with this. A lot these days.
Especially the death part.
And not out of any morbid
I try not to think of what if,
what if it has all been in vain?
I want Him, It or Someone to tell me,
tell me it’s going to be ok.
He, It, Someone hasn’t done that yet,
or have They?
Then one day, I get a call.
She fought a brave battle.
Your heart sinks.
The pain. The confusion.
This fear that you feel inside.
You can’t see it. You can’t touch it.
At times you can’t even describe it.
But you know it’s there.
You stumble around in the dark,
this maze of broken glass.
Every turn, every step
more painful, than the last.
We try to help each other.
Whispered collections of jumbled thoughts,
I think, I hope. I pray. Still.
Maybe I can wear it down,
this albatross of affliction,
this Specter of Death.
Its mere mention makes my skin crawl.
The confusion, the fear,
as I stand on this precipice,
of death and dying.
Would I change it?
Knowing what I know, would
I take it back. Would I press pause,
rewind – or even delete?
just wipe it all out.
Take away the memories,
her memories, her love,
Would I give it all back?
I wouldn’t, I couldn’t.
I would rather choose the pain,
than the loss of all memories,
the loss of “having.”
And therein lies the secret
of who will win this race
of David and Goliath,
of Life and Death,
the fear we fight in spite.
Because, if you choose love, every single time, even when you’re hurting,
I was kind of lost the last time we spoke. Somehow our positions had gotten reversed.
I’m not really sure when or how that happened.
You were always the strong one. You who never forgot a single birthday or any other special occasion for that matter. Christmas, Easter, even Halloween, believe it or not. And to be honest, I didn’t always understand why. Because, I wasn’t even your child, and you were not my mother.
Over the years you watched as another foster mom would take me into the store where you worked standing behind the counter in your spotless white coat. You told me many times how you would tell your own mom how much you wanted me for yourself. I never understood that either. No one else seemed to want me, so why would a complete stranger even look at me like that. I was just a dirty welfare kid.
But love is like that, isn’t it Mom. She is not concerned with where you have come from, what you may have or how you may look. She wants to show you great things and limitless possibilities. She sits in the beat of your heart and rises in the precious air that we breathe into our bodies. She is always there and everywhere. You cannot measure or restrict the depth nor breadth of her reach. She is omnipotent.
I am so sorry it took me so long to understand how much you loved me or why. I really didn’t get it. I was so broken. My scars cut so much deeper than I had thought they ever could. But that didn’t stop you, did it? No one else had loved me the way you did. No other mom came to my rescue. Even though I spent so many years waiting for her to come riding in off the sunset, telling me it wasn’t my fault and that I was worthy of a mother’s love, of anyone’s love.
Many times I wished that you could have found me earlier. But I have you now right, so that’s all that matters. That’s all that should matter. Because regardless of how much time we were given, I got to love you and to be loved by you.
It is the quality of that love that truly matters, even though our hearts will always ache for the quantity too.
You must think I’m silly. Talking to you so much. Saying goodnight to a picture frame. If Dad is sitting next to you, he’s probably just shaking his head saying, “that’s our little girl.”
Come on now Mom, you have to see the irony in all of this. I talk to you more now than when you were alive. What’s up with that? Am I a silly human just being human or a woman who is just coming into her own.
I understand that so many of us struggle with the passing of a loved one but I find solace and comfort in honoring your life, by keeping you here with me – in as many ways as I can. Don’t get me wrong, It still hurts, very much, but in a different way. It’s a heaviness now more so at times, rather than that initial piercing through the core of one’s very being. And I’m learning to be okay with this, and in time I will be. But not just yet though.
That day I walked into the hospital to see you, was the day my heart broke in two. I cry each time I go there in my head. It makes my heart hurt so much. No more would I walk into the house on Marine Drive. Dad would have my ham in the oven, already half cooked and you would be fussing all about. Lord help us if Dad or I left something out of place. You walking around like a sentinel making sure we didn’t.
Do you remember that one time I purposely put a candy wrapper in the ashtray in the living room? I had a friend with me there that day. I told her you would catch it within seconds (laughing). And sure enough, in you came, walking through the house – and before you even had your coat off – there you were scooping the candy wrapper out of the dish. You pretended to be affronted when I first told you but I could see you holding back the laughter. You loved when I teased you like that.
