Maternal In Memorium & Mother’s Day Manifesto

IshtarToday marks the second anniversary of my mother’s death.

Ours was an unusually complex relationship, with  complete estrangement over twenty years ago. Despite the common cry of making amends by well-meaning acquaintances who do not know the depth of the family’s dysfuncionality, I have no regrets when it comes to this relationship, or lack thereof.

My mother was a victim of her times and of abuse. She was the poster child of body loathing and repression.  I grew up surrounded by women’s magazines, and I confess, I still regularly take Woman’s World for their feel-good stories and their little strips of inspiration. It reminds me of a simple time when my paternal grandmother would clip the posts and pin them to the fridge, or tear out the Ziggy comics and pin them to her inspirational bulletin board in the sewing room.

My paternal grandmother was in touch with her power as a woman. She was wise, fierce, kind and strong. She lived fully and taught me what it meant to be my own person.

ziggy Times have not changed so much, and maybe even for the worse. Not only are we expected to manage our homes, but bear the burden of less feminine roles as well.  We are still surrounded by racks full of magazines, air-brushed images of the female form, with covers that imply we are flawed; how to be thinner, how to be happier, how to please our men, how to de-stress so we can be all of the above. We are ingrained in a culture who continues to devalue the natural life-affirming work of women.

You may wonder what this has to do with the anniversary of my mother’s death. Everything.

I was raised by a woman who was  estranged from her own beautiful, glorious and powerful self. I had a choice as a young woman, continue the trauma, or claim my own glorious divine feminine. I chose the latter.

So many of us hate our ankles, our bellies, our hair or our skin.  We punish our bodies and ridicule our own needs. We ignore the call of primitive intuition, and we diminish the great power of fertility and motherhood.

We live in the world of magazine promises; to create a common, submissive self that perpetuates a world where our value and spiritual gifts are damned.

As the years passed and I healed into my own femininity, into my own woman, forgiveness came. My mother was not a bad mother as such, she was  truly a victim of her times, of her inability to seize her own power, and grow into her own, always determining her own worth by the praise of abusive men.

On this Mother’s Day weekend, I hope that all of the women in my life,  spend some quiet time, reflecting on their own beauty and how their body has served them well, their own natural, intuitive intelligence, and their own power to embrace the fullness of what it means to be a woman.

More than that, I hope that whether maiden, mother or crone,  that all of the ladies reading this live each stage of life and every transition fully.  I believe that is the secret to a well-lived life. That is the secret to having no regrets.

Saturday Morning Coffee; Child Killers & The People Who Have to Be Nice To Them

saturday morning coffeeLast night I had my sweetheart, his son, and my son together around the table to enjoy a meal together for Easter. With young adult children and their crazy schedules, family time is precious, and to have both families blend together during these holidays is a true joy.

Simple things like having dinner together every day, and making sure you say, “I love you”, before you head out the door are mandatory at my house. Maybe a little too obsessively-compulsively so.

You see, my career is death and dying. The fragile nature of life is not lost on me, and maybe I have some PTSD going on. Ok, I do have some of that going on,  but I think that’s normal under the circumstances.

Easter dinner with the kids was extra meaningful for me in ways that I’m sure people who don’t work around loss and trauma will never know. Nor should they.

This morning I sat down to my little window, with my coffee and kitty mentor, Mr. Willy Nelson. I cruised over to www.thestar.ca and read the article about Ontario’s Chief Pathologist, Dr. Micheal Pollanen.

Basically, the crux of the article was that Dr. Pollanen has been guilty of confirmation bias;

Among them was confirmation bias — reaching a conclusion and working backward to find evidence to support it, and professional credibility bias — being unwilling to change an opinion once stated.

 

Fine. I get it, and god forbid I was on the receiving end of a case where a professional reasoned that I was guilty and then tried to prove it. Basically, you’d be screwed.

But the point of my little blog here isn’t to crucify Dr. Pollanen. I worked with him. I didn’t really like him – let me be clear, that’s my personal opinion. He seemed to be book-smart-brilliant, and socially awkward. But most of the doctors down there fit that description.

At the Office of the Chief Coroner, one finds that ego-with-a-capital-E runs rampant, and the term Doctor warrants a god-like-untouchable-status to anyone who doesn’t have the same credentials. Humility has no place there. There are few exceptions.

