Tag Archives: Grief

Minutiae #7: Yari

UnknownI remember him as a child quite well. White blonde hair, small, determined young boy. He and his brother joined the skating club years ago. Yari took to skating differently than his brother. He was serious and focused and train-able as people like to say. His brother skated but not in the same way. And soon Yari rose through the ranks, competing, growing, focussing and then I blinked and he was off to Calgary to train. And in the summers he would come back to the club and run our dry land sessions. Even then he was tough and serious even though we were a rag tag group of skaters of all ages, including my partner who was well into her 70’s at that point. He ran dry land like we were real skaters.

And one summer he brought a girl who would become his wife. And she and I would hang around the back laughing and talking, and Yari would look up and smile and then tell us to get down and do our endless low walks across the grassy field under the hot summer sun. And while it was clear that I wasn’t going anywhere with my skating he always had the time of day for me. And sometimes he would say something that was just plain funny. And spot on. And that’s when you could see the funny guy behind the focused young man.

I remember he came back for a few seasons to coach and I always wanted to do better because in spite of my lack of natural ability and the numerous fears that held me back, he still gave me his all. But it wasn’t just me he gave his all to, it was everyone. He gave everyone his all.

I saw him this March at the BC Championships. He was the referee. We said a quick hello because he was busy. I heard that he and his wife had gone their separate ways. That he had become a lawyer and that he lived in Calgary. That he had spent a few difficult years but he was happy now.  I heard he had fallen in love with a woman and a little boy. That they were the centre of his universe and that he was a devoted step-father to this little boy. And I imagine Yari in all his generosity and kindness and capacity to give, being an amazing person to the little boy in his life. I heard that they were the apple of his eye and that they were to be married in July this year. I had heard that as a lawyer when things got tough he would lighten things up by wearing colourful socks or ties or jackets and that he had picked a spectacular jacket for his wedding.

And then I heard that one week before his wedding he suffered a terrible headache. It was blinding and relentless and like nothing he had felt before even though he was familiar with migraines. So he brought his little boy to his neighbour’s house and called an ambulance.

One day this summer the phone rang. It was my best friend  who had called to say she had something to tell me and that she wanted me to hear it from her and then she told me that Yari had passed away. And it shook me to my core. It shook me. Not because I knew him so well. I didn’t at all. He was a ship passing by in my life. I cried because he had given me something. I cried because he was so young – 37. I cried because his wedding, the happiest day of his life in the end became a celebration of the passing of his life. I cried because I didn’t know how to grieve for someone that wasn’t my immediate family but who had touched my life with his generosity and his passion for a crazy sport. A sport he believed in passionately, a sport he gave so generously of his time to. A sport that he helped young people and old people  and all kinds of people in between, excel in, taking each of us as seriously as though he were training us for the Canadian national team. He made me reach higher – try harder. Speed skating, a sport that gave me confidence when I had none. An ounce of the confidence that this sport has given me in life belongs to Yari who helped me get there.

I have only known three people in my life who left far too young. Sometimes when I’m out walking I say their names out loud – Lori Brown, Scott Wilson. I blow their names out to the wind hoping that those lives will be scattered to the earth, carried by the wind, embedded in the dirt, carried away to beautiful places. I say those names to confirm that they were indeed here. I say their names as an act of remembrance so I never forget. And now when I walk I say Yari’s name in the hope that a young person who left us far too early and who gave so many, so much, will always be remembered and embraced. Yari.

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The Reinvented Me. Urban Deck Gardener & Plant Rescuer

Image I am an unlikely person to be growing plants or tending to gardens. When Dave suggested even a few years ago that we get a plant for the house I looked at him quizzically – yes, quizzically – because aside from the hideous little plant that my friend Inge had given me years ago and which I now consider an indispensable member of the family, I couldn’t possibly imagine why you would want a plant in the house. Or flowers on the deck.  It just didn’t exist within the scope of my existence. Even though I was raised by a mother whose balcony was transformed by her flowers which she fussed over and who once famously declared her birthday party to be an abject failure thanks to nobody bringing her tulips. Yes, tulips. I think she may have even danced on the table that night.

ImageI think when someone you love deeply leaves you, they also leave you with something. My grief over losing my mom led me to plant tulips for the first time in my life. Little bulbs in dirt that grew big, beautiful and colourful. Like my mother. These are for her. I look at them and I say “This is for you. Take a look.” And she says, “Oh my god Tessie, I can’t believe it. You did it for me?” Yes. I did.

ImageBut these seeds of grief are becoming something else. Because now I share something with one other person. My mother-in-law, who with bare feet and hands, gets in there and pulls weeds, dead heads and lovingly re-arranges them,  then claps her hands clean and says, “Done!”.

