L’Chaim! To Life!

Last night, as my beloved and I lay in bed reading, he suddenly asked, “Do you know what day tomorrow is?”

“Monday?” I glibly replied.

“Our anniversary,” he clarified with a laugh.

Well my goodness! Seriously?

Neither of us had noted the date.

For C.C., it’s partially because of being immersed in pulling together financing on a business deal. He gets consumed.

For me… well recent events have taken up a great deal of my mindspace. I just hadn’t realized how much until C.C. reminded me of the significance of this date.

As many who read here regularly know, C.C. was in hospital with pneumonia for 10 days at the beginning of the year.

His recovery has been slowed by the presence of COPD in his lungs which makes his breathing laboured. My thoughts have been consumed with making sure COVID doesn’t impede his recovery.

And then, a month ago, while I was in Vancouver, he fell and fractured three ribs. “They’re only bruised,” he told me. “No need to come home. I’ll be fine.”

Sisters surrounded by sisters

Fortunately, my youngest daughter was able to care for Beaumont as he tried to heal and my sister Jackie kept him supplied with food while I was away! It wasn’t until two days before my return that he went for an X-ray and discovered his ribs weren’t bruised but fractured — no wonder moving was almost impossible. All of which has made his breathing even more laboured.

Colour me worried, ’cause I am.

Worried he’ll catch COVID. Worried his breathing will not improve. Worried…

Charlie’s Angels

Add the passing of my dear friend Andrew and I’m hoping you get the picture… my mind is not a calm and clear view of distant horizons and shimmering seas of peaceful waters capable of holding thoughts of health and well-being and death and living alongside dates of note.

The fact is… I have been feeling overwhelmed by it all. Not just these recent events but the whole landscape of this world where war and disease and climate events march in seemingly unending waves of turbulent thoughts engulfing my peace of mind.

It’s time to find my centre, my middle ground as Val Boyko calls it. It’s time to breathe into the chaos and worry to remind myself of that which is always present, always the answer… LOVE

Tolstoy wrote, “Love is life.  All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source.”

On this, our 7th Wedding Anniversary, I choose to consciously release worry and fear, sadness and sorrow, to celebrate all that makes my life so rich and vibrant, all that creates such beautiful meaning and joy in everyday.

Our love. Our commitment. Our union. Our marriage.

I can’t change the course of war or disease. I am not powerful enough to cure or heal all the woes of the world.

What I have the power to do is to ensure my own world is filled with all that creates better in this world. Beauty. Art. Joy. Compassion. LOVE.

Today, I celebrate US as I surrender all fear and fall with grace into the eternal source of it all… LOVE.

l’chaim! to LIFE!

Farewell my dear friend

It is his laughter I shall always remember.

It rolled up out of his belly frothing with mirth too big for one body to contain. It spilled out like waves crashing against a rocky shoreline, splashing everyone in close proximity with its insistence we give up all resistance and join in the frivolity at hand.

It is his laughter I shall always remember and his loving friendship I shall carry with me forever.

My friend Andrew Z took his last breath on Friday evening. And, just as he did in life, he surprised us with how he did it.

Andrew was not a quiet man. A larger-than-life character, in business he was a tough negotiator, a fair boss, a brilliant strategist and visionary. Revered by many he lead, he commanded his domain with deft hands and an uncompromising demand for excellence from everyone who sat around him at the board room table. He knew what he wanted and went after making it happen, with gusto. He loved the chase he once told me and dreamt of building a billion-dollar company before he retired.

When he’d succeeded (which he always did) and the time came to let go, he did not go into retirement easily. He sat on many boards, sharing his knowledge and wisdom freely.

We often talked about how challenging he found retirement. And, while he admired me for my work and volunteerism, he knew himself well enough to know not-for-profit boards and volunteering were not for him. Though, when Christmas dinners came around and I insisted our guests first go serve dinner at a homeless shelter, he did not balk. And, when I organized Thanksgiving dinners at a building that housed formerly homeless veterans, he and his beautiful wife, Ula, were the first to join me in making it happen.

