Honestly, my Polish Granny ….
Until I was about six years old, my family lived with my paternal grandparents in their house on the farm. This was because my dad was the only one in his family to carry on as a farmer, and would eventually inherit the property (which, now that I think of it, was kind of unfair to his siblings, but I don’t recall anyone ever making that point). The six of us (Mom, Dad and four kids) had a tiny kitchen, small living room, and three bedrooms upstairs. Granny and Grandpa lived in a larger kitchen, larger living room, and one bedroom on the main floor. We all shared one bathroom with a toilet, small sink and tiny tub. When anyone was playing or working outside, we were expected to use the outhouse.
Here was my Anglo-Saxon mother from a nice, middle-class home in a quaint, small town, plunked onto a farm and living under the scrutiny of her new, Polish-immigrant mother in law. Apparently, Granny was skeptical about the marriage from the get-go, and predicted that my petite mother would never be able to produce many children. As it happens, Mom had four kids, while her sisters in law (Granny’s daughters) each had one. Take that, Granny!
Having emigrated from Poland to Winnipeg as a young girl, Granny was a tough old bird – tiny but mighty; not surprising, given the very hard life she lived. After meeting Grandpa in Winnipeg (he had emigrated from the Ukraine and his first wife and child had died during childbirth), they married, started a family and eventually made their way to Northern Ontario, where Grandpa worked on the railroad and they lived in a remote railway shack. In 1921, Granny gave birth to twin boys in that shack – my dad and his brother, her fifth and sixth children, each weighing no more than three pounds – and kept them in shoe boxes near the wood stove.
When Granny and Grandpa concluded that life in Canada was not all it was cracked up to be, they made their way to the east coast and prepared to return to the “old country”. Just before they were to board the ship for the long voyage home, they learned from someone who had just arrived in Canada about post-World-War-One life in the USSR, and decided (wisely, I think) not to go. Their courage to make both decisions was truly commendable. So they made their way back, and somehow managed to buy a small farm in southern Ontario, where they grew various grains and other crops, and raised cattle and just about every other farm animal you can think of. Not long after that, Granny gave birth to her last child, apparently pausing from working in the field to deliver the boy, then going back to work shortly afterward – just classic! In 1934, tragedy struck when the house burned down. And so what did they do? Grandpa and the boys lived in the barn and slept in a stall with the horses, while Granny and the girls set up in a chicken coop. And with the help of their neighbours, they rebuilt.
Grandpa died when I was six, and Granny, who was now bed-ridden, lived on for years. We took over the entire house, and my mother, bless her heart, cared for Granny 24x7. Of course, mom enlisted my sister and me to help, especially with the unpleasant tasks like bathing. After years of binding and breastfeeding, Granny had nothing but long, empty skin flaps, which I had to lift up to wash underneath – ew!!
Granny was nothing if not entertaining – maybe not so much from my mom’s perspective but certainly from mine. She regularly rolled around our house in her wheelchair, whistling very badly. She loved watching wrestling on tv and would bang her cane on the floor as she yelled passionately at the wrestlers. I swear she thought they could hear her! But somewhere under that tough veneer there was a caring woman. She called me Wendoosha and each night, she invited me to lie by her side and combed my very short hair with an enormous comb to put me to sleep. At lunchtime, she would often call out, “Wendoosha, make me sangvich”. One day, snooping in her dresser drawers, I discovered two big locks of hair – one a rich, walnut brown and the other a little older and greyer. She had just cut her own hair and saved the pony tail each time – why, I’m not sure. But the hair pieces were great fun for me to play dress-up with!
Granny eventually went to live in a long-term-care home, where she gradually just withered away – a sad ending to a life of strength and character. She never really got the credit she deserved, so I hope that, in writing this, I am honouring her life and legacy. Honestly, my Polish Granny was someone to remember!
Finding My Way
Glass half full – taking what life throws at you
Growing up, I saw myself as independent – not the “marrying type”. This was mainly because I wasn’t one of the “pretty girls” by conventional standards (although I now realize I wasn’t not pretty) and I got better grades than most of the boys – a deadly combination, so I thought. At 19 I remember thinking, “I’ll be at least 30 – a practical spinster – before I meet someone and settle down”. (Oh the naivety and vanity of youth!) And then, just like that, I met my future husband, got married at 25, and became an instant stepmom. Who’d have thought?!
