Viewing entries tagged
grief

Meet Alli. This is her Story

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Meet Alli. This is her Story

August 8th, 2004 is a day that will forever leave a painful mark on my heart.


It was a Sunday morning that started like many other mornings; I slept in, grabbed a glass of water and went downstairs to find my parents to start our day. I picked up my pace heading down the stairs, and that’s when I heard some painful gasps- which I soon learned was coming from my Dad. I walked into his office in the basement to find him hunched over in my Moms arms, crying (which I had never seen) and I knew.


To give you some context, let me tell you about Garrett.


Garrett was my half brother (we shared the same amazing Dad). We had a big age difference and lived in different cities- but we were very close. Garrett was a top shelf, full package guy. He was tall, good looking, had killer hair, was active, a marathon runner, loved to cook, drove a Volkswagen and a motorcycle, had great style, was kind, thoughtful, knew his wines and was an Air Canada Pilot. Pretty solid line up, right?


This is why I was beyond excited to move to Toronto (where Garrett lived) after being accepted into Ryerson University. Not only that, Garrett lived in a loft near the Campus so I was going to get to see him regularly- team workouts, team dinners, you name it... there was so much to look forward to!


We first learned of Garrett’s battle with Bipolar Disorder when he was diagnosed with the illness in the year 2000. What followed was a four year battle for Garrett and our family that had many peaks and valleys. Garrett was very aware of his battle and looked for some alternative therapies to help him through his illness; this is where he developed a love for running. Like many things Garrett did, he nailed the whole marathon running thing pretty much immediately! He ran the Toronto Marathon, New York City Marathon and always dreamed of doing the Boston Marathon.


My parents and I lived in Winnipeg during this time, so my dad was making regular visits to Toronto to spend time with Garrett. Garrett also spent time flying back and forth to Winnipeg.


Garrett had planned to attend my high school graduation in June of 2004 but unfortunately wasn’t able to make it. He was feeling very “off” that month and admitted himself to the hospital to seek appropriate treatment. Though I missed having him join us for that milestone, I understood. I had already been accepted to Ryerson by that time so we knew we had lots to look forward to....


On August 8th, 2004 Garrett took his own life.


Despite a lot of opinions and questions, I moved to Toronto at the end of August 2004 and completed my four year Fashion Communications program at Ryerson.


I have since had some incredible career experiences, met some very special friends, met my husband, bought a house and have run 10K and 15K races in memory of Garrett. Fitness became a very powerful outlet for me throughout my grieving process and more so a way for me to feel connected to him. Running to a good playlist will make me think of him, boxing will release any pent up emotions or anger and yoga helps me to connect my mind + body and feel deep gratitude for a beautiful life.


There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my brother. Losing someone to suicide leaves you with so many unanswered questions and painful feelings.
Though I miss Garrett terribly, I know he is at peace and watching over me and my family.
We talk about Garrett often and toast him on his birthday, Christmas and even the anniversary of his passing.

Life is still meant to be celebrated.

 When we celebrated Garrett’s 10 year anniversary, I wanted to celebrate it on a bigger level and do an event in his honour and in support of Mental Health. I had the opportunity to partner with the incredible team at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) for this event, as well as many others these last few years.


Mental health awareness has become a big passion of mine and something that I will always support. I have found that being open and honest about my experience with losing Garrett has not only helped my grieving process over the years but I have been able to use it to help others.


Losing Garrett has taught me many life lessons- but most of all to appreciate and enjoy life.

You only get one, so be sure to live it to the fullest.

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Meet Fran. This is her Story

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Meet Fran. This is her Story

In the beginning months of 2016, I can honestly say I was the worst version of myself.

I was stressed out unnecessarily at a job that didn’t fulfill me (or treat me well for that matter) and I let that flood of anxiety trickle into every facet of my life- making my thoughts and behaviours unrecognizable.

I was diagnosed with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) in third year university, and although I handled it well for several years, the flare ups started to make it feel unmanageable.