Along with his laughter and unwavering friendship, I shall miss sitting around the dinner table diving into conversations about everything from China to the MIddle East, Canadian politics and Indigenous issues and what he considered the ineptness of certain governments to take care of business first.

Andrew read voraciously. He consumed news like a fire consuming oxygen and had a discriminating mind that could drill down into salient facts revealing perspectives I would never have seen without his insight. And, though throughout our over 40 years of friendship I failed to convince him to use “Indigenous Peoples’ and not ‘Indians’, as Andrew read more about Indigenous history and colonialism in Canada, he shifted from asserting ‘it’s a business problem that could be fixed with good management’ to acknowledging that as we ‘the white man’ were the architects of the intergenerational trauma and poverty, racism and discrimination that has destroyed Indigenous culture, lives and well-being, we did not have the answers, nor the right, to dictate the future of Indigenous peoples.

Andrew was my friend. Warm-hearted, generous, loving. I always knew I could lean on him, call on him when times were tough and count on him when times called for a celebration.

Once, when I had ended a relationship I knew needed ending but felt the pain of loss deeply, he called to invite me for dinner. When I walked into their home, Andrew wrapped his arms around me and said, “You can always come here Louise where you know you are loved.”

And, after five years of an abusive relationship, Andrew and Ula stood by my side, helping me stand up again, always supporting me and surrounding me, and my daughters, with their love.

My dear friend Andrew took his last breath on Friday evening. I had spent the day supporting their friend Mark in organizing around-the-clock nursing and palliative care and a hospital bed and all the things that needed to happen for Andrew to have his wish after Covid pneumonia had taken its toll – to die at home.

Mark had promised he would not let him be taken back to hospital and worked feverishly to ensure it didn’t happen.

And then, when the arrangements were all in place and the first nurse due to arrive for the overnight shift, Andrew surprised us all by slipping quietly away while Ula and their son sat in the kitchen quietly chatting and he lay in the living room on his own.

And while I so wish I could have been there to hold his hand as he slipped over, I know this is exactly how Andrew would have wanted it.

No lingering death. No waiting. No tears. No fussing over him.

In an article on death and dying I read on my flight back from Vancouver on Wednesday night, the author suggested something we should all consider, “What will the world look like without me in it?” Imagine it and find peace with your imaginings.

Andrew, my world without you in it has a big hole. To find peace within that void I imagine only Love filling the space you left behind because Love is all there is left to hold onto in your passing.

Thank you my friend for your constant love and care. Thank you for the laughter, the joy, the meals, the times we shared in Barbados and Mexico and the times spent at your beautiful home here and on Barry’s Bay.

Thank you for always being there for me and my daughters. Thank you for loving us all so fiercely and for always letting us know how much you cared.

Thank you for being you. You taught me how to be myself no matter what. And no matter what, I shall always love you.

Namaste

Monday Morning Moments (and Happy 34 + a Day to my Daughter)

The wind howls. Beaumont the Sheepadoodle paces nervously. I wrap his ‘thunder-blanket’ jacket around his body, he goes back to bed with his dad.

The morning is quiet. Except for the howling wind. Seeds sleep deep beneath the still-frozen ground, dreaming of blossoms yet to flourish. Winter is not yet done.

34 years ago plus a day, my youngest daughter was one day old.

A friend and I were reminiscing about Liseanne’s arrival the other day. It was not the way I wanted it to be. I wanted to be awake and couldn’t be. My water had broken earlier in the morning of the 29th. I didn’t want to say anything. The nurses were on strike and I was scheduled for a C-Section in two weeks. I wanted to wait until the strike was over so I could have an epidural.

When I finally called my gynecologist’s office, he told me nature never waits. “Get thee to the hospital!”

There was a thought she might be able to come into the world naturally, but it wasn’t to be. Twenty-four hours later, she came into this world while I slept, a silent partner to the miracle of her arrival.

It would be several hours later before I held her. I’ve never wanted to let her go since.

