These Are the Days of our Lives: Hospital Style

I’ve been sick. A raging cold – sore throat, cough, headache, ache-y bones and general whininess. Not a big deal. Except when your baby happens to be in hospital undergoing chemotherapy.

Then it’s a huge deal.

But my body decided I needed to be sidelined. Daddy and Grandparents stepped up. I should be grateful. I am grateful. But it was also miserable not being there when she wanted Mama and I had to sing lullabies over the phone.

Last night I was finally back where I belong! Where I most, and least, want to be: in the oncology ward of children’s hospital. Just in time for another emotional roller coaster ride. Cause that’s how it goes these days.

Any illusions I had about long stretches of boredom during this experience have long since been obliterated. We have very little uninterrupted time in the day. Or the night. There are more people and procedures and poking and prodding than anyone should have to endure.

But this latest ride had an upswing. At least, as far as my daughter was concerned.

B has developed steroid-induced diabetes because of the meds she’s on. This has ushered us in to the wonderful world of glucose monitors and sub-cutaneous insulin injections, which isn’t as fun as it sounds (and it sounds horrible). After many days of screaming fits, freezing spray and restraining hugs, she decided it wasn’t that bad, and now merely complains and insists on choosing the exact spot for her needles.

Her blood sugars have been quite high. Consistently too high at night. As frustratingly unpredictable as her appetite. Revealing quickly to all involved that you can’t force my girl to do anything, least of all, eat.

While waiting for her bone marrow biopsy results they’ve put a pause on chemo, including steroids. Those results will determine the next step, so we might as well wait. Just one day, perfectly logical, why not.

Since her blood sugars have been extremely high this past weekend they’ve been treating it more proactively (read: more insulin). What they didn’t anticipate was her extremely quick recovery to normal blood sugar regulation. That, plus an even smaller appetite (without raging steroid hunger in the mix).

I stood my ground on the fast acting insulin. With her blood sugar already low and refusal to eat more than a few bites of dinner, it just didn’t make sense. I’m learning to stand behind my instincts as a mother. Even with professionals in the mix. The nurse herself seemed hesitant, so that sealed the deal. “Blame me” I told her, as she paged the endocrinologist again. “Tell them I won’t allow it.”

I should have questioned more. Or maybe it’s just one of those things. Her blood sugars have spiked overnight more than once, so a slow acting 12-hour insulin didn’t seem like a bad idea.

It was.

Thankfully they are monitoring her closely. I’m so grateful that they repeatedly stab her with needles while she sleeps – how bizarre is that sentiment? Her alarmed nurse woke her up to drink a large glass of juice and eat a snack. It took cajoling, but she is a fan of her new nurse (a man – which she finds fascinating) so she came around.

After the next poke, 15 minutes later, she was woken again with more urgency. We were relieved she was still responsive.

He came back to the room dumping handfuls of Halloween candy on her lap. I’m sure she heard the angels sing. After a week on a strict diabetic diet this midnight candy feast was like a dream come true!

She sat up in bed, cramming chocolate and gummies in her mouth as fast as she could, a huge grin on her face and a suspicious look in her eye.

Brent is now her favourite nurse. Ever.

I didn’t find this quite as fun as she did.

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So here’s us, living up to our unofficial family mission statement: Never a Dull Moment.


A Good Cancer Day

Today is my birthday.

Today my little girl started a new chemotherapy drug.

Today we cut her hair off, because it is going to start falling out soon.

This doesn’t seem like the recipe for a good birthday. Or a good day. Or even a tolerable one. I was fully prepared to let this whole ‘celebration’ concept slide. Not really feeling it. My smiles are pasted on, replicas of the real thing; polite reflexes to communicate my real appreciation for the ridiculous amount of support pouring our way.

There’s nothing like cancer to awaken the selfless impulses. Not the saintly ones forged in empathy, discipline and hard-won maturity. The parenting ones that roar to life in fear and desperation. I barely blinked when we cancelled our Christmas trip to Disneyland, and our 20th anniversary getaway to Mexico, and postponed my writing projects and school aspirations. I happily camp on a mat on the floor beside her bed. I hardly remember to eat or wash or go to the bathroom. Life and death is in play, and the world has narrowed drastically.

