We will all deal with grief from death, divorce, despair, and distance!
This grief is uncomfortable. It can metaphorically push your face into or feel like you are walking through mud every single day.
For me, my metaphor for grief is like being in a rowboat on the ocean. You never know what the weather will be or what waves will come upon you in your boat of grief every single moment. The weather can change at any moment and your boat can become swamped. The weather can be beautiful and you can rest in your boat and see the beauty all around you. And other times you can barely see the finger in front of you through the fog of grief.
Grief looks differently for everybody at different ages and stages. It is an incredibly personal and individual journey. We can hold space for and with each other, but no one can row the grief journey for you. I am sorry to say.
It’s dealing with sh*t.
It’s looking your heart and soul straight in the eye.
It’s being present.
Moment by moment.
Feeling the feels.
Dealing with the deal of:
Death of a family, friend of fur baby.
Divorce from a short or long term partnership.
Despair from situations around us.
Distance from people or places you love.
Whatever your D may be.
As I write this, I hold space with my fellow grief journeyers. I want to encourage everyone to embrace the grief, feel it deeply and surround yourself with surroundings and support that help you!
This is what my very personal grief work looked like for me today..
Spending time on my own.
Surrounded by nature.
Pedalling my bike.
Finding support with people at my gym.
Nourishing my body with super food nutrition so that I don’t gain forty pounds like I did five years ago when my mom died.
Who walks into their gym and bawls their eyes out?
Who sobs crocodile tears all over a dog?
Yup, that would be me again.
This week, I walked into the gym for a usual workout, it was squat day. I walked in carrying my shoes and water bottle and see the service dog that is often sitting on the mat by the bench waiting for his handler/trainer to finish her workout. I have never greeted the dog because I wasn’t sure if the dog was working or not. I saw the handler/trainer working out and asked if I could give her dog a little pet. She said, “Yes!”.
I proceeded to sit down and the dog looked me in the eye, like only dogs can do. Viola, tears start flowing, sobbing ensues and I am soaking the fur on the top of the dog’s head.
I did “get myself together” to do my workout, but I realize in hindsight, with a bit of a chuckle, that I probably needed that cry more than any workout!
The blessings of dogs.
Enjoy their soulful presence.
Their divine eyes.
Their knowing ways.
Their ever present love.
We are blessed to have had both our dogs for so long.
I was a cat girl growing up. Now, I am a lab girl for life!
I loved cats independence. Loved their gentle purrs and how they would sleep with you in the most obscure ways. My cat, Boots, loved sleeping right on top of my neck or chest.
Enter in Sexy Neck into my life in 1992 with a visit to his family home which was definitely a dog family. Their little dog, Mandy, was a sweetie. Someone to walk with, someone to greet you happily every single time you walked in the door and a great companion for everyone.
This cat girl growing up didn’t stand a chance! Nineteen years ago, I became a dog person, more specifically a Labrador retriever girl. My life would never be the same!
Over these years, I have had the privilege to learn from our two labs, KT and Summer. These are the specific lessons from Summer as this was a very Holy day celebrating her life.
💫 LIFE LESSONS FROM A LAB 💫
💫 Enjoy all the seasons, especially winter. Rolling around and sliding down slight inclines on your side is especially fun!
💫 Wag your tail at everyone but bark at the mailman.
💫 Always be on the lookout for food. You never know what you will find. Even things that you need to lick off the pavement are enjoyable.
💫 Be a baby watcher. Stand as close as you can with your wet nose on the baby blanket. Diapers are the best things to smell on babies. (We called Summer our “Nanny dog”.)
💫 Pour out love to the humans CLOSEST to you. Always be happy to see them. Always greet them at the door. Always look up to them with adoring eyes, especially when they have treats for you.
💫 Love children. All children. Always love those children that will rub your ears, your belly and play fetch with you.
💫 Take your master cross country skiing at all hours of the day. Be their companion and confidante listening to all their stories. Don’t get stuck in the powder!
💫 Be content being with, playing with and taking care of your core group of people. It’s the simple things.
💫 You are never too big to cuddle or have your ears and belly rubbed.
💫 Don’t leave the food you like unattended on the table. It might disappear! (This is a lesson from my boys: Nine and eleven year old. This is something Summer just started doing last year, which was ironic because her arthritis was so bad that we had to lift her into the car. That piece of toast on the table, though, no problem!)
