Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Road test

It never ceases to amaze me just how unexpected a moment of grief can be.

After a few months of learning to drive, I passed my road test today. I was absolutely giddy. I was so proud of myself. And then as steadily as the giddiness wore off, it devolved into grief.

I suppose in my mind my father was already associated with learning to drive. Even from a very young age, when I was a passenger he would point out aspects of how the car works and rules of the road that would be important for me to know as a driver. I remember being very small and being amazed when he demonstrated that the wheel doesn't make the car move forward. I remember the massive blackout of 2003 when he taught me that an intersection with traffic lights that aren't working should be treated as a 4-way stop.

And I suppose in my mind I'd already associated my instructor with my grief. In the hours we logged in the car together, we had already had conversations about losses we've had and suicides we've experienced. With my study topic and his wife being a mental health counselor, we both had a lot to say about the importance and the role of mental health in society.

So I suppose the setup was already there.

But I never expected that on the day of my road test, his teenage daughter would tag along in the car. How sweet, I thought, that on a day she had off from school she wanted to spend with her father. How nice, I thought, to meet a family member of someone I had gotten to know over the course of our lessons. And then I passed my test, and he told me he was proud of me. I drove back home, and gave him a hug, and thanked him for his support in getting me to this point.

And then he drove off with his daughter and I went home alone with no father to tell about my accomplishment.

And it's not until you're alone that you actually realise that your heart wasn't warmed by watching a happy family interact. It wasn't cute to witness that father-daughter banter. It's not until you're alone that you realise that the quip he made about having no alcohol tolerance, and your response about your father being the same way, wasn't humorous small talk.

It was all an atmosphere of hurtful reminders to make you vividly aware that your own dad wasn't there to witness yet another important moment in your life.

...Damn it.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Another Feb 26

Happy Birthday, Daddy.

You were a good man. I wish you had had more people in your life to tell you that.

I'm off to an isolated cabin today without electricity or running water. Just a fire, some food cooked on a wood-burning stove, and books to read for the weekend. You would love it. I thought it would be a great way to spend our birthday.

I love you so much. I've been thinking about you a lot lately. I wish I had had more opportunities to learn from you. More and more as I age I look to your advice and wisdom about how to be a good person and what to take out of my life.

Don't be afraid of joining me at the cabin, Daddy. There will be a lot of quiet to fill. Maybe if I listen really carefully I will be able to hear your voice again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Valentine's Elegy

Daddy, it's our month again.

My pillow was barren next to me on Valentine's morning. I miss the days when you would come into my room while I slept and place a poem on my pillow, so that from the moment I awoke I would feel loved. (The days when I felt safe and secure enough to sleep through the night, let alone through the sounds of someone entering my room, are long gone now.)

When I left my bed there was no stack of pancakes waiting for me in the kitchen, so that even if I had to go to school I could still start the day feeling pampered. (The days when I could even eat your pancakes, made with milk as they were, are long gone now.)

And the rose on the table waiting just for me - well, I suppose I can't comment on that this year. A friend brought a perfect, red rose just for me. (But, goddamn it, the days when I could get a rose on Valentine's and feel a loving warmth instead of the aching void you left behind are long gone now.)

Would you ever have imagined that your successes as a father would have someday caused me only hurt? A friend, when I relayed these Valentine's traditions to her, commented that I at least have these memories to keep me warm. There's no warmth in them, Daddy. Only an aching. Only a longing. You showed me what it was to feel loved and then you took away everyone who loved me.

Daddy, do you want the truth?

The days when I felt worthy of anyone's love are long gone now.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Stuff 2.0

Many years ago I wrote a blog post on the pain of having and losing the "stuff" of my family - the physical, tangible reminders of them. I wrote about how hard it was to have had all of my family's belongings lost in a fire, to have a lifetime of memories drowned in soot. I wrote about my envy of others who cope with their loss by smelling an old sweater, or wearing a mother's old dress, or sitting in a loved one's room.

I wrote that post because I had lost one of a pair of earrings that my mother had made for me. At the time, it was absolutely devastating. It was maybe a year, no more than two since she had died, and even the most insignificant things could still hurt me profoundly.

I remember a few years back when I lived in London, I recognised that the physical reminders of my lost family no longer mattered as much. On a night out in town, I lost the iPod that my mother had had engraved for me. I was hurt, yes, very much so - but I was also excited, because it was outdated and I relished the excuse to put behind me a relic and move on. It was an expensive, personalised gift from my mother, and my getting past that loss was, for me, a major turning point in how I viewed my remaining relationship with them.

I am now immune to "the stuff," I thought.

Fast forward to today.

"Your coat caught fire."
"What, what do you mean?"

(And so it goes.)

As they say, you don't know love until you've lost it.