Two more kids and 30 years later, we amicably parted ways. Some of us endure terrible tragedies and some live charmed lives. For the most part, mine was the latter. But just as I was sure this was the only change for me to navigate, my mother died, I left my job with a plan to start a business (which never came to fruition) and my father died – all within 4 months. Almost overnight, I became a single, unemployed orphan. Cue the violins …
My story easily elicits pity when I tell it, but I’ve never (okay, rarely) felt sorry for myself. What that series of events did was give me a good reason to take a step back and reassess where I was going and what I wanted out of life. Losing my parents (at 92 and 97 respectively) was normal; I was lucky to have them for so long and it was “time”. It was also “time” to move on from my job.
Of all the changes, becoming single after a lifetime of partnership and domesticity was the seminal one. At first, like many people, I made the classic mistake of thinking I’d soon find that utopian “soulmate” – the one that completes me. But alas, it isn’t that simple. I could go into great detail about how dating ain’t what it used to be but most people in my circumstances know that story – online scams, hook-ups, ghosting, … – disappointing, to say the least, but it is what it is. Times change. We often have to live through an experience to really understand where it’s taking us. And so now, cliché as it may be, I’m learning to love myself, first and foremost – to live my own life and find my way. And if I happen to find that ultimate soulmate, that would be the icing on the cake. If not, it’s a good thing I like cake without icing!
You can handle more than you think
They don’t call me Wendy Brittle for nothing! (That’s a reference from a Saturday Night Live skit about Bob and Betty Brittle.) If it can happen to anyone, it will happen to me. Here’s a brief chronology of my many mishaps:
Growing up, I stepped on nails (bare feet in the barnyard), sprained many ligaments, etc. but nothing very serious.
In my teens I:
dismounted from the balance beam in gymnastics club and seriously injured my left knee – the start of a series of unfortunate knee events
had a bad accident with my father’s car right after having a cast removed from my leg – and got out of the car with crutches ☺
In my twenties I:
had an intestinal cyst surgically removed just weeks before my wedding
soon after that, had surgery to repair an incisional hernia (from too much activity – wedding, honeymoon paragliding & horseback riding – after the cyst surgery)
fell off a horse in Florida and broke my pelvis in half
In my thirties I:
tore my right ACL completely in a skiing accident, and had reconstructive surgery
fell down an underground-stream hole while heli-skiing (with a brace on my left knee), saved only by the fact that one ski stayed on and got stuck across the hole (more on that in “Near-death” Experiences)
was diagnosed with MS (more on that in Living with MS)
In my forties I:
had surgery to remove an ovarian cyst
had major knee surgery – a high tibial osteotomy (HTO) and ACL reconstruction – on my left knee, and soldiered through a one-year recovery
had a hysterectomy, exactly one year after the HTO
In my early fifties I:
suddenly became gluten intolerant
broke the baby toe on my right foot
broke the baby toe on my left foot
My early mishaps didn’t faze me, but as time went on, I started to ask, “Why me?”. Others might disagree, but I really don’t think I lived in a way that I “had it coming”. Here’s how I eventually made sense of it all: some people are put on this earth to show others they can handle more than they think. None of these mishaps has stopped me from doing what I wanted to do. The knee injuries alone (not all listed above) resulted in about 10-12 surgeries (I’ve lost track); yet I kept skiing, playing volleyball, tennis, etc. When others say, “Oh I can’t do X anymore because I tore my cartilage”, I disagree. Yes you can – don’t be a wuss!
Knock on wood, my fifties have been relatively free of any major physical issues, but as the saying goes, “it ain’t over till it’s over”.
