Do not let the world silence your voice. Your life, your experiences, your thoughts and feelings are valid. You matter. Never forget that. These are some of the things I would tell those who have lost all sense of hope. Empathy, kindness, compassion and love sometimes seem like they are in short supply. But it is the gentleness we seek that we can find within. Be gentle with yourself today. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to others. It is easy to let hurtful words and actions reverberate through our minds; wounding ourselves anew with every echo of past hurts. Hold on, for this too shall pass. Nothing lasts forever, not even the coldest, the most bitter of winds. I am wishing you many blessings as you travel along your path.
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:
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:
Round (and round)
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.
The other day my niece shared a news story about a school shooting in Kentucky; it saddened me and made me think of the drama, the pain, and the shock of another school shooting in Brampton, Ontario in 1975 at Brampton Centennial Secondary School. It was the school I went to and where several classmates had been hurt and three, including the shooter, died.
I knew the shooter, Michael Slobodian, and I knew the teacher that died, Margaret Wright, and I knew John Slinger, one of the dead, but only in passing. Michael had been the boyfriend of a girl I knew. He was also in several of my classes, including the English class where Mrs. Wright was our teacher. She had recently moved to Brampton from New Brunswick, if memory serves. And she was the mother of two young children. I also remember Dean Naden, who lived a couple of houses down the street from the Slobodians. He tried to reason with Michael, but was shot for his efforts. I remember Ernie Nicols, whose family set up equipment in their yard for their son to practice for track and field events. Ernie ended up paralyzed after he was shot that day.
There are more, many more. Many people were hurt that day and many were traumatized.
It was an event that would mark me for the rest of my life. I think about it every time there is another such tragedy. I remember the sirens, the rampant rumors, the fear, and the panic. I remember gathering in our basement with my sister and our friends that evening. There was a lot of weeping and a lot of questions.
I remember going door to door with a petition to gather support for gun control legislation. I remember the man who argued with me for a long time about the right to bear arms. He was a “new” Canadian and had emigrated from a country that offered few liberties. He felt government should not make such laws. I felt then, as I do now, that there is no place in society for the indiscriminate sale of guns, especially high powered rifles that are not needed for the hunting of game.
Michael Slobodian was sixteen years old – a child still. I think of him and still wonder, “why”? I believe that children – all children – should be treated kindly and with respect. I read once that the way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice. Let our words to children be those of love, kindness, caring, and deep respect.
One year ago, but it feels like forever – each day a long battle with seconds and minutes leading up to this one. They have been days of unbelievable agony and days of sweet solace as family and friends reached out to one another to comfort, to support, and to befriend; to bind the deep wounds and to heal.
We have learned that at least three other drivers narrowly escaped a fatal collision that day. One was a young mother with her three children in the car. But my brother was not so fortunate. My brother was ripped from our lives in that violent, senseless, so-called “accident”. I have a lot of trouble with that word, mostly because it was no “accident” when that other driver lifted that bottle to his lips prior to getting behind the wheel, transforming his vehicle into a murder weapon.
Still, what does it all matter? Nothing will bring Chris back to us. He is gone and we are left to pick up the pieces. There is anger – no, there is RAGE – like nothing I have ever felt before. It passes. There is pain like I have never known before. It passes, at least until the next wave.
I am reaching deep inside myself for something positive to say. This morning I was thinking of a book I once read by Henri Nouwen. In it he describes his struggles with grief following the death of his mother. And he leaves words of comfort and wisdom with these thoughts: had his mother not died, she would not have been able to infuse the spirits of all her loved ones with her own spirit of love and of peace. I take comfort from his ideas.
Chris has left us all many gifts. His death brought us all even closer to one another. His generosity, his kindness, his ability to make light of life’s struggles, his wit and his incredible sense of humour live on in all of us. Perhaps in some way we are infused with his spirit. That is my hope and my solace. So today I will celebrate his life and give thanks for all the blessings he continues to bestow.
“We ourselves can die with comfort and even joy if we know that death is but a passport to blessedness, that this intellect freed from all material chains, shall rise and shine.” – Matthew Simpson –
Recently our family lost a wonderful man, my Uncle, and I have been coping with the grief of his loss. Death comes to each of us sooner or later. That is a sad fact of life. And we each deal with its sting in our own individual ways. Personally, I prefer to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before me. For every man, woman, and child leaves behind their acts of human kindness, however small of measure.
Death has been part of my life from an early age. I was not yet four years old when my infant sister died. People may say what kindness could a babe so small have given? Well, I remember holding her. I remember her gaze locked with mine. I remember the peace and love that emanated from her like a warm fire on a winter’s evening. She was so tiny, so perfect, and yet capable of giving and receiving love.
A few years later my three year old cousin died. I remember looking into her casket and sighing saying, “but she looks just like an angel”. My child’s mind equated pictures I had seen of angels with golden hair and fairest faces, just like my little cousin. I see her still in my mind’s eye and remember the stories told of her gentleness. Death visited our family once again soon after when my grandmother’s brother passed away. This great-uncle was a frequent visitor to our house where he would sit quietly and patiently while my mother moved about the kitchen seeing to his needs as well as the needs of her children. I remember best his quiet presence that invited calmness and serenity.
I was twelve when a friend from school was killed in an automobile accident. She was a year ahead of me in school and took it upon herself to protect me from a bully and any unpleasantness. Wise beyond her years, she helped me realize how unhappy the bully was and how I should not take it personally while simultaneously not allowing them to cause me any real harm. She remains one of my heroes.
Since childhood my grandparents, as well as my parents have died and a bit later my baby niece and then my sister’s sons within six months of one another. Death has also claimed friends, cousins, aunts and uncles and with each death I am rocked with loss and pain once again. ‘Time heals all wounds’ or so they say but some wounds go deep and take much longer to heal. And, again, it is a very personal and individual thing. For me it is a comfort to turn the memories over in my mind; to listen to music once shared; to gaze upon photographs of those who are no longer physically here. They will live on as long as we do not forget them, as long as we tell the stories of their lives and celebrate anew loving kindnesses given. I believe my loved ones have risen and shine on – on the other side of the veil where sadness is no more.