Archive for May, 2018

Fear is bigger than it ought to be, when you’re too often in your head, as I so often am. I’m a ‘feeler’ and an empath, certainly, but I’ve always been cerebral. I read a lot, I think a lot, I am on my own a lot, and I write. (I’ve had people say, “You’re too smart for your own good,” which always ticks me off because it implies that a person should apologize for being quick witted. It’s just as daft as someone saying to me, “You’re too pale for your own good,” or “Your hair is too curly for your own good.” And since when is being smart a bad thing?)

For me, it has been a blessing and a curse. I think quickly, speak (too often) without a filter. (This is either shocking, for some people, and for me, sometimes, too, or else it is something that causes people to laugh hysterically. I say stuff that other people think about saying, but then stop themselves from saying. I’m missing the filter. I’m a ten-year-old inside an adult body.)

Choosing to come to southwestern Ontario, and an area that I love to hike in, was a big choice that I made last August when I wrote on Pelee Island for two weeks. Taking a semester off to dedicate myself to trying to finish the first draft of my second novel is a bit overwhelming, when I get to thinking about it. I am dedicating myself to my work. By being away from home, I can’t distract myself. I also, though, need to stay slightly social. So, I have three good friends who make sure I see other humans occasionally, outside of random encounters with hikers.

I’ve known Fe since we went to high school together. She moved away, and we reconnected when her dad was ill in Sudbury, and later when he died. Then, two years ago, my friend Dawn asked me to take part in a writing retreat on Pelee Island, and I began to discover the beauty of the Essex County area, so Fe and I reconnected when I was down again in August of that year, working on a novel in Kingsville. We’ve been in touch ever since. I feel lucky and blessed that someone who’s known me for as long as she has gets me as I am. She always has, and likely always will.

When I got down to Kingsville, she opened her heart, family, and home, asking me to Easter Dinner with her family. It was lovely. Then, after dinner, over some kind of trifle in a bowl, she mentioned that she was doing aerial silks at the Windsor Circus School. Then she showed me a video. I gasped. How was she doing that? She suggested I try it. I scoffed. (You should know that I usually scoff when I’m nervous, overwhelmed, or when my head is trying to tell my heart that I should just *not* do something new. I have to fight against my fear.)

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later, in April, and a visit to try aerial silks. The first day was brutal. I have a staple in my left hip, so my range of motion in that whole leg is completely difficult. It moves just so far and that’s it. (This is why pigeon pose has traditionally annoyed me in yoga class. I can do pigeon pose on the right, but not the left. I am mismatched.) Tia, the aerial silks teacher, is brilliant. I told her about the staple, but she didn’t flinch. Nope. I shouldn’t let the staple in my hip stop me. She just said that working out on the silks would likely actually work out some of the scar tissue, and even likely give me more range of movement. (She’s actually been right about that and, though I know I’ve just begun, I can sense a more fluid motion in my left leg and hip, as if it’s learning how to breathe again).

She just stretched us out before we began, through exercises on the mats, which is called ‘conditioning,’ and then got me started on a simple starfish pose. You step up into the knot, and then you move your feet out until you are almost in a square shape. You look a bit like a weird, hanging starfish. (You also quiver a lot because all of the muscles in your body are holding you up and in position.) After that, I learned the ‘cocoon,’ which is fun. You get to swish fabric around, use your ‘safety arm’ to be sure you don’t kill yourself while only a foot off the floor (if you’re a beginner, like me), and you push your legs out into the silk in front of you, finally sinking into a cocoon of your own making. Then there’s ‘plank,’ which requires a lot of upper body and core strength. You end up, somehow, pulling your body up to a horizontal position, so you’re suspended inside the square of the silks. All of these moves and positions require you to engage your core and pretty much squeeze the crap out of any and every muscle in your body. You are, always, always, always, sore for a day or two afterwards. (It puts my experiences with Zumba and Pound to shame, to be honest, and it’s made me more aware of my physical and mental strength.)

