Spirit Birthdays and Butter Tarts

Thanks Giving Dinner

Yesterday, while searching through my email for correspondence with another client, an email from 2013 popped up in front of me.  I did a bit of a double-take, because I recognized the name, though it had been five years since our session.

I wouldn’t normally reach out to a past client like this when we haven’t had contact for years, but I kept thinking about reaching out, getting these little nudges – which are usually invitations to experience something neat, on a spiritual level.

So I sent her a quick hello, in as respectful a way as possible, and suggested that perhaps, this was her dog’s way of saying hi after a few years.  Sometimes they like to take advantages of little connections like this.

Turns out, the pup’s birthday is next week.  While this beautiful dog had left her body, she still wanted to reach out to her human mom, and remind her.

It was very sweet, and pretty cool!  One of those tiny little miracles I enjoy so much as a part of this work.  You can’t *make* them happen, but sometimes if you listen to the little nudges, and reach out carefully and respectfully, neat things like this can happen.

Today, is also my mother’s birthday!  I have a little reminder set up in my calendar, because I don’t want to ever let a December 12th slip by without remembering it’s my mother’s birthday.  I like to just say aloud, Happy Birthday, before I do anything else with my day.

I would say my mom is having a good time in spirit.  I often feel her around when Sweetie and I are travelling or having a good time – I hear her laugh, layered with the laughing of others.  I feel her in the company of my grandmother, her mother, and my great-aunt.  I think they like to travel together, or tag along with us and I’m sure the other family members when we’re enjoying ourselves.

It’s neat, how happy I always perceive her to be, and she wants us to know she’s just fine.

It’s so interesting that birthdays seem to be a good time to connect with our loved ones in spirit.  I think it’s because we are thinking of them, and often the memories are lighter and happier on birthdays, than on other anniversary dates.  A lifetime of celebration creates a lightness around their birthdays – a dynamic energy that’s often full of love and cheerful memories.

I also think it’s easier for *them* to connect with *us*, when we create space for lightness and happy memories.  It takes a little discipline sometimes, and I will admit, my friends, I can get into a habit of being a tad morose on grief-related dates.  But I have some positive advice:

A friend of mine visits her grandfather’s grave on his birthday and eats a butter tart, which he loved.  I thought that was a great idea, so I’ve *also* had butter tarts on the anniversary of my mother’s death, as a way of doing something positive and creating happy habits on these important days.

I also happen to really enjoy butter tarts myself.  I spent a winter once, working on a recipe until I perfected it.  Perhaps I’ll post that later on!

I found I really needed to *do* something, because it does not do me, nor my mother, any good at all to allow myself to get depressed every year around dates of sad events, or dates which REMIND me of sad events.  It’s a lot to carry, and I’ve been working on letting it go.

As I mentioned before, sometimes we *need* to carry our grief with us for a time.  We don’t want to let it go too soon, because in a way, the deepness and length of time we grieve is a way of honoring what that person or animal friend truly meant to us.

But grief is also something you develop a relationship with.  You don’t have to fight it, or get rid of it, or get over it.  I personally welcome grief, especially in the beginning, because I know it’s helping me to get out all the feelings that demand witness.  Grief helps with that.

I also know my sneaky little brain can get into habits of thinking about the same things every day, or at certain times of the year, and I have learned that it can be a positive thing to engage these thoughts and negotiate with them, or re-purpose them, so they’re not something that’s simply happening to you, making you helpless and miserable, but instead something you can interact with, and actively engage, even incorporate into your life.

My mother died in April 2015, and today she would have been 67.  This morning, that thought made me sad.  Relatively speaking, she died young, certainly before anyone expected her to pass.  Of course, her birthday made me a bit sad this morning; that’s okay.  But do you think my mother, laughing and travelling in spirit, would want me to feel sad *all day* on her *birthday!?*  Every year???  OF COURSE NOT.

So for her sake, and my own, I have been incorporating these new little rituals in my life, on these significant dates, so that I can tell my body and my brain that while we can still feel sad, we can also celebrate, connect, and care for ourselves and those we have lost to spirit.

(Whenever I’m talking to myself, I seem to always shift to the plural form, “we”, which usually means my spirit form, my brain consciousness, my body, my dynamic layers of life experience, and all the people I’m connected with – including you, my dear reader, because we are surely as connected to each other through this blog as two trees on opposite edges of a forest, connected through a mass of touching roots.

 

I just realized that I need a happy ritual for my mother’s birthday.  What should it be?

Today, December 12th, and although St. Nicholas Day is December 6th, I have pretty vivid memories of getting little presents in my polished dress shoes on the same day my mother received her birthday presents.  There were sometimes red and white carnations, or a poinsettia from my father, and often there would be chocolate chip bundt cake.

Maybe that’s what I’ll do.  I’ll make that bundt cake recipe.  I need to get a bundt pan.

And I should pick up some stocking stuffers for Sweetie and wrap them!