The reality however is that those coroners are human too, and I would argue, because of their perceived status as stronger, more intelligent and wiser-than-the-average-bear, they are at higher risk for PTSD, burn-out and the other psychological monsters-that-go-bump-in-the-night. Sure, they have  access to support, but there is no system in place to monitor it. There is no formal support in place to insure that the mental health of  professionals subjected to the most brutal trauma imaginable is cared for.

During my training, a past Chief Coroner ended his lecture to my graduating class by telling us that if we ever felt that we needed counselling or help coping with trauma, that we should suck it up because that was our job. This was hands-down the worst advice I’ve received in my career.

I too have seen the trauma of a child’s lifeless body marked by abuse, accidental injuries or what appears to be a cold-blooded homicide. I’ve looked into the teary eyes of grieving siblings who are too young to have know what grief feels like.  I’ve done it many times, it’s part of my job.  Unless you’ve physically had to take part in the autopsy or preparation of the body, you do not have any idea what it’s like to be a professional in death care, so stop judging and proselytizing.

You don’t know the deeper level of concern that we bear when our child or spouse takes the car, or is running late. Working with trauma brings you face to face with the fickle nature of mortality every. single. moment. of. every. day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing Dr. Pollanen, I’m simply empathizing with him. You might want to try it sometime.

Ask yourself this; In a courtroom full of adults unwilling to admit that they either abused or neglected a child to the point of death, I wonder what the average reader of the morning paper would do? Part of me likes to think that they would rage and deliver a little eye-for-an-eye justice, the other part of me is a passive Buddhist.

So, as I sit here this morning, sipping my flavoured coffee, looking out at children in the courtyard giggling and scurrying during the annual Easter Egg hunt, I ask you to think of Dr. Pollanen as a human being who has dedicated his life to making our society a safer place.

 

 

 

The Hardest People to Care For

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is that quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow'" ~Mary Anne Radmacher~

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is that quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow'”
~Mary Anne Radmacher~

Are you one of them? A professional caregiver; nurse, police officer, paramedic counselor, doctor, mortician, social worker., firefighter, soldier..???

If you fall anywhere in that professional-soup, you are likely one of the most difficult individuals to care for .

After a trying week and anxiety that has registered off the scale and into the stratosphere, I think I may finally be coming back to the land of the living.

I’ve had a couple of friends offer me the equivalent of a pat on the back and kick in the ass. Not really what I needed when dealing with trauma of the ugliest kind, and top of my own personal issues.

What I did not need was a ‘Lol’, or a, “Yah, but you’ve felt like that before”, or a, “You always land on your feet.”

What I needed turned out to be a  blessing that came out of the blue; another human being who knows what it’s like to see the things that I see, and yet maintain a professional demeanor and carry on with life when what you really want to do is vomit, curl up in a ball, and have someone rock you like a baby.

Caregivers and those of us who deal with human mortality on a daily basis are the hardest people to care for.  We can recognize patronizing bullshit a mile away, and smell apathy like a hound smells a panicked raccoon. We recognize personal authenticity and we know when someone could care less. We’re also too worn out to call you on your bullshit most of the time, so you’re safe.

We are the most difficult people to care for, because we know all the theory, and suck at self-care practice. We also are the most loyal friends. It was my best pal of over 25 years who listened, and said just the right things. She didn’t try to make it better or lessen the trauma. It was another pal who recognized my despair in a well-timed-once-a-year-email response who surprised me the most. Although we haven’t seen one another in over a decade, he too knows what it’s like to be woken by nightmares and have your day interrupted by unwelcome thoughts and images.

You already know to avoid your half-assed friends and lovers, but if you need reminding, just try reaching out to those folks when you really need support. They will teach you all you need to know about who is important and who is not.

If you are one of us, ‘the hardest people to care for’, I urge you to seek the support you need. It may be reaping the benefits of a decent EAP program or even as simple as a coffee with your truly good friends and the  colleagues who share the same joy and pain of working with the underbelly of what it means to be human.

I’ll Procrastinate Tomorrow

~ 5 Minute Read~

procrastinationOnce upon a time, in a magazine article far, far, away, I read about the benefits of procrastination.

If I recall correctly, the gist of the article was about procrastination being a psychological defense mechanism mothering us to accept inevitable change.

Change.

That’s what makes procrastination so easy to do. Procrastination slows down time so that we can adjust to what will change when we finally take action.

