where do I begin along these empty lines to unfold the days lay them out on the desk in carefully crafted phrases wind them in delicate circles around my body tucked into a thousand pieces of paper waiting for the north wind to catch them through the window beginning with hope laughter in the fresh crisp air days stretch over rooftops long lines left by sunsets and shadows waiting for the sky to change dust collects on shelves decades old while I sit in the half light listening to whispers and heart beats holding joy before it fades ~ la 2021
turn the dial as the sun passes the window orange glow soup heats on the stove I stretch my arms to wrap around the empty space empty embrace before me fluorescent light distorts my reflection lines point in different directions around the eyes don't know where to look to find the truth which line to step along or trace night creeps up onto the windowsill perched just outside looking in ~ la 2021
lines on the page drawn with a careful hand outlines move in slow curves to the centre crossing over in unexpected intersections blank pages slowly fill colour pulled by sunlight sneaking through cracks we are okay alone living in the corners of our soul but together is better when the lines meet before continuing on ~ la 2021
your voice falls over me like honey from a spoon held high enough to slip down to cover to soothe to calm me I breathe again for the first time not realizing I had held my breath for years breath comes dressed in laughter in tears in healing in freedom an unintended gift perhaps not understood it does not matter now that the cage door is open I stretch beyond what I bowed to and gather torn pieces in my arms ready to fly ~ la 2020
the pause after the end leaning into another beginning that place I want need to step into it fold my body fold my heart fold myself to curl around you to hold you close to me and be held beyond the edge of myself but like a thousand steel needles I fear if I close my eyes I am lost alone bound and torn into slim ribbons of existence I hold myself out to where dreams thrive and follow me like music through the trees ask for nothing in return just a pause before ~ la 2020
I have let these threads weave between us in loose and fragile patterns that complicates itself in the futility of existence I go and return to you as the sun passes the window pulling light into corners where it has not touched yet before leaving again I wake and sleep not moving in this isolation allowing what needs to be I have let these threads weave between us in loose and fragile patterns I have let these threads remain ~ la 2020
I have not loved you in the first 18,471 days I have known you not once I have not felt a tenderness towards you or felt compassion in seeing your reflection or cared for you before another not once I have not walked through my soul's estate wondering what I could do to care for you more but now, here we are in conversation for the first time ~ la 2020
one hundred and eighty two days blurred together like paint smeared on canvas like a photograph left too long in the sun like gibberish dreams that fill the night nothing makes sense silence binds isolation with threads left dangling, untended to knot in the early fall winds introspection dances on the edge with uncertainty avoidance brings inspection and distraction by the hand but I... I sit with you, love and wonder what you will teach me ~ la 2020
crowded together pressed against mind's edge empty and faceless peer over the railing above the page pushed against each other they perch to leap first land unscathed between the lines reaching outward towards where my head lies on the desk resting and tiptoe onto my outstretched hand ~ la 2020
torn fabric lets the light in old curtains hang on the windows slightly askew she stands there the second girl, waiting with her back to the wall leaning into the moment one hand braced behind light becomes distraction playing along the wall with abandon the second girl shifts in place watches the shadows join in to stretch and pull the hours that are left in the day they walk in, hand in hand He looks around the room the second girl looks up tilts her head to listen they stand too close talking about their lives he laughs too loudly she knows he watches her over his wife's shoulder trying to catch her eye Watch hands march slowly another second, hour, minute, month passes filled with quiet laughter love exchanged like secret seeds on the wind the game stretched thin to inevitable fading pale light at dusk She reaches out to hold nothing in her hands Memory and a handful of words left to float in the ether No one knew the thread between them delicate untouched unchecked uncut undone She stands there, the second girl alone with her thoughts unclear in the aftermath what remains unsaid lost forgotten She remembers the scar of a tear she made in the curtain made to let the light in she remembers always being the second girl, waiting ~ la 2020
I think about you often.
There have been moments over the past ten years when I have thought/ asked myself what would you have told me to do. There have been times when I have heard your voice in my head saying ‘ What is she doing?” like you used to when you were not happy with me.
A couple of weeks ago, I actually heard your voice on a video that I found in my photo archive that was taken on your camera a few months before you died. I had never seen it before. It had been on your camera and I had saved the files but never looked at them. I cried after hearing it. The tears came like water through a faucet. It surprised me that after all these years, hearing it would affect me like that. I realized then, that the way I see you has changed.
Grief and time have changed the lens that I look back through. I can’t speak for anyone else who knew you. I can only share what I feel now.
Today it has been ten years since I held your hand in Parkwood. Sat beside you until you left your body behind, then I drove home from the hospital, numb and unable to process anything that had happened leading up to that moment when I saw and felt you take that last breath. Life became very different and difficult after that.
I can’t remember the number of times that I have tried to articulate how I have grieved your death. I didn’t not share publically necessarily, but to help myself heal, at least to start the healing that needed to happen.
