Better Because I Can Forgive Myself …

I acknowledge that for much of the first 40+ years of my life, I hid behind a really beautiful mask. I might have looked like I had it all together but, as I shared in another blog, I was suffering in silence and was a pretty conflicted soul. I deeply and desperately wanted to create a life that was not an extension of my unfavorably shattered childhood, but rather, embraced and reflected the blessings of the things I learned while growing up in that fairly unenviable environment.

I know that was my intention, but it has been a difficult and arduous task, given all the baggage I have carried with me as I tried to accomplish that formidable feat. As I look back, I must concede that under the weight of those bags, I made choices that were not in the best interests of my children or my husband or even myself for that matter.

Those choices seemed really reasonable at the time, but in retrospect, some of them proved to be anything but adaptive and beneficial. I can see now, as Gordon Neufeld  would suggest, that I was valiantly trying to “influence the verdict”.  That is, I spent much of my life twisting myself into whatever shape and/or presentation I thought was needed for people to appreciate me, accept me, and approve of me … in order to quiet my overly kindled amygdala.

I know now that this is a primal stress response called “fawning.” The sad truth is that I spent oodles of energy trying to manipulate people’s perspectives in an effort to avoid feeling rejected. And, because it worked, I had to keep doing it. It was a never ending cycle. In retrospect, I can see that all my perfecting and people-pleasing and performing and proving were simply very misguided attempts to help me feel safe.

And, as I look back on it now, I can ALSO see clearly how my father’s alcoholism was, at it’s core, a misguided attempt to numb the shame and escape the pain and heartbreaking wounds of his own very unfortunate childhood. I’m sure his choices seemed sensible to him at the time, too.  But, he often scared me.  He was unpredictably angry and emotionally volatile.  Unfortunately, he never found his way from the ‘mad’ (that typified his energy)  to the deeper truth of ‘sad’ (that was buried beneath his hardened heart)  until he was about 75 years old. It was such a gift to our relationship when he did … but … it takes courage to peek down into the most fragile, fear-filled parts of our soul. It’s necessary, though, because we can never truly ‘heal’ until we can ‘feel’ the pain beneath the anger.

And, it’s very humbling to recognize that his emotional unavailability, abandonment and neglect were no more damaging to me than my perfectionism, over-protection and overindulgence were for my own three daughters.  No one intends to hurt their children.  We simply get so caught up in our own pain that we can’t see beyond it.  If only he and I had been better able to tend to our own wounds … sooner.  We would have been so much more present to the needs of our children. 

It also becomes apparent, as I look back on it now, how tortured by guilt and shame my mom seemed to be.  I can see that see loved herself so conditionally. And, I learned to do the same. My mom really did the best she could given all her health issues, and I really felt her love for me (when she was engaged) and/or when I had outdone myself in my perpetual efforts to earn it. The problem was that she was not healthy enough (emotionally or physically) for me to count on her to predictably reassure my lovability. And, then she spent so much time in hospital … both medical and psychiatric. When I was in foster care, I was always working to ensure they would appreciate and accept me. And since I had very little contact with my Dad after they divorced, I honestly felt very much on my own … far too often.

As Neufeld wisely theorizes, the most healthy relationships are hierarchical in nature.  You have someone assuming the alpha role of ‘taking charge’ and ‘taking care of things’ … and then you have those who are being cared for … assuming the more dependent role.  Usually, it is our parents who assume the alpha, care-giving role. Unfortunately, because of my mom’s ill health, I often ended up taking charge of things that often felt way to big to handle. I ended up learning how to take care of myself instead of simply being able to trust that I could lean in and someone would be there to care for me and meet my needs.

As I reflect upon it now, I can see that sometimes I still ache for something Neufeld calls “Alpha Love”.  When you are in the presence of a strong alpha love, you feel safe, protected, cared for and looked after.  You trust your needs will be met.  And in that space of trust, you can ‘rest’ in the presence of predictable and reliable care-giving … you can quit ‘working’ for love. You don’t feel like you have to ‘earn’ enough love to ‘feel’ safe. You don’t feel like you are in charge of the well-being of the relationship.  In the presence of alpha love, you can just lean in and simply rest in the certainty that even if there are bumps in the road, … you will still be safe, loved and cared for at the deepest level.

In hindsight, I can see that I parented my children by giving them what I most needed rather than what they most needed. I didn’t have anywhere to lean in as a child … so …  I was very alpha with them.  Probably too much so. I not only protected, but I rescued. I think I sometimes even smothered my children in my fervent efforts to keep them safe and sound. Gah.

I’m alpha by default.  I take care of people … I take charge of things. I look after whatever needs to be tended to. I even get paid to be alpha.  I became  a counsellor/therapist because I really want to support people. The only one I haven’t taken the best care of is me.  Sadly, I have unwittingly perpetuated the pattern established in my past.  I have often neglected and abandoned myself in an effort to ensure that I don’t abandon others.

And sadly, although I hate to admit it out loud … I think it is fair to say that I have not historically trusted that people would take care of me.  So, until I did some deep healing, I rarely expressed my needs or asked for help.  And, when and if I do so now,  I sometimes have trouble resting in the certainty that people won’t drop the ball.  My anxious mind falls back into old patterns and gets concerned that if I lean in too far … no one will be there to catch me.  Those old neural networks of insecurity don’t take much to get re-activated.

It has taken me many years to discover that working on my own issues is the most loving and caring thing I could ever do for my family. And, I have been actively committed to my own healing for the last 20+ years. And, as a result of that, I have chosen to forgive myself for dragging my own sweet cherubs through so much because of my unhealed issues. I simply couldn’t see how I was bruising them along the way any more than my parents could see what their pain was doing to me. It’s so humbling to recognize that I, too, have caused my children the kind of distress I had trouble forgiving my parents for inflicting upon me.

And, through all my own healing, I have arrived at a place where I honestly forgive my parents … and … I honestly forgive me. We were simply doing the best we could at the time. I have humbly offered my sincerest apologies to my children and have let go of all regret that it could have been different. As Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, you do better.”

I could not see how I could only truly love them when I truly loved me.  And, I could only truly love myself when I could stop my chronic efforts to earn love, approval and appreciation. Because … it is only when love feels un-instigated by ourselves that we can actually let it land in our hearts. One of the most transformational lessons that I have integrated as part of my healing journey is that love is not something we should need to work for … ever. Rather, it is something to be welcomed, received and savored.

With deepest gratitude for the shifts in my vision,  🧡 Karen 🧡



All our Lives are Better Because of our Laudable Leah!

I started this blogsite with the intention of honoring the people in my circle for the ways in which my world was a better place because of them.  And, for the most part, I have acknowledged friends, family and colleagues.  The person I have chosen to honor today was an acquaintance of mine for many years.  We weren’t ‘friends’ … but we had a few mutual friends and our paths intersected occasionally because we both lived in a very small town.

I recall one of the first times we rubbed shoulders was several decades ago when a group of us went out carolling around our tiny town at Christmas time.  I was belting out my best rendition of “Jingle Bells” or “Joy to the World” or whatever the song happened to be when she turned around to identify the ‘songstress’ behind her. I could see by the slightly quizzical look on her beautiful face that her finely tuned ears were detecting the err in my tone and pitch! Ha ha. It didn’t even hurt my feelings … because although I am good at a fair number of things … singing is certainly not one of them. 🙄

That said … she had an exceptional ear for music … and singing is certainly one of her gifts.  Just one of her MANY gifts!  Whether she be the lead singer in a band … acting on stage … directing a play  … strumming on a guitar … mothering her three cherubs … teaching music to preschoolers … or … becoming the queen of selfies  …  Leah Meier always lights up the space around her with her ready laugh and lighthearted spirit!  And, over the years, I am grateful to say I have had the opportunity to become more and more acquainted with the luminous light that is Leah! There are rare individuals that you want in your circle and Leah is definitely one of them. I am so glad that, now, I get to call her my ‘friend’.

And, it’s been a gift to invited deeper into her inner circle. It has been nothing short of magnificent to watch this tribe of women who continue to inspire me with the ways in which they show up for each other … and … in the world. They have been through so much together, but very recently, something unthinkable happened.

On June 19th, 2018, Leah was diagnosed with colorectal cancer with metastasis to her liver and possibly her lungs.  Yes. Cancer. Stage IV.  And, while many of us would fold inward with such a devastating diagnosis, that is not how Leah chose to respond. No. As she shared:

Being an active, otherwise healthy individual, my team of doctors and family opted for an aggressive treatment plan. I was to start six rounds of three different chemotherapy medications immediately. Thankfully I was able to receive my treatments at the Jack Ady Cancer Center in Lethbridge.

After the fifth round of chemotherapy I had another MRI. Great News! The spots on my lungs were cysts and the remaining four suspected metastases had shrunk considerably and one was likely just a cyst. I was able to undergo just one surgery on November 9, 2018, for both my colon and liver! I recovered from surgery with no complications and started my next round of chemotherapy just four and a half weeks after surgery. Everything that needed to happen has happened and it appears that I have had a complete radiological response to treatment in my liver and the colon tumour was removed with incredibly good margins!

Now … most folks would simply be grateful for an encouraging outcome.  No. Not Leah. She rallied her tribe and decided that once she was well enough, she was going to use this tragic situation as a way to serve the greatest good.  And that is exactly what she did!  She signed up to participate in the Ride to Conquer Cancer. And, as she shared in her public bio:

I was told that as recently as five years ago, my prognosis and treatment options would have been very different and a path for cure would not have been likely. My life has been impacted, likely saved, due to very recent cancer therapy advancements! I’m able to receive treatments at the Jack Ady Care Facility in Lethbridge instead of having to drive three hours to Calgary. I’ve sat in comfy chemo chairs, been covered in warm blankets and received incredible care from an outstanding team of doctors, nurses and staff in both Lethbridge and Calgary.

The Ride To Conquer Cancer helps fund all of the above and so much more! The money raised stays in our province and truly makes a difference to those of us having to face this horrible disease.

I had my last chemotherapy on February 20, 2019, and am so excited to be starting on my journey toward renewed health, strength and experiences that await me in my life!

THANK YOU for considering a donation, whatever the size. Every dollar you donate means a dollar more towards conquering cancer!

The tag line for this annual event is:

“BE EPIC.  Two days. Over 200kms. Conquer Cancer”  

And, as if training for the 200km ride was was not enough for her to shoulder … not long after Leah finished her chemo treatments … she decided to create an additional Fundraiser!  Within no time at all, she had sold out the tickets for this fabulous dinner, dance and a silent auction! She was committed to raising as much money as she possibly could for cancer research. And, true to form, she marked the evening with one of her trademark selfies!

Just look at all the people who turned out to support this amazing soul! And, the retired band in which she had been a lead singer, offered to come together again and play the music so we could dance up a storm!  And … Leah graced us with her sensational songbird skills! It was such a remarkable evening!!

And, I know that training for this ride … after all the cancer treatments she had been through … was grueling!  But … she not only trained hard herself, but she invited others to join “Team Leah”.  And, she rallied together a most fabulous team!

And her efforts were an enormous success … nothing short of EPIC indeed!  She has always been known for inspiring so many with her bright light ..and … this was no different. As her best friend Angie shared on Facebook on August 18th:

What a weekend…..what a ride….. Feeling so blessed! Leah you are and always have been my HERO!! There is nothing you can’t and won’t do once your mind is made up. This was a huge undertaking and my friend you know very well that I thought you were nuts🤪But you kept reassuring me that you could and would do this and you did. 12 rounds of very aggressive chemo, a major surgery and recovery…. No wait….straight to training for a 200 km Ride To Conquer Cancer. I will never doubt you again ever😜 You are a force to be reckoned with …and I am so blessed to call you my best friend, soul sista and my Rock! So very very proud of my Husband…. Maria, Sydney, Nicki, Shelah, Ryan, Jill, Chris you guys slayed this ride!! #Enbridge Ride To Conquer Cancer #rideab #dontstopbelieving🧡💛💚♥️🚴🚴‍♀️🚴‍♂️

And, it was really something to behold. As Leah, herself, shared in a Facebook post on August 20, 2019:

WE DID IT!!! From start to finish this has been the most amazing experience!!! ❤️🚴‍♀️🙏 A HUGE Thank you to everyone who donated to our ride!!! Together we raised $51,333.68 which put Team Leah 18th out of 167 teams for most money raised and this year’s ride totalled $5.9 MILLION!!! HOW COOL IS THAT!?!?! 🚴‍♀️😃 Crossing the finish line with so many family and friends there to cheer us on was honestly one of the most joyous moments of my life!! I am beyond grateful to all of you who have embraced me my family and my team and supported us through it all!! ❤️🚴‍

EPIC! Absolutely epic. And so … through it all, I was left entirely amazed, awed and inspired by the force of light that is Leah! Her lively, light-hearted luminosity goes way beyond description. I also want to take this moment to thank Leah for her endless gifts of courage and compassion and caring!  Her efforts already have and will continue to benefit so many others who are diagnosed with cancer. 

As I shared with her in a private Facebook Message:

Good Morning Leah!
I hope this little note finds you basking in the after glow of your tremendously successful achievements! I can’t even begin to put into words how I aspired I am by your infinite capacity to take a personal challenge and create a movement of benevolence that benefits all of mankind. You are an exceptional soul and I am so grateful to call you my friend! Sending you biggest hugs of deepest admiration, respect and love for the miracle of YOU!

I wish I could tell you that Leah’s story ended on that positive note … but … it did not. I had learned from a mutual friend that Leah’s husband had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was so troubled to hear the news that I sent off another message on January 17th over Facebook to let her know that I was thinking of her. I was shocked to learn that things had taken even more unexpected turns when she responded to my invitation to get together for coffee or wine by saying:

Just wondering if you know I’m in Calgary this weekend? Had lung surgery on Thursday.

Good grief!  No. I was not aware of that! I knew that the doctors had detected some dark spots on her liver and on her lungs when they initially discovered her cancer, but I was not aware that she had already undergone surgery on one of her lungs. She updated us on a few days later with some good news:

Hi!! Surgery went well!!He was able to get all three spots with wedge resections and Thoroscopic. Loss of only about 10% vs 25-30% with the lobectomy he might have had to do. I’m already home and now anxiously await pathology. I should hear in next 7-10 days. I’m able to manage pain with very small dose of morphine combined with alternating Tylenol and Advil. First hurdle. I hope we get to see each other soon my friend!! …

And sadly, the pathology report confirmed that she would require surgery on the other lung as well. Not the news she wanted to hear. We were finally able to have a much awaited visit and a glass of wine on March 3 at 3:00pm. It was then that I learned the extent of all that she had been enduring … her step brother had died as well.  And, if that wasn’t enough, Covid-19 was added to the mix and all elective surgeries were postponed because hospitals were preparing for the influx of people who might need medical supports to survive coronavirus. 

And then Leah learned that her surgeon was in mandatory isolation because he had been travelling. As a result, she had a big decision to make. She opted to put her faith in her surgeon’s colleague and have him perform the operation instead. She said she was nervous, but felt it was the right decision.

I was, once again, left in awe of Leah’s capacity to resiliently roll with whatever life tossed in her path. And, it was incredible to watch her courageously lean into all the uncertainties with courage and hope and faith. I knew that the risks she was facing included the potential for compromised capacity for mobility and singing and living a full life because some of her lung needed to be removed. She pushed forward. Her surgery was on March 23rd and she came home on March 26th because they wanted to get her out of the hospital to reduce her risk of contracting Covid-19.  On March 30th, I received this exciting message from her saying:

Good Morning!! One week cancer free!!!!  Could it be!?!?

I could feel the joy and healing and well-being in her spirit!  I could not even fathom the liberation she must be feeling … because for the first time in a couple of years … she might get to abide in that bliss-filled space of being ‘cancer free’

We also had a long conversation on another morning. It was beautiful to connect and hear how she was finding her way through her own healing journey … with the full knowledge that she was also preparing for another journey with her husband. Her hubby’s surgery was scheduled for May 14th, and because of Covid-19, it was determined that he would not be allowed to have anyone with him. Seriously! This was their truth …

I tried to imagine what it would be like to be going through such a tentative time with no one by your side. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have your loved one going through such adversity and not to be able to lay your eyes upon them to reassure yourself of their well being.  I wished I could reach out with some supportive sentiments, but I found no words. Nothing seemed like the right thing to utter. It’s so hard to know what on earth to say when people are going through hellish times. All I could do was send love and light through the ethers … and … hope that they could feel it. Her hubby found his way home shortly after his surgery. There were some bumpy patches, but slowly they found their way through it all together. 

And then guess what happened??  Leah decided it was time to ride again in 2020!! Once again … I was in complete awe of her  capacity to pick herself up and move forward with a firm resolve.  One morning when Leah and I were chatting over the phone while having our morning coffee, I was sharing how inspired I was by her willingness to ride again … and … lamenting that I would not be able to support her by joining Team Leah because … as I emphatically indicated to her … I absolutely detest bike riding. Although, I love, love, love to walk … and … while I make it a regular practice to log oodles of kilometers with my Bestie (Marie) … for countless reasons, not even this noble cause could get my head in a helmet and my buttocks onto one of those hard seats for 200kms. Nope. Nada. Not this girl. 

My resistance did not deter Leah in the least. I could hear her voice light right up when she said, “Well, you could walk it then. You and Marie could join the team and walk 100 kms.”  Well now … she had a point. 

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This option seemed absolutely thrilling to me!!  My Bestie and I had actually committed to walking the Road to Santiago (aka the ‘Camino’ trail)  in Spain in September of 2020.  It is a highly travelled route that is almost 1000kms in it’s entirety for spiritual seekers who venture out on these remarkable ‘pilgrimages’.  Anyway, my Bestie and I were booked to complete the final 100km leg of the pilgrimage. Our flights and accommodations had been reserved. I had purchased a special day pack and new walking shoes. We were so excited! And then …. Covid-19 dashed all those plans.

And so, when Leah suggested that we walk 100kms for Cancer … it felt absolutely right. So guess who jumped at the chance to join Team Leah?  Yep!!  Me and my Bestie!!  With this decision, we still had an opportunity to complete our 100km pilgrimage. We just altered the locale to suit this particular moment in our collective history … and … our personal intention to support Leah’s personal journey.  We affectionately called it our “Covid Camino for Cancer.”  We already walked regularly so we wanted to stretch ourselves a bit to make sure that our efforts on behalf of the Ride to Conquer Cancer were challenging us enough. To that end, we committed to walk at least 20kms per day over five days.

And that is exactly what we did!  It was such an honor to join Team Leah 2020 and raise some funds for cancer research. We logged just over 100 kilometers along a variety of different routes … and … felt incredibly humbled by the whole experience.


Yes. It was an absolute honor to join Team Leah. It remains an absolute honor to be connected to the EPIC energy of Leah  … she is such a lively, lovely and laudable lightworker! I actually started writing this blog in honor of Leah a couple of years ago. I wanted to honor her journey and express to her (and all those who might read this tribute) how I continue to be inspired not just by what she does and by how she does it, but also by who she is! Her being-ness is so rare and exceptional.

Did I mention that she is now planning to bring her team together to bring the musical Chicago to life at a local theater  in 2022?  I could hear all her enthusiasm and excitement as she described it:

“Roaring 20’s show in this decades post virus roaring 20’s”

Yes. Her presence on the planet is such a rare gift. Our collective human existence is infinitely better because Leah has consciously chosen to ensure that it is. So many people have and will continue to benefit from the fruits of her labors. I worried as I penned this blog that I couldn’t possibly honor all the brightness of Leah sufficiently, but I wanted to offer this reflection of my experience to really celebrate her … and … to publicly acknowledge and recognize all that she is and all that she does. 

I wish I could say that the challenges for Leah ended with this tribute here … in complete celebration of her and her victorious win in the battle with cancer. I wish we could wrap things up on such a high note. But, unfortunately, we cannot do that just yet. There is more to Leah’s story.

After almost three years, and just when Leah thought she might finally be able to focus her gaze beyond fighting for the cure … she got some more dark and unwelcome news.  In one of her check-ups, they detected another spot on one of her lungs.  It is deep in her lung so she’ll need to have a lobectomy instead of the wedge resection like she had last time. Gah. They might not be able to do it laparoscopically … which means a much longer recovery. They first had to biopsy a lymph node that showed up on her pet scan. Fortunately … it appears to be no cause for concern. Whew.

