Dare boldly

Inspiring acts of grace in everyday living


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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!

happy-thanksgiving-copy

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!

 


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An Island Wedding

Heart Song Acrylic Louise Gallagher 2016

Heart Song
Acrylic
Louise Gallagher 2016

When she was a little girl, my eldest daughter Alexis, loved to play ‘wedding’. Her entire kindergarten class knew that when it came time to play, if wedding was on the agenda, (which she inevitably made sure it was) not only would she plan the whole thing, but she would play the leading role of The Bride and some reluctant male classmate would be coerced into being her groom.

No matter who the groom, or the attendants she would carefully pick amongst her classmates, Alexis always made a beautiful bride.

One month from today, Alexis will be walking down the aisle bringing to fruition all her childhood planning.

And I know she will be a beautiful bride, just as she is a beautiful woman, inside and out.

It is who she is.

Last year, when C.C. and I were married, Alexis and her fiance J, made the decision to change the venue for their wedding from the more formal yacht club setting in Vancouver to a rustic haven on one of the Gulf Islands.

Where the theme for our wedding was along the lines of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”, this wedding comes with more explicit instructions to set just the right sartorial tone. “Bohemian Gatsby: tweeds & tuxes, silk & sequins, fringe & faux fur. ” which Alexis and J explain in their style guide, as “Backwoods Blacktie Style Guide”.  Guests, once they step onto the dance floor, “draped in sequins and silks and tweeds and tuxes and sipping on some bootleg whiskey,”  will remark that “the partygoers look as if they were plucked from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.”

It has been a gift to watch (albeit from afar) my eldest daughter grow from childhood fantasies of the ‘perfect wedding’ to an accomplished adult capable of co-creating, a wedding that reflects both her style and J’s desire for an event that brings family and friends together to celebrate love, joy and marriage. Even more importantly, in spite of broken dreams of childhood from having parents divorce and other traumas, it has been wonderful to watch them grow a relationship founded on shared values, a desire to bring out the best in each other and an understanding of the courage and compassion needed to stand beside one another when times are tough and when sailing is smooth.

J and Alexis are doing it all with grace and in the mystical nature that imbues the spirit of the Gulf Islands with wonder and awe, we may just be lucky to witness not only the love shining between them, but also the dolphins leaping in joyous exultation as Alexis and J walk down the aisle. Or, as is written in the style guide, “Waiting the bride and groom’s arrival, you look out across the Tricomali Channel just in time to see a school of Pacific dolphins bound amongst the waves.”

With Alexis creating, there is no telling what miracles will happen.

And here’s a little bit of musical whimsy to set the mood.

 

And just because… the almost theme from our wedding… 🙂


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30 Years Ago — A miracle happened.

photo by @brit_gill

photo by @brit_gill

I heard her cry the minute they made the cut to release her from my womb. I heard her cry and felt the protective cloak I wore around my heart tear open and fall away to embrace this tiny, perfect miraculous being.

And my heart took in her cry and my soul acknowledged her presence and my life was made forever richer, brighter, more loving because of her.

When I walked into the hospital on Saturday, June 19th, 1986 I could not imagine what it really meant to ‘be a mother’. I had read all the books, done all the research, asked countless questions of friends who’d walked this path before me. But still, I did not feel prepared. I did not feel in control. Did not feel like I had what it took to take on this sacred duty of being a mother.

And then she cried from within my womb and I knew that nothing could prepare me for the tidal wave of love that washed over me and stole all sense of control I might have imagined I would have in becoming a mother. Nothing could prepare me for the real thing.

Five days later when I walked out as this woman whose identity now included being a mother, I worried I would never be enough, never be capable of nourishing and nurturing this precious bundle of life. Her presence, in the room, in my arms, in the world made my heart beat with such fierceness I felt as if I was drowning beneath the overwhelming need to protect her from all pain, all sorrow, all sadness, all harm.

I wanted only to surround her with joy. To smother her with love. To bathe her in bliss.

But that is not the way of the world. That is not the path of a mother. And so I surrendered to Love and let Love have its way.

I am blessed.

Thirty years ago today, my eldest daughter, Alexis, came into this world. She was 19 days past her due date and I had begun to wonder if perhaps she wanted to stay inside the safe protective space of my womb forever. Little did she know, my heart would be her forever place.

They lifted her out of my womb as she gave a little cry of welcome and then curved her body against my breast and and softly, quietly fell asleep in my arms. There has never been a day since her birth at 10:32pm on this day in 1986 that I have not wanted to hold her against me, to feel her tiny body sleeping next to my heart, and though she has grown now, that place where she lay still feels the warm imprint of her body next to mine. It still feels the undulating waves of love washing over me with the grace of her being in my life.

