It's March , 2021 and I realize we are a year into the Covid-Era, and sadly, there doesn't really seem to be an end in sight. There is hope...there is promise...but there is also continued lockdown, isolation, devastation and fear. Its a first for so many of us to experience, although not a first for Mother Earth.
I look at this picture of my first meeting with my paternal Grandparents and am reminded that they too went through this in their time. Granny would have been about seventeen years old, Grandpa more like twelve. They found a way to navigate a pandemic that wiped out more than 50-million people in a period that lasted from February 1918 through to April of 1920. They survived it without any of the technology, tools, or means of connection that we are privileged to have today. They were strong, hearty, resilient people that went on to live long, purpose-driven lives. Growing up in the same yard as them on the farm, and spending countless hours with them, I never once heard that period mentioned. It was an event in their lives, not something that defined their remaining decades. They moved on from it, as we will, and laid the foundation of the life that I am so blessed to have today. I am grateful for their love and lineage daily.
In this year of lockdowns and isolation, I have made it a mission to finally sort through the packing tubs full of pictures, albums, and memories that are a part of my heritage. I've been doing a myriad of other wonderful things as well. Writing lots of great music, both alone and with amazing partners. Publishing the book that I've co-written with my partner Mark McGregor. Doing whatever can be done to maintain health, wellness, sanity, and connections during this time. Like everyone else...waiting for the end of this and the return of a semblance of something more familiar. Maybe most of all, doing a lot of reflecting on the journey I've had, the life I am so blessed with, and my own hopes for the years left ahead.
That sorting of memories and history baffles me sometimes though, and so many nights I hit the sack admonishing myself for all the time wasted sorting, scanning, uploading to Ancestry. I ask myself why? Why do I bother? Because you see, with Shane's death, I have no lineage really. I won't have descendants of my own bloodline who will be working to piece together their own story generations down the road from now. Why do I care, and why does it matter at all? Why not just load up the containers and drop them on my sister's doorstep, because she does have a branch on the family tree that will continue. Most nights, as these thoughts circle, I convince myself that the next day I will pack it all away and pass it on and get on to more productive things. But, the next day I do not.
Last night, after another day of scanning and sorting, as I was settling in for the night, those questions arose again. But this time, they came with answers that satisfy my heart and make me want to keep doing what I'm doing. The answer lies in these pictures, the beginning of my story, the beginning of my connection to my own ancestors.
My Grandfather, Allan James Dickson, was the family memory keeper for his generation. He loved and appreciated the sacrifices and journeys of those that had laid the groundwork for the life he lived and loved. He was passionate about keeping their stories alive because, at the end of days, when we depart these vessels we navigate this life experience in, all that is left is our love and our story. It was just a part of who he was, and he willingly and lovingly shared what he knew with those that would listen. Through having had the incredible opportunity to be raised in the same yard, and the blessing of having him in my life until his accidental passing when I was thirty, I've come to realize how deeply that part of his legacy became part of mine.
Over the course of those many years, Grandpa entrusted me with the family stories and his family albums. Some of the pictures date back over six generations. Generations of people who each toiled with their hands, trusting their hearts, fighting for survival so that they could leave something for the generations that would follow. Grandpa painstakingly researched and recorded the story that is our unique DNA. I realize now that he passed that legacy and responsibility on to me. On those days when I tell myself that this is stupid and will really mean nothing when I am dead and gone, his voice comes to me and whispers that it is important. I trust and believe him.
What occurred to me last night was that our bloodline has become very small on my Dad's Dad's side. I am one of five of his grandchildren, and of the five of us, only two have offspring that may carry on what our ancestors worked to create. I know that I can and will work to leave a legacy of my own, hopefully it will be a positive one through the lives I touch and the work I do. But as far as the storyline that I've been entrusted with as one of the memory keepers, I also realize that I will be the last chapter in their story if I don't somehow keep it alive.
Maybe that it's just this strange time we are navigating, when each of us is feeling this lack of connection and meaning. Maybe it's because in the midst of the pandemic I was one of the ones born in 1960 who turned 60. The clock keeps ticking, time keeps passing, my time on earth is shrinking hourly, so maybe it's fear. Fear that so many of us have when we ask will we be remembered? Will our lives have mattered? Will our stories and wisdom and messages die with us? I don't know, and maybe the answer really doesn't matter. Maybe it's just that we need to ask the questions to keep moving forward and making our mark in this wrinkle in time we call life.