And while we breathe a sigh of relief with that news … it is sobering to consider that losing half of her lung in the next surgery is the good news! Can you imagine finding yourself in that frame of reference? And yet, one of the things that has always amazed me about Leah is her ability to keep her wits about her despite the circumstances. While I know that she is deeply impacted by all the things that continue to challenge her path, I am reminded of an exchange we had way back on April 15, 2020. I received this private message from her:

This morning as I’m hanging laundry and struggling to catch my breath and thinking about strategies to continue to move towards healing, etc.

I asked God “How many times do I need to pick myself up off the ground!!?? 😩

I instantly heard loud and clear… “As many times as it takes” 💕

Pretty simple really…

Simple … and yet … certainly not easy. I just recently had another conversation with Leah. We were chatting about this long arduous journey that had befallen her. In the middle of it … she offhandedly said “Maybe I should take my own advice?” She had been expressing some frustration with having to deal with something “again” … and that is when she reminded herself that she would just needed to address it “as many times as it takes”.

Leah’s next surgery is scheduled for Monday … March 8th. She will be ‘checking in’ at 5:00am and the surgery is scheduled to start at 7:30am. I am hoping all of you reading this will join us as we hold her close in heart … and … help flood the ethers by sending much good juju and healing energy in her direction. Please join us in offering a prayer for a swift and successful surgery. May we also collectively invite the Universe to afford her a speedy and miraculously comfortable recovery. She has done so much for the benefit of others … and … I would like her to know that we are all holding her energetically in optimal health, effortless healing and complete recovery.

May we join her in spirit as she once again rises above the situation that has darkened her path … and … may we collectively reify her tenacity to triumph and thrive, once again, despite this unwelcome twist. Due to Covid-19 she may need to face this surgery all alone in the hospital. I am hoping that we can send so much love and support through the ethers that even if she isn’t allowed to have anyone by her side in the flesh … she will not feel alone … because she will be palpably wrapped up in our energetic presence!!

And with this surgery, Leah … I know if anyone can glow through all of this … it is YOU! And, I just want to remind you that each and every one of us reading this here is fanning the flames of your well-being … and … waiting to celebrate your swift recovery with you!!

Wrapping you with so much love and looking so very forward to our next chat … 🧡 Karen 🧡

Better Because You Spark So Much Light!

Can any of you guess who this bright-eyed beauty might be?? I’d sure love to know what she was thinking when this picture was taken. I adore the gentle glow that ever so delicately glimmers through her upward glance. I can also sense such a sweet and sensitive soul reflected through that precious smile!

I’ll give you a hint of who this blog about. The following describes her absolutely perfectly.

And, she does EXACTLY that. I feel blessed beyond belief to honor and acknowledge this exquisite human with a few words in this blog. I have hesitated to do so because I wasn’t sure if I could aptly depict her exceptional essence with words alone. If you know her … you will understand my reticence. It feels like a challenge to do her justice. Maybe you already have an idea of who it is, but I’ll offer you one more clue!

And, yes … this beautiful soul radiates so much joy as she embraces her truth and pursues her passions! Some of you will recognize her through the incredible ‘movement’ (pun intended) that she has single-handedly inspired in our community over the past couple of years. Her remarkable efforts to increase flexibility, mobility and activity in our community have been incredibly well received!

I bet you know who I am talking about now!! Yes. I am speaking of none other than the warm and wonderful Lindsay Anderson! With her engaging exuberance and enthusiasm … Lindsay has ensured that the body of work founded by Miranda Esmonde-White (a former ballerina with The National Ballet of Canada) is a household word in our small town and far beyond! I am so glad I can include this little video so you can hear Lindsay’s unequivocal passion as she describes, in her own words, how she discovered Essentrics.

You can’t help but detect both the delight and the dedication that Lindsay devotes to building her practice and optimizing her expertise. And when Covid-19 swooped in and disrupted most everything in most everyone’s lives, it could have been the end of Essentrics in our community. Instead, Lindsay chose to offer her classes on Facebook Live! And so, for a mere $3/class up to a maximum of $30/month (regardless of how many classes you attend), she continues to provide at least 7 or 8 classes per week.

She even offered classes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day during the decidedly different holiday season we experienced in 2020. For many of us who were alone at home instead of with family due to the pandemic restrictions on socializing, it was a wonderful addition to our quiet isolation during the holidays. And, as of the publishing of this blog, she has developed an enthusiastic and loyal following of 700 participants who benefit from her willingness to so generously support all of us.

Yes. Lindsay’s caring commitment to her people is unequivocal and impeccable. Even when she has other obligations and responsibilities and activities in her own life, she consistently finds a way to show up for her Essentrics followers. For example, when she was going to be out of town cross-country skiing in Waterton, Alberta … and even though it was four degrees below zero with a wind chill making it feel like -12 degrees … Lindsay gifted 30 of us with the opportunity to feel like we were stretching our fascia, activating all 650 muscles and mobilizing all 360 joints in the beautiful Rocky Mountain resort.

I know I am not just speaking for myself when I say that in addition to mobilizing our bodies, Lindsay is also uplifting our spirits! In fact, not too long ago, one of her participants shared that his wife had recovered enough from surgery and was finally able to return to class. His comment on Facebook made me smile because I knew exactly what he meant. Lindsay’s exceptional essence is what makes doing Essentrics with her so very exquisite. She is a spark. She is a veritable spark of light and leaves such lovely heart prints in all that she touches.

If you didn’t know Lindsay already or haven’t met her through Essentrics, you might have met her at the beginning of this pandemic when her 88 year old mother-in-law started sewing masks. Lindsay supported the distribution of these handmade gems by using her own Facebook account to ensure the public had liberal access to them. While Grandma Carma was content to simply give the masks away, Lindsay encouraged her to charge a teensy little fee which was donated to a charity. It was remarkable to witness their joint effort to mask us all up and keep us safe from Covid-19.

Lindsay is not only a bountiful bearer of light, but is also a spectacular sharer of light. She heralds the givers and generously acknowledges those who endeavor to make the world a better place. Just recently, she introduced us to a woman whose job in a local restaurant was compromised by the pandemic. So, Lindsay invited us to experience this woman’s culinary skills by ordering a ‘dinner for two’ from her. Lindsay did all the leg work to ensure our community was aware that we could supplement this person’s livelihood by simply ordering and enjoying her homecooked meals. She was sold out in no time. I am hoping to get a taste of it all next time around.

And that is precisely what Lindsay does … with utmost generosity of spirit. As I say that, I am also reminded of when she introduced us to Poppy. And even though she is introducing us to a young girl, I am including this here because it gives you a small sense of the vibrancy and vitality of who Lindsay is herself.

And, now that you have a sense of Linday’s limitless loving-kindness, I must introduce you to Robin. If you don’t already know him, Robin is Lindsay’s brother. And, when he passed away, she started a memorial fund called “Robin’s Nest Egg”. I hope you will take three minutes to allow this inspiring video to touch into your spirit.

I am personally aware of a number of situations where an egg or two from Robin’s Nest have been kindly gifted to others. There is really no end to the compassion and caring that characterizes this remarkable human called Lindsay. She also works with people with special needs and when funding was cut in the schools and many of the assistants in our community lost their jobs, Lindsay decided to create a kindergarten in her own home. Who does that? Who just decides to start a school? Well … Lindsay does. 😊

High Five was birthed by Lindsay’s indelible and innovative spirit. I trust that her skills, abilities and creative gifts were blessings to the children who attended. As you see in the video, there is no end to the unique and interesting opportunities Lindsay provided her students. It is inspiring to see what kindergarten can actually become when imagined and created through the eyes with which Lindsay interprets the world!

Lindsay is one of the most creative souls I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. She doesn’t live within the confines of space that generally limit the edges of possibility for most of us. She has this incredible way of ‘seeing’ beyond the ordinary … and then … creating something extraordinary. I marvel at how she brings all her benevolent being-ness to every interaction, every circumstance and every situation … leaving everyone feeling better for being in her presence.

I should clarify that Lindsay and I didn’t grow up together. We don’t get together for coffee or lunch. Our husbands don’t know each other. We don’t see each other at church. We don’t talk on the phone. And yet, I consider her a very dear friend. Somehow … this exceptional woman has a way of forging deep and abiding connections. She is the kind of person you want in your circle.

Lindsay and I first met a few decades ago when I was contributing articles to our local newspaper. The column I submitted was called ‘A Closer Look’ and was intended to highlight and give us a closer look at some of the people living in our community. Lindsay reached out to me to say how much she enjoyed the column and expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to get to know people better through the questions. Our friendship started via these email exchanges and over the years I came to understand that she has always loved people’s stories. I learned that she has an insatiable and altruistic interest in humanity.

One of the things that I deeply appreciate about Lindsay is that when she discovers something good … she shares it! Life is far too short to ensure we find all its treasures on our own. Lindsay ensures we do not have to do so.

Lindsay is always spreading joy … spreading good cheer … spreading good movie titles, excellent books, inspiring videos, beautiful music, great recipes … and even the delicious treats she has scored at Costco! About 20 years ago she led me to a peppery snack she found at Costco. I think it had cranberries in it too! I can’t even remember the name of it now … but my taste buds haven’t forgotten because I notice I am salivating as I write this. One day she introduced her Essentrics class to an exceptional chocolate hummus she discovered. So dang good. She is always sharing something good.

I think that is one of the things that makes Lindsay so unique! She truly touches deeply into the miracle of being alive. She leans into her longings and enthusiastically courts her curiosities … and … generously greets the wonders of life with so much gratitude. She sees the beauty in everyday things and notices the light in the littlest of things. And, she so humbly and gently invites all those in her presence to experience the same. A long time ago she reached out and recommended a Ted Talk that she had seen. It was about internet scammers … and it was so deeply moving … in such a unique way … that I ended up sharing it on my own page.

I am not sure how Lindsay finds so many remarkable things to share, but I have learned to heed to her suggestions. Following up her recommendations adds a depth and a breadth to my existence that I might not get to explore were it not for her. So, when she reached out again via text and recommended a TEDx Talk featuring a phenomenal photographer named Lene Marie Fossen who faced her life with anorexia … I made time to watch it. It was such a haunting portrayal of how pain and struggle shape our humanity.

We all have stories to tell. As I shared, Lindsay is always learning more about people and their stories. I am always inspired to follow where her interest in people takes her. And when she watched a video suggesting that Christmas brings a softness to the cell blocks within penitentiaries … she got curious. And, she invited us to join in the learning what she discovered. As Lindsay posted on Facebook:

Can Christmas happen “anywhere”?

I stumbled on this video shortly after I read a book entitled “Getting Life” by Michael Morton – a true story of a man who served 25 years for murdering his wife – a crime that he did not commit. I have since watched interviews and am amazed that he is not bitter or resentful – but instead a grateful and appreciative soul who is soft spoken yet carries a voice with purpose leaving no one with an excuse for ingratitude. I loved the video – but I’m a skeptic. I wondered how ‘authentic’ it was. It is easy to slow down video footage and add some beautiful music – it plays on your emotions, draws you in. Are those feelings ‘real’? It was a long shot but I sent an email to Michael Morton asking if he would mind watching the video and telling me if it made him roll his eyes – or if Christmas really does bring a softness even within the walls of a prison. Several weeks later I was so surprised and touched to get this reply:

“Lindsay–Watched the video. My wife said she teared up when she watched it. I grunted, then watched it, too. Yeah, I also teared up a little, just like a tough, old ex-con. Every prison and most prison experiences are unique. But this video has some universality that struck a chord with me. The guards are human. Some of them are okay…and some of them aren’t. Most of them, though, are touched by the holiday season, and Christmas in particular. God is bigger than any wall or series of razor-wire-topped fences. He transcends time, space, and all human circumstance. I liked the video. Thanks.-Michael”

Merry, merry Christmas to all. In prison, or amidst a pandemic, nothing can remove or destroy the special spirit of the season. xo

Ha ha. Of course she emailed the author!! She is so earnestly interested in understanding all the layers and complexities of people. This is the magnificence of Lindsay! I am not the least bit surprised that she stretched out onto the road less travelled and connected with an author who had also been an inmate. Not too many of us might ever even think to do so, but Lindsay’s commitment to honoring the stories of others is unrivaled.

And that Lindsay does!

She also recommended that I read a book entitled “The Unwinding of the Miracle.” I have not yet finished it, but I trust that I will gain something special from it. I cannot yet say what it will be … but I trust my friend implicitly. She never leads me astray. She also recommended that I watch “Fisherman’s Friends” on Netflix. I had never heard of it either. If you haven’t seen it yet, look it up. It was so well worth the watch.

It is so clear to me that Lindsay is always listening. I know she hears a song when many of us miss it … both literally and metaphorically. And, I do not take her exceptional essence for granted. She has this remarkable way of nourishing the landscape of people’s souls. She is also such a gifted writer. I haven’t really touched on her exceptional skills in this regard, but I look forward to reading more of the remarkable stories she has to pen through the lens of her empathic eyes and huge heart.

Lindsay is just so sincere and genuine. She is unapologetically herself. You find no airs about her. Her transparency and authenticity is so entirely refreshing. I’m not sure who said it, but someone once stated that “in a world where everyone wears a mask, it is such a privilege to see a soul.” And, that it is.

And so Lindsay, with these few words … I offer my humble observations of your beings and doings with the deepest appreciation to you and for you. Your presence is a true gift in my world. Thank you for being such a spectacular spark of light. Thank you so adding such a glorious glow to the globe. And, thank you again for touching so joyfully into the miracle of our mortal existence and inviting inspiring us all to do the same. One of these days I might even try sprouting some lentils. 😘

With unending appreciation for the bright light of your soul …. 💖 Karen 💖

An Advent of Love … Better Because I’m bringing You Home For Christmas Momma!

Those of you who read my “Better Because you Spared Me …” blog will already be aware that Christmas 2019 marks the 30th Anniversary of my Mom’s passing. You will also know that I didn’t even realize the loss of my Mom had remained so unprocessed … until the words, tears and unspoken grief spilled out of me while I was writing the afore mentioned blog … a blog that I thought was going to be about something else! It is amazing to recognize just how much pain we can hide from ourselves when that unwelcome darkness is pushed way down inside of us and not invited up to see the light of day.

So … that said, and aside from another blog that I dedicated to my Mom, I have come to realize that I have never sufficiently honored my Mom’s death … or … maybe even her life, for that matter.  It just never seemed right to speak aloud about her passing during the Christmas Season because I didn’t want to put a damper on my family’s ‘holiday cheer’ or cause anyone any discomfort by bringing it up.

But given my line of work as a counsellor/therapist … I am also well aware that mourning  is an essential part of processing and healing our grief. Sometimes the words grief and mourning are used interchangeably, but they are actually very different. Grief is the internal  experience of our unprocessed emotional pain, heartache, sadness and loss …. and … mourning is the external expression of our grief.  Mourning is the vehicle that helps us move through our emotions so we can grieve and heal through our losses.

I have always reminded my clients that it’s a gift to themselves to make space for mourning rituals and outward expressions of their grief, lest it gets stuck inside them.  When grief goes unprocessed, it becomes professionally described as ‘unreconciled’. The research shows that ‘unreconciled grief’ can lead to all manner of depression, anxiety and varied other unfavorable emotional, mental and even physical health concerns. And so, the writing of that blog nearly 30 years after my Mom’s death, rendered visible that I still had some of my own work to do. Unarguably, it was long past time to dust up some more of that glitter … to create some space to mourn the unreconciled parts of my own grief.

Upon reading the Better Because You Spared Me blog, my youngest daughter responded on Facebook by saying :

“This was amazing mom. I had no idea gram loved evergreens too!! I’m going to dedicate mine to her this year ❤  … “

Something in my daughter’s words spoke right into my soul!  And so, with deepest reverence for my Momma, I have decided to bring her home for Christmas this year by creating a morning/mourning ritual for the 24 days prior to the 30th anniversary of her death on December 25th. I am going to call this process my ‘Advent of Love.’  And since most Advent Calendars present us with a gift each day leading up to Christmas, I decided to invite my Momma to join me as I enjoy the tranquility of the pre-dawn hours reflecting upon the many gifts I have received in our mother/daughter relationship. 🧡

This is the scene within which this Advent of Love  has unfolded. And, I have decided to outwardly express my reflections in the form of this blog so I can deepen my experience of honoring my Momma in these moments … and then … revisit these precious reflections in the years to come.

An Advent of Love …

Day 1:  Ornaments. Every year since my children were born I have gifted them with an ornament reflecting something meaningful that happened in their year. I would try to inconspicuously write their initials (and the year) onto the ornament somewhere. I wanted them to have a nice selection of ornaments to adorn their own trees when they moved out of our home. And well, the year my Mom passed, I scoured the stores in ruthless pursuit of “Grandmother 1989”  ornaments. It was no easy task … because they were typically sold out by the time I got into the city after the funeral. I couldn’t get three of the same, but … I was relieved that I found one for each of my daughters … and … one for myself.

My daughters have all had their own ornaments for many years now.  But … strangely … it was not until THIS year that I noticed some initials on one of the Grandma ornaments I was using to dress my own tree. It was then that I realized I still had a couple of my daughter’s ornaments. It seems incredibly odd that this was the only ornament I forgot to give them … but maybe it was by divine design that these very significant ornaments stayed with me until this very moment. And so, on this first day of my Advent of Love, I am delivering these precious ornaments to my daughters.

It always stirs my heart as we place our ornaments on the Christmas tree because, as I shared, they are all meaningful in some way. It is a joy to reminisce about places we have been and/or the times and occasions spent with our kids and grandkids reflected by each ornament. One of the ornaments that has no obvious meaning, but that has some special sentiment for me is this one.

I remember getting a box of these long tapered glass ornaments for my very first  Christmas tree after I got married 42 years ago because … they were my Mom’s favorite ornaments when I was a child. They became my favorite too. I just loved that they were so elegant, so unique in shape and so full of glittery goodness! We used to have four of them, but now … this the only one I have left. It may sound corny, but it feels like all my best childhood memories of Christmas are honored when I dangle this sparkling gem on the tree from year to year! 💚

And … speaking of ornaments, I decided to create picture ornaments of all our departed loved ones three years ago … my brother-in-law Don, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, my stepmom Gerri, my Dad and my Mom.  And, since our tree is dedicated to my Momma this year,  we have placed her at the top this year … right next to the macaroni angel that my dear friend Marion made for me decades ago. Yes … a couple of special angels set atop our tree this year.

Day 2:  Sparkle. My thoughts this morning were still on the ‘glittery goodness’ of Christmas’s past. I might only have a couple of pictures of my mom and I together, and I am tickled that I have this one. It was taken 50 years ago on Dec 25, 1969. My spirit sings just a little as I am reminded of how much I loved to liberally dangle all those sparkly tin foil icicles onto the tree! I just loved the way that tinsel shimmered and shone in the light of the tree! I don’t do it anymore, but it was a custom I carried forward for many, many, many  years … well after my own children were born.As I share this, I am also fondly recalling that our Christmas trees had to be tethered to the ceiling because it never failed that the tree would end up face down on the ground when our cat could no longer resist pouncing upwards to snatch a shiny temptation dangling high enough up in the branches to topple the whole tree. Sadly … those glittering icicles never weathered the tumble very well. 😏

Given that I was an only child, Christmas was typically pretty quiet … and became even more so after my my Mom and Dad split up when I was 12 years old. That said, some of my best memories  were the Christmas celebrations we got to spent at my Aunt Mildred’s house. The succulent aroma of the roasting turkey or goose (occasionally offset by the stench of the traditional Scandinavian lutefisk) … all the fancy fixings (including the mashed turnips) on the sideboard … the tall, elegant tapers dribbling wax down the sterling silver candlesticks that were centered perfectly upon the festive table linens … the indoor Christmas lights tucked perfectly behind the curtain rods cascading colors down the sheers on the windows … the laughter … the love … the lamps. Ha ha, for some reason I am recalling the excessive number of lamps my Aunt Mil had in her house! Yes, there was a whole lotta light in her home … and … in her heart! She always shone so brightly!

