When I Die

“When I die I am never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever coming back.”  

As a child, teenager, and adult I have laid anxiety-ridden in bed reciting those words over and over until crying myself to sleep.  A feeling of despair would start deep in my belly and rumble it’s way to my throat and I would sob, uncontrollably.  Terrified of dying, I was.

My husband is quite intrigued by the vastness of our universe.  He watches documentaries about galaxies, space exploration, black holes, supernovae.  On several occasions while watching with him, the same feeling erupted in me and the tears flowed.  Right there on the couch, I’ve wept, feeling completely overwhelmed by the content.  The idea that the expanse of our universe is seeming immeasurable would elicit the exact same emotion as lying in bed and telling myself that when I die I am never coming back.

I have explored these emotions on several occasions over the years with my homeopathic doctor and my psychologist.  We discovered some relation between the fear of death and the concept of living.  I began to understand that, for me, the fear of dying was linked to not feeling satisfied in life.  I didn’t want to die because I had so many things I needed to do.  In short, to conquer the fear of dying I had to focus on how I was living.

A couple of years ago, around the time I was facing this fear, I caught the tail end of an interview on CBC Radio.  The journalist was questioning a participant of a Death Café in Toronto who said, “Attending the Death Café made me feel more alive.”  Those words rang like church bells in my head.  Feeling more alive.  Now that was something I could handle a whole lot more of!

When I got home I researched Death Café and was awakened by what I was reading.  Founded in England by the late Jon Underwood, it is a social gathering to discuss the taboo topic of death and dying.  It is not a grief support group – rather a lively, dynamic, and enjoyable event discussing the concept that we are all living beings and will one day die.  As quoted from the website deathcafe.com, its objective is  ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.   In addition, the only requirement is to serve cake and tea!  Well, that was something I was eager and ready to attend.

A quick search led to the disappointing reality that there were no public events being held where I lived, nor had there ever been.  Not being one to stop at the first hurdle, I decided I would just have to organize it myself.  I reached out to Jon Underwood who put me in contact with another local woman who had always inquired.  Together, we organized Newfoundland and Labrador’s first public Death Café in April 2017.

The experience was incredibly profound.  I learned there is a whole death culture; some people are fascinated by the concept of death and don’t fear it at all.  I found myself laughing and listening intently to others’ ideas, thoughts, and experiences surrounding death and dying.  From ancient burial grounds to being buried in a mushroom suit, from death paraphernalia to the afterlife, nothing was off-limits.  Conversation was light at times, heavy at others, philosophical, humorous, thought-provoking – but never scary.  We had a deck of cards that each posed a discussion question and the one I chose asked, “Do you consider death to be a friend or an enemy?”  For me, death had always been an enemy.  It was like I had always been driving a car and seeing death behind me in the rearview mirror.  No matter how fast I drove, I could always see it, lurking.  However, this event encouraged me to pull over and invite death into the passenger’s seat – to come along for the ride.  It wouldn’t be the driver.  That’s me.  Nonetheless, it would become a witness to my life’s journey and hopefully, one day, a friend.

Fast forward to today, almost two years later and two more Death Cafés under my belt.  Death is still in the front seat. We’re becoming pals.  I sometimes initiate a conversation about death at dinner parties and with friends.  It is always well received and people, indeed, want to talk about it.  I still hear those words sometimes….’never, ever, ever, ever, ever, coming back.’  They are less frequent, and rarely result in tears.  The anguish weakened by a quietude, there’s an acceptance of my eventual death.  Very timely and not surprisingly, because life works that way sometimes, a very recent series of conversations with a special person in my life helped me to really dig deeper into the root of my fear of death.

I am currently enrolled in a Life Coaching program.  As part of our training, we practice coaching and being coached with our classmates.  I addressed my fear of dying with my coach – curious to explore where I was with it and what might surface.  Like an onion, my experience with fear has been that peeling off one layer at a time elicits tears, but eventually gets to its core.  The work I have done with my coach has challenged some long-held core beliefs and exposed their debilitating consequences, all connected to the very root of my fear of death.  It is one word: belonging.

I have always struggled to belong.  Trauma and emotional abandonment in my childhood set the stage for a lifetime of not really fitting in.  Despite being very social and outgoing and having a large circle of wonderful loving friends, I have always felt like an outsider.  I was a part of something, but within it, I was alone.  Every friend was always closer to someone else.  In a group, there was always someone prettier, smarter, more athletic, taller, nicer, funnier.  I was no one’s first.  Every single person in my life had someone else they loved more than me.  As a result, I have always felt the need to work hard and tirelessly at getting people to love me.  If not, the consequences were dire – for love was conditional.  If I didn’t work hard enough, if I wasn’t careful, I could lose it.

