‘I always thought that I’d see you again’


“Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again”

– James Taylor

Grief is a road we must walk alone, despite being with others, despite the comfort offered and given; we each must feel the pain within. There is no choice but to live through it.

May has two big anniversaries for me. The first was the wildfire that swept through Fort McMurray last year and the anguish and post traumatic stress that ensued. The second is the six month anniversary of my brother’s untimely death, and the agony of loss that followed it – especially since it was a totally preventable accident that took him from us. If you follow this blog you know he was killed when an impaired driver, driving on the wrong side of the highway, crashed head on into my brother’s vehicle. There was no escaping the oncoming car – nowhere for my brother to turn to avoid it, though he tried. The other driver survived and is facing charges. It is a very bitter pill to swallow.

However, I do not want to dwell on my grief here. I simply want to point out how often we take our loved ones for granted. We believe we can catch up another day, visit another time, make that phone call tomorrow….but sometimes tomorrow doesn’t come and the opportunity to show our affection is lost forever. In the weeks preceding my brother’s death I kept telling myself, “I’ll call Chris tomorrow”. Needless to say I procrastinated – and then he was gone. The quote at the top of this blog is from a James Taylor tune, Fire and Rain, and it has been playing in my mind off and on for six months and three days….

So I say to you: Take time out to make that phone call, pay that visit, hug your loved ones, and always let them know what they mean to you. For tomorrow may never come.

To honour my Mother


Anita Frances Martin-Morrissey

“Motherhood is a choice you make every day, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is….and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.” – Donna Ball, At Home on Ladybug Farm

Sacrifice is a word that just about sums up my mother’s life. Trying to describe her is a bit like trying to describe a beautiful colour, nearly impossible! Nevertheless, I want to honour my mother by telling some of her story – or I should say my experience of her as her daughter. Mom was tough, very strict in many ways. Yet, she was always fair, and often very soft-hearted, though she did her best to hide it. She raised nine children in a small house without running water or such luxuries as electricity for many years – or the benefit of an indoor bathroom. I could say I don’t know how she managed it (I don’t) but my older sisters and brothers helped – a lot! So while this blog’s focus is to honour my mother, it is also to give a nod to the sacrifices made by my siblings who shared in caring for us “little ones”.

One of my favourite memories is of Mom sitting on the floor with the three of us youngest ones and cutting out paper dolls for us to colour. She would look up from time to time at the mess a family of nine children can make and sighing say, “I really should clean this up”. But then she’d smile at us and continue telling us stories of her childhood and singing our favourite songs. She sang a lot. She smiled a lot – at us children, at my father, at the birds singing, at the waves out on the ocean, at the antics of our pets, at the flowers in the fields – it didn’t take an awful lot to bring a smile to her face. Although her life was far from easy she was a joyful person.

She had a lot of sorrow in her life losing several children in miscarriage and a little girl that was born but died a few weeks later. I remember her funeral and the sadness in my mother’s eyes. I remember the pride I felt when Mom brought her home from the hospital and allowed us to hold her for a few minutes. Mom always referred to her as “our baby”. I didn’t know then the depths of despair my mother sank into following her death. Yet even though she struggled with her grief she continued to take care of all of us.

She was a woman of great faith – in God and in her religion. Her spirituality included seeing God in all people and in nature. She was a champion of the underdog and all whom she believed to be wronged in any way.

When she was in her early 40s my parents decided to move the family across the country to Ontario, where work was more easily found. In the early years she took in borders, but later chose to go to work to help build a nest egg to buy a new home, which they did after a few years. Five years later my father would suffer a heart attack that would put him out of commission for nearly a year. Mom continued to work until seven years later when she learned she had cancer. Ten days after entering hospital and ten days before her 59th birthday she died. But even while she was facing one of the biggest challenges of her life Mom continued to be a source of comfort and peace for all of us. I remember commenting on her strength one day while I was visiting and she replied, “I’m not that strong you know”. I replied, “I know you are not made of stone, that’s why I’m here, why we’re all here”. However she seldom leaned on us, where she gathered her strength from I don’t really know, but I suspect it was the faith she carried throughout her life.

My mother died over 30 years ago, but her essence lives on in all her children and grandchildren. She left us a legacy of love that I hope will live on and on. Thanks for all the wonderful lessons Mom – both the hard ones and the sweet ones. You are not forgotten – and never will be.

Lions, and tigers, and bears – Oh my!


 

When I was a child I often played in the woods. Yes, there were bears, lynx, moose, and other wildlife. There were also birds galore and the happy chance of coming upon a small glade or some other magical place where the sunlight danced upon the flora and fauna and filled me with delight. I loved the woods then and I love them now.  In all the years of growing up in Newfoundland I never once encountered a wild animal.

Nearly three years ago I moved. I have been cautioned never to walk alone in the woods here. In all this time my longing to walk the trails that surround and crisscross the city has never waned. I live in Fort McMurray, Alberta and since the wildfire we have had a higher incidence of bears coming into town. But my desire to walk among the trees held sway and last evening I took a short walk on the Birch Wood Trail across from our new home. It was rejuvenating, exhilarating, and balm for my soul. To add sweetness to the journey I was gratified to see four white tailed deer.

