In memory of the kindest man

One day my Grandmere (my mom’s mom…she’s French) called me around ten at night. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would be alarmed to see their grandparents’ phone number show up on their screen at that hour, but I don’t think twice about it. She and I talk a lot in the late evenings, sometimes for long stretches of time and sometimes just for a few minutes. That night it was only for a few minutes as there was just one thing she wanted to tell me. There’s a note in my phone dated February 12 with what we talked about because I promised my Grandmere I would write it down.

Ready for it? She told me that in case she died first, she knew what she wanted my Grandpa’s (Irish, not French) gravestone to say: The kindest man.

That’s it. The kindest man. I told her it was perfect, because it was. It is. And then that was that. We hung up and went back to whatever we’d been doing.

Just as a late night phone call from grandparents might alarm someone, so might having a conversation like this, randomly discussing matters of death on a casual Sunday night. But again, this didn’t throw me. As a family, there aren’t a lot of things we shy away from and won’t talk about.

Just last summer we were passing around my grandparents’ future urns at a family dinner. It’s not as weird as it sounds – my great uncle in Calgary is a talented wood worker and makes many beautiful things, including urns, and my grandparents wanted a set, so he delivered them when he was in town last summer. A bunch of us gathered around admiring these urns, and when my Grandpa went back out onto the deck he chuckled and lightheartedly said he’d just been checking out “his next home.” We laughed because it all seemed so impossibly far away.

Even on February 12 when my Grandmere called me, the idea of my Grandpa’s gravestone was still all theoretical. By that day, cancer was already spreading throughout his body, we just didn’t know it yet. But even though we didn’t know it, and even though it all still seemed so far away, there was no doubt that, “the kindest man” were the perfect words by which to remember my Grandpa. One day.

That one day came a lot quicker than anyone expected. He died last Wednesday, April 12, 2017 and yesterday we said goodbye to the 87 years young man with a heart of gold.

My grandpa really was the kindest man.

He was so many other things, too. Patient, hard-working, humble, accepting, generous and loyal. But his kindness is what set him apart.

FullSizeRender (1)Growing up it seemed like Grandpa was always off helping someone in the community. My mom would call their house on a Saturday or Sunday and he wouldn’t be home because he was volunteering at the food bank, serving hot meals on the downtown eastside, or helping refugee families adjust and get settled. I remember in grade two or three talking about him in class when we had to give examples of being a Christian witness. Even then, even without knowing the half of everything that he did for other people, I knew that I was proud to be related to such a kind person.

I don’t think any of us know just how much he did for other people, because my Grandpa was incredibly humble. He never made a fuss over anything he did. He helped without expecting anything in return. He didn’t want any recognition and he never made anyone feel like a burden, rather he made it seem as if we were doing him the favour by asking for his help in the first place.

There was no question that we could count on Grandpa when we were in a bind. When I was twelve I had a dance competition out in Abbotsford in the middle of a school day. After having no luck finding me a ride, my mom called her dad and asked if he could help. He didn’t say yes or no. Instead he answered with, “I love Abbotsford.” Even though it meant over four hours of driving for him, he didn’t hesitate to help out. He made it sound like he’d been planning on going to Abbotsford all along.

My Grandpa had a song for everything. He was always singing songs from before my time, especially mid conversation. One of his favourite songs to sing to us grandkids when we were in the hot tub was “Tiny Bubbles” and I think I was 18 before I realized that it wasn’t actually a sweet love song but rather an ode to wine. Still, I think it will always be a love song to us.

I could go on forever with stories of my Grandpa. And I’ve only been around for the last 25 years of his 87 years of life. I can’t even scratch the surface of the depth and meaning of the life he lived, and more importantly, of the lives he touched.

But I think the best testament to the wonderful person that he was goes back to my conversation with my Grandmere on February 12. When she told me that she wanted him to be remembered as the kindest man, we didn’t even know he was sick. This isn’t just how he will be remembered, but this is how my Grandpa was talked about his entire life. This is exactly how he lived his life and how he made his mark on this world. With kindness.

Recently my mom was on my Grandpa’s computer resetting a password for an online account, and when the email came through with the link to reset it, it also contained a secure phrase, a phrase my Grandpa had come up with himself as a second safety measure for this account.

The phrase he wrote was: I love all my family.

We know, Grandpa. We never doubted it for a second. And we all love you, too.

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My siblings and I spent most of our childhood in costume…it appears to be an inherited trait!

Everything we need we already have

What is this? A new post? Could it be?