But this is no short term crisis. Life doesn’t begin after cancer. Life is right now. Two long years stretch ahead of us. And they will be different, hard, with all sorts of frustrations and heartaches. But if we’re going to make it through, we’ve got to live.

Today had it’s hard parts. Kissing my son goodbye with the vague promise to see him “sometime this weekend.” Holding my daughters arms and legs down so the nurse could hook the IV up to the tubes in her chest. Catching a glimpse of her cropped hair, looking shorn and strange.

But it was still a good day. Today I took a break. I woke up in my own bed, snuggled my son, talked to my big girls, ate a casserole for breakfast (so much better than granola bars and pilfered hospital food). Today I enjoyed a visit with a friend who just happens to specialize in cool haircuts, ate ice cream for lunch and hugged my husband. Today she felt good, her counts were up, the nurse hep-locked her IV and we got to explore the far reaches of the hospital, including a huge empty stairwell. Today I howled like a dog and laughed and sang and listened to the echoes without ever checking the clock, or worrying about the next thing to do, or feeling silly for acting like a child. Today I lay beside my daughter and listened to her breathe until she fell asleep. I can’t remember when I was more acutely aware of how precious each moment we have together is.

I suspect cancer, for all the many ways I abhor and despise it, will also make life sweeter. As long as I remember to live it.

So here’s us, on the brink of death, like every other human being on the planet. We just notice it more.

 

 

 


That Terrible Twist that Changes Everything

Two days ago the biggest worries on my mind were: securing funding for speech therapy, my children’s potential texting addictions, and getting my butt out the door for book club.

In the space of a single phone call that all disappeared. In fact, it feels like the ground beneath our feet disappeared too. A cosmic upending. As if some powerful hand has shaken our world like a snow globe. We are left dizzy, reeling, surveying the damage to our orderly plans and expectations. And terrified.

Was it God?

Or something less mysterious, some faceless force?

Chance?
Biology?
Cancer?

I blame Leukaemia.

Our 10-year-old daughter has it. Our tiny, charming, iron-willed sweetheart has this disgusting disease.

She wasn’t sick that day, the morning before we got the call, just infuriated as I forced another routine blood test on her. Screaming and betrayed by it, as usual. Then happy as a clam 20 minutes later, also, as usual. Everything seemed normal that day. She hadn’t been sick. We had no warning, no foreshadow, just a punch in the gut when we least expected it.

I’m writing to make some sense of all this. It’s moving so fast. And my brain is moving so slow. That feeling when you walk into a room to get something, but you can’t remember what. The fog. I feel like that – all the time.

They kept asking us “do you understand why you’re here?” Over and over. Were they expecting more tears? Are we doing this wrong? What a stupid thing to think at a time like this. But I need to know we’re helping her, somehow. Even by going through the right motions in the right way.

We must looked stunned and stupefied. Which, of course, we totally are. But I’m hoping it plays as competent and calm.

There are already sparks of hope in the story, hints of Providence and amazing wonderful generous people all around us, holding our world, and us, together. There will be more, I know. I’m grateful. I’m making a list.

But I don’t need to write about that, not now. Maybe not ever. There are already lofty, inspiring stories out there aplenty. After all, kids with cancer = sentimental goldmine.

Which, you know, kind of pisses me off. I’m so sick of being brave and inspiring and wise. Since I’m actually weak, scared shitless, and incredibly ordinary. In thousands of ways I cleverly conceal. Because who wants to be known as the mom who just fell all to pieces and swore in front of her kid (and in her prayers, and on her blog) and yelled at her shell shocked husband for sleeping too much and not helping out enough?

Well, not me. That’s for sure.

So I’m writing to process, to make sense in my own mind of all that is happening so quickly. And hopefully get through it with less yelling and falling apart, and more loving my family.

The best I can at least, because it is happening so fast. And I’m pretty sure when this stuff happens we’re all weak, scared, and incredibly ordinary in the face of it. That’s life.

Right now I’m hoping that they can surgically implant a tube near my daughters heart, so that we can pump powerful drugs right into her bloodstream. The sooner the better. That’s right. Two days ago we were planning for Halloween and tonight I’m praying for chemo to start ASAP. Surreal.

Feel free to follow this journey in my blog, but don’t expect the pretty version. So far this experience is raw and exhausting, yet somehow closer to the pulse of life than usual, with gusts to boring and mundane. A bizarre mix. That’s life.

