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.

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
Message
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,
Karen

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.” (https://surfiran.com/iranian-minakari-art-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.

grams-mug-2

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 … 

grams-mug-3

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.

 

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Better Because You chose Me …

I’d heard her name before. She and my bestie had met each other in class … there were both enrolled as mature students in the Social Work program offered through a nearby University.  The woman standing before me introduced herself as “Jody”.  She was direct … and … got right to the point. She was hoping I might be willing to supervise her Junior Practicum.  I sensed she was a very determined soul. There was something about her energy that both impressed me and intrigued me.  We agreed to meet at a later date to determine if we’d make a good fit for one another.

She recently reminded me that, when we subsequently met,  I told her that she might cry if she did her practicum with me.  I do like to give students a chance to reconsider having me as their supervisor, because I know its not easy being my student.  Not because I am nasty or malicious … but rather … because I don’t step over much. I don’t believe it would be in my student’s best interests to hold them in anything less than my highest vision for who I sense they could be in their careers.

From where I am looking, practicum is not only the time to put all that social work theory into practice … but it’s also the time when all of our own unhealed ‘stuff’ will be triggered by the things our clients are expressing and experiencing. I tell every potential student that I am going to invite them to examine their own perceptions, explore their beliefs and excavate anything that could hinder their capacity to ‘hold space’ for their clients with the utmost compassion and empathy.

If we are not clean, clear catalysts for change, we will not be able to stay focused upon our client’s interpretations of their experiences. Rather, their struggles and sharing may trigger some of our own unresolved prior lived experiences, and then, we can unwittingly getting caught up in the energy of our own unhealed pains of the past. And, even if we’ve been through ‘the same thing’ … our felt sense of that ‘same’ experience may be very different from theirs. And so, if there are places in our history that we are not yet at peace with, we are at great risk of projecting our own meaning making into their situation … rather than making room to deeply honor and understand the internal world of the person we are attempting to support.

And so, yes … I like to give my students the heads up that this practicum will likely be more about their own internal processing than they expected  In keeping with that, I require every student to do daily reflections … discussing three things:

  1. Learnings – what did they notice/learn about counselling skills/practice/theory during the sessions and/or our debriefing?
  2. Questions – what questions arose for them during that day?
  3. Reflections – what got stirred up in their own souls during our daily round … or … what ‘aha!’ moments may have grabbed them unexpectedly … or … how is our work stretching who they know themselves to be?

Students often think our job is to save people … to offer people solutions … to rescue/protect them from the messy parts of their lives.  I must humbly disagree. For me, the work that we do as counsellors is not at all about showing up all shiny and bright and guiding people to the perfect resolution for their situation … from some loftier place of academic enlightenment. No. From where I am looking, counselling is about connecting with the deepest parts of people’s lives … honoring all the spaces where the sacred soul seated before us may be struggling … feeling scared, sad, sleepless, soured, silenced, stuck … or stressed in some significant way.

And it is remembering that ‘stress’ behaviour often looks like ‘bad’ behaviour.  When we as humans are alarmed or overwhelmed by stressors, we are far more likely to make poor or unfavorable choices. Yes. It’s recognizing that people will try to ‘numb’ any pain that they can’t endure … perhaps with drugs or drink or gambling or sex or internet gaming … or even food. It’s remembering that our logic and reason can be high-jacked by our ‘fight/flight/freeze’ response.  It’s realizing that our job is to create a safe space so they can trust us enough to be vulnerable … so we might help them to sort things out. And from that humble space, we get to support them in connecting to and/or building the strength and knowledge they need so they can save themselves … with us safely by their sides.

Yes.  Most importantly, it is our job to check any assumptions, biases or beliefs that might invite us to judge people rather than understand them.  And, understanding does not necessarily mean excusing … but … I believe that everything makes sense if you have enough information. I believe that effective counselling is driven by compassionate curiosity.  It’s being aware that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.  And so, if someone says or does something that just doesn’t make sense to me, it is my job to look deeper … to keep searching their soul until I can say “oh, of course … if that is what you were thinking/feeling/experiencing … I can see why you would have responded that way.”

A young boy’s iceberg … source unknown … but deeply appreciated!

Jody assured me she was up for the challenge.  And, you know what?  I believed her.  I also sensed a bit of an edge … like if I pushed her too hard … she might push right back. And yet, I also suspected that her seemingly unfettered and impenetrable exterior might be protecting a very tender, kind and exceptionally loving heart.  But we never discussed any of that then.

And so … we embarked on a staggeringly remarkable journey together. Neither of us could possibly have anticipated where our connection was going to take us. I can tell you right now … it was a divinely inspired union … for so many reasons.  But, it’s probably not wise for the practicum supervisor to admit to having favorites. So, I won’t do that. 😉

And, that is not to say it was all gumdrops and roses.  I suspected at the time … and I know for sure now (because she confirmed it) … that there were days when she was cussing at me under her breath! Nonetheless, Jody was a trooper!  And she challenged me and I challenged her … and ultimately … we gained such tremendous respect for one another. And through it all, the infinite depth of Jody’s capacity to care became exceedingly evident.  Yes.  The tenderest parts of her soul became more exquisitely exposed and empathetically expressed as she leaned into our work and honored the hearts seated before us.

I started to look forward to seeing Jody every morning.  Her unfailing sense of humor always tickled my heart. She always had her homework done … no matter how exhausted she was at the end of the day!  And, we never ran short on incredibly interesting conversations … about trust and shadow work and the challenges of honoring differing perspectives while standing in our own truth.

In the beginning, I sensed that she abhorred my unfailing allegiance to the philosophical constructs of Debbie Ford and her impeccable body of work.  Yes … I even thought I might lose Jody the first time we really dived deep into some of Debbie Ford’s most controversial teachings. Her contention that each an every one of us holds the capacity to be both divine and diabolical … both saint and sinner … both light and dark … is hard for many to swallow. While I sensed that Jody would rather spit that paradigm out right out rather than chew on it …. she didn’t.  She went home and tasted it. I’m not sure she actually liked any part of it … but she held some space for it.  Some say that a sign of true wisdom is the capacity to entertain an unfamiliar idea without feeling the need to immediately embrace it or reject it.

And, despite the differences in our perspectives, we learned that we shared a mutual passion for being allies to those whose voices have been muted or silenced by a majority that often refers to those of our sort as “bleeding heart” social workers.  And in addition to all that, it turned out that Jody also shared my compassionate concern about the potential for unreconciled grief related to unexpected pregnancy loss.  And with that often overlooked issue in mind, she returned to do her senior practicum with me as well!  Her passion for grief and loss and trauma work rose to the forefront as we shared another four months together.

And, ultimately, the eight months we invested with each other became precious to me. Her willingness to continue peeling back the layers of who she was and who she wanted to be was deeply inspiring.  She wisely wrestled with everything she thought she knew and made room for perspectives she had not yet considered.  It was so refreshing to watch her meeting herself in brand new ways … growing and glowing and generously embracing the gifts of her own gentle spirit.  I looked forward to seeing her and enjoying all the conversations and curiosities and laughter we shared.  And, when her practicum was over … and she graduated … I knew I was really going to miss our time together.

My Bestie Marie, Jody, and myself – celebrating Jody’s BSW graduation!

But then … something wonderful happened!  Jody asked me if I would supervise her as she acquired her required “provisional”  hours when she started to work in the field. I was honored to do so, but we had one communication obstacle.  Jody is a night owl and I am often in bed before 8:30pm. And so, she would send email updates at night that would greet me early in the morning while I had my first cup of coffee.  And, I must admit, my mornings were better on the days that started with a nice reconnection with this special soul!!

Jody has gone on to do some very empowering work in a small rural community that is populated with many homeless people.  It is her job to help them find shelter for their bodies. And, most remarkably, while she does that, she also shelters their souls. As with so many of those who are living on the streets … they may be struggling with various addictions and/or have experienced domestic violence and/or continue to endure various forms of abuse and/or neglect and/or trauma in their lives. She compassionately honors their struggles and warmly embraces the hearts of those who are often ostracized and marginalized and stigmatized by mainstream culture.  When she is working with her clients who she affectionately refers to as her “peeps” … she does not proceed from the condescending space of questioningWhat is wrong with you?”  but, rather, gently approaches her work from a trauma-informed space of wondering …“What happened to you?”

And, from where I am looking, Jody brings unparalleled compassion and respect and loving care to her social work practice. She is a rare gift to her community … with eyes that see beyond their unfavorable circumstances.  She never loses sight of the fragile hearts and traumatized souls that are simply doing their best to survive the reprehensible conditions that often unrelentingly color their capacity to choose differently and/or to rise above their day to day existence.  She is a true blessing to the social work profession.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated!

And so, Jody … this “Better Because of You” tribute is in honor of you.  My world has been so much better for your presence in it! My mornings continue to be blessed by your engaging emails. You are no longer a student … but instead … have become a highly skilled professional … and … a very precious friend. And for this, I remain eternally grateful.  Despite all you have going on (especially now that you are doing your Masters degree!), you somehow remember to check in with me, regularly, and see how things are going in my world!  And, you have created a safe place for me to be open, honest and vulnerable with you. We’ve had enjoyed some deeply philosophical discussions via Gmail, haven’t we? 🙂

Remember one of the email exchanges we had in the stifling and unrelenting heat of last summer? We’d been talking about how the blazing temperatures were taking a toll on my flower beds. I responded to your morning email on July 20, 2017, by saying:

“I did sleep well … and … my anxious mind is still tending the blossoms.