I often sought refuge in exercise and movement.

However, Yoga-which had often been a ‘cure-all’ for the ailments in my body and mind-no longer helped soothe me; so much so that I dropped out of my 200hr Yoga Teacher Training (something I had wanted to do for SO long). On top of that, I couldn’t focus at work or at home and was constantly angst- ridden- to the point where my physical health fell apart. I was sick constantly, not sleeping, exhausted and eating sparingly or not at all. Because of what was going on in my mind, it felt like my sense of self and my life were spiralling out of control.

My anxiety eventually got so out of control that my doctor recommended I consider anti-anxiety medication.

On April 4th 2016, I held my Dad in my arms as he passed suddenly from a aortic aneurism.

In that instant, the safe, comfortable, self-indulgent 20-something life I had known had vanished forever — and in a way so did the anxiety that I had been struggling with. His passing came as such a shock to my system, that it caused a full body and mind reset. The day of his passing felt like the first day of the rest of my life.

And in the midst of that restart, I felt myself go numb.

There’s no guidebook for life, and even less of a guidebook for when someone dies. In the immediate moment you’re surrounded by so many friends and family. But- then the funeral passes and friends and family fade into the background as they resume their normal lives. The person who is grieving is left surrounded by a pile of tiny shattered fragments of their former life with no instruction as to how to rebuild it again. Although well intentioned, folks will share their thoughts as to to how to pick up the pieces, which looks a little something like:

“You should go out more”

“You definitely need to stay in more”

“Maybe therapy would help”

“I’m starting a new XYZ cleanse I think it could help you too”

“You should try and push yourself”

I think you get the idea. Sadly, not one of these stamens is a ‘cure-all’ for tragedy.

At the time of my Dad’s passing it made sense to withdraw a bit and to take stock of my life, my goals and my relationships. I knew movement had played an important part in managing my mental health in the past, but something about this circumstance was different.

Due to the sudden nature of my Dad’s passing, and having had to respond to his calls of distress, I developed severe anxiety around being away from my phone. In my mind, if I was near my phone I could react and help if someone needed me. “What if something happened to my mom?” I would think. Because of this, my regular yoga classes weren’t an option. I remember trying to go to yoga a few days after his passing to clear my mind and having severe panic attacks because of not knowing what was going on in the outside world. Classes were no longer an option for me.

However- I was still operating with an urge to move- so I began running 5k a day. Just far enough from my house that I could make it back in time (should something happen). Those runs were my time to feel free, to think, to cry and to sweat. I became so focused on making each run better than the last. It was the one thing I had control over while my life seemed to be spiralling out of control.

I was at a followup appointment with my naturopath in the spring of 2017 when she suggested I try a mix of HIIT, weight training and intensive cardio in order to better manage my stress. The thought of trying a class worried me, but I was also committed to getting myself on a healthier path.

Indoor cycling was becoming popular in Toronto and my friend encouraged me to try a class at Spokehaüs with her. I wish I could say it was love at first pedal-stroke; but it wasn’t. I was out of breath, my lungs burned, I couldn’t keep up with the class at all and I kept panicking about not being able to get to my phone.

It was a mess.

However, something sparked in me — if I was struggling to keep up with a class like this, it meant that I needed to boost my cardio health. For obvious reasons, heart health had become very important to me since my dad’s passing. I knew I had to keep at this.

In the following summer I began bouncing around a few indoor cycling studios during my lunch hour at MOVE. During this time, my Mom began experiencing severe back pain- so between her doctors appointments and visits to the emergency room, I was finding it hard to commit to class times. From June to August we were back and forth between Doctors, Physiotherapists, Acupuncturists and Orthopaedic Surgeons.

My Mom was rushed to hospital the last weekend of August 2017 for emergency surgery after she had lost feeling in both legs.

