The occasional wallowing, or how I wish I could chat with Sophia Loren

19 10 2018

Approved-Sophia-Loren-Armando-Gallo-Photographer-I have a lot of friends who are dealing with chronic illness or the illness of loved ones or bereavement or even the loss of pets. So when I saw this article, it called to me: “The Other Side of Grief” by Whitney Akers. The article links to a group of stories about how people coped with their grief, from goat yoga on… One of the points made truly resonated with me:IMG_8129

“Even years later…a sense of deep loss comes in cycles, is hidden in the nooks of your house for you to unexpectedly stumble upon, and becomes a part of you forever…”

So true that. I fell across a sketchbook of my dad’s the other day (he’s been gone 32 years now, for context), and I had to stop and catch my breath, the feeling of loss was so acute. Every time I see an apricot poodle, I am overcome with memories of Pickles the wonder dog, my best friend through many years of my marriage. I talk to someone about a work issue and I can’t help my mind from skipping back to things I wished I’d done differently at work. I feel again the loss and embarrassment I felt when I was forced by my MS to leave employment.

People with chronic illnesses deal with incremental grief, too – every new challenge needs to be adapted to, self-image redefined. Inside we try to stay the same as we were (or better still, learn from our experiences), but our outer selves change and toss us aboutfunny-picture-dump-the-day-53-pics-funny-funny-misshapen-body a bit.

Sophia Loren says: “If you haven’t cried, your eyes cannot be beautiful.” I agree. It’s like parenting or running a marathon. Unless you’ve experienced significant loss, you really don’t understand. And the type of loss isn’t what is important. It’s what it does to you. You can grieve the loss of a pet as heavily as of a person. (I urge you to avoid grieving for plants or fish though as they die frequently and you’d just be a mess.)

I’m not saying it’s okay or good for anyone to grieve constantly. I think that just lays you waste. But in my experience, it’s good to be prepared for those little bits of grief that leap out at you from the corners. It’s extra special good if you can appreciate the feeling and then use it to enrich your world, by helping others or creating art or even just smiling at strangers who look like they might be having a terrible day.

Sophia Loren also says:
“I’ve never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don’t understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now.”
Mind you, perhaps sharing ALL of your past might be unwise (shameful details might lead to the wrong impression…;-) ) (ahem)

 

Of course, Sophia also said:

e4e93e94-73ea-4980-b49f-e124be457e98“Everything you see I owe to Spaghetti.” and “Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner.”

See why I love this woman?

So, while I’m not inhaling spaghetti (though now I am dreaming of it), I’ve decided to take the lumps the world has given me and sculpt them into something else. I know it helps.

make-art-and-write

 

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Prepared to grieve

16 04 2018

williamshakespeare1The tragedy of the Humboldt hockey players bus crash and the loss of all those sweet boys was and is truly horrible. I feel for parents and friends and other teams and everyone involved. Especially the driver that survived…images-26

But while this is happening, and we respond by doing things like putting hockey sticks outside doors, wearing team shirts, etc., I can’t help but think that at this moment, we are all prepped for grief, standing on the edge of weeping, hanging onto the unstated hope that the US government and people will not send the world into war.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like living in this constant state of tension, waiting for that deadly tweet from an insane man who doesn’t think the rest of the government has any role. What will keep he-who-shall-not-be-named from setting up a fake situation with Russia or Korea and sending off those “very smart” bombs he is so proud of? Especially if his stock goes down, or that infamous tape is released?

1bvnzs(Aside: his childish hatred of the Democrats is insane. Who does things like pee on a mattress just because the Obamas slept there? What is in this man’s head?)

As a Canadian, I’m not directly involved in the loss of democracy below the border, but it and the hateful rhetoric that allowed the fascist oligarchs to take over is slipping through the permeable membrane between our countries. H-W-M-N-B-N and the GOP have made it okay to promote racism and stupidity and flash anger over rational thought. That’s tempting for anyone who is frustrated by the status quo. Simple sound bytes and lack of discussion are easier, clearer, than complicated explanations and balanced approaches.vx7jcsh

 

 

So everyone I speak to seems to have an undercurrent of tension these days. A little high pitched note under their speech, a slight twitch to their eyes. We joke – but there’s a tone under the humour, like things are changing in ways we don’t like to this may be the last time the winter is like this, the spring comes like this, fall slips in like this.