The most challenging thing, for me, happened in my fourth class. Tia said that I would be inverting. Yeah, okay. I just made a face. She made a face back. “You are. You will. Today!” And then I think I shook my head again. She laughed, smiled, as she always does, and then said, “Get out of your damn head! Get into your body!” Leaning back into the knot of silk, positioned just above my waist, she helped me to tip backwards, so that my head went backwards, and my feet and legs went up above my head. I couldn’t stop laughing, mostly because I was terrified. I was completely upside down. (If ever having control was a real thought, even though it’s always an illusion in life, now was the moment I realized that I had to be vulnerable to be strong. That was a lesson. That was, indeed, a big lesson…)

There are side effects to doing silks, things I hadn’t expected: sore shoulders and arms, newly defined arm muscles that I didn’t know existed, emerging core muscles that I didn’t know existed, and a strange sense of grace when I walk or hike. I feel more rooted in my own feet and legs, and my arms swing with greater certainty. I take up more space in the world, even though I’ve lost weight. That is a very cool thing. A reversal of fortunes, and a reversal of mind. Then there are the ‘occupational’ hazards: the burns from the silks where you least expect them (backs of your thighs, behind your back, near your armpits), and even blisters on your hands. Cramps in your hands, arms, toes, and feet, too, seem common. It’s like your whole body wakes up and stretches open wide and says “Hey, look at this…you woke up! I can move!” when it’s only ever been scrunched up, trying to be quiet, or proper, or just invisible. This, I find, is about making myself visible to myself. (It’s also about feeling sexy, strong, and sensual. Definitely not bad side effects. 🙂 )

Here’s the thing: so much of what I’ve done at silks in the last four sessions has been psychological and mental. I’ve had a life of being fearful, of just being ‘safe’ in everything I try to do on a day-to-day basis. Boring. Learning aerial silks takes me out of my head and plunks me smack-dab into my physical body. You can’t control very much of anything, but you need to control your physical body when you do aerial silks. You need to be in your body, and not in your head. If you’re in your head, you might hurt yourself. When Tia turned me upside down, helped me to invert, tipped me, I had to trust my own physical strength. I had to trust that my body was strong enough to combat the fear inside my brain. Then, for me, who’s always had to be strong for myself, on my own, I had to trust her to tip me over myself, physically, and to give up that sense of control (and fear). The hysterical laughter was, I think, a combination of fear, shock, surprise, and (mostly) delight. I was out of my head for the first time in a very long time…and that was freeing.

I’m new to this aerial silks thing. I record my progress every week by videoing it on my iPhone, and I can see how I’ve improved over the four or five 1.5hr classes I’ve taken, but I’m not high off the ground. That’s okay. I’ll get there. Last week, I managed to invert by myself, to my great shock and amazement. Then I pulled myself back up. There’s core strength where there wasn’t before, but there’s something even greater…and that’s the best part: I’m more in my body than in my head and it’s changed the way I am in the world, in myself. Not a lot scares me these days. That, for a change, is a huge gift. I have Fe to thank for getting me there, and Tia to thank for always encouraging me, despite my Muppet faces and grimaces, and accompanied by some muttered swearing. (Last week, I struggled, after having been back home in Sudbury for a few weeks and a couple of literary events, so I felt awkward again. Tia was persistent, telling me that she could see it on my face, that I was lacking in confidence. “I can see it on your face, you know. You’re nervous. You think you can’t do it. Don’t let your head win. Get back into your body! Get out of your head!” She was right: it’s my new mantra. It’s working, even on days when I don’t do silks. 🙂 )

I know I’ll keep improving. I’m stubborn. I’m going to keep on keeping on, and I hope to get higher off the ground, because it already feels a bit like flying. On so many levels, it’s like flying for the very first time, and being vulnerable enough to trust that I won’t fall…and that you can be strong by being vulnerable and open after all.

Who knew? Who knew?

peace, friends.






Read Full Post »

I’ve been away down south for a couple of months, writing my next novel, working on some new plays, and putting together my next book of poems, as well as a little collection of non-fiction essays. (It sounds exciting, but there’s a lot of coffee being drunk, late nights and early mornings, long hikes and trying to work out characters and plots, and a bit of hanging around from aerial silks at the Windsor Circus School to cut the tension and pressure I put on myself to complete my writing work.)

What I was thrilled to hear about, via Facebook and other social media feeds, was that the brilliant exhibit, “Sudbury Women in Art,” would be extended, moving from the space of the Open Studio on Durham Street to the Art Gallery of Sudbury. There was great coverage of the opening on social media, so I sat down in Kingsville all restless and dying to see the show. Then there was mention made of an accompanying book, highlighting the work and careers of a number of stellar Sudbury women artists. (I’ll say right now that I know, or have at least met, quite a few of them. I’m a fan of their work, so this will be a blog that is celebratory and unapologetically laudatory.)