I’ve been coddling them and I so very much enjoy them standing in their fullest glory that it saddens me to see a few of them falling through the cracks … succumbing to the hard knocks of life. I guess I feel the same about people. My heart aches when I see anyone or anything losing the struggle to be the best expression of themselves. Even a pansy.

And … it’s so metaphorical really. It can happen in a heart beat. One moment all is well … and then … it’s not. Life can be so hard … even for the pansies. And especially for the super sensitive begonias and fuchsias. Hmmm …. it strikes me that I’ve always been a bit of a begonia myself. I think my life would have been easier if I was more of a petunia. They tend to roll with the punches better … they don’t even seem to notice the wind, heat, flooding and/and drought as much. My delicate begonias feel everything! Anyway … my plan is to give the most wilted little souls a little extra TLC today. Sheesh … who knew I could even get all social worky about flowers??? 🤤

I hope you rested well too …and … I’m glad we’ll get to spend some more time together on Saturday!

Hope you enjoy a wonderful day.
Much luv … k”

Ha Ha.  And you responded by saying you love my ‘social worky’ mind and then compassionately added: I know it’s not easy to be a begonia my friend, so don’t forget to tend to yourself ️❤ !!”

Yep. You tend to my spirit in the most loving ways.  And may I say that I am just so darn grateful I get to be all of myself with you Jody. Strong and capable … quirky and anxious. Wise and ‘supervisor’ worthy … scared and insecure.  Joyful and hopeful … discouraged and defeated. And, you find a way to hold space for all of it without raising an eyebrow. I know you create that same safe container for your peeps … and … that their lives are touched for the better in countless and meaningful ways.  Like I said to you in a recent email:

“Ahhh …. I love, love, love your “long winded” emails. I love hearing about your work and your peeps and the passion you have for all of it and all of them […] along with all the possibilities you envision within your heart space and invite into your peeps perspective. All of your ‘light’ that you bring to their ‘dark’ is so incredibly palpable in your words.

More often than not, I can hear your voice as I am reading … and it’s like we are talking face to face … and I can hear your tone and imagine your facial expressions and I am thoroughly captured by your big juicy loving heart and all of it’s divine intentions.

You have created a movement out [where you work]. A much needed movement towards love and compassion and away from the cultural judgment and righteous indignation that often permeates mainstream interactions with our indigenous population.

I can’t even imagine the gap of support that would be left if the grant for your position was not extended!!! And … so it’s no wonder you are always thinking!! Once we ‘see’ the root of the problem we can’t not ‘see’ it … and … we can’t [be complicit in] covertly blaming the victims with our lofty behavior interpretations and hands off solutions.

And … I can only imagine how overwhelming it is to ‘see’ so clearly what needs to be done.  But … you are only one person … albeit with the heart of 100!!”

And, I love your ‘social worky’ heart.  It knows the way … but sadly … you bump into barrier after barrier within systems that have no room to ‘see’ what you see.  And yet, you allow your frustrations to fuel your determination to challenge and resist the oppressive social structures that have historically ignored all that lies beneath the tip of the iceberg..

And, as a result of who you are ‘being’ …  your people feel your presence … and … you make a difference in their hearts. And, as we have discussed … ‘heart work’  is so critically important … although often socially dismissed and/or professionally discounted in favor of outcomes and statistics. But … as Paul Brodeur  astutely contended: “Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off”.  Yes, you and I have both seen what a difference it makes when we are able to honor the heart of our humanity by adding a little bit of kindling to people’s internal flames.  As Eldon Hubbard  has wisely acknowledged: “We awaken in others the same attitude of mind we hold toward them.”

And we have talked about this often … in so many other email exchanges we have shared with each other … like this one you sent:

“I have had some interesting client stories this week as well … I am always in awe of the power of the human connection and how despite the circumstances that bring people together in one room you can share that space with compassion and understanding and safety for them to share their stories and feel loved and heard and often, for the first time a sense of peace … My work is ever evolving and every day is stretching me and allowing me to see through new eyes!!! ️”

And that is what you bring to your work: your tender, compassionate, loving heart.  You often like to hide it behind your strength … but … people can feel it. It sneaks out through your kind eyes. And, your sweet soul shines through your smile. And I suspect that for many of your peeps, you might be one of the first people to look beyond the messy ‘doings’ in their orbits and acknowledge the soul-filled ‘beings’ of their precious spirits instead. It doesn’t hurt that you are also very real and authentic and approachable. And funny.  Sheesh … you have an impeccable gift of being able to find the humor in everything!

Yes. That is the energy you bring to your relationships Jody. You never fail to make me laugh and ponder and feel grateful for our connection. And, I trust that with you by their side, your peeps are invited to see possibilities for their lives that never before crossed their radar.

Yes.  It’s true. My life has been touched in countless ways by your presence in it.  As I say that I am reminded that one of the other blessings of our morning email exchanges is that every once in a while you forward an amazing TedTalk … like this one … which you said reminded you of conversations we have had in the past. I would agree and responded by saying:

“I love this! Thanks so much for brightening my day. It’s like we are still in practicum … chewing on meaningful perspectives, compassionately reframing our perceptions and finding new eyes to make better sense of the chaos and distress we see our worlds.”

And so, “Sawubona” my beautiful friend … and … thank you for “seeing us.”  All. Of. Us. There is nothing more empowering than being ‘seen’ and ‘accepted’ and ‘acknowledged’  for every part of our being … especially during the times when life feels most grim. It is in those moments that we need someone to cast a light and help us find our way. And Jody … that is what you do so well.  As you bring your tender soul to those in your orbit, your presence fills up every inch of our hearts.

Yes … your energy and heart and intention are such a gift to humanity.  You are changing peoples lives … one heart at a time. And so, at this moment … it seems fitting for me to add a little wisdom from Debbie Ford.  Are you cussing again?? Ha ha … I know you are appreciating her more and more these days!!  😉

And I have absolutely no doubt that you will do exactly THAT.   You are a rare gem in the jewels of life Jody.  You are such an enviable and exceptional blend of sparkle and shine … grit and gumption … wisdom and wit … edge and empathy … love and laughter … courage and compassion … intuition and irreverence. Yes … Debbie would be inspired by your beautiful integration of polarities!!!  And … I know that the world is so much better because you are in it Jody! ❤

I could say so much more but I hope you are getting a felt sense of my love and appreciation of you.  Yes.  Let me close this tribute by saying … “thank you for choosing me”!   My life is so much richer because you are in it!  I will remain forever grateful I got to be your practicum supervisor (twice!) … and … even more grateful that, now, I get to be in your circle of friends.

With infinite enthusiasm for all that you are … and … all that you bring to others, ❤ Karen ❤

 

 

 

Better Because You You Were There For Me … Thank You Marion!

With the jubilant joys of my 60th birthday celebrations starting to dim in the distance … imagine my surprise when I received a bright blue envelope via snail mail (aka: Canada Post.)  It was a greeting card from one of the people I had met and befriended decades ago while we were both living in a tiny little town in rural Southern Alberta, Canada. As I retrieved the card from inside the envelope, my heart smiled in fondest regard and with resonant recollection … because as some of you may also know … the journey is never easy when you are the tape dispenser. Nope. Never comfortable … albeit for the fine folks that can overlook your differences and make room in their hearts to love and accept you just as you are … ❤

Marion and I met back in the late ’80s when she had moved into our teensy weensy community from the big urban, metropolis of Montreal, Quebec. Her “UN-birthday”  card, as she affectionately called it, was filled with glimpses of times we had shared.  And, her words touched me deeply. We were both city girls … who had been transplanted into a rural and fairly red neck setting.  Not that there is anything wrong with country living … it’s just that geographies, in general, express their own distinct cultures … and … their unique norms and indoctrinated ideals are collectively reflected in their traditional ways of being. None of which may be particularly familiar for those of us with more urban roots.  I expect the habits and demeanors of those in the urban populace would feel equally unfamiliar for country folk who are dropped into a busy, cosmopolitan city center. Significant shifts in locale will take most of us right out of our comfort zones.

And so, I was awash with smiles stirring in my heart as Marion’s words took me back in time.  I started responding to her via Gmail,  but as my fingers struck the keyboard, it quickly became clear to me that an email would simply not suffice. I realized that in order to adequately acknowledge this special soul, I preferred to pen a ‘better because of you blog’  in her honor.  And so Marion, this tribute is for you.

I can’t begin to describe the emotions that came over me as I allowed your 60th “birth-quarter”  words to transport me back to that little town of 900 people … with us walking the three main long avenues and/or dozen shorter streets that intersected them. We both loved a good walk outdoors back then! I also remember us walking the MD road on an occasion or two … to the acreage you called home … from town … for lunch.  I still love walking. Actually, so much so that while ago, I set a goal to walk 10,000 kilometers.  I’m only about a third of the way there … about 3300 kms officially logged thus far.  Yes, you were always up for outdoor activities Marion!  I expect you still are!

