My Girl

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Eleven years ago today my middle child was born.  Wini’s conception and birth were a bit of a surprise to us.  As a sleepless mother of a 5 month old, I was taken aback when I found out I was pregnant.  Once the shock subsided, we looked forward to our happy accident. Her arrival into this world was full force.  Of course we knew that after 40 weeks in utero, we should expect a child to emerge from my body.  We had done it once before.  We simply didn’t plan for her to arrive so quickly.

I had my first contraction at 1 am on February 27th, 2006.  Forty seven minutes later Wini was born.  Luckily I had a team around me.  Jess caught Wini and swept her mouth for any obstructions.  I lay naked on our bathroom floor with a new born on my chest, while my mother in law paced the floor repeating “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit”.  She is an experienced nurse and did have the where with all to haul a dirty sweatshirt out of my hamper and cover my daughter.  Then we waited for my midwife to arrive while my oldest child stood crying in her crib.

My awesome midwife Manavi knew something was up when I didn’t answer her last phone call and proceeded to run every red light to get to my house.  She parked on my front lawn and bounded up the stairs yelling “I’m coming” in response to me screaming her name. Everyone was well taken care of and deemed healthy, and we were able to add a plus one to our little clan.

Wini is one of the joys of my life.  She is loving and funny, and smart, and a little firecracker.  And let’s face it, she is the only kid that looks like me.

Happy birthday to my Winstar.  May your days be long and full of happiness, fulfillness, family, friends, adventure, love, and peace.

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 Although my cake decorating skills leave a lot to be desired, this cake is delicious.  The recipe is from my one of my favorite people who has some serious kitchen skills.  Check it out at Annie Dishes.

The photo of my daughter and me is the fabulous work of Quietlife Photography.

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Year Three

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Three years ago today I watched my mother die.  I know it is cliche to say “I can’t believe how much time has passed” but I really can’t.  My mom was a big part of my life and we were very close, yet when I think of her now it is like watching an old movie I saw long ago. At the same time, I have moments when I think “oh I should call my mom and tell her…”, as if she were still alive and only a phone call away.  I envy not only my friends but everyone who has a healthy parent in their lives.

Grief has presented itself in so many different forms over the years.  I think I was grieving as soon as my mom told me she had cancer in 2000.  I had been in fear of her death until she died.  Death was always looming, and I was always questioning its arrival.  I was not sure I would be able to emotionally survive the loss of my mom.  Once my mom died, grief turned to shock.  My life was surreal, and I was surrounded by people who didn’t understand.  I only wanted to be with those who had lost someone dear to them.  Only they knew the pain I felt.  Sadness took over, the kind that feels heavy on your shoulders, and lives deep in your bones.  The kind of sadness that traps you in one place, not allowing you to move forward.  It hinders your ability to get out of bed in the morning, to enjoy the sunshine, and those around you that are still alive.

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Three years later, I know I survived.  I am still grieving.  I still miss my mom.  I keep my  grief close to my heart.  My grief is wrapped in defeat and acceptance.  My mom came back many times during her illness.  She was often the victor but in the end death won.  I am unable to change that fact, and unable to bring her back.  What I can do is appreciate the wonderful relationship I had with my dear old mum.  I can be grateful that I had the love and support from an amazing woman whom I was lucky enough to call my mom.

I was and still am humbled by death.  It did not defeat me, but it made me brutally aware that there are events in my life that I have no control over.  There is a time to fight, and there is a time to let go.  Part of me has let go, but part of me will carry my mom with me everyday in everything I do.  I am who I am in large part because of my mom.  For this, I am forever grateful.

I am going to repost the essay I wrote  a few months after my mom died.  At the time, I was drowning and unable to breathe.  Writing helped me catch my breath.  When I wrote this essay, it was the lowest I have ever been in my life.  The only way I got to where I am now was to crawl through the despair.  I am reposting this essay because someone reading this right now is grieving a loved one just like I am.  I want you to know that it is possible to survive.