The thing is, I’ve never been much of a procrastinator. Nope. I jump right into things with two feet, head first, and with great abandon. My attitude is that you don’t know if you don’t try.

As I’ve aged I’ve been able to balance an all-or-nothing attitude with a wait-and-see-attitude. Sometimes I find balance, and sometimes I revert back to my habitual patterns; all in, or nothing at all.

Currently  I’m procrastinating about tidying up some editing of my novel. I’m not avoiding the writing, because I know how good it will feel to sweep the changes together and get on with my other book.

The reason I’m avoiding the emails and edits is because my editor died very suddenly last month.  I’m avoiding reading the last of his insight and encouraging words. I’m putting off the last words.  I’m putting off wondering if he said something I wished I would have asked one, last question about.

I’m putting off the reality of not being able to sit with him in the gallery lounge, sun streaming through the antique, glass windows that distort the world outside. I’m putting off getting on in a world missing a great, creative, soul whom I idealized as living a truly authentic life.

When I want to do something, whether it’s sending a text, picking up the phone, or, in this case, opening a series of emails I should have opened months ago, I know I need to ask myself why.  I know I need to give myself the respect to be honest with myself about the answer.

I wish  you the courage to be still and silent in your moments of procrastination so that you can hear that tiny whisper of your soul telling you the truth about what you need to do.

Farewell My Friend

"Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea." ~Robert A. Heinlein~

“Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”
~Robert A. Heinlein~

A few months ago we adopted a kitten.

True to his namesake, Willie Nelson is a mellow, laid-back version of any other cat who made their way into my life.

At nine and a half years old, we figured Leonard Cohen (our older cat), would be a wonderful mentor, and train the wee one in the ways of catdom.

Since all of my cats have lived well past fifteen, Willie Nelson would also grow to  be the caretaker to faithful old Leonard as Leonard was to Whiskey.

But that wasn’t to be the case. Poor old Leonard was taken from us this weekend very suddenly.  He had yet to teach Willie Nelson the art of napping quietly on my bed, stretching out on my belly while I read, or curling up on the footstool while I meditatively stitch my needlework.

There’s something about an old cat. Well, something about my Leonard anyway. We were attached at the ankle as soon as I woke up,and as soon as I walked through the door from work.

Leonard was everywhere I was. He saw me through broken hearts, surgeries, and long bouts of gut-hollowing sadness.

Leonard had a man radar that I could only hope to have; he knew the good ones from the bad ones with just a few short passes around their legs. He knew when I was sick or sad or just plain tired out, and he loved me unfailingly despite my shortcomings.

Friday night, just after he left us, I curled up in my soft flannel sheets and cried.

I missed the bulk of my big, fifteen pound mass of kitty fur and purring. For nine and half years Leonard stretched out on my tummy while I read just before falling asleep. I only had to say, “Ok, Leonard” and he knew it was time for lights out and to crawl onto the passenger side of the bed.

I feel an echoing  ache whenever I think of my old pal, and I miss him terribly.

Willie Nelson seems no worse for wear, batting around toys and chasing his tail until he collapses in a heap of legs, tail and ears, and falling into a deep sleep like only a kitten can. One day Willie Nelson will grow out of his bouncy kitten curiosity and take to the ways of an old lap-cat.

I remember Leonard’s kitten antics; setting his tail on fire (not once, but twice), falling into the toilet, falling into the bath (while I was in it), and doing flying stunts from the top of bookshelves.

We’ll always miss old Leonard. He was a once in a lifetime feline friend.

 

Missing You at Christmas Time

christmas star

christmas star (Photo credit: brockvicky)

Whether it’s through death, divorce or distance, sometimes who we miss creates a hole so vast in our souls that it’s hard to enjoy anyone’s company at Christmas time.

At my house, it’s all-Christmas-all-the-time from the last weekend in November until the great turkey-coma at the end of the day on the 25th. My door is open to friends and family, and I’m constantly busy in the kitchen baking cookies and meals to share.

But I miss someone terribly at Christmas time, and despite it being over a decade since we said good-bye, I still feel lonely sometimes.

Grief,especially fresh grief,  comes and goes like a wave. Some days are calm, and other days your grief can swell to tsunami proportions, or throw out a rogue wave when you least expect it.  Over time, grief becomes less intense but you will never forget.

Light a candle and honour your grief, acknowledge it, and let it settle in where it needs to.