My Aunt Mil was an incredibly warm human being, an exceptional cook and an exemplary hostess. Even though she was run off her feet making it merry for everyone else, she had a way of making you feel like your presence in her home … and in her heart … was the only thing that truly  mattered to her. She was one of those angels that walks the earth … ensuring people feel cherished and precious. 💛

My Mom adored her eldest sister. I suspect she just felt so safe in my Aunt’s energetic embrace. You just knew that she loved you with unshakeable intensity and fierce loyalty.  We were at Aunt Mil’s when the following picture was taken … 39 years ago. It captures my Mom’s first  Christmas in her new role as “Gram” holding hands with the best gift she got in 1980! Our eldest daughter  was exactly four months old here.

Day 3: Patience. It’s only the third day of this process, and I’m already surprised by the memories that are stirring within me. Something that I have always held close in heart was the infinite patience that my Mom displayed with me. My baby teeth didn’t develop with adequate enamel on them so they decayed very quickly.  In order to preserve them until my permanent teeth came in, they all had to be capped with silver when I was four or five years old.

My smile here reveals some glimpses of that silver … but my memories of my time in that dentist chair with Dr. Kuzyk are nothing short of traumatic. Seriously. That horrible rubber damn … the whirr of the drill … the smell of my ground enamel … his cold, steely eyes … him threatening to send my Mother home from the waiting room if I didn’t stop crying. He should have been disbarred for the way he terrified me into swallowing my tears and silencing my terror.

I’m guessing my Mom interpreted my stoic silence as bravery rather than oppression. I honestly have no idea how she walked me through my fears time and time again … until all my teeth were done. Perhaps it was the bribery? I fondly recall her promising me to take me for “chips and gravy” at the lunch counter of the Met Department Store after each of my appointments. They were such succulent morsels … even if your mouth was frozen.

My Mom also lovingly convinced me to go to camp one year as well. Arghhh … it was entirely horrible! I was such a shy child and so desperately afraid to be sent off on my own in a bus full of strangers, but somehow she motivated me to step onto the Greyhound.  Yes, over the years my Momma inspired that timid little freckle-faced, red-head to forge through many of her most formidable fears.

Most amazingly, though, is the fact that I never remember feeling forced or coerced by her. My only recollection is of her patiently supporting me to do hard things. Yes. She instilled a belief in me that we can get through any adversity that lands upon our paths. Thank you for that Momma … that belief has got me through some tough stuff in my life. xo

Day 4:  Integrity.  My Mom and Dad both smoked. For that matter … I vaguely remember reading somewhere that nearly 70% of people smoked four or five decades ago. ‘Players’ or ‘Players Light’ were the most popular brand, but my Momma opted for ‘Craven A’  cigarettes. Back in those days, it was still acceptable for folks to smoke in vehicles! I still get nauseous when I think of my parents pressing in that cigarette lighter into the dashboard in the car. I detested the sickening stench of it’s red hot coils.

It was so entirely offensive that I’m questioning why I ever got the notion to try smoking myself? Perhaps it was peer pressure? All I can remember is that one evening when I was 13, three of us bought a pack of Craven M (the menthol version of my Mom’s favorite brand).  I got teased by the other two for calling home to get permission before I actually lit one up. Mom wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but confirmed that she’d rather I tell her I was going to try smoking than compromise my integrity by hiding it behind her back.  When she realized I was going to keep smoking, she never chastised me or tried to change my mind. No. She just bought a pack of ‘Craven M’ for me when she purchased a pack of ‘Craven A’ for herself. My Mom said she couldn’t, in good conscience, promote hypocrisy by expecting me to quit doing something that she was doing in her own life.

I revered her intention to stand in integrity in that moment, and yet in retrospect, I can see clearly that there were also times when my Mom really struggled to stay in integrity and resist hypocrisy herself. While I have shared more transparently about this in another blog, I am not going to speak to any of that here. I just don’t want to leave you with the impression that she always walked her talk. She did not. And, I knew it. That said, I am not sure any one of us has successfully maintained our integrity 100% of the time.

But before you judge her too harshly for compromising her integrity and/or for allowing me to smoke, I should share that I did quit smoking of my own volition when I was 21. I had offered to support a friend who needed to quit smoking for health reasons.  And, even though I had no real intention of quitting forever myself, I did keep my word to not take a puff while she was trying to extinguish the habit. When all was said and done, however, I was the only one of us who had successfully quit. As I reflect upon it all now, I don’t like to feel guilty about my choices, so I’m really glad I maintained my integrity in those moments … with both my Mom and my friend.

Day 5: Family. My Mom was the youngest of seven children. I learned on that my maternal grandmother, Anna Gunhilda Nasenius (Nezenius), gave birth to 8 children in 13 years.  She was 41 when my Mom, “Muriel”  Pauline Star Edlund, joined their family on April 13, 1925. My paternal grandfather, Nels Fridolf Edlund, was already 49 when my Mom arrived.  My Mom’s eldest brother Hjalmar Fridolf “Douglas” was born on August 21, 1914. Then came another son, Thurs “Arthur” Alexander, who was born little more than 14 months later on November 12, 1915. My beloved Auntie … Ruth “Mildred”  Armida arrived on September 23, 1917 and their brother, Werner Wilfred “Woodrow”  was born on the exact same day and month as my Mom … only six years prior in 1919. Uncle Woodrow was followed by the birth of another daughter, Helen “Doris” Elvera was born on March 18, 1921. My Uncle “Paul”  Warren David joined their family on July 25, 1923. My Mom never even told me that she had a little brother!  Joseph “Immanual”  was born on October 27, 1927 but unfortunately, he died eight days later on November 3, 1927.

The legacy of loss in my Mom’s history looms large. My Uncle Douglas passed away suddenly in an airplane accident in 1947 when he was 32.  My Aunt Doris died unexpectedly in her sleep in 1971 when she was 49. My Uncle Woodrow died a year after my Aunt Doris … he was only 53. My Uncle Art sustained a major brain injury in a car accident and was bed-ridden for most of his lifetime. My Aunt Mil compassionately cared for him in her home until he passed away in 1975 … just a month shy of 60. My Mom was the next to depart in 1989, at the age of 64 … followed by my Aunt Mil who passed away very unexpectedly nine months later on October 13, 1990. She was only 72. My Uncle Paul survived them all. He died in 2005 at the age of 82.

Sadly, I don’t recall spending much time with my Mom’s family members. I do have some very fun memories of riding down the stairs in a laundry basket with my Uncle Paul one time when I was young. I was staying at my Aunt Mil’s … and we went out to the farm to visit. It was entirely exuberant and really a very exceptional experience!! Neither my Mom or my Dad would have dared to do something as playful as taking a wild ride in a plastic hamper. Unfortunately, our engagement with Uncle Paul’s lovely family was deeply fractured by a heartbreaking rift over my Grandmother’s Estate. My Mom had been named Executrix. It was tragic to witness the loss of connection that my Mom endured with her brother during the years of conflict.

The precious and yet tenuous nature of family attachment has always underpinned my understanding of family. And yet, as an often lonely only child, I was always so envious of people who had brothers and sisters. I imagined it must be so incredible to be part of something bigger than yourself … to have people in your life that you didn’t have to explain things to because they already knew … because they were there from the beginning.

Its no surprise that I was quick to embrace my husbands four siblings and parents when we got married. I really relished the feeling of being part of their ‘big family’. I inherited three brothers and a little sister in the deal. Their presence in my life was elevated in my heart. And, over the years, I embraced the jubilant joys and weathered the saddening sorrows of being part of a ‘big family.’ There was no shortage of either.

Day 6: Destiny:  I woke up in the night thinking about a blog I wrote many, many years ago called “Mama Knows Best”. In it, I talked about a very vivid memory I had of my Mom. It must bear repeating, because it found it’s way to my awareness during this meaningful morning/mourning process.  As I shared in that blog, one of the most meaningful messages I got from my Mom did not come in words:

“I must have been about 8 years old … and … my mom wanted to take me to the movies in order to get out of the house. After consuming more 5 Star Whiskey than he could handle – my dad had, once again, passed out on the couch. She could see it coming and she had asked him (when he was still coherent) if she could have some money to take me. He had refused. I can’t remember his rationale … but …

Once he was snoring, my mom proceeded to put her hands down the cracks of the sofa around him, searching for coins that had dropped out of his pockets over time. She kept searching … and counting … until she had collected enough pocket change to get us on the #2 trolley bus … which would take us to the theater downtown. I don’t remember the movie we saw that night, but … here is what I heard her saying:
“If there is a will, there is a way.”

I also heard her saying … don’t let anyone else unfavorably or unnecessarily determine your destiny. And, I wish I could say I had been better at heeding that sage wisdom over my lifetime. Unfortunately, it has taken me many, many years to really integrate that lesson into my life. And, it is still hard for the recovering people-pleaser in me to elevate my own needs if it feels like I am abandoning another in the process. But … I am ever grateful that my Momma got a bee in her bonnet every now and again … so I could bear witness to how it looks when you choose to have your own back. The real trick it learning to set strong, compassionate boundaries without needing anger to be the catalyst.  I’m getting there. 

Day 7:  Connection. I remembered a couple of things this morning. One, it’s my Dad’s birthday. Were he still with us here in the flesh, he’d be 91 today. Happy Birthday Dad!  I wish we’d been able to spend more Christmas’ together. And, although this is an Advent of Love in honor of my Mom, in this moment I am remembering my very last Christmas with my Dad.  It was the best one I ever had with him. We’d finally healed our relationship and it was so good to share that unfettered space with him. It’s funny, because in the last five years of his life, I caught some glimpses of the man my Mom had so deeply loved … like the energy captured in this photo. 🧡

My husband and I had travelled to South East Asia and brought home a conical hat. I roared with laughter when my Dad tried it on. It was so out of character for him to act silly. This is one of my very favorite memories with him right here.

For as long as I can remember, we had always had a stack of index cards in the desk. We typically used them for recipes or flash cards for studying when I was in school.  But, in 1987, one of those cue cards became my birthday card! I am suspecting she wasn’t well enough to get out to the store to buy me an official Hallmark card, so … she improvised.

Her handwriting was so very small, it was often very difficult for the untrained eye to read. So, I will translate for you:

“To: Karen a wonderful daughter on your 29th Birthday. This was intended for your 30th Birthday, but like most of us, it will probably be another 10 years until then!!! You are so special to me and always remember – I love you very much and pray this year will be the best one ever. Affectionately, Mom J”

My Momma had a great sense of humor. I think she was 29 for at least 20 years. And then 39 for another 10 years … at least. 🙂 But, she was very quiet and very much an introvert … so one of her favorite ways of communicating was through the written word. Her penned sentiments represent such tangible tokens of her affection. I am really glad I had the foresight to save some of the little notes that my Mom had written to me over the years.

Day 8:  Time. It’s been fascinating to notice the memories that have emerged for me during this Advent of Love. I thought this was going to be a much tidier process. I expected to wake up in the early morning … and then … as I was sitting with my coffee in front of all the lights … I would invite Mom to join me and see what memories would be sparked.  But no. More often than not, I have been awakened in the middle of the night with thoughts flooding through my awareness … washing warmly over the window of my soul … fostering tidal waves of gratitude. So, I jotted the ideas down for the days to come … where I could try to make sense of it all … and … feel my way into the layers of ‘why’ a particular memory was alive in my awareness.  

For example … I was thinking about the twin beds in my Mom’s bedroom. I remember in my teens that I would climb into the extra bed and we would watch “The Merv Griffin Show” together. For those of you who are too young to remember, Merv had a late night talk show from 1962 to 1986. He also created the popular game shows Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. My Mom loved spending time with Merv. So did I.

I mean … just look at that smile of his!!  You can tell why we were drawn to him. You can just see the bright light of this man’s soul shining through that grin and casting a glow onto everything around him. I can see how he was likely a bright spot in many of my Mom’s long and uncomfortable days. Perhaps just knowing she’d be spending time at the end of the day with Merv gave my Mom some light-hearted energy to anticipate.

Personally, I have come to believe that having something to anticipate is one of the secrets of living a happy life. And, as a result, I make it a habit to put something into my days, weeks and months to look forward to …

Day 9: Treasures of the Heart. These first two pictures capture a snippet of Christmas on the farm in1982. Brittany had not yet arrived into our family. Sherisse was only two months old and Tiana was a lively little 28 month old toddler! My Mom was still well enough to come out for a Christmas Eve ‘sleep over.’  She always loved a nice cozy sweater. In fact, in the final few years of her life I recall her layering up … two or three sweaters at a time. She had become so thin that she got chilled very easily.

Here we are … a couple of years later … Christmas 1984. It is so hard to believe this was 35 years ago. I love seeing the delight in her energy upon receiving these photos of her littlest loves. Oh, how she adored her grand-daughters.

We were poking fun at her here because she would often be up through the nights and then sleep during the daytimes.

I had no way of knowing at the time that we were only going to have three more Christmas mornings together. I find myself wondering if I would have done anything different had I known how limited those shared moments were going to be? Maybe I would have savoured them just a little bit more? Maybe I would have made it more meaningful in a very deliberate way? Maybe I would have snapped more photos with my camera? Maybe I would have taken more pictures with my heart?

Day 10: Decorations. When I got looking through the albums in search of pictures of my Mom, I was over the moon delighted that I came upon the following photo!! I am guessing this was a year or two after Mom died. I have no idea what I was smiling about … but … my heart looks blissfully happy. 💝

I suspect this picture was taken after a gathering of friends had left … because I know those wine glasses were not all mine!! 😊

I’d like to draw your attention to Mr. And Mrs. Claus in the background. My Mom created them for me during one of her stays in hospital. I know their bodies were crafted from carefully folded Readers Digest magazines in one of groups run by the Recreational Therapists in extended care settings. My Mom always contended that she was never crafty … but seriously … look at those precious gems!!! I LOVED them and had them for years until they somehow got squished in storage. It absolutely broke my heart to discard them. I am so darn grateful that, by sheer accident, we captured their joyous little images in this photo. And … as I say that … my heart weeps with such heartfelt gratitude for the short time I had with them … and … with her.

Day 11: Liniment.  For some crazy reason, my thoughts this morning are turning to liniment. The scent of A535 seems to have burned into my neural pathways. I remember rubbing my Mom’s hind quarters liberally with that topical analgesic in the hopes it would soothe her chronic back pain.  And, I am humbled by my recognition that I was not the best Florence Nightingale.  I am ashamed to admit that I often resented having to rub her down with this smelly substance.

And yet, as I say that … I am reminded of just how much compassion and empathy she offered me when I was, as she would phrase it … “feeling punk” or just “not up to snuff.”  Her caring was filled with the most tender and unconditionally loving energy. Makes me tear up as I think about how deeply she nurtured and tended to me when I was under the weather myself.

In this moment, I am specifically recalling coming home one night from seeing the movie “Paper Moon.” I was writhing with horrific menstrual pain. My Mom sat beside my bed while I tried to distract myself through the labour-like cramps by telling her the play by play details of this lovely movie. She never once looked bored, annoyed or wishing she could escape to somewhere else. She always did her very best to help alleviate any discomfort I was experiencing … mental, emotional, physical or spiritual. I will always be grateful to you for that Mom. 💖

I was 17 in this picture. I wish I remember what was going on here … my lips are kind of smiling but my eyes are rather sad … and … my Mom looks a bit tentative, doesn’t she?

Day 12: Altruism. My parents separated when I was 12. And, after that, even though we were on welfare … my Mother would occasionally contribute to Telethons!  Yes. I am serious. She gave from what little we were given. She always had such a heart for people’s suffering. Perhaps some of my penchant for social justice was inspired by witnessing her valiant efforts to do whatever she could, without excuse, to help anyone she perceived to be underestimated, marginalized or oppressed.

In so many ways, I had the childhood that nobody wanted. I have not spoken to the more unfavorable parts of my childhood here, but … there are many. And yet, in so many other ways, I had the childhood that everyone wanted. My Mom was the mom that many of my friends wanted to talk to when they were out of sorts. She was always warm and welcoming of both them and their problems. I will never forget when one of my school chums showed up at our house unexpectedly late one night after downing a full bottle of aspirins. She refused to go home and begged us not to tell her parents what she had done. She spent the night at our house … initially heaving up everything that was heavy on her heart … and then on our bathroom floor … heaving up all the contents of her attempt to end it all.

She was still vomiting in the morning when her Dad picked her up, so I went to the hospital when them. Even though she was in such a fragile state, his anger and outrage filled the car and my awareness. I’m not sure what he thought all his guilting and shaming was going to accomplish, but I felt such a sense of compassion for why she didn’t want to go home the night before. She didn’t need a lecture … she needed a soft place for her fractured spirit to land.  She needed a shoulder … and … I was just so very grateful that my Mom had offered her one the night before.

Most sadly, however, I learned many years later that she had tried numerous additional times to end her own suffering … and … had finally been successful in taking her own life. Breaks my heart to know that she never found her way through the darkness that surrounded her. And, it reminds me just how transformative it can be … if/when … we have someone in our lives who adds kindling to our internal flames when they are flickering far too faintly.

After I shared my “Better Because You Spared Me” blog, I gained a deeper appreciation for how my Mom was also a source of light to one of my oldest and dearest friends. My friend Joan shared in the comments section on my Facebook page regarding my blog  that my Mom’s loving energy was a safe haven for her too.  Joan’s childhood was the envy of no one. Absolutely no one.  And … her tender words touched me deeply:

Oh my dear friend … As I read this I was brought back to many of the times your mom was not feeling well or in pain and would still come out greet us as we came in the house after school. Even as I read this something that came back to me so strongly, maybe it is because I never had it in my own home, was the love. Through all her pain and through all her sickness your mother had a wealth of love for you. To a little girl that had none, the love in your home was palpable. I will be forever grateful that I was able to feel some of that love and I have often wondered if it is that love, that prevented me from taking a very different path in my life. So as I sit here, tears streaming, I am holding you in my arms, as a sister would, willing to share, willing to help and willing to just hold. I love you my friend and I love your mother and always have. To think that through all her challenges she had so much love to give. She was a remarkable woman as are you. You honor her everyday by sharing your loving giving spirit with so many xo🤗💞

It is not lost of me that the light of love from my Mom was perhaps what spared both me and my dear friend from taking very different paths in our lives. Joan and I both found ourselves in the field of Mental Health tending to those who are struggling.  Joan is an exceptional hypnotherapist, counselor and life coach in her own private practice: Inspired Wellness and Hypnotherapy.  As I responded to my precious friend:

Joan …. you are my oldest and dearest friend and I’m trying to type through the stream of tears that have welled up from my heart space and are flowing down my cheeks in streams. Your heartfelt words have triggered my memories of your very unique ‘igloo’ house …that was shaped like an ice cube … and felt even colder and icier on the inside than it looked on the outside. Your white, cinderblock house was a perfect example of that notion that our outer world reflects our inner world. Mrs. Byar [Joan’s mom] scared me with her reserved and steely demeanor. I remember everything in your experience being hard, unwelcoming and militant … everything but you. I’m honestly not sure how you survived all that you endured my cherished friend. And … I am feeling so deeply grateful that the love my mom offered so generously and freely touched into your heart in such a meaningful way. And, I am sobbing to think that somehow you chose to nourish that love and let it grow you into one of the most kind, compassionate, caring and loving souls I have ever met. From where I am looking, your commitment to heal our humanity by adding so much light to the dark parts of this world is unrivaled! You are such a glowing example of how we can refuse to be defined by what happened to us. You are a such a precious gift to me … and so many others. I am so grateful for your sharing here … you have taken this whole experience to a new level for me my friend. I can see so clearly that the gift of love … is everlasting. I knew my mom’s love spared me … and … I am so deeply moved to know that in many ways, it also spared you. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

There is nothing quite so significant as being invited to exist in someone else’s presence. To be front and center in their circle of attention and … to feel their love and affection for you. As Joan so tenderly pointed out … even when my Mom was not well, she did her very best to give me the highest priority she could muster.