Here’s the thing, Sudbury friends: tomorrow is Mother’s Day and it’s the last day that the exhibition will be on at the Art Gallery of Sudbury. If you’re like me, and Mother’s Day is a hard day, this is a way to lift your spirits. Art does that for me. It may do it for you, too, if you give it a try. So, this afternoon, I wandered over to the old Bell Mansion. I love it there. I’m happy that the gallery and library will find a new space in the downtown core, but I do hope that people will fight to keep the Bell Mansion as a historic place. It deserves that honour. It’s so storied, and it has facilities that could be used for event planning and poetry readings. It can’t, regardless of what else happens, be let to fall into ruin. It just can’t…

Today, there was a right mess of boy and girl scouts at the gallery, a whole lot of them to be honest, so it was loud in the high school art exhibition in Gallery 1. I quickly made my way upstairs, entering into a very different space, populated by images of this place and space. I could breathe deeply again in that silence, feeling pleased that Sudbury’s widely loved Heather Topp would have the first couple of pieces on the wall. Rightfully so. I’ve written about Heather’s work on this blog before and am a huge fan.

There are so many beautiful pieces on the walls of Gallery 2. I’m going to list all of the women here, as they’re mentioned in the book that accompanies the exhibition. They include: Adrienne Assinewai, Rachelle Bergeron (those photos!) Leesa Bringas (a woman who, like me, seems torn between Sudbury and Windsor), Kathy Browning (her Irish photos always pull at me), Rose Cardinal (whose tattooing artistry is well respected in the North), Joan Chivot, Danielle Daniel (whose work I have long loved, and whose beautiful downtown mural just off Durham Street, titled “Dear Sudbury,” is fairly famous in town), Laura-Leigh Gillard (those butterflies, birds, and moths are just a bit mystical), Sarah King Gold (who is the mastermind behind the gorgeous mosaic mural down on Elgin Street, just opposite the tracks), Tennille Heinonen, Stacy Lalonde (more photos!), Monique Legault (who painted one of my poems last year and who is now lobbying for local artists to create a mural on the Elgin Street Underpass), Rosie Maddock (whose typewriter skirt is one of my favourite pieces of clothing), Kim McKibbon, Rae Miranda (whose work in textiles is fabulous), Neli Nenkova (who is most well known for the brilliant mural on the Kingsway), Ruth Reid (fabulous watercolourist, but also a former voice at CBC Sudbury), Carole Rodrigue, Sydney Rose (!), Trish Stenabaugh (who is one of my best friends and whose work has graced the covers of the last two books of poems I’ve published), Colette Theriault, Heather Topp (those paper-mache goddesses and so many of her feisty and spirited canvases), Dineen Worth, and Chantel Abdel-Nour (a co-editor of the book that goes along with the exhibit), Johanna Westby (another co-editor of the book!). Whew. That’s quite a list.

Each and every piece was beautiful, when I looked at them today, but there were a few that stood out, so I’ll mention them. As I’ve already said, I love Heather Topp’s work. I find her whimsical and organic style, especially in terms of her life-sized paper-mache women, always transfixes me. Sydney Rose’s piece, “The Joy of Sex and Indoor Gardening,” made me laugh out loud: who knew that a series of houseplants might be so quirkily placed. I loved that one. Then there’s Trish Stenabaugh’s work. I’m beyond a fan of Trish’s work. I began teaching at the same time as Trish and she’s one of my dearest friends. I have, just let me count here, um, four of her paintings in my little red brick house. Her use of colour and form always gets to me, in the best possible of ways. Next, you can’t have an exhibit like this without the stunning work created by Danielle Daniel. She’s up for Emerging Artist in this year’s Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts on June 6th. She’s a triple or maybe even a quadruple threat: a visual artist, a singer and ukulele player, and a brilliant writer. The piece up in the gallery, “Water Warrior,” made me think of how important it is for all of us to mind our waterways. The image of the woman with sad eyes made me nod in agreement: you can’t live in the north, and you can’t have enjoyed swimming or canoeing or fishing or hiking, without knowing that the water is so dearly in need of our advocacy and protection. Then there’s Leesa Bringas, someone I admire a great deal. A ‘transplant’ from Windsor, Leesa is a relatively new spark in the community, and almost always behind some of the most brilliant artistic initiatives here in town. Her cyanotype photography is just so beautiful, and the piece up at the gallery makes you sort of want to just walk right into that deep blue colour. (Or maybe that’s just me…it could just be me…) 🙂