When I met my husband and his two children, becoming a part of their family unit was incredibly difficult.  I felt replaceable.  I told myself from the onset that I would leave if I ever became between the kids and their dad.  They were a unit; I was expendable.  Again, I was a part of something, but on my own.  I seemed to feel safer if I had an out, like it wouldn’t hurt as much when it came time to leave if I accepted that I didn’t belong there in the first place.  

This sense of going it alone was some sort of defence mechanism to protect me my entire life.  It also fuelled my fear of death.  Conversations about this fear with my coach led to the realization that I wasn’t necessarily terrified of dying.  I was terrified of dying before I mattered.

Before I belonged.  

The whole universe thing?  I would get so overwhelmed by that because subconsciously I wondered how the universe could be that expansive without a single place for me in it. Bad enough I couldn’t belong in my family, in my workplace, in my life, on Earth.  Now there was the enormity of our entire universe – with galaxies and undiscovered regions – and I didn’t belong.  In ALLLLL of that, there was no place for me.

That last sentence weighs heavily on my heart.  Life coaching has proved a very valuable gateway for me to emotional freedom.  I have worked with my coach to rewrite these false core beliefs that supported these deep-rooted harmful thoughts and resulting detrimental behaviours.  Change is a powerful phenomenon.  If we tell ourselves something enough times, it becomes our truth.  Our new truth.

It is a process.  I am listening closely to my thoughts.  When I catch myself in the old stuff, I state my new belief with conviction and love:

“I have to work hard for people to love me”    

has become          

“I love and am loved freely.”   

 

The crux of guilt I carry from my childhood for which I believed I could never be forgiven      

has become  

“I did the best I could in a terrible situation.”

 

“I don’t belong”

has become

“I belong right here.”

I am plugging in.  I am opening my heart.  I am learning to lean on people.  I am indulging in vulnerability.  I am nurturing the lonely little girl inside me.  Instead of needing other people to let me in, I am letting others in.  I am allowing how it feels to belong.  And my buddy, Death, is supporting me through it all.

“When I die I am never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever coming back”

has become

“When I die I am never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever coming back.  

But I will have been here.”

Forest Bathing and Rainbows

I hadn’t heard of Forest Bathing before.  Someone recently described it to me and I thought it was something I would like to try.  It’s not hiking. It’s not about exercise. You don’t have to be adventurous to do it. You only need immerse yourself in a setting surrounded by nature and tap in to your senses.  Listen closely.  Touch what’s around you.  Smell the aromas.  Forage and taste wild edibles.  Observe with purpose.  Read here to learn more about its origin and benefits. https://www.mamanatural.com/forest-bathing/

I didn’t plan my recent inaugural forest bathing experience.  I just went for a bike ride on a beautiful summer day.  One thing that exhilarates me is swimming outdoors.  I live in a climate where our summers are quite short.  There is a 4-6 week window when the water in our local ponds is warm enough for me to willingly get in.  This summer has been uncharacteristically hot and I have made plunging into local fresh water ponds a part of my regular activity.  This day was no exception. I was biking on a local trail that meanders through trees around several ponds.  I purposely wore quick dry clothing so I could stop for a swim and carry on with my ride, the wet clothes keeping me cool.  There is a beach along on one these ponds that is crowded on nice days. That’s not for me.  I like to find access that’s more private.  On this particular day, I found a section that was shallow for about 5 feet, then dropped off. Perfect!  Treading water, my head at water level, looking across the vast pond, no one else in sight, a few lily pads nearby.  Bliss.  I like to stretch my arms out ahead of me and just barely let my fingers surface.  I don’t know why I love that so much, but I do.  After my swim, I hopped back on bike and continued with my ride.  Soon after, I stopped for lunch on a wooden bench next to a little creek.  I laid on the bench and soaked up the sun, still at this point, not intentionally forest bathing.  That didn’t start until I sat on a rock next to the creek, my wet body leaving its mark on the wood.  

