A Brush With Death — But Not How You Think

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I made my debut into full-time management this summer. Some very good friends of mine who own a store in High Level bought another one in Grouard. It is a convenience store with a liquor store as well, and since it’s right along the highway, we knew that it had huge potential. Down the road a little ways are two cottage/camping areas (Hilliard’s Bay Estates and Shaw’s Point Resort) and Hilliard’s Bay Provincial Park — all very busy throughout the summer months.
I agreed to be the manager for the summer to get the store off the ground, and then in the fall, my husband and I would move to my parents’ farm so they could retire. They had found and were arranging to buy their “dream house” and back in February, Darren and I had decided to take over the farm — but I’ll leave that excitement for another post!
Since April, I’ve been so incredibly busy (hence only one blog post), but nothing compares to managing the store in Grouard. I left my job at the Fort Simpson airport earlier than planned because breakup was coming — that period of time when you can only helicopter across the Liard River. So, I gave just 2 weeks notice to my job and was outta there. For the rest of April and the first half of May, I helped a friend by working at her greenhouse. I know I talked about this in my previous post, but I gotta say again how I loved working at Sunscape! It was hard work at times, but I loved being surrounded by living things and Alex was so great to work for! Not to mention that whenever the sun was out, the greenhouse became gloriously warm and tropical — I could have just moved in there! But, just after Mother’s Day, I was done there and had to quickly get ready for Grouard.
My friends had bought the store weeks earlier, and they’d hired a small army of men to renovate it in order to open for May long weekend. I had been out to the store twice — the first time was to help with inventory, just after they’d purchased the store and then later to help load and move some new counters and shelving to the store. The whole place was painted (even the floor), a back room was opened up and converted into the liquor store, the washrooms were moved and redone, and lots of additional lighting and electrical outlets were installed. When I got there 2 days before we were to open, there was a ridiculous amount of work to do! We had to put stock out, price and arrange it, program the tills, set up the internet and interac machines, clean everything, train the staff, make up price lists for things that weren’t stickered, and on and on. If you’ve ever opened a store, you are probably twitching right now and curling up into a ball on the floor! It is so hectic. And it didn’t let up much for over a month.
The really; long days only went on for a couple of weeks; I opened the store at 8 AM and closed the store at 10 PM and then worked for an extra 2 hours on planning, scheduling and other tasks. But there was always so much to do and no one else to do it, so I worked 14- to 15-hour days all summer. All summer. I did not go paddling until the end of August, and only because someone asked me to teach them how to kayak. I did not have a single day off or away from Grouard from the middle of May to the middle of June when I made a quick trip to Edmonton to pick up the York boat!
york boat grouardMy anxiety increased considerably after getting the York boat. Sure, it was a thrill to drive down the highway towing it, and I felt awesome taking corners really wide! I was pretty damn good at towing it. But once I had it in Grouard, I had to do something with it. For a couple of weeks, I towed it to the store every day so people could ogle it and ask questions about it. I boldly put up a sign that revealed my big idea: “York boat day tours, July and Aug.” But I just couldn’t make it happen.
I was exhausted. Every day, I kept the store running — some days, I kept it open, because when staff cancelled or called in sick, I didn’t have anyone else to replace them. So I stayed. I worked double shifts almost every day, for one reason or another. At the end of every day, I was wiped out. I was “keeping it together” by staying diplomatic, polite, friendly, and dealing well with my challenging staff members, but I didn’t have any extra energy — mental or physical energy — to give to the York boat and my dream of offering day tours for the general public.
One time in mid-July, I had a short reprieve. I snuck away to go to my sister’s (a 2-hour drive) for a spa party. I thought it would be good to see some family and get away from the store — maybe get some perspective. But what did that perspective show me? I had become a shell of a person. The chronic sleep deprivation was stealing my humanity. I was a zombie. Everyone around me was cheerful and responsive — or sassy or skeptical, whatever their personality was — and I was just sitting there. I was trying to absorb what was going on around me, but I couldn’t interact properly. I was lagging a few seconds behind everyone else and I just wasn’t myself.