I really loved Johanna Westby’s piece, “Wading in the Evening.” It is, truly, I think, so evocative of what a northern woman is all about. If you grew up here, you probably learned to swim in a lake. I did. The notion of skinny dipping in a northern lake, too, isn’t farfetched at all. I loved this piece because of the ‘above and below’ of the surface of the water. Throughout it all, the image of a naked woman, seen from behind. Above the water, the trees our region is famous for, and underneath, a couple of stylized blue fish and a mess of reeds. (I still call those ‘weeds’ or ‘seaweed’ when I go swimming. There’s not a summer when I don’t think I feel fish brush by my legs when I’m swimming, even though it’s likely just a mucky lake bottom with weeds!) Anyway, Westby’s a featured artist at the gallery right now, so you can buy some of her beautiful notecards and there are some originals on display at the main desk.

Laura-Leigh Gillard is well known here in Sudbury. She does those amazing acrylic and ink pieces of birds and butterflies and moths. They are stunning to see and you know right away, when you see a Gillard piece, that that’s who made it! Her two pieces,  “Patience, Darling” and “Cataclysmic Catalyst” are simply stunning. The colours, like those used in Daniel and Westby’s pieces, are jewel toned and bold. Love it. Further on down the gallery is the work of Rosie Maddock. Originally from England, Rosie lives here now and is fairly famous for her pillows, tote bags, and (yes! thank God!) quirky typewriter skirts (which are perfect for writer women like me)! Her two pieces are so touching, from her ‘Mum Makes History’ series. In one piece, the artwork is accompanied by a pair of tiny white leather shoes and some old photos of a little girl. In another, there is a tiny antique stuffed bear and a multi-media piece that is too beautiful to even begin to explain with words. Then, there’s Rose Cardinal. She’s on my list because I still need to get two little barn swallow tattoos from her, in memory of my parents, but I’m still a coward in that department. In any case, two of the most striking pieces here are photos of her “In Memory of Pierre,” which is a tattoo of a miner’s face, as a memorial. Then there’s the stunning, “Underwater Parenting,” with the image of a mermaid breastfeeding a baby mermaid. What?! How fantastic is that!?

These are the pieces that struck me most, but all of these women artists are producing unbelievably beautiful and thought provoking work. The exhibit, “Sudbury Women in Art,” is only on until the end of day tomorrow. Yup. That’s Mother’s Day. So, if you’re looking for something to do on a day which can be hard when you’re missing your mum, as I am, then the Art Gallery of Sudbury is the place to be. Where else can you celebrate the force of the women in this community in a tangible way? Please remember to make a donation when you walk past the welcome desk. The only way we can ensure that the arts flourish in Sudbury is to pay artists for their work. Seeing their work in a gallery is just as important as buying a piece, if you can. Skipping past the donation bin is a no-no. Come prepared to celebrate and honour their work as women artists.

Now…the next thing…would be to have this tour around a bit. I can imagine it at the McEwen School of Architecture, for example, or maybe at the Living with Lakes Centre on Ramsey Lake Road. Why not just keep it going, extend its life span, keep the ball rolling, as my old dad used to say? Just a thought, Sudbury friends…just a thought. 🙂





Read Full Post »

You never know when death will actually arrive. It’s the worst part of it, to begin. There are other ‘worst parts’ to it, but that whole ‘it arrives when you least expect it’ part of it is what shocks the heart first. It’s always the phone call, I find, when someone you haven’t heard from in a long while ends up ringing you and you pick up and see an area code from far away, a hand of dread fisted around your heart. You usually already know it’s not good news. In my family, it has happened too often…mostly because we were big and Irish Catholic. There was a time, when I was little, when family gatherings were massive. They’re not as much now, except at funerals and wakes.

My grandmother was the glue that held her five kids and their families together. When she died in 1998, while I was in my twenties, someone in the family (I forget who, but I think it was one of my cousins) said “Now…we won’t see each other as often.” I remember I scoffed, shook my head, and thought there was nothing to that farfetched prophecy. Then, the house on Wembley Drive sold and the centre could not hold. From 1997 until the later 2000s, a whole slew of relatives died. It was one loss after the other. The worst ones were my uncles, Peter and Terry, who both died at the age of 50. Then my great-aunts and uncles started dying, their goings like sea swells, or badly placed and timed contractions. Then my uncle Jeno died in spring 2007, and my mum followed a year and a half later. Dad was to follow just three years after that. It was a lot.