It was the birds that drew me there.  I had spotted them from the bench and wanted to get closer.  I have developed an interest in identifying birds over the past couple of years and wondered if these were Pine Siskins.  They were small enough, but didn’t have the characteristic yellow marks of the Siskins I am familiar with.  Maybe the females don’t have the yellow?  Maybe this was a different variety of Siskins?  These were some of the questions running through my mind when I remembered someone telling me about forest bathing. I realized I was perfectly positioned to give it a go!  From the little bit I knew about it, I started to purposefully observe what was around me.  Right away, directly to my left, just a few inches from my hand, I saw this brilliant blue tiny dragonfly that measured no more than 3-4 centimetre in length.

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I would have missed it altogether had I not decided to look.  After enjoying it for several minutes, I excitedly wondered what might be to my right.  
There I spotted a very interesting oxidized rock.  

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As I looked longer and closer, the different hues of its monochromatic face gave me an idea.  I had just seen a vibrant blue, here before me was a rusty orange.  I wondered if I could find all the colours of the rainbow!

A flick of my head back to the left, just inches from where the dragonfly had been, I found yellow!

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I turned around to find a garden that had no shortage of red blooms.

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And plenty of indigo and violet too!

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I was having so much fun forest bathing!  The colours were popping out all around me. ROYGBIV, I thought.  Red.  I had red.  Orange.  The rock.  Yellow.  Centre of the daisy. Green.  I hadn’t taken a picture of green.  I was on a trail in the forest surrounded by luscious greens.  Have you ever stopped to closely identify the greens in a forest?  If not, I highly recommend it!  Which one to pick?  I chose the one that was unshaded, gleaming in the sunlight.

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Alive.  The forest was alive!  In that moment, I sure as heck was too.  I felt vibration.  I was a part of something larger than I could describe.  Sure, I love to spend time outside and always feel great after exercising.  I have always felt a connection to nature.  However, this experience just opened my heart and mind even more to the joy, mysteries, strength, beauty, and resilience that surrounds us.  And when we really tap into it, bathe in it, we realize we possess all those qualities too.

The rest of my ride home was euphoric.  The wind felt softer on my face, the air was lighter.  The sun, warmer.  I felt supported, recognized, nurtured.  I found a rainbow! Right there by the creek.  It was always there, every other time I passed by.  But on this day I found it.

Thank you, Dianne, for introducing me to forest bathing.   I will do it again.

Death of a Dog: Ringo

My husband, a full-fledged Beatles fan, often quotes the legendary John Lennon – “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.”  Recently, we had a plan.

“Let’s travel to Calgary,” he said, “to visit Kev and Ger.  We haven’t been there in 9 years.”

I am a teacher and made a commitment to myself when I first started my career to go one place every summer I had never been before.  “As long as we visit Banff and Lake Louise this time,” I replied. Excitedly, we arranged for dog sitters, booked our flights and accommodations, and were all set.  

It was wonderful!  The weather was sunny and warm.  We ate well, drank well, enjoyed good company.   We hiked, geocached, and kayaked.  We visited our friends’ log cabin on a lake in British Columbia where I paddleboarded for the first time and admired hummingbirds.  Not following a rigid schedule, we often commented on how perfect our timing was.  Right down to our last evening there.  Before we left to catch the red-eye home, a thunderstorm passed overhead as we ate dinner.   I love thunder and lightning. What a great plan we had.

In the car on the way to the airport, life happened.  Our son called.  From the vet.  At 11:30 pm in his time zone.  He was with one of our dogs, Ringo, after she experienced what appeared to be a stroke.  Her hind legs had given way beneath her and she vomited and defecated while lying down.  Her heart rate was 180 beats per minute, down from 192.  We have Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, known for heart murmurs.  Both our 10 ½ year olds were no exception.  We knew it would seriously affect them at some point.  However, when we left home two weeks prior, there was no indication that death was imminent.  Otherwise, our plan would have been very different.

I had to pass the phone to my husband, unable to listen clearly through the tears or make any decisions.  The vet didn’t know precisely what was happening.  Exploratory testing would cost $1200.  We were 8 ½ hours away from home.  It was decided that our son would bring her home for the night and we would make a further decision when we arrived. A text from him before we boarded our plane indicated she was coming around.    

***

I ran from the car to the front door as soon as it stopped in our driveway.  I was expecting her to be alive and unwell, preparing myself to make a very difficult decision that day, hoping from past experiences with this wild and wacky dog that she may have just recovered enough to stick around a little longer.  I heard the pitter patter of doggie paws and my heart leapt.  She was ok!  It was our other cherished dog, Mia, excited to see mommy home, tail wagging, tongue licking.  No other doggie paws could be heard.  I met my son in the kitchen. “Where is she?”