Our daughter, meanwhile, is the hero of the story. As usual.

So here’s us, in the well staffed, cheerfully decorated hell that is children’s hospital.

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Losing My Baby

What’s it like?

Like nothing else
Like something I can’t explain
Like everything sad and profound and beautiful,
all rolled into one
Bittersweet love.

It’s common, but never ordinary:
A crushing, soul-deep pain,
A precious, primal connection.

Life spins on
Time races by
But part of me is always there,
back then,
Holding him in my body
in my arms.

October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day around the world.


The Lunch Outing

She bustles. She flutters. A beleaguered caregiver with a collection of tarnished keys jangling from the lanyard around her neck. Flitting from one charge to another under the fluorescent glare.

This one needs help putting the straw in. That one is fumbling with a cardboard container. Reminders to wipe messy chins. All the while her cheerful stream of chatter diffuses frustrations and awakens warm smiles.

The bright red and white industrial decor of this road-stop McDonalds softened when this crew shuffled through the door.

The eldest has bloodshot eyes, one trembling hand and another that lies useless beside him. His wheelchair is a bulky affair, nothing like the sleek, sporty machines I’ve seen with younger masters. He mumbles to the woman as she passes. She leans closer, peering into his eyes, before barking with laughter. The bemused shake of her head confirms my suspicion. He’s a rascal.

At the next table sit a couple in their fifties. I recognize the round eyes and wide smiles. My daughter also has Down Syndrome. They savor their lunch in slow motion. He filches her fry and she swats his hand with a grin. They move in sync with the rhythm of long-time friends.

In the farthest table sits a woman about my age – with a dented walker beside her. She mutters and squeaks throughout her meal, lost in her own world. Her companions pay no attention. But as they leave, everyone slows and waits for her to catch up. They murmur encouragement her way.

A staff member sings out a familiar farewell, “See you next week!”

I resolve to eat here again. This time, next week.

 

So here’s my Writing 101 challenge: Death to Adverbs. A detailed, descriptive observation of strangers in a public place, without using adverbs. Show, don’t tell. I’d hate to kill adverbs forever, but it does push me to use better, stronger verbs. A good exercise.


10 Lessons My Daughter Is Teaching Me

Ten years seems like a long time.

A long time to be alive and learning and growing and discovering new things – and that’s just us. You’ve had a lot going on too!

In the past ten years you’ve brought us to life in a new way and taught us what matters most and nurtured our best selves and made every day an adventure.

Usually, in these birthday letters, I talk about all the things you kids have learned and are learning that year. I encourage you in some areas of struggle and try to share a vision of the amazing person you can/are to become. This year I’m going to do it differently. This year I want to talk about all the things you’ve taught me and how you’ve made me a better person.

Because ten years is a milestone, not just for you, but for all of us. As I look back and as I look forward, the one truth that stands out, bold and CAPITALIZED, indisputably important, is this:

I AM BETTER BECAUSE I HAVE YOU!