Getting the call from my cousin, Sheryl, on March 24th, was a bit of a shock. I was alone in Kingsville, so it was a bit hard. I went walking afterwards, trying to shake it into my head and heart, sitting on the edge of Lake Erie on a windy day. I’d known my uncle, Mike, was sick through the fall. He had struggled with heart issues. (My mum had heart issues, too, so I knew what that decline was like. She used to call it “The Ennis Heart,” and the phrase would hang over the kitchen ominously whenever she referenced it. It’s part of why I’ve gotten so focused on my own physical health in the last six years, with a key intensity in the last two. I don’t want to suffer as my mum and dad did. Being healthy and strong is key to living a healthy life, no matter what your age. It’s not enough to say you don’t drink, but it’s okay to eat excessively. Excessive eating is just as poisonous as excessive drinking; they both kill you slowly if addiction is involved. Addiction is addiction, in my mind, and whether it’s food or alcohol doesn’t matter. In some cases, in my immediate family, it was both, with my parents…)

I still can’t believe that I’ve lost my very last uncle. He was only 76. It’s not long enough. It isn’t. And here’s why: He was loved by many people, especially family and friends. Yes, he was so accomplished in his work field, but I can only think of the memories that have to do with him as someone who was encouraging to me, as a niece, and someone who had a great sense of humour and who cared about my grandmother. She spent part of every summer at Mike and Joanne’s house in Mississauga, and raved about time spent swimming in their pool, how beautiful his garden was, how fabulous Princess, the dog, was, and she so enjoyed spending time with Lisa and Sheryl. Whenever Mike came home to visit, I remember, she always had a list of things for him (or for Terry, too!) to fix. She used to cut out scrap paper slips, long and narrow ones, and keep them on her telephone table, so she could jot down notes in advance of their visits. Once, I said to her, shaking my head, “You have such a list of things for these guys to fix and mend! Why? Aren’t they coming to visit you?! And you make them work?!” And she giggled (she had a lovely laugh that I really miss a great deal), “They’re so good at it. They like to help. They like to keep busy when they come to visit.” And they did. Both of them. I remember they would trundle off to Canadian Tire during visits home to Sudbury with their wives and kids, and I’d find them doing something or other in the basement or kitchen. Mike always seemed to have a screwdriver in his hand when I saw him at Gram Ennis’s house, and he always explained what he was doing to me. He took great pride, too, in having written on the fruit cellar wall in the basement, and it was always kind of cool, I thought, to see the Latin translation of “Don’t let the turkeys get you down” in the basement of 350 Wembley. That was Mike’s scrawled writing. I remember it still…

My earliest memories of Mike are of his face and his laugh. He had a wonderful face. He did. It was soft and friendly, and he when he laughed, his smile reached his eyes. He really was the kind of guy who had stereotypically ‘twinkly eyes.’ He loved laughing and joking. When I was young, he and I had an exchange of notes that lasted for most of my teens. I was “The Shadow” and he was “The Mineola Ghost.” So, when we visited Mike and Joanne’s place on Mineola, in Mississauga, I often brought gifts for the Mineola Ghost, and was rewarded with crazily scrawled riddles that rhymed on bits of white paper. I need to try and see if I can find some of these notes now. They’re likely in boxes in my basement.  Anyway, while we were together, in person, neither of us would speak of the Ghost or the Shadow. We acted as if they were completely different people to us. They were alter egos or something. It was weird, but we delighted in this exchange for about eight or ten years. I had a vivid imagination and a sense of humour, and he liked rhyming, and it worked beautifully.