Yes, we have to use common sense and be aware of our surroundings in the woods. But isn’t that true of wherever we go in life? I am looking forward to future nature walks for without it my soul would shrivel up. The woods are a sacred place to me and I enjoy my time among their greenery and sturdy trunks.  The fear of others will not keep me from these walks, for it is sustenance for my very being and I return to the outside world all the better for my strolls.

One year after the fire


“Don’t feel guilty for having a laugh at something. You might say, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t be laughing.’ Yeah, you should be. … Your family is with you, you’re alive and that’s joyful.” – Sharon Watcher, Slave Lake, AB

The above quote was taken from a news story talking about how the people of Slave Lake, Alberta, who also survived fire, were reaching out to evacuees from Fort McMurray to offer their support and advice. The quote struck me because one of the long lasting effects of the fire was the incredible sense of guilt I feel for not losing anything of material worth to the fire. They call it “survivor’s guilt” and it’s with me still, even a year later. Mostly it’s because so many people have yet to rebuild their homes, or have taken a substantial financial loss by walking away. I witness faces filled with frustration, sadness, or pain almost on a daily basis.

Last year we spent the month of May safely ensconced in Sylvan Lake, a picturesque little town halfway between Calgary and Edmonton. It was a stressful time, but it was also a time filled with more blessings than I can count. And I do like to keep a positive attitude as much as possible. But a year after the fire it feels like Fort McMurray has been forgotten, except for the obligatory news stories. Yet many here continue to grieve and to struggle with the trauma left by “the beast”. (That’s the name firefighters gave to the inferno,)

For the people of Fort McMurray the fire cannot be forgotten. There are reminders of it everywhere. – Blackened tree trucks and dead wood are everywhere around the city – so it makes forgetting impossible. We live with it. What other choice is there? But I hope that the moments of sheer grief are lessening for my fellow citizens, that there are more moments of joy than of pain. Tree trunks will remain black for years to come, but our hearts need not be.

Try a little kindness


It is amazing to me how the smallest acts of kindness can mean so much. I was feeling a bit blue this morning for no particular reason, just felt sad. Then my cell phone alerted me to a message. It was from my nephew. A nephew I have not seen for decades, but have spoken with on the phone. He sent me a video to say “you are awesome, and I love you”.  It truly made my day. Sometimes the simplest things can make the biggest difference.  That message came at a moment when I badly needed it. So, I will pay his kindness forward and hope to make a difference in somebody else’s day. Be kind always, you never know what a difference your seemingly small actions may make.

A thousand feathers


FEATHER

 

A thousand feathers lay upon the ground

It may be there were thousands more

I did not stop to count them

But left them to be carried on the breeze

As I hastened on my way

And I wondered as I scurried why

It seemed as though heaven’s angels

Had been stripped of their attire

Perhaps exchanged instead for that of steel

Did they fold their wings around us when we had to flee?

That day hell’s inferno came to be

And flames encircled on every side

Licking at our heels as we sought to leave

Did angels see us through the wall of smoke

Where daylight failed and darkness

Tried to steal

Our hope and faith in all we believed

Yet hell itself cannot succeed

When a thousand feathers lay upon the ground

And angels fly with agile strength

To do battle in our name

The anxiety of certain anniversaries


Well that date is nearly upon us – that date that I suspect most, if not all, of Fort McMurray has been anticipating with a sense of dread and anxiety. Personally, for myself, I will be glad when the 3rd of May has come and gone. Memories, both sweet and bitter, fill my mind. It’s hard not to relive that day with so many media outlets reminding us daily that the one year mark is quickly approaching. I spent most of March and April dreading the reminders of the most frightening day of my life.

But today I will hold the most treasured memories close to my heart: The calmness and determination of my husband as he drove us out of town, my daughter encouraging me with her strength and dry sense of humour; Hugging my son and his wife when they met us in Anzac with their little dogs dancing in the back seat of their car; The memory of getting text messages from my sister-in-law and my nieces letting me know they all were safe; the memory of running into two young coworkers at a restaurant we’d stopped at during the scramble to get out of the fire-ringed city.  How delighted I was to see them and the sheer relief that these two, at least, were safe. Trading news with them of other coworkers and breathing a sigh of relief that most, if not all, were accounted for. The memory of the countless text messages from family and friends offering their support, in every way imaginable. The memories of the abundant kindnesses bestowed upon evacuees and the outpouring of love from across the country. The hugs from fellow citizens and the sincere wishes shared for a safe harbor and to have all needs met.

When push came to shove the ultimate goodness of humanity came to the fore and that is worth remembering and cherishing. Anniversaries of horrid events such as this or the death of a loved one do make us dread certain dates, but in the end it is the love given and received that counts and what buoys us up and helps us to continue on with life.  I will always and forever be very grateful for these gifts, given freely and without expectations.