I just can’t.
February 8, 2015
My breath came out in icy blasts in the cold February day. I panted as I walked along the paved trail of my local park, my usual afternoon walk.
As my hairy border collie raced ahead of me, I realized I had to sit down. There was a small hill for me to go through to get to the trailhead, and I knew I just couldn’t. I wasn’t going to make it. Instead, I spied a park bench and I kept my tiny steps moving towards it.
As I collapsed on to the bench, I felt such anger within my body. I was so furiously mad at myself. My own weakness had me rolling with inner hatred. My physical body was so sick that I couldn’t keep up with my mind and what it knew my normal was. This wasn’t it. I berated myself in my mind over and over again.
I said truly terrible things to myself mentally like:
“What the hell? You walk this trail every single day.”
“You’re a Recreation Coordinator, some example you are.”
“Is this what you want to teach your children? You’re pathetic, and out of shape.”
I couldn’t even manage to hike the 2.5 km trail that I usually conquered with such grace and ease. I was weak – as a newborn kitten – and my dominant personality couldn’t stand it. As the anger burned through me, it wasn’t long before I dissolved into tears. I was deeply ashamed of the shape I let my body get to.
I knew the statistics, and I knew what to do – but I hadn’t done it. Instead, over and over again, I had ignored what I needed to do for my body to be physically healthy. I had ignored what I needed for my spirit to thrive. I had ignored the core of who I was really was.
My excuse was I wanted to be a nourishing, giving mother, amazing employee and terrific wife. The reality I was actually failing at every single one of them.
I had just been released from my most recent overnight hospital stay. My gallbladder was going south, and the doctors urged me to have surgery to remove it. I refused. I couldn’t wrap my head around losing an organ and the outcome for my little family – the 4 year and 2 year old at home couldn’t do without me for that long, could they? My work plan didn’t include someone covering for me – so it would make a massive pile on my desk for my return. And I flat-out refused to make my husband handle all the things because it was too much of a job for just one person.
Caught between responsibility and feeling like my body was failing me, I screamed at the top of my lungs. The tall pine trees of my mountain community were unmoved. The wintery sun kept shining, the breeze kept swaying them softly. The only reaction I got what from my dog perking his ears and moving closer so I could pat his head. As I patted, I dissolved into sobs once more.
In this moment, I decided I wanted better. I wasn’t sure what better was, but I figured anything has to be better than this feeling. I didn’t know what to do next. I didn’t have any grand plan.
But I remember thinking to myself over and over again during this time, “There’s gotta be more to life than this.”
And you know what? There was.
You think that’s the end of the story.
If this was a made for Hollywood movie, that would be the end of it, wouldn’t it? The next scenes would show me happily picking up my life, suddenly I would be a ball of energy just got her happily ever after.
That’s not really how it worked.
Instead, I went through a series of meltdown moments like this. I lost my gallbladder. I spent a summer gardening season not be able to bend over in our garden when we were doing a 20 person CSA share. I had a month where getting out of bed just felt too hard, how that Christmas happened, I still don’t really know.
All of those were signs from my body that I wasn’t living in my truth. Traumas could no longer be ignored.
Action started to happen in January 1, 2017 after long last – I quit my government job. I felt like I could breathe again. I put a few things on hold, cut off others and started the long process of sorting through all the pieces of my life. Notably, I started to meditate daily, and take long walks in the nature that surrounds my farm, and attract soul-friends that I continue to be truly grateful for.
What really broke me
Feelings are the GPS of our soul and I locked mine in a closet. They weren’t going to stay there – they always find their way out. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was losing my beloved grandmother. This was the anguish that broke my heart wide wide open.
She was my last living grandparent, and had been a cheerleader in the front row of my life for longer than I can even remember. The world without her in it, seemed bleak to me. When I got this news, I went into shock for 2 days, and kept feeling like I should “do” something, but the world kept spinning.
Worst yet, being 3 provinces away from my mom who I knew needed me around her was torture. When I got this news, my first thought had me on a plane. I found myself bawling out how I felt about being so far away at these times to my sister on the phone. Through my sobs, we made a pact. If and when I was needed, she would tell me so I could get there. (She didn’t call.) I hold this pact close to my heart even now.