  1. I laugh more. You are unrestrained in your enjoyment of life. When something strikes you as funny, you howl. When the music moves you, you dance with abandon. When you feel happy, you sing - anytime, anywhere. The best part is, a little bit of this seems to be rubbing off on me. You are teaching us to Carpe the heck out of each Diem.
  2. I am forced to slow down. This isn’t an easy lesson for me. In a world of rushing and pushing and trying to squeeze more in all the time, you insist on half speed. Whenever I say “hurry, hurry” you indignantly reply “no! slow, slow!” and deliberately downshift to Barely-Moving. At the time, this does not feel like a wonderful, life affirming lesson, nor do I calmly accept the defiance. BUT, I’ve learned to avoid rushing as much as we can. I’ve learned to see it as the enemy. I’ve learned that we need margins in our life, and have stopped apologizing for insisting on them. Quiet time each afternoon, early bedtimes, no to activities, yes to help… we’re not perfect, but we’re learning.
  3. I am showered with affection. I am not, by nature, a hugger. This does not exempt me from your extremely tactile love language. Turns out, all that snuggling is good for the soul. Not to mention the several times daily declaration: “Hey, hey Mom… I love you!” It’s a rare and beautiful thing to receive such unfettered, unfiltered, unlimited affection.
  4. I have become part of an exclusive, and usually encouraging, community. There is something that happens when I see another person with Down Syndrome, they are an instant friend (much like you and the entire world on a good day). There is a sense of kinship we share with all other families who live with special needs, even those we might not normally click with. There is an ever expanding team of professionals who are assigned to support us – behind the official designations and job descriptions I’ve found some of the most wonderful human beings and even, some true friends. Sure these relationships can be bumpy, the stakes feel high and sometimes we disagree and debate and shake our heads at each other. But we are united in our unshakeable belief that our lives are better for having you.
  5. I am becoming more patient. I was a strict parent before you, one with extremely high expectations. I don’t regret that, but I’ve had to adjust to your needs. Your life is very stressful. For a personality that craves control and predictability the world of disability is particularly trying. I can relate.
  6. I have a front row seat to the cutest show on earth. Seriously, you are the most adorable 10-year-old on the planet. Everyone agrees.
  7. I celebrate small achievements in a big way. We  don’t take your success for granted. You work ten times harder than the rest. Your determination looks a lot like stubborn, even impossible some days, but ultimately it is your greatest strength.
  8. I have developed compassion. I can’t pretend that this life is easy, for you or for us. It peels away any pretense I had about my own saintliness (sorry strangers in the grocery store who assume I deserve some kind of reward for “giving birth to an angel”). The truth is, I’m selfish and shallow and silly in ways I never noticed before. Aren’t we all? And each life is harder and more complicated than an outsider could imagine. I’m learning not to judge a person based on their neediness and messiness and general dysfunction, because I understand grief and exhaustion and being overwhelmed better than I ever did before.
  9. I will never go out of style. This one feels bittersweet. I will never have an empty nest, not really. Yes, I expect you will live independently and have your own full life. But you will always need me in a way my other girls won’t. I will always have a shopping and travelling and movie companion. I will always have snuggles and giggles and silly dancing to the radio.
  10. I see past the myth of normal, the social masks and the competitive games, to what really matters. Sometimes the rest of the world seems ridiculous, stressing about grades and position, looks and social status. Health isn’t a given in our house – muscles that are strong enough to run and jump, a body that fights off illness, the ability to speak and be understood, to see and hear and feel the wind on our skin, to give and receive love… these simple pleasures trump all the superficial we build our life around.

So here we are on your birthday, but the best gift is mine. It isn’t always easy. I don’t get it right all the time. But being your Mom is a joy and a privilege. Thank you! Happy Birthday!

Love, Mom

And now, a few words from Dad…

Dear B,

Is it really a whole decade since you made your surprise appearance nearly a month ahead of schedule? It was just the first of many times which you’ve shattered all my expectations and changed my life – always in the best possible way.

This year it was your reading, which has improved spectacularly. What a treat it has been to sit down with you and have you read an entire storybook to me! I know how hard you have worked on this, and I am so proud of what you have accomplished!

Your talking is also getting so clear – not that you’ve ever had any trouble communicating exactly what you want. Just yesterday you came up to me, pointing frantically inside your open mouth. “Tongue?” I asked. Nope. “Teeth?” Nope. “What do you need, B?” With hopeful eyes, you said without hesitation: “Cheesies. Cheesies in my mouth.”

One of the big highlights for me this summer was being able to watch you in your music class – or “dance class,” as you called it – at my office. And maybe it was a dance class, because you danced your heart out each and every day, with an ear-to-ear grin all the while, and frequent waves to make sure I was paying attention. You especially loved Tommy and his drums; whenever you did stop dancing for a few minutes, you were quick to grab a bongo drum to bang on in your seat. Your energy was infectious!

Speaking of music, this has definitely been the year of Frozen. I can’t even begin to guess how many times you’ve watched that movie. But one thing that never gets old is listening to you belt out “Let it Go” at the top of your longs, dancing around our living room. I remember you seeing Elsa and Anna at the Calgary Stampede Parade. As excited as you were, all you wanted to ask them was, “Where’s Kristoph?” Hopefully he’s with them when we visit them at Disneyland after Christmas!

It’s been a strange start to the fall, with school starting late this year. For a girl who loves her routine, you’ve done very well with having an extended summer. You don’t know it yet, but school’s going to be a little different this year, as you’re going to have some new helpers. You probably won’t like that at first, but I’m sure you’ll come to love them as much as they will love you.

