I am in Vancouver, consumed by Love. Breathing in joy and laughter.
In the presence of my grandchildren, there is no space for uncertainty or fear. There is only Love.
Yes. The world feels off-balance. Battered by a multitude of woes that sometimes feel like they can steal my breath away. There are so many over which I have little or no sway. So many things to give my attention to.
And all of it fades as I listen to the sweet voices of my grandchildren. See their loving faces and hear their laughter.
All of it matters yet in their presence, future concerns wane within the glow of their presence. Nothing can dim, Love.
I am breathing. Love in. Love out. Love in. Love out.
I am breathing.
Worldly concerns will still be there when I get home and so, like Scarlett O’Hara viewing the devastation of Tara, I tell myself, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
The world matters. Their futures matter. What I do right now matters most.
I fall, breathlessly, into Love.
When my 97-year-old mother passed away in 2020, three weeks before the first Coronavirus enforced lockdown, we were able to celebrate her life with family and friends. Grief and gratitude for this woman who had given so much to everyone were present. We were fairly confident the virus wasn’t.
For our family, the passing of our matriarch was a shared experience that enriched our lives and brought us closer, not just with one another but with our many friends, most of whom had known our mum and loved her for her gentle ways and many kindnesses.
In the final two weeks of her life my mother was never alone, never without a loving presence sitting at her bedside, talking, reading, sharing, laughing, caring. Sometimes, friends dropped by to say hello, and good-bye. It was a loving, peaceful farewell made even more beautiful because we each knew that we belonged within the family circle my mother had woven and stitched and patched and repaired throughout her life.
For older adults, having a sense of belonging is vital to physical and mental health. Yet, too often, social isolation and loneliness shadow their days and nights, leaving them exposed to many diseases.
The CDC reports that “Although it’s hard to measure social isolation and loneliness precisely, there is strong evidence that many adults aged 50 and older are socially isolated or lonely in ways that put their health at risk. Recent studies found that:
- Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
- Social isolation was associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia.
- Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
- Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
- Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly 4 times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits. Source
I have often wondered how my mother lived such a long life, and aside from severe arthritis, a relatively healthy life.
My mother was seldom lonely.
She made it her mission in life to befriend strangers, to surround herself with people about whom she cared and who cared for her. She lived connected to a vast network of family and friends. And though there were times we worried about her mental health and her ability to cope with life’s ups and downs, her resilience and ability to make meaningful relationships where ever she was, her habit of always giving back in whatever way she could, kept her safe and secure to her final day.
Many older people are not so fortunate. Nor connected. As we age, so too does our close community. This can lead to feelings of loss, loneliness and isolation. These feelings can be exacerbated by life circumstances such as transitions to retirement and accompanying loss of identity, ill health, loss of a spouse or friends, mobility problems, vision and hearing loss, lower income, residential changes, and changes in access to transportation.
And, when we’re feeling lost and alone, when we fear we have no one we can safely reach out to, our mental and physical well-being are at risk.
We live in a diverse society. Not just gender, race, faith, sexual orientation and culture but age too. As in other developed countries, Canada’s population is aging. The number of Canadians aged 65 and older will rise from 14% (4.8 million) in 2010 to 25% (10.4 million) by 2036 (Statistics Canada, 2010). By 2056, 1 in 10 Canadians will be aged 80 or older (Martin-Matthews, 2011).
We are also living longer and continuing to make meaningful contributions to society well beyond the socially accepted retirement age of 65.
To ensure we capitalize on the age diversity that exists in society today, we must ensure our policies, programs, services and structural facilities are designed to promote social inclusion, connection and belonging. To capitalize on the significant contributions older generations are making and will continue to make for the common good, we must not limit their potential.
My mother was 97 when she took her last breath. If she had one regret, she used to say in her soft, lilting voice, it was that she hadn’t accumulated great wealth to leave behind for her children and their children.