Day 13: Philosophy.   It’s Friday the 13th today. Many believe 13 is an unlucky number. I don’t. It’s my favorite number. I got married on the 13th. There were even 13 teensy little diamonds in my engagement ring. My Mom was born on the 13th. I had exactly 13 days to sit with my stepmom before she transitioned. It’s actually 13 degrees below zero this morning as I share this moment with my Momma in my heart space. I’m not sure why I am sharing all of this, except that it is bringing to mind how deeply our beliefs impact our experiences of things.

My mother was raised in a very staunchly religious Seventh Day Adventist Home. Consequently, she was very well-versed in the Bible and clearly understood what she was supposed to believe. After she and my Dad split up, I remember how she lit up whenever the Jehovah Witness proselytizers rapped on the door. She’d invite them in and eagerly and enthusiastically explore their tenets and unpack their doctrine. My Mom was very reclusive, and because she didn’t socialize much, her spirited engagement in these conversations about religion was interesting for me to witness as a young girl.

My father was ever curious – perhaps even skeptical – about the roots of religious affiliation. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in a Higher Power  … he just questioned mankind’s manipulation of the masses through religious rhetoric. My parents never took me to church but, they never objected when I asked if I could  catch a ride with my friend’s families. They never taught me ‘what’ to believe, but invited me to thoroughly explore and question any and all beliefs before I adopted them as my own.

I was taught by them that what speaks to the spirit of one soul may not be what illuminates another. Notwithstanding that, the overarching message in our home regarding religion and spirituality was consistent: God is love.  So, it went without saying that if your theological orientation wasn’t leading you closer to feeling love for each and every member of our collective humanity, then you’d be wise to question your theology.

Our house during my childhood was filled with books. I was introduced to conversations sparked by some incomparable thought leaders like Herman Hess, Franz Kafka, Siddhartha Gautama, Kahlil Gibran, Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie, Rumi, Hafiz, Sigmund Freud, Lao Tzu, Confucius and the like. The conversations in our home certainly played outside the lines of mainstream cultural and religious norms in terms of philosophic resonance.

I fondly remember my Mom assuring me that people are innately good. She contended that even when folks stumble and fall, they are generally doing the best they can in any given moment. Her allegiance to this philosophy was reflected in her explanation of my Dad’s alcoholism, emotional verbal abuse and neglect to pay child support. She never once spoke ill of him. No. She contended that he wasn’t the best expression of himself when he was drinking … but his alcoholism did not define him. He was struggling, but beneath it all, he was still a very, good man. I believed her.

My Mom was ahead of the curve and already seemed to understand the professional wisdom we are finally coming to espouse regarding addiction; as Gabor Maté so compellingly points out in this short video, addiction (in all it’s varied expressions)  is a maladaptive effort to escape the pain (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual)  that folks can’t bear to be with.  I do know that the traumatic legacy of my Dad’s early childhood was deeply wounding for him.

While recognizing that the adversity experienced in people’s childhoods does not excuse their ‘bad behaviour’; it can help us to better understand the roots of it.  We are learning that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have a tremendous impact on future violence in our lives – both victimization and perpetration. We are also learning that our lifelong health and opportunities are also influenced by our ACE scores. The data shows that the higher your ACE score, the more likely you are to smoke, to become obese, to be a victim of domestic violence, to experience depression and anxiety and, even, to attempt to take your own life. The ACE study is profoundly interesting! If you would like to learn more, check it out here.  But I digress …

As we evolve in our understanding of human behavior, I remain ever grateful that my Mom taught me to be generous in my assumptions of people. I’m no saint and can still get frustrated with people, but even in those moments, I like to remind myself, as Ram Dass states in a book by the same title, “We are all just walking each other home.”  And, beyond the intimate connection this sage draws between loving and dying, I also interpret this to mean that we are collectively on this human journey to find more love, to experience more love …and … to ‘be’ more love.

What if our collective purpose on this planet is to learn how to personally embody the changes we want to see around us?  I remain inspired by that ‘what if’ … and … although it can be so darn challenging when we are faced with difficult people, if we say we want to live in a loving world, we must require ourselves to embody, embrace and express that energy of love in our exchanges … even when it is trying for us to do so. Maybe, most importantly … when it is difficult to do so.

That said, I still shudder when I remember being emphatically corrected by another woman many years ago in a Christian Women’s Group when I dared utter aloud that I thought most everyone was doing their best given the context of their lives. She fervently countered my suggestion by arguing with unwavering conviction that my statement was “not true” … that some people are just possessed by the Devil. It was clear that she thought I was incredibly naïve to posit such bunkery.

I was effectively hushed because … in that room … in that moment, I suspected she was not alone in that belief. She had a mailbox in that Church. I did not. Even now, I can feel my breathing shallow as I touch back into the felt sense of that contentious moment. And while I concede that we must set boundaries to protect ourselves with some folks, I would like to suggest that the most vicious and perhaps villainous people who inhabit the world are/were vulnerable victims of someone/something else. I align wholeheartedly with the notion that “hurt people, hurt people.” 

And while I cannot prove my perspective any more than someone else can disprove it, I am purposely, deliberately and consciously choosing to believe in the innate and inherent goodness of our Universal humanity … because … I like the way it fuels my spirit when I do.

Day 14: Character.  As I awake this morning, I am continuing to recall the depth of my Mom’s character. After years of enduring the costs of my Dad’s alcoholism, she firmly required him to choose: his family … or … his bottle. Unfortunately, his addiction was more powerful than his freedom to choose otherwise. He couldn’t set the bottle down, so my Mom changed the locks on the door on August 11, 1970. I was 12. Coincidently or not … it was their 19th wedding anniversary. Unbeknownst to him, it was a gift … albeit wrapped in a very ugly package. He moved to Winnipeg to be closer to his sister, my Aunt Audrey. He sobered up. He got his life back. He even found another love … my stepmom Gerri.  Although I never called her ‘Mom’, I came to love Ger too.

It breaks my heart to look back on their separation, though, because I know my Mom secretly hoped that they would reunite once he quit drinking. She never ever wanted to lose him … just his addiction. But, he was either too proud or too wounded to come back. Nonetheless, he remained the absolute love of her life.  Here they are on their wedding day:

August 11, 1951 – my Dad’s sister, Audrey, and her husband Jack stood up for them.

And, I am sure memories of my Mom’s wedding day were what inspired a torrent of tears streaming uncontrollably down her cheeks at my cousin’s wedding less than a year after they separated. She was seated to my left during the ceremony and I had never seen her so emotional. I recall her scolding me for glancing towards her … I guess she was afraid I would draw attention to her with my gaze. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I recognize now that she was having a gargantuan grief burst in that moment. I get tears in my eyes as I imagine how hard it must have been for her to lose the love of her life. Here’s one of the rare photos that I have of them together … in happier times.

My Mom loved my Dad so unconditionally that she even accepted and welcomed his new partner. The following photo was taken in 1989 … the summer before Mom died … at a dinner out at Sven Ericksens restaurant. Dad and Ger had travelled out from Manitoba to visit. It was such a rare and treasured occasion when I got to spend time in the presence of both my Mom and Dad. I am not sure how my Mom held it together … but she did. Maybe it was just a gift for her to share some space with him again. She was gracious and loving and kind. That is my Dad seated beside her. For some reason, she got to sit beside him and Ger was across the table.

Day 15:  Music.  My thoughts this morning took an interesting turn. Mom loved Harry Belafonte. One doesn’t hear him often any more, but I grew up with my spirit being stirred by the deep sense of humanity I could hear streaming from our nice little turntable through his incredible vocals. We enjoyed this and many other of his songs on the 78 LP vinyl version we owned. Harry Belafonte goes hand and hand with my childhood memories and hearing him always, always, always brings my Mom home to my heart.

We had a whole schwack of LPs. My Mom had a broad palette for music. Another of her favorites was Charlie Pride. Oh … and Perry Como and The Platters  too. She loved good music. So do I. She also thoroughly enjoyed watching upcoming stars performing on Lawrence Welk … and … Ed Sullivan. She reveled in seeing people claim and share their gifts with the world. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that were she still alive today …‘The Voice’  would be one of her favorite shows.  It would be so wonderful to be able to climb into the twin bed beside her again and chuckle together over the light-hearted bantering between the coaches. She’d probably really love John Legend.

You know who else I think she’d be a bit smitten with …?  Keith Urban. Yep.  She’d love his long hair … his heartfelt lyrics … his empathic capacity to speak right into the sorrow within people’s hearts.  He just released a new Christmas song, too, that I expect would touch deeply into her own longings. I can only imagine how deeply she ached for someone to make it all better … for someone to fuss and bother to make things special for her.

Day 16: Quilting. My heart felt really heavy as I snuggled down with my coffee in the darkness before the Christmas tree this morning. The heaviness I was feeling took to me thoughts of the heaviness I experienced when my Mom passed away … and … I didn’t have any inkling as to how I was going to hold her close. I also wasn’t sure what to do with all her belongings. It was too hard to even think about parting with anything right away, but … what to do with it all??  I’ve always had a very creative spirit. It’s making me smile as I think about it, because my capacity for creativity was something that my Momma took great pleasure discussing. She seemed very proud of it.

While my paternal grandmother was an excellent seamstress, my Mom never sewed at all. I had never enjoyed sewing in Home Economics in school, but I was 13 when I sewed up this handsome little number.  It wasn’t until I got married that I really recognized the creative joys of sewing

I made Cabbage Patch Doll clothing (along with matching dresses for my daughters), I sewed Barbie clothes, I whipped up some Care Bears when they were sold out one Christmas.  I got the bug for quilting at ‘Ladies Time Out’ (a group for young mothers) when I learned how to make a Christmas table runner. We still use it.

I discovered that my perfectionistic tendencies and my keen eye for detail were well suited for quilting! And then, one Autumn, my good friend Deb and I took an evening class together and created the most beautiful quilted tree skirts. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up making four of them … that way each of my daughters could have one. It was really such fun choosing the fabrics and piecing together all the colors!!  I am looking forward to resurrecting my passion for quilting in the years to come! I even bought a new machine with some fancy stitches … haven’t had it out of the box yet … but I will!!

Anyway, it somehow occurred to me  to take all my Moms signature fortrel pants along with the brightly-colored house coat that she always, always, always took to the hospital with her … and … create something meaningful by stitching them all together into a quilt. I even used one of the sheets from her linen closet for the backside of it. I imagined that when I wrapped myself up in that quilt … it would be like getting a hug from my Mom.

Were I to write a memory of my Mom onto each of those squares, they’d include her playing rummoli and crokinole with me when I was young. There would be one for playing hangman and other word puzzles with me way past my bedtime on school nights in my tweens … and … another for playing Spades with me and my boyfriend during my teens. One of the squares would be in honor of our bedtime activities. Mom always spent some time with me when I was young … talking, telling stories, singing silly songs. I vividly remember our animated renditions of “Going on a Lion Hunt.” Another square would be for teaching me to play cribbage somewhere along the way … another for teaching me to knit. One would represent her dozing off in the front seat of the car during the dusk to dawn movies at the Drive-In while my friends and I snacked on popcorn in the back seat. Oh … and there would be one dedicated to Scrabble. I still LOVE a good word game.

There would be a square in honor of her taking me to The Boardwalk uptown, in Edmonton, on Christmas Eve one year in my teens so I could pick out a gift for myself for Christmas … and using our grocery money to do it. Yes. Makes me tear up as I remember the red sweater I picked out for myself. Oh my … and one for the “Penuche” she used to make on rare occasions. It’s a brown sugar based fudge that I recall being so incredibly delicious. It wasn’t as sweet as you’d think. I completely forgot about it until just now, but maybe I should make some … for old times sake.

If you are interested, I have attached a recipe here! We never put pecans in it … we used walnuts because they were cheaper… but it was still really good!

I am mindful, as I reflect upon all of this, that many of my fondest memories with my Mom are not the formal celebrations or special events we expect are catalysts for making magical memories for our children. No, it’s not necessarily the birthday parties or Thanksgiving dinners that take up the most space in my heart, but rather, just those normal days. A box spice cake with the chocolate icing so chilled from the refrigerator that it has to melt in your mouth slowly. It’s the tartan skirt that she insisted on buying me in grade school that I loathed at first glance and then grew to be my favorite.

It’s those memories of walking with her to the grocery store during the cold winters when our blue and white Ford Galaxy 500 refused to start. It’s her allowing me to practice my ear piercing on her almost none existent ear lobes for the new job I got at the mall. It’s hot chocolate made with real cocoa powder and evaporated milk with tablespoons full of sugar.  It’s so many small, seemingly insignificant things.

It’s humbling to recognize that many of the moments that make us miss our loved ones the most are those day to day moments that you simply took for granted … the ones you have no idea will be some of the memories you’ll hold most dear in time … those experiences you’d do anything for another opportunity to savor right now. Yep. Very humbling indeed.

Day 17: Cough Drops.  My memories of my Mom would not be complete without speaking about Beech-Nut Menthol Cough Drops. They were an absolute mainstay in her life.  We used to buy them by the carton and wrap them up for her at Christmas. And, then, I’d find them … sticky and half dissolved … all over the house.  Honestly, I used to get so cranky about that.

And those of you who know me might be surprised by the uncanny parallel here!!  I always, always, always have a package of Fisherman’s Friends in my purse. Not because I have a sore throat. No. Just because I love to suck on them. I do not, however, leave them stuck to surfaces all over the house. My favorite are the Citrus or Lemon … but I can make due with the Cherry or Mint quite nicely. 🙂

Do you suppose this kind of similarity could be hereditary?? It is a rather rare and unique idiosyncrasy that my Momma and I share. Neuroscientists are learning that many, many of our attributes (temperament, personality, abilities, fears and preferences) come via our genetic loading … but … may not be manifest until they are activated by the right environmental stimulus. Perhaps my own daughters will be epigenetically predisposed to having an affinity for cough drops too … and … their bodies are just waiting for the right brand of lozenge to render visible this part of their own DNA??  It took many years before I developed such a healthy addiction affection for Fisherman’s Friends. These days, you’d be hard pressed to find me without them. It had not occurred to me until this very moment that my Mom and I had this in common. 😉

Day 18: Miscarriage. No reflection about my Mom would be complete without honoring the fact that she had five miscarriages before I was tucked safely into her arms.  She never really talked about it, but I know that she lost some in early pregnancy and some in later trimesters. After researching the traumatic impact of pregnancy loss during my Graduate studies, I am deeply aware of how gravely these losses likely impacted her. 

While I defined ‘unreconciled grief’ at the onset of this blog, I learned in my studies that the grief of miscarriage/pregnancy loss goes unrecognized and is habitually silenced in our culture. And, often, these losses are quite traumatic … but … no one talks about it. No honoring of the loss through mourning rituals. No casseroles brought to your door. No Hallmark cards. No days off from work. Often … no one even knows you have experienced a loss or what that loss actually means to you. 

I am sobered as I reflect upon how much loss my Mom experienced in her lifetime. Parents, siblings, babies … husband. She lost her health. She lost her career. She lost her dreams for her future. She even lost her mobility when she was relegated to a wheelchair after one of her surgeries. And ultimately, she probably felt like she lost me to some degree when I got married and started a family of my own.  I find myself wondering if she ever had an opportunity to mourn all the losses she endured in her life.  And, if not, I am questioning whether some of her depression, anxiety and physical ill health may have been rooted in her own unreconciled grief? Could some of her suffering have been alleviated through grief work?

I guess I will never know … but … when I look at these pictures of her in her youth … I see such vitality!  I see who she was before all the illness, pain, addiction and loss compromised her capacity to live in the fullest expression of who she could be in the world.

A mother of six … who only got to know and raise one. Although you never got to hold them in your arms Mom, I know you will have held each and every one of them as treasures in your heart. I am aching as I consider all the moments you didn’t get to celebrate with my five brothers and sisters. In this tender recognition, I am joining you in grief … wishing I had got to know them too. I am wondering what our lives would have been like had our house been filled with all of us. I am guessing your life would have been very different Mom … so very, very, very different. ❤

Day 19: Chicken à la King.  Wikipedia states that this regal dish is typically made with diced chicken in a cream sauce, and often with sherry, mushrooms, and vegetables, served over rice, noodles, or fresh bread. Uhmmmm … that is not the way it was prepared at our house. We were on welfare, so my Mom made it with canned mushroom soup and canned green peas and put it on toasted store-bought McGavin’s bread. To her credit … it was absolutely delicious.  I am thinking I should make it some time … in her honor … but without the canned peas.  I am not terribly fussy about canned veggies. I could safely say I am never tempted buy them. Ever.

As I share this, I am reminded that many years ago I had a psychic reading and the Medium asked “What is with the tinned vegetables? Who likes tinned vegetables?”  I wanted to say “No one in their right mind likes tinned veggies” … but instead … I think I teared up, right there and then. My Momma always, always, always bought canned vegetables. I thought it was because she really enjoyed them, but … in retrospect … I am wondering if it was because they were cheaper and easier to store than fresh or frozen. We only got to go grocery shopping once per month when the social assistance cheque arrived and the only freezer space we had was a space on the top of our fridge … which got increasingly smaller as the frost built up within it.

There are lots of recipes on line … if you are inspired to try it!

Nonetheless, the fact that she could not make the ‘King’s Dinner’ the way it was supposed to be done … with dry sherry and pimentos … never stopped my Mom. I learned from her that even if you don’t have  the best of things, but you can always, always, always make  the best of the things you do have.  And, she always did.  At any rate, watching my Mom do so much with the little we had might be one of the reasons the following is one of my favorite quotations.

Some attribute this as a quote from John Wooden

Well … except maybe with parsnips. My Mom loved parsnips!! Blech. I can see no redeeming value in those veggies … despite that they weren’t canned. If you have any suggestions for how to make the ‘best’ out of parsnips, please let me know. 🙂

Day 20: Rules and Rulers. Because I had no siblings … we always had a cat. I think it was so I wouldn’t feel lonely. The first cats I remember being part of our family were Ying  and Yang … the Siamese cats that we had when I was in elementary school. We finally had to foster Yang out because he was the rebellious ring leader and would lead Ying astray. Together, they reeked havoc in our home. Ying, by himself, was amazing. He was so very loving … and … even became my alarm clock. He would lick my eyelids open in the morning when it was time to get up for school. It was devastating to our whole family when Ying was killed in traffic outside our house. It took a while, but with time I welcomed some other fabulous, fluffy, furry feline friends into my heart.

One of them even had kittens!  My Mom allowed me to stay home the morning she went into labor. She said that it was a beautiful learning experience for me to witness a birthing. She was right. It was sublime … except … when she started eating the afterbirth!! Gah.  THAT caught me by complete surprise!! 

Yes, we always had a cat … until we moved into an apartment that didn’t allow pets. And well … as much as my Mom taught me the value of integrity, she also allowed me to sneak a cat into our apartment complex!  I learned from my Mom that there is no virtue in honoring the rules … if a greater good is not being served in some regard. Once again, perhaps my passion for social work, social justice and resistance to power and oppression is rooted in this learning.

I learned from my Mom that we must push back when rules and rulers need to be challenged. My Mom held such respect for rule breakers like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus Christ, the Suffragettes, etc.  Oh … and the Beatles! She loved that those exceptional musicians challenged the establishment with their long hair and that they continued raising mainstream eyebrows with their passionate platform and priceless presence on the planet … inviting us to ‘Come Together’ and “Imagine” and just “Let It Be”  or maybe do “The Hippy Hippy Shake” instead!  Yes. There are times when it is ethical and wise to resist the patriarchal power of the status quo.

Just because it is popular, normative or legal, doesn’t make it right. There are times when it is not only okay to break the rules, but a matter of good moral conscience. Okay … perhaps sneaking a cat into an apartment doesn’t fall into that category! 😉  I still love her for doing that for me.

Day 21: Parenting.  When your children get older and have families of their own, you need to share them with their in-laws. This year was our year to move our Christmas and celebrate together early (from Dec 20-23).  We opted to rent an Airbnb and have a ‘destination’ Christmas. I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage my Advent of Love time while were away, but it actually worked out well.

