Friday, September 29, 2006
I have a confession to make. Its time to stop hiding the truth, and to just come clean.
I may come across as this nice, clean, well-meaning, small-town, girl-next-door type BUT I am an ADDICT! I routinely torture myself with resolutions to STOP! To think of my children! To set my thoughts and goals on higher places! To recognize the problem, and thereby to take the first step to healing and wholeness.
I AM A COMPULSIVE HUNTER AND I DON'T REALLY BELIEVE THAT I WILL EVER GET WELL!!
oh, it starts out innocently enough with a little thought, or a good intention. (hmmm, I should slip by the thrift shop, see if they have any jars for my compulsive-salsa-canning disorder; or hmmm wonder if anyone has donated their excess garden zucchini so I can make some of that fabulous tomato and zucchini soup).
Well, like any gripping disorder, I rearrange my entire existance to fit in that trip down cast-off aisle. I peruse for old quilts, trampling hunched and grey haired volunteers in my wake. Like a greedy raccoon gone wild, I sniff and scavenge for vintage buttons, lustre ware plates, coloured bits of glass, or Christmas decor from the 50's or earlier. All my good intentions wash out of me as I barge through the doors, nose to the air, sniffing out those good finds with my killer cheapskate instincts.
At home, I lay out my spoils and secretly feel grateful that all the other collectors were responsibly staying at home that day, lovingly putting together alphabet puzzles with their well-scrubbed offspring. I carress my prized possessions, lean back in my chair grinning like the cat who snagged the bird.
Then the guilt settles on me like a dark cloak of condemnation.
HOW SOON BEFORE THE AUTHORITIES DISCOVER YOU? YOU'RE PROBABLY A FIRE HAZARD WITH ALL THAT OLD STUFF GATHERING DUST ALL AROUND YOU! YOU'RE SO ADDICTED TO FINDING OLD STUFF THAT YOU DON'T EVEN DUST YOUR HOUSE! WHAT KIND OF PERSON ARE YOU?! YOU'RE ONE OF THOSE FREAKS WHO TAKES IN ALL THE NEIGHBORHOOD CATS AND KIDS AND LETS THEM PISS ON YOUR COUCH AND EAT RAW MACARONI WHILE YOU ALL LOLL ABOUT ON OLD QUILTS WATCHING OLD MOVIES AND GNAWING ON DAY OLD DONUTS!
(wonder what I'll find tomorrow?)
I really have NOT cooked since Ken died last Wednesday. Meals have arrived via neighbors, friends, and church folk. If that wasn't enough to make me wonder if I was coming across as entirely too needy... on Sunday after church, there were two BOXES of food at the exit that had our name on it.
"People just want to help" is all I heard.
Brian's family, living a bit of distance away, pooled together to send us a beautiful floral arrangement, and a basket full of fruit, nummies, and chocolate. I say one can never be too sad to eat chocolate.....
A new daycare family that have been cancelled more than once in Ken's last days brought me a huge basket of food, a lasagna, and a garlic bread. Talk about humbling. Am I this nice when other people are going through bad times? I don't think I've been in tune with people in grief before. I hope I learn my lesson by watching how well others have loved us in such practical ways.
I hope to pay it forward.
I hope I notice when people could use a hand up. Even if its nothing as obvious as a death. People live chronically with all sorts of pains in their hearts and
maybe a casserole and some flowers would help to prop them up.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Everyone was headed back to somewhere- even the birds seemed more determined to get on with their lives. They busied themselves with flying south while my sister and brother also took flight - returning to jobs and family and the normalcy of routines. I resumed daycare duties, Brian returned to the classroom, and the kids headed off to school. Cocooned in my cozy little house, the hours slipped by uneventfully. I'm completely sure that events occured, but I rarely attempt to listen to the news over the sounds of "spongebob squarepants" on the leap pad.
Yesterday, the kids came home with a notice from the school office, alerting parents to the presence of lice in some unfortunate kids head. I dutifully did the checks, all the while thinking that if I had to go through that stupid crisis again, I'd likely burn the house down. Everyone came out clean, so I resumed my assumption that life would get boring and regular again. What a relief that would be, I thought, it might be nice to have a regular heart rate for a while.
But by some crazy, sadistic twist of the humour molecules in the atmosphere, there was another note brought home from elementary school this afternoon. It wasn't meant to be funny, and its really NOT, but the possibilities of DEATH, FEAR , and living with UNCERTAINTY throughout the mundane tasks of every day living just kind of struck me as ironic and funny.
