Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Conquering The Great Divide

I had steeled myself for the shock of arrival. I had mentally prepared myself for the cold.

And it still hit me!

After three days in the moist, relatively warm air of the coast, coming home felt like a rude awakening — even though it was after midnight.

My plane was a couple of hours late. C.C., who was originally going to pick me up at 10, had long gone to bed. I walked out of the terminal, grabbed a cab and then proceeded to say a whole bunch of prayers as we slipped and slid our way down the Deerfoot, navigating icy patches and drifted snow until climbing up Bow Trail towards the condo in which we’re temporarily living while the renovations on our new home are underway.

The cab driver’s car had really bad tires.

Note to self, before climbing into a cab, check to ensure its tires have appropriate tread to navigate snowy roads!

And now I’m home.

Back from a delightful weekend with my sisters and daughters.

On Saturday night, my youngest daughter who had flown out Thursday to spend a week with her sister, organized a ‘baby soiree’ at the home of Alexis’ husband’s mother and stepdad. With the help of Alexis’ dear friend VW and her mother and father-in-law, they created a sense of ‘one big family’ coming together to celebrate the imminent arrival of baby bean, or as he’s affectionately known in utero, Garfield.

There was laughter and teasing, friendly games of pool in the basement and lots of good food and wine upstairs.

One of the hardest things about Garfield’s pending arrival is the distance between us. Alexis and her husband live in Vancouver, on the other side of The Great Divide, almost a thousand kilometers away.

And while between our hearts there is no distance too far to travel, in physical space we are an 11 hour drive (not always advisable in the winter) or a 1 and a half hour flight.

Knowing she is surrounded by a family who loves her, knowing her friends are supportive and caring and kind, and that many of them are just a short drive away and some are also in the ‘family way’, helps ease my heart’s yearning to be closer.

As we stood and chatted at the party on Saturday night, someone suggested guessing the actual date of baby Garfield’s arrival. I laughingly told the story of Alexis’ 19 days of holding out on coming into this world beyond her due date. “I used to think it was because she knew it was the last and only time she would be 100% in control,” I said.

Truth is, I actually think it was because I didn’t want to share her with the world yet. I knew it was the last time it would be 100% just her and me.

I’ve grown since June 19th, 1986 when she came into this world.

I’ve learned to share her. To be supportive and happy in knowing she has created a world around her filled with people who love her and want the best for her in her life. People who care deeply about her well-being. Who want to share their stories with her, and share in her stories too.

As I watched both my daughters at the party on Saturday night I was reminded once again, of how incredibly loving and kind they both are. I was struck by not just their physical beauty, but the beauty of their hearts. The aura of kindness that surrounds them both.

I am so incredibly blessed. And grateful.

I may have been the carrier of the miracle that became their lives, but it is the incredible support of family and friends that have helped shape and guide and form them into the truly magnificent young women they are today.

Baby Garfield is set to arrive within the next two weeks.

In the world around us there is much happening that does not make sense, that causes me distress and unease.

But here, no matter which side of the Great Divide I stand, no matter how icy the roads or far the distance, there is only one truth to hold onto, one prayer to repeat, “May Love surround us always.”

In Love’s embrace, I know Baby Garfield will be safe, no matter how fiercely the winds may blow around him.

In Love, he and his parents are immersed in beauty, kindness, joy, harmony. And though there may be moments of tears, of strife, of discomfort, Love will carry them through.

For this grandmother’s heart to conquer The Great Divide, the only place I need to stand is In Love.


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30 Years of The Miracle of Liseanne

I was asleep when she came into this world.

It is not how I intended it.

Eighteen months before, when her sister came into the world via C-section, I had an epidural. I got to hear her first cries from inside my womb, even before they cut her out.

Liseanne arrived two weeks early. On that Saturday, thirty years ago today, her father and I were putting the finishing touches on the bedroom where her sister would move into so she could have the nursery. I felt my water break and stayed silent. There was a nurse’s strike on. I did not want to go to the hospital during the strike.

When I eventually called my doctor to tell him what had happened, he told me he’d meet us at the hospital in an hour.

“Can’t I wait until after the strike?” I asked.

He hung up on me after an emphatic, “No.”

Liseanne did not want to wait. The world was an adventure worth exploring and it didn’t matter that with the strike I would not be allowed an epidural and hear her first cries from within the womb. She wanted to get on with this thing called living life!