That said, its no surprise we met on the ball diamond!  I’m so glad you joined our slowpitch team … and … thank you for reminding me that our ball team was called “Nonna’s Near Mrs.”  Somehow, I had erroneously remembered us as the “Hayden’s Hosettes”  but I think the Hosettes were actually an earlier incarnation in my slow pitch history harkening back to the Bob and Doug McKenzie era!  Nonetheless … here we are …  in those stunning mint and pink ensembles … mine complete with the clasp on my shirt (as you remembered!) … both of us with the 80’s puffed up bangs you so aptly described as mall hair”!!    

Haha … it’s absolutely true. A picture is worth a thousand words and/or memories!!

It truly is quite remarkable, though, how … in less than a heartbeat … we can intuitively recognize the souls with whom we have kindred spirits. I was instinctively drawn to you, Marion. Perhaps it stemmed from our mutually cosmopolitan roots? Or maybe it was due to our mutual inclinations towards professional pursuits? Or perhaps it was the introspective nature of our conversations?  Regardless of what it was, there was something about your countenance that always invited me to feel so ‘at ease’ with you. I just felt so welcomed to be myself in your presence. With you, I could show up completely unmasked … feeling no need to ‘fit in’ to other people’s preferences for who I ‘should’  be in the world … or … ‘how’  they preferred me to show up. Yes, when I was with you, I was generously invited to embrace the ‘wholeness’ of my tape dispenser self.  🙂

Yes, in a community I sensed may have misunderstood me … you really read me absolutely right.  I laughed out loud when you said in your card that you knew I was obviously destined for something else …“A bigger town, higher education, a briefcase, shoes with heels.”  Oh my, your words reminded me of how much I loved my purple eye-liner, accessory enhanced and color-co-ordinated outfits, big hair … and yes … high-heeled shoes!!  And, well, for the most part, I stuck out like a sore thumb in our small town!

Now, at sixty years of age, my eyeliner is far less flashy.  I opt for a softer shade of charcoal, but I still get weak in the knees in the presence of fabulous jewellery … and … it goes without saying … I still adore a great shoe (especially in a bright color)!   Notwithstanding my innermost inclinations, somewhere within the 5th decade of my life, I reluctantly resigned myself to more sensible footwear. My metatarsals will now scream out in righteous indignation if I dare indulge in anything higher than a kitten heel pump. Although, I am committed to aging gracefully … I am always on the hunt for a cute, comfy, colorful shoe! I hit the jackpot when I found these ones! 🙂

But, regardless of how misunderstood I often felt back then Marion … you created ample space for me to play with my unspoken dreams … right out loud. And, I am not sure I ever thanked you for that. In fact, I get tears in my eyes when I think back to all the generous space you afforded me to be vulnerable, authentic and real with you. I felt free to say things to you that others would surely have judged me for thinking, feeling or wanting to do.  And, I am so glad to hear that I, too, afforded you a space to feel welcome, comfortable and accepted when you moved into our town.

And so, Marion, the words of a one of the world’s wisdom traditions seem most fitting to offer you right now. 

Yes. “Namaste” my beautiful friend. The divine within me bows to the divine within you. And, of course … the tape dispenser within me honors the tape dispenser within you. 😉

Marion, your ready acceptance of all my differences was such a rare and special gift. I honor the truth, peace and beauty within you. And, my heart can never forget your kind and loving spirit … despite all the years and miles that have come between us. No. The heart never forgets being touched by such light.

Eeek … how long has it been anyway??? I think our time together in that wee little town was at least a quarter of a century ago (ish) … if not longer?  And all those decades did indeed lead me to a bigger town (albeit only 10 times bigger!) … a master’s degree … and … a professional career that I am deeply passionate about. You were absolutely correct!!!  Haha. And yes … I even carry a fashionable briefcase.

After you moved back East Marion, we lost touch to some degree … but our infrequent but very meaningful email connections have been deeply appreciated. And, exchanging travel tales with you has been such a gift.  Were it not for your inspiring invitations to visit some amazing parts of the world (e.g. Turkey), we would have missed out on some of our most memorable travel adventures. Thank you for stretching us to some amazing new horizons! It’s hard to put a price on experiences like that!

We haven’t travelled much over the past few years, but we couldn’t silence the travel bug any longer.  We’re planning to wander the Western parts of Europe, Ireland and the UK. I’d welcome any ideas you might have for us in those locations … and … where your travels have taken you in recent years!  Perhaps we should plan a rendezvous and share some sweet space … or take another walk together … in some beautiful but unfamiliar part of the world? I think in one of our email exchanges we agreed that we’d probably travel well together …  😉

I was so grateful when you ventured back in our direction and we had a chance to reconnect face to face over coffee. Gosh … how long ago was that anyway??  I could be wrong, but judging from my hair … I am going to guess … about 20 years ago?  Reminiscing with you was so lovely!  I would cherish a chance for another long, smile-to-smile conversation … 🙂

Oh Marion … it never ceases to amaze me how many moments that seem somewhat small and/or relatively insignificant at the time … can fill a heart in untold and unexpected ways.  And, as I reflect on our friendship, my heart is feeling deep gratitude for the ways in which your spirit has touched me:

  • your quick wit and wry sense of humor tickle my funny bone … only always
  • your capacity to hear beyond the words that are spoken aloud … is so rare
  • your heart … filled with kindness and caring and compassion … is so exceptional

Yes. You have such extraordinary energy. There are people that drain you. There are people that fill you. And you, as my grandson would say, are definitely “a bucket filler” Marion! Yes. My spirit has always been so nourished by our time shared together. Whether face to face or over the internet … the gifts of your presence in my life are treasured and remain tightly tucked into my heart space.

And every year … at Christmas, you are with me as I place my beautiful macaroni angel upon my Christmas tree.  You crafted her and gifted her to me before you moved away … and … although she is a little worse for wear (e.g her halo has gone missing!) … she holds so many precious memories of our time together.  I place her near the top of the tree every year.

Yes, there is no disputing that my years in our small town together were definitely so much better because of you Marion. And, the joys of my 60th birthday were also so much better because you reached out with your heart … and … your exceptionally astute card! Thank you for continuing to fill my spirit with your benevolent being-ness!  And, not surprisingly, your words to me precisely mirror the feelings etched in my own soul. As such … I would, most humbly, like to offer them back to you right now:

“I am so grateful that you were there for me when I lived in [our town] .  I continue to feel close to you and will always consider you my friend.” 

With deepest appreciation and heartfelt reverence for all our tape dispenser moments, Karen

Better Because You Moseyed on Over …

Its YOUR Birthday Hutch! Welcome to the sixties!  It’s tempting to poke fun at your age, but considering that you just caught up with me, I shall refrain. In fact, to the contrary, your buddy and I would like to dedicate this day to celebrating YOU … and … all the ways our lives have been richer because you moseyed on over to our place almost 20 years ago!  You might want to get comfortable, because I’m about to get long-winded. Hey! I can hear your thought wheels turning! No wise cracks from the birthday boy!  In all seriousness, your buddy and I have so very much to thank you for Hutch that I’m not even sure where to begin!

First, and foremost, because of you  Hutch … we found life long friends!  Not just the kind of friends that you visit with because you are neighbors. But rather, the kind of friends that hold a very special place in our hearts.  The kind of friends that you can count on … to be there … through thick and thin. The kind of friends who take an interest in your children and your grandchildren … and … your cat.  The kind of friends that you look forward to seeing because it’s always so nourishing and comfortable to be in their presence. The kind of friends that accept you fully … so that there is no need to edit oneself! The kind of friends who you can kibitz around with … and … enjoy some really big belly laughs!  The kind of friends who you can share smiles with as you clink glasses to celebrate the joys in life … and … who extend both hand and heart through the inevitable challenges. The kind of friends that you rap on the door once and then just walk in because you know you are always welcome.  The kind of friends that are incredibly rare and very precious! Yes … because of you Hutch, we have THOSE kind of friends! Yep. You guys are a rare gift to us … and … because you wandered our way, we have enjoyed so many magical, meaningful moments together!

Yes. THAT is what you started  Hutch … when you moved into 46A Street and moseyed across the cul-de-sac with a couple of brewskies to see what my hubby was up to in the garage.  And since that time, you boys have spent considerable time in our garage.

Yep … your buddy (aka my hubby) has been refurbishing and restoring his ‘other’ love for the past 20+ years. So … he spends a fair bit of time in the garage with his 1968 Firebird … which he affectionately calls his ’68 chick’ I, on the other hand, being 10 years older than his flashy red muscle car … hold the respected position of being his ’58 chick’.  I know … I know … I know what you are thinking Hutch … but this is no time to discuss the fact that I, too, could benefit from a little refurbishing! THIS blog is about YOU! Yes. So, let’s just leave it at that, okay?  I hope you are nodding your head. 🙂

Because of you Hutch … we have enjoyed more succulent, scrumptious Sunday suppers than we ever could have imagined!  It’s been no less than a dietary blessing that you’ve kept renewing your subscription to Canadian Living!  We have certainly reaped the rewards of you thumbing through the pages of that palate pleasing publication. Yep. Your culinary skills are hard to beat Hutch! Right now my memory banks are flooded with recollections of barbeques and fondues and salads and prawns the size of my fist and appy buffets and crab cakes and chicken and ribs and tacos and kabobs … and oh … even breakfast!  I’ll never forget the year that John was away and you even cooked up a birthday breakfast buffet for me!  I think my beautiful bestie was your talented and terrific sous chef that day!  Thank you again for doing that!