It came to me that in honor of Grandpa, this is important work. I live the most wonderful life, which was built on the foundation laid by their hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. The foundation of the legacy they left. I have the time, the means, and the methods in this incredible world that we currently inhabit to share that information in ways Grandpa could never, ever have imagined would become possible. I can write about him here, and maybe you'll stumble upon him. I can continue to celebrate with my songs and videos, so others can learn and maybe be reminded of the gift of certain people in their own life stories. Maybe someone somewhere will do a DNA test that links them to our tree one way or another, and the time I dedicate to sharing what he handed down to me will be somewhere out there in cyberspace where they can find it and piece together their own historical story.
Maybe it's like the belief shared about 'Dia de los Muertos', The Day of the Dead, in the Disney film CoCo, where the Spirits of the deceased yearn for someone to say their name. That belief that we die twice, once when we pass and again when our name is spoken for the last time, and our existence is extinguished. Or maybe it's all just hooey that I tell myself as I try and decide whether all this information and knowledge is an honor or a burden.
I do believe that, for me, taking the time to know and appreciate those that came before me, help me to better appreciate all the blessings I have. That was part of the belief that was instilled in me in those hours and hours spent sitting with Grandpa in his little house across the yard, pouring through his pictures with him, listening to his stories. Embracing our history. Even at sixty years old, they are some of my very, fondest memories.
So with that, I've decided I'll keep uploading to Ancestry, sharing what I have in my own possession, doing what I can so that their names are not just etchings on granite by working to fill in the DASH with pictures and memories. And trusting, that somewhere on the other side of the veil that separates those of us here from those that have gone before, they are smiling, knowing that their names were said one more time, and they are remembered and appreciated for all that they gave to allow me to live this magnificent story that is my own life.
I haven’t known Erin Miller for very long, a year or so maybe. For some reason, she invited me to be friends on Facebook. We have much in common really, in spite of our 17 year age difference. Life experiences bring people together, commonalities make us close. I guess that’s what happened here.
I lost my son Shane in 2009. Erin lost her son Chad Miller in 2014. Our boys lived completely different life stories. Shane lived his life with a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy and all the fullest, most challenging pieces of what that means. Chad lived life large as a very talented hockey player, and athlete. But what they had in common was mothers who adored them, families that loved and supported every step of their short lives, friends whose lives were forever altered when the unthinkable happened. The devastated Moms they left behind were also a common thread in the fabric of the story of their lives. Women whose lives were forever altered having lost such huge pieces of their hearts.
Although Facebook connected us, we didn’t actually meet until late last fall, after the launch of her foundation #MillerStrong17. Before we escaped the harsh Canadian winter by heading south, I messaged Erin when I was heading into Winnipeg. We met and the connection was instant and deep, as we realized our shared experiences.
A couple of months ago, Erin sent me a page from Chad’s journal. She hadn’t known that he kept one until after his death, but in discovering it, she’s received an ongoing gift of words, wisdom and love from him. The page she sent to me told of his love and admiration for his Mom. How ‘Strong’ she was. About her having had him when she was only fifteen. Of all she did and gave to ensure that he had the amazing life he was living. Of her strength in being able to ‘keep giving love, and giving life’ regardless of the circumstances of their lives or what people might believe. Erin asked if I might be able to write a song reflecting some of what he had shared through his own words. The result was my newest song, simply titled ‘Strong’.
‘Strong’ is in honor of Chad, but is a tribute to every single person who has walked through the fire and come out on the other side. Singed by the flames of life, altered by events and in reality, changed forever…but ‘Strong’ because of it.
There was a time I really hated when people would refer to me as strong. “You are so strong, being able to handle having a child with a disability. You are so strong in the way you supported your loved ones through cancer and their eventual deaths. You are so strong to be able to share your experiences. And the ultimate….what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…or the Big Guy only gives you what your’e strong enough to handle.” There comes a time when you just want to shout ,ENOUGH ALREADY! I really don’t need any more strength!
But in reflection, strength has been the gift that has allowed us to come out the other side of the imaginable. It’s what’s allowed us to offer hope and inspiration to others who just don’t know if they can get through the next hour, day, week. It’s what has supported us to move forward into the new now that is our lives, and offer support to others that may need to borrow from the strength that has gotten us to where we are today.
That is what the hope for ‘Strong’ is. I want those that hear it to know that strength is within them as well, and that there are many of us walking this road alongside them. There are so many people making the best of life’s worst situations, keeping our heads above the waters of grief that threaten do drown us. Scarred people who are changing the world in little ways with the hope of leaving it a better, gentler place for others following in their footsteps. People who have found their own ‘strong’ and are using it as a force of good for others.
#MillerStrong17 is in its infancy, but as the #MillerStrong17 family continues to grow its reach and numbers, the strength of those numbers has the potential to elevate the vibration of this struggling world, one person at a time. Together, there is the potential to make change through finding and using our own strength and utilizing it to its best purpose.