I woke up on our first morning there and while the rest of the family was still asleep, I found myself inviting my Momma to join me in the stillness of a new space in front of a different tree. I got thinking about her and how she might have enjoyed all the fun and festive frolic that was about to unfold with all of us under one roof for three nights. I had visions of us spending time outdoors together … maybe some skating, skiing or snowman making. It didn’t happen as I had anticipated, but we thoroughly enjoyed our time together. We played hours of board games together and ate delicious food and laughed … and … some of us even sang karaoke … and … we even bundled up and went for a beautiful stroll through the captivating light display erected by the lake. 

We were missing Daniel (who unfortunately was unable to join us), Rob (who had not quite yet arrived), Graeme was back at the house with Jack (who was not feeling well) and I was taking the picture!                 From back left to right: Olivia, Papa, Trad, Brittany, Talaya, Tiana, Hailey, Luka … and from left to right in the front row: Sherisse, Neil, Lyla and Frankie.

Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself here. As I was reflecting upon all the beautiful souls still snuggled up tight in their beds on our first morning together, I got to thinking about myself as a wee child. As the story goes, my parents had recently hired painters to paint the living room. They had chosen a rose shade of red … if memory serves correctly. Very shortly, thereafter, both my Mom and I had laid down for a nap. One of us got up before the other. Apparently that creative spirit that my Momma so admired in me was sparked by what I had witnessed the painters doing. So, I took the pastry brush out of the drawer … not sure where I got the paint … and added a little of my own magic to the wall in the living room.

Now, I can only imagine the tongue lashing I would have given to one of my children had they done the same … but no … not my Momma. She told me later that her first thought was to grab the camera and take a picture of her little Da Vinci. Yes. My Mom had laser clarity about what was important in the parenting arena. She never sweated the small stuff … at all.

And, as I grew, she never lectured or shamed me for my mistakes. We never had alcohol in the house once my Dad was gone. So, although I had sipped on a bit of Lonesome Charlie or Moody Blue in my early teens, I had never even been tipsy until my boyfriend’s sister’s wedding … when I was 17. I got desperately tangled up with too much rum and coke. Gah. It was horrible!! To this day … I still can’t stomach the smell of either. When I arrived home, my Mom asked how the wedding was. I wasn’t the least bit scared to be honest with her, so I candidly replied, “Boy, were we sick!” and headed directly off to bed. She never said another word about it.  Not even one. She didn’t choose to ensure I felt remorse or shame for messing up. She simply let the consequences of my choices do the teaching instead.

She never imposed a curfew on me either. She always said responsibility was earned … and … she afforded me as much responsibility as I proved I could handle. And, I never abused it. I honestly didn’t want to fall beneath her vision of me. She even left me her car when I was attending a French Immersion Program post high school graduation. I was only 17. She was going to be five hours away … without a vehicle of her own … but she entrusted me with it.  And, even though I thought I earned it, her faith in my character was a gift that I am just realizing I didn’t really appreciate or fully understand … until right now.  Sometimes we can’t/don’t/won’t see the blessings that are right in front of us.

Day 22: Entrepreneur. Although my Momma was schooled as a teacher, she was a savvy entrepreneur. She never made any money at it, but she never stopped seeing possibility. When she ended up with a colostomy, she saw a need to create more dignity for the wearer. She visualized a way to dress up a problem!  She invented Classic Comforts’ … ostomy bag covers. I’m not sure what happened … we had all kinds of prototypes … even a racy little red one with black lace on it!  Perhaps she ran out of money? Or maybe she hit a snag with getting a patent?  Or maybe she couldn’t sustain the physical energy needed to build a business? Whatever the reason, this exceptional dream fizzled. It’s too bad, because someone brought her dream to reality! I see now that you can buy ostomy bag covers on Etsy and Amazon … but nothing like that existed back then. Here is a cover letter that she used to promote her product

I always loved seeing the twinkle in her eyes when she was leaning into something that excited her!!  Earlier in my life, when she and my Dad were still together, they created a temporary employment agency called “Man Friday” that was a clever play on the concept of a ‘Girl Friday’. It didn’t last long though. She also started a small business selling awnings after she and my dad divorced called Edlund Aluminum Products. Aside from a good looking letterhead, it never got off the ground.

She also dabbled with writing and submitted an article or two to Redbook Magazine … but it never lasted. She even tried her hand at oil painting … but only for a season or two.  Yes. She was a remarkable soul indeed … but nothing ever really stuck.

And you know what was the most interesting … the most inspiring thing to notice? My Mom’s health was always so much better when she was excited about a project! They say that the body and mind are so deeply connected … and … I believe it.

In addition to the impact our ACE score can have on our health and well-being, there are many neuroscientists, physicians and healers who are confirming that, as Bruce Lipton‘s research has confirmed, “our biography becomes our biology” . The evidence is mounting that painful emotions are held in our bodies and expressed in all manner of somatic symptoms and behavioral responses intended to alleviate our discomfort. As Bessel A. Van Der Kolk confirms in The Body Keeps the Score: 

Of course we experience our most devastating emotions as gut-wrenching feelings and heartbreak. As long as we register emotions primarily in our heads, we can remain pretty much in control, but feeling as if our chest is caving in or we’ve been punched in the gut is unbearable. We’ll do anything to make these awful visceral sensations go away, whether it is clinging desperately to another human being, rendering ourselves insensible with drugs or alcohol, or taking a knife to the skin to replace overwhelming emotions with definable sensations. How many mental health problems, from drug addiction to self-injurious behavior, start as attempts to cope with the unbearable physical pain of our emotions? (p. 76)

Further in this regard, Gabor Maté adds fascinating points to ponder in his book entitled When the Body Says No,.  He, as well as many others, have noted that specific emotional issues and feelings are linked to particular physiological reactions. For example, our faces flush when we are embarrassed. Our tummies ache when we are nervous. Maté goes so far as to suggest that there are particular ‘coping styles’ and/or ‘personality traits’ that are more susceptible to particular ailments and illness. For example:

“Cancer patients, to a statistically significant degree, were more likely to demonstrate the following traits: ‘the elements of denial and repression of anger and of other negative emotions … the external appearance of a ‘nice’ or ‘good’ person, a suppression of reactions which may offend others, and the avoidance of conflict …” (p. 125-126)

Maté discusses the commonalities of folks who have colitis, Crohns, MS, ALS, Rheumatoid Arthritis and a number of other chronic conditions. When I consider all my Mom’s health concerns over the years, I find it entirely fascinating.

Louise Hay has added insights to this conversation in her book called You Can Heal Your Life.  In it, she presents a chart that identifies which emotional issues are correlated to which specific somatic problems. Most interestingly, it suggests that my Mom’s sciatic pain is most likely aggravated by hypocrisy and/or the fear of money and the future. That said, I am wondering if her chronic pain was intensified in those moments when her commitment to being in integrity was compromised … and/or … when she was really feeling the most fearful about our finances and our future.  In the final analysis, I will always remain curious about how all my Mom’s losses, challenges and loneliness may have impacted her health and well-being.  

Day 23: Tears and Apologies.  One day about a year or so before she died, I had popped in to see her. I can’t remember what we were discussing, but we were just standing in the dining room … and … she caught me right off guard. I will never forget the sadness and regret in her query when she asked, “I wonder what we did to you?”

I literally felt the weight of remorse that was anchored to her question … and … I wasn’t sure she was strong enough physically or emotionally to shoulder the truth in that moment. So I lied to her.  I told her I was fine … except for my emetophobia. I told her the only unfavorable legacy of my childhood was my fear of other people vomiting … especially if those other people are drunk. I reassured her that my childhood had sparked strength and resilience and independence and capacity. And, while that was all true, I knew she knew I was leaving some things out.

It was one of those moments where I wasn’t sure telling her the truth would serve the greatest good. She was in absolutely no position to undo what had been done, so I didn’t want to pile more guilt upon her that she’d have to take to her grave.  It was enough for me … that she even asked.  Just in her asking, I heard her insight and her apology. Everything shapes us. She knew it. I knew it. And we didn’t need to discuss it again.

Were I’d been honest, I might have mentioned that the roots of my ‘people-pleasing‘, ‘perfectionism’, ‘performing’ and ever ‘proving’ my worth started early on. Perhaps because I was so sensitive, I was intuitively aware of peoples emotions and could literally feel it in my body when people were upset or unhappy. And, I didn’t want to see my Mom sad, so I became acutely aware of how to stay in her favor.

She was typically so generous with her praise of me … I didn’t want to disappoint her. I wish I had learned earlier in my life that “praise and blame are all the same”. As Richard Carlson contends in his book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … and it’s all small stuff; compliments and complaints are entirely subjective evaluations based upon the preferences of another person. As such, they do not actually define the subject of the judgment. They just tell you about the person who offers the evaluation. For example, if I tell you I like your shoes, I am not telling you anything about YOU. I am simply telling you my  preferences regarding my  taste in shoes.

It’s tricky though, because we tend to take these subjective evaluations to heart … as if they are some kind of truth that the teller knows about us. And with that fear, the people-pleaser becomes a chameleon of sorts … just trying to measure up to everyone’s preferences.  It’s entirely futile.

Source unknown but quote is attributed to Dita Von Teese

Yeah, so you are living on a really slippery slope when you are sensitized to people-pleasing … because … it’s absolutely impossible to please everyone. Gawd knows, though, I’ve tried … my highly kindled and overly anxious amygdala rested so much easier if I sensed that people were happy with me.

It was rare, but every now and again … my Momma would say: “I have a bone to pick with you.”  Gah. I trembled to the core whenever I heard her say that. I always knew I had really messed up if she felt it was important enough to take issue with me about something.  Like I said, though … I really didn’t give her much trouble at all.

Notwithstanding that … there are a couple of things that I feel like I still need to apologize to my Mom for.  First, my impatience with her.  I wish I could turn back time and have a do-over. I recall one Christmas Eve … we were driving 80kms (50 miles) on the highway to my husband’s parents house. We should NOT have been on the road. No one should have been. There were completely blinding white outs. It was soooo dangerous. She uttered something and I came unglued upon her … very harshly. There was silence in the back seat. She just let me sit with the discomfort of my own actions. I am not sure if I ever apologized for that or not. I guessing I didn’t, because that moment still haunts me.

And … the other thing that I wish I could change is the amount of time I spent with her once I moved out of the house. I deeply regret being so wrapped up in my own parenting and responsibilities that I did not see her as much as I could have. And yet, as I say that, I realize I’m being a bit unrealistic. My children needed to take priority … and … the truth is, the amount of time we spent together wasn’t all on me. She was just not well enough for us to connect all that often.

But, that is the part that puts a gnarly knot in my gut and a huge lump in my throat right now. She was all alone … almost all of the time.  She lived alone, she went to her surgeries alone, she recovered alone, she spent holidays alone. All alone.

She never complained about it though. Maybe she preferred it that way??

I guess I will never know, but even though I really love my solitude … being alone is not at all the same as being lonely. And, as I sit with all this here and now, I fear that she must have felt so incredibly lonely.

And here’s the thing … I know I don’t even need to ask for her forgiveness. I know she forgives me. I just wish that I could have a little time with her now. She’s been gone for half of my life … and … I have changed and grown. I have curiosities about her that never hit my radar when I was younger. I have questions to ask … and … hugs to give. I have the humility that comes from raising my own daughters. I see things differently. I see her differently now.

I am wondering what it was like for my Mom to be the 7th child born to a 41 year old woman during the depression. I am wondering how it impacted my two year old Mom to be a toddler, in need of attention, growing up in the shadow of her infant brother who had died eight days after his birth? I am wondering about the grief that my Grandma must have endured losing her child while trying to parent seven others? I find myself wondering if my Mom’s childhood was a bit barren of attention … perhaps she felt lost in the shuffle? I would love to have a deeper understanding of the meaning she made of her own lived experiences.

I yearn for the chance to see more deeply into her heart … to hear into her own wounds .. to honor her life experience more fully. I really only knew my Mom the way she presented herself in her role as my mother. And, it that role, our relationship was mostly about me.

At what age do we get interested in knowing our parents as people … as human beings outside the face they put forward in their parenting role??  I mean, for the most part, my daughters only know me as their mom. It’s a role I took very seriously … editing and chiseling and refining my presentation in order to reflect that of a “good mom” … but, there are many parts of me, as a woman, that they have not yet met nor have been offered an opportunity to spend much time getting to know. I guess my daughters will have a deeper sense of who I am as a woman because of my writing, but … I sure wish I could have met those parts of my Mom that went entirely unnoticed in our short time together.

For example, I am only two years younger than she was when she died. I have so many curiosities about what was going on inside of her. For example, I wish I had a chance to ask her what she was thinking about in this photo. She looks so very melancholy, don’t you think?

Day 24: Meaning Making:  I woke up on the last day of my Advent of Love  reflecting upon how much I enjoyed going to the Zoo Lights in Calgary with some of the family the night before! It was absolutely magical!  The weather was perfect … not too cold, fresh fallen snow, no wind, a spectacular sky and the light displays were simply stunning … well beyond glitteringly gorgeous!  

In the quiet of our hotel room the next morning, I was reflecting upon how I would have savored several more hours there … just breathing in all that luminous light against the backdrop of dark stillness. If you ever get a chance to go … I highly recommend it! It was hard to capture the magnitude and magnificence of it all on camera. It was absolutely mesmerizing!

And, on my final day of this morning/mourning ritual, I also wanted to spend some time revisiting a question that I have been pondering for almost the entirety of this Advent of Love. Just before I started this, I was chatting with a very dear friend of mine about my “Better Because You Spared Me”  blog when Kimmy asked:

What do you make it mean that your Mom died on Christmas Day?”

I told Kimmy that I could remember being a bit annoyed with her initially. I can recall thinking, “Mother … seriously!?! With 365 days of the year … why did you have to pick Christmas to die on??”  Gah. I am embarrassed to say it, but I was grumpy with her for that.

But my friend Kimmy offered another perspective. Her teenage son, Brett, transitioned on her 20th wedding anniversary. She saw it as a gift … she didn’t elaborate in that moment, but said she had received some very meaningful messages that shifted her perceptions around it all. She sparked my interest in pondering it a bit more.

And, in all honesty, I hadn’t gleaned any real insights until I spoke with Kimmy again about a week later. I am so very grateful that my friend heeded her keen instincts in the moment and offered to email a copy of the messages she had received after her son died. I had read them many years ago, but she was sensing that there might be something meaningful in them for me to revisit now … given that I was doing my Advent of Love. 

And so, I read those poignant messages again on Day 7 of my morning/mourning process. I didn’t record my thoughts on that date because I wanted to let myself marinate in the layers of wisdom contained therein … and … see what other insights might be stoked if I dwelled with it all a bit more before I wrote about it here.  And, Kimmy was so right!  There were a number of things that stood out.  I was particularly moved by one of the messages her son had sent her saying:

“I love you. Every spark, flame, glint, glimmer, sparkle, shine and starburst – that’s me. That’s my sign to you. I love you and our love lives on …”

And, although that message came from Brett through Kimmy, perhaps it is a message for each and every one of us. Metaphorically speaking, our loved ones spark the light above  us, around  us and within  us. Perhaps this is the reason my Mom died at Christmas? It is the Season of Light … a celebration of the light of love that was culturally and collectively inspired by the birth of Jesus on December 25th.

All the colorful Christmas lights brighten our surroundings and our hearts.  It is my understanding that these lights are intended to be symbols of hope and reminders of the goodness in the world. I believe that they were also intended to guide us in following the enlightened path of Jesus … by providing light and love to others … most especially for those who are struggling and/or enduring dark times.

And, my Mom had endured so much darkness in her life … perhaps she recognized that part of our salvation is seeking and embracing light – in all it’s various incarnations – despite the sorrows and darkness that inevitably find us.  I was witness to the fact that much of my Mom’s resilience was fostered by her deliberately claiming whatever dots of light she could find in her life.

One time when I was really sad, she introduced me to a book called “The Prophet” that graced the bookshelves in my home growing up. In that book, Kahlil Gibran speaks about joy and sorrow by saying:

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. 

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. (The Prophet, p.29)

And so, as I have pondered it … I like the idea that maybe my Mom left at Christmas because the dots of light … those ‘sparks, flames, glints, glimmers and sparkles‘ that Kimmy’s son spoke about … would shine like starbursts and brightly reflect back to me and my family during the Holiday Season. There is absolutely no time of the year that casts as much light as Christmas.

And so, as we all find our way through the highs and lows of our life, may we take a page out of my Mom’s book. May we consciously notice the dots of light connected to the darkness … and not just at Christmas. May we persistently seek to find a dot of delight … a dot of understanding … a dot of relief … a dot of gratitude … a dot of remembrance … a dot of acceptance … a dot of laughter … a dot of comfort … a dot of hope … a dot of love … a dot of peace.  And, as I say that, it’s comforting to remember that we typically find exactly what we are looking for in life … 💗

And, if we can’t find it … may we deliberately choose to create it. May we be wise enough to light a candle ourselves and illuminate the darkness for ourselves and/or others. Yes. Let there be light to help us find our way.

Gosh, this Advent of Love has come to a close … but … the gifts of doing it will live on in my heart.  It has been such a rich and illuminating experience. I typically wake up much earlier than I need to in the morning so I can enjoy my solitude. During this Advent of Love, there were many mornings that I couldn’t even wait until 6:00am to get up and illuminate the darkness with the candle lights and the Christmas lights. It was such a blessing to intentionally add some nice kindling to all that shimmers and shines within my soul.

Yes, meeting with the dark shards of my grief in these early morning/mourning hours has sparked a sublime sense of reconnection to my Mom. And, one thing I know for sure is that my Momma’s deep, abiding adoration and limitless love for me is one of the greatest treasures tucked tenderly into my heart space.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again … I am much of who I became because of my Mom. I can see that she always inspired me to be the best expression of myself.  I am just so very grateful for all the ways my life has shone brighter because of her.

I am having trouble finding the words to describe how deeply meaningful this process has been for me. It’s been 30 years since you physically left us, but I feel your presence Momma. Thank you for meeting me in these tender moments of recollection as I sat in the pre-dawn darkness of my morning/mourning ritual with you here. I love you … and … am ever so much better because you loved me. 💖💖💖

Yes, through this Advent of Love, I am seeing so very clearly all the ways that my Mom left the light on for me … xo Karen xo

P.S. I am adding this post script on January 5th. I am STILL getting up extra early so I can maximize my opportunity to enjoy my time in front of my Christmas tree!!  Very, very strangely, I have not been the least bit eager to take it down this year. Usually, I can’t wait to get it out the door … get rid of the mess and the falling needles. I’m usually tired of sweeping around it every day … and … they usually lose their lustre quite quickly. Generally speaking,  the limbs of real Christmas trees are drooping so much after three weeks that the ornaments are collecting on the tips of the branches and/or sliding off onto the floor.

However … THIS tree … THIS year … is not dropping needles. It is still supple and soft and smelling good. AND … it has been up in our house for almost six weeks! Yes. SIX weeks!  And, it is still so gorgeous! I did just hear something hit the floor … but … we haven’t even watered it for the last 10 days because I kept thinking I’d be taking it down. But … here I am … still thoroughly enjoying it. THIS tree has bestowed such blessings upon me THIS year. I am ever grateful for all the ‘life’ it has brought to my being … and … all the gifts I have received sitting before it. 💗

January 5th, 2020 … still glowingly gorgeous!  I wonder when I will want to take it down??

Better Because You Spared Me …

Do you suppose this is true?? I am purposely pondering this possibility because … I don’t even know the man.  I do know who he is, though. And because we have lived in the same small, rural community for the past quarter of a century, I have seen him out and about every now and again. That said, I don’t think we have ever spoken to one another.

Well … that is not really true.  I did have some very brief engagements over the telephone with him about 30 years ago, in the form of requests … but certainly not enough connection to confirm any sense of familiarity with the man. I did sense, however, that the last time we spoke on the phone he was somewhat frustrated with me.

Most perplexingly, though … over the summer months in 2019 … our paths seemed to crossing with increased frequency. So much so that it had registered on my radar as ‘odd’.  I even started to consciously question why on earth I was seeing this man so often??  And then … one day when I was out walking with my Bestie … there he was again!  We wandered past him in the large empty parking lot of the Community Centre that we were cutting through on our walk. He was on his phone … not a single car or other person in the vicinity. Huh??