In my late 20s, I drove to Nova Scotia with a man-child who broke my heart. (He was, I thought, wrongly, the love of my life.) Before I picked up said fellow in downtown Toronto, I stayed overnight in Mississauga at Mike and Joanne’s house. Mike was protective. “You know: you have a phone, if you need anything, you can call us. You’re sure he’s decent?” And I was like, “Yeah, but I’ll be in Nova Scotia. It’ll be fine.” And he was like “Yeah, I know, but you can call us if you need to.”  He knew I was naive and hopeful, and massively in love with someone who (he probably knew from talking to me the night before I left) was likely going to break my heart. What he didn’t expect me to do, before I went to pick up the guy in Toronto, was that I stole a plastic pink garden pig from the back garden near the pool. I stuffed that thing into the trunk of my car and took it hostage. I left a hostage note, all penned mysteriously in cut-out magazine letters glued to white typing paper, with the help of my cousin, Lisa. She knew it would drive her dad crazy. He loved playing pranks, but no one ever dared to try and prank him. I stole that pig, and the handsome man-child and I took photos of it all over the East coast. On my return, I took the photos and put them into a photo album, returning the pig to the garden, with the photo album in a Ziploc bag next to it. Yup. He was actually pretty angry, Lisa told me later, that I’d kidnapped the pig and held it hostage, but those photos (who knows where they are now?!) were pretty funny. We stopped at the Magnetic Hill and took a pig photo, the Citadel in Halifax, the longest covered bridge in New Brunswick…you get the idea. There was even a photo of the handsome man-child pretending to throw the pig off a cliff just outside of Mahone Bay. Afterwards, I remember, when I brought the pig back, Mike laughed, his face sort of transformed, and he just nodded. “You’re pretty funny, Kimmy…” (Only my parents, grandmother, aunts and uncles even called me “Kimmy” or “Kimmy Ruth,” and it was always with such love…)

The most important thing that he and Joanne ever did for me, and I wish I’d had the notion to tell him when I saw him on November 30th last year, was that they took me to England, Wales, and Ireland when I was just twenty-two.  I remember they were taking Sheryl and Lisa across on holiday, and thinking what a fantastic trip it would be for them. I was in undergrad at Laurentian University and studying English lit. I loved Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Yeats, and the Brontes. I was all into poetry and the Romantics and Victorians. Then, one night, there was a call and my mum was sitting at the telephone talking to Mike. Afterwards, she and Dad came into the kitchen and said “Michael and Joanne want to know if you would like to go with them, and Lisa and Sheryl, on their trip this summer.” I think I started crying. I loved being at their house, because they were so welcoming. I just remember thinking that it was a dream, to go to a place where the writers I most loved had been born and lived. I was beyond excited.

That trip changed my life. Mike and Joanne knew Mum and Dad didn’t make a lot of money. They knew I wouldn’t have a lot of opportunities to travel just then, that I was pushing through university. They let me pay my way, and I budgeted my savings for that trip, settling up with Irish and English currency as we went each week. It was a trip that I will recall fondly for the rest of my life, and it cemented my love of literature and writing. We went to the Bronte’s parsonage in Haworth, and we saw Wordsworth’s cottage in the Lake District. We went to Stonehenge, and then in Ireland, we went to Dublin Castle, the Irish Writers’ Museum, and saw the Cliffs of Moher. I still remember the ferry trip between Holyhead, Wales, and Dun Loaghaire, Ireland, and how I got all emotional when I first saw Ireland through the mist that rose up off the Irish sea. There were dolphins that danced in the wake of the ferry, and jellyfish that bobbed in the harbour, and even a few seals. It was, to be honest, one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had. And, thankfully, it made me grateful to have cousins like Lisa and Sheryl, ones who loved legends, history, ghosts and faeries as much as I did…

My mum’s dying and death was hardly easy. It was, when I think of it now, and I actually try not to think of it too often because it still hurts almost ten years on, really really awful. She pushed everyone away, especially the people who loved her most. She pushed me away, and I was her main caretaker when she was bedridden with a foot amputation. And, well, she pushed Mike away. He loved her, and she loved him, and I still don’t understand why she didn’t let us love her while she was dying. That will always stymie me, confuse me, and hurt me deeply. I know, near the end, in those months when she slept with the curtains drawn, and wouldn’t even speak to me as I fed her and helped bathe her, that she must have been terrified of her coming end. She pulled in and she pushed everyone away, especially the people who loved her most. I couldn’t understand it, and I still don’t. It still hurts.  A lot. I know that both Mike and Cathy were the most hurt by her, but I can’t make amends for my mum, and I’ve learned to let it go. She did the best she could with the news she received (whatever it was, and no matter why she thought she couldn’t share it with those who loved her most). She was angry about dying. She was only 67. Much too young to die. In any case, she pushed Mike away. It hurt him. It hurt a lot of us. And no one ever knows what to do with love that turns itself into hurt, do we? We cry, we mourn, we get angry. Then Dad was ill and I lost time and years again, losing track of relatives. Then I was sick, really sick, and losing time again. And I lost track of people who loved me all over again.