As Rumi said, “we are all just walking each other home.” May we each take whatever it is that makes us ‘Strong’ and resilient and use it to make this journey the best it can be for each person we meet along the way. May we find ways to support each other, lifting each other up and offering a lifeline when we can. May our love enable others to find their own sense of ‘strong’ when they don’t think they have the ability to get through one more day. You can! You will find…you will know…then you will be ‘strong’ and your story may be the one that others will rely upon to know that they can get through life’s worst moments as well.
So, I will be the first to admit that I never expected that part of my journey would include becoming an author of children’s books...but here I am, with four under my belt, and two that I helped publish. Interesting how life unfolds, isn’t it?
It’s another opportunity that I have to attribute to Shane and his teachings. It started with him needing a voice of his own, when life circumstance didn’t allow that for him. So , to assist with that, I started creating books for him when he was a child. Books that he could take to school just to share his story and experiences at a level the other kids at that particular time could understand. It worked beautifully!
What it also did was help me to understand that children are the place to start in making change in our world. Being able to plant seeds in the fertile grounds of their open minds is where our greatest possibilities for change can happen I believe. Not to brainwash, but simply to help them know and question those things that the adults around them may not have had the opportunity to know themselves, because, admit it...we grew up in a different time. A time where people with disabilities were hidden away. A time where the Residential School system was never talked about or acknowledged. A time where bullying was accepted, because that’s just what kids do. A different time, but not necessarily a better time by any accounts.
Fast forward twenty years, and I decided to self publish those little books, at least two of them. Shane’s Big Adventure 1 and Shane's Big Adventure 2. I did that so when we talk about them in presentations, they are available to purchase if attendees choose to have them as an example or a tool for promoting acceptance, inclusion, understanding and possibilities for all children who live life differently.
When I finished them, it came to me that Bianca’s experience with Tyson in helping him to understand what Orange Shirt day was all about would make another great story for kids, to help them better understand its meaning. That also has become a great resource to share...basically the same things...acceptance, inclusion, understanding and possibilities, and to help them understand their roles in being part of reconciliation and healing Canada’s past. Tyson’s New Orange Shirt has helped with that I believe.
Most recently, upon gifting a copy of that book to some of my other grand-kids, the discussion came to what could ‘we’ write about if given the chance? Lynden suggested that as we talked about Orange Shirt Day with Tyson, maybe we could talk about Pink Shirt Day with his family. Thus began the next project.
At first, there was a challenge to think about how to address the topic of bullying, but then it came to me that as a writer, talking about what we know can be beneficial for ourselves and our readers. It was then I decided the best approach to this topic was to tell my own story, and the result was ‘You could Be the One’. I only now realize how cathartic and healing sharing my story has been for myself!
‘You Could Be the One’ allows me to tell the story of my own childhood, where I was bullied terribly in Elementary School. I was a new comer to the area, I was chubby, I was alone. All things I didn’t understand or know until the bullying began, and it was incessant for a long, long time. I was so lucky that each night I got to get away from it, go home to a Mom and Dad who worked so hard to rebuild my spirit and keep me moving forward, and for a time...get away from it. There was not the technology available that haunts today's kids when the bullying starts.
Then the day came when the bullying stopped, and it all happened because an older girl saw what was happening to me and said enough is enough. Her name was Sharon Myran. She became my hero, my guardian and my example in life. She saved my beaten little heart and helped to make school fun again, a place I wanted to go...because my friend...my first friend..was there. She changed my world for the better.
‘You Could Be the One’ shares my story of Sharon. It shares how maybe you could be the one to stop bullying when you see it, or if not, be an ally to the child being bullied in whatever way you can. It also offers the hope and insight, that even though bullying was and is awful, it will end. Life does get better, easier, kinder with time. Sadly, so many kids don't live to know that, and take irreversible steps in the midst of the pain they are suffering.
Maybe somewhere, someday, one child will read this book and it will plant that seed of hope in them...to hang on and ride it out. My bigger hope is that it will plant the seed of kindness in others, so that bullying will become a thing of the past. It’s a big dream...but each dream has to start somewhere.
Moving far into October, change is everywhere around me, inside and out. It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything, and there have been a variety of reasons/excuses as the case may be, but it’s time to start again, afresh.
When I last wrote, it was from the home I’d dreamed of living in on the Island I’d long dreamed of inhabiting. And for all the time there, although it was short in the scheme of things, I loved it. I loved it to my core! But that said, something in my core was amiss, and the work became figuring out what that was and finding healing.
It started almost a year ago in October, changes to my bodies routines that told me something was wrong. As the months went on, and the fall, winter and then spring passed, answers still eluded us. As everything I put into my body coursed right through it, my weight began to drop as did my level of energy and my faith that it was something minor I was contending with. I felt unwell...and that to me is not a common feeling. I was frightened to say the least.