Perhaps it’s because of her arrival into a world of strangers, Liseanne has never been afraid. Of anyone or anything. Nor has she ever backed down from speaking truth, protecting the underdog, fighting for justice for those who need help finding their voice. Taking care of all creatures with her beautiful, caring heart wide-open.

Liseanne is Funny, Fair and Fabulous. She treats everyone with dignity and respect, always lending a hand to a friend, or stranger, in need.

And through it all, she lightens even the darkest day with her love, light and laughter.

I’d like to think everything good about her she got from me, but that would be pure hubris and just not true.

Throughout her life she has been surrounded by loving family and friends. And, throughout her life, she has excelled at keeping the bonds of love tightly woven together so that no one feels outside her circle, no one feels alone.

My youngest daughter is 34-years-old plus a day today and the strands of love that bind our hearts together, grow always stronger.

And, as she would say, ’cause she is also very, very witty and quick to insert a pointed quip (ok sarcastic offering) when she thinks I’m getting too mushy… “You slept through my coming into this world and missed my first birthday because you were off skiing down a mountainside at some remote backcountry lodge, it’s okay, I’ll forgive you. Some day.”

Actually, she would tell you she’d never say something like that. Too many words. Her wit is short and sweet – and her forgiveness is never in question.

It’s who she is. Loving. Caring. And so very accepting of all my human (and motherly) flaws.

Though… she does still like to remind me about missing her first birthday! (In my defense, we were to have gotten out of the backcountry lodge the day before her birthday but a blizzard blew in and the helicopter that was to come and retrieve us was grounded for two days!)

I am so very grateful to have the joy of celebrating all her birthdays since.

Liseanne is 34 + a day today. And as she has done every day since coming into this world on her own terms, she makes this world a better, more loving place, in her own fabulous and unique way.

Happy Birthday + a day Liseanne!

Oh dear… I just realized… she probably will think I didn’t post about her on her birthday because… well I posted Beaumont’s blog instead.

Sigh, I can hear her now… “Yup. Knew it. You love Beaumont best.” 🙂

LOL. And I reply, “You taught me well. Do the unexpected. Life’s more fun that way!

So much has changed…

Mixed-media collage – 11 x 14 on canvas paper

I love it when I open my laptop on a Monday morning and discover somewhere between getting ready for a dinner party and my early morning scribblings, my keyboard shows remnants of last nights culinary endeavours.

In this case, a couple of drops of herb-infused olive oil and a basil leaf from the Phyllo Tomato pie I made as a first course lay in a solidified puddle at the edge of my mouse pad.

I keep my laptop on the counter when I’m cooking. Long ago, with the advent of online recipes, I mostly stopped using hardcopy. I still love to browse through a lusciously designed cookbook full of artfully lit photographs and mouth-watering recipes. But online is so much more convenient.

I do think though that I may want to keep my laptop a little further away from the action. Though their four-legged brethren might enjoy a basil leaf soaked in garlic, rosemary and thyme-infused olive oil, I don’t think it’s good for mouse-pad’s digestive track.

****

Covid has changed so much.

B.C. (before covid), holding a dinner party was an almost every-weekend event in our home. We both love to entertain and I love to set a beautiful table.

With Covid’s arrival it’s become a much rare and momentous occasion, along with a lot of deliberations about the pros and cons and who’s.

After C.C.’s bout in hospital, a slow recovery and the fact connection is good for his soul, as well as health, we decided to hold a small gathering with two other special couples.

While the enjoyment of setting the table, planning the menu and cooking the meal remains the same, we no longer view a potential guest list through the lens of how many couples should we invite? 4? 6? And we don’t deliberate as much about ‘will this be a good mix of people?’. Now, our deliberations focus on other considerations like, “How big is their bubble?” “Are they vaccinated?”

Even the menu takes Covid into consideration. Shared plates have gone the way of a virus-free world and I’ve had to increase my supply of appetizer plates, small forks and knives (not all that big a hardship. I LUV pretty dishes!) so that everyone gets their own fork and cutting knife for the charcuterie.

Even the welcoming at the door has changed. When guests arrive they most still come baring a bottle of wine or a gift for the house. They also step through the door with the declaration, “We took the test! Negative!”