It took me a long time to get healthy after my parents died. A long time. The last two years have been lighter, more creative, more joyful inside. In late November, though, I was going to Ottawa to attend the Governor General’s Literary Awards, and then to attend an event called “Laureate City” in Ottawa. I arranged to spend time with Lisa and then to meet her husband, Michael, and to have lunch with Michael and Joanne. We spent the most amazing afternoon together in Westboro, an artsy area of Ottawa. I loved seeing my aunt and uncle. It had been too long. Geography had separated us, and time…and the lack of that amazing grandmotherly centre that Gram Ennis and 350 Wembley brought us all. We reconnected, caught up, and I sort of knew it would be the last time I would see him. It felt deeply rewarding, to catch up, to mend fences broken by Mum’s illness and death, and to know that love really does mend things when you least expect that it can. Saying goodbye to him, on a side street, I gave him a hug, watched his face shift with emotion yet again, once more, and saw him get into the car. My heart ached.

When the call came on March 24th, I just shook my head. I’m glad we reconnected in late November. I feel sad it took so long to do so. You just get yourself together, get healthy, reconnect with someone you love, and then the person you have known your whole life, well, he just sort of goes away. It feels to me, hard. Really hard. I said to one of my cousins, yesterday, at the family gathering and dinner, “This has really sent me for a loop, you know?” And she nodded. Then I said, “It’s made me think back to Mum and Dad’s going…and how hard that was…it’s triggered a lot of stuff for me.” And, then, thankfully, she nodded, and smiled sadly. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot of Dad in the last six weeks…It’s been hard.” And I said, “Okay. So I’m not crazy…it’s all coming up again.” You see…in a family where there was once a centre, whenever someone else dies, well, the remembered centre opens itself all over again, and you go down through the rabbit hole, mucking around in your own losses all over again.

It makes me incredibly sad, to see Mike go too soon. He was still active in his community, in giving of himself in volunteer work. He was still in love with Joanne, and she with him, which was evidenced when she played “On Eagle’s Wings” at yesterday’s celebration of life. He was still so proud of his daughters, his two son-in-laws, and of his three grandchildren. He had a lot more to offer, to do.

I am not afraid of death. Everyone I love is over there. They are, I know, all there. And I love them still. I am afraid of dying. Nothing I’ve seen about it in the last ten years is easy. It has taught me the greatest lessons about love, though, and I suppose I am tremendously grateful for those lessons. I value people more now. Some people find me too much, and I understand that. Maybe they haven’t lost as many people as I have. Maybe they haven’t looked darkness in the eyes and survived. It’s a lonely way…this way…but it also teaches you that love is the thing we should all strive to find. It is, I think, the only answer. Really…really…the only answer.

I miss Mike tremendously. Since the news of his death, I’ve been hiking down south, on Point Pelee, in Maidstone Woods, Kopegaron Woods, places I have come to love for their quiet spaces and rhythms, and just sitting on the edge of Lake Erie, trying to find some peace in his going. It’s hard. I know it’s even harder for Lisa, Sheryl and Joanne. I miss Mum and Dad and Gram…and everyone else. There are too many to count now…and that breaks my heart open again and again and again.

I’ll always think of one night, in Newton Abbey, when Lisa and Sheryl and I were lagging behind Mike and Joanne on an evening walk. The trees were all green and leafy then, in July, as they are in summer, in England. It was like walking into a poem. I watched Mike and Joanne, that night, reach out to one another, and hold hands. Lisa and Sheryl were astounded, I remember, because it wasn’t a common thing. But I remember what I saw: I saw love, in these two people who held hands, who walked into a shaded evening, with birdsong, and the sound of wind in leaves, and I thought, “That, now that is love.” And I saw it again yesterday, at the service at Beechwood, and in the words of my aunt, and my cousins, and in the love that my extended family had for Mike.

How do you ever say goodbye, I wonder, when you don’t want them to go…how…

Hug your people, friends. Mend your fences, and then hug your people. Life is too short not to love fully, live deeply, and share it all with people who share your ancestry and story.

Slan abhaile, Michael. Say hello to them all for me…and mind that front door for when we all show up someday…save us a spot around the table…and a glass of Tullamore Dew, too.

Slainte to you, Mike…






Read Full Post »