Tonight is especially lovely, because we have the “Sail Past” in Ucluelet.   It’s this charming community tradition where locals decorate their boats in Christmas lights and sail around the harbour, shooting off fireworks!  It’s quite delightful and part of the charm of living in this small little town.  We have lived here for NINE years now!

WOW!

Anyway.  I guess I’m writing this post to reach out to those of you who may be missing your loved ones in spirit, especially this time of year.  I know it’s hard.  It’s not easy for me to talk about how tough it has been at times.

I’m so grateful to my friends – so many of whom I made through this blog, who have literally shown me how to have positive, happy feelings on days when I might otherwise be inclined to be sad.

I’m so thankful, and I love you all!

Happy Birthday Mom, and Happy Holidays, my friends!

 

 

 

With this ghost ring…

The most common greeting I’m receiving these days is, “How’s married life!”  I usually respond with “Fabulous!” or “Wonderful!”  but occasionally the cheeky, “Fantastic – we’ve finally consummated our relationship after 11 years!”  I have difficult to shock friends, so this response always gets a laugh!

I am still anxiously awaiting our wedding photos, and I know they’ll be brilliant!  Our photographer is one of the best, and I’m so glad we booked her.  I’ve had a couple of people come up to me since our wedding, expressing regret that they didn’t invest a bit more into their photos.  If you’re one of those people, remember, it’s never too late – and you can always renew your vows if your photos or memories of your first wedding was less than ideal.  My own parents renewed their vows and I remember the ceremony, as I and my sister attended, with my best friend’s father officiating.  To me, *that* was my parent’s wedding, even though I know that technically, they were married before I was born.

So remember, if you wish you’d had more flowers or eloped and wish you had invited a few friends and family – you still can!  It’s never too late, until you’re dead.  Even then, sometimes it’s not too late!

We have all these funny little social rules, don’t we?  They’re good things when they keep our society rubbing along with a minimum of conflict.  I’m a firm believer in manners, courtesy, and consideration, for example.  But I’m the first to throw convention in the garbage if it’s damaging or simply useless!

I had an interesting dream visitation last week.  That alone is unusual; as a medium, spirit folks don’t have to wait until I’m asleep to get my attention.  They’ll just pop in as soon as I think of them, or when I am talking about something connected to them that they care about.

Here’s the backstory:

Sweetie and have both inherited our mother’s wedding rings.  I, after my mother passed away, and Sweetie, after her father passed away and her own mother wanted Sweetie to have them.  We are *so grateful* and humbled to have been able to each take our mother’s wedding rings, which lived on their hands for decades during their own lifelong marriages.

We call them our “fancy” rings, meaning, we don’t wear them to work.  Both rings have diamonds, and I am simply not allowed to wear rings with stones to my work at the hospital, and Sweetie doesn’t want to wear her fancy ring to her job flipping B&Bs, which is physical and very dirty.

Instead, we wear placeholder rings made from silicone.  Sweetie likes hers quite a bit, but I’m not in love with mine.  I want my everyday wedding ring to be a permanent fixture, and my mother’s diamond to be something I can add to my hand on my non-hospital days – but I want my wedding band to stay on my hand all the time.

When did I become a traditionalist?  Well, I guess since our ceremony held so much meaning for me, I don’t want a cheaper-feeling ring to symbolize it.

I think that’s the part that bothers me – I know this ring will eventually wear out.  If the company is still around, they’ll replace it, but the point is I don’t want to be wearing a wedding band that will need replacement.

As I write this, a realized that silicone does not hold any sort of energy, either.  With many objects, wood, metal, even some plastic, I pick it up and immediately flash back to the last time I handled it, what I was thinking about, how I was feeling, who I was with.

I *want* my wedding band to hold on to the energy of my day-to-day.  You know, MY MARRIAGE.

So I decided that I don’t really like this silicone band, and I’m going to buy a gold wedding band to compliment my mother’s ring.

Then I had a brainwave.

My mother’s ring is pink gold, custom-made from a goldsmith in North Bay, Ontario, from a huge Russian rose-gold ring, before rose gold was popular or easily attainable.  The diamond in my ring is the same one I remember from her yellow gold ring in my childhood, I think my mother went through a couple of versions of her wedding ring, upgrading over the years on major anniversaries.  My father had communicated with the local jeweler my mother’s desire for a pink gold wedding ring, and the jeweler had kept his eyes open for months before he’d procured this large ring with enough metal to work with.

Remembering the story my father had told me about the making of the ring that would become my own wedding ring, I realized that I too had an unused pink gold ring sitting in my jewelry box.  It’s engraved with the initials of my great-grandmother, my mother’s mother’s mother.

Her ring was passed down to me, a teenager at the time of her death, through my mother and grandmother.  (The ladies in our family tend to live a *very* long time.)

As a teenager and in my early 20s, I LOVED this ring.  It is hand-engraved with details, it’s unique pink gold, (even more unusual when it was made, possibly in the early or mid 1900s) and it made me feel connected with the woman my great-grandmother was, when she was in her teens and twenties.  I met her a handful of times before her death in the 80s, but I honestly don’t remember much about those meetings.  I would have been 5 years old or younger, when I did meet her.