During her surgery, they found a tumour. A biopsy and more waiting lead to the news that would again, alter my life forever: The excruciating pain my Mom had been experiencing was a rare, incurable cancer known as multiple myeloma. She would have to stay in hospital till she was strong enough to come home.

In that moment, our roles became reversed. My childhood officially ended.

I was no longer a daughter, but a caregiver to my Mother. I made it my mission to ensure she received the best care possible. My brother and I couldn’t afford to lose her, especially so soon after losing my dad. This meant doing things like attending any and all doctors appointments, coordinating second opinions, cooking or picking up dinner along with anything else she needed everyday after work and keeping her company on the weekends. It was a role I slipped into wholeheartedly. It was difficult but I was determined. And she was too.

I knew I didn’t want to slip back into a state of acute anxiety, so I knew I had to keep moving. Worries about not being close to my phone became an afterthought after my Mom was diagnosed.

Phone or not, if life was going to change, there would be nothing I could do to control it.

In addition to weight training, I pushed myself to attend my first class at SoulCycle. It had taken me a few indoor cycling classes to psych myself up for it and (truthfully) it was also conveniently along my commute to the east end of Toronto for work.

Before I knew it, 7am SoulCycle classes became part of my routine.

I would call my Mom and the nursing station at 6am to check in on her before going into class. Within the dark room, those 45min became my refuge — in my SoulCycle class there was no cancer, no sickness, no anxiety.

Just me, the bike and my breath.

I left each class feeling a little bit lighter. I was able to leave everything that weighed me down in that rom. In a way, SoulCycle became my good luck charm. Before any big follow up appointment of my Mom’s at Princess Margaret Hospital (appointments that were truly life and death) I would be sure to book a morning class so that I would be in the best headspace possible to ask the doctor questions and advocate for her care.

On one such appointment, however, it seemed that my good luck charm had run out.

“You have one more line of treatment left to try, but if it doesn’t work and it doesn’t seem probable then we will have to have conversations around palliative care.”

Time froze as the words left my Mom’s oncologist’s mouth.

It couldn’t be. I had made sure to do everything right. I got my Mom a second opinion at the best cancer centre in Canada, I had done my research, I made sure she was eating the right foods, I was trying to take care of myself — how could this be?

One thing I knew, is that we weren’t giving up. Following that final follow up at Princess Margaret Hospital, I began researching doctors and hospitals in the USA. Call it fate or circumstance, but I was connected to one of the top specialists and grandfathers in the treatment of multiple myeloma, Dr. Barlogie who worked out of The Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC.

Within a week, I was riding in the back of an ambulance transport in the middle of the night with my Mom in a stretcher as we made our way to New York City. My caregiving commitment went from the after work, weekends and the odd workday to 14-hour-a-day bedside care. My Mom had received a second chance and I wanted to be there for every moment. She needed me, and I needed her.

The highs and low’s of a cancer journey are so incredibly extreme. The highs of a successful round of chemo are euphoric and intoxicating. The lows of recurring disease or complications are so bad that you find it hard to even wake up in the morning. Also as an aside, that’s just my caregiver’s perspective. The patient feels these peaks and valleys tenfold.

After a particularly difficult day, Anna, my Mom’s Physiotherapist noticed me upset in the hallway and came over to comfort me. She asked me what I had been doing for myself since moving to NYC to be with my Mom.

“Nothing,” I said simply. “But I was really enjoying SoulCycle when I was back in Toronto.”

“Oh no way!” She said, “My friend is an instructor there, I should connect you.”

I didn’t think anything of the gesture until she found me in the hallway a few days later and told me that she had told her instructor friend Becca about me. She handed me Becca’s number.

“She’s expecting you to message her.” Anna said.

I knew I had met someone special within the first few exchanges I had with Becca that evening. She was positive, kind, vibrant and it felt like her loving heart radiated through the phone. She invited me to ride in her class anytime I needed to as a guest. I couldn’t believe it.