Living with MS
Some setbacks can be gifts in disguise
At 39, feeling like the world was my oyster despite my many prior setbacks, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We were in the midst of building an awesome addition to our house, I was busy at work, and every night came home to a series of decisions I was expected to make. I’ve always been strong and stoic – nothing could shake me – but one night I just stood in the entrance and cried; the pressure was just too much. Coincidentally, whenever I worked out at the gym, my left leg and arm went numb and tingly. I believe the stress of my job and the renovation was the final trigger, but of course I’ll never know for sure. I was lucky to get a relatively quick diagnosis, but it would be 15 years before I knew if I had benign-, relapsing/remitting- or progressive MS.
When your life is good, you (wrongly) assume it always will be. This was the first big wake-up call for me. I went through the typical stages of grief, but with a twist. Lying in bed and feeling sorry for myself, I called my friend Mary, who I was sure would say just what I needed to hear. I went to her place and came away feeling so much better! A month or so later, we were chatting and I realized at that moment that during our visit, she hadn’t said anything. She explained, “I didn’t need to. You had it all figured out.” Looking back on that day, I had mused about how it could be so much worse; there were people in the world enduring terrible things – war, famine, terminal illness and loss – and my little problem was insignificant in comparison.
From that point on, my MS was what it was. I might have a slightly shorter lifespan, but at least I would have a life – maybe in a wheelchair / maybe not. I discussed it very matter-of-factly with friends and family, which seemed to make some people uncomfortable. They referred to it somewhat indirectly as my “problem” or my “disease” and shrugged off any suggestion that I should be ready for the worst (for example, by renovating a bathroom for easy wheelchair access). But I insisted on tackling it head-on; denying or hiding it would only eat me up inside, slowly but surely. And why hide it? There’s no shame in having an illness, least of all an illness that I didn’t cause.
I now know that I have the best-case scenario – benign MS – but to this day, I regularly remind myself that there’s no guarantee; I could suddenly lose the feeling in my legs, or my memory could fail (more than it does naturally as we age) or any number of body parts could start to malfunction. Living with benign MS has been a gift of sorts; it’s a constant reminder to live my life with integrity. When you realize you’re not invincible, you don’t want to look back on your choices with regret; doing the right thing is the only choice. And it could be so much worse. I’m well aware that I’m one of the lucky ones; I’ll likely never have anywhere near what those with more serious forms of MS have to live with. It’s all about perspective. And thank you, Mary, for being such a great listener!
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, a few of my experiences have been downright scary. Thankfully, in every case, they ended well. But until they ended, they were not fun, and looking back, the lesson they all leave behind is that I’ve been very lucky. Like my MS diagnosis, these experiences have served as powerful reminders that life is precious, and that it can be taken away in the blink of an eye.
Heli-skiing and the Underground Stream
A great experience but … stuff happens
When our children were quite young, my husband and I went heli-skiing near Revelstoke, British Columbia. We had skied quite extensively on groomed hills big and small, and he had heli-skied once before. But this was new territory altogether for me. Heli-skiing is not for the faint of heart. A small group of people is typically dropped at the very peak of a remote mountain, where often there’s not even enough flat surface for the helicopter to fully land, so it hovers there while everyone unloads and collects their gear. Then a guide tells you where to go, where not to go, what to look out for, etc. and off you all go. The skis – called “fat boys” (not to be confused with Johnny’s cousin in China – see Travel & Adventure) – are short, wide and heavy. And back then, no one wore a helmet.
Skiing in more than a meter of virgin powder is very different than on a groomed run. The basic idea is to relax, lay back on the skis and “bounce” your turns – no need to edge or aggressively tackle the hill. On day one, still adjusting to this new technique, I fell forward, and my skis hit my head hard enough to leave me feeling a bit stunned. I was wearing a toque, which I assumed had cushioned the blow. Brushing myself off and getting my act together so as not to hold up the others, off I went. When we returned to the lodge that afternoon and I took off my toque, my hair was strangely sticky – I had seriously cut my head open and was blissfully unaware! This was a very remote lodge with no immediate access to medical services, but one of the other guests happened to be a doctor, who said that since the cut was on my head, I could get away without stitches as long as I didn’t wash my hair for the rest of the week. I must have been quite the eyesore after a few days – first-world problem.