I love you B! Being your dad is one of the great joys of my life. Thanks for always keeping me laughing!

Happy 10th birthday!

Love, Dad


Prima Ballerina

lballetYou’re our prima ballerina.

That’s an old-fashioned term and I’m sure it’s not entirely accurate in today’s dance world. No doubt you’ll set me straight, rattling off French terms that slip through my mind like water, and describing in minute detail how things actually work in a dance company. That’s your world, not mine.

You are deeply invested in it: forgoing other activities, squirreling away money and birthday requests for additional classes and competitions, always spinning and leaping and holding your arms out just so. This past year you danced 4-5 nights a week: ballet, lyrical, musical theater, jazz and pointe. It’s exhausting. You know… for me, who has to sit in the car in my pajamas every other night playing on my phone while you drag yourself out all glowing, sweaty and limp with muscle strain.

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It’s a level of discipline I don’t even aspire to, but deeply admire. And so very you. To choose something you love and pour yourself into it without reservation. You’ve inherited your father’s propensity for intense devotion. That’s a good thing.

Especially for us. We have the most unusual parenting problems with you.

  • “It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get all your homework done.” You’re an honours student and our only concerns are that you chill out occasionally.
  • “Honesty isn’t always the best policy, be diplomatic.” You don’t play social games, you’re almost impossible to offend, and you only seem shy because you’re quiet.
  • “Let us be the parents, relax.” You step in so much to help with your little brother and sister that they consider you more of a parent than a playmate. You are a powerful combination of responsible and nurturing, especially for someone your age.

And that’s the tough stuff. Who knows, maybe 14 will usher in a wild period of rebellion. I doubt it.

This year we celebrated 13 with a mother-daughter trip to New York City and Boston. Not only was it a great adventure for us both. It was a great opportunity to step away from normal life and just enjoy you. We had so much fun, so little sleep and made so many memories.

Life just gets busier from here on out. You’re already commenting on how fast time flies by. It just gets faster. The teenage years aren’t always easy, not even for us responsible types. But they are also exciting and important. Enjoy 14. It only happens once.

Love,

Mom

And now, a word from Dad…

Dear L,

Who is this young lady I see before me, and what did she do with my little girl?

What a year it’s been for you. New York. Chicago. A starring role in the ballet show. High school. New friends, new church, new babysitting jobs…

To be honest, as hard as it is for me to believe that you are already 14, I also have a hard time remembering that you are ‘only’ 14. You bear so much responsibility at times and juggle so many things so well, that you often seem much older. You are mature beyond your years, and I couldn’t be prouder. But, don’t let the world – or your parents – rob you of your teenagehood. It’s easy to pile things on you because we know you can handle it, but sometimes we also want you to just enjoy being young!

I’m so glad that you and Mom got to take that trip to New York. Not exactly what I had in mind when I first pitched the idea of a 13-year-old trip many years ago, but so much better. When you got home, Mom told me how wonderful it was to spend that time with you. For the first time, you were relating to each other as something close to peers; she got an early taste of what it will be like to hang out with you as an adult, and she loved it.

I joke about being jealous of you guys getting to see New York without me – and it’s true, I would love to go someday. But more than seeing the city, I’d just love to be able to spend that kind of focused, uninterrupted time with you, anywhere I can get it. As your schedule gets increasingly full with school and dance and jobs and friends, that time becomes more and more precious. I promise to make it a priority over the next few years, if you promise not to roll your eyes about having to spend time with your old dad!

I also joke about you being another me. And though we’re so alike in so many ways, the truth is, you are uniquely you: a one-of-a-kind mixture of kindness, generosity, smarts, beauty, grace and wisdom. Your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your dance teachers, the people you babysit for – they all tell me what an exceptional person L is.

But they don’t have to tell me – I see it every day. I love you! Happy 14th birthday.

Love, Dad


Raising You is an Art, not a Science

Dear 12-year-old,

Before you, I thought parenting worked like science – laws and equations, inputs and outputs, theories to be proven and disproven with clear, quantifiable results. I may not have used those words. I may not have been aware that I believed this. But my first few years as a mother, and my experience as a daycare teacher, led me to calmly assume that I could manage and mold, if not control, my children.