The look on his face said it all. With a deep breath, the moment he was dreading, he had to tell me she didn’t make it.  She died at 5:15 am.  Just three hours earlier.  Three hours.  I was three hours late.  I collapsed in his arms as my husband entered the front door with a suitcase in hand.  Knowingly, he joined our tearful embrace and our grieving process began.

Three hours.

That number haunts me.  I could accept her death.  Their life expectancy is between 10-12, she had a heart murmur.  I get it.  What I couldn’t accept is that I wasn’t there for the last two weeks of her life.  My grief was a self-inflicted torture chamber.  I wasn’t there when she died in our home.  I abandoned my dog when she needed me most.  I wasn’t there to hold her and comfort her as she took her last breath.  I selfishly took a vacation and explored the Rocky Mountains while my dog was home, dying.  I could have somehow prevented this from happening had I been home.  She didn’t know I loved her. We should have done the testing.  She must have been wondering where I was.  She had no idea I was on my way.  Timing.  The timing was so wrong.

I know none of that is true.  The truth is she died peacefully and naturally with our son and she was loved.  For she only knew love. 

***

The first two weeks of her life with us were dreadful.  She was a very anxious dog and reacted to every new sound in the house. When the fridge would cut in, the dryer buzzer would sound, the phone would ring, the doorbell, the microwave, the furnace, the filtration system.  Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!  She didn’t sleep for more than two consecutive hours.  It was like having a colic infant with no maternity leave.  We took turns sitting up on the kitchen floor throughout the night with her in our lap, trying to console her and catch a few minutes sleep wherever we could.  Finally, after I broke out in tears one morning for dropping my hairbrush on the floor, I called in sick just to get some sleep. We called the breeder who informed us this was atypical behaviour and we could return her for a full refund.  It was a difficult decision to make, but we knew we couldn’t go on.  It was a Friday.  My husband would bring her back after work.

Later that evening he picked me up from a social engagement.  I cried in the car on the way home, sad that she wouldn’t be there.  When I opened the front door I heard the sound of TWO sets of pitter patter paws, the sound I longed for just a week ago.  I scooped her up and looked at my husband in surprise.  “Let’s see how she makes out this weekend,” he said.

That night, she started to sleep through the night!  That was our Ringo.  She had a quirky sense, an understanding of sorts I had never known in a dog.  

She recognized and reacted to all animals on television.  Even commercials featuring animals that didn’t make a sound sent her leaping and barking from the couch to the tv stand.

She explored.  Anything new she had to be a part of.  When I started doing yoga at home, she would lay on the mat.  When I started meditating, she sat upright on my bolster with me one morning to test it out.  If my husband went to the shed, she was on his heels. When he barbecued, she was underfoot, barking at the flame.  She would literally catch embers when we had a fire.  Yes.  Jump in the air and catch them, getting so close to the fire her whiskers would singe.  But she never stopped.  Sticks?  Bones?  Nope.  Not for this dog.  She chased and gnawed on rocks.  Rocks.  Whenever we walked her we would have to find a rock that she would carry in her mouth.  When she found a puddle, she would put her face down in the water, dig up rocks, large ones, carry them to the edge of the puddle and go back for more.

When our other dogs were spayed they succumbed to the drugs and slept.  Not Ringo.  On the way from the vet, she stood up in the car and howled several times while our other dog, Mia, slept soundly.  When we got home, they slept in their beds in the living room. From the next room in the kitchen I opened our treat jar for our third dog, Reilly.  By the time I turned around to give it to her, Ringo was at her side having somehow heard the jar opening from her drug-induced sleep.  With groggy, bloodshot eyes she stared expectantly at me, wanting a treat as well.  All the while, Mia slept.  We sat in the living room that evening keeping a close eye on them.  At one point, Ringo woke up and jumped on the couch before we could get to her.  No jumping, no stairs, the vet had said.

At some point Ringo developed anxiety while riding in the car.  The first few years were fine.  We could travel easily with her.  Then she started to bark at every passing car and every passing dog and every passing person.  It was annoying and dangerous.  We endeavoured to find a solution.  The Thundershirt came recommended.  HA!  When I returned that there was an aromatherapy spray on the counter, guaranteed to calm your dog.  HA! HA!  Preferring a holistic remedy, we tired valerian root.  Nope!  Desperately, I went to the vet for meds.  Anything that would make our annual 8 hour drive to Gros Morne bearable for everyone.  Due to the heart murmur, the good stuff was out of the question.  I was given something else to try.  We had to give her one pill an hour before leaving that would calm her and another as we were about to leave.  During that hour when she was supposed to be calm she followed us around the house because whenever suitcases came out, she knew someone was going somewhere and always wondered if she was coming too.  She would even get in the suitcase sometimes while we packed, sending her message loud and clear.  The drug had some effect.  She stumbled several times, face planting on the floor, only to get up again and watch every move we made. The second pill, surely, would help her to relax and sleep during the car ride.  HA! HA! HA!  Not a chance.  Mia slept soundly, while Ringo barked at every passing car, every passing dog, every passing person.  This dog was full of life and vigour.  What drove us crazy is what we loved most about her and what we miss now.

