Category Archives: writing

A friend in the end

I got a private care giving job for a family recently. They hired me to spend the night at their place so they could get some much needed sleep. Respite care. I was to get up in the night and help their 97 year old mum if need be. Warm milk. Pillow fluff. Trip to the loo.

I liked her, and she liked me. Old friends right away. She told me I looked exactly like her sister, as we sipped tea from decorative china. She said it was my nose and showed me a picture of it in a wedding album from 1942.  It was true. Spitting image.

I spent only a few nights with her at home when, unfortunately, she got sick. She was taken to the hospital. The family requested that I continue to spend the nights with her so they could go home to sleep. She liked me after all. My old friend.

Two weeks of palliative care. Lots of unknowns but each night I held her hand. We talked late into the night.  I reassured her with a warm cloth on her face. Made sure she had breakthrough medication if she was in pain. Prayed for her. Sang her old gospel songs for comfort. Counted her breaths as they got short and shallow.  Swing low. Sweet chariot. Rattle rattle.

Her condition worsened quickly. Delusions and hallucinations. “It is OK, I am here, the room is not swallowing us up.” I told her I was not the person to take her to the ‘waiting place’ and to hold on until the morning.  I told her the earthquake was not real. I listened as she revealed things she never told a soul in her life. Her biggest regrets. Greatest fears. The loves. Her joys. Her face frozen in moments remembering them all. “Hush now. There, there. Let’s tuck you in.” Lavender sprits. Fleecy blanket.

When she would fall asleep, gripping tight, to me and to life itself, I studied her hands. They were wrinkled and warm. Delicate and strong. I imagined all the things she did with them.  She held her babies and patted their bums, kneaded dough for apple pies, lovingly mended her husbands navy jacket, wrote thank-you notes for gifts, wiped tears away and here she was holding me. A stranger. A caregiver. A friend.

I looked down at our hands folded together and considered our age difference. The pressing reality of her inevitable end made me beg for the lesson I could take from this. I sat there, watching her struggle to breathe as I inhaled youthfulness and vitality with ease. Her heart weakening and slowing while mine, strong and proud. The irony. The beauty. The mysterious purpose. The sobering knowing that one day soon someone would be holding my wrinkled old hand. To trust that there will be a friend, someone to hold. To hope.

In the morning, the room filled with new cards and fresh flowers. The daughter came and leaned into her mum’s ear and whispered, everyone sends their love – sealing the message with a tear and a kiss. A witness to the process of a family letting go, I listened to the stories that brought rest to my darling friend.

“She and dad were truly, truly in love. They moved a lot but mum never complained. She made a home wherever she landed.”

“When the telephone became a household item, she would spend hours talking to family overseas. Dad would supply the tea. Some nights, I fell asleep to the sounds of her laughing with her sister in England. It was wonderful.”

“Mum taught us to be good, moral people. She was a warm and caring mother.”

“She was loved, much loved.”

As my lady remembered her fondest and most precious memories, they became the stories that filled the room on her last days. They were her joy. They were her peace. They would be carried by those who loved her.

Night night. Pillow fluff. Lavender sprits. Kiss on the cheek. Rest now, old friend.