Your sister, who’s always been predictable, logical and mostly straightforward, strengthened this approach. I had Opinions. I took Positions on the Issues.

Then you came.

You came in a swirl of colour and emotion and self determination. You knocked us out of our neat, manageable orbit. You made us laugh. You made us cry in frustration. You made us see things differently and pay attention to what matters most.

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For the first 8 months you refused to sleep in a crib, ever, peacefully slumbering the nights away in your car seat. As a preschooler you INSISTED on wearing a plastic, gold-foil tiara all day, every day, for more than a year. By school age, you eschewed nightgowns and pjs, sleeping fully clothed, occasionally with your back pack strapped on your back.

You have always danced to your own off-beat tune.

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I love that about you. There’s so much I love about you. We butt heads a lot. Me parenting you and you being parented by me, is not something that’s ever going to be easy. We’re too much alike in temperament. But I see you, and even when we’re completely at odds I see the great and amazing person you are becoming too.

  • You are creative, not only in the art you make, the strange inventions you think up, but lately in the stories you tell (in serial form to eager classmates); the Unhappily Ever After novella you wrote was dark and snarky, but vibrant and descriptive in a way that warms your writer-parents’ hearts.
  • You are passionate, feeling all the feelings deeply (and loudly).
  • You are sociable – an extrovert in a family of introverts, who genuinely enjoys people and values that interaction above whatever task or activity is happening.
  • You are funny, so cleverly, sarcastically, mature-beyond-your-years funny that guarantees we laugh more than most families. Wit is a hallmark of brilliance (that and your newfound appreciation for science fiction – bravo).
  • You are beautiful. And I know that you can’t see that most days. Which might be your age, or your desire to be tall and willowy, or this stupid, plastic, air-brushed world we live in – but I hope that every time you look in the mirror you see past all that, and see the beauty that I do. If you can do that, I will promise to stop call you “cute” which I know you hate.

It’s not easy being a middle child. Especially not in a family like ours. But you are strong and spirited and that bold personality refuses to fade to the background. Since I first began coaching your 4-year-old sister NOT to let the baby (you!) push her around, I knew you’d be a force to be reckoned with. From day one you’ve challenged us, and though it can get bumpy and intense, I believe that in the end, it’ll be a good thing, both for you and for us. It’s possible that my personality is just a smidge ‘strong and determined’ too, so I have to take some credit/blame.

The world needs more good, strong women – and you have all the makings of a great one. I’m so glad to be your mom!

Happy Birthday!

And now a word from Dad…

Dear C,

In so many ways, I feel like we’ve learned more about you, and the woman you are becoming, in the past year than in any year that’s come before.

I see it in your artwork, which stuns me with each new piece. You have so much creative talent bottled up inside you, and now that it’s spilling out onto the page (and your bedroom door), I’m absolutely astounded – and so proud. I just can’t wait to see what you will produce as you continue to learn and grow in your skills and passion.

I see it in the Once Upon a Time story you wrote for school which, let’s face it, was really more of a novel. I didn’t know whether to be disturbed by the darkness of your tale or excited by your ability to spin it with a vocabulary that far outstrips your age, but I chose the latter. I know you don’t see yourself as a writer, but in a family of writers, it’s clear that a little something has rubbed off.

I see it in your wicked sense of humor, in the movies you enjoy, the books you read, and the songs you sing. You are a ton of fun to hang out with, which makes it all the more sad when you take off on us for three weeks, like you did this summer for Chicago. And yet, I’m so glad you got to have that amazing experience.

I see it in your dance, where you worked so hard and stuck with a class that you hated, just so you could do the ones that you love. That willingness to persevere and go after what you want will serve you very well.

I see it in your love and patience with B and S: how quick you are to forgive when he unintentionally hurts you, and how you always choose to play with the kids rather than put away the dishes.

And I even see it in your desire to make up your own mind about church. I know that our change has been hard for you to accept, and while we do want Nexus to be a family thing for now, and for you to give it your best shot, I greatly admire you for standing up for what you believe, and really owning it. I will always support you in that, whatever path it leads you down.

I love you C, and I’m proud and grateful to have you in our family. Happy 12th birthday – next year’s a big one!