During the 4 months I was in NYC with my Mom, I rode with Becca as much as possible. My days were committed to the hospital and her care, but my mornings became time for me. Time to just let go, connect to myself and centre my mind for the gruelling days ahead.

Outside of class, Becca and I became fast friends. She was a constant reminder of how important it was to take time for myself amidst my circumstances. She also gave me support in remembering who I was before my Mom’s illness. It gave my Mom and boyfriend comfort to know that I had made a friend in the city that could support me.

On July 13th, 2018 in the Intensive Care Unit at The Mount Sinai Hospital, I held my Mom as she passed away from complications due to her stem cell transplant. She had achieved her long sought after remission, obtained her healthy stem cells but succumbed to a virus due to her compromised immune system. Again, only 2 years after losing my Dad my world was shattered.

I had lost both parents before turning 30.

I was silent most of the car ride home to Toronto. My boyfriend, his uncle and his Mom tried their best to keep my spirits up and positive. But all I could feel was disappointment. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had let my Mom down.

I returned to SoulCycle a few days after coming home to Toronto with a few friends. I needed a place that felt familiar and like home. I walked into the studio to find ‘Welcome Home Fran!” spelled out in big letters under the front desk. My eyes welled with tears. Becca had told Jenna — our instructor in Toronto- that I was coming home that day.

I knew my SoulCycle bike would always feel like a safe place for me.

After the funeral had passed, and ‘normal’ life began to resume again, I was left with thousands of pieces. Some that were leftover from when I had lost my Dad- but now, there were new pieces to fit together: those of having lost my Mom and those from losing both my parents. I began feeling very, very low.

One Friday evening, my friend Chelsea told me a few of my friends wanted to take me for dinner. I was told I didn’t have to plan anything and was told she would meet me after work that day and walk me to dinner. As we were walking up King Street, Chelsea said she had to run into SoulCycle to buy a few credits because the site wasn’t working.

I walked into the studio to see a crowd of people. After a few moments I realized the studio was not hosting a Media event and the crowd of people that had formed was everyone near and dear to me!

As I looked around the room, I took in what Chelsea had organized: A raffle to collect money (to be donated to the International Myeloma Foundation), a hair braiding station (my Mom LOVED braiding my hair) complete with monarch butterfly hair clips (I’ve seen so many butterflies since my Mom passed) and most importantly: the space was full of love.

“Get ready to ride!” Everyone exclaimed!

In my shock I managed to change into workout clothes and head into the studio.

I was still in tears as Jenna began to lead us in a ride in memory of Maria.

But the best surprise was yet to come.

The doors opened after the second song and a silhouette appeared. As it moved towards the room, I unclipped right off my bike and ran towards it for a big sweaty hug.

It was Becca.

For her last week working at SoulCycle, she had asked to be flown to Toronto to ride for Maria. She took the podium and I rode (read; cried) my heart out.

For me, SoulCycle and really any of the movement I undertook to heal was never about the equipment, the physical gains or the athleisure. It was always about love — for myself and for the community I cultivated and gained.

We often don’t realize how much we receive when we put our bodies and minds into a beautiful space through movement.

The healing journey ahead of me now is one that will last a lifetime. Each day will be different with it’s own advances and detours. Healing is the furthest thing from a linear process.

What I can always come back to is this small space in the world I chose to carve out for me:

45 minutes in the dark to think, cry and breathe.


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Meet Lindsay. This is her Story.

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Meet Lindsay. This is her Story.

Let me start out by introducing myself.

My name is Lindsay Coulter and I’m a wedding and portrait photographer based out of Waterloo.

I’ve always been a happy person. Each report card ever sent home to my parents used words like bubbly, energetic, joyful. I felt grateful for the cushy, “normal” life I had been blessed with. Sure, I worked hard, but I was also very aware that I was lucky. I had two parents who loved me, had completed university, gotten a cat, a dog and had a fiance who loved me. Honestly, everything was falling in to place like some kind of hollywood script. I’m sure I had normal bumps in the road just like anyone else, but really my life was good. I’m sure you’re wondering when the shoe drops, because as my naive self learned, it always does. 


