Cold, cold November – remembering those no longer with us


winter

 

It actually is quite cold here this morning, and it’s been snowing on and off for a couple of days now. Snow – frozen rain falling from the skies.  The song by Guns ‘n Roses,  November Rain, plays in my head. “And it’s hard to hold a candle in the cold November rain”. It’s a song about relationship; about love and loss. Even though it’s a love song and the story about the struggles of two people in a romantic relationship, the ballad is so sad, so haunting – it brings back painful memories for me – not about a romance gone bad – but about loss, irretrievable loss.

November – Remembrance Day and recalling the sacrifices made in two horrific world wars. All those who died. All those who were irreparably wounded in body and soul…

November – the month my father died…

November – and remembering the day two years ago when I got that awful call – my brother was killed by a drunk driver.

November, a month I dread with its admonishments that life is fragile.

And realizing, yet again, that it is this very fragility that reminds us life is precious – so very, very precious! A reminder to live life with a grateful heart and to appreciate all the blessings that are given; that even though the earth may freeze, underneath the killing frost new life waits to bloom again….

 

Feel the fear and do it anyway – zip lining at Marble Mountain, NL


 

Photo credit: Jess Molnar

Several years ago, I was studying journalism at the local college. In the second year of the program we were sent to cover the Canadian Student Leadership Conference. It was an interesting experience, not least because during the conference we were treated to a free pass on the zipline at Marble Mountain. We had been split into several teams to cover various aspects of the gathering and it was my team that was chosen for this dubious assignment.

There were four of us on my team. I had planned to interview and photograph students from across Canada who were taking part during my trek up the mountain. One of my teammates was supposed to participate in zip lining while trying to capture photographs of the experience – she chickened out. That left us with a decision to make: who was going to bite the bullet and take the plunge?

Now, I had always had a huge fear of heights and initially I was adamant it would NOT be me.  However, one of the team was already fitted with a Go-pro camera that was attached to a helmet and she was geared up to go. Another member was struggling with the flu, which knocked him out of the running, so that left me!

I finally consented, for the good of the team. After all, I am nothing if not a team player. I remember praying earnestly that I would live to see another day and asking the Creator to take care of my husband and children. I would not look down. I concentrated on the harness that would fly me through the air and gauging the strength of the cables above that I would be sliding on. They seemed secure. I remember trembling as I stepped off the platform. I had never been so nervous or anxious in my entire life! However, by the time I stepped off the second platform (the zip line zigzags across a deep fjord) I was really enjoying myself and was yelling at the top of my lungs: Whoot! Whoot!

Coming in for a landing Whoot Whoot

Thanks to happenstance I overcame the fear and enjoyed the experience immensely. Part of the assignment was to write a story about the experience, which I did. I was pleased to hear my instructor chuckling as he read it. I learned a lot that day, not least of all was to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Dark days


Cold heart without empathy

Power has rotted your soul

And lost you your humanity

As you sit on your golden throne

And cast others into a hell

Of your unfeeling choosing

No caring exists in you

What will it cost?

This ambitious climb you’re on

Where people crushed beneath your feet

Have no recourse at all

Warnings come from all corners

Still your heart is hard

Your ears deaf to intense pleas

And neither entreaties sweet

Nor humble begging heard

Corruption fills your veins

Where once warm blood did flow

Your mind turned black and rotten

What hope survives is in this only fact

That one day you too shall fall

From your gilded altar

No cronies then

Nor bloodless worshippers

Primed to do your bidding

You alone shall drink the bitter wine

Of acrid fruits you sow

And know the heavy discontent

You’ve woven across the land

Like some vast and stinking cloak of darkness

The once proud bird of prey will seek you out

For all the hurt bestowed

As it stretches forth its talons

And confines you in its grasp

Woe to you

Oh pitiless one

When that day does come

 

 

Fragility of Life


I woke up this morning and after my usual morning routine I opened Facebook. One of the first posts I saw was a news story about a wildfire burning approximately 120 km from here. I live in Fort McMurray and I was here when the wildfires swept through the city and caused an evacuation of about 88,000 people – many of whom never returned. Not a good start to the day (the news story I mean). It made me anxious. The next post I saw was about snow in Newfoundland, my native home. All I could think was I would trade the hot, arid weather we’ve been having for snow any time. At least I wouldn’t be concerned about a wildfire with that lovely white moisture falling from the skies. The weather network is forecasting rain on Saturday – just a couple of days from now. I hope we get a good downfall – one that really soaks the earth.