It’s ok to be sad, and feel a bit lonely despite the festive celebrations and twinkling lights, just don’t let sadness manifest and ruin the time with the ones who are by your side.

I always say, “You can’t be sad when you’re drinking champagne.” I also think that it’s pretty hard to be sad when you’re sinking your teeth in to a jolly gingerbread man and sipping some eggnog.

Never forget, but honour their life and yours by cultivating joy.

Hot & Sour Soup for the Cynical Soul

“A good neighbor is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn’t climb over it”
~Arthur Baer~

I don’t jump on every pseudo-spiritual band wagon that rolls through town claiming to reveal some mystic secret of the universe and ways of “being” that the great faith traditions of the world have somehow missed.

As a religious studies scholar, I think the great faiths have got it covered.

We just happen to live in a world where people look for quick fixes, whether it be weight loss, relationships or spirituality.

It was with some hesitation that I picked up one of the “Chicken Soup for the blah-dee-blah-dee-whatever Soul” books.

To summarize, the story was about a man (let’s call him Dick) who was shocked upon hearing about a neighbour’s suicide.

Let’s call the neighbour  Mr. Rogers.  The neighbour was a retired fellow whom everyone loved.

Dick reported that his young daughters often were at Mr. Rogers’ to have their bikes fixed, colouring in chalk on his driveway, and generally doing stuff with him because Dick was too busy.

Dick also said that Mr. Rogers was wonderful because every time anyone asked him for help, Mr. Rogers obliged. Dick also reported that Mr. Rogers never complained about the leaves blowing from Dick’s lawn (Dick was too busy to rake) onto Mr. Rogers’ own, just raked lawn.

As a matter of fact, Dick couldn’t remember a time when Mr. Rogers wasn’t a pleasant wonderful man. Perhaps Mr. Rogers  wasn’t thinking of what wonderfully selfish neighbours he had when he climbed on top of the step ladder, wrapped his handi-work noose around his own neck, and took a leap into the great here-after.

After the lovely funeral service, at the reception (hosted by Mrs. Rogers at their home), Dick learned from the neighbour’s friend, that the blowing leaves from Dick’s yard did in fact irritate the living hell out of  Mr. Rogers.

Read that last paragraph again;  I mean come on! Poor old Mrs. Rogers had to host her own husband’s funeral reception?! Where were all of these neighbours who loved Mr. Rogers so much?

Standing outside, looking at his own messy lawn, the leaves swirled in the wind around Dick. A tear came to his eye. Reaching for a tissue inside the pocket of his suit jacket, Dick pulled out a tissue, and low and behold, there was a leaf in his pocket too ! Dick  thought this was a sign. Oh my!

Yes, surely this meant that Mr. Rogers with his stretched, snapped, neck  was smiling down on Dick. This leaf was a message to say that Dick was forgiven for being such a knob of a  neighbour.

B.A.R.F.

Perhaps self-centred, egotistical Dick who had no time to rake his own yard or look after his own kids needs to not just pull the tissue out of his pocket, but his head out of his….deep, dark pocket.

Perhaps the leaf  meant nothing at all. More likely it was a message from Mr. Rogers  to let Dick  know that it was being surrounded by  un-neighbourly neighbours who took advantage of his kindness which  pushed Mr. Rogers over the edge. Hmmm?

As I have said before, many people like Dick mistake kindness for ignorance. We know that you know we’re doing you a favour and you really don’t appreciate it.  Don’t let leaves in your pocket convince you otherwise.

Too often our spiritual nutrients come in the form of ‘spiritual gummy bears’; a sugar rush that doesn’t last, leaving you feeling depleted. More specifically, causing us to swing from tacky ‘signs’ to hocus pocus and back again as we grasp at the spirituality our hectic lifesyles sacrafice.

So, never underestimate how much you irritate the crap out of your neighbours, even if they never complain and only smile and nod.  Does your selfishness/lifestyle impact another person’s enjoyment of their own home? If  so, you’re a Dick.

I have one piece of advice for you if your neighbours are Dicks. Don’t let your silence and kindness push you take your own life like Mr. Rogers.

Surely to everything that’s holy, a bit of a rant and maintaining firm boundaries might save you, possibly curbing your Dick’s destructive pattern of self-indulgence and spiritual negligence. Accepting nothing but respect from your neighbours may actually fertilize their spiritual growth.

Again, as I’ve said before, the moral of this story; Don’t be a Dick.