Category Archives: Grief

Back, Now, and Falling Forward

So we’ve come to the end of another year.   In some ways it seems so ridiculous to be reflective because of an arbitrary day on the calendar.   One day is the same as the next.  24 hours long.  Waking in the morning and going to bed at night.   Work.  Meals.  Bills.

It IS different though.  Because we make it so.   And as I look back at 2013,  at what was the saddest and hardest year I have ever experienced,  I react with a bittersweet mixture of gladness and melancholy that the year is over.  Why would I regret the death of 2013?  Should I not be ecstatic that it’s finally over?  This year of pain and loss,  grief and sorrow?  Make no mistake.   I am happy to see it go.  In my mind at least,  I have been able to pretend that midnight tonight is some sort of threshold to cross to better times.   That immediately after the countdown,  glass clinking and kisses that we’ll be forging a new and better path for all.

So from where then comes the regret?  Only this.  That this magic door of new years, that takes us from one calendar page to another, takes us in to a year in which my daughter never lived.  It takes us further and further away from hearing her voice,  for seeing her alive and well.

Photo: I miss u every day beautiful I love u so much booo booo<3

True, She died very early in 2013.  It had barely begun.  And in a week’s time I will have to jump the hurdle of her “Anniversary.”   But she lived in 2013. 2014, she will not.  And that fills me with a hollow sadness deeper than the usual.  But I also look back on 2013 and see the things that made it better than I could have hoped.  And it’s people.   Family and friends that made me feel more loved than I have ever in my life.  Do any of you know how much you mean to me?  Do you know what it is that you really did for me?  You may think you do, but you really don’t.  The small things that were nothing to you, meant much more to me. And it’s only because of your character that you’d be unaware that you did so much without even knowing it.  I can say this without a doubt, that if my daughter were able to, she would smile, and hug you, and thank you for taking care of her Dad.  It was her way.

That was the back.

and what of the now?  The now is a tired man, who’s come through a little piece of hell;  a battle-scarred warrior who didn’t put up that much of a fight.

 The now is a point in time where I have the choice to either fall back, back in to the misery that I’ve come through. Or a chance to fall forward.  Stumbling forward, seeking better.  My heart says fall back. My soul screams push forward. My brain says do neither.  But I have hands on my back. The same hands that held me up, from falling backwards in to ruin, are the ones that are now pushing me ever so slightly forward.  past the tipping point, so that I fall forward in to my future, instead of dwelling in my past.  And although a large part of my past, the most difficult part of it, will come with me, I move.  I move forward.

What is the forward?  That’s the real mystery.  I told my dear wife that the Christmas gift I wanted to give her was one that I couldn’t wrap, and that I couldn’t promise.  A better life than we’ve had to this point.  A recovery from the shadow of grief that has covered us this past 360 odd days, Removing the black veil. The mystery is not in what we want to do.  Travel.  See the world, live to the fullest. Make every day as incredible as we can. Love our friends. Love each other, in short, live completely.  The mystery is whether or not this life will afford us the opportunities to do all that we want to do.  But falling forward, we will do it.   Live like we never have before.  Falling forward,  looking to enjoy what time we have left.

And as silly as the new years thing is, I indulge myself in another dream.  In that when I fall forward, I can imagine that some of the hands on my back, are hers.  That I can hear her laugh like crystal bells, and whispered words.  “Go, daddy. Go and live.”

Just like she would want.  Falling forward.


Melancholia

For when words aren’t enough.

 

We’ll never stop missing you.


Deep Blue Funk

Five months. Five months since I stopped writing.  Why did I do that?  Take the most therapeutic thing in my life, and put it on the shelf?

There is only one real answer. The Deep Blue Funk.  We all have a monster in our lives.  Some are big, some are small.  Some of us are able to ignore it, others of us cannot.  It’s a monster of apathy and disinterest.  A vampire, it sucks away your drive.  I call mine the Deep Blue Funk.  I call him this because he is a product of my deepest emotions, and for a long time, they have been blue. 

I’ve allowed the grief that life has offered me to feed the Funk.  So I spent my days to pass in silence.

