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.

 

 

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InkTober: Day 22 – Little

Yesterday I wrote about focusing on the big picture in life. That doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the importance of the little things we do or say to deepen the connections we have with others. One of the little things my parents taught me as a child is most important, is saying ‘thank you’. When I went with my parents to dinners or other events at the homes of friends or family members, I was always expected to personally thank the hosts for their hospitality before walking out the door. If I forgot, my mother would make a point of sending me back into the house to say these words, “Thank you for having me for (insert name of occasion).”

When I was a kid, I hated doing it, especially if it was the home of someone who made me feel uncomfortable or they served food I didn’t like. Not to mention that I saw it as another aspect of my strict upbringing where I felt my parents made an unnecessary fuss. However, as an adult I recognize the value of what my parents taught me. People appreciate small gestures of gratitude and thanks. Whether it’s the manager who interviews you as a potential employee – I always send a ‘thank you’ note or email after an interview –, or the friend who lifts your mood when you need it most. Showing my gratitude in a tangible way is ingrained in me.

I keep stashes of ‘thank you’ cards at home and I’m always drawn to their beautiful designs and packaging in stationery stores. Although, I don’t believe it’s necessary to spend money to say thank you. A handwritten note or letter goes a long way in these times of electronic communication. Besides, you never know how much such a little thing as letting someone know you appreciate him or her can mean; and the best part about expressing gratitude is you don’t have to wait until a person does something for you. You can simply thank them for being a positive presence in your life.

InkTober - Day 22 - Little

 

 

First Blogiversary Reflections and Gratitude

When I started this blog a year ago, it was because I didn’t feel I was being heard in real life; especially by the doctors trying to figure out the cause of my illness. Filling the pages of a journal felt flat and empty. Although I was purging my emotions and thoughts in writing, it didn’t fulfill the need I had to be heard. I needed a place to speak uncensored and honestly about everything that had happened and what continues to happen to me because of my illness without worrying about judgement from friends and family. I created this space with the hope that someone would read my words and truly hear what I have to say, and maybe even learn from my experiences. I had no idea that this blog would lead to so many incredible things.

Writing here became a complement to my therapy sessions. I’m fortunate to have a great mental health support team while I make my way through the difficulties imposed on my life by illness and its unavoidable isolation. The talk therapy sessions with my therapist, which are mostly virtual now, help me to get out of my head and see what’s happening to me through the compassionate eyes of another person for a few hours each month. My therapist also helps me find positive ways to cope with my unending pain and overwhelming low, blue periods. However, writing here gives me an immediate outlet to articulate my thoughts and feelings. I’m connected to people who sympathize and want to extend their support, and people who truly empathize because they have lived through or are living with physical or emotional pain similar to mine.

Because of this blog, the support system I have now extends beyond my family and friends. The community I connect to stretches around the globe. It amazes me that each time I write here my words are reaching people in parts of the world to which I’ve never traveled. I have the opportunity to share my life experiences and be inspired by the lives of so many others living with chronic illnesses. Even though it might expose their vulnerabilities, people who connect to this space share their knowledge about living with chronic pain, medications, medical treatments, and self-advocacy in a world where doctors don’t always give the lived experiences of patients enough credit. This community makes me feel less alone and isolated, and I hope I do the same for some of them.

Others have helped to reawaken my creativity when the frustration I felt because of the haze of pain medications was at its height. I found muses here that brought poetry writing back to me with questions they ask in their lives about trust, truth, and change – among other things. I even found beautiful music that helps in moments when I need to calm my mind and body, and feel grounded so I can create my own art in the art/gratitude journal I never would have started without this blog. There are so many creative thoughts, images, and ideas exchanged in this community that it’s possible to learn something new every day.

Looking back at this year of writing, I can see how I managed to hold myself together. More importantly, I can read about the help and support I received here and in real life, and I’m grateful for all of it.

 

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Every Day I Write The Book

Gratitude and Creativity: How I’m Healing

One of the best things I’ve ever done for myself is start my art/gratitude journal. Starting this journal connected me to my quiet self and gave me a tool to help heal myself. Since coming out of surgery – probably the second day after – I started drawing and colouring. With drawing and colouring, I was able to tune out a lot of my pain, other patients, and the busyness of the medical staff and support staff around me.

The first things I made while I was in the hospital contain a loving kindness meditation mantra that I learned many years ago in a mindfulness meditation course. The mantra is

May I live in safety
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I live my life with ease

I often say this mantra when I feel anxiety. It helps to calm and ground me. Drawing it helped me feel less anxious about all the things that were happening to me in the first few days of my recovery. Things like the drastic drop in my blood pressure (it fell to 60/45), the unbearable pain flare when they removed my epidural, then my blood pressure spiking in response to the pain, and starting to walk again, which was incredibly painful. It was all very intense, so I needed something to keep me calm; as the doctors and nurses did their jobs to get my vitals back within normal ranges and prepare me to go home.