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I wonder if there will be a day when I don’t think about her.  At each celebration, will I forget that  she should have been here to experience it with us?  If I need advice or want to share my day, will there be a time when I don’t reach for the phone to call her?  I wonder if the time will come when I don’t relive those last few days in the hospital with her — knowing the end was coming, wishing it would come quickly, and not wanting it to happen all at the same time.

I was always very close to my mom.  She was full of adventure and laughter.  She was the kind of mom who would melt orange cheese on toast and cut it into pumpkin shapes for Hallowe’en. She would sew matching dresses for me and my favourite doll.  She would pretend that she was a kissing monster and chase me as I ran screaming around our apartment.  Often we would go on long hikes in High Park and nearby conservation areas.  My mom would pile as many neighbourhood kids as we could fit into our broken down blue station wagon.  The horn on our wagon needed to be fixed.  It would go off unannounced for an undisclosed amount of time.  My brother and I would slouch down below the window in embarrassment, while my mom would laugh and wave as people stared.  She could always see the humour in every situation.     

We didn’t have much money growing up, as she left an abusive marriage when we were young.  Not once during my childhood did she say a negative word about my father, even though there were a few to say.  She never let us know that the child support cheque hadn’t arrived, or that money was tight.  She wanted us to be happy, and to have it all.  When we moved into our small two bedroom apartment after the divorce, she let my brother and I both have our own rooms.  My mom opted for the couch in the living room for her bed.  She gave us the best she could give.  We were taught to be grateful.  There was always someone in the world who had it worse than us, and therefore there was no reason to complain.  Everything was attainable if we worked hard.  She supported everything we ever did, and truly believed that we could do it all.           

My mom had a long fourteen year battle with non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, with a little thyroid and skin cancer thrown in.  She had a brief period of remission, and then got Leukemia as a result of her past cancer treatments.  We would spend our hours together at the hospital doing the crossword puzzle.  We had our system down pat.  If she was well enough to walk in, I would drop her off, park the car, and return with our morning coffees and the paper.  When she was unable to walk, I would wheel her in and run from the car park to her side.  Once she was settled, I would bring her her coffee.  It was never drunk on those days.  I didn’t need to hear the doctor tell me that her blood counts were too low, or that she had an infection.  I always knew from the untouched Tim Horton’s coffee.  We got to know the other patients in the Hematology clinic, not by name but by symptoms.  We would talk about how the overweight guy who always wore overalls wasn’t looking very well, or the skinny lady with her chatty husband was walking and not using her wheelchair, or that young mother who sometimes brought her daughter no longer needed her IV.  If one of the regular faces wasn’t there it was never discussed.  I think we both secretly hoped that they had miraculously been cured.  There was an unspoken desire for everyone to get well.  If they could beat cancer, then there was hope for all of us, both the ones in the waiting room and the ones yet undiagnosed.      

My mom did countless rounds of chemotherapy, and radiation, in addition to a stem cell and bone marrow transplant.  She lost her hair and her sense of taste many times but they came back.  My mom always came back.  She was a fighter until the day she died.  She never gave up until I told her she could.  One of the hardest things I ever had to do was tell my mom that she was dying.  She didn’t need to have her blood work done, or take her medication.  She didn’t need to eat or drink.  It was ok to let go. 

She died the next day. 

There is relief in death that is seldom spoken of. I am relieved that my mom no longer suffers, that it isn’t a struggle for her to eat, swallow, breathe.  All the things that healthy people take for granted every day become near insurmountable challenges when you are fighting to stay away from death’s door.  I am relieved that my mom doesn’t have to watch the seasons pass through a hospital window.  She was such a lover of nature.  She found pleasure in the simplicity and never ending beauty of all animals, and flowers.  She drank it all in.  She would marvel at the intricacy of an insect’s wing, and be equally awed by the expanse of a colourful sky.  I am relieved that she is no longer tired, or nauseated, or just sick of being sick.

I am also relieved for myself.  Most caregivers don’t allow themselves the freedom to be relieved after a loved one has died.  My mom was an oncology nurse for 18 years.  She saw death every day, and knew the anguish those left behind endured. There is no shame in relief.  It does not negate the love you feel for the one you lost.  There should be no guilt.  We need to tell ourselves and others to let that relief flow.  We need to allow ourselves one soft landing in a world of sadness.