I’ve trudged to work, done my job, gone home, and sat on the couch.  I’ve watched TV instead of reading, played video games instead of writing, and spaced out instead of thinking.  I’ve put my goals aside, not because I don’t desire them, but because for the last half of a year, I haven’t really wanted anything at all.  During this time Deep Blue Funk has gotten enormous, glutting itself on my disinclination to motion.

I’ve killed Deep Blue before.  But he keeps coming back.  And now he’s on the couch with me.  He always knows when I plan on murdering him.  He’s at his most persuasive when I’m plotting his demise.

So I try again.  I have started working on my novel again.  Shortly I’ll hit Publish Post.  And hopefully it will kill Deep Blue. Maybe for good this time.

I really hate that guy.


The Happiness Paradox

In the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”

>smile

 I’ve given great thought to the matter of happiness.    Not in how to be happy, because as you’ll find in reading this, that’s a concept I find as fleeting as the taste of your favorite meal once it has been finished.  Nor, whether or not people deserve to be happy. We in Western civilization assume that it is a God-given and unalienable right to be happy.

But I challenge that assumption because I’m not certain that we have the foggiest notion of what happiness is.  In technical terms, it’s the release of chemicals in your brain that gives a pleasure response to pleasing stimulus.  So you could rightly say you are feeling happiness when eating chocolate (If chocolate is something that you enjoy)  The sound of a favorite piece of music.  Warmth when you’ve felt cold, the charms of a physical relationship with your lover.

But if we boil it down to merely a physical response, we invalidate it.  We would never say that someone addicted to mind altering drugs is “happy” when they are high, since it is likely profound unhappiness from which they escape by altering their mind with psychotropics or hallucinogenics.

No, it is none of these things that I ponder.  I find myself mulling over if any of us are truly happy based on the prominence that we assign it in our life.  Because it seems to me that happiness is momentary pause from life that can be dull, grinding, miserable, and sometimes outright horrifying.  It doesn’t seem to me that the default position for the human mind is happiness.  Which is why we consistently have to seek it.

There are some few that seem to be able to be happy in any given situation, or at least present that outwardly; it seems that nothing fazes them from happy-go-lucky.  But that is not the norm.  If you took pictures of someone candidly, while they were not engaged in pleasing situations, they would for all intents and purposes appear entirely blank.

http://www.turismo.intoscana.it/allthingstuscany/tuscanyarts/author/tuscanyarts/

Image – Thomas Ruff – Tuscany arts

Devoid of feeling.  Lacking the depth of emotion that we employ to communicate happiness, sadness, anger, anguish or love.  Little more than a breathing mannequin.  And perhaps this is the way it has to be, perhaps we are unable to maintain emotional output at all times, it would burn us out.

If you had of asked my daughter if she was happy, she would have responded that clearly she was not.  The depression sapped that away from her.  But still she found moments where she laughed, smiled, or was touched by the love of family and friends.  Happiness was not the sum of the things that she was given that made her smile.  Nor was depression for her the destruction of all things that could do that.  But for her, feeling happy fed her depression.  In an odd paradox, happiness and pleasure were catalysts to a deepening darkness. A place in herself where she felt no worthiness of happiness, in a world where she perceived the unhappiness of others.  A false smile pasted on her face, because the real ones hurt her deeply.

If we are frank with ourselves, we can realize that if we remove the items from our lives that make us happy, we won’t be happy.  It’s why we are forever chasing the things that we think will make us happy.  It fades easily back to our state of numb indifference.  Even the winner of the lottery is happiest at the moment of finding out they won, it’s all downhill from there.

This is not meant to be nothing more than a pessimistic rant.  Because can I say that I am happy?  Yes.  I have a beautiful and loving wife.  I have health, good employment.  I have a few dear friends that actually care about me, and I would walk over hot coals for them to see them happy.  I have good memories of my daughter, I have humour and laughter.  But at the same time, I can say am I happy? No.  I’ve lost one of two most important people in my life.  I struggle with the disease that afflicts my wife.  So many things have not turned out as we envisioned.  I have days that are humorless and drab, and even with the best of friends, you can only see them so much, only be so much a part of their happiness.