She need not have any regret. What she left us is far more valuable. She left us knowing we belong to one another and an appreciation for the power of social connection.
After two weeks with my grandchildren (and their parents) my heart is full. Of love. Laughter. Joy. Contentment. Wonder and Awe.
Before my grandson was born I wrote a Grandmother’s Code for myself to remind me of what I wanted my grandchildren to learn and know — not just about me but about being in this world.
As I played and chatted and soared on imaginary space ships to the moon and talked to trees in the forest and searched for crabs beneath rocks on the beach, I wondered, what am I teaching them? Am I teaching them about kindness? About diving deep into your imagination to explore what’s possible and to believe in your dreams? Am I teaching them to love fierce, live wholly, be present?
This morning, I went in search of my Code to check out how well I’d lived by its tenets. I’m grateful I did.
What do I want to teach my grandchildren?
I want to teach them that who and how they are in the world makes a difference because their being in this world makes a difference.
I want them to know that this world is a place of awe and wonder. That amidst the turmoil, pain and chaos, that kindness, beauty, creativity, compassion are essential. And that in all things, all places, all situations, Love is always the answer.
And I can only do that by living through:
The power of kindness.
The beauty of honesty.
The gift of creativity.
The exquisiteness of compassion.
The grace of Love.
By living these tenets in all ways and all things I am, I want my grandson and granddaughter (heck. make it the whole world) to know that you don’t have to do anything to make a difference. You are the difference you bring into this world. Make your difference be a reflection of all you are when you walk with integrity, act through kindness and do all things with a heart full of love and compassion.
I started writing this post several days ago.
That’s how bliss works.
It captures you in the moment, immerses you in joy and sends thoughts of all those things you need to ‘get to’ away.
I have been immersed in the bliss of time with my grandchildren for 10 days now.
And though tiring, the tiredness pales in comparison to the joy that consumes me when I hear their laughter, see their smiles and feel their tiny and small hands in mine.
At 3 and a half, my grandson is an ever-moving energized bundle of legs running, arms flying about like an airplane or rocket ship or break dancer breaking wild. He pushes a never-ending plethora of dumptrucks zooming across the floor and excavators digging up dirt all while racing his “boy-size’ Porsche car around the island chasing his 13 month old sister as she pushes her ‘her-size’ baby carriage gleefully in front of him.
There are cuddles and story-time and laughter and sometimes tears too and always, always, “Play with me YiaYa’s” galore and questions that can never be answered to his satisfaction like “What are you doing?” and “Are you finished your coffee yet so you can play with me now?” and “Where’s Daddy?” or “Why is mummy busy?”
There are walks in the forest to talk to trees and listen to their heartbeats and follow the story of their roots deep into the ground and stare up into the sky high, high above their branches and walks along the beach turning over every rock in an endless search for crabs and assorted sea life and digging in the sand and climbing up monkey bars and sliding down slides and taking rocket ships to many moons of many colours.
And through it all, there are rainbow ribbons of bliss weaving magic in the air all around and filling my heart to the roots of my soul’s craving for more time to savour the sacred nature of being their YiaYa.
I am here for a couple of more days. My planned trip to Gabriola for the weekend aborted as Covid numbers climb and playing safe means more than just making sure a little pair of hands don’t get caught in closing doors or as my grandson reminds me every time I buckle him into his carseat, “Make sure you don’t pinch me YiaYa.”
And, because I know my granddaughter will be waking from her nap soon, and my grandson will be returning from a walk with his mum, I let go of the need to check back on what I wrote and let it go. That way, I can come back again and again when I return home to savour the feelings of joy and love and bliss that fill every moment of time with my grandchildren and their parents.
This is bliss.
I was there for her first cry. First word. First step. First fall. First day of school. First heartbreak.
So many firsts to have had the privilege to celebrate with this amazing woman, my eldest daughter Alexis, who turns 35 today.