But wait; that was just the warm-up! On day four or so, we went to an area with an open hole in the ground to an underground stream. The guide for my husband’s expert group had avoided that area altogether, but the guide for my beginner group took us right next to it! Beside the hole was a one-metre drop. “Just absorb the drop with your knees and carry on,” he said. Have I mentioned that I had a big steel-hinged brace on my knee? And that I’m accident-prone? I really did try my best, but that drop was just too much for my knee to absorb, and I literally cartwheeled right into the hole. There I was with my head at surface level, one ski off and the other still on, stuck precariously across the hole and preventing me from falling into the bowels of the earth. Clearly I was in shock and thank goodness – I was perfectly still. The guide rather nonchalantly put his ski across the edge of the hole, yanked me out, and collected my other ski. Hmmm!
It wasn’t until that evening that the reality of that experience really sunk in, and I realized how lucky I was to be alive and uninjured. Unfortunately, the last few days of skiing were not my best; I was in constant fear and reverted back to beginner technique. But I made it through, returned home to my beautiful little boys and the realization that they could have lost their mother, and vowed never to do anything so risky again.
Asleep at the Wheel in Iceland
Not a good idea to drive with jetlag
One of our family trips with the boys was to Iceland and Norway. Having done plenty of travelling already, you would think we would have realized that a 9pm flight from Toronto, arriving in Reykjavik at 6am (with a four-hour time difference) would mean we’d get very little sleep, but no. Our first priority was to rent a car and drive to the northernmost golf course in the world to tee off at 10pm and golf through midnight. Isn’t that what all families do?
So off we went and, one by one, each fell asleep, including my husband, who was driving! The road we were on did not have shoulders per se; it was kind of a raised mound with a deep gully on each side, with the edges marked by evenly spaced yellow posts. We were all awakened by the rumbling of the car careening off the road and down a steep, grassy slope. It’s a strange thing, waking up in those circumstances. I describe our reactions as “silent screams”. We had crossed the oncoming lane, gone between two yellow posts, and were speeding headlong toward a culvert for a driveway crossing the gully. Miraculously, we stopped in time, but the car was on such an angle that I couldn’t open my passenger door.
After a few minutes of catching our breath and making sure everyone was okay, along came a farmer. He didn’t seem overly fussed, and certainly was not impressed, but he did the right thing and offered to pull us out with his tractor. Eventually, once my husband and I had collected ourselves (the kids were practically unfazed), I took over the driving and we carried on to fulfill our mission. As scary as it was for me, I know it was much harder for my husband. He knew very well that it could have ended tragically, and vowed to never again try to push through that drowsy feeling while driving.
You Need to Prepare for the Worst, Ma’am
Keeping it together in a crisis
One fine day in May, as I dressed for a “Kentucky Derby” party, a friend popped in the door to inform me that my husband had just fallen off his dirt bike in the “back forty” and may have punctured his lung. He had a group of men and their sons over for what we called “Mudfest” and had bailed off the dirt bike to avoid hitting a young boy on an ATV. Admittedly rather irritated (this would surely make us late for the party), I drove him to the local hospital, fully expecting that he’d come away with a bandaged chest and we’d carry on to the party. Two ambulance trips and an intubation later, it was midnight and he was in the trauma ICU of a downtown Toronto hospital.
A day or two later, the doctor pulled me aside to tell me I should prepare myself and my boys for the worst; my husband likely had a hole in his esophagus, was at an 80% oxygen-requirement level (or something to that effect) and his heart was skipping beats. If they inserted a breathing tube, they could accidently tear the esophagus further, and the result would be irreparable. I held myself together in front of my kids, went to the washroom and collapsed.
Thank goodness a very good friend, who was a child-life specialist, was there. She advised me how to communicate this to the kids in a way they could understand at their respective ages. My youngest, who was 7 at the time, took it somewhat matter-of-factly. Young kids are surprisingly resilient. But my older child, who was 8 1/2, clearly understood the seriousness of the situation. It’s just heartbreaking to see a child coping with such devastating news.
