Heavy Days: Remembering 9/11


It was a beautiful day, that day nineteen years ago. I lived in Stephenville, NL at the time. My car had some minor issue that needed attention and I had taken it down to my father-in-law to be repaired. I remember chatting with my mother-in-law and had gone into the living room to fetch something for her. The television was on and I was shocked at what I seen. (I think everyone remembers that horrific film footage of the planes crashing into the twin towers. It is an image that is forever seared into my memories). I remember calling out to her and we both stood and watched the news, deep in shock at what we were witnessing. Like many days that go down in history 9/11 will be remembered forever. People from around the globe worked at one or the other of the twin towers. After Pop had finished working on my care I went home and remained glued to the television for weeks as the horrors of the day was reported: the horrific stories out of NYC and also Pennsylvania.

I also remember the planes that had to land at our small, but international, airport. Newfoundland received planes from many places, all of them redirected from original flight plans that had been scheduled to land at American airports. It was a time of great stress and anxiety, especially initially as nobody knew where the pilots were from or why they had committed such atrocious deeds.

Stephenville, Gander, St. John’s. Goose Bay, among others had been home to many Americans during the Second World War when air force bases were built in these communities. Needless to say, many links were created during those times. Many Americans bought summer homes in the province and visited annually. My father worked for many years at the base in Stephenville and made many American friends there. Many would visit and join us for Sunday dinners. .

Besides our American friends, there were many Canadians who also died on that terrible day. So, yes, this is a heavy day. Here is a rundown of planes landed in airports across Newfoundland and Labrador:

There is a second reason this date is forever burnished into my brain. On this day in 2012 my nephew died from cancer, after a heroic battle. His brother had died suddenly in March of that same year from a brain aneurysm. So, today I honor my brave nephew as well as all those who perished on this day in 2001. May all souls Rest in Peace.

Aftershocks


“Some people don’t believe in heroes. But they haven’t met my brother.” Author unknown.

Today is my brother’s birthday. Sadly, he is not here to celebrate. He was ripped from our lives almost four years ago when a drunk driver smashed head on into his van as he was driving home from work. It has taken a lot to come to grips with his sudden (and needless) passing. I miss him. He was so generous, kind, and funny. He loved really, really bad jokes (the kind that makes me groan out loud). He was born two and a half years after me and he, my sister, and I were constant companions. We fought like crazy at times, competing often, but always we knew we had one another’s backs. The day he was killed was a terrible shock. Days like today that represent a special occasion tend to deliver aftershocks. Grief knows no deadlines. Yet, I can smile as well remembering the hero he truly was to me and to many others. The world has been lessened tremendously by his loss. On his birthday, and on the anniversary of his death especially, I think of all the people who continue to drink and drive and I wonder if it matters to them. That risk they take that has the potential to inflict so much pain. Distracted driving, whether through impairment due to drugs or alcohol, or through texting while driving kills so many people every single day. And so, to honor my brother, this is my small attempt to bring awareness. On that day, that horrible day, so many lives were forever changed. And I beg you to never, ever drink and drive.

Can we just give our heads a shake?


Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, keep that computer going, rawhide! Okay, so you may or may not get the reference. Rawhide was an American western television show that aired once a week from 1959 to 1965 and starred Clint Eastwood and Eric Fleming. Yes, I know, I am telling my age. I really don’t care about that. As I started writing this post (which has nothing to do with the t.v. show) that theme music played in my mind and so I had to inform you so you know where my brain is at. Sort of.

My brain is doing its best to pick sense out of a news story I read this morning. As self isolation has us all going a bit batty, I thought I’d share a couple of observations. Yes, these are stressful times. For sure. No question, whatsoever. And we are seeing the very best and the very worst of humanity. This post addresses both, but just a little bit – no long soliloquies here.

So, first the bad news. (I promise I will finish with the good stuff.) The story that really bothered me was one about how a cluster of positive coronavirus tests started with people gathering for a funeral. It was early days and governments were scrambling to put protocols and regulations in place to deal with the pandemic. Apparently at this funeral there was an individual who would later test positive for the virus. Let me stress here this individual did not attend the funeral with any sense or knowledge they were sick. Okay then, damage done. Of course, it spread, like it has anywhere there’s been social gatherings including an infected person. I needed to get that out there first and foremost. Where the story went from there is truly disturbing.

The story went on to say that the bereaved were then taunted and bullied online for bringing the virus to the area. And, by the way, it was not any of the bereaved who were infected but a friend or relative that attended. The person who had died did not have the virus but had died of other causes. A person who was in relationship with the deceased received notice from the local grocery store that they would not be allowed to shop there.  And on and on it went listing the many people, including the funeral director, who were ostracized, singled out, and victims of needless emotional and mental abuse. As a friend of mine would say, “Give your heads a shake, people”.

People who are already grieving and emotionally vulnerable should never have to deal with such ugliness. But we are only human. Some react to fear with anger and hatred, others with loving kindness.