And, because of you … we have also enjoyed exploring some incredibly delicious drinks and creative cocktails! As you know … I’m not much of a drinker … well … unless of course, there happens to be a nice Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon or Chianti or Merlot or Syrah or Tempranillo or Grenache or even a nice red blend … like Bodacious. Mmmm. Mmmm. Mmmm. Aside from that … I’ve always had a pretty picky palate when it comes to alcoholic beverages!

But … you sir … invited my taste buds to some unexpected places!! How about the Halloween when you spooked up your house with fuzzy spiders and other ghostly décor and invited us over for ghoulish drinks and some ghastly looking appys … !

EEEEEGADS … look how YOUNG you look Hutch!!!

And while those eyeball martinis were not a flavour favorite for me … sometime later … you did win me over with your seafood Ceasars!  I wasn’t sure I’d like the texture of the scallops – but you sautéed them to perfection. Yep. Nothing short of extraordinary! Just look at all that delectable and spicy goodness!! Deelish! And so exquisitely presented too!!!

Just looking at them makes my mouth water with fond recollection!

Cheers to good friends … and … the artistic aptitude of the bartender/chef!

Yes, and I owe you big for nudging me even further out of my fermented grapes comfort zone while we were in San Antonio. It was so unbearably hot … and let’s face it … red wine is just not compatible with that kind of heat. No. Just not satisfying at all.  BUT those margaritas that you introduced me to were SO refreshing!  Especially when we got them ‘to go’ on the water taxi!  And, it was soooo darn thoughtful mischievous of you to ‘cool’ me off between the shoulder blades with your icy cold cup!  But, then again, I should have known better! I’ve learned it’s always wise to keep an eye on you! 🙂

Yep, were it not for you, I never would have developed an appreciation for the divine deliciousness of Tequila!  But not just any tequila. No, no, no! Remember the one we were sipping on at one of the local pubs while the four of us were playing Hangman on my tablet. Although I believe the Lanser duo won the game that time, the tequila was sure no winner on that occasion. I think I left my margarita on the table. Or maybe someone else drank it. I can’t quite remember … but … because of you, I have learned I’m a top shelf girl. And no worms. I make no apologies for being a bit uppity like that.

And, I’m not sure if we have sufficiently thanked you and my bestie (aka the “Margarita Queen”) for subsequently purchasing one of those Margaritaville Machines! Because of that wise investment, we need only make the long arduous trek across the cul-de-sac to savor an icy, frosted and salted margarita on the hottest days in our neighborhood!

Cheers!!

OR … we now have the option to just take the makings for marvelous margaritas with us when we travel. Of course we’d only do so as a purely preventative measure. In case it gets hot. For example … it was a darn good thing we had it when we spent the night in the roaring metropolis of Pincher Creek! Nothing like a little slushy goodness to pick up the pace and perk up the spirits at a Ramada Inn located in the middle of nowhere!  A much better option than watersliding! Clearly … 🙂

We ended up staying in that remote rural locale because your wife and I were running in the Buffalo Runners 10km race … across the scorching hot prairies. And, lucky for us, you fine fellas came along to support us. It made it even more fun. Although, in this picture … your buddy looks like he was up to something sneaky, doesn’t he??

That said, this seems the perfect time to acknowledge you Hutch for all the ways you have supported your wife over the years.  You’ve been there to clap and cheer her on … whether she is running a race, or getting an academic degree or hiking a mountain or making her own makeshift Camino by walking 100km along the side of the highway right here in Alberta! Yes. We honor and admire you so much for being that kind of guy!

And, because of you Hutch … we have enjoyed some great trips together! In fact, were it not for you, John and I would never have ventured to San Antonio, Texas!  And were it not for you … I’m not sure how long we would have loitered in the airport trying to locate our luggage.  Remember the shocked looks on our faces when we discovered our connecting flight in Denver had been cancelled!! Gah!  And so,  in order to get us to San Antonio … our luggage had to take a different plane … arriving at a different time! We’d never before heard of Frontier Airlines … but somehow you figured out where to look … and the lost was found!  And remember our fun evening at the Howl at the Moon Saloon!  Those dueling pianos were fabulous!

In addition to San Antonio, we’ve shared some great times in Waterton Lakes National Park I’ll never forget getting drenched in an unexpected downpour while kayaking on the previously peaceful and placid Cameron Lake.

And then there was the Opera in Calgary! If memory serves me correctly, we had to turn back in the middle of a snow storm on our first attempt to experience such a fancy and cultured night of entertainment. And, when we eventually claimed our rain check, it seemed like John and Marie enjoyed the arias, but alas … didn’t you and I prefer a little less polish?  I think we preferred listening to the live band at the Irish Pub afterwards.

And we had a great time in Kimberley … we even took a tour of the …. uhm … I don’t remember what it was called.  Something about mining and trains, right??  There is no shortage of adventures to behold when we are travelling together!  It was really very fascinating!  And … it’s important to do what interests you boys too … at least on rare occasion … right?

Speaking of more ‘manly’ adventures … John just reminded me of the time you guys took the ’68 chick for it’s maiden voyage … after the main body work was completed … only to have the lug nuts come off of the rims … while you were cruising down the highway!  I think you should know he’s blaming you for that whole debacle … saying that somehow you must have “jinxed” it. Uhm … okay.  And, I bet it was ‘your’ fault, too, when you boys barely limped home after golfing in Cardston and the old girl was only running on seven cylinders. Gah. Yeah … I’ve had plenty of wild rides in that ’68 chick myself! I remember running out of gas … ‘cuz apparently the fuel tank was not connected properly and it only appeared that we had a full tank. Yep.  She’s always full of surprises. Nonetheless, your buddy sure loves her! 🙂

Where to next, Hutch?  Nashville maybe??  How good do you think we would be at karaoke?  Or … maybe we can just listen to the famous country crooners?  And, if its hot, we could probably find some top shelf margaritas?  If not, I bet they have a lovely red wine. Or beer?  Not that beer appeals to me … but the three of you could enjoy a nice tall cool one while we soak up some sad, ‘she stole my heart and wrecked my car’ country ballads.  It might not be Roy Orbison or Jerry Lee Lewis … but  … I bet they’d get our toes tapping!  Or maybe, in the midst of all that talent, we’d cut a rug and do some two stepping! You just never know.  I’m up for another adventure somewhere… but, let’s not take the firechicken.

Speaking of great talent … well … because of you Hutch, I have been humbled at cards. I must publicly concede that you are very savvy and skilled when it comes to playing Hearts.  It’s true.  In fact, more often than not, you are entirely heartless! Pun intended!!  And, because you are so dang good at the game, it’s no wonder I have to gloat … incessantly and most obnoxiously … whenever I beat you.

Scores like those just never get old for me.  Look … even way back in 2015 … I took you down … a few times. I sure had fun!!  And … you’re always a good sport about it! Yep. You take it so well.

I guess its a good thing you have other fingers to fall back on when you are in a card slump.  Your thumb, for example.  There is no denying that you have the greenest of green thumbs!  Your yard and garden are always so impeccably tended. And … because of you … we get to enjoy the finest fruits of your labor!  I’ll never forget the first time you wandered over in your bare feet … toting a beautiful bouquet of handpicked flowers. My hubby razzed you … speculating “what will the neighbors think?” about you bringing your buddy’s bride some flowers!  But, it never concerned you … it’s just your nature to generously gift the goodness and grace of your gorgeous garden! Thank you so much for my annual bouquets!

And, speaking of annual joys … there is nothing quite like transforming some of your vegetable harvest into our annual borscht making extravaganza!  We started off making one mega pot full.  Now we do four at a time … yielding oodles of containers for our freezers!

The chopping and cutting is always more fun when we do it together … and then while its cooking … we get to play some cards. Oooops. Sorry Hutch. Didn’t mean to bring up that sore spot again!  I know it’s been a bit of dry spell, but I bet you’ll win again …………… sometime. Really. Don’t let yourself lose at hearts heart. LOL. Oh dear … I sense I’m getting obnoxious again, aren’t I??

Okay. Maybe we best get back to discussing your skills in the garden!  I mean … how does your garden grow? Prolifically!  Sheesh … just look at those gargantuan carrots!!

And, this picture so fondly reminds me of times when our kids and grandkids have been home during the summer months.  And, you will wander over with handfuls of fresh dug carrots for our grandchildren. And sometimes you’ll take the kids back over to your house so they can dig them up themselves.  And wasn’t it  because of a trip to your garden that Trad discovered carrots grew in the ground before they ended up on the grocery store shelves?