💫 Don’t trust strange dogs.
💫 Be present
💫 A little mess doesn’t matter.
💫 The stuff you leave behind is meaningless. It’s the memories, the cuddles, the smells and the moments that create a MAGICAL life!
🙏🏻 LIFE LESSONS FROM A LAB 😘
Magical memories with this puppy: swimming, always being happy to see us, chasing golf balls, cross country skiing, eating every crumb off our floors, shedding a small dog every day, being my comfort and companion, witnessing the birth of all three of our boys…
Thank you faithful friend. Thank you for the life lessons that I will take with me for the rest of my life. I will miss you every day!
There are people in your life that show you how to live well and die well. People that you have the privilege to watch come full circle in life.
My gift of grief and my true knowledge of the circle of life was given to me by my mama in 2013 and if you have followed my blog the last decade, you know her beautifully, deep story begins here.
This blog isn’t about my mama’s journey, but about another woman, and her thoughtful husband who brought such life and wisdom into Steve and I’s life. These wise and kind people are Colleen and Murray. Sexy Neck’s Grandma and Gramps.
See, when my mom died, it was a shitstorm of 25 days. Truly. My sister was on holidays in Australia. It was Christmas time. As a family, we had never talked about the possibility of my mom dying even though she was living with a very serious cancer diagnosis for over six months. It’s a perfect example of “seeing things how we are, not how they are.” We had no plan. No map. No idea what to do. It was the perfect storm for chaos and overwhelm.
GG and Gramps showed me how different death and celebrating a life can be. Gramps died one and a half years ago from cancer, within two weeks of being diagnosed. GG has been living with Alzheimer’s for over a decade. GG peacefully died a few weeks ago.
It was wonderful. A true celebration of lives well lived. Gramps was cremated. GG wanted a green burial. Therefore, in this picture Gramps lies with GG in the most beautiful wicker basket. The funeral home had never done a green burial before. I think they were as curious as us all. But GG and Gramps had a plan and the family, Linda, Ron and John, just had to follow the plan.
It was beautiful. The pastor shared many special memories. We saw family and friends we hadn’t seen in years. The great-grandchildren (my boys and their two cousins), an uncle and aunt, their great-uncle and his partner even went on a scavenger hunt looking for other relatives in the cemetery. Gramps had brought their spot to be laid to rest many, many years before.
What a privilege to watch Gramps and GG’s lives to be celebrated. What a gift to have them in our lives.
Now, the journey becomes personal. What do I want. How can I make things beautiful and simple for my family. It is with one hundred percent certainty that I know we will all die sometime in the very distant future. I know that I want to live and die well. Really well.
Thank you for the gift Gramps and GG! We love you. We miss your presence in our lives and we will miss our visits at The Quay.
Off to talk to my family about where to spread my ashes and the celebration of life that I want to take place in a gymnasium with bouncy castles and cotton candy.
The lady that will leave the largest legacy in my life left the earth.
Five years ago.
She breathed her last breath.
My dad at her side.
My boys and I sleeping at her house.
December 26th, 2018 7:00am
I set an alarm.
I woke and took a deep breath.
I began to ponder this adventure we have created these last five years and I must admit that I am shocked it has been five years living on this earth without my mama.
Some days, my breath gets taken away with grief and it seems like just moments ago that I was told that my mom had died. Other days, it feels like she has been gone for a hundred years. It truly is like the disciple Peter says: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. “
On days like today, I am able to look back and see five distinct legacies that my mom created for me and my boys:
My Mama was thoughtful! She was incredibly present with her people and truly saw how she could add value to their everyday life. She used her “spidey sense” to buy the best gifts. She really saw people and what they needed. Most days, she was the gift people needed.
My Mama was a “mover”! She was cycling in Mallorca, Spain eight months before she died, cycling up to 90km per day. If she said that she was going to do something, she did it. Plain and simple. Joanna, “I was to learn Spanish!” Boom, at 65 years old she signed herself up for a Spanish class. My Mama was an athlete her whole entire life from living on the farm, to playing basketball, to being one of the first moms to join a gym and finally her passion for cycling, hiking and cross country skiing. My mama was woman of her word and a mover to boot.
My Mama was creative! Whether it was when she was quilting, creating in the kitchen or working in her garden, my mom always added her own flare to what she was doing. She was never afraid to try new recipes or create something with our boys, even if it involved sparkles. My Mama was a creator.