The good news is I have read far more stories focusing on the loving kindness, empathy, and compassion humanity is also capable of. Like people jumping in cars to drive by their local hospitals with horns blaring as a salute to the medical staff. Like a twenty-four-year-old American now living in Canada lauding and praising Canadians for their kindness and consideration of one another. Like the quick response of community-minded people organizing help for senior citizens and home bound vulnerable people who cannot get out for groceries and necessities like medication. Like children drawing hopeful messages on sidewalk with chalk. Like Jon Bonn Jovi washing dishes in one of his restaurants he runs for the homeless. Rich and poor alike, people have reached out to help one another through this. We each have a choice as to how we will respond. I am grateful that the good far outnumbers the bad in all of this. Yes, self isolation can drive you batty, if you let it. But it doesn’t have to. We do have a choice how we respond. May our choices be positive and life-affirming. May we come out the other side of this able to face ourselves in the mirror. Be safe. Be healthy. Be blessed and please, be a blessing for others.

An example to follow: My brother, my friend


He was a very funny little guy and much smaller than his classmates, but his heart, oh my, his heart, that was bigger than words can describe with any sense of justice to a very kind and humane man he grew to be. Giving came second nature to him. Sharing was never something he struggled with, and that never, ever changed. He was brave. He was courageous. He was smart and caring and compassionate. Today marks the third-year anniversary of a terrible day for our family. The day that big, loving, generous heart stopped beating, forever. And the day that left a hole in each of our hearts that time does not heal and dates such as this reminds us of just what was lost on that highway. That highway. That day. When time stopped as we tried our best to wrestle with the shock and dismay; the pain and the sorrow.  That sorrow and pain that we continue to struggle with because it was all so very preventable and so surreal.

Surreal because he did not die of natural causes. Surreal because he was stolen. He died at the hands of an impaired driver. And so, it hurts more, somehow, knowing he had absolutely no control over his fate as he drove home that day.  I try very hard not to go there, not to imagine what he was feeling as he came upon that car hurtling toward him with no place to go to safely avoid the collision. But on this day … on this day it is nearly impossible to avoid thoughts of him. And thoughts of him invariably morph into the manner in which he died. To add salt to the wounds the impaired driver walked away with barely a scratch. A bump on his head and a sprained wrist the only evidence of his crime.

The impaired driver was found guilty of criminal negligence causing death and received a prison sentence. It doesn’t matter much because one day that impaired driver will walk free. Our brother walks free too, on the other side of the veil where we cannot see. All we can do is pray for strength and courage to carry on. And, perhaps with the grace of God, emulate to some degree the empathy, kindness, compassion, and love that were his hallmarks. Please, Divine One, let us follow his example.

Wounds revisited


Some days are heavy. It is what it is. My brother is very much on my mind today, as are his children and his granddaughter. Some news just opens up wounds and we feel the hurt anew. It’s been nearly three years since he died tragically in an event that was wholly preventable. Three years. It’s hard to believe – it doesn’t seem that long ago. We go on with our lives – what else can we do? As most of you know he was killed by an impaired driver as he was driving home from work. I am searching for peace as I write this and trying to let the heaviness go. Life sometimes seems so hard. I just found out that the man who killed him has been granted day parole – he has not served even a year of his four-year sentence. I am trying to process this information. I am trying to fully forgive. One step at a time, I guess, and one day at a time. And in the end, it really doesn’t matter whether he serves one day or several years – nothing will bring Chris back to us. So, what to do? There really is nothing to be done is there? Chris was a generous, kind, and loving individual with a terrific sense of humour. Hopefully I will find a way to channel these personality traits and live life as fully as I can, both for myself and to honor my younger brother who was the epitome of selflessness.

The fallout from impaired driving


In honor of our younger brother, Chris, who was killed when an impaired driver crashed into the van Chris was driving. Today is Chris’s birthday. It has been nearly three years since he was stolen from us. He died on the 19th of November, 2016 and we have all been dealing with that tragic event to the best of our abilities since then.

Unlike death caused by natural causes, when a loved one is snatched in this way there is so much more anger and grief. Initially we were all in shock and as we gathered for his funeral the one question that could not be answered continued to reverberate, whether spoken aloud or not: Why? Why Chris? He was such a good person, quick to offer help to everyone, not only his family. The funeral itself revealed how wide spread his kindnesses ranged. People he had worked with over twenty years ago turned up to pay their respects. There were literally more people than we could count. It was a great comfort at such a hard time.

As we tried to pick up the pieces and carry on, we were all terribly worried about his children who were teenagers at the time. Memories return as I write this of our niece standing stoically at the graveside. Her brother at her side. Their strength was amazing, but their pain could not be hidden. They are still grappling with it.