All right, so its just some crazy ex-Niverville murderer. And all this time, I was worried about cancer.
Isn't that kind of funny? Or is it just high time that I got committed?
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
How full and free your giving?
For living is but loving
And loving only giving.
I suspect that some relatives may have left Ken's funeral a little disappointed at its lack of ritualized morbidity. But those of us who knew Ken at all, recognized that he would want the last laugh, and so through the solemnity and grief of our farewells, we celebrated. There was a party to be had.
Still, there is nothing light hearted about such a loss-- and in the living, the loving, and the dying, there was much provocative thought spawned. Who are we really but who we love? And those who love us in return? And in that rhythm, no lack is found. The wealth in caring always warms us, and opens our eyes to the hurt in others. Our loss can not be recovered. Still, we huddle, and strength is found in widening our circle to embrace every person who Ken loved.
Ken's memorium read:
Do the ordinary in extraordinary ways,
Do the extraordinary in ordinary ways.
Let this be my shrine for Ken.
May I not busy myself caring for my children to such a frenzy that I do so without CARE.
May I go about my employment as the means to living my life with fullness of giving and not to fuel the desire to GET.
May I eat to live and never LIVE to EAT.
May I be willing to stand alone.
May I not strive to make myself small and powerless.
May life and love have the last laugh, and may we have God's power in us to kick at death and darkness and wherever we go, to leave that place a little brighter.
I am reminded again of Nelson Mandela's powerful speech, and because he says it so well, I will conclude in his words, and not my own.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Monday, September 25, 2006
1) Mother, age 80:
"Cremation? Oh, the idea of that doesn't bother me at all. Its MUCH better than being
2) eldest brother Al:
(in reference to people trying much too desparately to say "the right thing").
"Oh, I am allergic to all things CLICHE".
(regarding a bench made from the remnants of Ken's wheelchair ramp)
"Hey! If we sprinkle some of "Ken" on here, then I could park my ASS on his ASH!"
Saturday, September 23, 2006
I'm glad I don't have to do this alone.
This morning when a little dandruff was tickling my scalp, I was reminded of my friend Shelli. That doesn't sound flattering, but allow me to ellaborate. It was Shelli who confirmed my icky fears last December when the lice invaded. She hung around, picking for nits, and when desparation descended it was Shelli who delivered clippers for the great lice eviction.
On Friday morning (Ken's readmission), it was Shelli (and Esther :) that I scooped off the street to rush over to my house and run the circus. They watched and fed the kids. They finished my four zucchini nut loaves, they even canned my infamous salsa!
Tuesday morning, all I squeezed out of my twisted face over the phone was-- "Shelli- I CAN'T DO THIS!". She came right over.
She was there when I got the phone call.
Shelli knows what its like to lose a brother. She knows that a person continues to eat, to laugh, to cry.
She knows how to say "yes" and be Jesus with skin on.
* just a note: there are many others who loved extravagantly. But today, its Shelli's turn.
Friday, September 22, 2006
He was the first child born to my parents, and it would be 16 years before the eighth and last child, (me) was born. Suffice to say, we grew up in different families. Still, because life can be a ridiculous sandwhich of the unexpected, His children and mine were born within years of each other.
Al and his family live in Uganda so cousin times are crammed into trips to the cottage in Ontario where they live for 6 weeks in the summer. It is through these cabin times that Al has become my friend.
Al is intelligent, skilled in the administrative, personable, and kind. He is insightful, sensitive, caring, and comfortable with vulnerability. He knows the love of God, and is in tune with His "still small voice". He has cultivated humility. Al acknowledges ugliness and injustice, and has seen and known both intimately, but he insists on the eternal goodness of God.
Over the past number of months, Al's presence has been invaluable. Ken found great comfort in his presence, as did our parents. Al has been able to use his skills amongst the living and the dying to be instrumental in working out details of a senstive nature. He has reconciled administration with humanity-- sensibility with sensitivity.
I'm glad to call Al my brother and friend.
We celebrate LIFE.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Words- just words.
All around, the scenery has shifted.
A cold wind has blown in.
All the colours have changed now.
Winter will come soon with her killing frost.
Old men shake and tremor.
Toddlers kiss and cuddle.
There are no words.
Dad is 84. He has seen the better part of all his friends die. Some whose minds had died years before. He trembles now, over his young son, dying in a body aged eons beyond his calendar years. A son whose mind has betrayed him.