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And next came tomatoes and basil. And then my friend Karen, rescuer of dogs and cats, also happens to be a rescuer of plants. So now I find I have peppers (all kinds) and a real beauty called Malabar spinach.

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A visit to Loutet farm with my niece Ella resulted in snap peas and arugula, quickly followed up with a visit to GardenWorks to see about planting kale (my vegetable du jour) and swiss chard. Vancouver is currently awash with urban gardens and our Greenest City 2020 motto has me all fired up. In the coming weeks I’ll think about potatoes, onions and garlic.

Do I know anything about gardening? No. Like everything else I’ll dive headlong into it and make thousands of mistakes and I’ll learn from Bettye and Karen and others as I go along. But for now. Here are my latest rescues and loves.

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Tulips and Glory for the lady in 301 -Feb 23rd

20130224-125415.jpgIt’s the rituals that I miss. I loved phoning the florist near my mom’s house and asking for the spring bouquet of tulips. I loved asking if the Austrian gentleman could deliver them. I loved talking to my mom and hearing her say, “Oh you know what Tess, that flower delivery man LOVES ME. He’s always flirting with me.” (what this means is that my mother was flirting shamelessly with him). I loved the fact that her birthday falls fortuitously close to the Oscars, the single most important event of the year for my mother and consequently for us. The Oscars were better than her own birthday, better than her childrens’ birthdays, better than Christmas. Probably not better than John Lennon’s song Imagine which she loved dearly. The Oscars, you see, were the time where we forgot everything and imagined for a few short hours that we were stars, dressed and ready to be glorious. The ritual is so ingrained that my niece skyped the entire Oscars for me last year when I was sick in bed with pneumonia and without cable . Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Rosie

Rosie

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. I hadn’t forgotten about it. Thoughts of my mom weave their way through my every day life in an every day way. Missing her is the new normal – the sharpness of early grief has evened itself out. So I was taken aback when my niece sent me a text saying, “It’s nana’s birthday today isn’t it? I love you auntie Pie.” Yes, it was her birthday and I had half forgotten. And I don’t like that. So I spent a lot of time thinking about her yesterday. And this is what I thought.

I thought about all the things I loved about her and all my favourite memories. And then inevitably my mind wanders to the part that I find the most difficult. And this is what I struggle with. For most of my life my mother was my mother. I loved her but she could also make me crazy. She could be inexplicably difficult and hard on people. She could make things complicated, she could be intransigent and self-centred. I have known all these things about her. And as her daughter I sometimes reacted without always understanding where she came from.

More and more when I think about my mother now I think of her as a woman which feels different than thinking of her as my mother. As a woman I see her more clearly and I feel I have more context for her life. And that’s when my heart starts to hurt. Because my mom had a difficult life. And when I think of her as my mother, I just think about how well she loved and took care of me and how pure and well intentioned her love was. But when I think of her as a woman and as my friend I feel a deep sadness for some of the struggles she faced in her life and I realize that I understood too late who she was as a woman. And I wish I had had more of that.

Yesterday Dave and I chatted about Rosie. It’s Oscar weekend and t’s her birthday. The tulips that I planted for her are making their way up to say hello. I can’t garden – I don’t share her green thumb but these seem to do well in spite of my ability to kill all living plants. We chatted about who she was. Dave saw my mother’s faults but he loved her and saw her clearly, maybe in some ways as her good friend he saw her more clearly than I always did – but he said this. He said your mother loved you because she saw who you were. She saw that you didn’t have the outside layer other people have that protects them…so she worried about you and how people might take advantage of you. But it’s also the trait that really allowed her to be herself with you, to show you who she really was. She was your greatest friend. And she was. So here is to my mother Rosie. To her tulips. To her life. For showing me how to elevate life to its finest glorious moments. Cheers.

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Conversations with My Mother: A Year Later: An Exposition on Grief (video)

For my mom today. I still love that she thought her daughters could be  – should be movie stars.

A year ago today my mom died on an unimaginably beautiful autumn day. I started Conversations with my Mother as a way to capture her spirit and life and to share the ways in which she could surprise so many with her candour. Coming up to her first anniversary of not being with us I had thought that a fitting tribute to a woman who gave me so many words to laugh and play with would be to build her a beautiful word palace. A palace that would be a tribute not to life’s difficulties but to all its beauty and the ways she contributed to it.

Oddly though I started panicking this last week when the feeling of grief I became familiar with earlier this year seemed to have been replaced by a feeling of ‘non-missingness’maybe even of distance and coldness, like something maybe just wasn’t there any more.  Word palaces are hard to build on emptiness.

Then as late as two days ago I realized that when you (and by this I mean people in general) suffer loss, a new palate of emotion is created against which the rest of life now interacts. And I realized that the feeling of removal and of  emptiness is another function of grief. You cannot sustain hard grief forever.