And hugs? Even with a negative test I’m hesitant.

Perhaps that is the greatest change of all… the constant, worry-riddled inner mind chatter of… “Is it safe?”

And yes, we could forgo all form of entertaining, but somehow, that feels like Covid has won.

Life comes with risks. It’s all in how we measure both the risk and our tolerance along with our need for social connection.

And being with good friends. Laughing and telling stories on one another, sharing a meal around a candlelit table — ah yes. These are the happenings that make life so rich and memories so deep.

We were six for dinner last night. Old friends. Family.

We laughed and giggled. We teased one another as only those who share long histories together do. Some of the stories told were probably repeats from dinner’s past.

And it didn’t matter.

We were gathered around a table savouring the connections we crave so much.

Take that you miserable virus! You may have forced us to change a lot of things in our lives, but the one thing you will never change is the joy we feel when we are all connected.

Namaste.

_____________________

About the artwork

I also spent time in the studio this weekend working on another piece for my #SheDaresBoldly series.

Waaaay too much fun!

And the quote…. may we all never compromise our truth!

Gathering

Gathering
by Louise Gallagher

Gathering, the circle draws us near
candlelight flickering
on precious faces held so dear
sharing stories of our days
laughing and teasing one another
as only those whose stories have been woven
through the warp and weft of this family tapestry can
because we know
there is no distance too far
that cannot be bridged by two hearts
beating together and weaving stories 
full of memory and love of life
shared within the circle. 

As we thread our stories
together, laughter, memories and love rises
and we raise a glass in silent honouring
of all the hearts who lost their beat
in those days, not yet past but slowly now,
slipping away,
when we could not gather with family and friends 
because only the distance between us
could keep us safe.

We are gathering now
drawing near
stretching our arms around one another,
curving into bodies touching, heart to heart
and savouring these times 
where we can feel them beat 
in time
as we gather and share
laughter, love and memories of times past
and loved ones lost and feeling grateful
for those who made it
through to be here now,
gathering, the circle drawing us near,
holding us safe
from where so many have gone
leaving behind only memories 
to light the empty spaces left behind.

I Am Grateful

Thanksgiving Weekend, 2021.

Our second Thanksgiving under the thrall of Covid.

I am grateful for our health.

Our second socially distanced dinner.

I am grateful for our food.

Our second Thanksgiving without gathering family and friends around a crowded table, laughing, sharing, connecting.

I am grateful for the knowing no matter how far the distance between us, we are always connected.

I am grateful for the love.

The friendship.

The sense of belonging I feel because of the people in my life who make it so rich and beautiful.

I am grateful.

Yesterday, I shut down my computer after my third Zoom meeting of the day and decided to create.

I took Beaumont the Sheepadoodle for an early evening walk along the river, (darkness comes early here above the 49th parallel) and when I came home, sat and chatted about our days with C.C. who was just finishing off a Zoom meeting.

Dusk was settling in as I went downstairs to my studio, which has also become my at-home office now that I am working with a client on advocacy and social engagement, and decided to create.

We are able to have a couple of family members for dinner on Sunday, and I know friends who would normally be at our table, are also doing the same, so I decided t start working on nametags for the table.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and let my ‘unsuredness’ be my guide.

“Go outside and gather some branches and leaves,” the muse whispered.

And so I did.

“How about mono-printing?” she teased.

And so I did.

I pulled out my mono-printing pad (a gelli plate), laid down a layer of paint, pressed some branches onto its wet surface, lay a sheet of mixed media paper on top and rubbed all over the back, trying to get the paint lifted while leaving white space wherever the leaves lay on the pad.

And then, as C.C. rattled around in the kitchen making dinner, I dove in.

Colour me delighted. Paint me at peace. Splatter me with joy.

And here’s the thing. This morning, looking at the one at the top of this post, I see where imprinting one of my hand-carved leaf stamps onto the bottom of each and painting it white will really add value to the others.

I have a couple of zoom meetings today and some documents to go through and then…

Well… You know where you’ll find me!