All those years I worked in nursing homes. I used to imagine having to care for my father that way-- guiding the urinal, rubbing his boney back. Never once could I have known how cruel life would be to a brother four years my senior.
My dad looks young to me now.
Looks like he could live forever.
And that makes this cruelty ever more austere.
Monday, September 18, 2006
It's true that we didn't know what to expect this weekend. And still, it didn't go the way we thought. On Friday, instead of checking Ken into the hotel at 3:00 pm, we instead admitted him back into HSC. To honour him and his daughters, we went ahead with the hotel idea, needing to spend time in one anothers company in any case. That was healing - just being together, sharing information,some tears, snippets of conversation, food, and quite a few laughs.
Ken's symptoms now indicate liver failure, to the point of forgetfulness and disorientation. His colour is remarkably yellow. I found my mischevious mind particles wondering what eloquent name Martha Stewart would come up with for such a colour-- Autumnal Pumpkin? Ill-beyond-belief-palour? It gave me pleasure to know that if Ken were quite himself, he would find humour in such irreverence. But, as it was, the mere act of opening his eyes and whispering a few words exhausted him.
Amongst the living and the dying, there was one unifying theme: Love. And I saw many elements of how Jesus himself described love:
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
If you were not already my sister, I'd probably be too in awe of you to think we could relate on the same level. I often think of people as stained glass masterpieces that come to life when the light of God shines thru them. I have seen so many masterpieces lately, including you.
Is Laura being extra nice, because I keep puking up my heart and watching it splatter against my computer screen? This comment is so kind.
Am I a walking contradiction? Or do "masterpieces" typically present bodily as F-U-B-A-R? (f*ed-up-beyond-all-repair) I am terrible to be with. I am irritable. I throw fits. I fight the urge to do something crazy enough to land me on the Dr Phil show. I barely speak to my husband. And the bit about God shining through? Gee, I like that. But that would be entirely his doing. Any preparation that I haven't done up to this point is obvious. I'm not one of those shiney people who can tell what scripture has held me up through all this. Again, I'd have to say that maybe God stuck that Healing Rain song in my head, because its there all the time, and it comforts me and I don't own that cd. I had to google for the lyrics. What about the song that came to me yesterday after I saw Ken for the first time in 10 days? That song was "Jesus loves the little children" Not because when we are dying we are symbolically childlike, and become aware of him as our heavenly father, and how our childlike faith is honoured.
It's the line... "red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight". What ridiculous lyrics. I used to think-- who has ever seen a red kid on the playground?!
But yesterday, I saw a yellow man.
I like comments. No, I love comments. I like encouragement too. I like to hear that people offer up prayers. I like to know that others can relate. I love to write. I love to have an audience that aren't necessarily hungry or need a bathroom. I mean everything that I write.
I believe imperically in lots of sensible and wise things. I make an effort to live with authenticity.
But guys-- I just don't know if I'm as swell as I'd wish to be.
Friday, September 15, 2006
One pot of salsa simmering on the stove.
Three kids taking turns down the slide.
I'm off to a good start. Will continue to work at break neck speed until 3:00 pm this afternoon, at which time I hope to be of some use to the one whose illness gives me nearly unlimited nervous energy.
Since my infancy, my family has celebrated Thanksgiving by renting cabins at Clear Lake, MB. Its a beautiful tradition. This year, no one much feels right about heading that way, and at Ken's suggestion, we will instead be renting rooms in a local hotel just so we can spend a little time together.
I pray God's blessing on this weekend. Humanly, I feel frightened. Emotions are riding high- there is potential for some healing, but there is fear of causing more pain.
God- I ask your blessing on our weekend. Infuse us with the gift of being selfless, of always seeing anothers' perspective before our own. Allow us the grace to use both ears and both eyes to their potential, and our lips with reverence and discretion. Bless us with Joy amidst agony.
You are our father. You love us, and your vision is limitless. Ours is short-sighted, and so I choose to trust your perspective over my own. Bless my earthly mother and father. Give them oppurtunity to weep openly with their precious son. Cover them with your healing rain.
Healing rain, I'm not afraid to be washed in Heaven's rain.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
She sneaks up behind me and whispers cold truths.
I am a machine. I cook and bake and can and clean and store up for living after the frost.
I am constantly preparing for the shift in seasons.
I am unprepared.
So, I move, frantically, helplessly.
I am a machine.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Allow me to be comfortably mediocre.Words that make my heart take flight: Community Yard Sale.
The day couldn't have been more perfectly autumn, with a strong flavour of residual summer.