920x920

I imagine it felt like this before WW1. I’m reading Barbara Tuchman’s excellent “The Guns of August” about this lead time and it sounds terribly, awfully familiar. People taking offense at nothing, anger over things that are said, a sense of chaos and loss of control. Evil people consolidating power and denying existing governmental rules, backroom deals and the lust for money.

It almost feels like something must happen to let off the tension.

Let’s hope it’s impeachment and not world destruction.

 

And meanwhile, we watch in the darkness, sensing the storm coming, unable to stop it. We giggle, nervously, clutch at entertainment and the solace of hygge, wrapping ourselves in wooly cocoons. But when something awful happens, we scream out, prepared as we are to weep.

Practicing. Preparing. For the big one?

Thank heavens for the young, the hopeful and perhaps a wee bit ignorant. Everyone says everyone must study history. True. But we must do so without engendering the cynicism many of us have tangled so close to our chests. Because cynicism crushes hope, and only in hope can we achieve any change.

sprouting-seed-1

 

 





On September 11th, change, and homeostasis

11 09 2016

nuke-nycFifteen years is a long time. Listening to the memorials for the 9/11 disaster, I find myself thinking about two things – the thousands and thousands of people of all nations who have lost their lives in war since then – and the changes that have happened to me and in the world since then.

Canadians were heroes that day; George W. Bush read a story about a goat. I’m sure he did a lot of other things that day, too, but that’s all I saw. That and the towers falling down over and over and over again.

I heard about the disaster at work. I was working in public health, on the family health team, and we raced downstairs to see the disaster on the office television. Internet news wasn’t the thing yet. The crashes altered our functioning. They destroyed a media campaign a couple of us had been working on about fetal alcohol syndrome. We’d gone through the loops of approval, community engagement, la di da, and it perished with barely a sigh. Just the money was gone. Such a colossal waste of time and money, but then I soon felt that most such health campaigns were the same.

They seemed especially so after the disaster and the wars that followed. what’s the point in pushing healthy eating when half the world is fighting for life?

Since that time, I changed jobs 4 times, moved 9 times, wrote a bunch of stories, was published a bit, started needle felting, learned the ukulele. I took the train across the country. I went to Newfoundland. I moved to the East Coast, leaving family and friends behind, started over.

I divorced. I lost 50 lbs. I was diagnosed with MS. I gained them back. My son, then my daughter, stopped speaking to me. He remains silent. My other sons grew up and away. I gave up on work, on parenting, on weight loss.

I met and loved a couple of men. One wisely broke my heart. The other one’s heart I broke. I gave up on love.

In the meantime, we all gave up freedoms. I travelled by plane, stripping off my shoes when going to the US. People somewhere started reading our emails and tracking our phone calls. The War on Terrorism, even less effective than the War on Drugs, had started. Our world turned to the right, to the intolerant, to the uncharitable. Fascist leaders got elected here, there, and everywhere. One is even running for President. And North Korea 29906170001_5117832015001_5117813897001-vsplays with atomic weapons like they are kids’ toys.

keep-calm-and-maintain-homeostasis-9But in the corners of the world, and my own personal disasters, things are changing. There’s a light wind of hope – only light so far.I could be imagining it. In my ear, it whispers homeostasis, that wonderful word that describes how everything gradually swings back into balance.

I’m getting back into balance, more settled, less windblown. Nothing is perfect, but things are less imperfect.

World-wise, a few gracious visionary leaders are being elected. Maybe there will be more. Or maybe things will go completely off the rails and we’ll all be dust by this time next year. In any case, spring will come again, and things will push forward to balance, whether or not we are part of it.

homeostasiscell-physiology-by-profdrrrdeshpande-35-638

 

 

 





Just that kind of summer…

22 07 2016

36fa0fcd251e8234e645b8f252fbf615I’m sitting here in the kind of heat that reduces me to tears anyway, but what IS is about this summer? It’s hot, even for the climate change deny-ers. It’s stormy. Animals are being fried in closed up cars again, and I have no doubt babies are as well. People are shooting people. People are yelling. The terrifying RNC. Soon to be followed by the DNC.

People are driving cranky, swerving in the heat, blasting music out of their windows to protest their lack of air conditioning. Motorcycle drivers are angrier in their leather suits. Can’t say I blame them. Horns. Sirens.

The only cheerful people are the road workers, who have adapted to the heat.