I am grateful.

For this day. For the beauty outside my window where I sit typing. The sun is bathing the sky with rosy hues, the river flows deep in silent communion with nature’s beauty and the golden leaves of autumn hang still in morning’s light.

I am grateful for it all.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Happy Birthday Jackie!

The Gallagher Girls

When my daughters were little girls I knew that to have the kind of relationship with them that I wanted as they grew up, I needed to do some (ok a lot of) work on my relationship with my mother.

And it had to begin with understanding her first so, to get there, I flew out to my parents home on Vancouver Island and over the course of a weekend, asked my mother to tell me her life story while I recorded it.

She started with the facts, “I was born in Pondicherry, India…” and began to cry. For two and a half hours she cried and talked and shared the story of her life.

My only role was to listen.

By the time her words and tears stopped flowing, she was exhausted.

I thanked her for telling me her story and we went to bed.

We didn’t speak of that time again, though occasionally she would ask if I was going to write her life story.

I never did. I was afraid she wouldn’t like my telling of what I heard.

She wanted it to be about her life in India where she felt she lived in her own personal Shangri-la. She didn’t want me to write about her life beyond those days. After leaving India she felt lost and untethered from her family and her past and did not want me to write about sad things.

I wanted to write the story I heard. The story of a woman with mental health issues who had never had any help.

My mother suffered from severe depression. A gentle soul for whom the vagaries of life often felt too harsh and real, by the time I was born, just over seven years after my eldest sister, the final note in a quartet of offspring, she could no longer cope. Taking care of another child was too much for her. My eldest sister, Jackie, became my de facto care-giver – as she was for my other two siblings too.

Perhaps that is why, in her final years, Jackie became mom’s care-giver. It is her nature. Full of grace and kindness, as well as strength of character, Jackie (and her husband Jim) ensured that mom always knew there was someone there for her. That she was not alone. That she could count on them.

Fact is, Jackie is someone you can always count on to do the kind thing, to turn up when you’re in need, to listen when you need an ear, to laugh with you when you need a co-conspirator in joy.

Recently, when Jackie and I flew to Vancouver to visit my eldest daughter and her family, I was charged with pushing her around the airport in a wheelchair. She has severe (like really severe) arthritis in her feet and walking distances is challenging.

When I met her at the airport, she’d already made friends with the Air Canada boarding agents on duty who greeted me as I walked into the terminal as if we’d known eachother forever! She even made the security agents smile, which is no small feat.

Then again, it could be because I told anyone who would listen how I’d always wanted to push my big sister around and now! Finally I had my chance!

Not really (though I did keep repeating that!) The fact is, Jackie makes friends where ever she goes.

People gravitate to her. They feel safe and welcome in her presence. It’s who she is.

It’s a trait she got from our mother.

Years ago, I thought to have a good relationship with my daughters I needed to have a good one with my mother. And, while healing that relationship was, and still is, vital to my well-being today, it was not my relationship with my mother that made my life rich and beautiful and full of possibility. It was Jackie’s influence that contributed to that, both as my childhood care-giver and my adult friend.

Happy 75th Birthday Jackie! I am so very grateful you are my big sister! We are so lucky to have you in our lives. Thanks for all you do to make each of us feel special and loved.

Oh… and thanks for letting me push you around! I can strike that one from my bucket list! 🙂

Thanks Jane. You Da’ Bomb!

Ahh… job well done. Wine well earned… Friendship well shared.

When I arrive home from Mt Engadine Lodge and check my phone I realize… I have barely taken a photo.

It was busy.

And fun.

And challenging and at moments, pulling my hair out worthy. Especially Thursday morning when there was only enough water for guests. That meant… there was no water in the kitchen and the water truck wasn’t scheduled to arrive until later in the morning.

Making breakfast without water for 30 people, plus staff, is challenging without adding in the fact breakfast included poached or boiled eggs and waffles and a waffle machine that kept blowing the fuses. Like at least 8 times!