I wound my bike round and round town and came home with: 6 cookies (fundraiser to send a youth of YWAM), a piece of green fabric, three t-shirts and a pair of pants for the kids.
I also came home with a light spirit-- I wasn't out for the bargains, really. I was out for the interaction. I came home with a heart full of love for people in my community who know how to live with love in their actions. Sunday morning, I made it through an entire church service without bawling. I know its because for the first time ever, I remembered to pack some kleenex in my handbag. Next Sunday I'm likely to remember to wear mascara, and forget the tissue, then wipe my nose and drip black smudges on some poor soul to my left.
Sunday afternooon we had an outdoor picnic and enjoyed a stream of people coming and going, munching on my fresh salsa and soaking up the generous sun.
Soon, winter will be upon us. This pretty patch of rhubarb will be four feet under, and it will seem unbelievable that kids would voluntarily throw water balloons at one another in this very same spot.
Now, I hope you feel sufficiently neither emotionally hot nor cold.
And I hope I get through the day without throwing my snotty self against some unsuspecting victem who dares to show me some care or compassion.
Monday, September 11, 2006
*essence of death
*the smell of fear
*2-3 dashes of anger
Add to one failing liver and allow to simmer on low heat for an undetermined amount of time.
Add chunks of:
*homework that drives a child to tears
*dialogue lost in translation
*large bills, when in season.
For seasonings, toss in grass clippings and recycling, tears of grandparents and children, sibling rivalry,transmissions and wheel bearings, prayers and hymns, and a generous portion of irritability.
For a more pungeunt flavour, blend with bottled pain and/or resentment and home-grown personal truths, numbering in the tens or hundreds.
Stew all ingredients.
Add more to taste.
Keep stirring the pot.
*******I am soooooooooooooooo not a good cook. No matter how many times I try to stir nicely, there's always slop slopping off the sides. Its a mess.
Friday, September 08, 2006
That's about how long I've been trying to be an adult now. Thus far, I must say, the pictures confirmed what I've suspected all along: its been a good life. Not every picture was necessarily a party, or a really rib-tickler, but most of them have precious and unique life seasons associated with them.
The early pictures of me and Brian freely reflect the silly, free-spirited love we have always enjoyed. Not to pretend that every moment of our time together in the last 16 years has been sheer bliss, but there's no denying it-- HANGING ONTO HIM WAS A GOOD DECISION!
By the end of my short time of reminiscance this afternoon, there were two distinct photo categories: ones that reflected good choices, or had some redeeming value, and secondly, those which made me smack myself in the head and wish I could redeem time, and go back to think with the correct end of my anatomy.
This is where I like being almost forty.
I'm not delusional enough to pretend I've never done foolish things, but I am smart enough to decide not to celebrate them, not to give them a permanent spot in my psyche, or even just on my bookshelf.I took those stupid pictures, which made me feel like a stupid girl, and I threw them in the stupid garbage. It gave me a great, cathartic burst of pleasure to hurl an entire album into the trash.
And now I'm holding onto the good.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
This is my sister Laura. She is very special to me, and if we didn't live 15 hours apart, I would be on my way to her house right now- to share a pot of coffee, drool over her latest, ingenious quilting project, laugh at the threads inground in her carpet, and last years Christmas cards still on her piano. After the coffee had grown cold, and half a bottle of really bad, overly sweet wine was gone, we would begin to philosophize. We would laugh at the irony of turning out very much alike, although having spent most of our lives away from one another. We would pore over magazines and books about fabrics and quilting designs. Laura would get excited about buying some high tech equipment to launch her craft to a whole new level, while I would imagine thrift shopping at bag sale day to get a bunch of old aprons and dresses to repurpose into a nifty neato something-or-other.
Most of all, we would laugh.
A month ago, when Laura flew out to spend some time with our brother, we had the privelege of spending an unusual amount of time together. One night, we decided to spend the night at the hospital, sharing the dark with Ken. First we needed to make a few stops. Laura managed to spend $45.00 on snacks and a bottle of really bad wine for us to share as we wiled away the nighttime hours. She spared no expense-- even purchasing two pretty plastic goblets so that we could enjoy our beverage with some class. We giggled and whispered and slurped and smacked until Ken's roommate politely informed us that he couldn't sleep to our accompanyment. We then politely reduced our rustling to a bare minumum.