I’m glad I had the forethought to pack my art/gratitude journal, my Zentangle notebook, a new sketchbook, coloured pencils, and markers in my suitcase. I’m glad I’ve found things I can do, even under the fog of pain medication, that relax and calm me while giving me a creative outlet. The things that so many people believe are meant only for children have become significant tools for coping with my pain, and they are contributing to my healing.

 

Gratitude and Creativity: Light Up With Happiness

This past week was a good one – all things considered – with the news of a surgery date making it even better. What made it good to start? Last Tuesday, I went to stay at the home of my adoptive Aunt C. It’s the first time since I was about twelve that I’ve spent any extended time with her, but it felt like no time had elapsed. It’s not that I haven’t seen her at the odd holiday dinner or picnic over the years where I’ve received tight, warm hugs overflowing with affection that showed how genuinely she cares for me, but being in her house and having her spoil me for a few days was nice.

When I was a little girl, I used to spend weekends at Aunt C’s house. Sometimes the excitement of the weekend started early. I would get to take the subway by myself to meet her when she finished work, at a designated place, in the central train station downtown. Then we would take the train out to her house in a suburb outside the city. At her house, it would just be the two of us. She would make me my favourite meals and desserts I loved. Aunt C would take me to movies; we would go shopping; or we would just hang out around the house. On top of that, she would treat me to little presents that would light me up with happiness. My time with her was always so happy – and because I believed she was perfect – I once asked her to adopt me.

Light Up With Happiness - Shadow

Light Up With Happiness

I felt some of that happiness this past week, as she showered me with attention, care, and concern for my poor health. There was also a lot of laughter. So much laughter, that at times my pain increased, but I didn’t mind because it was good to laugh with her. We spent some time talking in detail about things that have happened in both our lives that it wasn’t always possible to talk about with crowds of people around at family events. At one point, I questioned myself about why I never made more of an effort to keep Aunt C close in my life, but I know the answer is my mother and the ever-present fear I had about betraying or hurting her. In some ways, it was a get to know you again week, and in others, we just picked up from where we left off years ago.

It won’t be too long until my next visit with Aunt C. Apart from wanting to keep our renewed connection strong; she offered to take care of me after my surgery. I already have plans in place for my immediate aftercare, but I’m grateful for her offer and I will go to stay with her at some point during my recovery. I’m also grateful for the chance to reclaim and rebuild a relationship that was important in shaping my understanding of motherly love. Although, most of all, I’m grateful I’m in a place, emotionally, where I can accept the love she offers to me.

 

Lee Ann Womack – I Hope You Dance

Gratitude and Creativity: Flowers for J

This flower doodle is for my close friend J who had surgery on Friday. Everything went well and now she’s away outside the city at her parent’s home recovering.

I wanted to be at the hospital for her, like she’s been for me so many times in the past two years, but I couldn’t. My pain wouldn’t allow me to and neither would she. J has been a rock for me during my illness and I will never be able to express the level of gratitude I feel for her. She is the one person I know I can count on no matter what. I wish that I could do more to support her now besides just talking to her on the phone and sending text messages. She’s one friend there isn’t anything that would be too great for me to do for her.

Bright Flowers

Bright Flowers

When she’s back home in about a week’s time, I’m hoping we can plan a sleep over like two teen-aged girls. She’s done that for me a few times and we always have loads of fun.

 

Bruno Mars – Count On Me

Discovering James Radcliffe Through Love

Yesterday I wrote about growing in my understanding of love. As I was uploading my post, I was on a video call with a cousin that lives overseas. He was miffed that I hadn’t shared my blog with him. I had to tell him that this blog is “a space to empty my thoughts and feelings where I don’t have to explain myself to anyone”, worry about judgement, and I receive support in a way that’s different from the people who know me personally who try to tailor things based on what they think I need. I also had to ensure him that not sharing my blog with him doesn’t mean I love him any less – he is after all at the top of my list of favourite British cousins.

Today as I looked through the feedback I received from readers, one piqued my curiosity and I’m glad I clicked through to his site. That reader is James Radcliffe. The first thing I read when I reached his site is this, “I write for all kinds of reasons. One of the big ones is: Writing about something lets me know how I feel about it; and why.” That statement captures the exact reason I write, but have never been able to articulate so precisely. It’s the reason I started this blog when the frustration of living under the cloud of pain medications and not being able to write poetry became unbearable. I’ve written poetry for so long that when I look through my writing I can tell you exactly where I was (figuratively and literally), what I was living through, and what I was feeling. My poetry is a chronology of my life and this blog has restarted its flow.

In addition to his words, James’ site also gave me another lovely surprise: his music. A few months ago when I started looking for ways to cope better with my illness and chronic pain I kept bumping into ‘Tibetan Healing Sounds’ and ‘Tibetan Singing Bowl Meditation Chakra Healing’ videos. I find the sounds and tones in the recordings very calming. Those sounds and tones are present in James Radcliffe’s music. I wrote this while listening to his latest album and the calm I feel is wonderful.

I have to believe that it’s no coincidence that writing about love and opening myself led me to discover James Radcliffe and I am happy to have found him. Take a listen and if you enjoy it support his work.

 

James Radcliffe – Present : Reflections [Deluxe]