She is a woman now. Beautiful. Talented. Creative. Kind. Caring. Loving.

She sings like an angel, dances like a fairy queen. She paints and writes and creates beauty and wonder in the world all around.

She is sensitive and gentle. Fiercely loyal. Fiercely proud. Sometimes, she doubts her strength and courage. Always she finds her way through her heart’s capacity to beat to its own drum, march to its own beat, love in its own rhythm.

Always, she watches out for others. Sees the beauty in every soul, the wonder in every breath. She hears the words that are left unspoken, and feels the pain that is left unhealed and knows exactly how to reach out and soothe another’s fears, another’s tears, another’s sadness.

She is intuitive.

She is whimsical.

She is miraculous, just as she always has been. Just as she always will be.

She is a daughter, a grand-daughter, a step-daughter, a sister, a step-sister,  a niece, a cousin, a friend. She is so many things and has so many ways of being amazing because she is Alexis.

Happy Birthday my darling daughter. Though the miles may lay between us, I carry you always in my heart. Forever and always.


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Mom. Thank you for your million kindnesses.

photo (100)The fact is, I could have been a better daughter.

I could have been less critical. Less strident in my opposition of her way. Less insistent on my right to do it my way.

I could have loved her as she was, and not tried to constantly make her change, to get with the times, to loosen up.

I could have held her in compassion. Seen her through eyes of understanding. Listened with an open heart. Spoken with an open mind.

And mostly, I didn’t.

I was a teenager. A rebel. Angry and confused by what I saw as her dismissal of me. Her disregard for my feelings, my needs, my wants.

I was narcissistic. Insensitive. Unkind.

I cannot change the past.

My mother didn’t teach me that. At 93, she still wishes she could change the course of time, alter its path.

What she has taught me though, again and again, is the value of kindness.

The need for it. The importance of it. The beauty of it.

My mother is a kind woman.

Gentle of heart. Soft-spoken, she has never fit comfortably into the world beyond the beautiful confines of the place where she was born.

She grew up in a then French colony on the coast of south east India. Pondicherry was the place she always goes back to in her memory. Surrounded by 9 siblings, various cousins and aunts and uncles, at the edge of the Indian Ocean, she remembers family gatherings on sun-soaked beaches, monkeys shrieking from the branches of swaying palm trees, the smell of frangipani soaking the air, the laughter of children, the smell of incense burning in the Catholic cathedral where she did her First Communion, changed the flowers on the altar every Saturday in preparation of Sunday mass. And her Amah. The woman who cared for her, helped her dress, helped her learn her arithmetic, do her school work. Be a good girl.

Until she met my father, my mother wanted to be a nun. She wanted to devote her life to God.

And in some ways, she has. She is devout, never without words of a prayer far from her lips, her mantra, “God’s will be done.”

I never understood her steadfast belief, her devotion to someone, some thing she could not see.

For my mother, God was and continues to be real. She does not need to ‘see’ Him with her eyes. She knows Him in her heart and she knows, he sees her. He knows her heart.

And that is enough for my mother.

My mother is a woman of grace.

At 93 she still has a girlish charm and beauty that never fades. Her hands are crooked and deformed by arthritis but her heart remains pure with a Love that never fades, never goes away.

She still does not fit comfortably into the world around her. She cannot understand the violence, the anger, the hatred.

It is what makes her shine with kindness.

Because no matter what is happening in the world around her, my mother will always find the kind word, the kind path.

I was a challenging teenager, a not so nice daughter.

This journey of forgiving the past is a constant journey through Love.  Sometimes, my mother and I navigate the waters well. Other times, we struggle. Our history runs deep.

 

And yet, for all our struggles, because of the depth of my mother’s teachings about kindness, one thing never changes. We are forever bound in a circle of love that began when she gave birth to the woman I am today.

Thank you mom for my life. Thank you for the lessons. The memories and the Love. Thank you for your million kindnesses.


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The Dream Fairy’s Wish

Happy Birthday Lele!

Happy Birthday Lele!

In the story I wrote about her birth in the book I created for her 13th birthday, she was once a little Dream Fairy named Arabeth, who, while travelling the night skies casting golden dream dust upon sleeping children, spied a child named Alexis and fell in love. Arabeth went back to the stars that night and pleaded with the Queen to allow her to become an earthchild so she could be with Alexis. It is not easy for a Dream Fairy to leave her night duties and the only life she’s known, but, after passing a series of tests, Arabeth was reborn as my daughter Lele (her nickname since childhood, pronounced Lee-Lee) and most importantly, she became Alexis’ sister.

