Today I’m Reminded…

Today – and most days –, I’m reminded of a woman who I was fortunate to know in my lifetime: She was my Great Aunt M and she was one of the most kind and loving people I’ve ever known. Today is the day she was born and I prefer remembering it than dwelling on the day I witnessed her passing away. Even though I live thousands of miles away from where she once lived, and can’t place yellow flowers on her grave, I pay homage to her memory as often as I can because I learned so much about compassion and unconditional love from her.

She was the kind of person who, although quiet, was strong. Not everyone can survive being put on a ship alone as a young adult and sent thousands of miles away from your family to make your mark in the world. Not everyone would have been able to thrive in a place where they knew no one, but had to prove themselves knowledgeable and capable of saving lives from the very first moment they reported to a new job, but she did. Every person whose life she touched, in even the smallest way, still remembers her. The goodwill of her deeds still lives on in the community where she lived, eventually married, and raised her children.

I’ve been the beneficiary of that goodwill each time I’ve visited her small town and someone has made the connection between who she was and who I am. The pride felt in those moments is overwhelming, and added to the love and respect I already felt for the woman who loved me my whole life. It also made me feel more fortunate that what I know of her came to me, not from her professional life, but from moments that are more intimate. Times where I was fed favourite meals by her, walking with her through the streets of her town on cool summer mornings, sharing cups of tea with her dearest friends after shopping in the local market, or receiving small gifts that always arrived in time for my birthday.

Her memory keeps me positive because every time I think of her I know that somewhere inside me lives the things she taught simply by living her life. I know that I can be strong and survive anything life throws my way. When I am fearful, I know that the courage I need to overcome whatever I’m facing is within me. I know a smile and words of kindness can go a long way to make another person’s day or life better. When I am sad, I have wonderful happy memories in which she lives that I can recall. I know the value of doing good in the world because her work and its legacy live on. Most importantly, I know what it is to be loved unconditionally and what can come of giving love in the same way.

Today I honour the memory of my Great Aunt M and I am grateful I had the opportunity to know her.

 

 

My Home Is Quiet Once More

After two weeks of lots of activity and chatter, my home is quiet once more. My cousins returned home, overseas, on Sunday and they left me with great memories and a gaping silence. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up the pace of activity needed to show them a good time and, more importantly, to occupy the attention span of a six-year-old, while still managing to take care of my health, but I somehow managed to do it; and I had fun in the process. Now that they’ve left, my home feels oddly still and quiet, unlike it never has before. To tell the truth I started missing them before they left for the airport.

I didn’t know that having constant company could be so good for my health – emotionally and physically. While my cousins were here, I had a few days of terribly intense pain, but because I wasn’t alone with it, I think I was able to cope better with it than I usually do. I had the foresight to plan rest days in between activity days that involved taking them out to see city sights and some attractions that took us out of the city for the day. Although those days were hard, not missing any pain medication doses and the distraction of chatter and laughter, helped me deal with all the movement and long drives. I also took full advantage of the days that I scheduled for rest, whether it was sleeping in or taking afternoon naps, that my body made it clear I needed – and still do need.

Surprisingly, I was able to cook many of our meals, which I did with pleasure. I think I might have forgotten how much I enjoy cooking for people these past few years while I’ve been ill and, at times, barely able to cook for myself. My cousin was a big help in the kitchen, doing the after-dinner cleanup and helping with some of the prep when I needed it. I don’t think I would have been able to do as much for as many days, if she hadn’t been so supportive. I didn’t even mind getting up early some mornings to make breakfast for my finicky youngest guest, who was very particular about what she would eat for which meals, and how precisely some items had to be prepared. Children’s food preferences don’t always make sense, but I was thrilled when we finally hit on a few items that became acceptable daily staples for her.

Not everything went smoothly for the visit, but nothing ever does in life. They were able to connect with some other family and meet some of my close friends, but most of the 14-day visit was just the three of us. The only hiccups were due to bad weather (rain or extreme heat) that kept us indoors, the odd event not proceeding as planned, or my body making it impossible for me to do much. There were also playdates that never materialized with the children and grandchildren of friends and family, which I had organized in advance to make sure my cousin’s daughter had company close to her age as often as possible to play with, but it was hard getting everyone’s schedules to sync up with so much happening every day.