A few days later, nothing much had changed, and the doctor pulled me aside again to deliver the same message. But soon after that, my husband started to improve. As it turns out, he did not have a torn esophagus, and after a week in the hospital, was released. At home that first night, we laid low and watched the movie “Finding Neverland” in which a young boy that has already lost his father faces the eventuality of losing his mother. I had stayed strong and stoic for my kids all week, but that heartbreaking scene just tipped the scales and I broke down, crying uncontrollably. My youngest, still not fully understanding what had just transpired, hugged me and said, “Don’t cry, Mom. Remember what you always tell us. It’s not real – it’s just a movie.”
People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime
I can’t begin to list the people that have crossed my path and influenced me, but there are some that stand out ...
A gift from heaven
Through most of our kids’ pre-school years, with both of our careers in full swing, we carted them to and from daycare. Then, just as they were entering school, we decided the extra complication of getting them back and forth between daycare and school was going to be tricky and decided to hire a nanny. I realize most people don’t have that luxury and I’m very grateful I did, but the point of this story is not that – it’s the beautiful person we hired.
Picture Mrs. Doubtfire – a born-and-bred Newfoundlander and wife of a Pentecostal pastor. We were religiously agnostic, so at first we were concerned that she might proselytize and asked her to keep her religious beliefs separate from her job. But as time went on and we realized she was just the ultimate definition of a good person, we trusted her implicitly and in fact asked her to talk to the kids when they had questions about God, religion, etc. She sometimes babysat at night and prayed with them at bedtime, and we even sent them to Pentecostal camp. (Those Pentecostals really know how to rock!)
Doris became well-known among our friends and family and eventually her name became a noun of sorts – people would say, “I want a Doris”. She was with us for seven wonderful years, until the kids were old enough not to need regular care and she was ready to retire. Many friends and family had also been so touched by her that they gladly came to a party we had to wish her well.
At one point a few years in, Doris had told us that she felt God had sent her to us, and we couldn’t agree more. The letter we gave her when she was leaving sums it up:
You’ve always said that you felt God sent you here. We can’t disagree – you were, and still are, God’s gift to us.
You spoiled us with your thorough, proactive housekeeping and willingness to do just about anything, from washing our clothes, to tending the gardens, to arranging & supervising other workers, to cleaning up nasty dog messes. You regularly went the extra mile by doing things like preparing the boys’ school uniforms, ironing the guest bed sheets, and just doing things because you knew they needed to be done. Your role evolved over the years from “nanny” to “keeper of the household / grocery buyer / chauffeur”, and you made the transition with ease. Hard-working, conscientious people like you are truly one in a million!
You were, in turns, mom, grandma, teacher and sheriff to the kids, whatever the role needed to be at the moment. From the time they were 4 and 5 ½, you picked them up from school each day with a cheerful greeting and a warm heart, answered their curious questions and had serious talks too, and together you enjoyed listening to gospel music while driving along. At home you made them toe the line, but you also tucked them in, prayed with them, sang to them. You watched them grow & mature, and you helped steer them – and us – in the right direction with your wise counsel. Your help was invaluable in teaching the boys responsibility & morality, and along the way you built true love & trust with them.
You willingly babysat or simply entertained countless other kids through the years. Their parents think very highly of you and wish you well on the next step in your journey.
As if all that weren’t enough, we can say without a doubt that you were our rock. Through serious work issues, the deaths of friends & family, relationship ups & downs, accidents, disease, surgeries & broken bones, you were someone we could all talk to about anything. You never judged; just listened. And you were always there when we needed you with a favour, or a hug, or a prayer.
Doris, you were God’s gift to us, you still are and always will be. We’ll truly miss you – not just for the work you did, but mostly for your kind heart & the life you brought to our family & home for seven important years.
You tried not to get too attached – to “do your job and go home” – but we’re sorry to say that’s the one thing you failed at – you have a permanent place in our family and in our hearts.
We still stay in touch with Doris. She came into our lives for a reason, a season and a lifetime. Love you, Doris!
True friends are a blessing. Who are yours?