I have written many posts about the tragedy and the long drawn out court case that followed. On the other side of the coin was a second family that was torn apart by this totally preventable and horrendous event: the family of the impaired driver. He was found guilty of impaired driving causing death. At the time of the “accident” he had just left a baby shower – his child would be born shortly before he was incarcerated. He would not be there for those precious formative years. That child would not know her father for many years. The mother of the child was forced to be a single parent. His parents and family members will carry the pain and the shame of knowing he killed a good man. The impaired driver was 38 years old, if memory serves. He will live out the rest of his days with this on his conscience. He wrote a statement which he read out in court on the day he was sentenced. In it he apologized to our family. I have to say it helped somewhat, but many are still struggling through the grief that hits again and again.

The number of people affected by this senseless tragedy is staggering. Our family alone is very large, add to it our extended family: aunts, uncles, cousins etc. Then there is the community of which Chris was an active part. The number of friends and coworkers, team mates, and more. I do not know a lot about the family and friends of the impaired driver, but will assume there are many. All of us impacted by one senseless and stupid decision.

And so, as I have many times, I implore readers to consider our story and the awful fallout that follows when a person drives impaired in any way and I say, please, don’t!

Life’s curve balls – about grief


Many years ago, my father had a massive heart attack. It would be followed over the years by many more as well as angina attacks. My siblings and I were all braced to meet his final demise. We were all sure that we would lose him first. Then life threw us a curve ball – as it is wont to do. Seven years after my Dad’s massive heart attack we learned my mother had cancer. She was a diabetic and had been admitted to hospital to learn how to take insulin by injection. When they did the blood tests, they found the cancer. She died ten days after she was admitted. Dad died four years later.

Two years ago, my brother was killed instantly when his vehicle was hit by a drunk driver. He would join his infant daughter on the other side of the veil. In 2012 we lost two of our nephews – one to cancer and his older brother six months before that to a brain aneurism. There have been a lot of deaths in our family. Now, we are all growing older and facing the one certitude in life: one day we will all die. It is life’s one and only guarantee.

Life is hard at times. My husband is in hospital once again. If you follow this blog you will know he is in poor health – a diabetic with heart and kidney disease. We recently were told he also has lung disease. It is one more hurdle to face. Another challenge to meet. Once again, I am grieving the day he will no longer be at my side. But, as my parents’ deaths taught me, we do not have any guarantees in life. What my husband’s arduous journey has taught me is to live life one day at a time and to be grateful for all its small blessings.

Life is so precious and so fragile. I am grieving my husband’s failing health and all it may mean. I pray I will be given the strength to help him and the wisdom to know how best to do so. And I pray I will recognize the blessings that come my way each and every day. And I will celebrate the life we have, as limited as it may be. I will celebrate the love I have known. I weep, but I also give praise with open hands to the Creator who is teaching me and helping me learn the lessons that come with each curve ball.

NUMB


Numb

Not a great place to be

Numb

Wrapped in bubble wrap

Attempting to avoid the pain

Numb

An anesthetic that flows through one’s veins

Yet, this protection comes at a price

Deaden the emotions, try not to feel

Pain is avoided but so too are joy,

bliss, happiness, awe, wonder

All blanketed in the soft swirling fog

Pain is held at bay, at arm’s length

Thinking that one’s strength is dependent

 on the anesthetic of numbness

But it steals one’s ability to love fully,

 laugh joyously,

live courageously

Numb

To speak or not to speak: Responding to Grief


pexels-photo-356842 GRIEF

Photo Credit: Pixabay

It’s not so much the fact that loved ones die that keeps us mourning, but the fact we are here without them. In especially close relationships the grief seems unbearable. When that special someone is the person we shared our intimate thoughts with, confided in, laughed with, cried with, shared life with, the desolation is brutal. It’s said that time heals all wounds, but I disagree with that sentiment. I think we carry the wounds for the rest of our lives, but time does help us carry on, despite the wounds. I think the worst thing about grief is the way it takes us back to experience anew every single occasion where we lost someone we loved like some kind of twisted and tortuous boomerang.

In today’s world it seems like grief is either ignored, shamed, or bullied into a dark closet. But people can only begin to heal once they feel safe and their emotions validated. I find it strange how, in our society at least, that people are so uncomfortable with grief. Yet death is the one thing that is an absolute guarantee. It will come to each of us – nobody is getting out of here alive.

In my family it’s okay to talk about death – though we, as individuals, may deal with the aftermath in different ways. Some seem so dry-eyed and strong while others cry copious tears and wear their hearts on their sleeves. It doesn’t matter what the personal expression of grief may be, it is, by and large, respected and accepted.

I remember years ago when I went back to school after a sudden death in the family how uncomfortable and awkward most of my classmates were around me. But there were two very young men who approached me to say ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ and how much their simple expression of condolences meant to me.

So, my advice would be, don’t be afraid to express simple condolences. While a grieving person may be in pain, your words may bring them a bit of comfort. Don’t be afraid to mention the person who died – most people are grateful to have their loved ones remembered. I think it hurts more to be ignored or to not have your pain acknowledged and/or validated.

I am speaking from my own personal experience, which may vary greatly with the next person’s. But I think we, as a society, have much to learn about coping with death. And to me ignoring it is not an option.