But that day in the hospital room was so very different, wasn’t it? I started crying as soon as I saw you, then your niece started crying, then you began to cry, and then the other lady in the room started crying. I know they were crying because you and I were smiling ear to ear while bawling like babies. But it was beautiful wasn’t it mom. They were tears of joy and love and, and……
That was also the day I learned why your arm was hurting you so much. It wasn’t the diabetes was it? Cancer had spread to your bones. It was in your arm, your hip and even your shoulder. Cancer that we didn’t even know about. It was supposed to be diabetes remember? You said it was just your diabetes and the doctors just wanted to do more tests.
It seemed to happen overnight. Just mere months to announce a life must now come to an end. That seems so cruel, don’t you think? But then again we all live with not knowing when, don’t we? Why is it we seem to believe that death only comes to those who appear ill or frail? None of us are immune, are we Mom? The one thing none of us can escape.
I could see that it was causing you so much pain, so much unnecessary crippling pain. We come into this world kicking and screaming and sometimes it seems we must leave the same way as if it were some bad cosmic joke that none of us really gets. Is it the universe getting its wires crossed or is it just doing its own thing.
You lay there propped up in bed – looking so frail. A beautiful tiny porcelain doll in her pink cotton PJ’s with soft white lace trim. You looked so fragile, so small. How did you get so small? When did you get so small?
I sat on the bed facing you. I was very careful not to sit on you, because you know I can be a total klutz sometimes. I just wanted to scoop you up and squeeze you so tight, but I knew I couldn’t. It would cause you too much pain. So I sat next to you, gently holding your hand, trying not to break in two, trying my hardest to be a mom for you. You looked up at me with the saddest most vulnerable expression I have ever seen and asked me, “Judy, am I going to die?”
And without any hesitation, and tears sliding down my face, I whispered, “no mom you’re not, I promise.”
Maybe you have gone on to a different place or time – who knows, sometimes I can’t make any sense out of it all. Life, death – they confuse me. But as you can see – to me, you didn’t die and you never left me.
And I will continue to celebrate loving you and being loved by you each and every day.
Because mom, a promise is a promise. And you taught me that. And whenever I have any doubt I will always do what you told me to do…
Several years ago – I remember sitting with a good friend and mentor as he shared with me his own personal wisdom of the many do’s and don’ts that exists within the business world. I was just about to launch my own Recruitment Agency and I figured I could use all the help I could get.
I knew if I ever need help with anything at all – I could go to him – he would know the answer. He always knew the answer. And he was never too busy for me. He just wanted to see me succeed and that’s just the way he was.
One day in particular stands out more vividly than others. We were sipping our Tim Horton’s coffee in downtown Toronto, right at the corner of John and King, my friend was telling me about an upcoming surgery he was going to have.
“The doctors think I have carpal tunnel syndrome,” he said “they figure it should help.” I remember taking his hand in mine and running my fingers along the smoothness of his skin – I told him he had baby soft skin and we both started laughing.
I could see how the muscles on his hand seemed to cave in, “that doesn’t look like any carpal tunnel I’ve read about,” I mentioned to him. We both shrugged. Maybe because we didn’t want it to be anything else. Isn’t ignorance supposed to be bliss?
Why is it for such an intelligent species, we tend to put on blinders when it comes to illnesses and dying. Why do we believe that we have all the time in the world to do whatever it is we desire. And more importantly, why are we so afraid to even talk about it. But therein is the reason, isn’t it. We are afraid. And if we don’t talk about it – it won’t be real. How’s that for naiveté.
And while we all will vehemently state “everyone has to die one day”, it is with reckless abandonment – that we try to distance ourselves from actually feeling this and the weight that often comes with it. In some childlike way, we rationalize that even though we are aware of it – it just happens to everyone else around us.
Then one day it happens. The “around us” gets closer. And we’re shaken to our core. We get scared, we get angry and sometimes we even hate.
We feel insulted when we have to go about our regular day as if everything is the same or dare I say it, normal. We want to scream and yell at the injustices – something to mark the occasion – something that brings attention to the fact that, “this isn’t just another day.”
We get up the next morning; go about reviewing our same daily tasks, perhaps in between booking doctor’s visits and some other mundane appointments. Most within our circles or network of connections are none the wiser. Because you see – it is just another day. And life does not stop when you are handed a death notice. In fact – in my opinion, you are never more alive, or aware of it.
