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.

Happy 70 Annie!

Three years ago, she had open heart surgery to replace a valve that had been replaced 15 years previously and was wearing out.

Six weeks after the surgery, she was back in hospital for a month with a life-threatening infection. Every day while in hospital, she’d grab her ‘dolly’ that fed her a constant stream of antibiotics and walk the hospital corridor to ensure she reached her 10,000 steps a day goal.

On Tuesday, last week, to celebrate and mark her 70th birthday today, she walked 70,000 steps. It took 11 hours but she did not stop until she reached and surpassed her goal by a couple of hundred steps, And as she walked along the coastal road of Gabriola Island where she and her husband have lived for the past five years, people greeted her and cheered her on. I imagine some of them even said, “There’s that crazy Annie! Walking. Walking. Walking.” While secretly, they wished they had her verve, her commitment, her energy and her smile.

My sister Anne turns 70 today.

The age is not remarkable. She wears it effortlessly, making it appear much younger than its years.

She, however, is. Remarkable.

As children, we played and fought together. When one of us had done something ‘wrong’, we’d bribe the other to not tell our parents by passing back and forth one of our favourite toys. I often had two bride dolls. She often possessed two Teddy Bears.

In our teens, we were close. We still fought but nothing could break us apart.

Anne was the quiet one. I was the boisterous, more adventurous one. She wrote poetry. I wrote scary stories. I skied and ran and taught swimming while she read books and wrote more poetry and quietly went about making sure everyone around her was comfortable, well-cared for, and not in need of anything vital.

Two and a half years my senior, I have always acted as the older sister. Even as kids I liked to play the protector. And the boss. In our games of make-believe, I always set the scene, dictated which roles she played and generally took charge.

Anne always followed my lead, gently, quietly, without acrimony. But, cross her… well, let’s just say I learned quickly that her sense of right and wrong is very strong, laser sharp and accurate. I couldn’t get away with anything that crossed that line. And I’m grateful. She kept me out of buckets of trouble, and was always there for me when I hit a rough spot, or took a wrong turn, or went for an experience bigger than I could handle alone.

I also knew that no matter what, she would have my back. It’s who she is. There for whomever needs her. Willing to pitch in to do what is needed. Always in her quiet, unassuming, gentle way.

For the past week I have been putting together a video for her birthday – it’s been a labour of love and memory and appreciation. As friends sent in video clips and messages I was blessed with hearing about my sister through their many voices.

What an amazing gift.

Their words and messages shone a light on who I know my sister to be but didn’t always know the world could see… Kind. Thoughtful. Indefatigable. Determined. A good friend. A generous neighbour. A loyal co-worker. A beautiful, shining human being. A caretaker of the weak. A custodian of flora and fauna. A lover of chocolate. A smile that never burns out. And a heart that never quits loving nor beating fiercely with her love of life, laughter and nature.

I am so very grateful that Annie, as our father always called her, is my sister. So grateful that there is not one day of my life that she has not been in it.

Happy Birthday Annie.

You are one of a kind and the world is so much better because you make it so. Every day. In every way.

Joy. Gratitude. Life.

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.

Learning to clap is soooo much fun!

So Blessed and Grateful

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 grateful.

So very, very lucky.

Namaste.

Life is Messy. So is Grief.

I was the final note in the quartet of children that made up the siblings in our family. Growing up, I often felt like the cymbals. Clashing and clanging at odd moments while everyone else knew their part off by heart, chiming in appropriately, hitting their notes, playing in harmony.

Today, only my sisters and I remain of the original band. My daughters and two nieces now carry the tune. While the notes between the sister-pairs are strong, the notes between the cousins are far apart and barely audible. Since my brother and sister-in-law’s tragic deaths over twenty years ago, my nieces have had little contact with any of us. The drama and turmoil of those days leading up to and following their parents’ deaths were incomprehensible for an 18 and 19-year-old. As my brother and mother had an argument shortly before the events unfolded, and my mother was inconsolable in her grief, they chose to distance themselves from all of us. The distance was never closed.

Losing her son was a heavy loss for my mother. Losing her connection with her first-born granddaughters was a loss that weighed heavily on her heart for the rest of her life.

Yesterday, to find balance and calm in a day that while significant in terms of the calendar, was still just another day, I headed into my studio to create.

I have always believed it is the gift of Love that brings us into this world and love that carries us out. All we can leave behind is that which carries us in, through and out of life – Love.

We, the ones left behind on this earthly plane have a choice, to pick up the remains of pain and turmoil or follow the path of love.

I am grateful for my practice of art journaling. For its grace and reflective space and healing arts. It holds me steady on the path of love.

In this page, the six roses represent our original family — My mother, father, brother, two sisters and me.