If you’re a woman with one or more really good friends, consider yourself blessed. It wasn’t until I was single that I realized just how blessed I am. Looking back, I know that many of the ladies in my life would have been there for me in a heartbeat if I had needed them, but for the most part (with the exception of some illnesses, losses, etc.) I didn’t need to lean on them; I had my married life and kids to focus on and the support of my husband when I needed it. When that all changed, wow – they were there in spades, and still are! Several wonderful women regularly call to check on me or just catch up, and I do the same with them. We care about each other.
True friends listen to you. And they don’t sugar-coat their views – they tell you what they think, but always with your best interests in mind. True friends don’t care what you do for a living, or if you have more or less than them. We all put our pants on one leg at a time.
I’m no expert, but I’m sure that friendships between women are very different than those between men. Women are generally comfortable sharing somewhat-intimate details – about their feelings, their relationships, etc. – and as we get older, we become less and less inhibited. I can’t even tell you some of the things I talk about with my girlfriends ☺
I’ve reached a certain age – an age at which you’ve been there and done enough to have quite a bit of perspective on many things in life (but of course you’re still learning and will to the end). One thing that’s become clear is that I accept and appreciate my friends for what/who they are. I know people that hold their friends to such high standards, they no longer have any. I could say that’s sad, but for them, it may be okay. Let’s face it, our friends are not perfect – they can piss us off in countless ways. But if we really stop and think, it goes to reason that we must have traits that piss them off too! People that write off their true friends are likely blind to their own faults. Of course, there has to be a “line” and we each have our own view of where to draw it.
Friends do come and go – for a reason or a season – but at some point, I believe the “rubber hits the road”: it becomes clear who your greatest friends are and will be for a lifetime. I think I’m at that point. My friends are friends for a lifetime. They’re not “perfect” (whatever that is) but neither am I.
Ending a Marriage Gracefully
Life is short and kids come first
My marriage ended just short of our 30th wedding anniversary. We had been together for 36 years; in that time, we raised a beautiful family, travelled the world, enjoyed great friendships, worked hard and played hard. Like most marriages, there were good times and bad, but overall neither of us could really complain – we had a nice life together. Now, I realize how lucky I was (and unfortunately, how rare it is) to have come through it as his friend.
I give my late ex-husband a great deal of credit; it was my choice to leave and he didn’t really understand at first, but he accepted my decision and, almost immediately, suggested that we continue to celebrate special occasions together as a family. Our kids were adults now, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t be devastated by our break-up; like most grown children, having come that far, they could rightfully have assumed we would always be together, and that their idyllic family life would continue for decades to come. What we shared was a deep love for them; we had always put their interests ahead of ours and nothing would change that.
In many marriage break-ups, it’s understandable that there might be animosity, acrimony, even grudges; perhaps there was cheating, abuse or some other terrible reason. But even in those circumstances, the question needs to be asked: Isn’t life too short to waste it being spiteful and bitter? And if there are children, no matter what their age, shouldn’t their best interests be put first? As the saying goes though, it takes two to tango. Both parties need to be ready and willing to cooperate, and if one of them is not, rising above it is almost humanly impossible for the other.
Our break-up was not without a little bitterness along the way, but nothing of any significance. Slowly but surely, we settled into a new friendship with a common bond. Sadly, he passed away 3 years after we separated. I’ll never know for sure, but I doubt there’s anything that could have ruined what we achieved; we would have each moved on in our lives, lived and let live, and continued to love and prioritize those beautiful children, and their children. Now I’m doing that on my own and I miss him as my friend and parenting partner.
Listen to me, Linda!
What is a conversation, really?
There’s a video online that went viral a few years ago of a precocious three-year-old boy, Mateo, speaking to his mother and calling her by her name – Linda. Over and over, Mateo says, “Linda, honey, listen to me.” Somehow that became the name my friend and bandmate calls me … and I answer to it! But I digress. What I really want to talk about is the art of listening vs. talking.
We all like to talk about ourselves; it’s part of the human condition. But far too often, I’ve found that conversations among people are more like a disjointed series of one-way statements (“I …” and “I …”) than a meaningful dialogue. And in many cases, the first person can’t even finish their sentence before the next one chimes in. There have been several situations in which I felt virtually invisible; half-way through saying something, my friends interrupt with whatever they want to say, oblivious to what they’ve done and never apologizing or inviting me to finish my thought. It’s disheartening, to say the least.