I remember hearing her first cry as they cut into my womb to lift her out. I remember feeling an emotion wash over me for which there were no words to describe. Love. Joy. Peace. Grace. It was all there and I was swimming in it and have been swimming in it ever since she came into this world, not kicking and screaming but with a delicate, soft cry that said, “I’m here. Now, give me time to adjust to this new environment please so that I can feel every sensation, sense every emotion and experience every molecule.”
Alexis was born with words written in her heart. Words that need and must flow. Words brimming with beauty that pour out and into the world awakening, touching, moving hearts and minds and souls to see and feel and know how beautiful, ethereal, mystical and real this life is.
She is a word warrioress. A poetry priestress and a heart diviner.
She’s also an exceptionally heartfelt, loving and kind woman. A mother now of my two favourite littles in the whole wide world, Alexis teaches me everyday about living from the heart, being fearless in vulnerability and finding light in the darkness.
Happy Birthday my beautiful, fierce, loving, creative daughter. You are the sun and the moon and the stars that make my world shine bright and fierce with love.
For Alexis On the day you were born I heard you cry inside my womb and felt my body melt beyond words beyond feeling beyond emotion as I became consumed by wild fierce love that poured like a waterfall cascading into the deepest crevices of my soul filling my body with its sweet melody of love as I fell forever in Love with you. On the day you were born the sun shone bright and the trees whispered stories of your arrival and the river flowed steady as a heartbeat and the wind blew soft as a feather falling and my heart beat fierce with the wonder of the miracle of holding you cradled in my arms forever in my heart . On the day you were born I felt my heart burst into a dizzying, daring beat that has never stopped beating its song of gratitude for the gift of you and your fierce heart that sews words into pearls of beauty Your wild nature that spins magic out of moonbeams Your poetic soul that sings songs into rainbows of magic Your beautiful heart that loves like there’s nothing else to give for in your heart, there is only Love to have, to hold, to give, to share forever and always. On the day you were born I awoke to the beauty of life within the wonder of you forever and always.
After driving through the snow-covered Rockies under a perfectly clear blue sky I arrived home Tuesday night, happy, tired, my heart full of joy and memories of time spent with my daughter and her family.
Yesterday, the ‘perfect’ spring weather continued to flow all around me. Warm temps. Blue sky. Fresh gentle breeze. The last vestiges of ice melting into the river.
This morning, it’s snowing, which, given that this is spring in Calgary, is not uncommon nor unexpected. Just not all that welcome!
And then I smile. Changing the weather, or even being upset about it, is futile. Acceptance is necessary. As is a good sense of humour. It helps lessen the burn of snow on Earth Day and white flakes masquerading as cherry blossoms falling. There are few cherry trees in Calgary – they can’t withstand our winters and the crabapples haven’t begun to blossom… so…no matter how I’d like it to be something else more ‘springlike’ this is snow. Period.
When I travel, especially by car, I take a basket of art supplies with me for those moments when I am inspired, (or as in the case of being with my grandchildren – not too tired) to create.
I pulled out my basket once while with my daughter and her family when my grandson and I spent an afternoon painting rocks we’d collected on the beach.
Painting with a 3-year-old is pure delight. There’s no right or wrong. There’s no worrying about whether or not this colour goes here or what should I do next. There is only the joy of the experience… for as long as it lasts.
And then… it’s done and you move on to the next adventure.
When my grandson went off to play with his dump trucks, I opened my Learning to Fly art journal and began to create — I only had watercolour paints, matte medium and gesso to work with which made it even more exciting. Limiting my supplies is always good for my creative practice. It invites me, as does painting with my grandson, to focus on the experience without getting lost in the options or plans of what to do.
Yesterday with the patio door of my studio open to sounds of the river flowing and birds at the feeder and sun streaming in, I pulled out my unfinished pages and began to create.
One of the things I love about the creative process is how, even when I don’t think I know what’s happening, magic happens anyway.
For me, that magic came with the words that wrote themselves for this spread.