In July, I found myself having another colonoscopy, this time with biopsies being taken, on the morning of the same day that we’d planned to start our trip back east to the Prairies. The trip had been planned all year...first of all our 40th MacGregor Collegiate High School reunion, to be followed by a week or so with family and friends before heading to Kenora to work at the 2018 Leadership Camps. I was exhausted thinking about it.
I’d warned Mark that I might not be able to do this year’s camps, as I really didn’t feel well enough to commit. The camps are high energy, high outcome events, where I knew the way I was feeling would be a struggle, but I did promise that If I felt up to it I’d be there. In the days back in Manitoba, I continually did begin to feel better, and come the last week of July I did find myself at the McGregor Leadership Camp, doing my thing...coaching, sharing stories, playing my music.
I indeed felt well enough to participate, but also knowing my limits and challenges had warned Mark that I would be sitting more activities out than I typically did. He was good with that. As a result, I had more time to myself sitting in the cottage staring out at Lake of the Woods. Sitting out on the dock, soaking up the sun and fresh air. Sitting, reflecting and awakening as it were.
By the end of the first week of camp I came to the realization that while working with and challenging our participants to be clear on their values and vision, so that they can begin living their own life’s mission, I was not being true to my own. I’ve done the work and I know that some of my own strongest values are Family, Relationships, Love and Honesty, and yet in knowing that I was living halfway across this vast country of ours. I was miles and provinces away from our kids and grandchildren, from my oldest and dearest friends, from the work that is bubbling inside me to be done. I was indeed living my dream of returning to the Island of my birth, spending time close to the ocean waters I love, embracing my love of adventure and creativity, but began to realize there was another way to be doing that!
We have always loved the Kenora area, being near the incredible body of water that is called Lake of the Woods. What if we explored that as a possibility that would give me more of what I needed in all areas of my life? More time with family and friends here, but still the quiet and solitude that I crave to be my best creative self? More time to be still in one place, instead of the hours spent covering the thousands of kilometers that separated us from our legacy....these children that are growing up before our very eyes at what seems to be the speed of light. What if?
I proposed the idea to Cecil, and the spark in his eyes told me it was a need he’d been waiting on me to awaken to as well, and the search for our next ‘dream home’ began. Like everything else in my life it seems, I threw what I imagined out to the Universe, and today, only weeks after the thought first crossed my mind, I am sitting in my new living room staring out the window at the glassy waters of the lake before me. I have been in this space for mere weeks, yet I am at home! I am loving each moment...the morning call of the loons. The eagle that regularly sours directly over the house. The chickadees the are chattering in the trees throughout the yard. Even the mink that came and greeted FeeBee and I on the dock while Cecil was out kayaking the day after we arrived here. I have found and been blessed with what my heart has been conjuring for years, and am more blessed and grateful than I can say.
My heart also treasures every moment that I was able to spend in Qualicum Beach. We’ve made amazing friends that will always be in our lives. I was able to get back to my music, writing and creativity in a way I don’t think I would ever have been able to had that move not happened. I was also able to detach myself from old pain and heartaches in a way that having stayed in place before the move would not have allowed. Another day I will write about the gifts of finding a place to hold space for yourself. But that day is not today.
And my health? Well the biopsies showed that I have been living with microscopic colitis for the past year. It can only be diagnosed through biopsy of the large intestine, but once diagnosed, can be treated with steroids to reduce the inflammation and get things back on track. I am feeling so, so much better than I did for the last ten months.
I now often ask myself, would I have even thought about this move had I been feeling well enough to live life the way I had been accustomed to? Probably not, and although my condition now has a name and a treatment available, I think it was also part of my body’s knowing that I needed to make change if I was going to be the Granny that I aspire to be. If I am going to share the legacy and the wisdom of my ancestors, the hopes and dreams they poured through their sweat and efforts paving the way for this life I am so lucky to be able to live, I need to be present for those that may most benefit. If I am to live my life in a way that is aligned with my values and vision of what this journey of mine will result in, this is where I will be best able to do that.
The stars have once again aligned to ensure that my path is well lit to best achieve my purpose for being. Life is an amazing, beautiful thing. Being clear on what it is that matters most, makes it that much more incredible!
For several weeks now we’ve been watching the movement of the American youth, as they take on the challenge of the gun law legislation in the USA. In the first 16 weeks of 2018 there have been 20 school shootings that have resulted in loss of life or serious injury. The worst of this year occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 unsuspecting students and adults were slaughtered.