image

The children I should have had according to babycenter.com

I signed up for babycenter.com email updates when I was pregnant with with my son. It tracked each week for me and I got excited as the baby developed. After he was born, I received emails about the stages of development and what not. Kinda cool, not really useful. Stopped paying attention.  Until today.
I apparently have never unsubscribed and what I find very interesting is that they have been …emailing me lately about the first trimester of not my second, no not third, but my fourth “you’ve got to be kidding me” pregnancy.
I don’t even know where to begin with that one. I have so many questions. How are they calculating this?  If I keep this email subscribed, how many more imaginary children will I have at the end of my good birthing years?  Do they assume that all I do every 9 months is produce small people?
This is the only fact I gave them when I signed up to calculate and track the gestation: Got pregnant March, 2008 with my husband of two years in the city of Austin, TX. dec/08  (my only child)! Babycenter.com had the data. They set a course and proceeded to enact the following reproduction plans into effect: with a few months off as a break from just having a baby, Babycenter.com decided that March 2009 I would get pregnant with my second and 40 weeks later…
Baby #2- born in Jan/2010!!
This time I have a toddler and an infant so the babycenter.com algorithm predicts possibly some tension at home and sends emails about stress reduction. Maybe a few meltdowns with the husband when grandparents come to help with the laundry. I lose my hair during the spring of 2010 and when it grows back in the summer, we take a vacation to the cabin. We relax. Toddler splashing in the water. Baby sleeping like a rock through the night. All sanity seems restored. I begin to enjoy wine again…..
July/2011 baby#3!!!
Our family is so big now.  We upgrade to a minivan, sell the condo and buy a house with a field for mommy to run to the far corners and scream. I have 3 year old boy,  a two year old (lets say girl) and a little quarterback in training (why not? football is big in Texas). Life is happening. Its happening and thanks to babycenter.com,  I’m getting emails encouraging me to join the forums of mom groups so we can support each other while we raise large families. Yeah, like I have time for that, baby “Romo”  and I both pass out with a bottle every night.
So here I am, again, three months pregnant with my fourth child!!!!  I’m on the wagon and hired a house cleaner. The oldest is in school now but the others stay home with me. We color and they wear earmuffs and set the timer for my short breaks at the end of the backyard, where I scream my favorite metal songs. The kids think I am a great singer.
Life is so predictable! There really is a lot you can accomplish in just a few short years.  Take it from me, I would know, I got the email.

My first Black Friday, in Canada.

Image

No, I did not get into a Walmart tug of war or hair pulling fight over slippers during the Black Friday pandemonium today, like you think I would have. I realize that I am rather smitten about cozy clothes. Especially at this time of year. It does get chilly up here in Canada, eh? However, that is no excuse for all out consumer insanity. I quietly browsed the sales racks and discount bins, noting …the crazed look on peoples’ faces as they hunt down meaningless bargains for stuff they don’t need.  I told myself, “Nothing here could make you act like them. Besides, no sale was that good.” Shaking my head, I walked out without purchasing a thing.

You would have been proud of me. You might have said: “Way to stick it to the retail man Jess! Don’t let this superficial corporate money grab get the best of you!” You would say that… But then a funny thing happened.

I curiously and almost automatically drove my car over to Old Navy. “What could be the harm? Maybe some good sales!” As I scoured high and low for a parking spot, I wondered if it was busy. I felt a little tinge of excitement. Nothing could have prepared me for what lay in store. I mean nothing.

Store buzzing. People everywhere. Employees with headsets. Unattended children. The frantic moms. toddler puffer vests. Hiking boots for next to nothing. Teenagers stocking up on tank tops. Eternity scarves. Every imaginable colour. Young and old hunting for the best deals. The scene was so overwhelming and the madness hit me like a wave. “I am out of here!” I said as the door closed behind me. “I better go home.”

Something magical happened. A display of wonder and awe.  All of heaven shone down and beamed its marvellous glory. Way back on the far corner of the store. There they hung. Beautifully. Delicately. Proudly declaring their 75% off fleece pullover hoodie glory.

I stood there frozen in the midst of bargain fever. It had been much too long since I felt the caress of brand new fleece on my cheeks. All of my hoodies had seen better days. My desire turned savage and I felt floods of panic and fear washed over me.  “Is it too late? I had to have one, two, maybe? How many are left in my size?” GO, JESS, GO!

It was less like the power walk I had intended and more like an awkward prancercise but, nevertheless, I blazed through the crowd. I passed the line up that wrapped around the dressing rooms and as I did so I clipped an old man’s walker with my purse because the gravitational vortex of speed that I was at made my bag trail paces behind. I stepped on a little girls foot as I almost knocked over a T-shirt stand. Nothing and no one would get in my way. Seniors nor small children. I was on a mission.