I felt a little better the next morning when I went into town to buy a few things I needed. My runners were completely wearing out after being on my feet so much, so I got some new shoes and sandals. But, I drove straight back to the store and got back into it. Before long, though, I arranged to have a week off at the end of July. The store owners — my friends — could see I needed a break and I couldn’t argue. I knew I needed one too, but how could I take it? We were still having staffing troubles and there was still so much that only I knew how to do! So, I started training the full-time staff on what to do and I started working on the store manual, which I had thought up back in the beginning so everything would run smoothly when I left in September. So, more long hours working on that.
sunsetIn many ways, the summer was a blur and I have very few clear memories, but a couple stand out. One evening, I came back to the cabin where I was staying, sat down by the fire and broke down. I just cried and cried. Out of exhaustion, frustration, for opportunities lost. A couple of days later, it happened again, and I started to think that maybe I should just quit. Then I could finally get some sleep! Then I could go canoeing or kayaking on the water. But I couldn’t. There was no one to replace me, and I  couldn’t let my friends down. Summer is a key window of opportunity for a business like this, and this first summer even moreso to set the stage for what the store would be like with these new owners. You never get another chance to make a first impression, and all that. So there was no way out. I had to finish this gig, or at least, get the staff trained on how to run things without me.
But the brutal scheduled continued, and by the last week of July, I started to think about the ultimate way out, suicide. I just couldn’t go on. I was so exhausted, and I wasn’t myself. I actually broke down in my office at the store one night, the last night before I was to start my week off. I was supposed to go see a friend that night (about an hour and half drive away), but store duties had taken up my time and it was too late to make the drive now. So I cried. I missed her, and I needed to see her so badly, but you can’t argue with time.
Burned in my clearest memory is that night: I cried on the bed, knowing how I could end myself, knowing I had what I needed to do it, but knowing that it would cause such pain to my family and friends, that I couldn’t. But I wanted to. Oh, I really wanted to.
But the battling voices in my head reminded me that I wanted to go to Europe with my honey. I wanted to see those quaint villages in Italy and Greece, perched on hillsides above the ocean. There were places I wanted to see. So, I decided not to check out yet.
The next day, I guess I got up and drove home to High Level. It’s a blur. I don’t really remember how I felt. I know I worked on renovations on the house that week, and saw my honey and got a bit more sleep. Things improved and I never felt as low as I did that night in July. At times I felt outright happy I was still here, that I hadn’t killed myself. I had a changed perspective — that customer who was annoyed because we ran out of Clamato didn’t matter much (we ran out of things lots, we had such great sales). The trees looked more lovely, and the York boat was a non-issue. I still thought about that night in July at times, and it took me a while to shake the experience off. I mean, I had nearly killed myself. I couldn’t just go along like nothing happened, or nothing was wrong.
And the thing is, nothing was wrong with me. The only explanation was my awful lack of sleep. I slept a lot in September and October, and I am back to my old self again — optimistic, positive, easy-going… Very easy-going, if I may say so!
So, that was my summer. 🙂 It was one in a hundred (I hope) and never to happen again. It was an experiment in sleep-deprivation that I would never want replicated. It was an experiment in working 9 days a week — 5 shifts/week on the floor, 2 shifts/week of management stuff and then every weekend is 5 + 2 + 2 = 9. I had so much banked overtime, I am being paid well into the fall, at a full-time rate, to use it all up. It was an exercise in people management but most importantly, it was an opportunity to know myself better. And I met some of the nicest people in the whole world up there, and made many new friends.
I think I lost something that night in July. I’m not sure what it is, but now that I’ve caught up on my sleep, I am more serene and unperturbable. I was already pretty level-headed (although a few staff pushed me a lot!), but now I am different. Maybe my whole emotional scale has been shifted up — I just don’t get angry or afraid for anything now. I am so grateful for where I am now, maybe just because I’m grateful to still be here! Eckhart Tolle writes about losing his ego when he had his near-suicide experience, so maybe that’s true for me too. All I know, is I am grateful for everything that happened this summer, and excited about the future.