Last month I was reading news stories about flooding in various regions of the country and I guess those people would have been happy for the sun to come out and dry up all that excess water. Life is a funny thing. We always seem to want what other people have, but after the wildfires of 2016 I will forgive myself for that. There is still too much evidence of the devastation all over the city, so, yes, snow is preferable in my mind. It’s only May after all. Yet the temperatures have been in the 25 to 30+ Celsius range all week. I will be glad for the cooler temps promised for next week. Step outside our door and you will smell the smoke in the air – again, I dislike it intensely.

Still, I am a lot less anxious than I was a year ago, so that’s something. Last evening, I went to the funeral home to pay respects to a man we know who recently died. And to offer what comfort I could to his wife and my dear friend. Life is so fragile and so precious. Death certainly puts things in perspective. Fire, floods, earthquakes, etc. are part of life. So too is death – it comes to each of us and is our one and only guarantee. Today I hope to live my life in such a way that it is a help and maybe even a blessing for others. That is my prayer and my fervent wish.

The Lesson of Tragedies


I don’t know any of the people who died in a horrific accident involving a bus carrying a hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos, from Saskatchewan and a tractor trailer last evening, but my heart goes out to their families.  I cannot imagine the pain. So many young men on their way to play hockey – young men filled with hopes and dreams. Words fail me!

We assume we will live to old age and hopefully die a peaceful death, but for many this is not the case. It is not the case for the people on that bus; not for the many who have died due to fentanyl-laced drugs; not for the people who die by suicide; not for the many who died as a result of school shootings; or the many more who die from cancer and a long list of other diseases.

The thing is none of us have a guarantee on the number of years we will have here on this good earth. My baby sister died at three weeks old, a cousin at three years, my infant niece also only weeks old, and a nephew died of a brain aneurysm and his brother just six months later of cancer, my brother in an accident – the other driver was impaired.  All of these deaths, and more, have taught me that life is so precious. Yet, I often forget just how precious and fragile life really is.

I have heard the reply when asked how things are going, “same old shit, different day”. It is easy to feel cursed. It is easy to be swallowed by negative thoughts and emotions. But life really is a blessing. And, after all, even shit can be used as fertilizer to help plant life grow, perhaps the “shit” in life can even help us grow as long as we hold on and learn the lesson it comes to teach.

Life


Lay your bleeding heart upon the public main

Let it pulse its deep red blood upon the cold hard ground

And let the people stand in awe of the richness of its color

And hopefully feel some shame

For their treatment of “the other”

What is a life worth?


Several months ago I wrote a victim impact statement, unfortunately it was not usable so today I sat down to write another. It has been fifteen months since my younger brother was stolen from us in the most heart breaking and totally senseless way. It has been fifteen months of anguish. Fifteen months of being unable to truly lay him to rest as the criminal trial loomed and then began with each day a day from hell as we were all submerged into the depths of grief anew. And it is not yet over. On the 4th of May my family will meet once again in the coldness of a court room to witness the defendant being sentenced. On the 31st of January the defendant agreed to a plea bargain, which says he will be incarcerated for 4 ½ years and will have a 10-year driving ban. This is the human cost of one person driving under the influence of alcohol.

Was it worth the beer he drank I wonder? Was it worth incarceration and being banned from driving for a decade? Was it worth my brother’s life? Was it worth the agony he put my family through or the long-standing painful memories it has wrought?

What is a life worth?

 

Thoughts and Prayers


I have been thinking a lot about thoughts and prayers after the backlash following the horrific shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It is not hard to understand the anguish and the anger that follows such a senseless and tragic catastrophe.  My heart goes out to the people in this community and to the American people as a whole. “Thoughts and prayers” have become a terrible cliché after so many mass shootings. It seems trite and useless, I am sure. The phrase that is meant as an expression of sympathy; as an expression of unity and empathy has been viewed as an insult to many when government action is not taken.