I did all I could to help my mom while she was alive and while she was dying.  But I am relieved.  I am relieved that I don’t have to spend countless hours every week at Princess Margaret Hospital.  I am relieved that I don’t have to watch her struggling to suck liquid up her straw because she lacked the strength.  I am relieved that I don’t have to watch her skin slowly turn dark yellow from liver failure.  I am relieved that I don’t have to wipe her mouth when she can’t.  I am relieved that I no longer have a front row seat at death’s dance.  I am relieved that I don’t have to put my life on hold for her illness.  I am relieved that I no longer feel so helpless.  I am relieved that I don’t have to demand that the doctors do something, anything to stop my mom from dying. 

I miss her.

I’ve dreamt of my mom twice since her death.  The first dream was the night before her funeral.  We were at the Art Gallery together, laughing and rushing to the next installation.  “You know mom, they told me you were dying.”  My mom looked at me with a mischievous smile and said “Well then, I’d better go see a doctor,” and ran off, taking her smile with her. 

The second dream was just last week.   I was in my daughter’s room while she was sleeping.  My mom flew through the door, and past my head.  “Mommy! Mommy!” I cried out.  She paused briefly on a window sill very high up, looked down at me and disappeared.         

I have been told that grief gets easier with time.  It is true in a way.  It changes.  The shock subsides. My daily phone calls with my mom have morphed into thoughts of her.  I no longer reach for the phone.  There are days and sometimes weeks when I feel normal, not happy, but normal.  Then it returns.  Grief goes on vacation but it always comes back.  It’s harder to get out of bed, to enjoy life, to get outside.  I understand that these periods without grief get longer.  That one day, grief just doesn’t return.  It finds a fresh wound to thrive in, leaving me and my family room to heal. I’m still waiting for that day.  I am not convinced it will come but trust the counsel of those who have taken this journey before me.

I try to live the way my mom would have if she were here and well.  It is hard. I am not sure I am fully up to the task at the moment, but I plan to be one day.  I try to take my mom’s advice, pretending she is by my side and whispering it in my ear.  Go outside, laugh, walk your dogs, be kind, forgive, iron your clothes, have fun, play a mean game of Scrabble, love, read a good book, go on an adventure, water your plants, do a craft, and most of all be happy,

These are words we can all live by, except maybe the one about ironing.    

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I’m Alive and I’m 45!

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It is that time of year again.  The time to be showered in love and indulgences.  Forty five years ago today I was born with an I.U.D. on my head.  My parents were going to adopt after they had my brother, but that plan didn’t stop me from coming into the world.  I pushed through that barricade called birth control and asserted my independence while being completely depended on my mother’s body to grow.  I persevered, and was born. The delivery doctor gave my mom some sage advice to pass on to her daughter.  “Tell her never to use an I.U.D. as birth control.”  I’ve come back to that advice many times through my life and it has helped me become the woman I am today.  I also found the pill to be less cumbersome.

My day isn’t over yet and it has already been a hit.  My girls crawled into bed with us this morning for a family cuddle, breakfast was made for me, and I was presented with an abundance of gifts.  The best one was the bag of birdseed I won last week at bingo that my youngest wrapped up for me.  There was some general lounging, and then Wini and I took the dogs for a very windy, and chilly walk.  We lunched at The Courage in Wellington.   We were all pleased and perfectly plump after our meal.  We capped off our Wellington visit with a walk on the beach.  The frigid winds chased us back into our car mocking us for being so foolish.  But as you can see the sky was fantastic.  Much more friendlier than that damn wind.

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After a lively discussion in the car, it was decided our dessert this evening would be chocolate fondue.  Our dinner menu will be individually dressed nachos.  We don’t like our chips to touch.  All toppings that can be reasonably delivered through a piping bag will be presented as such so that each chip is it’s own masterpiece. There will be no soggy chips on this girl’s birthday!

After all our celebratory eating is complete we will all snuggle into our couch in front of the fire and watch a family movie.  I don’t think it gets better than this.  Happy birthday to me!  And here’s to another 45 years!

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