Living Close to Death

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I am a volunteer fire fighter. There is nothing quite like going on a call and making a difference in an emergency situation to crystallize some things in life. I get amazing perspective and find that all the little stuff — dishes undone, messy living room, home renovations — regain their place of insignificance in my life and all the big stuff — my loving husband, my sweet cat, my health — comes back into focus in the place of appreciation they belong.

In some ways, I wish I could recommend everyone join a volunteer fire department or other emergency service in order to share in my insights! Of course, this isn’t practical, however, my sister is considering joining her local volunteer FD, which really got me thinking about what is so great about it.

Being an emergency responder forces me to slow down. Fire fighters can’t be in a panic — we aim to be the most level-headed ones on the scene. Although I am not literally slowing down, I am slowing down the processes and the steps I have to take in order to be sure I do them right. I do my best to keep my breathing slow and make sure I have the tools in hand for the job I need to do (or am preparing to do).

Living closer to death makes life more precious. This is a universal truth, I believe, and one safe and helpful way to live closer to death is by helping in emergencies. By facing death, either in helping extricate someone from a smashed vehicle or by dousing flames or even going inside a burning building, my zest for life is renewed! My priorities in life are refocused and I am happier. I think many doctors and nurses may feel the same.

Although some situations we have to deal with are hard, most have happy endings. Often, we are able to save a house by working quickly to contain the flames. In other cases, we lose the house on fire, but are able to save the ones beside it. In MVAs, we help keep the road situation safe by stopping traffic and giving medical aid to the victims. Sometimes, we truly are the difference between life and death when someone is trapped in a smashed car. Even when there is a less-happy ending, we have still made a difference. Without emergency service workers of any kind, our society would be more ruthless, like the middle ages.

Facing death makes you realize that people can’t always be saved. Our time here is limited, so if there is something I want to say to someone, I had better do it now. If there is a grudge I feel tempted to hold, I must drop it now. If I were to go next, how would my loved ones feel? Have I lived my life to the fullest? What am I waiting for?

I think ultimately, being on the fire department has helped me learn to control my thinking. I have to force myself to stay calm, think ahead, think of the safety of those around me, and stay in the moment. There’s no time for mind wandering when you’re responding to an emergency! Perhaps that is the best part of all — being fully in the moment, being alive, and making a difference.

My Peek into the Mennonite World

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In this part of Alberta, there are 3 main cultural groups, roughly in thirds: First Nations, Mennonite, and everyone else. I have several friends who are Native or Mennonite, but that doesn’t mean I know very much about their culture. I know a little, sure, but haven’t actually experienced or partaken in many cultural activities (that’s something I need to change). When my friend’s dad passed away a little while ago, I wanted to support her, so I got the opportunity to go to a Mennonite funeral. I thought I’d share a little here, as most of you won’t ever get to do this.

Another friend of mine had the presence of mind to warn us about a few things, which was good! I had forgotten that in the old colony Mennonite churches, women and men don’t sit together. In fact, the women have a separate entrance. We used the men’s entrance, but we clearly were not Mennonite (I was wearing PANTS!), so we knew we could get away with it, without offending anyone or ruffling too many feathers. Although they have very strict traditions, they don’t seem too offended if non-Mennonites don’t follow them. If you’re Mennonite, though, look out! Bending the rules is a no-no and will start a pretty feisty rumour mill, from what I hear. Some women wear long skirts all the time (yes, even in the middle of winter, or while doing farm chores…), small kerchiefs on their heads, and at a funeral as we were, black from head to toe. That is out of respect, and it makes sense. You wouldn’t go to a funeral wearing flowery/showy clothes or sequins! Their regular dresses are interesting — quite colourful and homemade, sometimes in, um, rather interesting (ugly) patterns. My friend told me that at home, many women do wear pants and “normal” clothes. The men, on the other hand, dress completely modern, carry cell phones, and you cannot tell by looking that they are Mennonite. Some women have cell phones too, and I guess overall there are many anachronisms — contrasts between the traditional and modern.

The church itself is spartan, to say the least. I heard that their belief in humility is what influences their design. Mennonite churches are plain buildings — Sommerfelder churches are white and old colony are blue — with wooden siding. Churches in most denominations have at least a simple sign to say what church it is; not so with Mennonite churches — no signs at all. There is no power, so the funeral was performed simply by sunlight coming in the plain windows. There were hooks in the ceiling for lanterns. There is no heat, but there was a small stove on the men’s side.  The walls are plain white, no signs or artwork anywhere. The floor is plain plywood. Most of the seating is benches; they aren’t pews — there is no back on them. They truly are plain wooden benches, painted white, placed quite close together, and you have to rely on your back muscles to keep you upright! A little uncomfortable to say the least! There were a few chairs with a little padding and backs, and these were used by the elderly. Other smart people got there early and sat at the back, so they could lean against the back wall. We were early, but not smart enough to get a wall-spot!