When I arrived at what felt like my destiny, all of time stood still. Before me, only possibilities: brisk winter walks through the neighborhood, reading a book by the fire, Sunday afternoon drives with laughter and puppies all wrapped in the soft enchantment of fleece. When I came to, I was frothing at the mouth. “Pull yourself together Jess! Lets get this thing and get out of here!”. I searched for my size and when I went to pull the splendour of my new comfortable life off the hanger, I felt a sharp tug. No freaking way.

She was a haggard and mean looking woman with a scowl on her face and a bad attitude.  She had two screaming kids with her who looked tired and annoyed. Behind her was a very large shopping cart full of clothes. It looked as though she had been at it all day. There was no way that I was going to let her have the only size small white pullover fleece hoodie in the whole store with the haul she had in her basket. Oh hell no!  I did not like her, the look on her face, or the fact that her hands were on my sweater. She was the only thing standing between me and the pursuit of my happiness, so I pulled back.

I pulled gently enough not to stretch the precious fabric but strong enough to send a message. That I meant business. “This pullover is mine and you need to just walk away. Take that cart, those hungry kids and that mountain of sweat pants and proceed to the check out before I check you out.” I thought to myself. She looked at me and said “I saw this first.” Really? Are we playing that game?

It’s one of the first widely celebrated “Black Fridays” in Canada and I am a responsible grown woman but I let out an embarrassing and yet necessary “Actually, no you didn’t, I saw it first!” That’s it. The defining moment where I realize I have committed and this is war. We both stood steadfast in our determination, unwavering and unashamed. “It’s thanksgiving!” She said.

What? Her words were sobering.  Does this lady know where she is? This is not America. This is not our holiday. What is this Black Friday hype? Where am I? Is this a dream? As I woke from the fog of consumerism I replied  “Listen…”  and took a deep breath “…you’re totally right.” And in true Canadian spirit finished with “I’m so sorry. It’s all yours.”

I left the store empty handed but not empty hearted. The fading visions of cozy afternoons frolicking like a polar bear midst the wilderness of British Columbia in a crisp white pullover vanished. My dreams were crushed but my heart was proud. Of myself, of this country. And even though it is our American neighbours (and one really dumb Canadian) celebrating thanksgiving, I am still grateful. Grateful for the fact that yes we have big corporate American box stores in our city, but no we do not need to share in the thoughtless vigour of “bigger is better”.

In Canada, we value being humble and even if we really are not, we value saying sorry. Regardless of my possessions, be it hoodies who have been with me for eons and through many expeditions throughout this great land, I am happy with what I have and am thankful that I am Canadian.

Happy-not-our-thanksgiving-because-ours-was-in-October-black-friday-day everyone!

heart

The heart is the strongest muscle in the human body. Its beauty and tenacity lies in the metaphors of love, loss, joy, heartache and the spectrum of emotion and intuition. Like the peaks and valleys of a measured heartbeat, such are the up’s and down’s of life and the feelings we experience from what we call our heart song. The heart has the ability to beat over 3 billion times in a person’s life. It is the hardest working muscle.

Unlike the brain, a grey mushy and soggy matter that is so disappointingly weak and defenseless that it requires a thick, hard skull and the warmth of a mop of hair for protection. The lazy brain is noted for its spectacular performance ability. However, most of the hype is just good public relations because studies show that the brain fails to capitalize on the usage available by operating at less than 1/10th of its potential.

The brain, which is rumoured to house the mind, has a cynical disposition of playing tricks on you. It distorts reality, needs a constant flow of high maintenance stimuli to function and demands rest every night or else it, like a typical union worker, goes on strike. It gets dependent on the formation of neurological pathways and overreacts when those routes are disrupted. The brain is a chemical drug factory and deposits addictive chemicals into our bloodstream causing us to falsely assume it really cares about our wellbeing. Does it really care? Or just want us to feel good? Think of a Curtis Mayfield whisper in the alley “You know me, I’m your friend, Your man boy, thick and thin. I’m your pusher man.”