 

In December of 2016 my whole world fell apart. My best friend of 25 years, Kristen, passed away suddenly. I had just gotten home from a Christmas trip to New York with my fiance Taylor, and opened my laptop to a message from a friend of hers in Australia (where she was living) looking for Kristen’s parent’s phone number. My heart sank. I knew that it wasn’t going to be good news. I sat on the couch frozen, unable to type.

Finally a few moments without breathing later I responded and asked her to just tell me what was going on. Kristen and I were like sisters; we had grown up in each other’s homes, we met at daycare when we were less than 2 years old, and had been practically inseparable ever since. Although it was selfish, I just wanted to know she was okay, so I could go on with giving her their number. Eventually they connected, but I knew whatever it was I didn't want to find out over the phone. So Taylor and I drove straight to her parents house.

When we got there, they told us she had died.


That was it.

The world froze.

I went through the many phases of grief - denial, anger, erratic behaviour, sadness, anxiety, extreme fear of losing anyone else, guilt… the books about grieving really had it right.

But what the books about grieving don’t really tell you is how to come out on the other side of it.

I was incredibly grateful for my self-employment in those next few weeks, so I could take some time to process. To be totally honest, I went through a cycle of sleeping, crying, and drinking for a few weeks. It was really strange, it didn’t matter how much I drank, I still felt sober. It was almost like nothing was going to cut through the reality of this loss. 


Luckily for my health and my relationships, that phase only lasted a few weeks. Once I stopped that cycle and realized I needed to continue working and getting up each day, I became numb. I wasn’t happy, I didn’t smile. The only jokes I could make were morbid, and I’m fairly certain most of my friends and family thought I had totally lost my mind. How I kept my business going in 2016, while trying to plan a wedding is nothing short of a miracle. I have no doubt that Kristen was asking the universe to help me out during that time. 


After about 3 months of just merely existing, I decided to go see my doctor. I told her “I don’t have time to feel like this, I need to get back to normal”. (As if anyone has time for this). My doctor gave me a couple of prescriptions, and also referred me to a counsellor. I was happy to have medication to take for when panic attacks took over, but I knew I needed to speak to someone in order to fully move on.

When a 25 year old dies, they don’t leave a neat and tidy package.

They leave a path of pain and destruction and 5 million unanswered questions.

I knew a pill wasn’t going to help. 


So I went to a counsellor. I asked her if I would get myself back. I wanted to know if the happy person I once was would ever come back, to which her answer was “Maybe, maybe not. This might just be your new reality”. *Note, if you’re a counsellor dealing with someone with severe depression, telling someone there’s maybe no way out of this, is definitely not the answer. At our next appointment, she told me I probably just needed to take more naps and drink more water. She obviously hadn’t listened when I told her I was sleeping 8+ hours a day. So I got up in the middle of our session, told her I needed to go for lunch, and never went back.

It was a weird time.


Finally, the light came.

Near the end of 2016 I had agreed to trade services with a personal trainer in the area. She was pregnant with her second daughter, and wanted maternity photos. She knew I had a wedding coming up and wanted to get in shape, so it was the perfect fit. Her baby arrived in May of 2017, and we started training together a few weeks after. She brought Baby T to all of my workouts for the first few months, and her little face was all I needed on the hardest of days. For the first time in 5 months, I was moving. I was getting out of bed at 7, I was putting on clean clothes, and I was seeing progress. Not just physically, but emotionally. 


 

I worked through my fears of having a wedding without her by my side, of losing another loved one, or dealing with any other kind of tragedy.

I had no idea that lifting weights and running would be all the therapy I would need.

I had been a yoga instructor throughout university, so I knew there was power in movement, but yoga wasn’t calling to me this time. I needed to feel strong. I needed to believe in my body. I needed to appreciate my health and not take it for granted like I had been. I needed to feel connected to the shell that carried me around- since the trauma of losing Kristen it had felt like a foreign entity.


