Unchartered Territory

Being present to the moment is hard work. I want to be. And yet for this self-confessed worrier it’s mighty challenging. I remember my mother telling me that I came by my ability to worry (very internally) honestly: she and her dad always appeared calm and yet would say, “calm on the outside, but going a million miles a minute inside”. Sounds about right. It’s not that my relatively relaxed exterior is a show. I’m not faking it. It’s just that there is more to me than that.

Lately I feel entirely mixed up. I’m quite certain that every health care professional I have met over the course of Dion’s hospitalization has been witness to me being an emotional wreck. Which I think I’m okay with, except I sometimes wish my face would leak less. This is proving to be a time worthy of the descriptor “emotional roller-coaster”.

The city has issued the permit for our home renovations. This means everything needs to be moved out of the basement so that we can demolish it, all preferably before the end of June. In the meantime Dion has moved to Bellwoods, a transitional facility in the west-end of the city. In some ways I feel relieved that there are finally time-lines for many of the things that need to get done. In other ways I am completely overwhelmed.

I want to share that our reality is very challenging right now (I know that likely comes as no surprise). Dion is trying to process many new things: completing his formal work days and going on long-term disability, moving to a different neighbourhood, adjusting to an increased level of care, and feeling homesick. I am trying to process all of this too, as is Cate. There are many unknowns, making the way forward less than clear. This is unchartered territory.

Many people have asked how to help. Please do not mistake my inability to succinctly answer that with an unwillingness to receive assistance. I feel like I do after experiencing the trauma of bereavement. When someone asks me if I want a coffee, I find myself responding, “I don’t know, do I want a coffee? If you put it in my hand, I’ll probably drink it”. Having said this, I am piecing together a list of what needs to be done over the next while and will be in touch about it soon.

Somehow in all of this, I can sense God’s presence. I am trying to do the things that are right in front of me to do, and trust that things will be worked out as they should. Even though it is difficult, I endeavour to return to the present moment, very often with the following prayer by Thomas Merton ringing in my ears and embedded in my heart:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” 





A Mannequin Named Dale

Meagan, her husband Ian, and I were just starting to set up our table at Spring into Parkdale, an annual event organized by the BIA that celebrates the neighbourhood, when a librarian from the Parkdale Public Library approached me. “Have you heard about The Dale Ministries namesake?” I confessed that I had not.

Apparently Mary and Helen of the library found a mannequin at the side of the road on a cold rainy day. Destined for landfill, they decided to rescue, clean up and give her a new home at Parkdale Public Library. They felt she needed a name. “I brought up The Dale Ministries and said, they bring in those who have been marginalized. We should really name her Dale.”

Ha! Amazing! I was moved that The Dale came to mind. Over the years we have gotten to know various staff at the library, an oasis for many of our friends who need a place to be throughout the day. Years ago, when one of our mutual friends died, they attended the funeral we held and even took up an offering in support of the beloved cat he left behind.

Now mannequin ‘Dale’ has been ceremoniously crowned the Green Queen and will be used to feature events and books at the library. Her first event was Spring into Parkdale, where Creative Reuse Toronto dressed her with material from worn books. There are even plans to give her a new hairdo. What an honour to be a small part of this initiative. To our friends at the library: thank you! 



Sorrow and Love, Intertwined

On May 14th of last year my brother Logan and I went to spend some time with our mom. It was both Mother’s Day and my birthday, a double whammy that seems to happen every few years. We had a good visit, the kind that was full of shared stories and the occasional bought of laughter. Eventually I had to run off to a birthday dinner, but not before mom had the chance to point in the direction of her present to me. She was a great gift-giver, even when it required buying things on-line from her hospital bed.  That day she gave me a sturdy blue and white striped canvas bag, one that she hoped I would fill with things like flowers, baguette, good coffee beans and of course, chips.

I had no idea at the time, but that would be the last opportunity I would have to chat with my mom. I heard from her on the 17th via an email filled with family news, and gratitude for our visit. On the 19th we got the call that she was not okay. What transpired next still feels a bit like a dream, though it was all very, very real. The doctor carefully and sympathetically told me and Logan that we needed to bring together family and friends because the end was near. A huge group held vigil throughout the weekend. And then on Victoria Day, surrounded by her immediate family, Elaine Clare Grant (nee: Muirhead) took her last breath.

Nearly a year later, I find myself struggling to cope with the way my beloved mother’s death, Mother’s Day, and my birthday have all become intertwined. I suspect the acuteness of this will soften with time, but for now, on the eve of this first anniversary, it hurts. For the majority of yesterday I did a little better than expected. I looked at Cate and marvelled that I get to mother her; I was greeted by multiple people at The Dale as “Mom”; I felt safe to acknowledge how complicated a day like Mother’s Day is for so many people, including me; I thought of the many mother-figures I have in my life; Dion and Cate took me out for dinner. It wasn’t until the later evening that I started to panic: how can the day be almost done and I haven’t seen my mom? Of course I knew the answer, but as Joan Didion so aptly wrote in her memoir, it’s the kind of magical thinking that happens after someone dies.

The long and short of it is this: I miss my mom. Nearly every day I think of something I want to tell her. In all of the ongoing challenge of life (and there is a lot), I long to hear her voice offering comfort, wisdom, and love. She understood. I also know that as a result of so many years of persevering, mom was weary (though she never complained). It is a relief that she is no longer bound to a bed or wheelchair. Mom’s faith sustained her in life and promised her so much beyond it. I like to imagine her walking, maybe with a striped bag on her shoulder like the one she gave to me, filled with things that she loves. As Mother’s Day 2018 drew to a close, imagining her smile made me do the same.