Yes, your generous love for children has always been so apparent … even long before you became a grandpa yourself!  You’d thoughtfully deliver your enormous metal Tonka “diggers” and/or simply play with our grandkids and/or have merciless water fights with them and/or tease them in the most affectionate way! It was so cute how you and Luka developed such a special bond when he was a toddler. He’d often arrive at our house and the first thing he’d say was “Where’s John?”  Yep. You stole his heart. And so, because of you Hutch … my grandchildren have always had way more fun when they come to visit!

Our grandkids have always felt so welcomed to exist in your presence.  You have such a meaningful way of making them feel significant and special. In fact, they have been known to arrive at your door to visit … without us knowing … and with no invitation from you … and with no sense that they might have been overstaying their welcome! Thank you for sending them back to tell us when they are going to be playing at your house!  🙂

In fact, you have cultivated such a wonderful relationship with all of our family members. Even with my in-laws … when they were still alive. I found this great picture of you and Opa sharing a chuckle … during one of our pig roasts, I think. Thank you Hutch for holding such a caring and compassionate and supportive place for all of our family.  It means the world to us … and … we know how much they always enjoy time shared with you. 

And most certainly, this tribute to  you and for  you would not be complete without acknowledging and honoring the precious relationship you also embraced with my beautiful Skruffi!  There was no doubting how much she adored you.  You’d barely get in the door and she’d insist upon getting up onto your lap.  Yes.  And, because of you … we were able to enjoy some extensive travels, secure in the knowledge that you’d be making sure my beloved kitty never got too lonely. Thank you for leaving the comforts of your own home and coming over to watch TV with our kitty … not just once … but every time we went on vacation!! Yes. Skruffi always had a soft spot for you too Hutch!  Well … actually, I think the feelings were mutual … ❤

Skruffi – 2000 to 2015

And … I’m not even going to hold it against you that you also stole our other cat’s heart – so much so that she left us and literally moved in with you. Yes, its true. Because of you … Dharma (aka Dharmee)  had a better life at your house than she ever would have had at mine.  May both their precious spirits rest in the sweet peace of knowing how much they were loved.

Dharma — 2000 to 2017.

And, I have yet to mention what an exceptional father and grandfather (aka: “Papa”) you are. It is nothing short of sublime to bear witness to the joy in your eyes and the full swell of your heart as you interact with your sweet little grand-daughter. I’m guessing their aren’t too many “papas” who are as tight with their grandbaby as you are Hutch. It is completely unarguable … your sweet little Miss Aubree adores YOU!  Once again, its obvious that the feelings are mutual.

And look at you breaking out those moves Hutch!!  🙂  Yes … there is no denying you are such a gift to your entire family. You’ve created a family of deep value Hutch … which … you clearly value so deeply.  It is a joy to spend time with all of you!

Okay … I’m not done yet!  This tribute would not be complete without acknowledging that, because of you … New Years Eve is always such a great time … with a bevy of appetizers and some cards and, of course, the five questions.  And … although the five questions are not your favorite part … we’ve been known to surprise ourselves, year after year, by staying up way too late … with frost in our hair from hot-tubbing in sub-zero temperatures – ringing in the New Year with loads of laughs and countless chuckles …  and …  a wee bit of bubbly. Oh … and angel making!  Well … one of us remains without halo … but I won’t mention any names!

Oh … and that reminds me … thank you for choosing your wife.  I love her too!  Yes. Good thinking Hutch!  I think we are both so much better because you chose her!   ❤ ❤

We are so grateful for the happy hours we get to spend with you two … relaxing around the fire pit in the summer … and … cozied up in front of your fireplace in the winter.  Yes. Those times always make us happy!  And, for some reason as I say that, I am reminded of the time we ended up making paper airplanes … complete with a small competition for whose would fly the furthest!  I remember you had a special plan … for a bomber … that bombed.  BUT … when it was all said and done, I think your aircraft emerged victorious! Yes. There were a lot of noses bent out of shape during those shenanigans … but only the paper planes!

And so … I have only highlighted a smattering of all the ways in which our lives are better because of you Hutch. And, we eagerly anticipate many more moments to come that will be infinitely better because of you. And … as you join John and I in the sixth decade of your life … we hope that your days are filled with multitudes of moments that are magical and meaningful and magnificent and memorable!  We want to wish you all the very best that an old guy can manage … and … I, for one, might even be happy for you to win a game or two of Hearts.

But maybe not tonight …  😉

We look forward to seeing you later Hutch!  Your buddy is cooking  … and … Marie and I will be there to supervise his efforts!  May the quantity of our celebration and the quality of the cuisine be fit for a queen!  Maybe the queen of spades!?!  Sheesh … I just can’t stop myself! 🙂

What I meant to say is this:

May this day and all the days hereafter be fitting for a birthday boy of your calm .. caring .. considerate .. compassionate .. capable .. clever .. candid .. confident .. creative .. conscientious .. comical .. captivating and charismatic calibre!! 

Happy, happy, happy SIX ZERO … from your buddy and his ’58 chick!  We raise our glasses to you … with the utmost appreciation and reverent regard for all the ways our lives are better because of you!

With 60 Cheers and much love … ❤ John and Karen ❤

P.S.  A post birthday celebration UPDATE:  We enjoyed a fabulous paella … Hutch’s favorite cheesecake … and … two rounds of hearts!  And low and behold … it went both ways!  And, I shall say no more about it! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Better Because of You … and … my 20 plus 2 years with FCSS!

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

I was scheduled to receive my 20 year long service recognition award at an agency function on Saturday, January 12 … but … because I won’t be at the gathering, I had arranged for my colleagues to accept it on my behalf.  They agreed to record the moment, so that I too, could listen to my “acceptance speech”. The whole idea made my heart smile.  Unbeknownst to me, however, I learned plans had changed, and it was supposed to be presented to me during our monthly staff meeting instead. And so, being one who can typically fly by the seat of my pants, I agreed to accept the award, at the meeting, with about 10 minutes advance notice.

Well … it had been quite an unusual staff meeting – leading to all kinds of unexpected moments.  I was still feeling a bit rattled, and so, when it came time for me to offer a few words, I kept it really short and simple. I remember briefly acknowledging my heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to my colleagues – with some slightly gushing but entirely genuine generalities.  In retrospect, I regret that I hurried my words … and … I recognize that I didn’t do justice to the fullest expression that actually fills my heart space when I looks back over my time with Barons-Eureka-Warner Family and Community Support Services [FCSS].

Now that I’ve had more time to gather myself and collect my thoughts, I would like to use this “Better Because of You” space to more deeply honor the folks that have framed my remarkable two decades as an employee of FCSS.  Because, after all, it is not the walls that define one’s experience in a workplace, but the people within them. Each and every one of them. And, believe it or not, our agency has not seen much staff turnover over the past 20 years. I wish I had more photos right now … so I could picture everyone, but unfortunately, I do not.

Staff Retreat January 2017

 

Christmas Party …. 2014

I remember my interview, way back in 1993, for one of the six “Parent Programmer” contract positions that were being filled. We would be allotted 20 hours/month to support families in our communities … with the most noble job on the planet … parenting. I was up against one other applicant … a woman who had some shiny credentials and fancy letters behind her name.  I had neither of those.  And then, during the interview, when they asked something about my own childhood, my ‘got-it-all together‘ demeanor was unbecomingly betrayed by some tender tears trickling down down my cheeks.  Argh. There I was, trying to be my best professional self … trying to put my best face forward … and … my cheeks were wet with tears. Who cries in a job interview?? Double argh!  I am usually really good at managing, hiding my emotions.

No one was more surprised than me when I got the call to say I got the job!  They did suggest … however … that I might also want to get some counseling to help me work through my own family of origin stuff.  Fair enough. And, that framed my beginning with an agency that clearly looked beyond academic credentials.  I must humbly concede, however, that I never hastily heeded their sage suggestion that I seek some support.  Instead, I eagerly and enthusiastically immersed myself in my brand new responsibilities as a ‘parent programmer’!

I loved, loved, loved my work for a couple of years.  But then … as my unhealed wounds from the past caught up with me, I ran into some significant challenges with raising my own three daughters. It got to the point where I no longer felt credible enough to presume I had any business trying to help others with their parenting concerns. And so … I quit my job.  And, I recognized that I best seek out that counseling that my employers had so earnestly recommended when they hired me.  And so, I did.

The irony of it all was that my childhood dream was to become a counselor . But … there I was, calling a counselor instead of being one. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.  And so … a couple of years of healing later, when an opening emerged in the Parenting Program  I initially resisted applying for it.  But then, I received an unexpected call from my prior supervisor … asking me if I was going to apply.  I was convinced that my own personal failings  experiences in the parenting trenches would prevent other parents from respecting anything I had to offer in that professional role … but she indicated that management was hoping to see my application in the pile.

Encouraged by their faith in me, I submitted my resume and started back with FCSS in September of 1997. And … guess what?  It turns out that parents find you even MORE credible when you can relate to their stumbles and struggles. It turns out, you are even more approachable and believable when you have endured some humbling parenting moments yourself.  Yes, it turns out that parents who are looking for support don’t feel as comfortable with professionals whose parenting journey sparkles with too much perfection.