My Mama was not perfect! She was the person who gave me permission to be perfectly imperfect. I saw her shed tears over the things that her relatives chose to do to her and I saw her unsure at how to respond. I saw her get angry and apologize. I heard her speak about other people and also then apologize. I watched her when I was younger as she moved jobs and share what it was really like to work as a teacher in an antiquated system. My Mama was a human “being”.
My Mama was LOVE! At 7:00am in the morning when the boys wanted to watch cartoons, she would let them crawl into bed with her. Whenever we showed up at her front door, my Mama always gave the very best hugs and made space for us in her life. Every time, I needed to talk with her, she listened. She listened really, really well. Time. Hugs. Listening. And so much more than my simple words can convey. Who could ask for anything more? Pure love!
Today on December 26th, we put on our skinny skis and went down the nordic trails to remember my Mama and my boys’ super Nana. We talked about the legacy that she has left for each of us. We cried. We laughed. We sent a balloon up to heaven. In rememberance. As a symbol of our connectness and the legacy that will never leave each of us.
With gratitude for every moment that I could spend with my Mama here on earth.
For the legacy she left.
With gratitude for the Mama that I now get to be for my boys.
For the legacy I will leave.
And the greatest of these is love.
Remembered on the trails today.
And every day as we live out our legacy now!
Leave a beautiful, imperfectly perfect legacy my friends.
There is a pervasive message in our culture that is saying “stay positive”, “think positive”, shift your mindset to be more positive and everything will be AWESOME!
Those that know me, know that I do have a positive mindset, but I did not, I repeat, I DID NOT, get there by being positive all the flipping time.
Let me tell you a little story about these three geniuses above:
My boys were 7,4 and 2 years old when my mom was dying. This grief experience would become the greatest gift that our family has been given! Plus, isn’t it amazing to know that we all having the incredible Nana waiting for us in heaven. When we were given this gift of grief, I spoke with my counselor, a tremendous amount, about how we grieve as human beings She taught me, and my children showed me, that the very best grievers are actually children. What they do is feel things very deeply, stay in each moment and move in and out of grief very quickly. This was exactly our experience. They would see or remember something from Nana, wham, the tears would come. Then they would see their favourite LEGO and wham, they are smiling and playing again. My counselor taught me that the best thing I could do for them, and myself, was to sit with them in their grief, feel things with them and wait for them to shift or helps them slowing shift after being present with them. Rarely, did I need to do anything but merely sit and be present with them.
Imagine this same grief journey, if I constantly put on a positive face, ignored their feelings and told them to be positive. “Just be positive” said over and over and over again. In a child’s world, this would be completely invalidating their feelings and not give them the permission to feel or grieve. I wonder what counselling they would need later in life to get over not feeling the feelings they had during this time?
This year is going to be our fifth Christmas without my marvellous mama and I must admit that I have become an expert at negotiating grief. I sit with myself. I feel things deeply and then gently move myself when I know I am ready. I cried in the pool this morning while swimming lengths. I feel the feelings, I let the tears flow.
I am blessed because I can now see and sense this grief process working in others and I easily give them space to move through the process. We do this often with relationships, situations, and even with our food. I can see people giving themselves lashes for not being positive enough or at all. I can see people trying so hard.
This brings me back to the positive rah rah that is overpowering our culture. I WANT TO BE A PERMISSION BEARER. As I observe and grow a business in this culture of a constant positivity, my message has clearly become “keep sh*t real”. The more honest my customers can be with me, the more I can walk with them. The more we can sit with each other in the real sh*t that exists in this world, the more we can move each other into positive places. We have to sit together, listen together and then move!
Feel the feels.
Sit in them.
Then look, seek and find solutions and that positive place.
When you look around and feel like sh*t because you aren’t positive enough, pretty enough, doing enough or…. <insert what it is for you here>… keep it real and sit with your sh*t. And realise that when I look around and see the pervasive positivism overwhelming my feed, it’s usually being put out into the world by men, young couples or empty nesters. You don’t often seen mom’s waking up to puking kids or having to put every single thing they had planned that day on hold because of a child with a fever, spewing the positivity message 24/7.
It’s about keeping sh*t real. Finding a way to keep taking one step forward every day towards where you want to go. Surrounding yourself with people who will cheer you on and be positive even when you have spit up on your shoulder and haven’t combed your hair. Find that tribe that keep things real and can be positive when you can’t be.