We started chatting about whether or not these chance encounters meant ‘something’  and/or whether the Universe was tossing him onto my path for some reason.  And, because my best friend and I are both INFJ (on the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator)  we love nothing more than to overthink and overanalyse things. We are quick to explore any and all topics with endless enthusiasm … and … from absolutely every possible angle and/or perspective. And so, this conversation was no exception as we thoroughly scrutinized the various beliefs we were aware of that were publicly posited about the nature of coincidence and synchronicity.

As my Bestie and I considered whether these encounters were, in fact, trying to bring my attention to a particular facet of my life, I recalled that this man was the Property Manager of a subsidized housing complex that my ailing mother inhabited three decades ago.  Way back then … and half my lifetime ago … I was 31 years old and lived on a farm in a tiny town about 30 kilometers (20 miles)  from my Mom’s place with my husband and three small daughters. Due to the geographical distance between her and I, it was difficult for me to see her or check-in on her in person as often as I would have preferred.

You should know that my mom’s well-being was always a source of concern for me because for all of my life (and I do mean all of it)  she experienced ill health. She had struggled with debilitating sciatic pain for the bulk of her existence despite numerous unsuccessful medical interventions and invasive surgeries attempted to relieve her pain. I was only nine months old when she underwent her first major surgery. She was returned to me in a hard, cold body cast … but the pain continued. I remember that Darvon and Valium were very critical mainstays in her existence. She even opted to endure an intrusive brain cordotomy in my late twenties that I can’t be sure ever dulled the pain, but … she came home using a wheelchair.

She also had a hereditary disease called Gardner’s Syndrome that caused polyps/tumors to grow in her intestinal tract. They had a risk of being malignant but could also be benign. Nonetheless, these growths would often lead to painful blockages. She vomited often. There was always a plastic bowl tucked under her bed in case her stomach got upset. Ultimately, they had to remove a large part of her colon and she lived with a colostomy bag afterwards. And, if that wasn’t enough, she had also been diagnosed with breast cancer and endured a double mastectomy.

Along the way, she had also been diagnosed with manic-depression (which is now known as Bipolar Disorder). Unfortunately, the various psychotropic medications they used way back in the day were not nearly as effective and led to all manner of side effects for my Mom. It often seemed to me that they did more harm than good. And, although it feels less than flattering to admit … as a result of all her physical and emotional challenges, she was consuming so many pain medications and mood altering pharmaceuticals that her capacity to engage competently and soberly in the world was often compromised.  Through it all, she spent a whole lot of time in hospitals … both medical and psychiatric.

My mom was not one to complain though. I think she down-played how awful she felt in an attempt to spare me and minimize my worry. She isolated herself quite often. She spent many days/weeks/months alone in her bedroom. She said she preferred to be by herself when she was ailing. And as a result, it was really hard to determine just how poorly she was actually feeling. And so … I worried a whole lot about her. Some days were better than others, but my anxious mind rarely set her down. She did her very best to take care of me. She really did. And, all things considered, she did a pretty remarkable job. It’s just that her physical and psychological capacity was so compromised that I had to learn how to take care of me … as well as her … in many ways.

When I got married at 19 and moved out of the house, I tried to stay in regular contact with her by telephone. Unfortunately, sometimes she didn’t answer. Sleep was unpredictable and elusive for her due to chronic and debilitating pain and when she thought she could get some rest, she would turn the ringer off the phone so as not to be disturbed. If I got no answer, I would assume she was catching some much needed shut eye, leave a message and wait to hear back from her. It was an ongoing pattern that had become part of our routine.  And so, if a couple of days had gone by and I had not received a call back from her, I would just try to squelch my concerns until I had the opportunity to check-in on her in person. And, because I was an only child, there was no one else to ask for help in tending to her. It all fell on me.

The truth was that by the time I had three children of my own, I was stretched too far and too thin to be as attentive as I wish I could have been. And so … I vacillated between feeling guilty for my absence and resentful for the unrelenting worry that was ever present during those in-between times.

Source Unknown

And when I would check-in on her,  it was rare for me to find her in any really emergent situation. However, I do remember a time when I arrived to find that she had fallen and was unable to get up.  There was an odd occasion when I discovered her to be so ill that she needed hospitalization. More frequently, there were times when I came upon her in a highly sedated and/or compromised state of mind. Yes. Sometimes she took too much medication. I never knew if it was on purpose or by accident. Suffice to say, there was just never any way to be sure how she would be when I got there.

For a time she had lived in an extended care facility.  This was such a huge relief for me because I knew someone was always watching out for her. But … she absolutely HATED it there! She despised sharing a room with someone else and begged for us to let her move out.  And so, although it against my better judgment for her to be living alone, we reluctantly honored her preference. And then … it was all on me again. Gah.

source unknown

And, since it was a 60km round trip for me to look in on her in person, it occurred to me that I might be able to ask the property manager to stop in, on rare occasion, when my worries escalated and I couldn’t find a way to get there in a timely fashion myself. And so, I found myself calling him on a few occasions. Maybe three?? I can’t really remember, but I know I always apologized profusely for troubling him. I tried to explain that my request was fostered by my heartfelt concern for my Mom. The first couple of times he checked on her, she called me back apologetically. I could hear in her voice that she was embarrassed and expressed sincere regret for causing me such worry. And, although I felt guilty for inconveniencing him unnecessarily, it was such a relief to be reassured that she was okay.

I believe the last time I called him … was a couple of days after Christmas in 1989.  She had phoned our house at about 2:00am on December 25th to tell us that we need not pick her up to celebrate Christmas because she was not well enough to come out to the farm.  It wasn’t at all unusual for her to call and beg off attending functions because she felt ill. It was, however, a bit unusual for her to call in the middle of the night … but my husband had answered the phone … so I hadn’t actually spoken with her myself. I was reasoning to myself that she must have lost track of time or had taken some meds and was hoping she would finally fall asleep.  There were also occasions that she really gave it her best attempt to attend, but then by they time she got to our house she’d need to concede that she wasn’t really up for it after all … and we’d have to turn around take her back home again right away.

My mom was on my mind as I tried to stay present to the squeals of delight and joy in my daughters eyes as they tore at the wrapping on their Christmas gifts. I tried to call her once the sun was up, but got no answer.  I tried to call her a little later during the day. Still … no answer. This wasn’t entirely unusual, so I tried to call her again on Boxing Day.  No answer. And then, as my worries intensified, I dared to call the Property Manager again. I apologized profusely once more … but humbly asked if he might spare me the 60km round trip and check on her for me. I could sense his frustration … and honestly … I completely understood it. He’d been there a couple times before … for no reason. He was probably trying to enjoy the Holiday season with his own family, but … he was kind enough to agree to check on her when he had a chance.

And then … I waited. I was trying to be patient, but my Mom never called me back and neither did the Property Manager. I questioned whether he maybe hadn’t found the opportunity to check on her yet. I really didn’t want to pester him during the Holidays by calling again. I was really looking forward to a commitment I had to go out of town that day … the 27th of December. It was a rare treat for me to go anywhere without my three little girls in tow, and I had plans with a girlfriend and would be leaving my hubby at home with my daughters. We didn’t have cell phones way back then, so I was reassuring myself that my hubby would be getting the call while I was out … confirming that all was well … just like all the other times that Mom had rallied back from some really bad days.

And, while I was out, my husband finally did hear back.  Yes. The RCMP arrived at our door to inform us that she was, in fact, not fine. No. She had really and truly … died. I had braced myself for her passing on prior occasions when things seemed really dire … and … if the truth was to be fully told … I had also wished for an end to her suffering on more than one occasion. So, I am not sure why I felt so blindsided by the news … except that she had always escaped death  … until then.

I swallowed hard. I sat up in the night with tear-filled blurry eyes watching the mini-lights twinkle on the Christmas tree in the darkness … silently trying to figure out how to tell my young daughters that their Gram was gone. They were just nine, seven and almost three at the time.

And then, somewhere in the midst of it all, there was a part of me that was deeply relieved. For both me and her. There was a part of me that sighed a breath of surrender, knowing that she was no longer suffering in a bedroom all by herself … and … that I would no longer be anxiously waiting for call backs. The autopsy suggested she likely died within 24 hours after she called our house. I have always secretly wondered if she had a premonition that night that ‘this was it’. Maybe that is why is she called at 2:00am? Or … maybe she thought she’d rally back again from this bad spell too? It’s one of the many things I will never get to know …

I’ve had to battle the guilt that rears up and says I would have sensed the situation was exceptionally dire if I had spoken to her myself when she called.  There is a part of me that blames myself … maybe I might have cued into the gravity of the situation if I had heard her with my own ears?  It’s not that I am blaming my husband. No, I’m not … but it has been a challenge to manage the self-blame and regret that I didn’t get up and call her back, right then and there at 2:00am on December 25th, 1989.

Because we didn’t find out that Mom was gone until Dec 27th, there was some urgency for me to go through all her things and empty her apartment and clean it all up so that management could rent it out to the next person on the wait-list for January 1990.  It was really rough. There was no time for mourning.  No opportunity to feel into the grief. My head took over and my heart was silenced. You just do what you have to do, don’t you? Fortunately, three of our friends rallied to help us collect all her things and clear her suite. I owe a deep sense of gratitude to one of our friends for thinking to strip the bedding … to clear the space where she actually took her last breath. He spared me. It would have been excruciating to tackle that myself.  And, I am also indebted to another of our friends for offering to go through her purses for me. He spared me the horror of needing to face that unfathomable reality so soon. Yes. They spared me some of the hardest bits and my heart has always been eternally grateful to them.

We laid my Mom to rest on Saturday, December 30th. It was a very small group. Forty three people joined us at 11:00am to honor the life of my Mom. My little girls were so saddened that Gram didn’t get to open our Christmas presents for her that year so, we tucked all her gifts into the casket. I’m not sure why, but it still makes me weep when I think about it. I worried that losing their grandmother during Christmas might taint the joys of the Season in the future for my impressionable daughters … so I asked the Clergy to invite my little girls to see ever-green trees as reminders of their Gram’s ever-present love for them.

I really didn’t want the grievous loss to overshadow the celebrations of the Season for my daughters, so the day after the funeral, a group of our very closest friends offered to help us ring in the New Year.  They committed themselves to help us look towards the future rather than get lost in the recent past. I will be ever grateful to all of them for that. Unfortunately, however, the typical greeting right after Christmas is always: “Happy New Year! How was your Christmas?”  Gah. I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by speaking directly to the truth … so I quickly learned to sidestep their enthusiastic curiosity by saying something like “It wasn’t what we expected. How about you? ”  I instinctively tried to turn the conversation away from our loss. And, as a result, there seemed to be no appropriate time to sit with my pain.

Much of that time remains a blur. And, as I said, there was little time to mourn. So much had transpired in roughly a week or two, albeit with some really long days. And, ultimately, my grieving continued to be shuttered and stalled and silenced in order to spare my little daughters from worrying about their own momma’s well-being. I knew, too well, what it felt like to be saddled with worry about your mother … so I distracted myself and stuffed my feelings until I could take my grief out for a walk and spill my tears behind some sunglasses.

And then, even as the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months and people had heard about what happened … it still wasn’t discussed. I’m not even sure if I ever found the space or gave myself permission to feel all the feels that were really needed to fully honor the loss of my Mom.  I’m recognizing as I write this that I am actually just getting present to some of them now. Yes. As I pen this blog, I notice an emotional ache rising within me that I didn’t even know was there.

And perhaps that is why it never even occurred to me until I was walking with my Bestie that the Property Manager had also spared me from the biggest traumatic experience of them all. I can’t know for sure because I have never spoken to him, but I am guessing that he was the one who discovered my Mom’s lifeless body. And, I hate to admit it, but in the avoidance of all things related to her death, it had never even occurred to me that this could very likely have been a very traumatic experience for him. Gah.

As my Bestie and I logged more kilometers along our path that day, my heart swelled open to this man and the way he had spared me the additional trauma of finding my mom’s corpse. I am not sure how I would have fared in life … if … I had  been the one to discover my mom’s lifeless body. It makes me shudder at the mere thought of it.

Of course, I can’t know what the experience was like for the Property Manager.  At the very least, I expect my call changed the trajectory of his Holiday Season too. And, at the worst, I realize that I obliviously set him up for a potentially traumatic discovery. And, I am praying that he has not carried scars of his own as a result of this. And, as I was awakened to this new perspective, I felt a sense of shame-filled curiosity about how on earth this awareness could have escaped me for almost three decades!?!

As my Bestie and I talked about all of it, I began to think about all the times I had crossed his path and never spoken to him. We wondered aloud about whether or not he knows it was me who made those calls to him so long ago. If so, I find myself questioning whether he thinks it odd, too, that we have never discussed this epic event …

I owe my deepest gratitude to this man … this man who I do not know … this man that I have not spoken to for almost 30 years.  While I have been awakened to how deeply appreciative I feel for his kindness in heeding my call for help, I am also realizing I owe him an apology. I am so deeply sorry for any personal distress or emotional disturbance he may have been forced to endure as a result of honoring my request.

Yes. This awareness lands very uncomfortably in my soul.  Perhaps this is why the Universe was persistent in placing us before each other?  I cannot be sure of that … but I am very clear that I have some unfinished business with the Property Manager. At the risk of repeating myself, he was clearly a gift offered to protect me and spare me significant trauma.  I owe it to him to express my appreciation along with my regret for not doing so earlier … as well as my compassion for what he might have experienced as a result of my request.

This Christmas marks the 30th anniversary of my mom’s passing. Thirty years! I found myself thinking that the next time we cross paths, I should approach him with my new found insight and empathy.  I even found myself questioning whether it might be wiser to simply orchestrate a time to meet him so I might express both my gratitude and my regret. I knew I must not waste any more minutes, days, weeks, years or decades before honoring all of this. Honoring the man who spared me, honoring the friends who supported me … and … honoring the woman that birthed me.

And, this blog has taken me to places in my grief that I never expected to visit. I find myself wondering if I ever really knew my Mom? I wonder what the hardest parts of her life were? Was it her five miscarriages? Was it her lost connection with family due to Estate issues? Was it losing her marriage in an effort to invite my Dad to embrace sobriety? How did the deaths of four of her six siblings impact her? I wonder about where she got her resilience? I wonder what kept her fighting for a life that was so filled with suffering? And because she never complained, I question whether all of her unspoken and internalized suffering simply exacerbated her ill health?  I am left with so many questions about this remarkable soul … my loving Mom.

And so … I started this blog out of my curiosity about whether my chance meetings with the Property Manager were random.  And with each word, I have become acutely aware that were it not for the ‘chance’ meetings of that man that I do not know, I may never have taken this opportunity to honor all the things left unspoken … both with him and with my relationship with my mom.

It appears that those coincidental meetings have sparked some additional healing for me because they inspired these ramblings. Writing always help me get clear about what I am thinking and feeling, but I would never have expected that what started as an exploration about synchronicity would touch tenderly into the ache of a grief/loss that has been largely disregarded for almost thirty years. And so, it appears the Property Manager has spared me once again. As a result of these reflections, I will not be carrying my unspoken and unreconciled grief for another 30 years.

And so, with this blog, the need for me to speak to him landed more and more loudly in my awareness … even though I had no sense of how that would happen. And, coincidentally (or not?), I had no sooner come to what I thought was the completion of this blog, when I unexpectedly crossed paths with the Property Manager again at a community event!

I immediately thought … here’s my chance … the Universe is orchestrating an opportunity for me to speak to him right here and now. I was tempted to ask him if I could have a few minutes of his time after the presentation was complete. But then … it occurred to me that it might not be wise to unexpectedly blindside him with all of this at a public function. It occurred to me that standing before him with my both my apology and my appreciation might put him in an uncomfortable position … and/or … stir up some unwelcome memories. So, I opted not to say anything to him then. I decided, instead, that I would email him this blog instead. And that is exactly what I am going to do once I publish this.

It is my hope that my sentiments will be welcomed and received by the Property Manager with the benevolent energy within which they are offered. And, it is also my hope that by honoring and acknowledging all of this, I will be able to honor the 30th anniversary of my Mom’s death in just a few weeks with some additional peace and resolution in my own heart.

I would like nothing more than to think that perhaps these synchronicities and the heartfelt reflections I have offered in this blog could be a gift that was divinely inspired for both of us. Perhaps a welcome exchange for both of us. Fingers crossed …

With gratitude for the gifts in all this awareness … with gratitude for the space created to honor all that has not yet been spoken … and … with deepest gratitude for all the many ways I have been spared … Karen




Better Because of your Shining Spirit Kori!

My first introduction to the sweetness of Kori’s spirit was not even in person.  Although we had never before met … many, many years ago when I was in charge of soliciting donations for something … she voluntarily dropped off a donation for our cause. Who does that?? Unsolicited?  I suspected, in that moment, that she was a very special soul.  It would be a few years before I would actually get to meet her … and have my suspicions confirmed … in the flesh.

And she did not disappoint.  She joined a book study that I was leading at the time.  The sparkle from her brilliant internal flame lit up the room.  Her eyes twinkled with kindness. Her smile welcomed your heart.  Her quick wit brought on the belly laughs … when you least expected them. Yes. The vibrancy of Kori’s spirit is very visible.

We were studying a book by Byron Katie called … “Loving What Is”.  I find myself wondering how hard it must be to stand in that  frame of reference for her now … with all that has transpired in her world.  At that time, we could never have expected the turn of events that Kori would be invited to endure.

It turned out that we got to work together a few years later … and … we did so for quite a number of years.  We were not in the same department, but we were employed by the same agency.  As a result, sometimes we meet for lunch to ensure we get to connect with each other every now and again. She’s the kind of person you want in your circle. Yes. She just shines.  And … she invites every one in her presence to shine too.

Oh … and were it not for Kori … I would never have visited “Carl” at “The Divine Mine.”  Carl is a medium who reads your cards and I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting with him on a couple of occasions. It’s always interesting to have someone tell you things that other people aren’t supposed to know about your personal lives.  Yes … my daughters and I, along with my Bestie and I have enjoyed some time with Carl because of Kori! I now find myself questioning whether Carl had any inkling of what was in the cards for Kori …………

I’m not sure anyone could have anticipated what was about to unfold on that seemingly regular Tuesday. We were all together attending a computer training … and another of our remarkable colleagues, Jackie, had generously offered to have us over to her home so we could sit in the sunshine and enjoy our bagged lunches outdoors in her yard.  Some of us never arrived.

Five or six of us were walking just out of the building when it happened. Our beautiful Kori was walking between Kimmy and I when she fell. Toppled right over beside us. Usually when someone falls … they are flailing about … trying to catch themselves … grasping for anything to hold them up.  But none of that happened.  Kori didn’t even put her hands out to break her fall. She stiffly hit her chest on the ground and skidded forward … landing on her forehead when she came to rest … arms straight down by her sides.

She roused quite quickly … in response to our clamoring around her …

“Are you okay??” …. “Kori, Kori … oh my gosh Kori … are you okay??”

She said she wasn’t sure.  She was disoriented. She said she felt sick to her stomach. She had some trouble getting the words out though. And for a moment, the left side of her face drooped just a little bit.  I called 911.  By the time the EMTs arrived, she was arriving back to her bubbly self.  When they asked what happened … she cheekily joked – with her ever ready quick wit:

“Well, she tripped me … and … she pushed me  … and … then I fell.” And after an impeccably well-timed pause … she jovially continued:  “No … not really. I just tripped.”

And well … not a single one of us who witnessed her fall were convinced that she “just tripped”. We shared some of our concerns with the handsome EMTs who took her to the ambulance for assessment. We told them that the way she fell seemed very odd.

And while they were assessing her,  we laymen collectively concurred that something wasn’t quite right.  But that is not what the professionals determined.  The EMTs speculated that she probably sustained a concussion in the fall. We tried to convince her to go to the hospital.  She pleasantly declined … assuring us that she was “just fine”. Given that they could find no obvious need for immediate treatment, the medics invited her to seek additional medical support if her symptoms got any worse over the rest of the day.