I probably wouldn’t have heard her cry anyway. She doesn’t spend time crying. She spends all her time living. In fact, after she was born, I don’t think I heard her first cry until many weeks later. It wasn’t her way.

She is thoughtful. Smart. Witty. Kind. She will always fight for the underdog. And she will always stand up for what is right. She speaks up in the face of injustice. Stands up to bullies. But she doesn’t cry over spilt milk, lost dreams or broken hearts. She accepts what is, wipes up the spilt milk and does what is necessary to make dreams come true or help a friend heal a broken heart. And then, she gets back to the business of living fully immersed in the joy and mystery of being alive.

Her way.

When she was in middle school, a teacher suggested that Liseanne needed to pay more attention to doing her own work, not helping out the special needs students in her class.

“It is her way,” I told the teacher.  “And once Liseanne has figured out her own way, there’s very little chance of getting her to take a different path.”

Liseanne has always known what works for her. What is right for her. What is best.

It is her way.

And in knowing of her own path, she accepts that others may not see it her way or want to be on the same path. And that’s okay. There is always room in Liseanne’s life for others to have their own unique paths, their own unique expression of themselves. There is always room in her heart to accept you just the way you are.

It’s just who she is. Accepting. Forgiving. Understanding. Loving.

My youngest daughter turns 30 today.

I was asleep when she came into this world, but this journey with her has kept me wide-awake to the wonder and awe of life (not to mention the humour and the unexpected.)

Through her quirky humour, her willingness to explore the world, her fearlessness and curiosity, her ability to accept everyone without judgement and make room for many points of view, and her capacity to forgive and Love deeply, my life has been made richer, my journey that much brighter.

I was asleep when she came into this world. I am so grateful and blessed I got to wake up to the miracle of Liseanne.


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Strong woman. Brave heart.

Twelve and a half years ago, she had open heart surgery to replace a leaky valve in her heart. The diagnosis had come as a surprise a couple of years before.

It was a congenital defect that was only then, in her early fifties, starting to take its toll.

They performed the surgery. She recovered well.

Until the valve started to deteriorate — as they’d told her it would when it was inserted.

More tests. More waiting. More anxiety until her heart doctor told her that she was a good candidate for a TAVI replacement — a valve which could be inserted via arthroscopic surgery. Much less invasive. Much quicker recovery period.

Except…

On Friday morning last week, my eldest daughter and I accompanied my sister, Anne, to her appointment with her heart surgeon. It was an unexpected appointment — she was on the waiting list and because he’d hurt his finger, the doctor wasn’t doing surgery, so she got in sooner than expected. I happened to be in Vancouver for the weekend, perfect timing to be there.

I didn’t know much about her heart condition and the consequences of open heart surgery until we sat in that doctor’s office and the doctor shared the pros and cons of both options.

It wasn’t an easy decision.

But my sister sat there, took in all the information he provided and made what had to be one of the most challenging decisions of her life.

To not opt for the less invasive surgery at this time and go with the full open heart valve replacement.

I’m not sure I could have done what my sister did. But there she sat, her written out sheet of questions in front of her, her hands quivering slightly as she pressed the doctor for more clarification, more information.

And then, as I remembered her doing when we were children together and she would set her mind to something — she sat up straight, nodded her head slightly up and down, looked him straight in the eye and said, “That’s it then. My decision is made.”

Believe me, once my sister says those two phrases, there’s no changing her mind. She is all in.

I was/am in awe of her courage, her strength and her capacity to stand in her fear and still make a tough decision, regardless of an easier route, though not as straightforward in the long term, laying right next to the path.

I think I might have caved. I think I might have put off to tomorrow what I didn’t want to face today.

Not my sister.

Yes, she’s scared — she knows what open heart surgery entails.

Yes, she’s disappointed — it would have been nice to chose the easier option.

But it doesn’t matter.

She knows what is best for her body today, and is willing to do the ‘hard’ to have her heart beat strongly for longer than the TAVI would have allowed.

As my daughter and I sat on either side of her we both were gifted the opportunity to see one woman’s strength shining in the face of adversity.

She may not be able to see the future, but my sister sure can see clearly today.

 


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Thirty-one years of love.

She is kind.

She is thoughtful.

She is sensitive.

She is heartfelt.

She is creative.

She gives. She shares. She teaches. She learns. She grows.

