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.
It's been a sad several weeks around our house. While we were away in Boston in early November, our 2 year old Golden retriever, Duke, took off from our daughter's house with her dog. We haven't seen either of them since, and there's something missing when you step outside and he's not there to bounce all over the place in greeting. Nothing makes you feel more loved and appreciated than a dog I don't think...even though there are lots of times that love and appreciation can drive you a little crazy. You still know, that while you're in their view at least, there is nothing in their world more important than you. In this highly technical, digitally connected world, you often don't get that sense of absolute presence from the people in your life. With your dog you always, absolutely do.
I don't think we could have done much more to look from him, short of catching a plane home the day he disappeared, and that didn't make much sense. We've advertised in papers, facebook, on the radio. We've put countless posters up over a span of 40 miles, and followed several leads in all afternoon drive-a-thons that didn't result in finding him. The worst part is the not knowing. The wondering if he wandered into the wrong yard and was shot by someone who doesn't approve of strays. Was he caught in a trap somewhere, as there are reports that there are several laid in the area, with people trying to bring down the coyote population. Was he hit? Was he stolen? Or our favorite, did he just find himself in the yard of someone who saw his beautiful, joyous spirit bounding through those fluid eyes of his. It's the questions that drive you craziest, and hurt the most.
But as much as I love my pets, and I know how we all love our pets, one thing really put it all into perspective for me. While driving around putting up signs in the area near where he went missing, I went into the store at Dakota Tipi, just south of Portage la Prairie. They were good enough to listen to my sad tale, and let me post a picture of Duke. Those inside said they'd keep an eye open and spread the word...but as I left the store I looked directly at the giant billboard outside, asking for information on the missing Jennifer Catcheway.
Needless to say it stopped me in my tracks, and put my heartache into perspective. I had met Jennifer's Mom Bernice just a few weeks earlier, when she'd pulled into my daughter's yard to ask permission to search along the river bank of her property, as that had never yet been checked. Five and a half years after her daughter's disappearance, her parents still continue to look for signs and traces of what may have happened to their daughter.
A few short months after Jennifer, Amber McFarland also went missing from Portage. To date, the mysteries of both of their disappearances remain unsolved.
I've lost a child myself. I know that pain, that hole that remains in your heart no matter what you try to fill it with. The void in your family that can never be filled by another. Part of the circle is broken, and cannot fully be repaired. But with my loss, I had the opportunity to say good-bye and honor the life of the one we loved. I was there at his passing, and although there remain questions as to what happened, there is also peace. However, even with that experience of loss, I can not fathom what their families continue to live with. All the unanswered questions. The inability so lay their child to rest, to say a proper good-bye. The never knowing. I can't imagine, and my heart breaks for them.
It's been a lingering thought for me over the past several weeks. Amidst that has been the disappearance of Colten Pratt in Winnipeg, the Grandson of a friend of mine. Another missing person, among so many missing people both in Manitoba and across Canada. And there are so many more questions than answers.
Something that I've found rather alarming over the discoveries of the past several weeks also sits in my heart, asking to be answered. Social media is such and incredibly powerful tool, and we know the good it can do when used for so many projects and purposes. One of the pages I have followed for some time, and have used a lot more lately while looking for Duke, is the Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert. It has been an incredible network of people across the province, posting, forwarding and assisting me and countless others to find our lost pets. There are currently over 25,000 people on the network, and I appreciate them all so much.
What is troubling to me is that I also follow another page called Missing Manitoba Women that connects with the local RCMP and police services to post and publish when people in Manitoba go missing and to report when they are found. They continue to be a voice for the over 100 people in the province that remain missing. It has a following of just slightly over 13,000.
The question that arises in my heart is why do we have almost twice as many people in the province watching out for our missing pets as we do watching out and sharing information about our missing persons? Then I suppose the next question that I've had to ask myself is...what am I going to do about it, and is there anything I can to to initiate more action in my circle of influence, in my community and in my province? And is there hope that that circle of influence can spread beyond our provincial border and across our country where over 1,000 remain missing or have unsolved murders?
I really hope so, and I hope I can convince my friends and family to join me. Somebody out there somewhere knows something. It takes so little time to click a share button on facebook so that a few more eyes are watching for those we love. The voices of those that are missing can not be heard...but each of ours can so that some of these families can find closure with the heartbreak that they live with. So that they can have their questions answered, and begin to heal. That is my hope for the season of love and giving of ourselves, and my intention for the upcoming New Year, and I hope you'll consider joining me. If you will, then please click here for the Missing Manitoba Women page. Like their page, share when someone is missing, and together lets work towards being part of the change.
It started in December of 2012. I was on my way home from my training as a Passion Test facilitator, and had been doing much deep thinking about what was truly meaningful in life, or more specifically, my life. That can be a dangerous thing for me to do.
We were a matter of weeks away from Christmas, and I had yet to do my shopping, but I tend to put it off because I really just don't like it. It wasn't just that Christmas had become so hard with all the losses over the past few years...my parents, mother-in-law...most deeply my son. But as I reflected, it had been a long time since I'd enjoyed it. I remembered back to my days as a child, and in my twenties, and Christmas was so special. We would wait all year, knowing that then might be the time we received those things we wanted so badly. And that would be if 'Santa' was able to afford it, as it wasn't always the case. That was when we'd receive the new clothes, the toys, the crafts...and you played with and cherished them until the next Christmas came around.