If you use your brain to think about it, which is a scary and freakishly conscious thought to entertain, the brain’s awareness is only a part of a bigger picture of conscious activity. When Death Cab for Cutie said , “And when I see you, I really see you upside down. But my brain knows better, picks you up and turns you around”, they allude to the fact that when there is something missing, like a lack of colour, not to trust the brain and to investigate further. The brain cannot claim it is the whole picture of functionality simply because it consciously decides so. Even if it hates to admit it, the brain requires help from other sources to operate in conscious awareness. Yes, the brain is a “big deal” and an intellectual snob to say the least, but in order to see the picture in the first place, we also need eyes, head, body, blood flow, oxygen, etc.

Furthermore, life is not possible without the strength of the heart. The heart is able to beat completely on its own at around 50 beats per minute, because of the electrical impulses which are generated by the heart muscle. Without the heartbeat, we are dead. Full stop. Interestingly, people can live for extended periods of time being considered brain dead because like Celine Dion said, “Near, far, wherever you are I believe that the heart does go on.” She was right, and Canadian. Science proves it.

I trust my heart, thank you Celine, because it can take a beating (pun intended) and keeps getting stronger. In the cartoon above the mind asks “Do you ever learn?”.  The answer would be, no. The heart doesn’t learn. That is a function of the brain. Why would the brain ask a question that it already knows the answer to? Condescending much? The heart ain’t got time to learn, brain, it’s too busy working! Why don’t you “learn” more from the heart about work ethic you lazy snobby elitist.

The hearts only purpose is to keep beating, keep beating, keep beating. Never stop, don’t stop, “Don’t stop til you get enough”, prevail under stress, adjust to levels of high and low activity, and keep beating. If the mental ability of the brain was as ambitious as the heart and still had those qualities listed above, we would be completely tortured by it. The heart gives us balance, strength in consistency and should be given way more R-E-S-P-E-C-T, respect, just a little bit, because it certainly has earned it.

In this symbolic and anthropomorphic rendering of our anatomy, I hope I have shed light on the beauty in the allegory. That the mind doesn’t have to control us like a self serving, drug pushing tyrant. That the heart is not longing for Leonardo DiCaprio day in day out with nothing better to do. That we, the consciousness that is aware of itself, is what we truly are. That is the “I” in “I am”. We are the immeasurable abstract and intangible energy between our cells, “The Space Between” says Dave Matthews. We are not the thoughts we have. We own and control them. They are our property and ultimately our responsibility. We are. We think. We feel. We act. We are powerful and divine and limitless in our ability to use our imagination to create a better world. “Imagine all the people living for today…” It’s easy if you try.

For you, dad. Your heart was the strongest and one of the sweetest songs I’ve ever heard. I miss you.

11/11/1952-02/28/2008

References and further reading to geek out to…

1.  Brain Capacity and Function: http://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences//retrieve/pii/S1364661305001178?cc=y

2. Detecting Awareness and Cognition in a vegetative state: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/313/5792/1402.short

3. What Is Consciousness?: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/188083uid=3739400&uid=2&uid=3737720&uid=4&sid=21102943264653

4. Social Cognition: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/psychology/higgins/papers/HIGGINS=PSYCH%20REVIEW%201987.pdf

Songs

1. Curtis Mayfield- “Pusherman”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCDAfa-NI-M

2. Death Cab For Cutie- “A Lack Of Colour”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=jduFDgIr598

3. Celine Dion- “My Heart Will Go On”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmbw8OycJrE

4. Michael Jackson- “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=yURRmWtbTbo

5. Aretha Franklin- “Respect”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FOUqQt3Kg0

6. The Dave Matthews Band- “The Space Between”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=H67uEgRZs2Y

7.  John Lennon- “Imagine”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRhq-yO1KN8