Speaking of getting there early… we were about 30 minutes early when we walked into the completely silent church, already about one-fifth full. We sat. We whispered a little, but mainly just sat. The family walked in just before the start time, all together, and sat near the front. There were benches and a row of chairs facing inward, at right angles to the rest of us; those were for family. The plain wooden casket was placed in the center. This time it was a closed casket, but they are sometimes open — it’s the family’s choice. A procession of about seven men walked in and sat at the front; my friend told me they were the song leaders. Another procession came in, about 12 men, who were the pastors. The song leaders announced the song number, and there was much rustling to get song books people had brought. Oh, have I mentioned yet that the entire service was in German? The official parts were a mix of High and Low German (it’s the pastor’s choice what language to use, or to mix them together), and a tiny section at the end that discussed going to the cemetery was in Low German, what everyday Mennonites speak. So I understood nothing. Not a word. The song leaders started the singing, which was unlike any other church music I’d ever heard. There were no instruments to accompany this very sad-sounding singing (probably in a minor key), with minimal annunciation; it sounded quite similar to middle-eastern music, except with no instruments. At times, everyone’s voices were so strong, it was hauntingly beautiful… singing in perfect unison to a rhythm and melody that I couldn’t even get a slippery grip on.

The preaching began, and I had no idea what to expect. Despite having no expectations, I still didn’t think the pastor would talk that long. One of the 12 pastors did all the speaking, every phrase in a liturgical lilt, somewhat similar to Catholic ceremonies — evidence of Mennonites’ origins. He talked and talked. Of what, I don’t know. I think at one point near the end I heard names, so he was probably listing surviving family members. I wish I knew what he had talked about… if I did, this blog post would be even longer! My friend said that to sum it u, his sermon title would be “clean up your house,”  your body being your house (God’s house). He said to clean up your spiritual house because life here on earth is short, and he encouraged everybody to be ready in case God calls you home suddenly… and to mind your own house and not somebody else’s.

At the end, the pall-bearers carried the coffin into a vestibule in the men’s entrance. Then, an usher told what rows to start and we all filed out the men’s entrance, past the coffin, leaving the family behind. They had a short time of special comforting from the ministers, and then came outside. The coffin was loaded into a pick-up truck (with a truck topper on it) and started toward the cemetery. An usher again, seemed to indicate that certain people needed to wait and others go first, although we could not determine the logic. Our friend, who we car-pooled with to the cemetery, knew the people in basically every vehicle and was baffled as to why certain people needed to go first — a tradition that we were unaware of, perhaps. At the cemetery, the deceased man’s brother spoke for awhile, in Low German, telling stories about him and sharing how much his brother had meant to him. While I didn’t really understand what he was saying — a few words here and there, and the few English words mixed in — I understood very clearly the emotion in his words, and could empathically hear his message. After that, there was a prayer by a pastor and the pall bearers moved the casket to the hole in the ground. They put straps under it, and manually lowered it down (which makes sense; if they don’t have powered conveniences, why would they have an electric motor to lower the box?). Then, any men who had attended the funeral grabbed shovels and started moving dirt from the pile to fill the hole. I liked that — simple, and genuine. A job that needed to be done, and the community pitching in to make it happen. My friend and her family cried a little; so did I. But somehow we felt surrounded by people who cared, who were there in a time of need.

We drove back to the church property, where we went into the hall beside the church. Did I mention that there were no washrooms? Four of the cleanest outhouses you’ve ever seen did the trick (that must be cold in winter)! The hall was very similar to the church, except they had propane lanterns installed in the ceiling, which led me to think that they aren’t necessarily against innovation, just technology. They want to be “off the grid” and independent, and live very humble lives. We had buns, butter, coffee and sugar cubes, the traditional funeral lunch. Some people cut the bun open, butter it, and smoosh a coffee-dunked sugar cube inside. I skipped the sugar cube part, but I think sometime I’ll try it.

The people we interacted with were very nice to us. At the ceremony, the few people my friends whisper-chatted to were exactly as I would expect someone to be — respectful, and quiet, but not overly morbid. At the lunch, the same — friendly, pleasant, humble. The woman beside me had a job outside the home, so she was not as traditional as others. She had 5 kids, which seems pretty common. We talked about laundry, work, farm stuff (I grew up on one, so I could talk about that!) and pets.

So, that is a small glimpse into the Mennonite culture. It’s always difficult and risky to make assumptions or observations as an outsider, but I just had to share with you. While their stance against technology is quite contrary to most of Canada, they are resourceful and some of the hardest working people out there. Although they have strict rules for behaviour, I think some people like that and are happy living in that way. They have very well-defined roles, which is confining but also comforting in a way. Women are not valued as much as men, yet I don’t think they are mistreated, as a rule. I wonder why this inequality remains… I have heard of the judgment that people who don’t conform or measure up are subjected to, and it only seems to be directed within; outsiders are not as harshly judged, as far as I can tell. I wish I understood more; maybe this will open up a dialog with some of my Mennonite friends (yes, many of them have computers, especially my generation and younger)!

Cheering Up

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I was going to write this blog on Monday, but then the events of Tuesday (the bird day) needed blogging first, so this one waited ’til now.