But the world is different now. We've become so disposable, and so unwilling to wait for anything. What we want, we get, so that come the holidays there is very little left on the wish-list. Add to that how incredibly commercial it is with the push by advertisers that the wish-list has become so big, so expensive or so technical, that it becomes a financial burden for families for months to follow, and in some cases years.
I thought about our large, combined family. For years we'd get each of the grandchildren something useful, or smaller, clothes or a toy. Then because we don't see them as often, or don't know what their individual tastes are, we'd give each of them a card with $50 in it so they could go and buy themselves something. But as I thought about this habit on the trip home from San Diego, I became very sad, realizing that the habit was only widening the distance between them and us, as we never followed up on what it was that they chose to purchase, who they were becoming, if they even appreciated the money that was received. My heart told me it was time for change, to bring a different meaning to these large family gatherings, and a stronger connection to those we love.
There was another catalyst to my wanting to make change as well. Whenever I am away from home, I worry, as I'm sure many others do, that in our absence someone will break in. It's not that we don't have insurance to cover everything we have...stuff is replaceable. But what I always tended to worry about more was my 'treasures', those things I've held on to as the family historian, or the pack-rat who attaches so much memory to items, knowing that if someone came in and vandalized our home, those 'treasures' would likely be destroyed and they were not things that I could replace.
The final thing that had me thinking was that I'd spent the previous two years in the clean up of my parents estate spending days on end going through the boxes and shelves of a home that held our family history for four generations. With that came the sadness that so much of this 'stuff' meant something to someone. Of course there were things that were clearly valued that you could tell why, but there were more things that were kept for reasons we can't know, and there was a certain sadness of getting rid of someone elses 'treasures'. I learned much from that process, and several things came out of it. One being our new Christmas tradition.
I decided that year that from now on we all have enough 'stuff', and in so many cases we have way too much. I want to pass along things to our kids that have meaning, at least for me, and I hope that in doing that I can provide a deeper meaning for them in terms of what I value, but also what is now their history, as they are now part of my family. So I started that year, looking around the house at all of those things that I have my heart attached to, and began picking out one thing for each person in the family, our children and grandchildren. My husband Cecil did the same.
When we had picked out something for everyone, I then wrote each of them a letter to go with the item. I explained to them why this item was so close to my heart, who it had come from, how I'd ended up with it...any story attached to it that I wanted to share.
It was such an amazing experience, because as I wrote those letters and shared those memories, all of my lost loved ones gathered around me and became part of the celebration of all the wonderful memories I've had the privilege of collecting on this journey. In sharing the stories I was able to share them with my own grandchildren and they could begin to see the people that were so instrumental in laying the foundation of who I have become. My own grandparents, my parents, my son as well as Cecil's parents.
The second part of that Christmas's gift was creating a certificate for each of the grand-kids to fill out telling us what they would like to do in the next year with either their Grandpa, myself or both of us, that we could do together to create a memory. This part made me very nervous, I will admit, because we could have had 12 kids all say they wanted to go to Disney world, and we'd have had to find a way to make it happen, as we'd opened the door. But they didn't, instead we had wishes like going to a movie together, going put-put glow golfing, a camping trip in the summer, having manicures together, me teaching one to play guitar and a day of baking together.
I had been very nervous that they would look at this decision at our Christmas gathering and wonder what in the heck I had in my mind, passing along all this old 'stuff' and not receiving the expected $50 (which note to self, would have worked out a lot cheaper in the end, but we wouldn't be where we are now as a family). Instead, everyone felt it was our best Christmas ever, and the best part was it lasted so long into the New Year as we arranged dates to follow through on all that we'd promised we'd do together. That time spent together has created an entirely different connection, and I'm loving it.
One of my greatest memories is from after the day Haley and I had our baking day, making cupcakes for Grandpa's birthday at a campground in Kenora. The family knows I'm not a baker, but we did it, even though some of the cupcakes turned out a little dark you might say. She said not to worry, she's just put more icing on those ones. When we were done she asked me if we were going to do certificates again the upcoming Christmas, so I asked her if she thought we should. She said yes, that was the best Christmas ever. That coming from a nine year old was a compliment that warmed my heart so much, and so we did.
I love so many things about that decision. I love that we are challenged to keep that list in mind, and arrange our lives around making sure it gets fulfilled and the time we promised is spent. I love that when the kids come to my house now, they are looking at everything differently and asking the story behind things, engaging in a completely different way. I love that we are creating memories, because from where I stand now, looking back, I remember so little of the things that people gave me, but so much of the memories we made together. That is what I want for them.
Last year, to make sure everyone had something to unwrap, we got each of the kids a gingerbread house kit..the one year old right through to the eighteen year olds. I made sure that we had lots of extra decoration and had everything set up, so that after the tobogganing, eating, snowmobiling and unwrapping was done, everyone headed down to the tables in the garage and we spent the next two hours putting together those little works of art. The kids loved it, the adults had no choice but to help, and we as a family had fun...together. To me, that is what the spirit of Christmas is about.
Thanks for letting me share.
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!