Many years ago, I realized that I too was guilty. Especially when speaking to very shy/reserved people, I caught myself filling the dead air with my own chatter. No wonder the other person barely said a word – it was a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. So I made a deliberate effort to stop talking, despite the awkward silence, and give them a chance to contribute to the conversation. And guess what? They did! From that point on, I’ve tried very hard to listen more than I talk, and to catch myself when I’ve been talking for a bit, stop, and turn the attention back to my friends.
When my oldest son changed schools and was having trouble making new friends, I suggested that he ask the kids he liked about themselves – simple things like “What kinds of sports do you like?”. I explained that people like talking about themselves, so this might get a conversation going. Sure enough, a few days later, he came home, thrilled that it had worked – he had made a new friend!
Many people are already good listeners, but too many are not. I’m certainly not perfect, but I try. Over the years, I’ve found a real sense of satisfaction from listening to others – really hearing them – and discovered that I don’t need to tell everyone everything about me; if they’re truly interested, they’ll find out in due time, and if not, oh well!
Dealing with Death
Good Riddens, 2021
I’m sure we can all agree that 2021 is a year we’d love to forget, along with most of 2020. But the Covid saga was the least of my worries in 2021. After losing my parents a few years earlier (see Finding My Way) and a good friend in 2020, I naively trusted that my “charmed life” would resume … but no.
In the spring, I got a call that my ex-husband had been taken to hospital, and 3 weeks later, he left this world. Those 3 weeks were agonizing for me, my children, our extended families, and my ex’s many good friends. We suffered through days of despair, peppered with occasional glimmers of hope, but ultimately had to face reality and make the excruciating decision to let him go.
We had a cat – Dusty – that was his trusty sidekick for years. Dusty was a real character – not your typical aloof cat. Having temporarily moved back to my former country home to support the family, help with the estate, etc., I soon got thoroughly attached to that character. But one day just a few months in, we had to make the difficult decision to let him go. Clearly this paled in comparison to what we had just been through, but Dusty was, in a strange way, a link to the man we lost.
Fast forward to December. Sitting at my former home with my son, we heard a terrible screech and crash. A young woman had gone off the road and into a deep part of the frigid river on the edge of our property, upside down. While I called 911 and liaised with the first responders, my son tried desperately – but unsuccessfully – to rescue her. The paramedics did eventually revive her, but she succumbed to her injuries the next day. Many people describe what my son did as heroic, but it’s hard to think of yourself as a hero when the ending is not a happy one. No matter what you call it, I’m proud of him; he didn’t know this person but instinctively valued her life and did everything he could for her, not thinking twice about his own safety. The greatest achievement a parent can hope for is to raise good people.
As much as we try to keep the losses and tragedies we experience in perspective and move on with our lives, the reality is that it takes time for their impact to fade. Memories flash into the mind without warning; they may come and go, or they may stay for a while. Each time, we relive the experience, eventually shake it off, and go back to what we were doing. We may regret what we did or didn’t say or do and wish we could have another chance. Eventually though, I think most of us realize that we said/did what seemed right at the time, maybe just not realizing what the outcome would be. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20; we shouldn’t punish ourselves for not knowing what’s coming.
As I did when I was diagnosed with MS, I try to remind myself that there are people in the world enduring terrible things – war, famine, etc. It helps me keep some perspective. Many of us will never have to endure such things, but we will all surely face hard times; it’s just part of life. The mistake we make is becoming complacent and not being prepared for the hard times. We put our heads in the sand and when those hard times happen, we feel sorry for ourselves. It would be easy to say that we should just pull our heads out of the sand, but nothing can truly prepare us for what may happen in our lives.
I’ve been told that I’m a strong, resilient woman for enduring everything I’ve been through – kind words, but my response is, “What other choice do we have?”. Some people crumble under pressure but most, I believe, “soldier through” the hard times, learn from them, and hopefully gain new perspective. Life really is short and the best we can do is apply the perspective we gain along the way to live a better life.