Yes, believe it or not, I have not completely abandoned my blog. I’ve only half abandoned it, and it’s only because I’m still on the struggle bus. This flare up mixed with life circumstances right now has me feeling overwhelmed and worn out.

But that’s going to change soon! Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

And! Despite all the blah-ness going on these days, I got to be part of something really cool yesterday. About five months ago I got an email from someone I’ve met before who organizes “EDvents” and he was wondering if I wanted to be a speaker at the EDvent in April.

What exactly is an EDvent? From their website: “EDvent is an extracurricular pro-D event for K-12 educators and pre-service teachers throughout the lower mainland.” There are 10ish speakers who each get five minutes to talk about something to do with their teaching practice that relates to the theme. By the way, last night’s theme was “Get Fed.” I was very hesitant at first because I’m not a teacher and umm I don’t eat, but I agreed anyway.

I was even more hesitant the last few weeks because of whole sick and tired and overwhelmed and worn out thing, and I didn’t know if I had it in me. But I rallied and it was a really great experience, plus the audience was really supportive…including a woman whose daughter had been on TPN for a year and a bit after she was born!

The total body backlash today is worth being there last night, and I can’t really ask for much more than that.

And just a shout out to the event organizer, Gabe, for making the evening accessible to me. He made sure I had a chair to sit on while I spoke (which I totally recommend for anyone who struggles with blood pooling because talking and breathing is hard enough on it’s own without all your blood being trapped in your legs) and he let me speak earlier in the night so that I could leave early and get home to start my TPN. Thanks, Gabe!

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I left the house. And I even wore a dress and everything. And the dim restaurant lighting totally hid my paleness which is always a win.

Anyway, here’s what I said:

The whole premise of this evening’s event is rather interesting to me for two reasons. One is that I’m a bit an imposter here. This is an education focused event, and I’m not actually an educator. I’m related to a whole bunch of them, but I myself am not one. And two, with respect to tonight’s theme of Get Fed, here’s a fun fact for you: I can’t eat.

My medical history is long and complicated, but due to a genetic disorder, the connective tissue that is supposed to hold me together doesn’t do its job and so I’m basically falling apart everywhere. Joints, skin, blood vessels, organs.  Most notably my digestive organs are no longer able to process food. So I can’t eat. Instead I have a permanent IV catheter in my chest and I get all of my nutrients and fluids though a specialized IV solution. And because I’ve had these questions before, let me just clarify that no this is not because I’m vegan or gluten intolerant or I just don’t like eating my vegetables. Medically, I am unable to eat.

So perhaps you can understand now why the theme Get Fed is amusing to me, seeing as I haven’t had a meal in over three years.

But I think we all know that we’re not here to swap recipes, because in life we feed on so much more than just the food we eat. We are fed by our experiences and our connections with other people. We are fed by a sense of purpose and opportunities to create change. And if you are anything like the teachers in my life, your job feeds you. The successes of your students are your successes.

But what happens when all of these things that feed us are taken away? What happens when we lose everything that makes us who we are?

It’s not something we think about because we don’t think it will ever happen, but that’s what happened to me.

Five years ago I was thriving. I was a year away from my degree and I had big goals with everything in place to reach them. And then, I got sick. And as I desperately tried to keep my life together, I watched it all fall apart. First my education, then my job, then my future. Everything that fed me, everything that I thought defined me and gave me worth as a person, was gone.

Oh, and also I literally couldn’t eat anymore.

So I was starving. Inside and out. But I’m not starving anymore, because of some pretty advanced health care, and because what I learned next changed my life.

By the way, this is not the part of the story where I bravely overcome my illness and go on to reach all of my dreams. I mean, that would be a great story, but it’s not my story. My illness can’t be overcome, it kicks my butt every day.

Rather, what I learned next was that even though my life was in pieces, I was not powerless because I still had choice. And that’s the truth that now feeds me: everything I need to live my best life I already have. I’ve always had it. And that’s choice.

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Paparazzi shot. Aka mom took this. Mom’s comment after: you looked so comfortable! And you looked 12.

I don’t think the most important choices we make in our lives are the ones we assume they are, you know, those milestone decisions. The choices that define our lives are less complicated than that. Choosing joy over sorrow. Choosing hope over fear. Choosing to be grateful for what we have instead of resentful of what we don’t. And choosing to continue making these choices not just when we have everything, but when we have nothing.

Sure, goals are important, income is helpful, and I hear pretty good things about being able to eat food. But these are extras. We can have all of these things, and more, and still feel empty. What matters most aren’t the decisions about what we do with our lives, but the ones about how we live them. These are the most important choices we make, the ones that define who we are. These are the choices that lead us to live our best lives.