So perhaps we should stop wondering if people are happy or not.  Perhaps we should stop confusing dashes of joy with happiness, and realize that happiness isn’t a trait in and of itself.  It’s a sum of the things in our life, and we must strive for it.  Happiness is the moments we can glean from life, and those we can give to others as possible.  Happiness and sadness can co-exist, intertwined.

I leave you with a video, because the words of the poem I quoted makes everything I’ve written in this post meaningless noise by comparison.  they both hurt me and compel me at the same time. It is coupled with one of my favorite pieces of melancholy music, and it fits it perfectly.

Strive to be happy.  And more importantly, strive to help others be.


I am Pi

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A few days ago, my wife and I took in the Life of Pi.  I went in to watching the movie with some reservations, as I am first and foremost a reader, so I am usually disappointed with the movie adaptations.  I am also a notorious movie snob, to the detriment of my enjoyment, and to the patience of friends and family who must endure my overly critical commentary.  I was heavily mistaken in this case however, as Life of Pi was one of the best films that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.  Although this post is not a movie review, I have to give praise to Yann Martel for writing a truly engaging and spellbinding book, and applaud Ang Lee for a beautiful interpretation of it for the big screen.  I also offer that if you have not watched it, this may contain minor spoilers.

Perhaps one of the reasons that I enjoyed the movie so much beyond the fact that I found the novel to be thought-provoking, is that I identify strongly with the character.  I feel no shame in the fact that I had to hold back tears in the movie theater.  So many powerful moments stunningly depicted, all striking home.  Now that doesn’t mean that I’ve ever been in a shipwreck, unless you count the time that I sank a canoe at the cottage.  No, I haven’t been adrift in the Pacific ocean in a life boat with nothing for company but a sea-sick tiger.  But the Life of Pi was a story about symbolism, wasn’t it?  In that, I can honestly say that I am Piscine Molitor Patel.

I could talk about how he was teased by students, how he questioned everything his parents told him, how he looked for more out of life than what was placed in front of him.  But those are matters mostly of my deep past, and when the past calls, it usually doesn’t have anything new to say. What I identify with is his journey.

Because I’ve spent time adrift at sea.  I’ve been surrounded with emptiness, and struggled to come to grips with it.

I’ve hung suspended underwater, watching my ship sink, and wondered whether or not breathing in the water would be preferable to fighting my way to the life boat.

shipwreck

But continue on I did.  Continue on I must.  For as Pi discovered, despite losing what he thought was his all, life remained worth fighting for.  Against the sea, against the storm, and against the tiger.  I had my own tiger to fight.  It stalked me relentlessly.  It consumed every moment of my time and energy for over a year and a half, and only got more hungry and ferocious as time passed.  I speak of course, of my daughter’s mental illness.  I know it would seem to be more appropriate to call that her tiger, and not mine.  But to her, it was the hyena.  Craven, brutish, tearing at her.  For me, it was the tiger.  It was the insurmountable creature that forced me to fight back, from a tiny raft.  Surrounded by sharks and uncertainty, storms and fear.   I tried the ferocious approach, I tried to fight the Hyena off, and make the tiger cower.

I tried to reason with it, blow the whistle softly or loudly depending on the situation,  tried even to make the tigers presence a normal part of life adrift.  This is where the story differs.  Pi fought the tiger and won.  I fought it and lost.  And I watched my ship sink after my time in the lifeboat, instead of the other way around.  But oh, the things that Pi endured, that feel so much like my story.

Terrible loss.  Immobilizing fear.  Moments of hope dashed by deeper moments of hopelessness as the boat drifted further and further.  Feelings of despair, tossed by the waves, which showed no care or mercy.  I too, have thrown my hands up and screamed to the universe “you’ve taken everything, what more do you want!”

And now I find myself at the end of my time in the lifeboat.  Just like Pi, trying to recover from a harrowing journey, and not knowing exactly how to do it.  Convalescing in a hospital, with nothing but vivid memories of shipwreck and loss.  And as strange as it seems, a sense of loss of the tiger as well.  Because you see, when my daughter left us, the tiger left us too.  And as I also lie exhausted on the beach,  I realize that the tiger, for all the pain it caused, for the terror it inspired, also left me without looking back. Without ceremony or farewell.