In the aftermath of that shooting, there have been youth led protests and marches across the United States which have rippled over into all parts of the world. In the protests, youth as young as 11 have begun to demand that society take a deeper look at what is happening as a result of the current gun legislation and imploring adults to do something about it before any more young lives are lost to the senseless gun violence that is becoming all too common in the lives of today’s children.
One of the lines that stuck out for me in the midst of watching all of these things take place across the nation was one commentators remark that “not finding any leadership, they have created it.” What a powerful statement on the potential and the passion that these young people are exhibiting. What promising hope they give us for a better tomorrow, in spite of the damaged world that we are handing down to them. Given the tools, resources and support, I believe that they offer us hope of a world that is more compassionate, that is safer, that is greener and that is more inclusive that the one we see today. They are our future, so how to we help them to create the best one possible?
With my children’s books, I attempt to reach kids in the early years and ask them to think about diversity, inclusion, friendship and belonging. I believe that the earlier we can get kids thinking about those things, the stronger their belief in a world that includes those qualities will be. The more we are able to help children to know that we all need to feel that we belong is instrumental in having so many of today's challenges resolved. If we can look at one another through eyes that see our similarities rather than our individual differences, there is a chance some of these attacks could be stopped. If some of the outcast individuals that commit many of the crimes had a stronger sense of self worth, would they act the way they have? It’s not the answer to all of the worlds problems, but at my core I do believe that it’s the start of something better.
Then I think about the Youth Leadership Camps that we are working to create through Mark McGregor Leadership, I can only imagine how far these impassioned youth could take the world if they had the tools and inner strength our camps offer. What if these young people had the resources and skills offered to them when they are 18 years old, and still have the energy, enthusiasm and commitment to make their world all that they believe it can be? What if they were given the opportunity to better understand the power of coaching and were able to lead others to follow the dream they see of what is possible in the years ahead? What if at 20 years old they had the opportunity to really be supported to dedicate intense and intentional time towards understanding their own values, vision and to know what their mission in life was at the beginning of the journey, instead of learning those things closer to the end? What if?
It’s true that so many people have never had the opportunity to think about that until they reach their 40s or 50s and only begin to think about those things when a personal crisis occurs. They’ve burned both ends of the candle for so long that yes, they’ve accumulated the material things that our society conditions us to believe we need to have to be effective, contributing members of the economic based world we live in. But in the accumulation of ‘stuff’, how many of us have lost ourselves? As coaches, it’s very often those people that come to us in hopes of making sense of lives that no longer make sense. They followed the rules, got the job, the house, the wife, the car but in exchange they gave up many of their dreams, passions and have never accessed or used the innate gifts that they were born with. Although they have acquired all the material possessions that we are driven to 'need', the efforts to do so have sabotaged their marriages, relationships with children and in many cases their connections to their own selves. As their lives edge closer to the finish line than the starting point, they now seek to understand who they are. Why are they here? What is their true purpose and is there still time to live that purpose in a meaningful way?
The answer of course is yes! It’s never to late to start, to reflect, to hit the reset button and begin anew. But in that same vein, it’s never to early either? Our greatest hope for the Youth Vision Camps is that we can take our own decades of struggling, learning and finally truly understanding, and share what we’ve come to know with those that are beginning their unique journeys. Imagine one of these passionate, fiery young adults having the opportunity to truly know what their values are so that they can create a life that reflects those values at all times. What might happen if they know what they’re passionate about, and instead of following the herd and getting the Bachelor of Arts degree, because that what seems sensible, they were encouraged to dive into that passion with tools and support to see what might be possible? To follow their hearts?
Vision Camps are created in hopes that we can take our years of knowledge and ‘pay it forward’ to the youth that attend, so that they can be fast-tracked to where they want their lives to head. They've been designed to help them to begin the journey with the end in mind, by understanding the importance of vision. Help them to know it’s okay to question the status quo, that there is always more than one way to get to where you want to be in life, and to know that it’s okay to question the way it’s always been...because the way it’s always been isn’t necessarily the right way.
Every generation has rolled their eyes and shook their heads at the generations coming up behind them, wondering how they are ever going to survive in ‘our’ world as we’ve created it. It’s time for that to stop, because ‘our’ world is going to be handed over to tomorrows leaders, so instead lets help them to be as strong, equipped and supported as they can be, because it isn’t just our world that they hold in their hands....it’s our future.
DD entered my life when I was six years old, two years after we’d moved back to the prairies so that I could start school, leaving behind the coastal world that had been my life up until that time.
It was a very difficult time for me, a chubby little outsider, as I entered the walls of that system not knowing any other children, not knowing until then that I was ‘fat’, not knowing it wasn’t okay to be too smart or even talented because that made you a teacher’s pet in the eyes of the other children, not knowing how tough life could be just being a kid.