I wore the ring consistently for fifteen years, and have not worn it much in my 30s at all, mainly because in my maturity, the ring will need to be resized.  It’s too small for my ring finger, but too large for my pinky.

So I had this thought – why not remake this ring into my wedding band?  It seemed like a great solution!

Well, that night, I had a vivid dream.  I was visiting a place which was familiar to me, but also felt like I hadn’t visited in decades.  It was a two-storey stone cottage with a stone wall surrounding the comfortable yard.  The enclosed gardens were lush and well-established, and a pink climbing rose had overtaken most of the cottage roof.  The cottage itself was clean, whitewashed inside, and was quite warm and comfortable.  There was no glass in the windows, just open air.  Intuitively, I know it never gets cold there, and the rains are gentle, never blowing inside the house.  The air is fresh and cool, not damp or chilly, and there was a small, low fire in the kitchen, and a wood stove in the livingroom.  Polished wood plank floors throughout.  No electricity, but neither was it needed.  The land surrounding the house was rolling green beauty, with a forest visible a few miles away, and waving grass, wheat and flax in the fields close by.

A woman similar to my own age welcomed me inside.  We had tea (the best tea!) out of well-used and well-cared-for china cups, with soft ginger cookies.  We chatted for what seemed like an afternoon, in the kitchen.  I visited her dog, either a large spaniel or a small retriever, and her large and black pet rabbit, in her walled garden.  It was a lovely visit, like meeting a friend of a friend for the first time.

When I woke up, I realized who it was – my brain connected the dots.  It took the rest of the day for the realization to really sink it – I no longer felt good about remaking my great-grandmother’s ring into a wedding band!  This lovely lady was my maternal great-grandmother, kindly, politely impressing upon me that she did not want me to do anything to the ring that would cause the engravings to be altered.  It’s not that she objected to it being resized or remade, but if the engravings were lost, the history of the piece would be lost too.  Looking at it, no one would know the ring was unusual, there would be nothing to hint at its history, and the knowledge of that history very well might die with me.

I became obsessed with my great-grandmother for nearly two days – and then I was invited to view a family tree on Ancestry – I tree I was connected with after having my DNA processed and connecting with a third cousin who has an incredibly detailed online family tree.  There, I found this:

Untitled design (10)

A photo of my great-grandmother, looking very much like she did in my dream!  I don’t believe I had ever seen a photo of her when she was this young!  Although you can’t see her hands, I think she may even be wearing the ring in this photo.  I wonder if I’ll ever find out?

It’s very unusual for a relative to care what happens to their belongings after they die.  In sessions, this is not an uncommon question: Is it alright if I sell grandmother’s house?  Is it okay with her if I remake her ring into a necklace?  Or even, Does grandmother mind if I trade in her car?  She loved that car.

I had frankly assumed it would be okay with my great-grandmother that it would be just fine with her to remake her ring.  I had even assumed that her practical Scottish heritage would be pleased at my practicality!  She wasn’t upset, but she certainly wanted it known that she does, very much still care what happens to her ring!

So I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with my great grandmother’s ring.  I could have it resized to wear it again, but I could not wear it as a wedding band as long as it has engravings (as it’s not infection prevention kosher at the hospital.)  Part of me wonders if I should pass it along to one of her great-great-great granddaughters, when one of them becomes a teenager.  I certainly should specify this in my own will, as it’s clear that my ancestor in spirit actually IS still invested in the physical object she left behind!

Ashes to Dust Bunnies

So, this entry might be a tad sad-inducing, if you’ve recently lost a loved one. I do my best to approach death, a messy fact of life, with some good humour, but it’s still sad, so here goes!

I’m able to have much more “normal” conversations with my (dead) mother, now that some time has passed. I think this is because I’m feeling so much better, I’m gradually putting myself back together, physically and emotionally. It feels good to heal.

I’ve been spending some brain time on looking back on the worst moments of my grief, and examining what sparked it. Admiring how something random can blind-side you, in a very weird way. Grief, like I’ve said, is the ultimate shape-shifter, and will sneak up on ya.

I want to tell you the story of Mom’s Jewlery box.

When my mother married my father (I think she was 19? They were young!) her father made her a beautiful jewelry box as a wedding present. It was oak, I believe, some heavy, hard, heirloom-quality wood. He’d burned or carved her initials into the lower right corner of the lid, and lined it with royal purple velvet. It had at one tray that sat on top, so you’d put the bulky or special items in the bottom, and the top tray held the rings, the necklaces, the pretty and delicate items you wanted close at hand.

I’d admired that jewelry box my whole life. Whenever my mother opened it, she had this pause of ritual. She loved her jewelry box too, and it was full of precious items that meant so much to her.

There was the pink gold antique monogrammed ring, with my great-grandmother’s initials. There was the sparkly shaved emerald and diamond ring from the shopping channel. Pretty and inexpensive.

There was the star sapphire ring set in white gold, that was one of my father’s first gifts to her. Other sapphires would follow, for anniversaries, birthdays, special occasions.