My Home Is Quiet Once More

With all that activity going on, I didn’t have any time for the anxiety that had gripped me ahead of their arrival to set in again. I also didn’t have much time to myself to do much of the creative things I usually spend my time doing. Before they arrived, I bought my cousin’s little girl crayons, pencils, and markers, and matching sketchbooks for the two of us, thinking that would be a clever way to get us to do something together. Until yesterday, I didn’t drawn a single line in my sketchbook. There was so much activity to plan, whether it was our meals or what attraction or event I had planned for us to do – and I desperately needed the rest days in between – that drawing or doing anything creative was impossible. My cousin’s little girl, however, had plenty of time to play and draw, so my refrigerator is now covered in drawings and handmade birthday cards for which I am truly grateful. When I look at them, my home feels a little less quiet because their bright colours evoke memories of laughter and good company.

 

A Fortnight Of Busyness

Last year, when my much younger cousin said she wanted to come for a visit with her young daughter, I didn’t give it much thought because they are cousins from a favoured branch of my family tree with whom I enjoy spending my time. When I agreed that they could come, she immediately started scouring the internet for flights she could afford. As soon as she found one, she booked it and there was no going back.

However, as the day of their arrival approached, my anxiety level increased. What was I thinking inviting them – or anyone for that matter – to come stay with me when I know how limited my activity levels can be because of my pain? How am I supposed to handle daily outings to my city’s tourist magnets when some days I can barely handle going from my couch to my kitchen? Not to mention my body’s intolerance of high heat and the back-to-back weather warnings we’ve been getting because of extreme heat over the past few weeks.

Well, the year flew by and they arrived from overseas for their two-week visit yesterday afternoon. When I saw them walk out of the baggage claim area I was so excited to see them that the anxiety that had built up in me was forgotten. I gave my cousin’s little girl a huge hug, then embraced my cousin tightly. It was four years since I last saw them – not including our frequent video calls. It feels good to have them here, in my home, with me. I have activities planned to cover the span of time that they are here, but I’ve included rest days to make sure I don’t overdo it and land in the ER because of my eagerness to make sure they have a good time.

I know my cousin’s main reason for wanting to visit was to spend time with me regardless of my health, but I don’t want them to go home feeling disappointed in any way because of my limited ability do things. I also don’t want to have to resort to sending them out on their own every day or with people they hardly know because I’m in too much pain to move after a few hours out and about. These are some of the many thoughts that contribute to my anxiety. There are more – worse thoughts – but writing them all down means thinking about them, and I much prefer thinking about two of my favourite people in the world being here, just to hang out with me, for two weeks.

 

“Fly Away” – Lenny Kravitz

 

Zentangle: Residual Feelings

I didn’t sleep much, or peacefully, the many times I dozed off last night because yesterday was a bit of a strained day for me and I couldn’t shake off the residual feelings of the day. First off, I had to be up early for an appointment with one of my specialists. That meant I had a lot of anxiety the night before, and while getting ready in the morning, because getting anywhere on time these days is difficult for me. If I have to wake up early for an appointment, I don’t get a good night’s sleep because I feel anxious about the possibility that I might oversleep and miss it altogether. Then getting showered and dressed, even though I checked the weather report and had an outfit picked out, is a major production that always takes longer than any amount of lead-time I give myself to get out the door allows. I keep hoping that I’ll finally figure out the right ratio of time I need depending on the level of pain I’m feeling on a given day, but for now I’ll have to live with the crapshoot that I might get to where I’m going on time.

However, my early morning appointment wasn’t the only thing that made it such a difficult day for me. Yesterday was the birthday of my great-aunt M. She passed away about 15 years ago after a long battle with cancer. She was a sweet, caring woman. Everyone who knew her loved and respected her. Even though she was my grandmother’s sister, my great-aunt M and I had a closer relationship. She was one of the few people in my life whose love and affections I never had to question, and I miss her terribly.

Throughout my life, Auntie M was a positive presence who always did things to make me feel special. Because she lived overseas, I didn’t see her often but I did have opportunities to spend time with her during long visits over summer vacations and other holidays and she always worked to sustain a significant presence in my life. When I was a child, she would send me packages with a mixture of toys, clothes, and sweet treats. I loved opening those gifts and seeing the pretty things she had taken her time to pick out just for me. As I grew older, Auntie M wrote me letters and sent me cards that always arrived on time for my birthday and holidays, and there were her phone calls just to say hello.

As much as I miss my Auntie M, I know I should be relieved that she’s not suffering anymore from such a long, terrible illness. Because it wasn’t possible to celebrate her birthday with her yesterday or chat with her to hear her reassure me that everything will be fine the way she used to; I spent my sleepless time doing things to distract myself from my currently hard to cope with life and sadness. I like the way this piece turned out and I’d like to think it turned out so well because Auntie M was helping me to steady my pen like she used to support me when she was alive.