I was in a seriously crappy mood on Monday. I don’t know what got into me. It wasn’t the common Monday-blues — since I work for myself now, I don’t get bummed out on Mondays. Come to think of it, I was a shift-worker before, so Mondays didn’t mean anything to me then either! Anyhow, this was a seriously nose-out-of-joint, stay-clear-if-you-want-to-keep-all-your-body-parts kind of mood. I don’t get these very often, maybe 3 times a year, which means I only have, um, one more occasion this year. Poor Darren!

I don’t just say “poor Darren” to be funny, I really mean it. I was pretty close to the edge that day, and he had to endure it. Not fun. I think I will be making up for it for a while — not because he makes me feel like I have to, just because I want to. I generally treat him really well, but man, it was ugly on Monday.

I eventually told him the main thing that was weighing on my mind, only after saying “I need to say something. I don’t want to hear any come-back, reply, comment, or anything. In fact, it would be best if you just listened to it — let me say it all — and then you were quiet for an hour or so. Not a peep. Think about what you want to say back, if anything, and in an hour or so, we can talk. Can you do that?” Crazy, eh? I had a medium-serious thing to say (I won’t reveal it here, sorry), but on a normal day, I would have just sat down on the couch next to him and said it. And I wasn’t trying to add drama, I just wanted to tell him without getting into a huge discussion. Is that so wrong? I don’t think so, but I sure could have been nicer.

So about half way into Darren’s Hour of Silence, I realized it was self-pity that I was all gummed up with. Like the stickiest of mud, it had me completely mired. I didn’t recognize it at first, perhaps because I get it so rarely, or because it was so strong. It felt more like anger/depression. I am actually glad, now, that I experienced it, because I need to know what it feels like and how strong its pull is, in order to help others better. I think I can have more compassion for someone who struggles with this.

Luckily, a very good friend of mine called and reminded me that we were doing training that night, and I needed to prepare for it. I found the material and read it over, highlighted the most important parts, and started to feel much better. Want to guess what the subject was? Sudden Death. We were training our Victim Support Unit volunteers on how to help people dealing with a sudden death (I’ve been a VSU volunteer for a while, and now I help with training). Later, at the end of the training session, we did a “round table” to talk about how we feel, if any of the areas were difficult for us, or if any parts really struck home. I shared how I had been in such a terrible mood earlier, but now I felt much better. I meant that it was good to be with friends, discussing serious things and helping people. But everybody teased me “sudden death just cheered you right up, did it?” Ha ha! Well, it did. I was able to remember that I have it so good. No one I love has died suddenly a long time. I have nothing to complain about.

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P.P. (Post Post): If you have experienced a sudden loss of someone you love, and you need help, please call your nearest Victim Support Unit or find out if your city has a support group for people like you. You don’t have to go through this pain and grief alone. Let someone help you, and listen to you... You are loved.

P.P.P.: I am starting a “Personal Growth Coaching” (similar to life coaching) service soon, so if you’d like to talk to me, please email me (teresa {at} and I’ll be in touch to set up a free session with you.

A Day for the Birds

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Today started out normally enough. Most of my morning routine passed uneventfully, and I was sitting on the love seat in the living room surfing for something or other when my whole day changed.

I heard a loud “thwack” on the living room window and looked up in time to see a bird-projectile and feathers flying. Oh no! I leaped up and looked and, sure enough, there was a small bird, huffing and puffing — it probably had the wind knocked out of it, poor thing. It was sitting on the ground in the snow-shadow of one of the cedar trees outside our house.

This isn’t the first time this happened. In summer, a gorgeous Evening Grosbeak crashed into the window and laid in a similar spot for a few hours. I didn’t know what to do. It was belly up, so I cautiously reached over and flipped it over. I wondered if I should try and put it in a box to help it recover, or just let it heal on its own? I checked on it several times and it seemed to be doing ok. Still breathing, not twitching terribly, but not exactly ready to fly away. I was working in my garden in the back yard that afternoon, and after 3-4 hours of me checking on it, Darren said “bad news, Teresa.”

“Oh, no! Did it die?”

“Worse. A cat got it.”

Oh no, oh noooooo! I felt horrible. There were grey, black and yellow feathers spread out on the front lawn like a crime scene. Oh, man, did I feel bad. I think I cried! Poor bird, recovering slowly, and a cat came along for an easy meal. *Note, it was definitely not my cat, as he doesn’t go out in the front yard.*

So today, when that little bird was sitting there, after 30 seconds or so of staring through the window and wondering what to do, I sprung into action. This little one, a female Pine Grosbeak (my bird book said), was not going to be eaten by any cats.