“Tend to your dreams like a precious garden, feed them flights of fancy and your wings will grow stronger.”.
Like the weather, when I accept what is, joy, gratitude, love grow stronger in my life. And, when I tend to my dreams with tender loving care, my life is full of possibility.
She reaches out, takes hold of my finger and pulls me towards her face. As our noses touch she leans in and kisses me on the lips. I feel my heart melt.
He calls me from his bedroom, “Come see this YiaYa!” And I go to his room and he shows me his excavator. Or perhaps his Dump Truck or maybe his Bulldozer. “Can you name my Bulldozer?” he asks and we go through a list of possible names until finally he gives a sweet little grin, nods his head up and down and says, “That’s it!” And again, I feel my heart melt. And when I inevitably forget its name, he always remembers.
A week with my grandchildren is like overdosing on chocolate. It’s sooooo good all reason disappears from my thoughts. Stopping is out of the question.
I watch my daughter and my son-in-love as they navigate two little ones during a time of high stress compounded by isolation and I am in awe. They are so patient. So kind. So very, very loving.
And it shows. My grandchildren are swimming in an ocean of love that has no end. Despite the restrictions of Covid, they are happy, chatty, funny, energetic, and oh so loving.
At 3, T is a lively, articulate and incredibly intelligent little boy. When I miss-name one of his legion of cars (which I continuously do) he corrects me with a laugh and a shake of his head. “No. YiaYa! It’s not a Ferrari. It’s a Lamborghini.” He loves to sing and read books and walk holding hands down the street. And he really, really likes my pancakes, especially if I include chocolate chips in them.
My granddaughter happily lets me hold her and dance with her and spin her about though I must admit, my favourite is when she is in her crib and wakes up crying and I go in and pick her up and she cuddles into my neck and is immediately soothed. Such bliss.
And though I have missed the last 8 months of seeing them, it is as if time did not separate us at all.
I am so blessed.
So very, very lucky.
In the stillness of morning light, I breathe slowly, waiting for the sun to break through wintery skies.
There is a weariness in my bones. I feel the weight of missing precious moments spent with family and friends. A longing for days that feel lost in misty memories of the times long ago when we opened our front door and invited others in.
In the softness of morning light, there is a heaviness to this winter morning. A knowing that today will be the same. Connections made on screens filled with tiny boxes of familiar faces who light up my heart and who once graced us with their presence around our table. My heart is light with the thought of their smiles yet heavy with the missing, Of touch. Of gathering together. Of hugs and farewell kisses grazing cheeks and a touch on the shoulder to say, “I see you. I hear you. I feel you.”
Yes. It is the feel of people gathering together. Of coming together to celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, reunions, and even a loved one’s passing, that I yearn for.
It is the knowing that today I am not with my 3-year-old grandson celebrating at a party just for him. My arms ache to hold his body next to mine and whisper, “I love you” in his ear. And to feel his sweet, precious breath against my ear as he whispers back, “I wuv you too YiaYa.”
It is the knowing that five months have passed since last I held my granddaughter in my arms and smelt her babyfresh head and kissed her tiny nose and tickled her tummy as she giggled and gurgled in squirming delight at my touch. Five months feels like a lifetime of change in a seven-month old’s world spent watching her grow on a tiny screen. She reaches for it when we talk. I like to think she is reaching for my heart. That she knows this heart she cannot touch except through a tiny screen is full of love pounding a fierce beat to the tune of her laughter and squeals and toothless smiles and sparkling eyes full of joy.
In the stillness of this winter’s morning light, I gently close the door on memories I yearn to feel come alive again. I breathe softly into this moment right now where I sit at my desk watching the river flow and the light slowly break through the darkness.
Clouds cover the sky. A blanket of grey above. A blanket of snow below. Misty. Ethereal. Mysterious light full of memory and longing on a wintery morning.
The sun is hidden yet still it shines. Eternal. Hot. Fiery.