I listened to my body, and forced my mind to play along.

Alicia and I trained together 2-3 times a week, every week, and we haven’t stopped since. What started as something I wanted to do to look nice in a wedding dress became something I needed to do to be a great partner to my now-husband, a better friend, and effective business owner. My clients needed me to show up to their wedding as the joyful, bubbly, happy person they hired a year and a half before, and I needed that girl back too. 


The idea of not only losing Kristen but losing myself was something I couldn’t manage. I couldn’t control Kristen’s death, but I could fight to get myself back.

And so I did. That was the beginning of finding myself, not the previous version but a newer version of myself. This new version of me still cries almost daily, and misses her girl like crazy. But this new version is also grateful with a new sense of awareness.

Before I was grateful for the life I had, but now I’m grateful having known loss, and having fought through it.

In December Kristen will have been gone for two years, and it still feels like it was just a few months ago. I will not pretend to know the answers to loss or trauma, but I will say that the advice given to me over and over again “one step at a time, one foot in front of the other” is exactly what got me through. 


 

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I'm Cayla. This is my Story. Chapter 3.

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I'm Cayla. This is my Story. Chapter 3.


I am driving through back country. Dusk is falling, but there is still sun peeking above the horizon and it casts a soft glow around the entrance of the parking lot I begin to pull into. As I slow to a stop in front of the church, the stones underneath the tires ricochet off the bottom of the car. Clink clink. clink clink.

I round my back and peer through the windshield and I see her running towards me, waving. She stops on the way to say goodbye to someone, turns, laughs, continues running.
Wait- I think I should re-phrase that. She's actually not 'running'. She can't keep her composure when she runs and she gets too embarrassed so she just sort of quickly shuffles her feet with her arms pinned to her sides instead.

As I'm waiting for her to shuffle to the car, I am reminded that we were just in this parking lot a few months ago when she grabbed my hand, concerned.

"I have squishy sides", she said.

"Feel them".

She took my finger and poked it right above her pant line and in hindsight it's all so ridiculous because she's tall and blond and beautiful and we can't go anywhere without someone being completely enamoured by her.

She's excited to see me. She's just returned from three weeks in Europe and she says she has photos and stories. She opens the door, throws her overnight bag in the back, turns to face me.

"How was Europe?", I say.

Her eyes sparkle, then widen right before she smiles mischieviously. She lowers her voice.

"You're going to have to burn my journal if I die", She giggles.

My left arm is draped over the wheel so I push her leg, hard, with my right.

"Don't joke about stuff like that", I say.

I switch gears, she buckles up, I turn the car back onto the road.


Months have passed. It's 4am. I am lying on my back in complete darkness, immobilized.
I feel both everything, and nothing.

Earlier that evening I frantically search through my dresser for a medicine called Rescue Remedy.
Six drops under the tongue are supposed to help calm panic.
I finally find it underneath a bundle of socks. I unscrew the lid and throw it on the floor.

I drink the entire bottle.


The next night everyone in the house is crowded around a tiny tv to watch the evening news.
I feel a flash of anger wash over me as the reporter starts talking. He reads out the news of her
accident like a grocery list; two sentences on a flashcard.
I grab the blanket strewn across my legs and clench my fist into it until my knuckles turn white.

She is more than just two sentences on a Goddamn flashcard.

I blackout.
I come to.
I blink.

The only other thing I process from the newscast is a photo of her car with the driver side splayed open.
There is blood running down the window.
 

 

7 years later I finally call Andrew to ask for the intricate details of what happened that day.

I hear him exhale heavily into the phone. "Are you sure?" he hesitates.


The sun is shining, she leaves the house first. She is going home to study for our Psychology final.
The sun is so strong the rays block the bus that is coming, so she turns right in front of it.
They are only minutes down the road so when they see the accident in the distance, it takes a moment to register.
It's her.
They pull up and run over to help.
Tim is so overwhelmed by what he sees he leans over and vomits in the ditch.