So, I figured I needed a box. A shoebox would be great, and Darren got new shoes recently, so new, empty boxes were easy to find. I quickly put a bit of toilet paper in the bottom as cushioning. Then it occurred to me — I can’t bring it inside! A bird in a box in a house with a cat?!? This was not a good plan. Put it in the car, perhaps? Keep the car running so it wouldn’t be -13°C? Not a good plan either. The outdoor storage room, with a trouble light on for a little heat? Not bad… but not enough warmth. A heat lamp? Ah, yes, but where is it? No time to look. Then I had the best idea yet – I quickly grabbed some cloth, put a pile of wheat in the middle — I have wheat to make therapeutic wheat bags with — wrapped it up and threw it into the microwave to warm it. I had to work fast! That bird was in shock and it was cold out!

I got it all ready, put it in the outdoor storage room, and walked quietly over to where the bird was. I reached between the hedge and the house, my arm fully stretched out, gently picked up the bird, cradled it in both hands while I walked over to put it in the box. It didn’t struggle at all. It could feel the warmth, I think, when I put it in the box.

I checked on it a minute later, and put the box lid almost all the way on, to keep the warmth in. At least it was out of the snow and wind.

I checked on it a little while later, and it had moved! It had pulled its wings in more — I wasn’t sure if they were broken or not — and it turned its head to look at me! Yay!

I checked on it a little while later, and it was dead. Tipped over on its side, dead. Oh, dear. I felt bad, but I had known that there was a good chance it would die; it probably had internal injuries. I felt okay, though. At least it hadn’t been eaten by a cat or frozen to death. Either one of those would be worse, I think.

I don’t like to interfere in nature too much, but on the other hand, when I can help, I just have to. I felt so much better after setting up my little incubator! I had done something — taken action to safe a life! The fact that that sweet little bird died anyway doesn’t bother me… I think I alleviated its suffering a little, and in a way, it didn’t die alone.

I wonder if its partner is looking for it? My bird book doesn’t say much about them, like if they mate for life. There are a flock of them in our neighbourhood, and the other day I walked right beside/under them in one of our trees and they weren’t afraid. They have a gentle, quiet song.

She's looking right at me! 🙂

This doesn’t end the “bird day” I had today though! About an hour after the bird died, I went to see Darren in his office and there was a large, round bird on the snow outside the window! It was so cool! It had fuzzy feet, and was standing on one foot at a time to keep the other warm. It walked a little around the trees and shrubs, and then went “snowshoeing” across the front yard towards the driveway. We got several great pictures of it and its friend-bird, which were walking around on our driveway and even down the sidewalk.

These two (my bird book tells me) female Spruce Grouse just absolutely made my day! They reminded me of the abundance of life. Death is nothing to fear. Come to think of it, Rev. Patrick talked a lot about death on the podcast I listened to this morning (before all this happened). Co-incidence? Perhaps not.

Celebrate life today — go out and find some birds!

Snowshoeing across the yard
Aren't they handsome? Check out those feet!
Isn't she beautiful?

Celebrating Life

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Today has been an amazing day. Darren and I went to Willie’s funeral today.

I didn’t know Willie directly, but I’ve heard of him lots. He helped out at a couple of the organizations I volunteer with, donating his time and equipment to spray paint some bookshelves, for example. He owned and operated a painting business that painted anything and everything, but mostly interiors. He was known around town to be very helpful, always willing to donate time or help someone out. He was active in his church, and the pastor kept saying how he loved the church, and the people in it. His impact on the community was evident in the number of people there — around 400, we figured, which in a town of less than 4,000 is a lot! (That would be like over 100,000 people showing up for a funeral in a city of a million.) I know his wife a little, and I’m very good friends with one of her very good friends, so I feel a kinship.

Even though I didn’t really know him, I cried a little. What made me cry? Thinking of how Barb, his wife, must feel. Imagining myself in her place, a new widow. Thinking of how the kids must feel.

Darren and I debated about whether to stay for the fellowship afterwards, and we decided to stay at least a little while. We ended up sitting across from some strangers who turned out to be very nice people, and we chatted quite a while, sharing philosophies on life, how to stay out of a rut, that kind of thing. We also chatted with our neighbours, friends, and people we know around town for various reasons. There was a wonderful feeling of community, and although there was some sadness, it was not completely mournful. After the funeral, the interment, and the luncheon, there was a memorial service, which we didn’t stay for; it had an open-mic component and I am sure it celebrated his life even more.