Laura is one of the most fascinating, loveliest, gracious people in the world....and one of the goofiest. She knows how to buy in bulk. She knows how to laugh at herself. She knows how to be honest- with herself, and with others. She knows how to enjoy a good book. (even if it means staying up til four a.m. and being a yawning sack of uselessness the next day) . She knows how to enjoy a good speed boat ride. She has known hardship and heartache. She has given when there was nothing left to give. She has loved without being loved in return.
Laura- May the Lord bless and keep you. May the Lord lift his countenance to you, and give you peace.
I love you.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
You were the start of it all for your dad and me-- you launched us from him and me, to....... "US". We became a family. You were/are my pride and joy. I couldn't believe that you were my little girl! I so hoped for my first to be a baby girl, that I decided it was impossible, and fell in love with a boy named Graeme instead. When you were finally born, I nearly asked the Doctor to check again! When Auntie Carol came to the hospital to meet you and saw you sleeping in the bassinet (I swear the first and last time that you slept, until you were four or five.....) She insisted that you were indeed a BOY!! We had to undress you, and then there was no getting around it! God gave me a girl? I just couldn't believe it, I was over the moon with joy!
You have become a lovely young woman, despite the fact that you have human beings for parents. I can't wait to see you join sports teams, enjoy your friends, and make excellent choices in your current reality as Junior High School student.
I love you , kid.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Do NOT drink coffee, eat muffins and cheddar cheese, fresh pickles from grandma, a chocolate chip cookie, and a few tastes of fresh salsa while canning and feeling your head float several feet above your shoulders. And all this before 10:00 am.
I repeat. If you want to be well, DO NOT do as I do.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
What has surprised and sometimes shamed me has been the rising up of some less evolved "inner child" in me. I first noticed it in photos that were being taken as people gathered in support of Ken. I observed that I tended to place myself in the rear of the group, even hanging back a step or two from the others, appearing peripheral and secondary-- as though I expected at any moment to be asked to "sit this one out".
I managed to laugh out loud at myself the day Ken's professional legal colleagues congregated outside of the hospital room. We'd never had reason to meet before, and though I was sincerely interested in meeting his friends, I once again felt myself hanging back and waiting for someone else to take the initiative. The exchange went sort of as follows: (well, its actually ridiculously paraphrased, to reflect the dysfunctional inner workings of my mind).
Lawyer guy: "Hi, I'm Ken's friend Mr so-and-so. This is my lawyer wife. She's as brilliant as she is physically beautiful and we just flew in from Ottawa, between extremely pressing and important meetings to spend some time with your brother."
My brother (not the sick one): "It's nice to meet you. I'm Ken's brother, and I just flew in yesterday from Central Africa. I'm smart, well-read, but also sensitive and kind. Most of the time I solve problems for the U.N., but I'm not just booky and beurocratic. I'm also a really great guy, and I have a close relationship with my sick brother. He needs me."
Joyce: "Hi. I'm a little girl in a woman's body. I've never known what I wanted to be if I grew up, so I'm mostly angst and I'd really feel better if you told me how much you like me, and how valid I am, even if I run a daycare in Niverville and don't even like flying".
(Okay, that was mostly just indulgent, please forgive me! But it was FUN and CATHARTIC to be irreverent and not so serious for a moment.)
Back to the point of being surprised about ugly lies and fears from the past who have also come around to visit at this time of meeting and gathering. I have done enough healing to know that I have a place on this earth, and that I don't need people to constantly remind me of my validity.
Still, I would be kidding myself to pretend that I don't appreciate validation and sincerity. I made a point of not actively seeking it out though, not wanting to feel selfish and narcissistic while the real issue is that of my brother falling terribly ill. This is not about me, I tell myself time and time again.
Which is why I wept all the harder when I met Ken's friends and found them to be among the loveliest, most authentic, and fun-loving bunch around. They were easy to like. They were the farthest from snobbish. They were unconcerned about titles and degrees and accomplishments. Meeting them has introduced me to a side of Ken that makes me sad I can't get to know him better, hang out with him and his friends, share more meals, more bottles of wine.
Which is why, upon receiving the following e-mail from a close friend of Ken's, I felt the tears of a small girl mix with those of an older, wiser, and stronger woman.
"Joyce, I am sorry that I have met you in this sad time, however I think I am going to take it as the good thing in all this "shit" because I find you quite an interesting, complicated, tormented, and beautiful woman. Your insight into your struggle and your comments that first day I met you when we talked about "body image" and our daughters, left me thinking for many days.
You are always welcome at my table. "
Unexpected pain. Unexpected pleasure.