And our beautiful Kori was determined to put it all behind her and get back to work.  With one eye on our computers and the other on Kori, those of us who witnessed her fall watched over her when we got back into the training.  Not a single one of us was comfortable … and when she indicated that she still felt nauseated … one of us got up and  followed her out of the room. And, it took a while, but eventually someone convinced her to let us call her husband to come pick her up.

And even though I knew she was in the loving care of her husband …… I found myself fretting that she was likely to minimize it all and tell him that she had simply tripped.   And so, although I worried that I might be overstepping, I decided to call and talk to him about my concerns. When he didn’t pick up, I ended up leaving a message on his voicemail, suggesting that they might want to go get her double checked at the ER.

After he got my voicemail, Kori and I exchanged a few text messages and had a chat.  I pressed my point that she should be re-examined. She indicated that she had an appointment with the doctor the next day, so she was comfortable to wait until then. She was so patient with me. I was not so sure they should wait … but after assuring me that she was comfortable at home and “eating popcorn” … I surrendered my attempts to control their evening and reassured myself that things would be checked out the next day.

I will never know if it was by luck or by divine design … but my schedule magically cleared the next morning. I was so encouraged that I would be able to attend Kori’s doctor’s appointment with her …. so I could tell the doctor myself how odd it had looked to those of us who saw her fall. I also mentioned that the side of her face drooped for a bit. I shared that her speech seemed somewhat labored and that she slurred a bit right after she roused. I told him she was instantly nauseated. I was grateful for the opportunity to make the case that something was not just NOT right.

Despite my best efforts, the doctor seemed nonplussed and determined that she likely had a concussion. And, he ordered an x-ray of her wrist … instead of her head.  I was absolutely dumbfounded. I even felt a bit angry. And powerless. And perplexed. And scared.  She was off to x-ray and I had to get back to work, but I made her promise me that she would ask him about getting a scan of her head. I’m not sure how their conversation unfolded, but the scan never happened until another  doctor … doing another completely unrelated procedure ordered it … a whole week later!!

And that is when the real issue was discovered.  I still haven’t done it, but I have asked Kori’s permission to hug the wise and intuitive physician who ordered the scan … and … kick the other doctor squarely in the shins. It’s really hard not to be indignant about his diagnosis of ‘concussion’. He missed it. We gave him all the red flags and he totally disregarded our observations. He never even looked at her brain. He was more worried about her wrist. Gah. I will not apologize for questioning the quality of his care or discernment in this moment.

And so … a week later … Kori was completely blindsided by the most ominous diagnosis! She did not have a concussion. No. Kori had a brain tumor.  A brain tumor. How does one even wrap their head around THAT news??

We learned later that they believe she had a seizure … which is why she fell. Okay. That is why it looked so odd.  And … they determined to treat the tumor for a couple of weeks in order to shrink it before they attempted to surgically remove it.

During that time, Kori was such an inspiration.  She approached it all with such grace and optimism and, of course, her exceptional sense of humor.  She posted the following on her Facebook page.

And … then she posted this one:

And this one:

And we all bombarded her with love and support and prayers!  Her surgery was scheduled for July 6, 2018.  And, she posted this on social media in the wee hours on the morning of her surgery.

Yes.  THAT is the vibrant energy of this exceptional soul!  Even a diagnosis as grim as a brain tumor could not dim the glow of her blazing internal light. And we all crossed our fingers and populated the ethers with more love and prayers.

And … the good news was that the tumor was removed!  And more good news … the tumor was not cancerous.

The not so good news is that Kori experienced a stroke resulting from the surgery.  And, so although she has bid good riddance to the tumor … we have been holding space for her healing from the lingering effects of the stroke.  And, oh my, the love and prayers persisted  … wrapped in an infinite plenitude of care and concern and compassion.

Kori … with one of her beautiful daughters

And the recovery has been long.  She fell on June 12, 2018. Her first surgery was on July 6, 2018.  Her second surgery was immediately thereafter. Her third surgery was just over a year ago in early September 2018. She was finally allowed to return home on November 16, 2018.  And, on November 30th … a number of her colleagues met to have dinner together and catch up with one another. It was so wonderful to spend some time with her again … and yet … as I said in my text to her the next morning:

 I sensed there was so much more we could have discussed. I felt both the brightness of your soul and the weariness in your spirit. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it is on some days … to find your smile as you work to regain your losses.

And, it occurred to me that because she has always been such a bright light, it might be hard for her to find safe spaces where she could set down her cheery demeanor and simply rest and hold space for the grief that must also be part of the journey. I knew Kori had what it would take to thrive despite of all of this, but I guessed there had to be days when she just felt tired and discouraged. I’m sure there were … but she doggedly persisted in the pursuit of her healing.

And … all her tenacity was rewarded when she got the very best gift for her birthday on May 6th, 2019!  As she said in a Facebook post:

“What a nice way to spend my Birthday….. I got to go back to work today! 3 brain surgeries, one hemorrhagic stroke later, and I’m back to work! What a great way to spend my Birthday. Wonderful gift!”

And, the agency is so fortunate to have Kori back at work!  She is so incredibly gifted and brings so much to her career!  I have always marvelled at the way she handles an audience.  She is a fabulous public speaker … brilliantly weaving her beautiful heart together with her fabulous humor. Kori is exceptional. She works with senior citizens … and … her compassionate care and concern for them is obvious.  It has been beautiful to witness their love and support of her on social media!

And the love continues to pour in her direction. And … I am in awe of her strength and resilience as she finds her way through this dire turn of events. And, she is a shining example of how one can decide to live a great life anyway … regardless of what you find on your path. And, I think it is fair to say she has inspired so many of us to rethink the way we are living our lives, because one can never know what will come one’s way … on a seemingly regular Tuesday.

And, she has done just that!!  Thank you Kori … for showing us … for teaching us … that people can get through the most daunting adversity with the right attitude and the will to overcome the roadblocks tossed on their paths.  And, as a counsellor, I am aware that we do not always publicly see the struggles and challenges that are also part of any great overcoming … but … your grit, grace and glow remain an absolute inspiration.

And Kori, I know you have always lived your life from a perspective of gratitude … so much so that you even have the word “Blessed” tattooed onto your foot. 

And, while most of us would be hard-pressed to find the blessings in all you have been through … you continue to do so. Regardless of how dark it may seem … you are always looking for the light!

Yes, it is clear that all the love and support extended your way is cherished and treasured in your heart.  No. The gifts and blessings in your life are never lost on you!  But … I also want to ensure that you know that our lives are so much better because of you … and … with you in them!

I am so grateful our lives intersected beautiful one! I sincerely thank you for casting such a brilliant glow into my world … both pre and post stroke! Yes. I just wanted you to know that although we no longer work together … I am grateful that we still connect every now and again for lunches … and … have hopes that we will have continued opportunities to connect at our monthly “Von Schnitzel” collegial suppers! ❤

 I know that your journey continues.  And, I also know that you will find a way to ensure that any blessings that might be hidden in the hardships you have endured will be honored and appreciated. You are one of those amazing souls that turns lemons into lemonade … and then … generously offers to quench everyone’s thirst! And may this blog serve to remind you that we are all still cheering you on … ever grateful for all the ways that our lives are better because you are in them. Yes … we are all so much better because of you.

And so, in closing … I just have to share this.  When I saw the following quotation, I laughed.  It sounded just like something you might say … using your exceptional sense of humor to describe all you have been through since that fateful Tuesday …

With heartfelt gratitude for your shining presence … ❤ Karen ❤




The World is a Better Place Because of You … Fatemeh!

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated!

I was inspired to become a social worker given my passionate commitment to help people ‘live a great life anyway’ … despite all the people, circumstances and situations that often compromise our best efforts to do so.  As such, I attempt do so in a variety of ways. I am a counsellor working with people in my private practice to help people find ways to savor the moments in their lives rather than merely enduring them.  I am also an EMDR therapist (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)  and an ART therapist (Accelerated Resolution Therapy)  invested in helping people process and heal from the traumatic events that often prevent them from living their best lives.  And, in my role as a Certified Integrative Coaching Professional with The Ford Institute, I have been trained to help people transform any areas in their lives where they are feeling ‘stuck’ in some way, shape or form.

I have been a life coach for about 17 years now.  One of the blessings of coaching is that it is done over the telephone, and so over the years, I have had the good fortune of working with oodles of wonderful individuals from all different parts of the globe! Notwithstanding that, I could never have known the gift that I was about to unwrap when I received this coaching inquiry almost four years ago  from the Coaches Listing Page on The Ford Institute website. .

March-22-15 11:53 AM
Subject: Coach Page Inquiry
hi my name is fatemeh from iran. spring is start of our new year. i am studing the book “the best year of my life” in persian. can u send to me some schaduale?

I was delighted to discover that a woman from Iran was reaching out to me for coaching!  Unfortunately, I did not have any space available at the time.  And so, I responded by saying:

Hi Fatemeh …

How nice to find your coaching inquiry in my email expressing an interest in being coached! I trust you are enjoying “The Best year of Your Life”. It is such a powerful piece of the work offered by Debbie Ford and the coaching experience is one way of truly bringing the concepts into your life in powerful and transformative ways!

Unfortunately, at the present time, I do not have any space for new coaching clients. I expect that it will be about 4 months before I am able to take on another client. I realize that this is a long time to wait. You may prefer to seek out another coach … or … if you like, I can keep your email and contact you when I have some space available.

Please let me know what would suit you best. Either way, I wish you all the very best as you move into the best year of your life!

With warmest regards,

Generally speaking, when people decide they are ready to hire a coach, they do not want to wait.  So, I was entirely surprised when I received her response:

hi karen

thank you for u answer and your kindness. I will wait. I have started my new year and I will send to u my progress. spring is really a good time to start …. 
with love and respect
fatemeh noroozi

It turned out to be even longer than four months before Fatemeh and I reconnected in December of 2015.  In my coaching practice, I annually offer to provide my coaching services ‘pro-bono’ for one client and because we were just turning the corner into a new year, I was able to offer the pro-bono space for 2016 to Fatemah! I was eager to work with her and meet her via Skype because there was something about the energy of this magnificent being that touched me so deeply. And so, the most remarkable journey began … on January 15th, 2016.

And, what began as a coach/client relationship has grown into the meeting of two hearts … who are clearly very old friends (as Hafiz would suggest!). I  am not sure either one of us had any idea we would feel so connected and that, three years later, we would still be meeting, on occasion, to reconnect and catch up with one another.  And, I am holding hope that one of these days we will get to meet each other in person!

Fatemeh … or … Fatima (as I have affectionately come to refer to her)  has done some of the most remarkable work.  Not only internally  (through her personal growth) … but … also externally (in her professional capacity as an educator).  Fatima defines herself as a “teacher/explorer” and when we started our coaching relationship, she was about to make her first venture abroad by traveling solo to Europe. Our coaching agreement was centered around helping her overcome some of the fears she was experiencing in anticipation of her upcoming travels.

I learned very quickly that Fatima is whole-heartedly committed to making the world a better place. It didn’t take very long before I was sensing the genuine goodness of her being … her heart … her loving spirit. And, I knew that she was making a significant difference for all those touched by her kind and altruistic nature.

I have been so inspired by all that she is and all that she is doing, that I recently asked her if she would be willing to share her remarkable story with me, so that I could share it with all of you here on this “Better Because of You” blog. She expressed some reticence because she was self-conscious about her command of the English language.  She requested that I edit her story to ensure that it reflected proper English.  I responded by saying that I was reluctant to do so because I could feel so much of her joyous soul and benevolent spirit and compassionate heart in the way she strung her words together that I didn’t want to risk losing that energetic resonance in exchange for optimizing her spelling, grammar and/or vocabulary.  And so, I didn’t. And, I trust that you will understand what I mean!

Fatemeh / Fatima

It is my absolute honor to share Fatemeh’s story with you here. And, although I feel a bit self conscious about publishing it because, within it, she has so very graciously elevated my presence in her world … I would most humbly suggest that we are seeing her own bright light projected in my direction. While her generous description of me warms my heart with fond appreciation, I trust you will hear the brightness of her spirit as you are touched by how her own sparkling soul is rendered visible in this impassioned story of a woman with a love filled desire to make a difference in the world. Here is Fatemeh’s story, in her own words:




And … my relationship with this exceptional soul is a genuine example of the humanity that loudly exists despite our differences in culture or geography or religious beliefs.  Fatemah and I are in a relationship that sees well beyond the obvious … we know each other at the heart level.  And our relationship is an example of what can happen whenever any one of us seeks to suspend our beliefs and our biases … when we decide to look beyond the superficial stereotypes and into the treasures of each human spirit.

And, to see the world through the eyes of this amazing soul … to feel her efforts to unify our global population is beyond extraordinary!  And then … out of the blue … I received this parcel in the mail from her just this past December, 2018.

There were so many beautiful offerings reflecting her country and expressions of the cultural spirit of Iran. I truly appreciated her efforts to bridge the geographical gap between us because we live in a world where misperceptions of other cultures are publicly perpetuated and ‘others’ are misunderstood and marginalized with criticism and judgement. I am excited to share the contents because they reflect the heart and soul of our shared humanity.

One of the things Fatima sent to me was a parchment with my name written on it …  in Persian. It serves as a reminder to me that regardless of the culture we inhabit or the language that use we use to name things … the essence of someone/something cannot be fully captured  in the finite flow of ink, but rather … to be fully known … must be experienced at an energetic level.

Fatima also sent a most beautiful weaving called a “Termah”.  My dining room table is now adorned with the beautiful tapestry. It serves to remind me of the threads of love that have been woven into the tapestry of all of our lives. For me, it reflects the exquisite beauty that can be created when we are wise enough to honor and blend differing colors and textures together.  It is exceptional in it’s refinement and spectacular detail. Wikipedia states:

“Termeh (Persian: ترمه‎) as a type of Iranian handwoven cloth, produced primarily in the Yazd province. Weaving termeh requires a good wool with long fibers. Termeh is woven by an expert with the assistance of a worker called a Goushvareh-kesh. Weaving termeh is a sensitive, careful, and time-consuming process; a good weaver can produce only 25 to 30 centimetres (10 to 12 in) in a day. The background colors used in termeh are jujube red, light red, green, orange and black. Termeh has been admired throughout history … “

Fatima also included a little box filled with small gold figurines called “farvehar.” As she shared, they are intended to be symbol of “good thoughts, good words, good deeds” and are intrinsically related to the history of Iran from 1500 years ago.

As per Wikipedia, “The Faravahar (Persian: فروهر‬‎)… is one of the best-known symbols of Iran” and “is the most worn pendant among Iranians and has become a secular national symbol, rather than a religious symbol. It symbolizes good thoughts (پندار نیک‬ pendār-e nik), good words (گفتار نیک‬ goftār-e nik) and good deeds (کردار نیک‬ kerdār-e nik).”

Also included in this package was a glorious painted plate which is called “Minakari”. It is absolutely exquisite in its beauty! I love the richness of the colors and the intricacy of the pattern is gorgeous. I found the perfect place in my new office to hang it so that all my clients can also enjoy it’s beauty … and should they inquire about it’s origin … learn about the abiding connection between Fatima and I.

“Minakari or Enamelling is the art of painting, colouring and ornamenting the surface of metals by fusing over it brilliant colours that are decorated in an intricate design. Mina is the feminine form of Minoo in Persian, meaning heaven. Mina refers to the Azure colour of heaven.” (

Fatima also sent me a beautiful scarf. It is so soft and, as I shared with her, “whenever I wear the scarf, it will be as though I am wrapped in a hug from you”.

There were also a number of other things that she thoughtfully included in her gifts to me. As I shared with her …

“The rosary beads. They feel so beautiful to the fingers. I shall count amongst my blessings … the heartfelt union of our souls. And, I shall display it in my new office, as a fond reminder of the deep connections we have with each other and the spirit of the divine that bridges any geographical distance between our souls.

And … the rose blossoms! They are so delicate and fragile and remind me that we must pay attention to the little blessings and blossoms of tender love and natural beauty that surround us. And, I shall sprinkle them on my shelf in my office as well.

And, the tiny figurine of mother and child … is such a beautiful depiction of how each and every one of us needs to feel the warm embrace of someone who cares deeply about us. “

Although there were a number of other things, I offer up this smattering of the gifts she sent so you might get a sense of her culture and herself. She has gifted me with so much and not just in the package that arrived via Canada Post.  As I shared in an email to Fatima:

“I can so very much feel your loving presence in these gifts Fatima. And, I don’t know how to thank you enough for the blessings of your loving spirit that speaks to me in such meaningful ways. Your thoughtfulness is so very deeply appreciated. My life is so much better because of your presence in it!

And so … as I sit surrounded by the gifts of your spirit … I am basking in the joy of connection and love and all the divine energy that moves between us. You are treasured. Thank you again. I am so honored to have you in my life.”

And, as much as our relationship is unique and special … it is but an example of what can happen all over the world … if/when we accept an opportunity to connect at the heart level with each other.  As you can see … Fatemeh/Fatima is a very exceptional soul. And … her message of love and unity is deeply needed as we collectively attempt to bridge the gap that often exists between our souls based on cultural or religious differences.  If we dare to look beneath these perceived differences, we will find as Hafiz as contended … that all our hearts are, indeed, very old friends.

And … that said … I am honored to use this “Better Because of You” blog space to introduce you all to this exceptional woman.  Please join me in celebrating this wonderful soul and all the loving energy that she brings to our world! And, please, may we heed her wise words:

“Love is a global language and its alphabet comes from all diversities and cultures and acting beyond ourselves.”

Fatima … I remain blessed to have come to know you and remain humbled by your loving presence.  You do, in fact, make the whole world a better place!

With deepest reverence for your heartfelt being, ❤ Karen ❤




Better Because … at 60 … I FELT it!!

February 5th, 2018 made it official. 60! Yes. Six decades. 6-0.   I wanted this milestone to be something that really tickled my heart and kindled my spirit … and … I am delighted to report that this birthday exceeded all my expectations and fondest hopes!!  And, in all honesty, I’ve been struggling to make sense of exactly what has made it so meaningful. It’s taken me a while to put a finger on it.  One thing for sure is that it ‘felt’ so very different to me. It actually ‘filled’ every inch of my soul in so many touching and unexpected ways. And, it was exactly what I needed to make it the ‘best birthday ever’.

I’d like to say it wasn’t about the gifts … but actually … it some ways it was. But please, before you judge me as entirely shallow and materialistic … let me explain!  🙂

One of the gifts I received was a delicate little silver bangle with the word beautiful carved into it.

It was packaged up in a handmade wrapping created by an exceptionally artistic and talented friend of mine.  Thank you Cyndy!  And another friend and colleague had jotted some words on the bag that helped me identify the root of my nourishment. Thank you for that Tanie!

It was those words “You are loved”  that caught me up short.  They stirred something deeply introspective in my soul.  You see, I have always KNOWN that I am loved (at the head level) … but the truth of the matter is this: I have not always FELT it (at the heart level).

And knowing  something and feeling  it are two entirely different things. Neuroscience is teaching us that the things we ‘know’ are stored in a different part of the brain than the things that we ‘feel’. Stephen Porges (one of the most revered neurobiologists of our time) offers an important distinction with his Polyvagal Theory.  He states that ‘perception’ is when we make meaning of the world cognitively through the pre-frontal cortex of our brain. He has coined the term “neuroception” for the way our body employs our vagus nerve system to sense  and interpret the world around us … through what we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. It’s a fascinating conversation … one that explains a lot of the complexities and contradictions we encounter as we attempt to interpret the world  … both around us and within us.

For example, we can ‘know’ airplanes are safe modes of transportation, but we still can ‘feel’ scared to board one, no matter how hard we try to reassure ourselves.  We can ‘know’ we have had enough to eat, but for some reason, we don’t ‘feel’ full.  We can ‘know’ our boss appreciates our efforts, but at some point beyond the words we are hearing … we still don’t ‘feel’ like we are valued.  We can ‘know’ our family loves us, but sometimes it is hard to ‘feel’ like that is true when we are alone, again, in the kitchen cleaning up … or … nagging, again, about undone homework, and/or struggling, again, to get through the bedtime routine.  We can ‘know’ that we are kind, but we actually ‘feel’ it in our ‘beingness’ on a neurological level when pay it forward by actually performing an act of kindness.  Experiencing something reaches us in a whole different way.