In everything she does, she creates space. For creative expression. To be heard. To be seen. To be felt. To be known. For herself and for others.

She writes. She sings. She dances. She paints.

With every ounce of her being, she is Love. Loving. Loveable and loved.

She is my eldest daughter and from the moment I first felt her being stirring within my body, I have loved her with all my heart.

Today, she turns 31.

photo by @brit_gill

It is hard to imagine that 31 years have passed since she took her first breath outside the protective womb of my body and began the journey into growing into the amazing woman she is today. That it’s been 31 years since she first cast her web of loving delight upon the world, a web that she continuously spins full of heartfelt living, love and thoughtful wonder.

Thirty-one years ago today, I fell in love so completely, I have never come out from under the spell. I don’t want to. Loving Alexis has been a journey through time and space and understanding and growing and learning more and more every day about what it means to love unconditionally.

Being her mother has taught me how to let go of my fear I will never do it right, or be enough. To apologize and forgive and make amends and keep loving through it all. She has shown me how to fearlessly give into the one thing that connects us; through stormy nights and sun-filled days and all the weather in-between. Because, loving Alexis has taught me there is no end to love between a mother and her daughter.

Thank you my darling daughter for being your amazing self.  Happy Birthday!


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Unravelling time.

 

My sister and I spent Saturday packing up my mother’s room at the assisted living lodge where she has been living for the past ten years.

In December she fell, broke her hip and 3 other bones. The operation on her hip was successful, the other bones have set. Her recovery was going well, and then, something pulled inside her knee/hip, and she is struggling to walk.

She can no longer get out of bed, or do  much of anything, without assistance.

She needs a higher level of care. She has to move.

As I said to my sister on Saturday while going through mom’s papers, trying to decide what to keep, what to throw out, “This would be much easier if mom weren’t alive.” The going through her things part is what I was referring to, not my mother’s passing. At 94, it is inevitable that some day, week, month, or year in the future, she will be gone. For now, though her body is frail, her mind and heart remain strong.

In the packing up her things, in the sorting through her papers and collection of memorabilia from her life, it feels so wrong. Like I am treading on foreign soils, an uninvited stranger. These papers I am rifling through are her life story. Her secrets, her thoughts, her hopes and dreams.

My mother seldom shared much about her dreams.

She has shared often about her past. About her life in Pondicherry, before the war, before a handsome airman breezed into town and stole her heart, or at least the part of it she was willing to give that wasn’t attached to the land and people of her birth. That part she’d always left behind. Clinging to the regrets of having deserted her parents long ago to follow a man to the other side of the world.

She’s often shared her regrets of leaving India. Of leaving her family and life behind.

But she seldom shared her dreams.

I wonder now if she had any. I know before she met my father, she wanted to be a nun. That she was a teacher at the convent.

I know that marriage for her was scary at first.

My father breezed into town with a letter of introduction from one of her cousins, or perhaps it was an aunt. They met, shared a dance, or part of a dance at least because the story she tells is of him leaving her in the middle of the dance floor because he couldn’t dance. Two weeks later they were married, despite his lack of dancing shoes.

Four weeks later he was gone. Back to the war.

He came back two years after that.

The war was over and he was returning to Britain. With his bride.

She’d been unsure if he would return. “The nun’s said these soldiers would come to town and take advantage of us,”  she told me. “They said he had no plans to return.”

The nuns were wrong, and my mother’s journey away from the heart of her story began.

She was 23 years old.

On Saturday, I sorted through my mother’s things and found bits and pieces of her story, morsels left upon the road of life, leading me back to where her story began.

In Pondicherry, India.

There is so much more to this story and in my eldest daughter’s words as we chatted on the phone last night, it became crystal clear that is it time to gather the threads in search of the missing pieces.

Namaste

************************

Thank you  Joshua Becker, at Becoming Minimalist for the inspiration this morning. Joshua shares a beautiful story about his grandfather, a man who continues to work at 95 years of age as a pastor.

His story:  Top Five Regrets of the Dying, begins with:

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients during the last 12 weeks of their lives, routinely asked her patients about “any regrets they had or anything they would do differently.”

Bronnie spoke of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people would gain at the end of their lives and the common themes that surfaced again and again during these conversations.

Eventually, in a book about the experience, she would distinctly identify “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” They are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

From Joshua Becker:  Becoming Minimalist — Top Five Regrets of the Dying

The read the rest of Joshua’s beautiful story, click here.