Oh. And did I mention the fuse box is waaaay downstairs, down a corridor, turn left, down another corridor and walk all the way back to the end of the hall where you’ll find the fuse box in a dark corner?

I wanted to cry. I wanted to throw in the dish towel. I wanted to scream.

I did none of the above. (Thankfully)

I just kept going.

As did my friend and sous chef extraordinaire, Jane, Simon the general manager and all the staff.

We just kept going. Just like the dishes that kept piling up in every corner of the kitchen, pantry and back hallway! We kept going amidst the chaos, laughing and (almost) crying as we went.

The guests never knew anything was amiss — other than a few waffle orders were slower than expected and poached eggs disappeared from the menu. Did I mention the staff are amazing? They are.

Tea and frost in the morning

Life will always throw curve balls. It’s not a one plane, one direction, straight line kind of affair.

The invitation is… to go with the curves, and ups and downs, or exhaust yourself fighting every dip and dive and loop and corner as you try desperately to make straight lines fit the boxes of your predetermined dimensions.

There is no box.

There is only a great big playing field of possibility waiting for you to run through rainbow coloured fields of wild-flowers inviting you to leap into the fray of life’s beautiful mess.

It was a great 3 days of cooking and laughing and sharing and being present to the beauty all around and the people who made it such a rich adventure.

The skies were clear. The mountains soared and the valley bottom stretched out from horizon to horizon in verdant tranquility, its edges guarded by stately firs marching up the slopes and larch trees just beginning to show their golden colours.

And in the end, even though I’d sworn to C.C. on the phone on Thursday night that I would “Never do this again,” when Simon said he had a big favour to ask me on Friday morning, (I thought he was going to ask me to never come back to cook) and ended up asking if I’d be able to help out this week again, I said yes.

So did Jane.

I’d say we’re bears for punishment but I think it’s more that we’re leaping gazelles roaming free on the wild side of life. (Okay, so maybe lumbering bears snuffling through the wild grasses is more apropos to our state of being, but I really like the idea of being a leaping gazelle so I’m sticking with it! 🙂 )

‘Cause here’s the thing… Jane and I have been friends for almost 40 years. We have travelled, hiked, skied, biked and experienced all sorts of adventures together. We’ve raised our children together and they are best friends too. We’ve laughed, cried, yelled, banged pots in backcrountry lodges (that’s a whole other story) to wake up our fellow skiers so we could hit the wide open spaces nice and early, and we’ve sat by roaring fires singing and sipping wine and telling tales. We’ve crossed glaciers and raging rivers with 50lb packs on our backs and shared the load and lent an arm or hand or smile or a pot and ladle whenever necessary.

We have been through a lot together.

And this… this cooking for a crowd in a backcountry lodge… well it just makes our friendship taste richer. Our experiences melt onto the memory bed of my mind like the first spoonful of a delicious chocolate soufflé hot out of the oven melting on my tongue.

I am grateful for so much in my life and have been blessed with so much. Family and friends top the list and Jane makes that list sing like a wooden ladle banging on a pot in the pristine air of a Rocky Mountain morning!

And while the pot may, or may not, sprout a few dents after said banging (there are no photos so hey! No proof it ever happened!) the road ahead is always smoother when accompanied by great friends.

Thanks Jane. You da’ bomb!

________________________

PS — along with the main lodge and six beautiful log cabins, Mt. Engadine has 5 Glamping Tents that are available year round. Cozy with a delightful tinge of outdoorsy adventure, they’re warm and snug and comfortable.

Pure delight! Especially on Thursday night when it rained and we lay in our beds, the fire burning bright as we listened to the sound of the rain on the canvas. Yummy!

Here’s a 20 second video from the porch of our tent.

.

Live Well. Stay Connected.

I love this photo because it is full of joy — and my granddaughters desire to get moving written all over her face! 🙂

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.