Love, Dad


Robin Williams and the Human Condition

He was one of my favourites. Actor and comedian, with the rare ability to be silly, witty and emotionally raw all at the same time. I’ve always looked forward to his movies, like a visit with a funny uncle. Knowing that even if everything else goes wrong, the sarcastic quips and that familiar twist-y grin will redeem a few moments.

 

It’s a tragedy when the world loses a human being, for any reason. We’re less for it. Less than we could be. Should be. I don’t believe that people are interchangeable, pieces that can be shuffled and replaced as needed.

As many of us as there are in this world, each of us has a purpose and potential. Some way to make this place happier, kinder, smarter, prettier – better. Some divine spark of our very own. Imago Dei.

I believe this so strongly I tattooed it on my arm to remind myself. Every human being – infinitely precious, entirely unique.

I can’t help but think that if more of us would truly believe this and do something about it, we’d be able to figure it out. Justice. Sustainability. Peace. God help us.

A few things I’ve learned in this past week… Every day 150,000 people die. At least a third of these deaths are unrelated to age. In Iraq, extremists are beheading children and displaying their heads on spikes. In Gaza, endless war feeds ancient hatreds with no end in sight. In Canada, 83% of disabled women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

And now Robin Williams is lost, presumably to suicide after years of struggle with depression.

Looking at the state of the world, I can’t help but wonder why depression doesn’t stalk us all.

Every time a celebrity kills themselves, intentionally or otherwise, the familiar discussion begins about why. Why, if they have so much, would they give it all up? As a society we’ve worshipped money, fame and power for so long that this seems like an anathema. These are the winners in our game.

But we’re all just people. Feeling powerless and lonely. Struggling with our worst impulses. Hurting. Hurting others.

Then someone makes us laugh. A silly little thing. And briefly we rise above mere entertainment – there is a flash of connection, the joy of understanding, the thrill of absurdity unveiled. This was Robin Williams’ gift.

He reminded us we were more than the dark and depressing realities. We are laughter and comradery and joy.

We’re all just people. Feelings. Thoughts. Dreams. With so much more in common than not. Learning to love and be loved.

I didn’t know Robin. Not really. I can’t tell you what happened to bring him to despair. But I know the world is less without him.

There’s a hole that only he could fill. There’s a hole that only you can fill. And one just for me. I haven’t plumbed the depth and breadth of it yet. But I’m trying.

And when the job seems dark and lonely and too hard to bear, I might pop in one of his movies. Laugh. Cry. And remember that we’re all just people.

So here’s me, grieving for all the empty places left in Iraq, Gaza, and Hollywood this week. But even more for all the empty places left by those who are just too afraid, or selfish, or messed up to step up and do what they were made to do.

 


Beyond Obligation

He has been contractually obligated to love me for 19 years. And I him.

Half my life. My entire adulthood tied up in another person. And his in me.

There are times past and will be times future when duty must override feeling. The selfish whims, the natural drift, the impulse to escape and countless other sleep-deprived, frustrated, overwhelmed miseries life inevitably brings. We hash out problems and overcome obstacles and treat each other well because we must. Because there is no other option we’ll consider.

Which is more romantic than it sounds.

Although we are tethered by both legal documents and sacred vows, these are not what keeps us together in the long run. It’s the things we choose to share. The jokes, the plans, the goals, the memories, the passions, the understandings, even the troubles.

I’m my own person. He’s his own person. But there’s an overlap, an US, that makes life so much more than it would be otherwise.

He’s different from the man I married at 19. God knows, I’m different than the optimistic kid he married. Somehow we’ve managed to grow and change ourselves without compromising US. People ask us about it – what’s the secret to a long, happy marriage – and I’m never sure of an answer. Maybe there isn’t just one. There’s no magical compatibility like in the movies. There’s no process or technique that guarantees success. There’s just two human beings doing the best they can, and praying it’s enough.

We date. We talk. We fight. We hide under the covers and wish the morning away. We debate. We make love. We tease. We laugh. A lot.

At first we “fell” in love and it was easy. Then we “vowed” to love forever and it was expensive. Now we “live” our love every single day and it is the best and hardest thing to do.

I have been in love with him for 19 years. And he with me.

The best part of my life is OUR life.

Happy Anniversary!

Yes - those are hockey sticks. How Canadian.

Yes – those are hockey sticks. How Canadian!

So here’s us.


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