A page from a photo calendar I made (photo by me).

The truly amazing part happened after we got home. My honey and I sat and talked and talked and talked. We talked a little about what we’d like at our funeral or where to be buried (neither of us is very picky), and then we talked about what we had observed at the funeral, how we felt about it, and what the preacher had talked about and how sometimes we related to it and sometimes not. It was all good, some things we just see differently. We both also noticed how we were easily able to just allow others to have their own funeral experience, and not judge or mentally comment on them. Darren said that it’s quite a change for him and an indication of how comfortable he is in his own skin, and I agree! I have come a long way from the awkward, self-conscious, anxious, fish-out-of-water that I used to be in many social situations. I just wasn’t comfortable.  I guess I wasn’t always like that — sometimes, I wonder what my mom thinks when she reads my blog (my dad doesn’t use the computer). Does Mom say “that’s not right!?”  I bet my perception of myself is different from others’ view of me… Mom, feel free to comment any time! But I remember feeling quite insecure and fearful of some social situations.

I think some of my uncomfortable feelings were rooted in a deep inability to handle any kind of conflict between differing points of view. I just couldn’t stand the thought of debating with someone about something personal. If someone became too assertive, I just wanted to run. I’m not really like that any more; I enjoy exchanging views with people, especially if they are able to stay calm and logical, although I am also better able to witness/handle other’s raw emotions, even grief. It’s something I’ve learned how to do by necessity because of the volunteering I do. I’m able to put up a little distance between me and the other person and yet stay engaged in the situation — not withdrawing into a shell or wishing I were somewhere else. Sometimes I have to tell myself “you are not a sponge. This emotion/feeling in the air can go right through you” and that helps me somehow. And I never used to think of myself as very empathetic/touchy-feely, since I was so uncomfortable with others’ emotions, but perhaps I’ve grown in that area too.

Anyways, I just wanted to share that little bit. I will be thinking of Willie’s family, and thinking of ways I can help in the coming weeks and months. There are always lots of people around at first, but that tends to drop off, while the grief yet lingers.

Brushes With Death

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I’ve had 2 brushes with death in the last 24 hours.

On the way home from work today, I saw a fox. It wasn’t the way I usually see this fox — scampering along the side of the highway, its glowing eyes bouncing up and down in the faint twilight — it was dead. RedFoxIt must have been crossing the road at the same time a vehicle was speeding by… It was right in the middle of the lane, and I had to swerve to avoid running over it. A moment’s hesitation. I hit the brakes and decided to go back and drag it off the road. I didn’t slam on the brakes, so I had a little bit of walking to do. A little time to think.
Why did I swerve? Why didn’t I want to run over the little critter? Is it because I feel an affinity for him, having seen him trotting along the highway so many times? But even then, why go back to drag him off the road? Why not just leave him — it wasn’t like he was large enough to damage another vehicle like a deer or moose would — you have to drag them off the road so another car or truck doesn’t get trashed by hitting the carcass. But this was just a small fox; so what if the next car didn’t swerve, and run over him again? Ah, that’s it — I couldn’t stand the thought of him being run over again and again. Nobody should have to endure that. Which is silly in a way, isn’t it? I mean, he’s dead, and he’s a fox, for pete’s sake, just road kill. Or not. I wanted to have a little funeral for him, make sure his little fox spirit went peacefully on. I can’t stand the thought of ravens eating him… even though it’s the cycle of life, I know. But the cycle of life, nature, doesn’t include cars, so I felt I had to intervene. Why shouldn’t I respect a little fox and wish for him to be buried? To respect people and cherish them but disrespect other living things is hypocrisy. It isn’t living true to what you supposedly believe.
I heard recently that we tend to form beliefs about things we haven’t experienced. That’s why you don’t have beliefs about your pinky finger, or your front door. You experience them all the time, and so no beliefs are needed. But with many non-physical things, like philosophies & religions, we make up beliefs to try and make something more real, to give us something to grab on to. (If you have a lot of strongly held beliefs, it could be because those things aren’t very real to you.) Which is why we have so many beliefs about death — it’s the ultimate thing we can’t really experience.


“Well, at least he didn’t suffer,” some people say at some funerals.
“Oh, death must have been a welcome relief,” is also commonly said at others.
“We know he’s gone on to a better place,” might be heard, or
“If only we knew if he had accepted Jesus.”
“At least you still have two children left.”  Can you believe people actually say that!?!
Most, if not all, of the above statements are based on beliefs, and when said to the grieving family, they are complete fluff and even hurtful. Does the mourning husband feel “a welcome relief” that his wife is gone? Maybe, but maybe not. He’s feeling an intense loss, probably not relief. And let’s not yatter on about the person’s eternal condition — heaven and such — while ignoring the condition of those in front of us. Instead, offer your sincerest condolences and help to the survivors.