And so … was the second beginning of my employment with FCSS … and … the 20 consecutive years that preceded the presentation of my long service award. There have been both blessings to behold and challenges to be championed over my time with FCSS.  In the early years, I was so timid and shy that I blushed every time I spoke up in a meeting … which was rare (the speaking – not the blushing!).  I am such an introvert and really need time to process things before I speak. And so, by the time I had integrated the conversation and knew what I wanted to say … the discussion had already moved on.  So I often said nothing.  These days, I am more likely to interrupt and ask if we can circle back to the prior conversation … so I can add my two cents.  I think my colleagues are getting used to that  … :-).

I can honestly say that I am so much better, both personally and professionally, because of my time with FCSS.  It really grew me as a person.  I found a deeper sense of faith in myself. I have discovered that my heart can be trusted and my instincts are reliable. I have learned to claim my voice and to stand behind my convictions.  I’ve always had a compassionate heart … but as Joan Halifax has so eloquently stated … in order to ultimately serve the greatest good …. we need to approach our experiences with a “soft front” and a “strong back”.  Yes. I’ve learned that well.

I don’t talk about it much, but I experienced some of the most critically challenging times in my life while working with FCSS.  At the worst point, about 15 years ago, I was being shunned in my multi-disciplinary workplace … by the bulk of my colleagues … who believed some misinformation circulating about me.  I opted to take the high road.  I thought it best to not get into the muck with the perpetrator (another colleague) by defending myself against such twisted ‘truths’.  I hoped my actions would outweigh her words.  But … as the gossip increasingly fueled my ostracization, it got to the point where I could barely force myself through the doors to face the hostility I felt in their scathing but silent condemnation.

And , I just kept turning the other cheek … thinking that  response was the most noble thing to do. I told myself that she was wounded … and … reminded myself that “hurt people hurt people”.  And while I still believe that to be true, I was fooling myself to think it was more spiritually enlightened to simply let it continue to happen. I didn’t realize, at the time, that despite one’s understanding of why people might be behaving badly … it is not kind nor altruistic to continue to allow them to do so.

I needed to find my back bone. I was being bullied and no one was coming to save me.  Not even me. No. With my silent stoicism, I was actually enabling someone to hurt me.

When I received a disdainful email from said ‘hurt person’ in another blatant effort to further diminish me … I couldn’t take the seemingly ‘high road’ anymore.  I found my back bone.  And … as I learned to stand strong in my own integrity, things eventually corrected themselves.  And my colleague finally found herself being held accountable for her words, actions and deeds.  And then, one day, she was gone.

I vowed to myself, at that time, that I would never let that happen again … to me or anyone else. I vowed that when I saw injustice or harm being perpetrated upon another … I would not step over it.  I would speak up and stand up … not with any intention to cause harm to them, but with the intention to help the situation.

 

And for the better part of my years with FCSS, we were blessed with an Executive Director who was an exceptional visionary.  He stretched us to places we never would have gone without his leadership. We became a cutting edge agency … partnering with the highly-esteemed leaders of the Neuroscience department of the University of LethbridgeBryan Kolb and Robbin Gibb became part of our FCSS family. Under Greg’s initiative, we were also gleaning new direction by rubbing shoulders with incomparable thinkers like Bruce Perry. Collectively, their bodies of work and expertise informed and underpinned our practices as we sought to support individuals and families in our communities. Greg was also inspired by the renowned Mary Gordon and her foundational work with Roots of Empathy and Parent Link Centres.  Mary came to Alberta and helped FCSS introduce these remarkable supports so that children could to get off to the very best start in their lives. Oh my … I can’t begin to list it all … but Greg’s legacy is long and lives on in the hearts and souls of so many who were lucky enough to be touched by his vision.

And, his staff rose to the occasion.  He told me once, he hired people based upon their attitudes not their credentials.  Some might scoff at that … but … he indicated that you can teach people skills, but you can’t transform their hearts as easily. I agree with him.  And … the people he chose to fill positions within FCSS … aka my colleagues … are people of incredible heart and unparalleled zeal and exceptional passion. Together we braved all the unknown territory our Director invited us to venture towards. And we formed an incredibly tight family that was often the expressed envy of other agencies and organizations.  Staff morale was high and so was staff retention.  We felt valued and acknowledged and appreciated … not simply seen as a means to an end … but rather he regarded his staff as exemplary catalysts creating a better and brighter future for those we sought to serve. And, we didn’t want to let him down. And, we never left a meeting without him sincerely acknowledging our efforts with a “thank you for all that you do”.

Thank you Greg Pratt, for your insight and intention.  Thank you for creating a work space that no one wanted to leave.  May you rest in peace.

Almost 15 years ago, Greg allowed me to reduce my hours so I could resurrect my dreams and go back to school.  He certainly had no obligation to grant my request. I will never forget him compassionately responding, “Karen, I would never want to stand in the way of anyone’s dreams”. People first.

And ultimately, I got the credentials that allowed me to land my dream job.  And … as it happened, I was even able to remain employed at FCSS while doing it. I surrendered my duties and responsibilities within the Parenting Program and claimed a space that opened up within the Counselling Program.  It has been the most rewarding time of my life.  So much so … that … I am in violation of the number of  vacation days I am allowed to accrue.  True story.  I was informed that I need to use up my vacation time in order to be in compliance with policy.

But, even the dreamiest part of my job has not been without challenges … and/or … opportunities to keep a soft heart and exercise a strong back.  Once again, about five years ago, FCSS was the backdrop to another of the most challenging times in my life. And, even when I was threatened with a law suit … a potential end my dream career … I was committed to standing strong.  I had taken heartfelt exception to what I was seeing and simply could not stand idly by and watch vulnerable people get harmed … however unwittingly by their well-intended but oblivious and cavalier perpetrator. I had to take the risk. Strong back, soft front. Fortunately … the individual opted to retire.

And, I know I could not have made it through those challenging times, were it not for the support and encouragement I received from my management team and my cherished counseling colleagues at FCSS. Yes. Management stood behind my decision and that helped fortify my resolve. I owe tremendous thanks to them for having my back … on that occasion and many others.  I also applaud them for gently helping me to shift my gaze, if and when, I needed correction.  The blessings of solid, predictable management over the past 20 years cannot be understated.

And, my counseling colleagues at FCSS have become my safe haven. They are among the few people in the world who I invite into the most tender parts of my heart space. And, they have handled the most fragile parts of my soul with such impeccably compassionate understanding.  I have grown immeasurably because of the support of these folks.

And, because we work in different departments and different communities at FCSS, I don’t see everyone all the time … but I hold the deepest regard for each of the staff at our agency.  And that doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye on things. We don’t. And we’ve had some prickly times as a result. But, as I shared with someone recently, “From where I am looking, its not the bumps that ultimately define us, but rather, it’s how we decide to move through them.”  And, it cannot be argued that despite any differences we may hold, we share an unfailing commitment to serve the constituents of our communities … to the very best of our capacities. People first.

I must also take this moment to pay due respect to our administrative staff.  Your impeccable skills and unfailing expertise provide such a secure foundation upon which the rest of us have come to depend.  Your energy, effort, enthusiasm, encouragement and support are second to none.  Thank you for holding us together with such dignity and grace … despite our messed up time sheets (among other things!)

And, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the Boards of Directors we have seen over the years.  Their dedication to keeping FCSS funded and recognized in our communities has been essential.  We have been led by some incredibly inspiring individuals. Thank you for spearheading our services and gifting us with the best supports you could provide.

And, as I write this, I am leaving for the weekend to celebrate my 60th birthday … which is officially in a few weeks.  And … as I am honored for my 20 years of commitment within FCSS, it strikes me that I have spent a full ONE THIRD of my life working within this agency. And, I am so proud of who we have been and who we have been invited to become.  Strong back … soft front … people first.

At our last staff meeting, we were invited to reflect upon our journeys as employees of FCSS.  I, once again, found unexpected tears trickling down my cheeks. I am not prone to such emotional expressions during meetings … but … in that moment, my heart was flooded with all the amazing moments and memories that I have collected over the last couple of decades. And, it is difficult to put into words … just how transformational it can be when people have believed in you and invited you to soar.  It is rare to work in a space where people have honored your presence and valued your being. My time at FCSS has been such a gift …

And … so … it is from the most humble place in my heart, I thank all of the bright and beautiful spirits that make FCSS a workplace where priority is given to the souls that we serve … not just the statistics we are required to collect. I honor you all for keeping your eyes on our mandate’s most precious commodity … it’s humanity. I applaud each of you for the tireless hours you invest into the care and support of those who might have minimal resources and/or may be struggling in isolation to find their way.  I admire your capacity to keep your own hearts soft … despite many invitations for them to get tough.  I respect your courage to stand in the truth or your own beings. I adore your authenticity and sincerity and genuineness of spirit.  I love being a part of this impeccable group. I am proud of who we represent and what we are capable of creating when we put our hearts and spirits together in the name of FCSS.

Thank you … truly … deeply … immeasurably … for shaping my days with this agency.  I am so much better because of you … and my twenty plus two years with FCSS.

Yes … this is what I wished I would have said at our staff meeting  … Karen

 

 

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Better Because of “The Vow” … By Debbie Ford

Perhaps 2018 is the year for us to make this impeccable vow to ourselves and for ourselves. 