And in amongst this are the losses. My dear Aunt Colleen, one of the kindest women I know, passed away suddenly. A dear friend of mine watched her long time companion ease into death. So many are not doing well, so many are taking those final steps. Perhaps my younger brother is right and these are the end days and all the nice people are being checked out ahead of the disasters. All I can say is, “Hello? I’m still here!!!”

Mind you, so is he.

It’s the kind of summer where you want to sit with your feet in the water somewhere, listening to the waves and bird call, and sipping a series of tangy beers that are light on the tongue. Turn off your phone. Shut down Pokemon Go! Move occasionally to flap away an errant bug. Read. In the SHADE. Read light things like the crazy fun cozies by MaryJane MaffiniVictoria Abbot Melodie Campbell, and  Judy Penz Sheluk. Scary stories like those by the admirable Rick Mofina. Thrillers like those by my newly found fave Alex Marwood.

maxresdefaultNo romances. It’s too hot for romance. Even thinking about a hug is enough to set a sweat cycle off again and trust me, it ain’t pretty. If women glow, I am a firefly these days. And my hair….well, it’s best not spoken about. It’s broken.

No one smells nice.

Mind you, the pheromones are flying about…

Hang tough, world. It doesn’t have to be the end times. Just treat people nice, even if you are a sordid little puddle of malodorous sweat. Be kind. Stop shouting. Have a cool drink or a sip of soothing tea.And pray or dance or hop for all you are worth to whatever deity you may or may not believe in that this fall will turn out all right.

Special hugs to my cousins, who have lost another of the remarkable family we were all lucky enough to grow up in. Love to you all.

And thanks to Philip Hill, who sent me this perfect photo. (Photo by Patrick Joust)

 





Dear mum

25 01 2016
MollyBrownPoster

Well, Margaret Warner, actually. Unsinkable, certainly.

I’m thinking of you today. I’m not sure why this bright winter day brings you to mind, but maybe it’s a confluence of two things I’ve read. The first was “Dear Fatty”, by Dawn French – her memoir, written as a series of letters to people she knows and loves. We never shared Dawn – she came on the scene here a little bit after you left. I know you’d have loved her, her crazy humour – that is, if you could get past her being so round and the occasional shocking bit.  I can hear your voice saying something like, “She’d be so pretty if she weren’t so heavy,” much as you said to me on more than one occasion that I needed to lose weight but, I “could still move well.” And I had “such lovely skin.” I think you’d have loved her parish council in The Vicar of Dibley, given your work with the church and probably a very similar council.

I don’t think you’d have liked French and Saunders – I think something about their drinking and fooling around would have left you profoundly uncomfortable, as you seemed to be with Monty Python. Do you remember when Life of Brian came out and there was all this fuss about the sacrilege? You came down on the “not to be seen” side, as I recall, but I saw it anyways and it remains one of my favourite movies.

Thank you for being that someone I could test myself against, push my ideas against, form myself against. We didn’t think alike in most ways, and now that I am about your age when you discovered your cancer, I realize that I missed getting to really know you. We spent so much time butting heads, politely, always politely, but I missed getting to know the fun you you shared with my cousins and your friends.

You had mothering goals with me and I suppose I am the same with my kids, trying to be accepting and encouraging and laugh endlessly with them but always having that motherhood light attached, blinking concern at the wrong moment, putting my foot wrong. I used to think I was such a good mom. Funny how that changes as you grow older, how you see the gaps where you could have done better, where you missed that bit, where that little bit of mothering knitting dropped a stitch, purled when it should have knitted. I wonder if you ever felt that.

You always seemed supremely confident. But maybe you, like me, sang “Whistle a Happy Tune” as you stepped into new situations, faking confidence, you with such élan. I wish I knew. Maybe if I thought you’d had doubts I would have felt closer to you, as I fought my way to adulthood. As it is, I felt all weakness was an embarrassment to you. God knows how you would have taken my bouts of depression. Mental illness, to you, was a sign of weakness. And scary as hell. Because of this we barely saw my father’s family with their admitted mental health problems – though to tell the truth I often thought your family could have done with a little counselling now and again.

But maybe, maybe, it was so scary to you because you knew it, fought against it, dreaded the contagion that comes when a depressed person gets pulled into another depressed person’s circle. I know that feeling. I hide, too.

The other thing that brings you to mind is a short story, “The Woman who Sold Communion” by Kate Braverman (McSweeney’s early fall, 2004). In this, a woman is denied tenure and falls apart, heads down to meet up with her mother, a woman she ran away from, a woman who lives like a hippie out in the desert. She goes there because she knows she is safe there, even though she and her mum don’t seem to have much in common.