Within this framework I’ve been able to understand my new-found inability to say goodbye to people – that when I start feeling that sense of loss I can’t stop. That I keep myself extremely busy because I don’t want to embrace the inexplicable difficulty of feeling it anymore – that my thoughts are still a little too crowded with the last weeks of my mom’s life and every single hard thing that comes with watching someone die of cancer – that more often now than not I’m able to  say “Ohmigod mom would think this was hilarious”-   like the feet that keep showing up on the coast of British Columbia, that Sarah Palin isn’t going to run for President – the Stanley Cup riots would have been food for thought and the hockey playoffs the scene of many phone calls punctuated with “Ok gotta go, call you back in the next commercial break.” – that her thoughts on Jack Layton dying would be as much ruminations on the dreadfulness of cancer as it would be an opportunity to slam Stephen Harper. On a Friday night when it’s time to have a glass of wine I still have to stop myself from reaching for the phone  to say “Hi – Happy Friday!” and the lack of this moment punctuated with silence does feel extremely empty – but I can feel myself slowing moving to the tipping point – pushing myself past that empty moment to the celebratory one “Here’s to Rosie.”

These are the things I miss. I miss being able to tell her that I’m finally starting to dress less like a hobo hippy  chick and more like a proper person, that I’m learning to brush my hair when I go out, that I modelled in a fashion show at work and even wore make-up, that I can see her grandchildren growing up in all the ways she had hoped, that we are hanging on as a family even though I still feel like the centre is missing – that I tried to turn my brother into my mother but it doesn’t work. Only my mother is my mother – no matter how much I love my brothers and sisters.  I want to tell her that I hope she keeps showing up in my dreams – please don’t stay away for years. That I want to remember what the last words she said to me were which I think was “Okay I want chocolate.”  That she would have laughed and found this ironic and funny. I want to tell her that I stopped reading books when she died because they made me feel too much but I’m ready again – that I’m reading again.

My word palace is that these conversations somehow continue – that when people leave they don’t leave you per se which is how it has felt – so deeply personal – so inadvertently abandoned- she simply moved on to the next stage in life – she is still fully in my heart. I still love her as much as always. even though I have to move past that hard stage of grief so I can start to embrace my own life. That I’ll always have words for her, always have conversations – that everyday when I hear music I always think of her. I love you mom.

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Conversations with my mother: How Grief is Like a Super Nova

Apt. 301 371 Lakeshore Road West

Today is December 1st 2010. Today is also the day that a new person will be moving into Apt.301 371 Lakeshore Road West, my mother’s apartment. It feels weird to think that 40 years of living have drawn to a close in that little apartment. It’s where I grew up and it’s where my mother found her peace. It’s like the mecca of our family. The fulcrum, the centre. It’s where I can lie on the green leather couch that fits me perfectly and relaxes me. It’s where I watch Dancing with the Stars with mom, it’s where we have a glass of wine, where we laugh and have serious life talks and nothing talks. It’s where we irritate each other, where we laugh and where we cry. For all of us that apartment represents something different but for me it’s what I have always called home. Home is where my mother is. It’s where we watched over each other as we grew up and it’s where I watched my mother grow older. You never know when you start a journey where or when it’s going to end. Life offers no end point until you’re living it.

Grief I’ve decided works in weird ways. Each stage you pass through is like a super nova. It creeps up on you. You’ll never call it a stage or recognize it as a stage but suddenly it grabs you like a wall of fire, like a shooting star, like a super nova. It holds you tight and you feel loss like you’ve never felt it before in your life. And shock and more shock and sadness, anger, grief, and the endless shock that runs like a single narrative through these luminescent balls of fire. And then all of a sudden you feel normal and you find yourself laughing spontaneously, your guilt is unchecked until it comes back to remind you that you’ve lost your centre, your mother, your home.

Those moments of normality are so incongruent with the emotional trajectory of grief and loss.First you can”t believe that the world is marching on. Doesn’t everyone know you’ve just lost your mother? And then it becomes less of that and more your own embrace of normality that makes you feel a bit like a traitor. Don’t you know you just lost mom?

The hardest journey is from being able to embrace real life flesh and blood that you can hold and hug to having nothing but a few things and a lifetime of memories. The memory of a home, of all my mom’s special things, her clothes, the way she had this just so. It feels cruel to dispense with these things that meant so much to someone and now mean so much to me. Dismantling a home feels like dismantling a life.  Is this really all that’s left of this home? Just these things? I know that my mom is so much more than just things.

Today is the close of one chapter in the life of Apt 301 and the beginning of another one. Life without Rosie has truly begun. Finding my way home now is no longer getting on an airplane and making my way to Rosie at Apt 301. The crazy explosions of emotion that have engulfed me these last few months are subsiding and when I think of my mom I think of a spark, a star,  a super nova and I’ll find my way back through the lifetime of great memories she has given me. I love you mom.

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