The five birds flying together represent my sisters and me and my two daughters. The two little birds just coming out of the rose on the left are my two grandchildren.

In the middle, flying separately in a misty sky, are my nieces and grand-nephew. The flowers at the bottom represent La Grande Famille growing wild and free and loving all around the world.

No matter if we spend time together or how far apart our stories, we are always connected through this circle of love that is our family.

As I finished the page, the words came to me, “In the garden of your life let love grow wild and free.”

_______________________

I also created another page yesterday (I use another journal alongside me as I paint to wipe off excess paints).

As I wiped off paint and held myself lovingly within the harmony and the discordant notes of family, I knew this page was about not fitting into a box, but living in the messy of life. Something that spoke to all my emotions on this day.

I wasn’t sure what I was feeling/expressing until I finished and then sat down to write in my journal what creating this page brought up for me. And that’s when I understood…

Grief is Messy…

Grief Is Messy
 by Louise Gallagher
  
 Grief is messy.
 It follows no well-known path
 travelling to the beat
 of its own drum
 and pushing through boundaries
 you desperately put in place
 to keep its presence at bay.
  
 Grief is stealthy
 It dresses up in familiar clothing
 masquerading as your best friend
 while its steals your identity
 encroaching on the spaces
 of your heart
 you want desperately to avoid
 visiting.
  
 There is no taming grief.
 There is only its heavy cloak
 of companionship
 wearing you down
 until one day
 you find yourself arriving at that place
 where moments spent wrapped
 in grief’s company
 die away
 as softly as the sweet melody
 of the voice
 of the one who is gone
 fades into memory. 

Morning Dance on the River.

Light dances on the water where the river flows freely through an icy bordered channel. If I keep my eyes focused only on what appears to be the light dancing, it is as if the river is standing still.

I know it’s not.

Light on the river / Morning dance in the darkness / Love flows through it all.

It is the same in life. Sometimes, I think time is standing still, and then I notice a birthday flowing past, a memory drifting away into forgetfulness and I remember – nothing is static. Everything changes.

Life is energy and energy is not inert. It is constantly moving, shifting, changing, flowing. Like time. Always on the move. Like life. Always evolving.

It was at this time last year that my sisters and daughters and I began to gently move into the space where we knew the light in our mother’s/grandmother’s life was beginning to waver. That space where, at 97, she knew her time on this earth was drawing to an end.

It would be another 15 days before she drew in her final breath and released herself to eternity, but she knew. The one’s she had loved and lost in this life, and the God who had held her steady through every breath, were waiting, she said. She was ready to join them.

In those final days of my mother’s life, if I kept my eyes focused on each breath she took, it felt as though time was standing still. As if, her breaths would keep on going, even though her heart was growing more and more still.

It wasn’t that I wanted her to not go. It was that I wanted her to open her eyes and see that what she was leaving behind was a circle of love that she had woven together through every hardship, every sorrow, every moment of joy.

It was often hard for my mother to see the moment’s of joy. Tormented by depression most of her adult life, darkness often clouded her view of the beauty surrounding her.

I remember as a young girl wishing I could weave a bridge of words that would take us away from where my tormented mother stood in the kitchen in front of my siblings and me holding a knife to her breast and threatening to end it all. That bridge would take us away from the darkness into a land of constant sunshine.

It would be many years before I realized I was never powerful enough to break through the darkness. And, even longer before I learned that even though I could smile my way through even the darkest night of the soul, the darkness owned part of me too.

It was a therapist’s calm question of, “How long have you been depressed?” that created the first visible crack in the darkness for me. I was in my early 40s at the time.

“Me? Depressed? Never.”

I remember how she smiled, slightly, and asked, “What would you do differently if you were?”

It was a really tough question for me to even consider.

I knew how to walk alongside other’s in the darkness. I did not know how to walk alongside myself.

I feared sadness. I feared the depression that had consumed my mother throughout her life. Yet, to love my mother as she was, I had to learn to love her in the darkness. I had to learn to not be afraid of sadness, tears and emotions that did not come wrapped up in a smile.

Much has shifted since that therapist invited me to consider the shadow side of my constant smile. The icy grip I had on maintaining ‘my smile’ has eased as the warmth that comes with letting myself feel deeply, cry freely, live joyfully in darkness and in light, has helped me grow beyond my fear of the dark into loving all of it. All of me. And all of my mother.

And though my memory likes to play tricks on me sometimes, like the light dancing on the water, life keeps flowing with its beautiful truth shimmering in every moment. To see through darkness, we must open our eyes to the light. And, to truly feel and know lightness of being, we must honour the darkness that makes light so much brighter.

I watched the light dance on the water this morning. The river kept flowing. Time kept passing and always, Love moved freely through the darkness and the light holding me always in the circle of Love my mother’s hands wove together through every breath of her life.