Grief I have come to understand does not have an end date and changes with time. I have been told over the years by different people that I should just get over it, get over the loss, your death, other endings. That I should just let it go and move on. Your death came at a time in my own life that was already so filled with deep loss, that watching you die became intermingled with so much pain and sadness that I did not know how to separate it from the living that I had to do at the time.
I wrote the following for you and gave the eulogy at your funeral. I like to believe that you were there to hear it then. It feels important that you (and I) might hear it again:
A mother is not a person to lean on but a person to make leaning unnecessary.- Dorothy C. Fisher
Last November, I flew to Nova Scotia to drive Mom home to London, for what would be her last trip to the east coast. I have driven those highways more than a few times over the past few years with my daughters, but this was the first time with my Mom. As we drove through the different cities and towns along Highway 2, 20 and 401. We had a lot of time to just talk; 22 hours in fact. Mom told me many stories about her life, stories of places and people along the way.
Somewhere just past the border of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, we sang the entire John Denver Greatest Hits CD, one of her favourites. We reminisced about our time together as a family. We laughed remembering the Christmas when we had to cook the turkey and heat up the tortière in the fireplace because the ice storm had knocked out the power. DeeDee, Grandfather and Cousin Lois were visiting, and tuna fish just wouldn’t cut it. We remembered the time Rob and Darryl made a go cart when we were still living in the farmhouse, and how Rob launched Darryl off the steep ramp they had built, into the piles of leaves they had raked up. Darryl flew, arms flailing high into the air, then disappeared into the leaves. After some minutes he emerged with a huge grin on his face, ready to go again. Mom breathed a huge sigh of relief, and then went for a spin herself.
Mom loved to do many things, and I will remember her in this way. Mom loved to make jam and jellies. I can still hear the pop of the lids when the jam jars set. She was unafraid to steal, I mean, borrow, crab apples even from the front lawn of the church in Kinburn to make jelly. (or from any church lawn for that matter). Blooming crab apple trees in spring were her favourite.
She loved to sing in the choir. I remember many times listening to her and Katie, when we were younger, sit at the piano together, to sing hymns in two part harmony. She loved to take long walks by the ocean, to do jigsaw puzzles and crosswords. If she had been a contestant on Jeopardy she surely would have won.
She loved to teach, and had a passion for learning; most of all to help others learn. On this last drive together, she told me about the children she had taught over the years at the various schools that she had taught at, especially Erskine Johnson and Fitzroy Centennial Public School in Ottawa. After all those years, she could still remember everything about those kids, especially the hardest students to teach. She loved children – especially her grandchildren, her nieces and nephews and her own children – all of us.
When we drove through Hudson, Quebec, Mom told me stories about her childhood – spending her summers as a teen, golfing, playing basketball in high school with her friends, and golfing. She talked about how close she felt to her friends growing up in the small community, and how wonderful it was to reconnect with them at their high school reunion not so long ago.
She told me stories about her time at Neuchatel Junior College in Switzerland, and travelling with DeeDee to Italy over her school holidays. She really loved to travel. She had many fond stories about the different places she had been, and especially of her cruise to Alaska with Dad, Uncle Bill and Aunt Jan.
Something happened on that trip back from Nova Scotia that I will never forget. As we drove into Drummondville on the first night, I saw a brilliant turquoise falling star. So bright, brighter than I had ever seen before. I was just about to ask Mom if she had seen it too, when she turned to me and asked that very question. Neither of us had imagined seeing the star fall. I pulled off to the side of the highway, and we both made wishes at that very moment.
Mom had a drive and iron will unmatched by anyone that I have ever known. Her passion ensured that she lived her life in her own way. She was not afraid to speak her mind, be direct or call you out on something she didn’t agree with. No one dared to steal the corner pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that she was working on… ok, maybe I did but no one ever could prove that.
I am deeply grateful for sharing this life with Mum. It wasn’t always easy but she had a profound effect on my life. She has touched the lives of many people throughout the years. I know that I would not be the person I am today, if Mom had not been part of it. She pushed me to look at the world with a critical eye, to push myself to be more than I thought I could ever be. Though we may not have shared the same blood, we had a special bond together that I am grateful to have shared.
unfold your wings
you are free now
rise up to the sky, little darling
we are here now in the glow
of everything that you are
oh little butterfly
the pain of change is over now
go into the winds and softer breezes
dance as only you can
in this new and golden light
our hearts are overflowing
fingertip to fingertip to wing
Thank you Mom, for everything that you have given to me, to our family, and to everyone.
Thank you for the gift of you.
July 29, 2010
I think about the time we shared just before you passed. I am grateful for it because it planted a seed that took ten years to flower and help me understand many things I did not at the time. Now that I am older, I understand how it is better to look back on everything with a compassionate and open heart and to let that past be what it was. The past cannot be changed. I have learned to allow myself to feel, especially when I have been told by others how I should and what to feel.