Yes, to cognitively comprehend something is very different than having an experiential felt sense of something.  To be fair and honest …  I can easily list a number of things that I not only ‘know’ but … I have also enjoyed a ‘felt sense’ of over my six decades:

  • Respected.  Yes. I can say that I have a felt sense of being respected. I typically give 150% to everything I do and, more often than not, I do feel my efforts are recognized.
  • Needed.  Yes. I am always ready to lend a hand (or a heart) and I feel like people feel safe to reach out to me.
  • Envied. Yes. Even envied. The smile on my face often belies the challenges people don’t always see circling in my orbit.
  • Appreciated.  Yes. Most especially by my clients in my work.

But … loved?  Hmmm. Not so much.  And, not necessarily because people have not offered me their love. I do know  that they have.  But, mostly because I cannot always feel  it.  When I think about what it means for me to wholeheartedly feel  that I am loved, I am guessing I would need to feel:

heard …. cherished , nurtured, treasured … included … precious and protected … connected … safe … and, perhaps most importantly … understood. 

All I know for sure, for the most part, is that I have often felt more expendable than loved I’m not saying that my perceptions/interoceptions/neuroceptions are true … I’m just saying it’s been my default way of ‘feeling’.  We all have stories we tell ourselves.  And, our stories and perceptions of the world around us are shaped by our prior lived experiences. As Ellen so aptly shared in this little clip … the power of suggestion is, indeed, powerful!

Did you see a gold and white dress … or a blue and white one?  Did hear Yanny or Laurel? Neuroscience confirms that our brains actually ‘predict’ our experiences and, therefore, our inner world actually informs our perceptions of our outer world. That is, we tend to see what we EXPECT to see.  And this reality informs and actually shapes our experiences in our relationships in a very profound way.

If you are inspired to learn more and/or want a more detailed and fascinating explanation of this uncanny phenomenon … you might want to check out this TED Talk by neuroscientist Anil Seth. 

And, so as Anil Seth points out in this presentation …  our interpretations of our outer world are depend entirely upon what our brain is primed to hear. 

“The remarkable thing is the sensory information coming into the brain hasn’t changed at all. All that’s changed is your brain’s best guess of the causes of that sensory information. And that changes what you consciously hear. All this puts the brain basis of perception in a bit of a different light. Instead of perception depending largely on signals coming into the brain from the outside world, it depends as much, if not more, on perceptual predictions flowing in the opposite direction. We don’t just passively perceive the world, we actively generate it. The world we experience comes as much, if not more, from the inside out as from the outside in.”

And so … all of this begs the question for me as to whether my brain was adequately primed to ‘hear’ the love that is, in fact, infused into my relationships.   Attachment theorists contend and neuroscientists confirm that the template etched into our grey matter for what we expect to see in our ‘loving relationships’ is informed by our earliest neuro-biological relationships. And so, those of us that did not get the most favorable wiring in our early years about how ‘loved’ or ‘significant’ or ‘smart’ or ‘capable’ we are … may subconsciously be primed to ‘expect’ to interpret our present day moments in the same way!  It is not what is coming at us … it is what we are primed to ‘sense’ that defines our experiences.  As the Yanny and Laurel experiment obviates … we can experience different things with exactly the same stimulus!

I didn’t get the very best start from my family of origin. My roots are planted in considerable dysfunction.  My earlier life experience left me feeling like I was not the priority … which has led me to a life long interpretation/perception/story which ‘predicts’ that “I do not matter.”  I speak more about this in another blog called ” A Tragic Misunderstanding.”

I did feel very treasured by my mom … but because of her illnesses and disabilities, she was simply not able to offer as much nurturing as I needed to feel  nourished and protected. Sometimes our roles got reversed. I was looking after her, instead of her looking after me.  She died when I was only 31… so I have been without her almost as long as I had her.  My dad was an alcoholic. He was never much for sharing his emotions (unless he was angry!), and he and my mom divorced when I was twelve. Perhaps my fears of abandonment and neglect are rooted in those early experiences.

Not withstanding that … my mom’s oldest sister, my Aunt Mil always, always, always made me feel cherished and nurtured and precious. But, for the most formative years of my life she lived six hours away.  I didn’t get to see her much, but … I never felt more safe and loved than when I was in her presence. She passed in 1990 … and … I think I grieved the most when I lost her.

And, unarguably, my life is splattered with many love filled relationships …  my children and husband …. and …. many, many of my most precious friends. In fact, this “Better Because of You” blog also contains my heartfelt tributes in honor of the love I feel for many of those special souls … including Marie and Jody and Jackie and Kimmy and Kim and Joan and Sari and Robin and Deb and Lisa and Debora and Penny and Maria Beautiful and Teresa  and Trudy and our friends Dwayne and Cheryl and Bill and Linda and Hutch and, of course, my daughters and my step-mom and my in-laws and so many more that I have yet to formally acknowledge.

And sadly, despite all of these deep and abiding relationships with these extra-ordinary people … the internally wired ‘story’ that can get triggered and flare up far too often is that “I don’t matter”.  Gah.  Yanny or Laurel?? The external stimulus can be exactly the same but, because of our internal wiring, we can hear different things.

I’m not sure why, but as I was typing this, I was reminded of watching Romper Room as a young child. Any of you remember that show? At the end of the program, the hostess would look through a “magic mirror” and name all the children she could “see” in “television land”.

Source Unknown

“I see Margaret and Diane and Hannah and Susan and Janice and Georgie ……………”

I always waited … literally aching to hear her call my name. I never, ever heard her say it. Gah. Why on earth would that come to my mind right now??  Perhaps more proof of the power of that early brain wiring that, by default, can invite me to question my significance?

Anyway, I would go so far as to say that I have invested much of my life trying to earn people’s love … through approval and recognition.  And so … sadly … if/when I have ‘felt’ loved, I have often reduced it to a result of my own efforts.  I’m more likely to think you love me because of what I am doing to improve your life, rather than simply because of my being.  In fact, I would venture to say that I have been telling myself a story … just for most of my life … that people will not stay connected to me if I am not pleasant and helpful and supportive. Yes. It makes me uncomfortable to admit to this out loud, but it is true. In the shadows of my subconscious, I’m not truly convinced that people would bother to keep me in their world if I didn’t work hard to make myself valuable to them. And, I can painfully round up proof of many who failed to make the effort … once I quit investing in them more then they were investing in me.  But … that’s a story for a different time.  Let’s get back to my birthday …

And so … when I saw those words ‘you are loved’ on that bag … all of this understanding flooded into my awareness.  And, in the context of all the wonderful moments packed into my 60th birthday celebration … I had a deeply ‘felt sense’ of being loved.  Yes. I wholeheartedly FELT it … on  so many levels. People had done so much … entirely unsolicited by me … to make sure my 60th was nothing short of amazing. And, my heart was exploding with gratitude and appreciation for how ‘loved’ I actually felt  in the midst of all of it.

And so … I wanted to blog about it here … for two reasons.  First and foremost, so that I can try to adequately express my appreciation to each and every individual for their kind and loving contributions. You cannot even begin to know how each thought, word and deed that you offered has been etched into the felt sense of my heart space. And secondly, I wanted to chronical the whole occasion so that I can revisit the magic of the moments – not if but when – I need to challenge and dispute my ‘story’ of not feeling loved. Yes. I needed to document each and every delight so that none of them get forgotten over time.

And so, for those of you who are still inclined to read on, here is my best recollection of how it all unfolded. The “60”celebration started with an overnight trip to the big city with JUST my daughters. It is very rare for me to have them all to myself anymore!  And so, my heart smiled with unspeakable gratitude as I sipped my coffee in the mornings and listened to them chatting and giggling and sister-ing with each other in our nice hotel suite while they were getting ready for the day.  And, the first night, we unexpectedly landed in a fancy schmancy bistro and enjoyed a 5 star dinner (with complimentary appetizers from the chef that he was entering into a competition) before our heavenly 90 minute massages and hot-tubbing at the Stillwater Spa!

And, the next evening, after a full day of shopping (@9 hours worth)  with a couple of stops for food and drink – (we lucked out at lunch and found ourselves enjoying $5 wine and mimosas) we decided to try the new Maybelline Super Stay Matte Ink Lip Color that my youngest daughter had discovered.  With Brittany and I rocking the red … and … Sherisse and Tiana sporting the dark maroon, we looked more like we should be heading out on the town (maybe in 5″ stilettos and black leather mini-skirts)!  But instead, we cozied up in our jammies, pulled out the hide-a-way bed in the living room of our hotel suite and snuggled in side-by-each as we spilled some tears watching the touching movie “Wonder”.

The next morning we got semi-dressed (scrubbed off the lipstick so as not to draw too much more attention to our questionable restaurant attire) … and … entirely unpretentiously headed downstairs to enjoy our complimentary breakfast. Our footwear was nothing short of fabulous. 🙂

We followed that up by using the “Downward Dog” Yoga App on our bath towels.

And, over the weekend  … no one was focused upon their phones.  It ‘felt’ entirely sublime to me to have all my little cherubs under one roof with me … and … lots of time for nurturing our innermost desires. Did I mention all the fitting room fun and fashion shows we also enjoyed?  I will never forget how much love I could feel in the space during those moments.

And then … a few weeks later … I was completely bamboozled.  Yep. Entirely horn-swaggled … in the most meaningful and marvelous way!!  I thought we were heading to the restaurant to celebrate my son-in-laws birthday … because it really was HIS birthday.  But … I was in for the SURPRISE of my life!  They got me … good.  And the presence of the people were the very best presents of all!  In addition to every single member of my immediate family, my sister-in-law flew in from Vancouver. Our dearest friends from prenatal class (37 years prior!)  were there. My Bestie and her hubby and my forever friends and my soul sister were too. Some of my treasured colleagues were also able to join us. My husband, daughters and sons-in-law had planned the perfect party!  And although my grandchildren knew … they kept it all a secret!!  I was surrounded by people who take up the most space in my heart … and … I truly ‘felt’ the love in that space.

And the French wine flowed … and … the food was fabulous. In fact, my meal stands out as one of the top five in my 60 years! And they had two homemade cakes (made from Lucy’s special recipe – iced with the 7 minute frosting I always put on my daughter’s cakes when they were little.)  It was extra special because the cakes were in the shapes of a flower and a butterfly!  They resurrected the exact cake patterns I had always used for them. I could feel so much love in all the little details!

And then they dragged me into the ladies washroom … to present me with a a leather bound book of treasured ‘sharing’ from so many loving hearts … personal stories and acknowledgments and memories that brought me to tears.

And there may or may not have been some ‘helium high chatter’ before we headed home … as we were collecting all the balloons. I can neither deny nor confirm the collapse of any high flying balloons and/or and other such shenanigans transpired. All I can say is that … I felt it … all night long. The love … not the helium. ❤

And, even though it was quite late when we landed at home, I stayed up until 1:30am … filling my spirit with all the love tucked into that treasure book. Fortunately, my eldest grand-daughter had tucked a tissue into the envelope that held her meaningful message for me.  ❤

And, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better … the next morning … when I decided to clean up all the bags we had just dropped into the entry way when we arrived home, I discovered there were more ‘gifts’ to unwrap. And more tears flowed.  And I felt  my way through it all … savoring each and every moment.

When I naively inquired about why my book would have been in with the gifts  … and with a ribbon wrapped around it … my hubby said my Bestie borrowed it. Oh. Okay.  How sweet of her to decorate it before she returned it. I was placing it back on the bookshelf … when my hubby suggested “there might be something in it”.

Huh??  And yes … there certainly was!  There was all kinds of LOVE in it!  I know it … because, once again, I could actually feel  it.  And, to think, I almost missed this precious offering from my kindred spirits (aka: the gorgeous gals in my ‘book club’). These precious souls had snuck off with MY copy of the book that originally inspired our gatherings and had highlighted their favorite passages and written messages on the cover and inside the margins and then wrapped it with a ribbon and tucked it in with my other gifts.

It is such a treasure … because one of my favorite things to do is have juicy, meaty, honest and authentic conversations.  And … that is what we do. And, now, I have their  thoughts and reflections highlighted both in my book and my heart.

And, as I continued to tidy up, I noticed a beautiful scroll tied up with some jute and a red metal heart!  Within, were some heartfelt words from Jody, a prior practicum student of mine.  This earth Angel has become a very dear and cherished friend … my soul sister.  Her words were deeply moving … and … so are my morning emails from her. Our Gmail correspondence has become a beautiful addition and treasured tradition in our friendship.

And then … I noticed THIS very, very simple but oh so sheik and exceptionally elegant  box tucked into one of the bags.  And it confirmed, for certain, that the old adage is true:

“Less is More”

My fabulous forever friends … Robin and Deb … and myself have been celebrating our friendship and our ‘DRK’ birthdays together for many, many, many years.  Although our lives and times have generated some geographic space over the years, we have always enjoyed some special traditions and joyful reminders of our abiding connections. And, this year was no exception.  These beautiful souls arranged a number of photographs into a soft, black, handmade Italian leather bound journal  … with inspiring quotes (because they know I love quotes) AND a story book length Roses are Red poem AND Deb added a whole NEW picture of the three of us.  I’ll let you try to guess who is who! 🙂

And, just so you can appreciate the fullest extent of their brilliance … may I offer you just a wee little snippet of my 60th “Roses are Red”  story/poem … in all its glorious grace:

And … that is just one of the pages!  Yes. I ‘felt’ their love in such a big way.   Just look at those gloriously gifted poets!! I am so grateful to call them my fabulous forever friends!

And then … there was MORE!  I got to enjoy a trip away for the weekend with my Bestie!  We had so much fun the last time we did it … so we thought we’d do it again!  When I had gone to Calgary with my daughters, we had tried to get a reservation at “Ten Foot Henry” only to discover that they are usually booked up two to three weeks in advance.  And so … Marie and I booked ahead and enjoyed a sublime dinner … in which vegetables are the star!  We could certainly see why they are booked up in advance!  If you ever get the chance, I would highly recommend it.

And … although it was in the midst of a freak snow storm, we enlisted the services of several Uber drivers to take us around and about to all the places we wanted to go.  We even snuck in an Angel Card reading with Michelle at the Crossroads Market!  And, in retrospect, it is entirely uncanny how ‘spot on’ her reading was for both of us.

And then … to top it all off … we arrived home to a beautiful prime rib dinner which had been prepared by our husbands.  We enjoyed a lovely soup, prime rib, fancy scalloped potatoes, asparagus AND a homemade chocolate cake … made and iced by my husband!!

And, as you can see, we were also playing cards!  It’s become a tradition for us to play ‘Hearts’ together.  I am posting the results of our two rounds of hearts … not to gloat … but because my winning score was 60 in the first game!!  Did you notice how badly I beat them the second game … 33? Okay, maybe now I’m gloating just a little … not that I am competitive when it comes to cards with these gems … 🙂

And then, on the actual day of my birthday, I got to enjoy a scrumptious lunch with my fabulous forever friends!  I’ve already introduced you to them … those gifted “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue” poets!  Well, we spent 6 hours enjoying lunch and laughs and conversation on my 60th … officially.  Greek salad, chicken and cupcakes … and … wine.  Oh, and I learned something important!  Apparently, wine should be poured only to the fattest part of the wine glass.  How have I lived and loved wine this long and not known that??

One would think it might have been mentioned in the fabulous “Scratch and Sniff” wine book my daughter gifted me. Such fun to read it … and … smell it!  🙂

And then in May … I received an exceptional birthday surprise!  My student and soul sister, Jody, whom I introduced to you earlier had mentioned that her birthday gift would be late.  She was having something made for me … and … was it ever worth the wait!!  Her gift had so much heart and meaning …and came with this beautiful message.

And then in June … I had another birthday blessing.  I got to enjoy the getaway that my forever friends gifted me for my birthday.  And so, we set off to enjoy a day of time together. Time, after all, is always one of the best gifts we can give one another.  We enjoyed a lovely, lovely lunch at one of the best restaurants in our area.  And, we followed it up with loud raucous laughter when we went to see the movie “The Book Club”.  It was a remarkable day!

And, to top it all off, it was nothing less than serendipitous that I should receive this card from my Bestie … on the eve of my official birthday … during the lovely dinner her husband and my husband made.  How incredibly intuitive was she … ?

Yes.  As a matter of fact … I am. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I remain forever shifted and transformed by all the love I felt during this exceptional birthday. It feels like my internal world has been rewired in some way … and in all honesty … as I round the corner now toward my 61st birthday … I can honestly say that I have found it so much easier to ‘feel’ the love in my presence.  And THAT is the best gift I ever could have received.  ❤ ❤

And, I am sending all of that love right back to each and every one of you  … at least 10,000 fold, xo Karen

Better Because of Our Mornings Together …

And my heart SUNK … as the reality of the situation landed in my awareness.  Something must have happened, out of obvious sight, in the dark of the process. I clearly underestimated the potential hazards inherent within the ‘normal wash’ cycle of my built-in Whirlpool.

Well okay … that’s not entirely true.  I must admit to losing the odd wine glass, but I’ve always known full well that I was taking a calculated risk when placing my stemware into that unsupervised environment!  However, I had absolutely no ‘fragility’ concerns in this particular case. Not. Even. One.

I’m scratching my head to comprehend how it even happened. Was it a relentless barrage … or … was it simply one nasty, defining moment? I’ll never know, but what is done is done. And most unfortunately, our mornings together are now reduced to memories.

That said, I don’t even specifically recall the last occasion we greeted the day together.  I might have lingered over it just a little longer if I knew it would be our last.  But, then again, our early A.M. trysts were always good. Yes. Over the years, we’ve shared countless hours of quiet, reflective, nourishing mornings together … sip to sip to sip to sip.


I know. I know. I know ….

It does not escape me that it was “just a mug.”  BUT… that mug was one of my favorites.  Not only because of the heartwarming messages handwritten upon it, but because I am a very pragmatic individual and that mug was so darn functional.  It eliminated any confusion about whose mug was whose on the mornings when Papa was home.  In addition to that, it was also the perfect size. There was no fiddle farting around to get the ratio just right: one good slosh of 18% cream + two packets of Splenda = the perfect proportions to please my palate!  Yes. Pure deliciousness! Every. Single. Time. My anxiously oriented mind just loves that kind of certainty … 🙂

As well, I always appreciated how that mug’s smooth, white, glossy handle slid so comfortably into my grip. I have quite a small hand and many mugs tend to tip over when I try to hold them with one hand.  But, not this one! It was a perfect fit. Good job that“Santa” tucked this gem into my Christmas stocking in 2011 …

And, this unfortunate occurrence means that Papa’s mug will now be relegated to the ranks of mismatched and alone in our cupboard. And, I am left to warily wonder whether his mug should now be handled with more care … i.e. washed by hand.

Well, all I tell you in that regard is this: Papa’s mug remained at risk for quite some time because although some extra TLC was entirely possible, it was not particularly probable in our house.  May I remind you of my lack of effort with the wine glasses … 


I expect, however, that as I attempt to temper my regret by stealing moments using Papa’s mug instead … my heart will be re-filled with fondest recollections of it’s mate. No doubt about it: Our sorrows are so inextricably entwined with our joys. As Kahlil Gibran so sagely suggests:

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Absolutely.  And so, of course, I seriously considered glue. My hubby assured me it would do the trick.  And I was briefly enthused by his solid conviction, but then my highly kindled amygdala promptly derailed those hopes by emphatically declaring that it would be far too precarious. When comes to scalding hot coffee … it’s better to err on the side of caution !!  And so, there would be no gluing.

And with that decision, my rational mind reminded me that there is no point arguing with reality.  There comes a time when there is nothing left to do but accept an unfavorable and ugly outcome … just as graciously as humanly possible. Yes. One of life’s hardest lessons is learning how to make peace with our losses.  And so, in my effort to do that, I just needed to jot down these words  … to overtly honor that many of my mornings were made better because I got to greet them with that mug.  And for that I am grateful.

With both a smile and tear for that which has been my delight …  ❤ Karen ❤

P.S. Papa’s mug is much less at risk now. We got a new dishwasher.  It even has slots for wine glasses. Life is good.