There was the small diamond yellow gold ring that was her first engagement ring, then later this was traded in for a larger diamond, on a significant anniversary. Finally, on another anniversary, the ring transformed again from yellow gold to pink gold, and to a setting she specifically requested (may even have been custom designed) so that it wouldn’t catch on gloves or other things, so she could wear it every day easily. It became a part of her hand.

Then there were the moments, forever tied to the scene of my mother opening the jewelry box before something wonderful happened. One day she opened it and gave me my great-grandmother’s pink gold ring. I wore it all through my teenage years, and I always get compliments.

For one of my special occasions, I think when I graduated from grade 8 and entered high school, she gave me the star sapphire. I would wear my great-grandmother’s ring on my right hand and the sapphire on my left hand. For a significant birthday, maybe my 16th or 18th, she gave me one of the earlier sapphire and diamond rings, set in yellow gold. I would wear this one occasionally in my 20s when I wanted to feel fancy, and many people would mistake it for an engagement ring.

Many times when my mother stood before her dresser and opened her jewelry box, she brought out something small. Maybe it was Cadbury crème eggs, and we’d eat one each while playing a board game on her bed. So many happy moments with my mother started with her opening that box. It wasn’t what she gave me out of the box, it was what she said to me as she gave me these things. I love you. I’m proud of you. You’re special to me.

So when I heard from my dad, in the month before my mother died, that she wanted her ashes to be buried in that jewelry box, my brain kind of cracked open. I couldn’t reconcile these happy moments that were tied into my most precious memories of my mom and her jewelry box, with this new fact that it would essentially become her coffin.

Ashes are such a funny thing. I always wondered why people would keep the ashes of their loved ones. Isn’t that weird? I’d think. It seems like the introduction of a bad sit-com, the urn on the mantle, a magnet for dust, the mother-in-law watching over the household still, just waiting for her jar to be accidentally toppled and spilled, resulting in her remains being sucked up with the dirt devil dust buster.

I see ashes and I always think, “that would be a bitch to clean out of carpet.”

Whenever I have had a pet pass away, I didn’t think for a moment about keeping their ashes. I worked at an animal hospital for years as a teenager, and I know what happens, how their bodies are processed. We always did it respectfully and carefully, but it’s such a weird thing. I experienced this again when Mocha died in my arms in 2012. She was there, her body was Mocha. Once she had died, her body didn’t even look like her anymore. It was suddenly this foreign object in the room, a problem to be solved.

We have a pet cemetery in Tofino, but there’s an issue with people not digging deep enough, and the wolves get in there to hurry up nature’s decomposition process. I didn’t want to risk that, Mocha was a big dog.

So I brought her to the vet, paid for cremation, and did not request the ashes back. I had her collar and her leash. I have them still.

When Leo died, I did the same thing. Without a car, I couldn’t even access the pet cemetery. The vet came into town and I handed him over, tearfully paid for the cremation and went home to change my screensaver to a picture of him in his prime. I missed Leo while he was gone (thank goodness for reincarnation, he’s back!) and ashes wouldn’t have helped me at all!

When my mother died, she was cremated and placed in her jewelry box, which was still on her dresser, right beside the bed. It horrified me. At first.

I didn’t *want* to see her ashes. Again my brain cracked open – how can we distill a human body down to something so perfunctory? Something that looks just like the ash from a wood stove? Something that sits in a plastic bag in my mother’s fucking jewelry box?

Something that could collect dust, that could be spilled, and sucked up with a hoover?

I didn’t voice any of these thoughts. My grief had become this roiling internal process that was dangerous to others. I was afraid that I’d say the wrong thing, say something hurtful unintentionally, or make myself vulnerable to unkindness.

And my dark humour was kicking in. My mother was ashes. She was dust. A really dark corner of my former-comedienne’s brain was wanting to play pranks with her ashes. Send some to a celebrity she had a crush on, by just lightly dusting a fan card with them. Sprinkle some on the seat of a chair to dust the pants of the next person to sit down. Put some in an ashtray and not tell anyone what they were. “Who here smokes?” “My mother did! Right at the end!”

I didn’t, of course, but I was pretty busy horrifying myself by spelunking into the ever-widening depths of my dark, inappropriate humour.

During the horrible, painful, awful funeral service, which I’m sure anyone else would’ve said was beautiful but I was in too much of a fog to think something nice about a ceremony that was being held because my mother had died, a service in a day that was supposed to somehow sum up an entire lifetime. A time when I just could not get over the inexplicable shock of my mother’s body fitting into that jewelry box that was not on her dresser where it belonged, but waaaaaay out of context, on a table at the front of the Church, next to fresh flowers and an 8 x 10 photo of her taken by my dad during their visit out here in Tofino.

I know I carried the box to the car, held it in my lap in the way to the grave site, and set it down on the wet grass, in the rain.

I know that after I left, that beautiful box tied to so many moments went into the ground.

I was glad of that, eventually. As my brain untwisted in the months that would follow, I realized that I’m really glad and grateful that part of my mother’s ashes are housed in a box her own father made for her to commemorate her marriage. It would’ve been too surreal to see some classic version of an urn go into the ground, or something someone else had made for a mother not their own.