I will probably never eat another meal in my entire life. I don’t have any degrees next to my name or any job to call my own. I live in a body that beats me up every single day. My life doesn’t look anything like I want it to, and if I could change it, I would in a heartbeat. And yet I am still living my best life.

Because I choose to.

And you can, too.

 

When life punches you in the face

Hiiiii friends.

Long time no see! Or talk. Or blog. Or whatever. Long time no something. Here’s a pretty photo of what it looked like here recently!

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This is definitely the longest I’ve gone without writing a new post since I started this blog three years ago. It’s also the first time I’ve skipped an entire calendar month. Time is kind of foggy for me right now. It feels like it is dragging on forever, the days sometimes unbearably long, yet time also seems to be passing very quickly, and that email I read yesterday and was going to respond to the next day has actually been sitting untouched in my inbox for a week and a half. It’s a little disorienting.

I also composted a pair of socks and put some crackers away in the fridge instead of the cupboard, so clearly it’s not just time that has me mixed up these days.

But anyway, my sources tell me that it’s now the middle of February so there you go. (That sentence used to read “the beginning of February” because when I started writing this it was in fact the beginning of February. See above, re: the passing of time is confusing.)

Things with me are mostly the same as they were at the end of last year. Quite a lot has happened since then, but so far no answers as to what has been going on and why I’ve been so unwell lately. I’m still waiting to follow-up with some people, I’m still waiting on some tests, and I’m also waiting to see some new people who I don’t get to see for another few months.

In the meantime, I’m still humming along and doing my best, but it’s hard. And frustrating. And tiring. Some days I think I’m feeling better, but the truth is that I’m just getting used to this. I’m doing the thing that people with chronic health conditions do when things go downhill and stay down for a while, and I’m adjusting to this reduced level of functioning. I’ve done it before. On the one hand, this adjustment is helpful so that you stop waking up every day thinking why is everything so terrible? On the other hand, it’s discouraging when you look back at where you started and realize just how many adjustments you’ve had to make over the years.

Mostly, though, it has nothing to do with one hand or the other, but rather it’s an “it is what it is” shrug of the shoulders.

On the plus side, when I go to appointments now I don’t have to worry about whether or not anyone will believe that I’m sick because these days I actually look how I feel. As twisted as it might sound, this is actually validating. I’m not thrilled about the growing list of people who have expressed concern for me because of my appearance, recent additions including my pharmacist and the guy who delivers my TPN, but it’s also comforting to know that it’s not just me, that they see it, too.

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Do I look healthy or what?

Last time I saw my family doctor we discussed how I wasn’t feeling or looking better, and how it kind of looks like I got punched in the face and am recovering from two black eyes. And then we decided that life is the one who punched me in the face. And then we laughed about it because in a situation like this, what else do you do but laugh?

Anyway, that’s where I’m at.

Now, the real question is, besides laugh about it with your doctor, what do you do when life punches you in the face?

I feel like the answer here is maybe supposed to be punch back? I don’t know, but that sounds like it requires a lot of energy which I don’t have, plus I’ve never really been one for punching. And then there’s that whole an eye for an eye business to watch out for.

So, no punching back. Instead, I’ve chosen content as my one word for the year and I’m putting all of my energy into that. By the way, I mean content as in a state of peaceful happiness, not content as in the contents of something. Content, as in contentment, as in feeling content. It’s also important to note the difference between being content and being complacent. I may be getting used to this, but I’m not complacent about it. I haven’t given up. I haven’t resigned myself to a life of looking like life’s punching bag. Not yet, anyway.

I’m not complacent. I’m just content. Or at least I’m trying to be.

My life looks a lot different than usual these days. I can’t stay awake all day, so I sleep every afternoon. Despite the eternal list of things I want to crochet, I don’t have much energy for actually crocheting, so I’m turning away orders and sometimes letting days go by without picking up my hooks. And being social, even just via social media, has been particularly draining lately, so I’ve got close to one hundred unchecked Facebook notifications from two weeks of mostly avoiding it.

None of this, however, means that I can’t be content. It certainly makes being content more of a challenge, but it doesn’t make it impossible. It’s always harder to feel happy and peaceful when things aren’t going well, but that’s when making the effort matters the most.

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So I’m making the effort. I’m making the best of things. I’m letting myself just be still. Even though things are pretty tough right now, I’m still finding moments of contentment every day. It’s not perfect and it won’t be enough forever, but it’s something, and it’s enough for now.

And at the very least, it’s better than an eye for an eye.