DD was Mr. Dobbin to me then, the principal of the school. He was a different Mr. Dobbin on weekends, as one of my Grandfather’s best friends. We’d often venture into the hills on Sundays to visit him and his wife Doris. That relationship put him in an awkward position the first time I was sent to his office when I was in Grade 2. I had blurted out the F word in a fit of anger at another 7-year-old who was tormenting me with teasing and hair pulling. I’d only just learned the word days before when I’d seen it written on the school wall and had been told it was a very bad word that you only used when you were really, really mad at someone. At that moment I was really, really mad. Standing in the principal’s office I waited for the strap that everyone had said was inevitable if you ended up being sent there. It didn’t come, instead I received a stern but compassionate explanation that even when you are really, really mad in grade two, using that word still wasn’t a good idea.
Fast forward 30 years, and Mr. Dobbin became DD, my father-in-law. He remained in that role until the day of his death in April, for although I had been widowed when his son passed and I had remarried in the years following, there was never another father-in-law. He, in return, never let me forget I was his favorite daughter-in-law, and even created a day in June to celebrate that sending a card amended to read just that each year. We had a deep and special friendship for many, many years as he supported my continued farming of the land that had once been his. He embraced the new people that came into my life as a result of my own remarrying, and he was a kind and patient confident for so many of my life’s events.
When I decided to make the move back out to the coast last year, I worried about how I was going to tell him that we were selling much of the farmland that had once been his, and that the house he’d built would be lived in by a renter while we explored other possibilities for our lives elsewhere. When I visited to tell him, it turned out he already knew about that, as people who felt it was their duty to relay all that they ‘thought’ I was doing had already been busy on phone calls to him. His words to me were that he knew that we loved the water and fishing, and we were young and should be exploring other things in life while we had our health and energy. His words regarding those that had meddled in the business that should have been between he and I were not so kind. It wasn’t often you saw DD angered by people, but he had little tolerance for those that chose to stir pots in an attempt to cause unnecessary trouble for others.
One of my fears about moving away was that I’d be so far away from him, but we kept in touch bi-weekly through phone calls, and I made sure we had good, meaningful visits when I was back in the province. I also promised him that I’d be there when needed, and when his daughter called to tell me that things were not good and that he was being put on comfort care, I was on the next plane east to be there for him.
He was the fifth loved one that I would sit vigil with as his days wound down. I’d learned much from the previous deaths I’d walked alongside and through the interest I have in reading end of life support books. Still, with every new death, much of what is forgotten resurrects itself, and new learning takes place. As had happened previous times, in being there, I found myself becoming more present and responsive to the hours and needs of this man who had been a part of my life for so long, and was grateful that I had the means and the support to be with him on this last leg of his 98-year journey.
The first night I arrived I feared I was already too late to enjoy that small, last window of time where communication and sharing was possible, as he was so unresponsive when I arrived at the care-home at midnight. But the next morning when I returned at 7 he was wide awake and so happy that I was there. We spent much of the next few days reminiscing about the loved ones lost, and I was grateful that I had memories of many that so few are left to remember now. He shared more stories of his childhood and his family. He relished moments with his wife, daughter and grandchildren, as life had blessed him with a second family late in life, and you could see the adoration he had for the little ones that were so important to him.
We took turns as a family spelling each other off when needed, and being there together for support when that seemed the more important choice to make. Throughout the days, I started to be reminded of things that often only the dying can remind us about. These are some of those things.
Whether you look at your life as a journey, as a highway, or as any number of other analogies, one thing that is true for each of us is that life is not lived in a straight line.
We set out on this trip, believing in our heart of hearts that we will go from point 'A' to point 'B' by following the master plan that we've created in our minds. That we will get the education, then get the career, the partner, the children, the possessions, the (you fill in the blank) and eventually end up where we saw ourselves being when we first created this plan at age fifteen or sixteen.
But life doesn't go in a straight line, nor does it often follow the plan that we've created. It takes on a momentum of its own, often taking us to places and experiences that in our wildest dreams we would not have included on the map. Some are breathtaking in their beauty. Others are devastating in their heartache. Many times, these unplanned bends in the road ahead stop us in our tracks because we don't have the vision or the courage to see beyond them. In our brokenness, we can't see that no matter how sharp or unexpected the bend ahead of us is, that the road does continue. That beyond our line of sight, there are places and experiences and people that will once again take our breath away. That will allow us to feel joy and passion for life once again.