I’ll be very honest, it was hard to see my friend. I was often at a loss. I didn’t have any magic words – I didn’t have anything that could make it better. And that made me so very angry and very scared.
We chatted, as best as we could – he would get frustrated sometimes – but dear god who wouldn’t, with the battle he had before him. I couldn’t always make out what he was trying to say, which also frustrated me, because I didn’t want him to get frustrated – but between the two of us, we did the best we could With each passing week – it was harder, and I was often unsure what to do. I wanted to fix it – and I knew I couldn’t. You just feel so damn helpless.
At times, I just wanted to rip this evil thing out of him. And that is the only way I can describe it. I wanted to take away his fear when he would tell me how afraid he is, especially when he knew what his future was going to be like. I listened to him when he would tell me how much he worried about his wife and how he was so amazed at how much she actually does. He was aware of this, every single day. I smile when I think of that. She’s such a tiny lass. Yet her strength in facing such devastating adversity was simply beautiful and inspiring and so filled with love. At times it did knock her down, and even though it was not easy to get back up, she always did.
And still our daily lives go on. Emails are answered, messages are texted and appointments are confirmed.
One thing that initially caused me a wee bit of confusion with my friend, was how persistent he was in wanting to make sure his business kept moving smoothly. I’ve had to wrestle with that one, and still do at times. My instinctive reaction was, “what the hell, forget about it, how can that be important now.” But for so many of us, it is. I know his motivation was also based on watching his wife. He had to look after her, he still saw that as his responsibility – I saw that in everything he pushed himself to do. And that’s just the way it is. Life goes on – for everyone. No meanness meant or cold heartedness. Regardless of what a doctor may tell us – there are still things that have to be done. And we have families that we will worry about until the day we take our last breath. That is who we are and that is life.
There were times when I thought there was such cruelness afoot, some bad cosmic influence. How can one be expected to go about their day when given such horrible news? But people are doing this every single day. They get up each morning – put one foot in front of the other – when possible, and they face their day. Because they know what the alternative is, and they choose to live first and foremost, as painful and as difficult as that can be. To me they are true heroes, they are the magical markers in our lives.
And the first thing that we should do, is applaud them – recognize them – and help whenever we can. And never, ever, dismiss the obvious elephant in the room. Some things cannot be hidden, nor should be.
I didn’t know how to tell my friend how much I hated his ALS and how it made me angry. It confused me in ways that I can’t really explain, even to myself. So I would tell him how much I love him – I would make him laugh, he would make me cry – and we would also make each other strong. I never say, it’s not fair. I understand – it just is. Once you realize this, it’s then that you can try to make a difference, no matter how big or how small. You help out, you listen and you try not to get caught up in thinking that you have to fix something that can’t be fixed.
I don’t see my work day like I use to. I don’t see any day like I use to. Is it my maturing age, or is it in the fact that too often I see my friends and family just not being there anymore. What we do each day, work or otherwise, is supposed to be a choice and not a chore. We can find joy and choose joy. Even amidst the pain, the trauma and the not so fun parts. It’s also a day where we should never forget to reach out and let others know they are being thought of. I try not to take anything for granted. I cannot reiterate enough, that life is so short, but you can do a lot with the one you have, you truly can. Just open your eyes.
“Understand your WORTH. Value your LIFE. Appreciate your BLESSINGS. Be GRATEFUL.”
As much as there is sadness afoot, there is also an abundance of love and joy around us. You have to believe this. No job placement or new business will ever replace that. And it is with that humility and gratitude that everything else just falls into place, and begins to make sense.
If I could wish anything for anyone – it would be to find that balance.
I sincerely believe we all do have a purpose and that we all can make a difference, no matter how big or how small. It is up to each and every one of us to choose to make that difference.
For myself, I find that I am no longer searching for those definitive answers to “why this or why that happens.” As corny as it may sound….”it just is.” I’m actually astonished that I find peace in such three simple words.
I remember an interesting passage I once read in a book, called Laws of Attraction, it makes more sense to me now.
” If contrast were to cease, so would expansion. We need expansion for eternity. Without it there wouldn’t be more. There wouldn’t be us.”
And I am so thankful for “us,” in whatever shape or form.