I realize that part of the pain I experienced in this time was because the jewelry box was so exactly *right*. It wasn’t surreal at all. I never once worried about dropping her ashes while I carried them, or held them in my lap. There were no flashes of humorous accidents in the church or at the grave site.

Before the service, my Dad had bought three little heart-shaped boxes, engraved with my mother’s name, and had taken a small amount of my mother’s ashes for himself, for my sister and for me. His little silver box sits on the bedside dresser, where my mom’s jewelry box used to live, next to the 8 x 10 photo. It’s right.

Mine lived in my sock drawer for nine months after I came home. What do I do with these ashes? Where can I put them that my cat won’t get them, where can they go so they won’t end up in a hoover, someday down the road???

While my mother was sick, my Dad’s own mother passed away. He has had just a hell of a couple of years. His mom wanted to be cremated too, and she wanted her ashes scattered into this gorgeous but remotely-located canyon in Algonquin Park. The poor ashes had been sitting in the basement rumpus room for months, because no one was really up to the hike to the canyon, and because ashes are patient. Dust bunnies are harmless.

When I offered to do it I had a discussion with my dad about *how* I would get the ashes over the edge of a canyon. Those cliffs have updrafts and I didn’t want to pull a Big Lebowski! Dad thought about it and came up with a solution: he transferred all the dusty ash to a paper bag, double-bagged it, and tied it with twine. A couple of rains and the bags would dissolve, and the ashes would be free to move around the canyon. But for the moment of the launch, they’d stay together with enough heft and weight that I could huck them far enough over the edge of the cliff that they would have some chance of making it down to the bottom.

I have some photos from this day, and it was gorgeous. I realized what a gift my Oma had given to me, this beautiful sunny hike, to a place I never would have seen if she hadn’t stipulated her wishes for her ashes.

It’s good, I thought, that ashes create a human inconvenience. Maybe I could get really crazy with my ashes! Demand some be scattered in Scotland, in Germany, in Ucluelet, and in all of those places I mean to visit in my lifetime and hope I do. It’s one last thing you can do to share something special with someone who cares enough to carry out your wishes! Like a morbid, reverse geocaching!

After a long time, I moved my mother’s ashes from my sock drawer to my office. It’s perfect actually. It’s next to a duplicate 8 x 10 photo of my mother, and a family photograph collage I’d created while I was keeping my Dad company in the week after the service. The little silver box sparkles when the sun hits it, and I can see it when I’m sitting in my reading chair, on the phone doing session.

Behind that photo is a jar that used to contain cat treats, and now contains Sunshine. Something about having my mother’s ashes made me want to keep Sunshine’s. I mainly wanted them back because I could actually afford to get the “cremate my pet separately and return the ashes” service, where that wasn’t an option before, but I had no idea at the time what I would do with them! It turns out, I just left them in the trunk of my car and drove them around for a couple of months until finally, when I moved my Mother’s ashes to my office, I moved Sunny’s ashes in there beside her.

And so they sit together, (like they do in heaven, by the way) ashes collecting dust bunnies, which I carefully clean away. So there’s no need for a hoover.

Weaponized Victim Power!

weaponized victimhood

 

Sweetie and I are both Aries. Though we appear to be quiet, we both have fiery personalities. I remember this most when we have little fights. Our emotions are hugely powerful, the energy in the room snaps with tension and the need to be heard.

 

I grew up in a family that forbade open fighting. If my sister and I argued, we’d both get in trouble and sent to our separate rooms – so this drove the fighting underground. I don’t know why this happened, but I’m sure it had something to do with parents wanting to protect their kids from conflict. Every family has it’s dynamics, this was ours: still waters have a damn powerful undertow. My emotion was something to hide and strategically release later on.

 

Sweetie grew up in a large family with FOUR older brothers. As the youngest by 12 years and the only girl, she had to learn to SHOUT to be heard. When we got together, these differing styles of reacting to conflict came into sharp relief. My icy silence with her volume. We both had to move towards the middle.

 

I brought the silence through my adulthood.  I *never* fought in any of my relationships prior to being with Sweetie. She had to actually teach me HOW to fight. And I had to teach her how to bring it down a notch. I think that ultimately, when you both want to be together, you’re both equally motivated to figure shit out.

 

A few weeks ago, Sweetie said something to me that probably would have blown up into a massive fight had she said any sooner:

 

“You position yourself as the victim. When you do that, I am the asshole, and that’s not fair to me.”

 

This may have been said at a loud volume.

 

It was a completely silly mini-fight, we were both tired and I was snippy because I’d expected her to realize I needed help with the groceries and skipped the part where I should have asked nicely. I went straight to cranky. Sweetie will throw cranky right back into my lap, she doesn’t take that shit from me for a second.

 

A few years ago, accusing me of “positioning myself as a victim” would have deeply upset me. I would have felt *wounded*. You know, victimized. I would have allowed the hurt of this statement to injure me and my pain would be proof of my innocence and status as a victim in this fight.