This is the part I make Andrew tell me.
What did she look like?
Was she conscious.
How much blood was there?
How bad was it.

When my brain recounts this part of the story, it is never able to land on the actual horridity of it.
I instead, always seem to focus on two mundane details.
I sometimes wonder if this is the only way I am able to process what happened as a whole.

She is wearing sparkly lotion on her legs. That's the first one.
They see it underneath her hospital gown when she is hooked up to life support.

That morning she eats toast for breakfast. That's two.
Her Mom find the crusts on a plate when she returns home to her empty room the next day.

Sparkly lotion. Toast. Accident. Blood.

Tim is vomiting in the ditch. Andrew is holding her in his arms. They are waiting for the medics.

"Do you think she was gone at that point?"
I am holding wine in one hand, driving my fingernails into my knee with the other.
My eyes well over.
My breath hitches in my throat.
There is a long pause on the other end of the phone.

"I'd like to hope so", Andrew says.

She was wearing sparkly lotion, she ate toast, she made one wrong turn, and if I think about it too long it overtakes me.

I drive out to visit her grave and I kneel in the dew covered grass in front of it, alone with my head in my hands.
I scream out a one-sided conversation. I am angry at her for so many things.
I hate the way you run.
Your shoes are in my closet.
How could you not see a bus?
Who eats chocolate in the morning?
My chest heaves up and down when the memory appears and as the dew begins to dampen my feet, my knees, my elbows,
I close my eyes and see her smiling, holding her mittened hand towards me with a mars bar nestled into the center.


The night after I drink the rescue remedy my brain repeats like a broken record.
I just want to see you one last time
I just want to see you one last time
I just want to see you one last time

It is a plead that comes from the bottom of my soul, from the centre of my grief.

She visits me in a dream, she is surrounded by beaming white light. We hug and I feel her squishy sides and it is the last moment I have with her that feels real.

In an effort to frantically search for closure, I print off every email she's ever written me, every msn conversation. I paste them hastily into a scrapbook and when I put them in chornological order I realize something, drop the notebook, stare at the wall in angst. She always told me she loved me whenever she signed off, except for the last email she wrote me one month before she died. In that one, she said "Bye".

I don't think there is a word in the english language that exeplifies the feeling of wanting to Crawl out of your own skin.
If there was, I'd use it.
But that feeling is there, and it's real, and nothing makes sense and if I could run away from the pain, I would.
But I can't.
And I don't know what I'm doing.
And I don't know where she is.


She visits me in my dreams still, only now there is no talking.
Just her.
Strong wind.
Bright light.


That's it.

 

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On Grief

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On Grief

I've been sitting staring at this computer screen for a good hour now. I have so many words floating around in my head but I'm not sure how to get them out-what to start with, or where to go from here.

I tell people that I started the Move to Heal Project because I wanted to write about real things. The stuff that no one wants to talk about, but that everyone is feeling. This is true. But there is a reason as to why no one talks about certain things- because its really hard. Today in fact, it is extra hard. Part of me doesn't want to share; another part of me feels compelled to. I feel compelled because if we don't start talking about the hard things, who will? It's important for me to say that if you are reading this, you never walk alone. 

So on that note, I want to tell you about my friend Katharine. I want to talk to you about Grief.

Katharine died 12 years ago today. Twelve years. It seems surreal to actually write that out. The way she died and the story around it is tragic, and contains details I still have difficulty wrapping my mind around. The aftermath of her death; the same. I swung into a deep atheism after she passed away, not understanding how something so tragic could happen to someone so young, and so beautiful. And by beautiful I mean pure. Amidst all the struggles that one naturally moves through when they are 19 and 20 years old, she was actually still a radiating beam of light. I don't think she had a mean bone in her body.