A couple of months back, I took a death notification course. Many things that you might think to say are not helpful and can be quite harmful to the people who’ve just lost their loved one. The training was about sudden deaths, but I don’t think it’s very different with inevitable deaths. The most important things to remember, should you ever be involved in a death notification is to go in person, with no agenda, (i.e. no deadlines about how long to be there) and be with the mourning person. You don’t have to say much, just be with them. They might have questions about how their loved one died, and if you can answer them, do so factually. Accept all emotions that come out — theirs and yours — without judging them. There’s so much more to doing a death notification, which I won’t go into now, but if you have a chance to take a course, do it. The one I took was offered by MADD Canada, and was presented by a retired police officer. If you’re interested, I could do a whole blog about this (leave a comment).


The second brush with death was with my husband last night. I don’t think he was actually close to death, but I was very close to calling 9-1-1, and that’s a stressful situation to be in. He was having extreme pain, having difficulty breathing, and I couldn’t quite rule out a heart attack (his father died of a heart attack several years ago), so I was going to call for an ambulance. However, the pain passed and the cause was not heart-related, but in the heat of the moment, with the shrieks of pain he was making, I didn’t know what was happening.
As a result, we had a sweet time of appreciating each other last night — I was glad he was okay, he was glad I had helped him through it (although I didn’t do much). There’s nothing like a brush with death to bring two people closer, and it’s a bit of a shame that’s what it takes.


candleWhy do we fuss so much with how we die? If a person died as road kill, it would be unspeakably awful! We talk a lot about dying with dignity, dying with loved ones around, having some control over pain medication when death is near. Why don’t we concern ourselves as much with how we live? Speak of living with dignity and integrity, having loved ones around, not complaining about a bit of pain we have as part of life. We waste so much energy complaining! I wonder what would happen if we replaced every complaint with a thought focused on gratitude and love?

Just some things to think about.


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heavenly-cloudsA conversation with a friend recently, as we relayed our experiences and generally pondered life, reminded me that life is full of contradictions. Here are a few:

Believing in heaven (some sort of happy place after death) can create the feeling that life here and now is purgatory — something to be endured, perhaps move up a level, or try to buy a way out of.
In this way, believing in heaven creates discontentment.

little-cemeteryFear of Death
Death is certain, and you’d think we’d have learned how to face it, yet the fear of death is the most universal of all fears.
We don’t like it when we re forced to realize our time on Earth is limited, but it can make us appreciate our life, and all the sweet moments, that much more. Or it can make us fearful, materialistic, and petty.
Many fears can be equated to the fear of death — for example, wanting to be accepted by peers = fear of rejection = life is “over” if we aren’t popular = fear of death. In this way, we blow things out of proportion and amplify our anxiety. And being accepted by our peers (as adults especially) probably just means we know how to toe the line, kiss the right asses, talk the talk, and avoid offending people who are probably too sensitive anyway!
Facing the fear of death is the one thing that gives the most freedom and life, yet most people don’t do it until they are old and don’t have much time left.
Some people seeking eternal youth get plastic surgery that makes them look old and fake. Youth (young people) are natural and real, not old and fake… and they’re also uncoordinated and inexperienced, but for some reason people don’t seek that!

The opposite of happiness is not unhappiness but boredom (This from Timothy Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Work Week). Yet I can be bored and happy at the same time (go figure)!
If you can face intense boredom and “stare it down,” you reach a place of happiness and peace.

Meditation and Seeking the Spiritual
Meditation, for long periods of time, is facing boredom (see point above).
If you are trying to “get good at meditating,” you’ve missed the point.
People try really hard to “find God” or connect to Spirit, when it’s omnipresent — everywhere at all times. It’s like searching for water in the ocean!

We all have struggles we are going through (or have gone through), so we should naturally be compassionate… yet we aren’t (usually).
When we go through the toughest times, and don’t avoid the pain or deny what’s happening/our feelings, we break through to a place of peace, grace, and compassion (even if the trial is not over).

Those who speak of the innocence of a child don’t know children. They can be extremely manipulative… and I wonder where they learn that!? The things that drive us crazy about our children they probably learned from us!
The people most likely to give advice for raising children don’t have any.  🙂