In many ways, all of it had to happen in order to shape the person that I am today. It has been part of a lifetime of learning, evolving, and growing that I am not wiling to dismiss or ignore. I will spend today thinking and remembering with a softer heart than I had before.
The path of the pandemic this year has very much echoed the events that occurred ten years ago. When I began this year I felt that it would be a year, among other things, a year of forgiveness. I am learning in a deep way to sit with forgiveness, wrestle with it and embrace it. I wish that you were here so that we could talk about it in person. Since we can’t, this letter to you will have to do.
31 years ago, I stood with the children of a family I lived with in Senegal, West Africa, while on a Canada World Youth program in 1989.
These are the children helped to change my life in ways I have not fully been able to articulate. Not even sure I could now. They helped me to understand life and death, helped me to be me without me being able to speak their language properly or at all, helped me to find joy. I am so deeply grateful to have had that chance to become their friend even for a short time.
Their mother was a traditional doctor, and took care of everyone – her family, her extended family, the villagers of Diakene Diola and the surrounding villagers in the part of the Casamance where we lived. She took care of me when I was sick with malaria. Their father worked as a nurse in at a field hospital in another village/ town.
The kids and I played together whenever we were at the house – which lead to a lot of laughter and singing. I would spend the small allowance I would get from the program to buy them soccer balls and treats for them. We got water together, collected fruit, ate meals together and I walked with them to their school.
The children and their grandmother used to call me Akibio. When we played together, the kids would rub and pat my arms to make sure I wasn’t lying about the colour of my skin. They were sure my skin was dark underneath the white paint. It made them laugh because no matter how hard they tried, I just turned pink instead of the colour they hoped I would be underneath. This impacted me on so many levels. I have not written a lot about what that period of my life was like for me. One day maybe I will. In the end, when they did try to scratch away at the surface, I would point to my heart, cover it with my hand and then point to them. I would say “mon coeur, ton coeur, même coeur” (which also made them laugh because as an anglophone just learning the French language, I had not mastered pronunciation at all). Underneath it all, we have the same heart. Now they have all grown up, had families of their own. I think about that time in my life and about them almost every day. We took this photograph together so that I could have it printed and sent to the family to have. So we could remember. I am so glad that I still have it.
The lives of these children were not easy in any way. They all had dreams and hopes for the future. Their mother, father, grandmother had dreams for them. The situation they found themselves in living where they did was not so different from anywhere else in the world, except they had very little in the way of material things back then. To me, they were rich beyond measure in what they had in family. The children most often left the village to move to bigger cities to got to school if they were lucky, and in pursuit of jobs and better lives.
Most did not want riches and fame when they left the village. They wanted to earn enough to send home to their families to make sure there was enough food for everyone, but sometimes there wasn’t. They wanted to earn enough so their younger brother or sister could go to school and be trained for a job too. They wanted to earn enough to be able to get the medicine they needed to stay healthy. They wanted what we take for granted: food, running water, electricity, clothing, a roof over their heads and for those they love to have the same. They had the hope to dream. The youngest of my Senegalese family was named Opportun. Her name spoke so loudly about these hopes and dreams.
This experience was a turning point for me – a huge (and sometimes hard and harrowing) blessing to my life. I learned so much about life itself while there. We weren’t there to change anything. We did not go to convert or build or influence the lives of anyone we were living with. We were there to learn, to help where we could and ultimately broaden our understanding of the world around us.
Because of this family, these children, I went on to do many things to help children like them, to help families, to help others follow those dreams. I came home to Canada, ready to go to university and got my degree in Anthropology and French. , I started working with children and families with low incomes in London, ON in 1991. 29 years later I am still doing it – working and volunteering to help locally and internationally. I volunteered with Arts for Aids International (now 17 Colours) for fifteen years. Now I work for an organization who operations homeless shelters and runs addiction and mental health programs. I became a mother in the midst of all of that and have raised my two children to view the world with clear open eyes, to fight against what is wrong in the way they can, to call out injustice and to care for those who are in need.
I don’t share this to give the impression that I have any say or voice in what is happening today. I share this because I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to do what they can to bring hope, love and compassion to the forefront. I do not see this as weakness but as part of the force of change.
When there are people everywhere, here in London, around the world, who do not have the same opportunity to follow the path that is laid out in front of them, we must advocate for systematic change. That change is coming. It is like birthing a child. It is painful and at times excruciating. It is also filled with deep love.
This change requires us to lift up and amplify those voices that need to be heard right now. It’s not enough to be satisfied to hear there is a problem, any more than it is to see it. The work has to be done to change it. Every single day, not just today. When I am called upon to help I will be there. In the meantime, I am standing with everyone, in the background.