She came into this world two weeks early. It is her way, eager to get on with life, excited to explore and discover what the world has to offer, she has no time to waste. Life is calling her name. Let’s get on with it.

It is her way.

Life is an adventure. It is a field of limitless possibilities to be run through, leaped into, dove into, savoured with every breath. And don’t forget to laugh along the way.

In Lele’s book, it’s important to never forget the laughter. Nor the kindness. The caring and the sharing.

When they were little, Lele shared everything. With anyone, even perfect strangers.

Classic Lele: Every Easter break we would travel to Tofino for a week on the edge of the waters along the furthest most coast of Canada. Along the way, we’d stop in Vancouver to visit my sister and go to Granville Island. At Granville, Lele would don a pair of furry bunny ears, fill a basket with foil covered chocolate eggs and wander along the steps outside the market offering people Easter treats. Grown-ups would try to offer her money for the treats and she would refuse and say, “All I want is a smile.” And smile they did.

Once, she and her sister filmed a ‘documentary’ of their efforts to release “The Goldfish” back to the ocean. “The Goldfish” were Lele’s favourite crackers and she thought they deserved to be set free to find their fishy families under the sea.

Along with being inventive, she is also very, very persistent. When Lele wants something, she will move heaven and earth to get it.

Shortly after their father and I separated, she wanted a dog. “Let’s just go to the Humane Society to look mommy. Please…” And she would look at me with her huge golden eyes (and repeatedly ask the question) until finally I succumbed.

“If we get a dog it will only be a small one,” I insisted.

Bella came home with us that day weighing in at 60 pounds. On weekends, Bella travelled back and forth with the girls to their father’s house at the end of the street for about a year until one day, she stayed with their father. Permanently.

“Daddy’s lonely mommy. And Bella loves him. We can’t take her back.” Lele informed me. And so, Bella became their father’s inseparable friend.

Lele was also responsible for Ellie, the Wunder Pooch’s arrival in our home. She’d started with asking for an elephant. When I informed her we couldn’t get an elephant, she tried a giraffe, a moose, a crocodile, a deer until finally, I agreed to the smallest of her requests, a dog. Except it wasn’t quite that straightforward. Lele would take the newspaper and circle all the ads for Golden Retriever puppies and show them to me with an innocent, “Oh look, here’s a Golden Retriever puppy and it’s only a half hour drive from the city.” It was the only dog her sister really wanted and Lele knew I couldn’t withstand the pressure of both of them looking at me with big sad eyes. I think she might have even added, “And Alexis and I are about to be teenagers mommy and you’ll be home alone more. You’ll need some company around the house.” And Ellie came into our lives.

She’s responsible for Beaumont’s arrival too! She wanted C.C. and me to get a dog and knew it had to be hypoallergenic. So, she started searching and researching and sending me links to websites where I could go  ‘look’. It took her almost a year and countless emails. I am grateful she didn’t give up!

Unlike her sister, Lele doesn’t paint and draw but she does exhibit one of the greatest attributes of a creative. She is curious to the nth degree.

When presented with a math test in Grade 10, she wanted to check out if the statistic she’d read on “C” being the most common answer in multiple choice tests was true. She proved the theory somewhat incorrect and did not pass the test. She was okay with that. She just wanted to find the answer for herself.

It is her way.

My youngest daughter turned 28 on Saturday.

Life with Lele is a continuous journey of love and laughter, of wonder and awe. Her heart is a beautiful place where everyone knows they are safe and welcome in her embrace. Her world is a colourful space where everyone knows they have a place to belong and be seen and heard and cared for and if nothing else, to find laughter galore.

She is fiercely protective of those she loves. Does not tolerate unkindness silently and will stand up to bullies and anyone who dares to act without thought of the consequences of their actions on others.

She is smart. Generous. Funny. She dances with the grace of a swan floating on a lake and moves through life with the agility of a squirrel leaping through the branches of a tree — when they were little I made up a poem about Mountain Annie. Both girls wanted their own persona in the poem. Alexis became “Shopping Moll” and Lele? Well, she gave herself the name “Chainsaw Squirrel” because she thought my poem was a little too tame!

She is my daughter and I love her.

Happy Birthday Lele!

(And yes, I did get her permission to write about her today. She insists on it.)

To read more about Lele and her sister, check out Alexis’ blog SISTERS.