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 I was hurt, yes, very much so - but I was also excited, because it was outdated and I relished the excuse to put behind me a relic and move on.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.



Monday, July 27, 2015

If You Could See Me Now

"If you could see me now would you recognize me?
Would you pat me on the back or would you criticize me?
Would you follow every line on my tear-stained face
Put your hand on a heart that was cold
As the day you were taken away?
I know it's been a while but I can see you clear as day
Right now, I wish I could hear you say
I drink too much, and I smoke too much dutch
But if you can't see me now that shit's a must
You used to say I won't know a win till it cost me
Like I won't know real love till I've loved and I've lost it
So if you've lost a sister, someone's lost a mom
And if you've lost a dad then someone's lost a son
And they're all missing out, yeah they're all missing out
So if you get a second to look down on me now
Mom, Dad I'm just missing you now"
- If You Could See Me Now, The Script

Monday, June 22, 2015

Good things

I sent a message to a friend of mine today, someone I love very dearly, and whom I hadn't spoken to since before my uncle died.

Do you ever have moments when -- you have no idea how exactly you feel, what exactly your emotions mean, how precisely to represent your internal state, until you've already said it?

I said to her, "I was a bit scared that this would be my life, always dealing with another tragedy. But I think I've learned so much about myself since my family died, and I think now I know how to take care of myself, after I cut myself off I felt good again, really good, like almost better than before it happened. Maybe because for all these years I've been a bit terrified that one more thing will destroy me, and here one more thing has happened and I'm doing just fine."

And then -- I reflected. I think I had felt that somewhere inside myself for a long time now, but I had never really understood what I was feeling. There still exists that pervasive, broader sense of melancholy and tragedy -- but somewhere within it, a lot of hope and happiness. Like a bright dawn trying hard to break through storm clouds.

Maybe (do you think?) I'll actually be okay.

Maybe, after everything, my life isn't some broken girl's unending tragedy. Maybe instead, it's just a normal life with a few bumps in the road. And maybe instead of a lot of bumps I had just one big one, and they'll only be littler from here on out.

Let's all cling to good thoughts, to hope, to happiness, to light.

Good things are out there.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

True secrets

" ...true secrets are more often not the positive sentiments we post about ourselves on Facebook or see reflected in Hallmark cards, they are the complicated feelings we struggle with in the dark because they make us feel alone."

--  Frank Warren, Postsecret

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Always -- The Societal Silence.

Earlier this year, I slipped on some black ice and landed on my face. I bit my lip pretty badly, resulting in a lot of blood, some scarring, and a tooth biding its time until a root canal is necessary. I was physically (and by physically, I mean visibly) hurt. But I was in decent spirits.

People rallied around me. There was an outpouring of support, love, and good intention. I laughed about my accident, got nervous about my tooth, but continued on. I was okay. And people were there.

Then, a little while ago, I was hurt much, much deeper. My Uncle Bill took his own life - my dad's little brother, following in his tragic footsteps. I learned long ago not to lock things away (a death sentence, that), but to reach out to people as often as is spiritually possible. And I did. I told friends, acquaintances, professors and colleagues. I made sure my loss was heard.

I left for the service.

I came back - and I was surrounded by joviality. My friends, my acquaintances, they asked (in good spirits) - how are you doing? And I said - not well.

Silence. Avoidance.

Those closest to me gave their support, saying they were only a phone call away. I thought - oh, good, people are there for me who care, they understand. But then, I cancelled a study session I'd arranged earlier, citing my inability to be a good host.

The response: "hey...what's happened? Are you okay? Cheer up!"

I asked for a 6 day extension on an assignment, as I'd been out of the country for 6 days. I was given 4, by the same professor who earlier had professed her unwavering support in my time of need.

Nobody seems to understand that this is exactly the problem.

There's this dreadful fear and avoidance of people who have suffered an emotional injury. When my injury was physical, people were happy, willing and effusive in their support. When my injury was an invisible one - an emotional, spiritual one - people shied away in fear, awkwardness, misunderstanding.

I'm blunt and explicit with my suffering. I have learned this skill over the six years I have been, what they call, a "suicide survivor". I know how to and am skillful at forcing people to listen to what I need to express - and I am very lucky that way.

But not everyone is.

I can't help but see the connection between the people around me who are afraid of my emotional burden, and the complete aloneness felt by my father and my Uncle Bill when they were most in need of someone to listen.

Do you want an understatement? I am fed up. This awful society is designed to silence those who most need to speak. The result is that they break - and then we are so ashamed that they have broken that we pretend it hasn't happened, and we shun those who dare to speak of it. I am so fed up.

I will not be silent. I will be as loud as I can about my grief. I will shout my hurt, not just for me, but for my Daddy, and for my Uncle Bill. And anyone who has a problem with that? Come at me. You come at me. I will bury you deep into the ground.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

“My uncle has died.”

That sentence says nothing.

It doesn’t say how a man 700km away went out of his way to make a broken girl feel his presence.

It doesn’t say how that man somehow always knew when to get in touch, always knew when she was about to shatter, to give her the warmth of his love.

It doesn’t say how an uncle tried his best to fill the void of a missing father.

It doesn’t say how he instinctively understood the bond of a father-daughter shared birthday, and made sure that lonely girl’s birthday was never silent.

It doesn’t say how a family tragedy has become a family trend.

It doesn’t say how much heartbreak can ripple and resound in a family.

It doesn’t say anything about four brothers, two lost.

It doesn’t say anything about two fathers, stalwart for their families.

It doesn’t say anything about two men, tortured in silence.

It doesn’t say anything about two daughters, broken and abandoned.

It doesn’t say anything about the anger, the pain, the sorrow, the guilt, the fear, the hopelessness.

It doesn’t say anything about the warmth of his heart, the power of his love.

That sentence says nothing.