In this short 4 minutes … Debbie Ford invites each and every one of us to stand in the best expression of who we can be in the world.

We are all so much better for the legacy of courage, faith and love that you brought to our hearts … Karen

P.S. If you have not yet read the book that contains “The Vow”, I highly recommend it.

 

Better Because of Our 13 Days …

Geraldine Fay Lindquist Johnson

She’d been in my life for 43 years.  For much longer than my own mom … who died when I was 31.  I remember when she excitedly extended her hand to show me her rings. I had travelled 1195 kilometers to visit with her and my dad. Sick. I felt entirely sick. She never said a word, but her eyes were twinkling as brightly as the diamonds perched prominently on her left ring finger. It took everything within me to bite back the tears in order to feign ample and appropriate enthusiasm. Seriously … how could they get married without even telling me??  I never asked. Some things feel better left unsaid.

And so, I always spoke of her as “my dad’s wife”. However, some 15 or 20 years (!!) later, I actually came upon the truth. She had no idea I believed they were married. It was all a complete misunderstanding. The truth was that she had been working on him relentlessly … begging for matrimony … for years!  But for reasons known only to my very stalwart father … he steadfastly refused to remarry. I could sense the pain of rejection in her heart because as she said … for a woman of her generation … it would be particularly shameful for her to die an “old maid”or “spinster”.  And so, to spare herself any public embarrassment, she adopted his last name and wore her wedding rings very proudly.  I got it. 

All she ever wanted was to be a wife and mother.  But my dad died unexpectedly without ever officially saying “I do” to her.  And, although she had also pressed me to call her “mom” … I’m not sure I much embraced her as a parental figure. I guess the whole decades long belief that they had been ‘wedded without me’ had made her his ‘wife’ in my eyes, but certainly not my ‘stepmom’. Instead, I opted to affectionately call her“Ger” instead of Gerri … and … she fondly called me “Kar” instead of Karen.

In addition to my own little family, I was all Ger had left after my dad died.  And, at 82, she was still living on her own.  We had looked into alternate spaces, but it distressed her terribly to think of leaving the home she had shared with my dad.  I had finally convinced her that she needed to wear a Life Alert because she was getting less stable on her feet and had fallen a couple of times.

Celebrating her 82nd birthday …

Ger’s health had always been tentative … and she had regularly experienced days when she was laid up … feeling “punk”.  Usually it was because she had bitten off more than she could chew … trimming branches on trees, moving furniture, shampooing the carpets etc – by herself.  Yes.  I said by herself.  When she got an idea in her head, she had no patience to wait for help to arrive.  And so, she often overdid it and paid the price.

But, the malaise that preceded her landing in ER on July 31, 2017 had persisted for nearly three weeks.  When I got stern with her – questioning her reticence to call her doctor – she admitted she was scared about what he might have to say. She had a stint put in some years ago, carried nitroglycerin in her purse and took baby aspirin regularly. Perhaps her ticker was acting up again?

It appears that she was very intuitive indeed …  something was, in fact, very wrong. 

When she got out of bed the next morning … she took a few steps and collapsed.  Thank goodness for her Life Alert button!  And so … we found ourselves in the ER … utterly dumbfounded … staring at each other … in wide-eyed disbelief. The sun had barely peeked over the horizon on that fateful Monday and the day had already taken some very unexpected and unfavorable turns. There would be tests and more tests.

And may I say that for as long as Ger has been part of my life, she has always caught me up short by hastily forging head-first into foreboding territory.  She always dives in long before I am emotionally prepared to tackle any such precarious terrain.  I am far more tentative and reflective about everything in my life.  I prefer to tip-a-toe in tentatively and get a sense of things before I move forward with unfettered conviction. But not Ger … she has always preferred to swoop into action … immediately.

It was the same when my dad died very unexpectedly during a summer BBQ on July 12, 2009.  He had just filled his plate … and enthusiastically declared “This is great!”  And then … he was gone.

Ger needed to be ‘doing’ things to help her process her grief.  I, on the other hand, needed time to simply ‘be’ with the loss before I could think about making decisions or taking actions that could not be undone.  It definitely created some emotional tension for both of us as we mourned the loss of the same man. Nothing wrong with either approach … but … this particular Monday was proving to be no different.

She needed to know, right then and there … and … did not hesitate to ask the attending ER physician just how long she could expect to live. I expected him to defer by saying it would be premature to guess until the prognosis had been officially confirmed.  But, much to my chagrin, he responded:

“Maybe two months.” 

Whoa. What??  My mind frantically raced for some way to process this blindside.  Yesterday was just a normal Sunday.  We had a conversation on the phone.  I was looking forward to having this particular Monday off work so I could nibble away at my ‘to-do’ list. And, in all honesty, I was still trying to process the death of my father-in-law (who had died just two months prior) . And his passing was fairly hot on the heels of the death of his wife … my mother-in-law (just 7 months prior to that).  We were already knee deep … maybe chin deep … into the grieving process. I instinctively resisted.

“We can’t be certain Ger.  At this point, it’s all just speculation.” 

But she was already making plans.  I respected the gravity of her situation enough to know that if this was going to be the last leg of her journey … I needed to honor her desires to do it her way.  And so, in order to keep up, I opened a new tab in my Wunderlist  App … and labeled it “Gerri”.  I started making notes as she determined, discussed and directed what she wanted taken care of before she, too, departed this earthly plane.  I left the hospital late in the evening, in utter disbelief … hoping that ‘tomorrow’ would be a better day.

On Tuesday morning, August 1st, I returned bright and early … and … Ger was still making plans. I promised to take her cat, Scamper, home to live with me. She gave me her banking pass code and asked me to update her bank book.  I’m not sure why her finances were important in THAT moment, but she needed to be sure that OAS had given her the increase she was expecting. Can do.  And … she reckoned that one of the family best take and use the expensive silky cover off her built-in vacuum hose. She’d paid a pretty penny for it … no sense leaving that gem for a renter. Okay.  And … she wondered about how she would die … would she suffer? Would she suffocate, would she choke … would her heart take her? Gulp.

I compassionately searched deeply into her eyes and asked if she was scared. She confirmed that if she let herself think about it, she felt frightened. She looked down for a moment and then pensively uttered,“What if … what if I am denied entry at the pearly gates?”

For a split second, I could feel the weight of that worry hanging heavily in her heart. And then, with her next breath she moved quickly past that uncomfortable query and determined that her electric fireplace  would look great on a particular wall in the spacious bedroom of her grand-daughter’s new house. Agreed. She was delighted that another of her grand-daughters could use the stand up freezer. Excellent. And the desks … she wanted me to have her antique desk and tea cart. For sure.  I was squirming internally as she so casually discussed such things.

I told her it felt entirely awkward, inappropriate and insensitive to be discussing the dispersal of her belongings. Some things feel better left unsaid. She assured me that it pleased her so very deeply to know that her legacy would live on in the belongings that would be enjoyed by those she loved. And, she declared that she didn’t want a funeral. Okay. She wanted us to have a nice family dinner and just talk about her instead. Fair enough.  But, I found myself offering an alternate perspective:

“Ger, let’s wait until they do more tests.  They could be mistaken.  The mass they spotted in your lung might not be fatal.”

How does one even begin to integrate such news  when the big “C” was never ever … not for one moment … a prior concern in one’s eight decades of life.  They did more tests. And more scans.  They needed to consult with the oncologist and the lung specialist.  She reminded me to take her ashes, her mother’s ashes and my dad’s ashes to a specified place. We ordered her a TV so she could keep up with The Young and the Restless.  It occurred to me that we’d need a schedule so we could take turns watering her lawn and feeding Scamper while she was in hospital.

Wednesday, August 2nd … they did a biopsy on the tumor and were going to do a brain scan when her heart acted up again.  They ended up losing her at one point. Gone. Her room was empty when I arrived to visit. After a bit of panic … they sympathetically told me that my ‘mom’ had been moved to ICU. I never corrected them. They used the paddles to revive her. It was shortly after that they got the results of the biopsy and they discovered she also had MRSA.  It’s a super bug  … an infection that is highly resistant to treatment. It seemed prudent to get the Power of Attorney signed. It was entirely surreal … and … unraveling far too quickly for me.

Thursday, August 3rd … the doc came in to confirm the diagnosis. Yes. Cancer. Stage 4.  A small cell type that spreads quickly.  They believe it started in her lung about six to 12 months prior and confirmed that it had already spread to her adrenal glands and her liver. It had also metastasized into her lymph system and likely into her bones.

No emotion or tears on her part.  Just more action. She decided to sell us her car so it wouldn’t get caught up in probate. It occurred to me that I should probably take her purse home for safekeeping.  I reckoned I should bring her slippers. She thought maybe an ice cream would taste good. Funny where the mind goes in a moment like that.

When the oncologist arrived for rounds, she asked again: “how long”?  Perhaps two months … unless it was in her brain. She slipped up and later told someone she had two weeks.  I corrected her.  No Ger … the doc said two months. She second guessed me by asking if I was sure about that. Yep. I was sure. The tests had confirmed it was not in her brain.

Hmmm. She was sure she had about two weeks. The oncologist was gentle and kind and recommended palliative care. And she started planning again.