Like my love for those I’m missing. For those not here because they can’t be and those because they never will be again. My love burns eternal.
In the stillness of morning light, I light a candle for those who are gone forever, and those whose absence is just a temporary moment in time passing until we can gather again, hold one another again and kiss one another on the cheek and whisper softly, “I love you”.
It is fleeting, this heaviness in my heart. It will pass. For now, I let my body rest easy in its embrace and warm myself on the memories I cherish and the knowing that soon, I’ll see their faces in tiny boxes on my screen and know, no matter the distance nor the times that separate us, Love will always beat fierce and strong in our hearts. Love will always hold us together.
In my dream, someone, a young woman who used to work with me I think, asks, “How old are you anyway?”
I reply, not without some trepidation, “Sixty-seven.”
The young woman looks surprised. By the look on her face I think she’s going to say something like, “Wow. You don’t look it at all! I’d have put you 15 years younger.”
Instead, she says, “Wow. That’s old.”
Fortunately, I woke up before I did anything I might regret.
When my mother was 67 I remember thinking she was old. So I suppose it’s only fair that my dream reflect my judgements of my mother.
And then, of course, I want to justify why I thought she was old. How her tendency to cry, “Woe is me!” shadowed the light and kept her tethered to the darkness. How her ability to see accidents waiting to happen kept her from seeing the miracles falling all around.
I want to prove how, at sixty-seven, I am not like her. At all.
I don’t know if it is because it is just the melancholy that pervades this Christmas season or because my mother loved Christmas, but she has been on my mind and heart. A lot.
The other day, while on a Zoom call with a friend, I was telling them how my mother loved this season of joy. They asked, “Do you find you miss her more now that it’s Christmas?”
It was a powerful question.
Even when we lived an ocean apart, I never felt like I was ‘missing’ my mother. We never had that kind of relationship. She was not the person I called if I needed advice about life or love or career. Nor was she the first person I thought to call with good news.
I told my friend. “Even though I know regret serves no useful purpose and I know my dream of having that kind of relationship with her was just a dream, what I am feeling most is the regret that for much of her life with me, my mother felt my judgements harshly.
It wasn’t intentional. It was just the way we were together. I always felt she wanted me to live life by her rules, her way. And even though now, I can see her way was founded on love and her desire to protect me, I felt smothered by what I thought were her limitations and fears, not love. I wanted to fly free. By the very act of spreading my wings, I was saying to my mother, your way isn’t good enough for me.
It was a continual dance of life between us. My mother wanting to keep me safe on her terms. Me wanting to experience life on my terms.
And as I finish typing that sentence I glance up and see the beauty of the world outside my window.
The sky is streaked in rose and golden hues of morning. A flock of Canada Geese are floating past on the fast-moving river, their bodies turned backwards, drifting with the current. A squirrel is bounding up a tree trunk and a chickadee flits and frolics in the bush outside my window.
The world is alive with beauty.
And just like that, the sun breaks through and I remember what is true and real in this moment. The memories of my relationship with my mother are just that. Memories. They are only kept alive in my thoughts.
And I can change my thoughts.
Regret. Sadness. Sorrow. They are fleeting.
Love. Joy. Gratitude. They are enduring.
‘Tis the season. It is different this year. Quieter. Yet, no matter the times, what never changes, what endures always is Love.
This Christmas, I shall hold the Love close and let regret float away like the geese on the river. Sometimes, as it drifts off into that quiet place where memories that do not serve me well go to rest in peace, regret turns back to look at me as if to say, ‘Give me another chance.”
And I smile and wave and turn my back and return home to the one truth that cannot be changed. Can never be denied.
My mother is the miracle of life that gave birth to the miracle of me.
I am grateful for this miracle.
I am blessed by this act of love that endures and ripples out in waves of possibility and hope and joy and beauty through the lives of my daughters and my grandchildren.
Blessed are we in this circle of Love my mother created.