 

As soon as she said it, I could see she wanted to grab the words out of the air and stuff them back into her mouth. The words stopped our fight dead. I was stunned.

 

She was right.

 

In that moment, I realized I utilize my own sense of victimization to elevate myself in any conflict. I am the one done wrong here, I’m a good person with good intentions, therefore I *can’t* be the one at fault here. It’s this other person who’s doing me wrong.

 

Right?

 

I had no idea I was weaponizing my own victimization! And how messed up is that??? It’s probably the most toxic guilt trip you could ever throw at a loved one.

 

I’ve been thinking about it for weeks now, and I’ve started to see this tactic at play in other areas of my life. If and when someone positions themselves as being victimized by me, there’s not much I can do about it… Except feel victimized! For example, our previous landlady felt victimized by our use of the shared washer and dryer. To keep the peace and avoid conflict, I started to bike as big a bag of laundry as I could carry the 30 minutes into town to process it at the laundry mat. Talk about a martyr complex. I hate conflict so much, I’d rather bike in the rain with garbage bags of my clothes and spent an extra $40 a month so I can avoid one more conversation, feeling angry and victimized the entire time.

 

It’s interesting how two people can weaponize victimization in a single conflict. In grief, there is sometimes terrible fallout for families after losing a loved one, particularly a parent or child. I’ve previously talked about the very common question that comes up during readings: Does ____ see how ____ is behaving?

 

There is so much pain behind that question.

 

I’m working my way through the book “Nonviolent Communication”. I’m still learning how to shift my own tendency to position myself as a victim, and instead ask “What is my unmet need? What is the unmet need of this other person?”

 

The answers are not always obvious, and sometimes, we’re limited by the actions of other people. Like Sweetie & I are motivated by our mutual desire to get along and work things out, it’s hard to set aside your own power of victimization. Although Sweetie managed to perfectly time her illumination of my own victim complex, if she’d done that any earlier, I probably would’ve been mighty pissed. You can’t just take away someone’s weaponized victimhood. That would only super-charge it.

 

I really like Catherine’s comment in the previous entry. She said: I tend to diffuse potential heated confrontations nowadays by simply stating that I am unwilling to get into an argument, we have differing opinions, I respect theirs and we’ll have to agree to disagree. It’s like a firework being drenched in water : it fizzles out very quickly!

 

This is great in situations where you can walk away, where agreeing to disagree is an option. It’s a viable option in a lot of long-term relationships… but hey, I can only affect my own sense of victimization. I can only choose to disarm my own victim weaponization. If someone else wants to hold on to their own sense of injury because it helps them to feel more in-control, more powerful, well, the only thing we can do with that is not be victimized by that action. Break the cycle of weaponized victimization.

 

Lay down arms, accept, and observe. Maybe set up some boundary patrol.

 

Does this all make sense you guys? Have you ever caught yourself weaponizing your own victimization?

 

 

Signs in Spiders

spider

Alrighty. Thank you everyone for hanging in during this blog-blackout. How do I explain what happened? Well, between the move, and all of the overwhelming family stuff, I became pretty blocked. I’ve always used writing as a way of getting through difficult times; not being able to write has made things more difficult to process. Once you stop writing, it’s more challenging to get going again – you stopped for a reason, in my case I was feeling pretty shit-kicked, emotionally.

I’m not sure what I was waiting for. I’ve written several posts in my head without actually typing them out, so I’ll start with that one.

In sessions, a lot of people ask about signs from their loved one – how do they know when she or he is around? What do they do to get our attention?

My grandmother, (my mother’s mother) sends most of the family lady bugs, although I believe she helped send me those orcas in September 2013. As lady bugs are rare in Tofino, I’ve noticed really huge, unusual houseflies tend to come around when my grandmother wants to say “Hello! Just checking in, can you see me?” I always say “Hello, grandma!” out loud, so she knows that I noticed.

This is one of the suggestions I have for people: when you *think* you see a sign, just say hello. “Hello, sweetheart! If that’s from you, I see it!” Saying it out loud is THEIR confirmation that they’re reaching you, so it encourages them to keep trying. The more you acknowledge these little signs, the more they tend to happen.

Before my mother died, she told me she’d send me schnauzers. When I was a teenager, our family dog was a schnauzer named Heidi, and Heidi was my first real teacher in animal communication.

I said to my Mom, “Great – but there aren’t many schnauzers around here at all! It’ll be hard to send me schnauzers if there aren’t any to divert. What about sending me birds, too?”

“Okay,” she agreed. “Schnauzers and birds.”

 

The morning I got the news that my mother had died during the night, there was a damn big spider in my bathroom sink.

This is unusual because I have a deal with the spiders. The large ones stay outside, the small ones are allowed inside only until they’re as large as the nail on my pinky. Preferably, they stay out of sight. Ever since I cut this deal with the spiders, they’ve generally stayed hidden. They’ve stopped doing things like showing up on my PILLOW or on MY FACE!