I am a child of the 60s and well remember the student protests in regards to the Vietnam War; to racial segregation; to injustices in general. I remember the sit-ins that were met with armed soldiers in some cases. The movie, ‘The Trial of Billy Jack’ springs to mind. We were the generation that wanted real change – and many of us still do. Sadly, violence is too often the response to a peaceful demonstration for change in many places in the world.

Yet, we are God’s hands. However, we have to agree to be just that. We have to ‘put our money where our mouths are’ and take concrete action to give legitimacy to our thoughts and prayers.

I am Canadian, but the coverage of the most recent school shooting has been massive here. It has eclipsed the very real issues around human rights that we face in our own country. When a farmer can kill an indigenous youth and be exonerated something is terribly wrong. My heart aches for the American people, but it also aches for all Canadians and for humanity in general, for all those who are living with injustices of every kind.

“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of” – Alfred Lord Tennyson. I believe in the power of prayer; in the power of positive thought; in the inherent goodness of humanity. But our prayers must also incorporate the will to do something, to be God’s hands in this world.

Grief and grieving


There have been a series of setbacks in my life, but the one I have been most affected by was the sudden and preventable death of my brother, Chris. Since his death I have done my best to honor his memory and have written a lot about Chris, the impact his passing has had on my life and the struggles with grief since then.  I don’t know if every family is the same, but for me, personally, the bond formed in childhood is a life-long bond that even death cannot erase. And so I have been playing with the words grief and grieving and have found this acronym for “grieve” to be true:

Granting

Really

Intense

Emotions

Voice

Empathy

 

When your heart is ripped open and the wound goes deep into your soul it becomes very difficult to get through the days. And each experience of grief triggers every single past experience with other loved ones. Like some kind of heinous dominoe effect each fresh bereavement carries with it the ability to marshal forth every memory of pain ever experienced. So in my experience it is very important to be incredibly gentle with yourself as you traverse the minefields of grief.  Grief can make you feel a little crazy and definitely off balance.  Here is what grief, as an acronym, means to me:

Going

Round (and round)

Inside

Emotional

Fractures

 

I miss my brother. We all do. I hope that sharing my grief and pain helps others going through similar circumstances know they are not alone.  May everyone going through the turmoil of grief be healed and know the love and comfort of family members and friends. I know mine have helped me tremendously.

Ups and downs on life’s roller coaster


Well, it’s been a very bumpy month so far. But, on positive note, my husband is out of hospital and hopefully will gain back his strength. After a total of three weeks in hospital I am finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and feel more hopeful for the future, whatever it may bring. And I sincerely hope it is better health for my life partner, best friend, and spouse.

At the other end of the spectrum is the ongoing drama of the trial, which resumes tomorrow.  I have no idea what it may bring – I think my whole family will be glad to see an end to this painful journey through the criminal justice system. And, of course, I cannot help but think of Chris, and of his children.  It’s been a long, hard row to hoe. If you follow this blog you know that I am referring to the trial of the man who killed my brother when he crashed into his vehicle on Nov. 19, 2016. He faces several charges, among them impaired driving causing death.

The trial was slated to continue on the 8th of this month, but that date was cancelled due to the illness of the defense attorney. And so here we are, waiting to see what transpires next. It hasn’t been pleasant, this waiting game, to say the least. My heart goes out to my niece and nephew who have been going through the grief of losing their father compounded by the stress and anguish of the trial.  I know how difficult it has been for me, and I am his sibling. Yet, everyone who knew my brother well were shocked and deeply wounded when he died. It wasn’t only that he died, but the manner in which it came about – snatched from life in the most preventable of circumstances.; And so all the people who knew Chris, no matter what the relationship, have been deeply affected by the tragedy of his death.

What can I write that would make people think twice before climbing behind the wheel of any vehicle if their judgment is impaired in any way? Sometimes I wonder if my efforts mean anything at all. But, if nothing else, people will know that Chris lived and that his life mattered….and he is forever loved…. forever missed.