The thing that was the sole focus of my life, my fears for so long, was gone in to the forest.  And I was spent.  I am sure that Pi missed his family terribly, as I miss my child.  But in a strange way, we both miss the tiger.  The creature that gave us purpose to fight.

I am Pi.


Sad Superman

Image

I have been called a hero.  I’ve been called strong, amazing, heroic.  And I can say without the slightest of hesitation, I do not feel any of these things.  It’s mystifying to me that anyone could ever identify me as a hero.

And why, you might ask, have I been identified as heroic?  What feat of superhuman rescue did I perform?

I loved my daughter. 

It doesn’t get more complex than that. 

Perhaps I should give you some context.  Because calling someone a hero for doing what they are supposed to do as a parent, seems just a little odd.  My Father, after the death of my daughter, tearfully praised me for all I had done for her in the months leading up to her succumbing to the depression that ate away at her soul.  That I had taken the time off of work, had stayed with her, walked with her, tried to help and heal her.  He said it was heroic.

My friend called me amazing, and heroic, because after all our efforts to save her failed, I stood up and delivered her eulogy.  I planned her funeral, I walked behind her casket, and I didn’t fall down.

Yet another friend called me heroic for being able to walk in to her room, and begin the process of sorting through her things.  To seek people and places to donate my child’s belongings, just as I know she would want them to be used.

And even another called me Superman, for doing all these things, and for not falling apart completely.

To me, these are things that I can’t accept.  Trying to help Amber through her depression, trying to save her life, that was nothing more than what I SHOULD have done as her father.  Delivering her eulogy?  She deserved nothing less than her father being willing to stand up and tell her story.  And the rest?  That’s just the sad aftermath, that all who lose a loved one must ultimately undertake.

But let’s pretend for a second, doing all of those things make me heroic.  Let’s perpetuate that illusion for a second.

The only thing it means, is that I’m a failed hero.  I’m the sad Superman, who despite rushing in to rescue, watches as his efforts fall apart.  Hand desperately outstretched, trying to catch the falling victim, and missing. 

The Superman who can’t fly, so he has to run to try to keep up with what he can’t catch.  No super hearing or vision, no inhuman strength.  Just a bent man in a crumpled cape placed on his shoulders by other people.  Face in his hands, living with the regret of not being the superhero that he needed to be to get the job done.

Do I blame myself that I couldn’t save her?  Do I cast fault at my own feet that my daughter chose to end her own life?  No.  The depression that consumed my beautiful child was something that even the real superman couldn’t defeat.  It was the kryptonite of mental illness, and all efforts to change it met with failure.

But oh, how I wanted to be Superman.  I wanted to stop the speeding bullets of her self-hatred.  I wanted to stand in front of them and have them deflect off of me like nothing more than crumpled up pieces of paper.  I wanted to have super vision so that I could see when she was harming herself, and I could swoop in to stop it.

I wanted to be able to travel “Faster than a locomotive” like Superman. Faster still, than the train that brought me home on that fateful day, so that I could have been there in time to stop it.

I could do none of those things. And although I don’t accept the fault, I don’t shoulder the blame for it, I live with the regret, that the enemy was stronger than me, the super-villian was too much, too powerful to be defeated.

I can’t wear the cape.  I don’t deserve it, and capes are useless when you are unable to fly.


Her Story

Her story

(This is the eulogy that I delivered at my daughters funeral, just two months ago. We lost our wonderful child to depression and suicide.  I wanted to share what I have already shared, and tell her story.  Please understand, the grammar and structure, as it was intended for speaking more than reading.)

Welcome, and thank you all for being here. Amber’s mother and I cannot express in words the gratitude we feel for the outpouring of love, and the presence of family, friends, colleagues and loved ones. It warms our heart to see the faces of so many who knew and loved Amber, and those who know and love us.
Before I continue, I want to explain my strange attire. All too often, we put on a suit and a tie, and do our best to look presentable. I chose to dress in the manner that Amber loved me best. Frequently as I got ready for work, with my coat and tie, I would ask Amber how I looked. She would wrinkle her nose and shrug. One time, she said “that isn’t really you.” So Instead of Mark, the business man, I chose to appear as Mark, the daddy. I even skipped shaving, because Amber would kiss me on the cheek each night, and she liked it better when I was a bit scruffy. The only difference in what I’m wearing from what I usually would, are my mismatched socks.