Once, when my marriage was falling apart, in the early days when I was expecting my youngest, I called you. I had had enough, I said. I couldn’t bear being with such an angry man. Your response was: “Come home.” I was shocked. You were, above all, a staunch Catholic. Leaving a marriage was a big thing.

I sometimes wish I had trusted you and perhaps taken that step. Instead I thought you were looking for company, and resisted. But the fact that you said what you did to me made it safe for me to continue on, to stick it out for another 15 years, some good, some bad. Because you gave me permission not to, and a safe place to go.

Miss you.





The end of an era

1 07 2014

ImageThere’s something terrifically sad about the end of a generation, that moment when the last of a set of siblings pass away and you realize, with shock, that there is no one left who truly remembers your parents as kids and you forgot or were too busy or wrapped in your own details to ASK about them, to get the info, to spend the moments with your loved ones.

My dear uncle Laurence passed away this week. I say my dear, not because I knew him well, because I didn’t – but I knew him a bit and extrapolated from what I knew of him and what I knew of the rest of my dad’s family and my gosh I wish I’d sat down with him for hours and picked his brains about his life and the others’.

It was a remarkable and unremarkable family, tested with illness and some separations (most sadly, my family’s separation from the clan over time), but tied together with love and humour and a sense of family that is, to my experience, truly exceptional. I’m envious of the other Brown families – they are close together and supportive for the most part, and we didn’t manage that to the same degree.

The boys served in the war, the one girl became a nun, but a nun with a wicked sense of humour who couldn’t be restrained there forever, and left in her middle years to share her spirit and enthusiasms in a wider realm. The boys must’ve been a handful for my grandmother, a woman given to small smiles that hid an outpouring of love for them all. They interfered with their dad’s radio opera mornings, they played tricks on each other, they told each other jokes. John, one of my very faves, actually told dirty jokes to my mother’s brother, a priest, and managed to reduce him to helpless giggles. He introduced me to “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark”. I’ve never recovered. Jim i barely knew, but I remember him calling my dad when he was sick with cancer, and telling him jokes until my dad could barely breathe. George I met in England, a wonderful, big hearted man. Every single one of these Brown families has, without hesitation, welcomed me and my siblings with open arms any time we appeared.

That’s not common in families, at least in my experience. They are truly loving people. I want to be like them.

Uncle Laurence, handsome enough to be on screen, given to a roguish twinkle in his eyes even when I visited him nearly two years ago – he raised a family of gentle loving girls. There are photos of him dressed to the nines, others of him with some disgusting trick goo dangling out of his nose (which reminds me so of my dad, tossing fake vomit out in front of my Cousin Grace, or feeding my Grandmother Warner and Aunt Annie grasshopper chips and then showing them the bag after they’d eaten a bunch.)

They were all capable to being funny without being cruel, of getting away with foolishness in the best way. I think they made the world a vastly better place. 

I’ve posted a photo by my sister, Margaret Gagnon, to go with this post, to give form to the family in a way. When we were in Florida one time, we came across a pack of laughing gulls like these that would hang around if you threw them Cheerios. They’re called that because their cry sounds like they are laughing. My dad was delighted. He’d recently found a book of Henny Youngman jokes and kept telling them to us to no reaction. You know, the “take my wife…please” sort of jokes. When he saw those gulls he figured, hey – the perfect audience – finally someone will laugh! So we threw up some Cheerios, gathered a crowd of the gulls, and he started talking. The gulls stopped laughing, completely. They were dead silent.

My dad did get a laugh that time – my sister and brothers were rolling on the grass, laughing at the gull’s response.

This family, god love ’em. I just know they are cracking up the crowds in heaven. Be prepared for rain – tears of hilarity…

I miss them all. Love to Uncle Laurence’s family, particularly, as they cope with this huge loss of a wonderful man. xoxoxo





Aubade, by Philip Larkin

4 04 2014

Love Larkin’s poetry. This one, an aubade, or a dawn song, usually apparently written by a departing lover looking at a sleeping woman, I’m posting for two reasons – first, to remind me I want to try my hand at this format, which deals with separation, distance, longing; and second; because it is both beautiful and sad. I love the line: “Death is not different whined at than withstood.”

Aubade
BY PHILIP LARKIN
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

 

Philip Larkin, “Aubade” from Collected Poems. Used by permission of The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Philip Larkin.

Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2001)








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