Because of the contagious nature of MRSA, visitation was counter-indicated for many.  We had to mask-up, glove-up and gown-up completely to be in her presence.  A few of the family came to visit, but for the better part of her hospitalization … it was mostly just me and Ger.

Monday, August 7th … Myrna (Ger’s late brother’s wife) made the long trip from Saskatchewan.  I could sense Ger’s delight with her arrival. They had remained very dear friends. And, she seemed tickled with our three-way conversation.  At one point … in true “Granny style” (as my girls would fondly suggest)  Ger looked at both Myrna and I and fervently exclaimed:

” After all of this … if I don’t die … I’m going to be really pissed off!”

We all burst into laughter at the paradoxical nature of her comment.  I suggested that maybe instead of having a dinner after she passed, maybe she could join us in a family feasting when she moved into Palliative Care whereby she could “eavesdrop” on our conversation about her.  Well, she thought that would be okay … but … could we have a dinner in her honor afterwards, too?  Of course. And we’ll be sure to serve Lucy’s famous chocolate cake!  Lucy is my son-in-law’s lovely mother … and … her chocolate cake recipe has become a family favorite!

Tuesday, August 8th … we talked about the things she could do to decorate her new home in palliative and make it feel like home.  The white shag carpet.  Perhaps an armchair … if there was space? Maybe we could sneak Scamper in for a final visit?  Maybe we could smuggle in a ‘go cup’  filled with her favorite Royal Red wine … aka “Granny’s swill” ?  She hastily put the brakes on that idea.  She was entirely averse to getting evicted from palliative care before she got settled in.  We laughed … and yet … there was something sobering about the absurdity of all that we were so casually discussing.

Her decline was rapid. The very next day, she unexpectedly lost some lucidity.  She told Myrna she was quite sure she had died at 2:17pm.  And, by the following day, she was unable to speak with any comprehensive coherence. And, it was becoming more and more difficult for her to breathe.  They cancelled her transfer to palliative.

And so, true to form, even in her dying … Ger wasted no time. Once again … her pace was far too fast for me to process comfortably.   And ultimately … she was right. It wasn’t two months. It wasn’t even two weeks.  It was 13 days …

At some point during our last 13 days together, Ger told me that she came into the world alone … lived most of her life alone … and … expected to die alone.  In that moment, my heart ached for her … because in so many ways … she was right.  Her father had been murdered. Her mother could be quite abusive.  My father – her spouse – was emotionally disconnected. She had limited contact with her brother before he died young of melanoma. She had endured a whole lot of trauma and abandonment in her life. The stories she recanted broke my heart.

And … I could not deny that I, too, had contributed to her sense of loneliness. I was often too busy to make her a priority. It takes 1.5 hours round trip to get to Ger and all our family from where I live … so a quick pop-in every now and again was just not possible.  I had gone back to school as a mature student to complete my BSW as well as my MSW … and …  was also employed  as a counselor in my community along with running a small private practice of my own on the side. I have one husband, three daughters and eight grandchildren …  so … the pulls for my attention are/were persistent and plentiful. In addition to that … within the last three years … the demands on my time had become increasingly intensified as my aging and ailing in-laws health deteriorated and their medical needs and chronic crises eclipsed any predictability in our lives. I am also a landlord with four rental properties. In all honesty … I had been struggling to keep all those balls in the air and had become entirely depleted trying to do so.

That said, I did my best to ‘be there’ for Ger … but … I always knew my best wasn’t nearly as much as she wanted and/or deserved in terms of my time and attention. And, in all honesty, it troubled my heart to know I was falling short of her expectations. And so, with an ache in my heart for my inability to make the days of her life less lonely … I committed myself to being there ‘with’ her and showing up fully ‘for’ her … during her final journey home. I let her know I was “all hers” for the duration.

I spent some long days with her at the hospital. I really didn’t want her to be alone when she passed. The staff knew me as her ‘daughter’ and referred to Ger as my ‘mom’.  I never corrected any of them. Some things feel better left unsaid.  In fact, I could feel Ger’s heart swell with these new terms of reference in the space. And, in all honesty … it felt really good to me too.

As it turned out … she waited until I had gone home for the night on Saturday, August 12th. The nurse called me, just a couple of hours after I left, to say that my mom had taken her last breath while they were making their rounds and tending to her comfort.  I was surprised by how hard it hit me. I thought I was prepared …

It was to be our 40th wedding anniversary the next day. I didn’t feel like celebrating. So we didn’t. And, although it does my heart good to know that she wasn’t actually ‘alone’ when she passed because she had the nursing staff with her … it still struck me that Ger was being a bit of a ‘stinker’ for not letting me be there when she transitioned. My daughter suggested that perhaps she waited until I was gone because she, in fact, didn’t want to leave me alone when she passed. Hmmmm … I still tear up when I think of it that way.

We hired a Life Celebrant  (thank you Shelly Bassett!)  who met with us in advance to gather our recollections … and … she composed a beautiful ‘life story’ honoring Ger/Granny. Shelly orated this meaningful tribute to her as we gathered in a large circle in our back yard on a very warm, sunny day.  Our celebration was complete with all of Ger’s very favorite things … including taco in a bag!  Her grand-daughters and I wore pieces of her favorite jewellery and we toasted her with her ‘swill’ and some Japanese ‘sake’ that she had liked to share with her grandsons.  It turned into far more than just the conversation she wanted us to have about her. I recorded it … and … we have a printed copy of the ‘story’ of Ger/Granny and all she meant to us.

Ger took great pride in her home and took such impeccable care of things.  I have updated my own space with so many beautiful things of hers.  Her energy is now present in each room of my house.  By the way, I discovered a number of ‘spreaders’ in her kitchen drawers.  I took three of them home with me and passed the others on to my daughters. I figured if she had more than one, they must be good.

Well … I am not sure how I lived almost 60 years without one!   Who knew they would make such a culinary difference!   I bought new ones for all my daughters!  I even bought one for my bestie!  If you don’t own one … or … haven’t tried one … I highly implore you to allow Gerri’s legacy to touch your life too, in this small way.

As I was going through her belongings, I came across something in her most precious memorabilia. Many years ago, one of the ways I attempted to combat the commercialization of  Christmas, was to have us make homemade gifts for one another and attach a meaningful affirmation to each other. I discovered she had saved them. And  … I share one year of our affirmations of her with you here because they offer a beautiful snapshot of just who she was to all of us:

And, I absolutely sobbed when I came across one she had kept that my dad  … the man who refused to marry her … had written:

THAT she was.  My dad’s life was irrefutably better because of my step-mom. His prior lived experience had carved some pretty sharp edges into him … but she loved him unconditionally … even during the times when he could be pretty darn difficult to love. And, she cared for him tenderly and compassionately during the most fragile and unbecoming moments of his own journey with cancer.  And, she tended to him with her whole heart … and … she never failed to make him her utmost priority in life.  Ever.

And, I must also add, that Ger’s life was undeniably better because of him.  He offered her more safety and security than she had ever experienced within her family of origin. And that doesn’t mean their relationship was all roses and sunshine. No.  A union of two wounded souls cannot be without its darkness. But, in all honestly … I could see that they were unarguably, the answer to each of their prayers.

Ger and I had eight years together after my dad passed, but … I can honestly say that our last 13 days became a cherished time of deeper connection for us.  We were able to  meet each other in that sacred place beyond the accidental hurts, misunderstandings and unmet expectations that sometimes prickled between us.  And instead … we embraced a felt sense of the unconditional parts of the love that we also held for one another.

With the deepest of reverence, I came to appreciate her idiosyncratic way of being in the world … not as my dad’s wife, but as my step-mom. Yes. It was truly a blessing to be gifted with that space and time … a divinely orchestrated opportunity to ‘be’ with each other in deep, unfettered and meaningful ways.

And so Ger …  I really want to “thank you” for launching promptly into action even before they could confirm your diagnosis. Were it not for that, I would never have been so aware of all your wishes.  And, I remain committed to honoring each and every one of them … except one.

Please accept my sincerest apologies  … but I didn’t bring Scamper home with me the day you died … as I had promised.  Through an amazing turn of events, I became aware of a youngster who really, really wanted to have him.  And I suspect you will forgive me, because as I look at this picture of the two of them together, it appears to be a match made in Heaven.  That said, I am wondering … if perhaps … you somehow had a hand in orchestrating this sublime alternative for your furry feline.

And ultimately … I need you to know Ger … I have been shifted and stretched to a better version of myself as a result of our precious 13 days together.  You taught me that there is something deeply transformational about sitting with the dying. I erroneously assumed that being with you was going to be my gift to you … but … I can see now that … the gift was mine.

I feel so very blessed to have shared that sacred space with you and I remain humbled by the love and energy in our final moments together. Thank you for loving me … like every good mother would do. Always. In your own special way. And thank you for caring so deeply about me … as your only daughter.

My home is filled with reminders of you … and … I will carry so much of your spirit in my heart as I greet all the days yet to come. I hope I can bring some of your feisty energy with me into our family celebrations.  Your generous heart will be missed in more ways than you can imagine.

Thank you again Ger … I am truly so much better because of your presence in my life … and especially … because of our precious last 13 days together,  ❤ Kar ❤

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