On April 20th I boarded a plane to visit a dear friend and celebrate her birthday. Sue and I first met in 1981 when we were neighbours on Rue Narcisse in Chateauguay, Quebec. Our thirty-seven year friendship saw us cross paths many times over the years, from Montreal to Kamloops to Calgary, with Sue eventually leaving for Vancouver to stay. Our friendship, in all honesty feels more like we are sisters.
The last time I saw Sue in Vancouver was during a business trip in 2009, and then we planned a Thanksgiving trip in our old stomping grounds in Kamloops in 2012, even making time to drive up the mountain to Pinantan Lake where we both lived until Sue and family moved to the mainland.
The really cool thing about a friendship like ours is that it doesn’t really matter how much time or distance comes between us, we pick up right where we left off when we finally see each other again.
Pinantan Lake, BC in the late 80s
While there, on this recent visit, I also had an opportunity to catch up with other friends, like Stephanie who was a teenager when we met at the Mustard Seed. And Scott, who also hails from Chateauguay, and Marie whom Sue first met in Montreal, and I later met in the late eighties in Pinantan Lake, British Columbia.
Stephanie, me and Sue – April 2018
It was so wonderful to sit around a table sharing meals and memories with these wonderful people. And walk around Sue’s neighbourhood, including a five kilometer hike to the falls in Golden Ears Provincial Park. I’m also very grateful to Scott for giving us a tour of the Fraser River on his boat.
Marie, Sue and Diana
Scott, Diana and Sue
On the Fraser River
Golden Ears Provincial Park
The air in the rain forest is so rejuvenating
Who knew that three days with old friends in beautiful British Columbia could be so energizing and good for the soul?
Thank you my friends for your over-the-top hospitality. I’m already looking forward to the day when I can visit again!
I’ve been working here at Oxford House for just little over two years and I can attest to what a great organization it is!
Hardly a day goes by that I am not hearing an amazing story, or learning something new about myself about honesty, integrity, sweating the small stuff, and the list goes on and on!
So I’ve just now decided a small way I can give back. As soon as I’ve published this post, I am making a $22 donation to Oxford House in honour of its 22nd birthday here and I’m going to challenge you to do the same.
if you’ve ever been helped by Oxford House, or you know someone who has, or you knew Ron MacMillan, Founder and past executive director of Oxford House, and want to donate in his name, or you know someone who is struggling with addiction or has lost their battle with addiction, and you just want to help someone else in their name, who is living in an Oxford House, will you consider donating today?
This loss spills out over things I never thought it would touch and i am shattered by the falsehood of permanence.
– Chloe Frayne
She’s slipping away, bit by bit. In many ways I’ve already lost the woman I’ve known as mother all my life. She’s being replaced with a new woman, one who has endearing qualities of her own, one who although a stranger to me, I’m struggling to know.
What a conundrum to build a new relationship, when memories created moments ago, are forgotten as quickly as they are experienced.
Yet what a gift it is in teaching me how to ‘live in the moment, love in the moment,‘ right in the moment we have.
She may not remember my visit, or the laughs we shared at the dinner table, or the conversation we had on the phone, or that the big-comfy-after-bath-housecoat I bought her, is hanging in her closet, but I hope with all my heart, the love shared in these moments transcends the moments, and makes its home in her heart forever, even if one day, she forgets me.
Have you ever noticed that the circumstances in life that you struggle with the most seem to repeat themselves over and over again, until you finally find a way to handle them differently?
In past years, I have chosen a word for the upcoming new year. Words like tenacity and service, or perhaps the words actually chose me as my friend Louise Gallagher, over at Dare Boldly has often suggested.
I am certain that my word for 2018 chose me.
Let It Go.
Yes, I know those are three words, but no single word I’ve found, such as release, or surrender, or acquiesce, have fully meant to me what those three little words have come to mean.
I realize, as well, that those three little words have not just made their debut in 2017. They have been waiting patiently at the sidelines for three years, maybe more.
You see, in my family, an issue arises and we scramble to “Fix It”. This works well when it’s a manageable situation like, my car won’t start – call AMA, or my computer is acting up – have you tried rebooting it.
Yet there are many situations in life where you can do all you know to do, and it doesn’t get fixed. There are variables that are simply out of your control, and those are the very things, in my case, that can roll around in my head like a PowerPoint presentation or video that has been set to ‘continuous loop.’
That loop can take over, and more often than not, it prevents me from taking action in other situations, over which I actually have some measure of power to make a difference.
And so, those three little words unassumingly step forward for the millionth time to gently nudge me, encourage me to recognize, to really see that it is time to let it go, to trust, and accept, and even embrace the natural unfolding of what is.
And yes, it really is as simple as that.