At the funeral, my entire family was together. This no small feat as we live from the north of Northern Alberta, to the south of Asheville, NC, and everywhere else in between. When this was asked of us, all of us dropped what we were doing to come. I don’t think I can think of a more fitting tribute then that, honestly. They felt as I did too – this was important, this was a woman who had heard us, touched our hearts, and we all needed to be there.
Mask firmly in place, I greeted my family, happy to see them all in one place, some that I hadn’t seen in years. Once they started the service, I was an absolute mess. I sobbed unapologetically, unchecked. My sister sat next to me, and her husband next to her. His great act of kindness was relinquishing the Kleenex box for both of us at length.
We were asked to write or speak a few words about my grandmother, but it felt too fresh, too raw. I found my keyboard many many times during this period, because I wanted so much to express what she had meant, but as the memories flashed through my mind, I wasn’t ready to share. I wanted to hold them deep to my chest, and keep her with me. Some of the other grandchildren had written their thoughts and they were beautiful. But I wasn’t ready.
But today, I want to tell you this. I want to tell you what I would have written in:
My grandma, Alma Fenn, was one of the people in my life that I knew was unconditionally and unapologetically in my corner. The loss of one of my greatest cheerleaders is not one that I take lightly, but one that hurts to the depth of my soul. Every event that was important to me in my life – from graduation to getting married, my grandma was there in the front row, cheering me on.
Together, we shared a passion for writing. I remember her relinquishing with glee, her next part of the story in a coloured duo-tang for me to read. And when I wrote, mostly essays and school papers, I would go by her house to get her to edit it for me – also in a duo-tang. She would shoo me away then sit down at her table, and carefully mark it with red pen, and call me when she was finished. She had a way of discussing concepts in my work with me that made it easier to get the paper to find the flow. With her passing, I crave to read these stories again.
She was so proud of her single member of her family. From her photo albums filled with photos of each of us, to her annual Christmas letters detailing the latest happenings, there was so much love.
There’s a lifetime of memories of mine that she is in, I wouldn’t even know where to start to name them all – In the winter, nourishing her sprouts under a grow light in her basement, taking photos on her lawn in the spring months, and picking pears off her tree in the fall. And in the summer spending time at Loon Lake – these amazing visits that stay so firmly in my mind – watching Mark build truly awesome tree forts and put ketchup on his oatmeal, having late night conversations on the dock with Kate, the delight of feeding chipmunks out of my hand with peanuts, and learning to fish with my Poppy. There’s not a season that I don’t remember her in.
There’s early mornings after sleepovers at her house, Grandma in her robe, making the healthiest oatmeal I’ve ever eaten.
Being further away in these last few years, I got unique glimpses as we slowly lost her. I visited when I was in town, introduced her to my kids, and watched that ever present wit slowly fade. And then I watched as her girls, cared with her with so much kindness and love. I saw the strain, I saw the sacrifice that put forward to make sure she was as comfortable as possible. Even as they faded from her memory and just became the kind ladies that cared for her – they kept on, as their hearts were breaking. If there’s a more loving thing anyone can do, I don’t know what it is.
After the funeral, we sat around and made conversation with each other. I talked at length with my sister, Aunt Patty and my cousin, Kate. Patty and Kate would keep showing up in person and online for me over the next year – through Facebook messages and emails that made me feel deeply, wonder more, and appreciate my memories so much. I sat at a family get together and listened to my cousin Mark talk about his real-life treehouse in the bush of Northern Ontario. These moments for me are so precious. It’s what I sit here and think about months – years later, and appreciate about my family.
Last week, I took a really brave shaky step as I stepped forward into writing my book – my story. I was doing a meditation about where I asked for a guide to help me with my writing. And don’t you know it – my grandma stepped forward to help me. The grief overwhelmed, but I held it together because I was damn glad to see her. Since then, she’s shown up in my dreams, sitting like we did – in my mother’s living room, drinking a glass of sherry. I guess I better get some duo-tangs.
Unraveling, the process
Getting to the heart of what truly matters to you – it’s an act of unbecoming.
We’ve got to take that first shaky step – as we feel the fear – to throw open the closet. To say, “yep, I’m ready to face the dark.”
I’m ready to shift through all my pieces. I’m ready to get back to the essence of who I am, and why I’m here.
I’m vulnerable. I’m taking my masks off.
I trust myself. I cannot get this wrong.
I will stand firm and do the work – even when it’s uncomfortable and I want to procrastinate.
What would you add?