Grief often leaves us stuck and staring ahead at the road that has disappeared from in front of us because it is not how we pictured the road that we would travel to be. We look at our map, and it doesn't show the sharp curve we've encountered. The grief can be caused by the death of a loved one. It might be caused by the end of a career, or the loss of trust you had, or for financial problems that you never projected. In fact, grief can find us through over forty life experiences. Grief can settle into our lives when the unexpected happens and changes how we experience our world. When that does happen, we are often not prepared. Why? Because in general no one is taught how to deal with grief. We are not taught the tools and actions that will lead us through the pain, and along that winding road so that we can finally see that the “bend was not the end.”
Our society does not prepare us for how to handle grief and losses, so when they befall us, we are often left broken and afraid that we can not continue. We can't see the next portion of the road ahead because of the pain that blinds our vision. Let me assure you that there is hope after loss. There is joy after pain. The road does continue, and you can get into the driver's seat of your life once again to travel it. The Grief Recovery Method provides tools and actions that allow you to take responsibility for that which you can control, and it helps you to find a sense of completion for the things that you can not. In being able to do that, you'll once again be able to move forward along this road called life. You'll once again be able to take in the sights and smells and sensations that make each of us feel fully alive while we journey through this precious gift we call life. Are you ready to get back into the driver's seat of your own life?
#quotes "Don't let life discourage you; everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was." Richard Evans
The important thing is, where ever you are, no matter how big the challenge, figure out just one small action and begin. Take a moment and think about where it is that you want to go in your life. I know you feel stuck, but you don't have to be. Things can change, but it all rests in your hands.
Think about your vision of where you want to be in the future that lies ahead of you, then ask yourself, "what can I do, from where I am at this very moment, to get closer to 'there'?" You decide where there is.
They don't have to be big, crazy life altering things. It can be as simple as picking up the phone and connecting. Spending 15 minutes researching the topic of interest. Dropping what you're doing and going for a 10 minute walk. Any little action that might shake up the stagnancy of the moment.
Just do something, begin where you are and keep the end in mind, then take the next step. You can do this!
As our adventure has continued, time has finally begun to slow for us a little. At least it has slowed enough that we’ve had the chance to begin to feel more grounded and at home. Of course, with that comes the challenge of ‘what to do now,' because for the better part of the last year the speed of our pace didn’t allow for that.
For me, it’s easy. I’ve lived my life with so many different passions of what I ‘love’ to spend time at, that there is never a lag in wondering what comes next. If it isn’t music filling my moments, it’s writing, or creating, or photography, or ancestry, or …. The list goes on. I’m lucky for that. I always have more than enough options to keep me occupied, in fact often too many, so I must rein myself in and pare the menu down.
For my beloved, filling the empty space it is not so easy. He is a man who has spent his life working, with the goal being survival. Raising a large family meant doing whatever had to be done to put food on the table, and having started young, that meant farming, truck driving, fixing and repairing. There never was time for sitting back and thinking about what might be fun. Fun was what you fit into the brief in-between moments between jobs.
So, that has made for some challenges for him that I’ve never experienced. What does an ex-farmer, ex-trucker, ex-welder do when he is offered the gift of time? He’s always claimed that he didn’t have the gift of creativity. That he was one to follow directions and get the required ‘thing’ done, but not to be an artistic creator. Well, I’m not afraid to tell you that he has proven himself to be wrong.
Having the time and the resources to begin to ‘play’ and create as it were, has brought some remarkable talent through. He’s had access to wood that another person no longer had a use for. The old saying is that one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, and he’s taking those odds and ends and is turning them into his own unique version of art. He’s creative, something he didn’t even think was possible.
In the last weeks he’s begun creating rustic wood tables, chairs, and wall art. He’s created shelves and stands that adorn both my house and others. He’s created a swing, Christmas art, and lawn décor. And he is having fun at it. Not only that, he’s proven to be good at it! Good enough that I think he can offer his creations for sale, and he should!
How many of us haven’t had the time to sit back and reflect on what it is we might want to do, having been so busy investing our time in what we have to do? How many people do you know who don’t even know what their passions are because we’ve not had the luxury of time on our side to discover them? What if, instead of waiting for time to run out, you invested in yourself now, and made that time to explore and reflect and create? It’s up to you, now one else can create the stillness to dream or grow, so what is the reason for waiting that you’re telling yourself? What is your creative gift that you’re not sharing with the world that is waiting because you’ve got no time…the time is now!
I waited for several weeks, in anticipation of what Gord Downie's release of his graphic novel, multi-media project 'Secret Path', was going to be like to actually watch. I'd watched all the promo clips, and posted many on my personal social media pages, as well as the pages I'm connected to through my work with Artists Against Racism. I was not oblivious to the part of our history that was the Residential School system, I'd been granted opportunities to know and expand my understanding of it, and have delved into learning more about it for myself in recent years. I was always glad for that knowledge and those that had shared their stories with me, but also sad for the time it took me to really embrace the need to learn about it.