First I would like to tell you about the Amber from a time before most of you met her.  Amber was full of surprises. She began her list of surprises and shocks by crashing in to the world on March 22, 1996, a full seven weeks ahead of schedule. Her mother didn’t even know she was in labour, until moments before Amber arrived. She weighed in at 4 pounds and 10 ounces. She came fast, tiny, wrinkly, screaming, and beautiful. Dad nearly passed out.
She continued her preference for amusing surprises. Like the one time she was up late at night and was being really fussy, until mom and dad were able to hypnotize her to sleep. Or, the first time that mom and dad decided to go out after her being born, she promptly vomited her last meal down the inside of her mom’s shirt when hugs and kisses goodbye were being given. And what parent didn’t have the little nudist stage? Always at the most inopportune times, off came the clothes, and the shrieks of laughter began as she ran naked and free.

Amber was mostly smiles and laughs. She warmed up to people so fast and played with any kid that came along, just so long as they weren’t meanies.  She was precocious, and ferocious in her protection of her mommy and daddy. Like when mommy was watching the news and crying about the events of 9/11, she stuck with her mommy, and then prayed that everyone would be safe and the police would get the bad guys. Or when she was just a few years old, and Daddy was pulled over for speeding. She promptly undid her seatbelt, stood up, and yelled at the police officer to leave her daddy alone, because he was taking her to Sunday school. Daddy still got the ticket.

The years of her as a little girl passed in a flash. Halloweens, birthdays, Christmases. Ten thousand, one hundred thousand memories of laughs and smiles and tears and temper tantrums only a privileged few of us were blessed to share in.  Those memories are something her mother and I will cherish and hold dear. But what I want to talk to you more about the Amber that many of you got to meet.

There comes a time when a child starts to turn to other people for companionship and laughter. Mommy becomes Mom, Daddy becomes Dad. And that is as it should be. It was with pride that we watched Amber develop friendships and relationships independently. Amber drew people to her. Her smile and personality made her instantly likeable. Many of you here today experienced exactly that, an engaging, unique and caring girl that was willing to be friends with just about anyone.

She had a maturity and intelligence beyond her years. In a time where you would expect her to care more about gadgets and shoes and video games, she asked questions about history, current events, politics and philosophies, questions that would leave you struggling to answer.At the same time, she expressed herself through silliness and fun. Most of the time, she did this to lift the spirits of those around her. She’d run and tackle hug people without worrying about dignity and decorum. She would tear out of the house without shoes on to greet her friends. Her mismatched socks would get filthy, and she simply didn’t care. She sang along to her music. She often complained that her own singing voice was kind of like a tone-deaf frog, but even though she felt that way, she would sing anyways. When we drove somewhere, and she managed to convince us to plug her music in, she would dance in the car. She didn’t care who saw her doing it, and laughed when people did a double take of her silly moves in the seat.

Amber dreamed of being a social worker. She could never decide though, what kind she would want to be. She didn’t know if she wanted to work with teenagers. Or the elderly. Or with those who had disabilities. Her indecision on that came not from uncertainty, but an unwillingness to choose one; for fear that the others would be left out.

Amber loved sports. Individual sports she excelled in were swimming, water-skiing, tubing and knee boarding. As to team sports, many here had the pleasure of seeing Amber play soccer, her first love. But she played at times basketball, hockey, and flag football too. She was never the most technically skilled player on the field, but what she lacked in training and skill, she made up for in sheer heart. She played her soul out. Her face would go bright red within moments of starting to play. A ferocious look of focus and determination would be fixed in her eyes as she chased the ball, shot the puck or tried to catch the pass.

She wanted nothing more than to help her team. In soccer, her chosen sport, she would be upset if she didn’t score a goal. And when she scored one, she would be unhappy that she didn’t score two. This was never because she craved personal glory. She just wanted to help her team win. Once, at a soccer tournament, she was awarded the team MVP medallion. She took it, put it in her soccer bag, and I didn’t see it again for months. It wasn’t until I was putting away some clean laundry for her, that I found it tucked in the very back of her sock drawer. Only the awards that she won as a team, like the Milton all-stars championship trophy, were on display in her room.