My mother was the first person to point out that those creatures we’re most afraid of are often used as spiritual messengers. Why? Because we NOTICE them. A beetle or a fly I might ignore, but a spider? They cause me to freeze instantly. Other than predators who could eat me, there really aren’t any other creatures I’ve encountered that literally paralyze me just by showing themselves. Yeah, I freaking notice the spiders.

So when I saw this spider in my bathroom sink, I thought it might be from my mother. But why would that be? I was just seeing hummingbirds outside the bedroom window. Those birds don’t come into my yard because the neighbours have feeders. There’s no reason for them to detour into my yard. Besides, my mother had said she’d send schnauzers and birds. Spiders were not a part of the pre-arranged deal.

A week and a half later as I was packed and ready to go to Ontario for my mother’s service, it happened again. Another spider, slightly larger this time, perched on top of my luggage.

Okay, this *might* be something, I thought.

Why wouldn’t I just ask Mom directly, being a medium and all? Because I’m grieving. Sometimes, it can really hurt to be in contact with a loved one just after they pass, before you’ve had a chance to heal a bit. I think this is one of the reasons some mediums make up rules about loved ones being “unreachable” for a certain period of time after their death, or insisting on a certain period of time passing between a death and a client’s session to speak with that person or animal.

When Mocha (my big dog) and Leo (my tabby cat) died, they immediately came to hang out in spirit. I had to actually send Mocha away that first week, because it was so painful to have her presence around without her body.

For some people, they experience this spiritual closeness with a visiting spirit by suddenly thinking about them, and feeling overwrought with grief, when a moment ago, they felt fine. Our bodies react with certainty when we experience these things. We *know* what we experienced was real, even if it doesn’t translate as profoundly when you try to share the story with someone else.

So there was me, and there were the two spiders – one in the sink, and one on my luggage. While on the six-seater plane to Vancouver, I whispered to Mom, “If those spiders are from you, I need some more confirmation.”

Two days later, I was sitting at my mother’s service. It was perfect, I think it was exactly as she wanted it.

Can I let you guys in on a secret? I *hate* funerals. I hate eulogies. It’s just not for me. This is not how I grieve, and it’s not how I want to grieve. My mother’s service was the very first formal funeral I’ve been to.

You know what I prefer? The wake, or the before / after gathering where family and / or friends gather to eat, drink and tell stories full of love, laughter and recalling the full character of the person we all just lost. I love informal gatherings. I despise formal services. I can’t justify exactly *why* they turn me off so strongly, and I’m not saying they’re wrong or that people shouldn’t do them.

I just *do not want* one for myself.

That said, my mother’s service was perfect.

My very favourite part was when her Buddhist priest stood up to talk about my mother’s relationship with Japanese Buddhism. He didn’t use any of his own words – he read a speech my mother had written and presented to the Buddhist circle of practitioners. It was a talk on how mindfulness practice impacted her life.

When the priest got to the part in the speech about the spiders, that made my heart twist like a sponge, wringing out all the conflicting emotions at once.

She’s talked about how she used to hate spiders, she’d kill them on sight. How mindfulness practice helped her get above her visceral reaction and merely *notice* the spiders. How interesting they are, how beautiful, even. She could appreciate them, even love them – as long as they weren’t too big!

That was it for me. That was my confirmation, and I cried because I got that message, and it felt like it was just for me.

Of course, if I’d said anything at the time, it would’ve looked pretty crazy. That’s pretty much par for the course, eh?

After the service, there *was* a gathering of family with stories and laughter. My little squeezed-out heart sponge started to untwist, soften, become pliable again.

That night, as if there was any doubt left, there was a medium-sized spider in the bathroom sink.

 

 

 

The shape shifter

 

queen e grief is the price we pay kate sitka

In the heartbreakingly funny auto-biogrophy of Cupcake Brown’s “A Piece of Cake”, she describes how alcohol talks to you.  Who do you think convinces the drunk man that he drives *better* drunk?  Or that the stranger in the bar is after his woman?  And it turns on you, after you did the stupid thing the drink tells you to do, it says, “Ooooooo, you done fucked up now!”

Well, I’ve noticed that grief talks to you too.  It’s like an electrical current, looking for any route to take to ground.  It’ll transform into any emotion it needs to be to get out of your body and into the world. 

It can shift into guilt.  I noticed this a lot after my cat Leo died.  I re-lived his final hours over and over, wondering what I could have done differently, even as my thinking brain *knows* I did all I could, and I’d made the right choices.  Even so, the grief talks, and says, “What if?  But maybe!”  The same voice turns into a teasing kid on the playground: “It’s too late now, isn’t it, sucker!”

Or, grief can morph into anger and outrage, it can invoke the dreaded DRAMA TRIANGLE!  (duh duh duhhhhh!)  You know, that negative feedback loop where one person is the victim, another is a persecutor and the third is the rescuer?  Then some unknown square-dance caller shouts a turn and everyone switches places – the victim becomes the persecutor, the rescuer is the new victim  and on the terrible merry dance goes.  I’ve seen friendships implode through this dynamic of grief, and it’s pretty terrible what this can do to families who are all grieving together. 