I barely remember a time in my life where Indigenous people were not a part of my own story, from the age of six on. In the years beginning in 1984, when I had the local country store, dozens of my customers from nearby Long Plain Reserve tried to share their stories of life in those schools. But being younger and more naive, I heard...but I didn't really listen. I don't know for sure, but I believe that part of that inability to truly listen was the little voice in my head that wondered what the complaining was about, rather than their being glad they had the opportunity to receive an education? I really never asked deeper questions. I didn't have the maturity. I heard what they were willing to share, but I didn't listen to the deeper meaning they were trying to share with me. For that, I will always be deeply sorry, and sadly most of those that tried to shed light on their path for me to better understand their experience are now gone. I will never have the chance to honor their truth the way I now wish I could.
October 23, the 'Secret Path' was released to the public through a CBC special, where the graphic novel was brought to life for hundreds of thousands of Canadians. Gord Downie had pointed his finger at all of us as he'd ended his last Tragically Hip concert in Kingston, and challenged all Canadians to take notice and to do better. Through sharing the Secret Path with us, he is giving us a door to walk through and open up communication that can start the road to our doing better. I was excited that the unveiling had come.
I watched a recording of the streamed event late that night, alone in my room at a friend's home in Redondo Beach, California. There was no surprises to the story, it's fifty years old and I have familiarized myself with it in recent years. What did surprise me was the impact of watching the animated book come to life through the songs that Gord had written to share Chanie Wenjack's experience as best he could...through his music. There was no doubt in my heart that a piece of Gord's soul is attached to this project with a direct link to Chanie's spirit. That became more and more clear as the experience unfolded before me.
When the animation was done, and the opportunity to watch a very ill Gord Downie sing one more rendition of the opening song was over, the pain in my own heart was measurable. I could feel the weight of Chanie's misery, a 12 year old boy, the same age as one of my own grandsons, struggling to escape the horror that was life at that institution in a hopeless attempt to find his way home. I could feel the weight of Gord's passion and purpose, as he'd shared what he refers to as his most important work ever. I could feel the weight of the gift and the responsibility to become part of the change that we are all challenged to be. Those weights resulted in a restless and dream filled night of Ravens, railroads and reconciliation.
In the light of day the real challenge still stares me in the face, as I try to put into action what my heart calls me to do. I was in Redondo Beach because I was attending the first International Grief Recovery Conference. It was a weekend of celebrating an accomplished model for mending broken hearts that has been around for over thirty years. We learned that we now have 5,000 Grief Recovery Specialists doing this deeply heart centered work in all but one continent, that one being Antarctic. We were given ideas on how to offer this tool more widely to children, to reach out to other businesses in our areas to reach a wider audience, how to better market our skills so that we can 'help the most amount of grievers in the least amount of time.' We learned that there are changes on the horizon that will help us to better keep up with the changing times, and that this will not be the final gathering of so many like minded people. Through it all, I was deeply reminded of the power of this tool and the need to be offering it more in the world.
When I returned to my room to watch the Secret Path, I was also reminded of how very, very badly our country needs healing. Healing between those of us that are considered the settlers, and those that were here before us, our Indigenous cousins. There is so much work to be done to make our country the truly great place that we were allowed to believe that it was...and that it can be...but it isn't yet.
So now the real work begins of finding ways to bring my ability to help people heal their broken hearts to people that badly need that opportunity to heal. People who need to have their own personal truth heard, honored and valued. Who need to have the opportunity to find completion to some of the grief and losses that have been holding them in a place of pain for much too long.
I will not be leaving this world a lineage through my bloodline, but I can leave a legacy through my actions. I need to do this for my 'children', and my children's children. I need to do this for my ancestors and those that went before me, instilling the value of all people deep into my being, and doing what they were able to from where they were at the time to make the world better. I need to do it for my friends past and present, who entrusted me with their stories and their experience, a trust I believe I have finally grown into. I won't forget what they experienced and shared, and I promise to find a way to help others understand the depth of the wounds that our history has left. I need to do this for my own heart, which has reminded me time and time again that I too have a deep purpose to fulfill in this life, and as the speed of the pounding in my own heart increases, I know that this work...this healing...this path...is part of the Secret Path that I have been working my way towards for so much of my life. It is slowly, and steadily being revealed to me, and I look forward to traveling down it with all those others that choose to mend this divide.
It takes time and energy to become who we truly are! In life, so many things can get in the way of our figuring that out..but the time comes in each of our lives where we need to be able to do that if we're going to live happy fulfilling lives that are authentic reflections of our best selves. These are just things I've learned along the way. I hope that they might help you in your own journey into being Truly You!