Amber had an artist’s heart. She wrote. She sketched and doodled, she acted in her drama classes, she sang and danced. She was never satisfied with what she produced. Her artistic ability far exceeded that of her parents, but she would always go back and erase, and retry. The goose that she was trying to draw, its feathers were out-of-place. That line of script for her drama presentation wasn’t delivered just right. Wasn’t there a better line I can write for this poem? Amber wanted everyone to see, in her drawings or stories or poems, what she was seeing in her heart.

It is impossible to offer enough of Amber’s life to truly paint a picture of what she turned out to be. But now I’d like to talk to you about the Amber we didn’t know.

When I say the Amber we didn’t know, I speak of some of the things that we learned about Amber in the last few months of her life, and what we have learned after her passing. We always knew that Amber was good and kind and compassionate. We didn’t know, though, and may never fully grasp, the extent of her soul.
Amber turned no one away. There were no losers in her eyes. No one was unacceptable, no one was unlovable. On her Facebook page, she posted a 5 second clip of herself. She does nothing more than smile, and then hold up a sign that says “you’re all beautiful.” And she believed this. That everyone in this world deserved love.

She gave of herself fully and completely. Her cell phone would buzz constantly, and she would carry on three, four, ten conversations at once. That always seemed like normal teenager stuff.  But what she was doing was helping people. She was offering words of comfort and support to people who were struggling. She would drop whatever she was doing, and go to her friends when they were in need. She did so regardless of how she was feeling. It would be raining cats and dogs, she’d have a bad cold, and she’d get a call. She’d be out in the rain and on her way to her friend in a moment.

And even seeing this… knowing how good and kind she was, it left us unprepared for the stories that have poured in since her death. Stories from people, friends, other young people, who told us what Amber really was. Stories of people who had given up all hope. Messages that said they were done with living, until Amber came and lifted some of their pain, so they could go on. Not one, not two. But many stories and messages from people of how Amber had rescued them. Or made their lives brighter.

When Amber was a little girl, I would lie on my back, lift her in the air with my legs, and she would spread her arms and fly. Pretending that she was a superhero. She dreamed of being a hero. She and I argued about who was the better superhero. I liked batman, she thought Batman was lame and that Spiderman was better.

She fulfilled her dream. She became a superhero. One that put Batman and Spiderman to shame. She never would believe that of herself, but the best heroes are the ones that don’t claim to be one.

The truth is, Amber saved lives. She made other lives better. She freely carried the hurts of others so that others could see their way through. She worked tirelessly and selflessly to make sure that her friends and others around her felt loved and worthwhile. She accomplished more good at 16 than many will in lifetimes of 60, 70, 80 years. As much as her loss hurts, as deep as the pain is, the greatest feeling is pride, and awe at what our little girl became, and what she did.

Amber dreamed of paradise. But she didn’t dream of it for herself. She dreamed of a world of paradise where everyone would be safe and happy and loved.
To everyone here, Mom, Dad, Grandpas and Grandpas, Nanas and poppas, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, Amber knew that we loved her. She never doubted this. Know that, and take comfort in the fact that she understood that we loved her. And take comfort in the fact that she loved each without reservation as well.  Do not doubt for a moment that she questioned that love. Amber understood how to love more than most of us ever do. For those who have come to support us, but didn’t know Amber, know that she would be happy that people were here to care about those she cared about. It’s exactly as she would want it.

We know that Amber is now free of fear or pain. We know we will see her again for tackle hugs and a kiss on the cheek.
But we may find ourselves asking, what now? With Amber gone what do we do? I can tell you she is not gone. She is in every smile given to someone who needs it. She can be in every hug you give a friend that is hurting. We can honour her memory by carrying out her heart’s desire. That everyone feel like they matter. That everyone be told, and feels, as if they are beautiful.

I say this to everyone here, but especially to you young men and women so close to becoming adults. Help each other. Lift each other up when you fall. Don’t suffer in silence when you are broken-hearted. Let no one be excluded or left behind. There are no losers; there are none unworthy of being loved. All Amber wanted for each of you is happiness and love, reach out and take it from people when you need it, and give it to those you know that are needing it now.

Thank you again, for Loving our little girl.