So if grief is making you or someone in your life act unreasonably, just remember, they’re suffering.  Their grief is telling them stories, and they can’t see what’s really happening. 

Grief can even pretend to be your friend, bubbling into the ground in giddy laughter, joy and relief.  Laughter that releases pain and hurts to laugh – or maybe is genuine happiness with just an aftertaste of guilt. 

The trickiest trickster trick of grief is that it can convince you that you are alone in the world, and can cause you to shut out those who wish to help you.  Don’t let it do that to you.

Grief is a selfish bitch.

My mother passed away at three am on Thursday. 

When I was a teenager tying up the family phone line, Mom would pick up the extension and imitate Queen Elizabeth – it was a teasing attempt to embarrass her kid, but all my friends were drama geeks and just ate her impression up.  One guy even called her “Queen E.”

With her exaggerated, royally-affected English accent, “Queen E” would inform me, “Hem, hem!  The royal schnauzer is due for her evening constitutional!”

This was Mom’s way of telling me to get the hell off the phone and into the fresh air and sunshine.

Now, as I experience and observe the shifting voices of grief inside of me, I also hear Queen E’s voice, quoting the real Queen Elizabeth’s consoling words, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

****

Thank you everyone for your kind words on facebook.  Alas, internet was NOT installed in my house on Friday as promised and has been bumped back to MAY 7th!  Can you believe that???  A local cable company should be able to get us basic connectivity before then, so please wish us luck.  Meanwhile, I do my best with emails, I apologize for the delay in my response.  I’m using cell phone minutes to access the internet, so I have to do it sparingly!

So much happy, and some sad.

happy-sad

One thing that’s pretty clear about my mother: she doesn’t want us spending a lot of time crying about her, or feeling sad around her.  I think I’d be the same way, and I’m going to do my best to have as many happy conversations as we can.

Amid all this, the car, my Mom, it’s looking like we will be getting the house in Ucluelet.  We saw it today, and it’s just perfect for our needs.  No shared laundry, but a laundry room of our very own.  Three bedrooms, all small but there’s three!  I will finally, finally have my own office!

The kitchen is my favourite part about this little house – it has every essential thing that makes me happy:

– Cupboards.  Believe it or not, cupboards can not be taken for granted out here.  We haven’t had kitchen cupboards in 7 years, just a few shelves on the wall and bookcases to hold our kitchen stuff.  Cupboards are glorious.  They have doors on them and everything.

– enough room for a kitchen table.  We haven’t had a kitchen table in 7 years.  We’ve been eating on the couch.  We’ll actually have sit-down suppers!

– a double sink AND a dishwasher.

– A window over the sink that overlooks the back yard.  THIS is what is truly delightful.

– a cold room that has been closed off on the side of the house, off the kitchen.  Apparently it becomes the hot room in the summer.  But it’s covered storage.

This is literally the kitchen I have been visualizing for years.  It’s awesome.

Other thrilling features:

– A living room.  Not a main room that has our bed and our couch in it, no, a living room with enough room for a couch and a couple of chairs!  Throw in a coffee table, a couple of lamps and a doily, you have grandma’s parlor!

– A backyard.  Not just a patch under the landlady’s balcony, no.  A full-on back yard, fenced, fire pit, picnic table.  A HAMMOCK.

– Storage!  There’s a cupboard under the stairs, just like in Harry Potter.

– Storage!  A linen closet, for the love of all that’s holy!  A closet that is just for sheets, towels and toilet paper!

– Storage!  Three cute little bedrooms, each with windows and closets of their very own!

– LIGHT.  It’s was quite overcast today, and yet you didn’t need a single light on in the house to see what you’re doing.

We don’t have a lot of stuff, we truly don’t.  Our major furniture includes a bed, couch, two bookcases, a desk, a craft table, an office chair, pillows, kitchen stuff, linens and towels.  Oh and some electronics.  Books, a few dvds, clothes.  That’s it that’s all.  I don’t know how people make things work in those little tiny houses.  We are living in about 700 square feet and we’re just two people.  It’s tight, but you make it work.

You make it work, but there’s nothing like a little house that feels like home, where the landlord repairs what’s broken, but otherwise just lets you pay the rent and doesn’t bother you.  One where the laundry room and the hydro bill is all yours.  It will be such a relief, such a blessing.  We will not be sharing walls with *anyone* – it’s a duplex, but the only shared wall is the stairwell.  We will not be woken up by the neighbour’s adult living-at-home children talking at midnight.  We certainly won’t be living under someone.  It’s going to make a huge difference in our lives.

We’re going to have uninterrupted sleep.  And we’ll have such quiet that if we want to go to bed early, we won’t be disturbed by the neighbour’s activities.

It’s so weird to have so much to be happy about, and have this sadness happening too.  One doesn’t wipe out the other.  I’m so happy and excited for this new house – we’ve needed it and have been looking for a place like it for a long time!  And even though we’re not really allowed to be sad about my mother to her face, (or over the phone) of course that’s there, wrapped like crows wings around my happy heart.

Just a lot of happy and sad, all at once.