If you aren’t feeling that you are good enough, positive enough or that you are doing enough, STOP that sh*t. Remember my lessons from grief that my boys taught me.
God has given you many talents that you may not be able to see right now.
God is taking you through a season that is going to give you great strength.
God is going to reveal everything to you in EXACTLY the right time.
BUT, life isn’t always okay, amazing or incredible.
But you “Cann”:
Always hold hope.
Always brings peace.
Always hold love.
Always keep sh*t real.
Even when the positivity police try to overtake you.
Learn from my greatest teachers, my boys, in this upcoming season.
More today, now than ever, we need connections and people to mentor us on our life journeys. Between the smoke and mirrors of social media and the messages being portrayed in movies, streaming and in advertisements, finding our individual growth journey is more important than it ever has been. Slowly, we are inundated with the perfect lives, the neatly wrapped up stories and lives that are missing connections with the people breathing all around us. We have forgotten to look around. We are often looking at our phone missing the people around us.
See the beauty around you.
See the beauty within.
As I thought about people who have helped me become the “flower” that I am: colourful, a bit tattered at the edges, long, strong and loving life amongst my other flowers, I have realised that there have been four key people who have helped me on my journey.
Donna S, one of my mom’s very best friends, has been my soil. She has provided nourishment at the right time of my life. She has always held space and made space for me to be me. I have never felt judgement from her, ever. Donna has been the ground that I could stand on when growing. She, too, was married to a Principal, worked in a care giving position as a nurse and chose to be a stay-at-home mom. Donna is also a mom of three children. She makes the very best zucchini sticks, fresh from her garden. It never fails on my birthday that I will receive a birthday card from Donna. A handwritten card will often show up at other pertinent moments, like my first year of University and my first time living alone, I received a card in November. I will never forget sitting on my dorm room bed, reading the card and crying because someone remembered me and thought of me. Isn’t that a nourishing thought? Where would I be without this soil beneath my feet provided by Donna?
Who loves the sun? Jean R. was my “University mom” and she was my light and sun during my growth as a university student. She showed me how to live a life of freedom being exactly who you are. Jean gave me physical and spiritual food and she showed me how to tap into God’s love and grace. She had created beautiful rituals around the holidays and always had a handful of people home for the holidays, unrelated, but always at home at Jean and Joe’s. Jean was married to an Engineer and is also a mom of three. She, too, chose to be a stay-at-home mom and raise her three children while having a hairdressing studio in her basement. She was also the person that gave me light on my wedding day by doing my hair. Where would I be without this light-filled person in my world?
Now enter into my life, water in the form of Hilde W. or Mrs. White in English. She came to me in a season of tremendous growth, early in my marriage. Hilde was my German mom and also a mother of three. She showed me how to soak up new ideas and how she literally turned a century old barn into a thriving hotel and restaurant in a village the population of an elementary school. Living in room 25 of her hotel, she also taught me how to cook pizza on a wood oven outside and load a mean dishwasher. She was open and accepting and poured great love into both us. She watered us on a daily basis with her kind words, big ideas and hard work. What would I be without watching this clear living water pour from Hilde?
Lastly, I end with my mentor who has breathed life in me from the very beginning. She was my mom’s fellow ‘hockey wife’, one of her best friends and Wendy knew me when I was in my mother’s womb. Wendy is also one of the first people that all my boys met when they were born. She taught me how to show up in live, just be and breathe. Wendy also reminds me never to forget to laugh. She showed me how to live the gift of grief when she lost her husband in a car accident when I was in my teens. Wendy gives the very best gifts! Through her actions and her words she is like a breathe of fresh air and her hugs, ah her hugs, they literally give you life. Wendy helped in the family business, worked in schools, but mostly loved on her three children. Where would I be without seeing Wendy live with full life with full breathes and have so much fun? O’Wen!
All of us are flowers getting ready to bloom. We just need to remember or find those that are nourishing us as soil, sun, water and oxygen. I wonder who those people are for you. Conversely, I wonder who you could be those things for.
Moms of three.
Filled with light.
Overcomers of loss.
All very important elements and role models for me to have to truly bloom.
Note: For the article that inspired me to write this post, take a look at this article. Thanks Wendy W. for the inspiration, my fellow flower!