After she died, the only way I knew how to process it all was through writing. I was too shut off emotionally in my life in general to actually feel anything outwardly. In the piece I wrote one month after she died, I talked about how I didn't have any desire to wash my clothes, to brush my hair, or to buy new things. But I did write about how I began to feel an intense compulsion to strengthen my relationships; to find meaning in my every day activities.

Every year now I use April 3rd as a time to reflect on my life- and when I actually sit still to think about it so far I want to say that I still feel that way. When someone you love dies, everything you think matters, doesn't matter anymore. It all begins to shift. At least- that's the way it felt for me.

I think that in some cases, death can completely harden people or break them open. I would say with 100% certainty that part of the reason I am not hardened over is because of Katharine's Mom. Over the past 12 years I have seen that light that Katharine possessed shine so brightly through the actions of her Mother, which doesn't even really make sense. She lost her daughter. Yet she has taken her grief and her sadness and continually pours kindness and compassion into the lives of everyone around her. It's actually remarkable. I also think that this takes a tremendous amount of strength- in order to cultivate joy from pain I think you have to stare your pain deep in the eyes; you have to learn to sit with it. 

I think, with many things in life- but especially in the aftermath of grief- you are always left with a choice: Is this going to harden me or open me? Not to be confused with feeling your feelings. Like- death SUCKS. It's excruciating. I spent a good few years just being angry AF, throwing stuff, binge drinking, sabotaging friendships, acting out in relationships (for fear if I got too close I would lose them), you name it. Feel your feelings. Get it out. But this is why I say aftermath.

One of the most important things I have learned over the past two years is that, while we can't control what happens to us, we always have a choice as to how we are going to react to it.

 So every year on April 3rd, I think about this. I loved Katharine's kindness, her spirit, her heart. And what a gift she has given me because I now choose to fill my life with people who are light-hearted, and caring, and compassionate. 

I am inspired by the strength of her Mother- who, over the past 12 years has, many times completely out of the blue sent me something in the mail, or dropped a present off on my doorstep, or sent me the sweetest message. She has reminded me that this is how I want to live my life. I want my life to be meaningful. I want to cultivate meaningful relationships. I want to sit with the hollowness of my pain and use that space to cultivate joy- and I want to pour that joy into the lives of everyone around me. I want to create community. I want to be a voice for change.

A few years ago, Katharine's Mom sent me a blown glass ornament. In order to make a blown glass ornament you have to take a bunch of glass and smash it all into tiny pieces. Then you take all the pieces and hold them in the fire. She told me that this is how our lives can feel sometimes- something excruciating happens- and we are left in a million pieces. And then you think the worse is over, but it's not- because things heat up and you're thrown in the fire. But the thing is- when the glass is in the fire- this is where the magic happens. This is where all the random pieces that didn't make sense before begin to meld together- this is where the shift happens. A beautiful blown glass ornament is proof that all those tiny shards of glass- all those painful situations and experiences in our lives- can actually bind together to make something extraordinary.

By no means am I one of those people that say things happen for a reason. I actually don't believe that. But I do think that it is natural for humanity to search for meaning in the things that break us open. And I think that if you can find that meaning, and hold on to it, and learn to find beauty in it, it can catapult you into a new way of seeing your world; a new way of living your life.

So today, while I am sitting with my own pain, I want to turn the table around and ask you all the things I am asking myself. 

What are you allowing to harden you? What are you allowing to open you?

Who are you surrounding yourself with? How do they add value to your life?

What about your pain? Are you learning how to sit with it? The pain will hollow you, but it will not end you. The deeper your pain, the greater your capacity to love bigger, harder, stronger. This sound so cliché but it's not- I'm telling you with every fibre of my being THIS IS TRUE.

Where is your focus? Do you want to live meaningfully? If so- How?

 

I want to thank you so much for reading what has been on my heart, for allowing me to share my story freely. If you too are moving through grief, or remembering the anniversary of something that is painful I want you to know that you are supported and loved and strong.

 

xo C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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