Time To Return Home

7 Rue Suffren, Pondicherry, India
In the weeks before my mother’s death
she didn’t speak of her adopted land, Canada.
She hadn’t chosen to come here. Had never really acclimatized
to the cold and the four seasons marking the passage of time.
In her final days, as she drifted in and out of the present and the past, 
far from the cold and snow that covered the ground outside 
the frosted up window of her room where 
she lay quietly inhaling and exhaling her final breaths
in the too hot air she preferred, as if in keeping
the room so hot she was once again walking the beaches
of her childhood, she smiled often, contentedly.
And I wondered...
was she seeing again the places of her childhood where once she’d told me
she'd only ever known true happiness?

When she spoke and waved her hands in the air around her face 
like a moth fluttering around a light on a dark night 
spent sitting on the veranda of her childhood home in Pondicherry, India 
as barefoot servants wrapped in cotton saris 
dyed the colours of bougainvillea, jasmine and marigold,
serving food and lemonade to the family spread out 
on wicker divans and settees set beneath giant
fans twirling and spinning in the air above,
her eyes sparkled like the jewels her mother gave her
when she left so long ago to travel south, then west, then north
across a vast ocean separating her from the life she’d always known.

Pondicherry was her Shrangri-la she once told me while reciting
her life story into my tiny Dictaphone that I would later leave behind in a taxi in New York City along with the tape of her words. 
As she spoke, tears floated down her cheeks like a veil
of woven jasmine flowers lining the walkways of her journey
from young maiden to married woman, a journey only remembered now
in the corridors of her mind seen through the veil of memory. 
There was family, and servants and her Amah, 
ah yes, her Amah who took care of her every need. 
There were journeys into the hills near Bangalore when the monsoons came
and rickshaw rides through the colonial inspired streets of the city
her father had helped design. 
There were picnics on the beach and visits to the cathedral 
where she knelt and prayed with the nuns every day.
The nuns she prayed to join one day in their devotion
as Brides of Christ.

The war was far away in those long ago days. 
Sadness. Fear. Loneliness. Grief. They were yet to come
just as leaving the land of her birth was a story waiting to unfold
with the arrival of a soldier boy travelling on a train, looking for a place to spend two weeks furlough far from the guns and war 
that had trapped the world in its grasp until he landed here, 
in Pondicherry, she said, where there was only
laughter, and singing and dancing and voices chanting in Hindi and Tamil
and French. In Pondicherry there were only sunny days and sultry nights
lit with fireflies and redolent with the smell of jasmine and romance. 
Ah yes. Romance.

She was 22 when they married, 25 when she left India after the guns had stopped and peace was declared and he returned to claim his bride.
For three quarters of a century she travelled the world with her soldier boy returning only once to Pondicherry 
when she was in her fifties and her mother lay dying.
Three quarters of a century spent missing 
the Shangri-la of her childhood until she lay dying, 
remembering the streets of Pondicherry, her hands grasping the rosary 
her father had given her those many years ago when she left to follow 
the soldier boy who had captured her heart and returned at war’s end 
to take her away from everything she knew.

Canada never felt like home, she’d told me that time 
she recited her life story through her tears, 
marriage and having children were never her dream, she said,
they just happened.
Life mostly does that, she often said. It just happens 
and we have to find a way to let God’s will be done.
She’d touched the feet of Jesus on the crucifix that stood on the mantel after she said that. The crucifix that had been with her those almost 75 years since leaving India. 
And to be safe, she’d also touched the belly of the Buddha that sat on the windowsill. She never saw the irony of her hands fluttering from feet to belly. 

And as she lay on her bed in those final days 
reciting her prayers and gripping her rosary tight,
her eyes opened briefly and she looked straight at the wall 
somewhere far beyond the end of the bed. 
“Je viens, mon cher”, she whispered into the dark night where outside her over-heated room snow fell silently to the ground. 
And she gave a little gasp of joy as she saw them all waiting for her.  
Her Louis and mother and father and all her ancestors gone before her.
They were standing at the doorway of No. 7  Rue Suffren.
Waiting to welcome her home.

It was then that I knew, she had never really left India behind.
Just as India had never really let her go. 
She had just been letting life happen until it was time
for her to return home.
Let God's will be done, she whispered into the night as she stepped lightly across the threshold into her home.