Wishing you all an amazing 2018 filled with courage, growth, resiliency and love,
“What is the name of that singer I really liked?” mom asked me, sitting across the booth from me at her ‘second home’ at Vieux Chateau in Hawkesbury, ON. “You know, the guy who sang, ‘You ain’t nothing but a groundhog?’“
How interesting that mom would ask that question, with the mistaken groundhog instead of the actual hound-dog from the song she so loved by Elvis Presley, since my brother and I had recently discussed how life with mom is sort of like the movie Groundhog Day.
Two years ago, mine and Mike’s dad, and mom’s husband of 56 years passed away. Mom hasn’t been the same since. How can someone go on when their husband, whom they have spent more than half their life with, is suddenly gone.
It hasn’t been easy for mom, or for us kids who are witnesses to the profound sadness that saturates mom’s reality. And just recently mom has also had to give up driving and leave the home that she and dad built together to move into a retirement home.
Getting old sucks!
We try to tell ourselves otherwise to make ourselves feel better, but it’s a shit show of giving up independence and autonomy. Sure, one can still find joy in moments and be grateful for what remains, but as in the case of mom, that takes a great deal of re-focusing and determination.
You see, mom isn’t who she once was. She has become very forgetful and displays signs of dementia, and she knows it. Imagine if half your brain was breaking down, and the other half was fully aware of it. It can’t be easy for her. And she is different. She’s not the mom we knew. But the new Margot is beautiful. She’s compassionate. She is concerned about the future of, and misses, her family immensely.
During my one-week visit, I watched mom reach out to others who are struggling, doling out hugs, taking the arm of a woman who has pain when she walks. Mom is fierce in her efforts to help and protect others, because she knows firsthand what it means to feel helpless. She is beautifully compassionate when she hugs and cries with those who are hurting. And although she doesn’t feel it, she is brave, emotionally connected and a light in the darkness.
It’s not been easy for us, her kids, because we are heartbroken with the cards that life has dealt mom. We feel guilty because we can’t spend as much time as we would like with her. And yet, we are so proud of her and so in awe of her ability to FEEL the moment and experience it in the moment.
I don’t mind so much when she cries, because that is RAW honesty, and it passes. She feels it. Accepts it. And moves on. I guess the hardest part is when she panics, when she feels that she screwed up in someway, when the chaotic thoughts in her head send her into a tailspin. Thankfully, these episodes seem to be less, now that she gets her medication dispensed by a nurse at the correct times.
Don’t misread me. It’s not all gloom and doom. Mom’s only been in her new home for a month. She needs time to mourn what’s she’s lost, and grow accustomed to her new surroundings. We do have high hopes of a meaningful quality of life experience for her moving forward. We look forward to a possible trip with the whole family to Germany, mom’s homeland, and we look forward to a June wedding between my daughter and her fiancé.
But I don’t think we are fully off the hook. Individually, and as a society, we need to take a long, hard look at how we treat the elderly. How do we make sure that there is still “life” in their lives? How do we create an environment where joy can exist? How do we move away from ‘doing everything’ for them to ‘helping them find their new purpose?’ How do we move away from the warehousing of elderly people, to an integrated model of all society that includes children and all ages? And how do we keep the conversation going until we find it?
Getting old sucks, but it doesn’t have to…
Check out the amazing results that happened after this cool 6 week experiment.
~ DIANA’S ENORMOUS BOOK OF QUOTES ~
Mom lives at Place Mont Roc now; a wonderful place, run by wonderful people, helping wonderful people. Their kindness is amazing and it’s a great foundation on which to build what we can further do to respect and keep the dignity of our seniors; our moms and dads.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of Louise Gallagher’s company. It has become a tradition for us to meet each year before Christmas. And I always leave our time together re-energized.
Among the many topics we cover, we talk about Louise’s current move to a new home. I imagine, because of Louise’s creative soul, she must have lots to pack as she’d be inclined to keep things that might be used in a future art project.
“Yes I do,” she affirms, and holds up a print out saying, “I look at this and wonder how I could use it for art.” She goes on to tell me about an empty container she keeps that reminds her to ‘hold space’ for things she cannot change, like the hurts she has caused others, or others’ have caused her.
I pull a black, shiny stone out of my pocket – an Apache Tear – and tell her when I feel it in my pocket I remember those whom I have lost in this life, and those who still struggle.
Do you have a meaningful object? What does it remind you of?
Never let things you want, make you forget the things you have.
In the summer of 2015, Dad called and insisted that I visit that September. Looking back, I am grateful he did so, as unknown to any of us, Dad would pass away two months later.
When I reflect on what I am grateful for, Dad is at the top of the list. I know how fortunate I am to have had a father who loved me, and kept me safe, who was in my life for 52 years.
Dad also was a grateful man. During that 2015 visit, from the couch he practically lived on due to the back pain he’d suffered, he looked at me and said, “You know, Diana…I cannot really complain about anything, I’ve had a great life.”