The last time I properly went shopping with my mother (her favourite pastime) was to buy me a coat. I knew exactly what I wanted going in: a double-breasted, black-and-white houndstooth coat, with a belt. My mother told me again and again that I would not find exactly what I was looking for. I was adamant. And - we found it. Not only did it fit exactly my requirements, but it had an incredible red and gold Chinese-inspired lining, which for the next 8 years I would receive compliments on.

One thing my mother always expected of me that I could never quite obey was that I take care of my material possessions. I'm clumsy. I break things, spill things, tear things - I've come to terms with this aspect of myself. But I took care of that coat. That coat lasted me over 8 years, and was nowhere near falling apart. It was one thing I treasured and really treated well.

The irony is not lost on me. One of the few things from her that I saved from the sooty destruction of my home has been lost to its own idiosyncratic fire.

The memories flooded in. The emotion flooded in. My mother's smile, her touch, her warmth. I didn't think I could still break like this.

I broke.

(It makes me wonder: what other tiny, physical things in my life have so much power over me? Power that I will never know about...until it is wielded?)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

My missing parents

A lot of the time I don't even think of them. They are so far removed from my life now, existing only in these vague memories that could be real...or maybe it was just all just a vivid dream. Usually when I do think of them it's in an intellectual capacity: I have x behaviour because my dad taught me y when I was twelve, and so on. A lot of the time now they are very emotionally distanced from me.

But then, every once in a while, I miss them so deeply that my body aches.

I'm starting the second year of my PhD at an Ivy League university. Do you know how proud they would have been of me? I do. There would have been a lot of "we're so proud, but we're not at all surprised!" They would have each separately written me a letter, detailing how proud they are and how much I mean to them.

Well, here I am. Working hard at being a success and no mom or dad to be proud of me.

I wish grieving were simpler. I wish it were as easy as "I feel hurt that my parents aren't here to see how far I've come." Because it's never as straightforward as that. It starts with "I wish they were here, they would be so proud" and it becomes "they have no right to be proud. They weren't here. I did this on my own. They have no right." The hurt is always so closely intertwined with the anger - when I grieve, there is just this flood of emotion. It sweeps over you, pummeling you so that you have no strength to try and disentangle what exactly you feel. And when you don't understand what you feel, it is that much more difficult to heal.

I feel like such an orphan today.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Building blocks

From a message from my mother:

Keep well and remember that everything you are doing is a building block in your life's path - sometimes they just stack up, sometimes you have to eliminate some, and sometimes they just have to be beside each other - but they all have to be there for you to make your way. Embrace your challenges and celebrate whatever achievements you make - tiny or big - they all count!

Love you my darling daughter,
Love Mommy

Thursday, August 13, 2015


I discovered this recently - a will of sorts that I made in June 2009. It breaks my heart a little to know that a 20-year-old girl - when all of her peers were in university, exploring and discovering themselves - was more concerned with the division of her estate and the well-being of her best friend than what she would declare as her major or whether she'd have a summer romance.

In case I should die before I make a proper will.

To whom it concerns:

This was created not out of fear of impending death, or as a suicide note, or in any other circumstance that may find itself under scrutiny. I'm creating this only because my parents and brother recently died, so the idea of my property being sifted through is a thought that is on my mind. Thus, should any circumstances surrounding my death be suspicious in any way, please know this is irrelevant.

I would like my property to be divided up as follows:

All of my personal diaries, journals, clothing, stuffed animals, artwork and writings (including sketchbooks as well as loose papers), perfumes and oils, jewelry, shoes, magazines, computer hard drives, computer tablet, makeup, purses, hair ties and clips, art supplies, iPod shuffle mini, make-up mirror, posters, and the butterfly snow globe inscribed with "May Only Good Things Come Your Way" now belong to R* H*, living in Waterloo and attending school in Kingston at the time of this writing.

The remainder of my property now belongs to my brother, S* E*, and my aunt, J* R*. Should they be deceased at the discovery of this, R* H* becomes the sole inheritee.

Should all of the above mentioned persons be deceased, please give the entirety of my estate to H* S* of Fleet, England.

Please pass along these messages:

To R* H*:

R*. Poodle. I know it feels like you've lost your best friend, but that's not the case. The reason I've died is because I was never alive with you to begin with. Hun, I've been your guardian angel since day one. We've reached a point where you don't need me with you in corporal form anymore - but I'll always be with you in spirit. I'm in the coin I led you to, do you remember? I will be with you in that forever.

As for what I owned: all of my journals and artistic creations, please do what you choose with them. I know you know me, and I know you love me, and so I trust you to do what is best for me in terms of them. Whether that should be destroying them, publishing them, keeping them and passing them down to your descendants - whatever you feel is best.

Live a long, wonderful life for me, beautiful one.

To S* and Auntie J*:

I love you both so much - that will never change. I'll always be with you. I'm with Mommy and Daddy and D* now, so I'll be well taken care of. I'll give them hugs and kisses for you. And, someday, I'll see you guys again. Love you forever.

I will print, sign, and date this note. The signed copy can be found in my box of letters.