 


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When faith is strong, miracles happen

Mom-engagement_1943

My mother. circa 1944

She is sitting in bed, fully clothed when we arrive, watching the small screen television that hangs from the wall via a giant white metal arm.

She is surprised to see us. Smiles her special way and says how excited she is that we have come. I’ve told C.C. that his being there will be extra special for her. My mother loves to flirt.

On December 15th, my mother fell and broke her shoulder, elbow, finger and hip. The doctors did not give a good prognosis from the surgery. “We can’t guarantee she’ll make it through,” they told us. At 94, any surgery is risky and for my mother, the extent of her injuries made it even more so.

And now, she’s defying the odds.

She’s walking. She still needs assistance to get out of bed, and her left arm is still in a cast, but she has confounded everyone with her spirit, her determination and her will to ‘get going’.

“I’m so frustrated by how slow it is,” she told C.C. and I last night. “I want to heal faster.”

And we laughed and told her to slow down. The nurses have told my sister that mom tries too hard, pushes herself too fast. She needs to pace herself better.

It is not her way.

I remember when, sometime in her 80’s, she wanted the couch moved in her apartment. I told her I’d be there later that day to help. By the time I’d arrived, she’d already done it by herself.

That is my mother.

Stubborn. Determined. Independent.

Last night she told us that when the accident happened, she was ready to die. “I’ve lived my life,” she said. “I was good to go. Now, I guess I’ll just keep living every day.” And she shrugged her shoulders in her oh so French way and said, “It’s God’s will,” before adding with a mischievous smile and a twinkle in her eyes, “I guess he just doesn’t want me yet.”

My mother’s faith is strong. She has no doubt she is going to heaven. That God will eventually call her home. She believes.

I admire my mother’s faith. It has been a constant in my life. It has never wavered. Even in me. Even in those times when she despaired I would ever ‘turn out right’. Her faith has never wavered.

No matter how dark the times, like the loss of her only son and his wife in a car accident and then her husband to a heart attack a short 15 months later, while she felt lost and afraid, her faith stayed strong. Her belief that God has a reason, a grand design for her life has never dimmed.

She shows us the black rosary wound around her wrist. I remember that rosary from my childhood. It hung around the neck of the statue of the Virgin Mary that stood in the living room of every house we ever lived in. “This was my father’s,” she tells us. She pulls out the crucifix that is tucked into her sleeve. “He was wearing it when he died. I shall be wearing it when I die too. But that won’t be for a while yet,” she adds as she kisses the crucifix before tucking it back into her sleeve.

My mother is doing well. She is walking, slowly, or at least as slow as she is willing to go. She is getting stronger, sleeping well and eating even better. That is a gift. We’ve sometimes worried about her lack of eating.

No more. God has a plan for her. He doesn’t want her yet.

“I hope Alexis and J get busy making a baby soon,” she said. “I’d like to be a great-grandmother before I go.”

She has faith that God will answer her prayers.

 

 

 


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Gratitude and Thankfulness: Happy Thanksgiving!

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Gratitude is the foundation of joy. It is the bedrock upon which we build our hearts calling us to awaken to our natural way of being in the world free of greed, selfishness and self-centeredness. It is our way to hear and acknowledge our deepest yearnings for peace, tranquility, ease.

Gratitude opens us up to receiving love. It propels us to step fearlessly into the waters of life untethered to the need to have more, be more, get more.

Gratitude is essential to finding ourselves at home in our hearts.

When I begin my morning with statements of I am grateful for… I open myself up to gratitude’s inherent power living within me. In gratitude, I become richer, fuller, more balanced and grounded in every way of my being present.

Today is Thanksgiving Day for my neighbours to the south.  Today I give thanks for them. I give thanks for their constant journey into democracy, their willingness to see darkness and still step into the light, their unwavering commitment to truth, liberty, freedom.

As they travel these new times, I am grateful for the hearts that beat so wildly to freedom’s drum, the minds that know so clearly freedom’s ways, and the voices that call so strongly for freedom to have its way.

I am grateful for you all.

May you gather together at the millions of tables to be set this weekend and remember the love that binds you is stronger than the differences that separate. May you be surrounded by family and friends sharing joy, love, laughter and above all thankfulness for the ties that bind so strongly.

Happy Thanksgiving!