“A great life, Dad? You grew up in war-torn Berlin. Your windows imploded when bombs were dropped. You were hungry much of the time!”
I don’t remember his answer verbatim, but it was something like, “yes, but we looked out for each other on our street, we shared everything. I was loved.”
WE HAD ANTICIPATED WARMER WEATHER, 19c/67f degrees to be exact, but in Calgary, it is hard to predict weather beyond 48 hours. On ride day, it seemed nice enough outside early in the morning, but it got quite windy and cold after the riders were sent out. And I swear, that no matter what direction the route took, the wind was blowing cold and full blast, into my face. Coupled with that, having gained at least 15 pounds since last year’s ride, I ended up having to dismount, a couple of times, part way up hills, and walk them.
I can laugh about it today, but another thing I did on ride day, was miss the 10km turn off, so I unwittingly rode about 5km more than I signed up for,(probably a good thing, seeing as I have gained weight), but I took two others with me! So you’d have to ask Earl and Kellie how they felt about me misleading them – sorry guys!
None of that is important when compared to the benefit that resulted through the compassionate efforts of the riders, walkers, donors and volunteers, who all played a role in raising over $20,000 for Oxford House. Practically speaking, this means that eight men or women in recovery, will have a home, and support in their recovery, for an entire year!
I personally want to thank those 20 people who supported my ride – together we raised $1,335! Also, I want to thank the 12 people who joined my team who along with you, fundraised $5,460 in total for Oxford House.
My team, the Riders for Recovery
(L-R) Diana, Earl, Kellie, Tracey, Trish, Dean, Michael, Leanne, Ava and Pat. And missing from this photo are: Jaidyn, Ziyan, Karim and Donald
Who says you can’t goof around and work hard at the same time?
…on Sunday, I hopped on my bike, knowing that there aren’t that many bike-riding days left until winter hits Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
I planned to do my usual ride to St. Patrick Island, but first I wanted to stop at the alley between 4th and 5th Street.
You see, there’s been construction on 17th Avenue, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t cursed about a lot in the last year. But I was intrigued when I heard they were closing the alley to cars and opening it up to foot traffic so that local businesses could create a space in the alley.
A bar set up a grassy area and picnic tables, the pet food place set up booth and an apartment building laid down turf and set up lawn bowling and other games.
The City of Calgary also had an information tent and that’s where I met Kate. Say what you will about Millennials, but I love them! They’re bright, creative and love to build community.
The alley idea is a pilot project, Kate explained. To see if it would work to open up alleys in other blocks as 17th Avenue construction works its way to 14th Street over the next three years.
We got talking about other cool projects like the Red Boardwalk Project on Rue St. Denis in Montreal and the Skyline Park in NYC. And we talked about ways to build community; community that would even welcome homeless people! I asked her if she was afraid of, or uncomfortable around homeless people and she said it depended on the person. But, she had “a very cool story to tell me, something that happened just last night!”
Kate is an urbanite, and like most neighbourhoods in the core, her backyard borders an alley. And over time, she met “Tom.” Tom is homeless and collects recyclables from the alley behind Kate’s home. Kate and Tom chat a lot and she saves her bottles and cans for him.
Well the night before, Tom surprised her with a gift. There’s a street artist named Raven who paints native art and Tom chose, and bought a piece from him for Kate.
I felt my eyes moisten as Kate told me the story, and you can say what you want about Millennials, but I just love them.
On my way to the alley, I heard the thunder of motorcycles. Turns out “The Distinguished Gentlemen” were riding for men’s health.
Something I heard said, while growing up in my hometown of Chateauguay many times. And it isn’t fair, it certainly doesn’t seem to be at times.
We plan, we work and we dream about the life we are building, and things don’t always work out the way we hoped. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it crashes down on us like the destructive force of a storm. Yet, sometimes when the storm has passed, we look back and are able to say, “if not for the storm, I wouldn’t have learned (fill in the blank).”
I’m learning that in the storm, in spite of its force, in spite of my fears, I have to be brave. I have to trust that things will settle down, and I have to believe things may even be better than they were before.
The storm wakes us up. It shakes our foundations, and causes us to pay attention. It reveals what is important. It reprioritizes our priorities. And it creates a huge space for love and compassionate action.
Mom is teaching me this. My brother is showing me this, through this frightening time of transitioning Mom to a retirement home.
A new stage in life. A profound sense of not knowing and loss of autonomy. A shaking up of a life hard-worked for, painstakingly planned for, and callously turned upside down.
Yet love is there. Courage to believe is there. Hope that it may even be better than it currently is in this storm, is there.
~ DIANA’S ENORMOUS BOOK OF QUOTES ~
Mom and Mike, I am so proud of you. You may feel fear and helplessness, but I see your courage, love and hope; and I know that Dad does too. I love you!