Tile 36 Shaded - Tangles-Sand Swirl-Leaflet-N'Zeppel - String 008

Tile 36 Shaded – Tangles-Sand Swirl-Leaflet-N’Zeppel – String 008

 

We Repeat What We Learn

Have you ever realized that the answer to a problem or confusing situation you were searching for was in front of you the whole time?

I had one of those epiphanies this afternoon after waking from a nap. For a long while, I’ve been trying to figure out the behaviour of one of my brothers. His actions in response to a situation in his life have left me scratching my head and wondering how it’s possible that he can be so cold and detached. I’ve been trying to understand how he can possibly be okay with the knowledge that another person might be suffering because of him. It hit me today that his behaviour was taught to him through the actions or lack of action taken by adults in our lives when we were children.

I’ve been telling myself that I don’t understand his behaviour because we had similar childhood experiences but I didn’t turn out the same as him. The problem with that statement is that I’m wrong. I did turn out the same. I learned the same behaviours he did. However, because I don’t act out against others, I’ve taken an almost self-righteous attitude about how he is living his life. Instead of hurting others, I choose to act out those same behaviours within some areas of my life, which is just as harmful. I choose to hurt myself – not physically but through certain privations – which doesn’t make my actions any less harmful. And it definitely doesn’t mean that I am better adjusted to life than my brother. The scale of my hypocrisy is enormous.

My brother may be an adult, but his actions are those of a small boy because emotionally – and quite possibly psychologically – he has not matured beyond the stage of a child hurt by so many people in his life. The only difference between us is that I can recognize, although not always, when I am triggered and reacting to a situation because of past traumas and I try to figure out how to break out of that space. My brother doesn’t know that he occupies these vastly different temporal spaces and because of this lack of awareness, he’s creating more pain for himself and others. Unfortunately, he has made it clear to me that he doesn’t want my help or that of anyone else who has offered. I only hope he figures some of this out before the hurt he causes becomes too deep to ever be repaired.

 

R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts

 

I Won’t Let Pain Stop Me From Comforting A Child

I love my cousin’s children. It was incredible witnessing the birth of her third child a few months ago and having been there makes me feel a strong connection to him. However, her older son – he turned three recently – is working on staking a permanent claim on a corner of my heart. He is one of the sweetest, good-natured children I’ve ever known. He’s affectionate, empathetic, already fiercely protective of those he loves, and hopelessly irresistible. So irresistible, it’s impossible for me to say no to him.

When I spend time with him, my lap becomes his favourite place to sit. He plants himself on my lap for comfort, play, and conversations I sometimes have to pretend to understand – after all, not all three-year-olds have perfect pronunciation. I also become his go-to person when he needs to use the potty. He comes to me, no one else, tells me he has to go, then takes my hand, and leads me to the bathroom. I have to hold him in place so he doesn’t fall into the toilet bowl while he does his business then clean him up, and help him get re-dressed. This may not be my favourite part of spending time with him, but the trust he places in me feels like an enormous privilege.

The only problem with not saying no to him is that it adds to my pain levels. Unfortunately, he weighs more than his newborn brother so having him sit on my lap is one of the best and least enjoyable parts of spending time with him – if that makes any sense. There’s also the issue of how often he needs to use the potty because it means standing and sitting back down for the countless trips with him to the bathroom; or wherever else he feels like leading me: getting snacks from the kitchen or finding his toys. All of this added activity puts a strain on my legs and pelvis; and is most likely the reason I had the intense pain flare I wrote about in my last post after an overnight visit to celebrate his birthday two weeks ago.

Still, no matter how I try to justify it, none of this feels like a good enough reason to deny this little boy the physical closeness that gives him comfort, makes him feel secure, and happy. I also have to admit that even with the added pain; I don’t want to change how I interact with him because I want him to feel loved by me always.

 

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Teach Your Children

Food Is An Expression Of Love

Cooking food for someone might be one of the best ways to express your love for her or him. Some of my family members started cooking for me when they realized how ill I am. One uncle in particular cooks multiple meals then puts the food in individual, meal-sized portion aluminum containers, which he labels so I know what meal I can look forward to eating next. I store the containers in my freezer then defrost one when I’m ready to eat a delicious home-cooked meal.

Chicken Dinner 1 Chicken Dinner 2

Before I had surgery, my uncle was one of the sources of the red meat one of my doctors ordered me to eat to raise my hemoglobin level. I remember asking him to make me a lasagne when I came home after my surgery. When he showed up to my home he had two shopper bags filled with those aluminum containers with different meals. Tonight I’m eating chicken that my uncle made for me. As it’s been warming in my oven, the aroma of it has filled my home and it smells delicious. The smell of it reminds me of how much I’m loved.

 

Booker T & the M G ‘s – Green Onions