She defied death and permanent injury a couple of times.  That’s why I really thought she would come through this time as well.  During one of those aforementioned trips to Gros Morne, another strategy we tried was to kennel her to shield her from the stimulation, hoping she would lie down and sleep.  She barked and scratched intermittently for a couple of hours.  When we arrived in the town where we stop for lunch I urged my husband to continue on.  She was quiet.  Sleeping.  He insisted we stop to let the dogs out for a break.  When we opened the kennel door and she didn’t come out we initially thought we hit the jackpot.  She was loving it!  A closer look indicated the opposite.  She couldn’t get out.  The blanket we put in the kennel had four short strings on each corner that you could tie together.  However, they weren’t so short that they couldn’t wrap tightly around an erratic dog’s hind leg.  How she managed that we’ll never really understand.  We had to remove the blanket with Ringo firmly attached and unwind it from her.  When we laid her down, she limped.  That hind paw grazed the ground furry side down, padded side up.  Something was terribly wrong.  After a Google search for the nearest vet, an hour wait, a $400 bill and a prescription for steroids that may or may not help restore the nerve damage, we were on our way again.  This time, she rested comfortably on my lap in the front seat.  My husband I are were sick with dread and regret, hardly speaking a word for the rest of the 4 hour drive.  What had we done?  Not only was the kennel idea a complete disaster, now our energetic dog may have mobility issues for life.  Our vacation just turned into 24 hour watch over our dog.  We did this. Not only that.  Here she was asleep on my lap.  Was that the solution all along?  Never did we consider that was all she needed to ride in the car.  Happy vacay to us!

True to form, Ringo completely recovered, and day by day our three week vacation saw marked improvement in her condition.  By the time we were leaving to drive home, you could hardly notice an issue with her paw.  We decided she would travel home on my lap considering how well it worked on the way out after the vet visit.  HA! HA! HA! HA!  She barked for 7 straight hours.  The final hour of our journey she laid down, but didn’t sleep.  All the while, Mia slept in the back seat.

Eventually, we did find a solution for the car.  Yes, it involved me in the backseat against one window, a cooler against the other, luggage on the front seat, my husband behind the wheel.  No judgement! I wouldn’t care anyway. It worked!

What I wouldn’t do for one more car ride.

Then there was the time she fell through the ice.  As we were finishing a skate on a pond near our house that we had visited several times before, I called for the dogs.  Mia came running.  No Ringo.  Then I heard the barking.  “She’s through the ice!” my husband yelled.  He was already in the opening where the river meets the pond in the small corner that never freezes when I arrived.  Skates on his feet manoeuvring over rocks underfoot, chest height in cold water, he stumbled towards our barking Ringo who was facing me, front paws stretched before her over the ice, body submerged.  I couldn’t approach any closer without risk of falling in myself.  I watched anxiously as he reached her, pushed her up over the ice and she ran towards me.  I removed my coat and wrapped her snuggly in it, worried about her imminent fate.  What had we done?  Guilt. Regret. Then it occurred to me that I should be more worried about hubby!  By now he was out of the pond and skating hard to warm himself.  Turns out, the RCMP one piece insulated winter suit his buddy had given him for snowblowing was possibly a life saver. His body stayed warm and dry.  Only his waterlogged feet were cold.  Nonetheless, getting home was of top priority.  We were a 40 minute hike away with no phone.  With Ringo still wrapped in my arms, we started for home.  I knew there were a few houses along way.  I intended to stop for help and call for a ride.  A couple minutes later a young boy aged 13 or 14 came by on a quad.  I flagged him down to ask to use his phone.  Seeing our situation, he immediately offered to bring us home.  My husband got on back with Ringo tucked into the chest of his suit, leaving dry Mia and stunned me to finish the walk. The young boy circled back for us, but I declined the ride.  A beautiful sunny day, knowing hubby and dog were home next to a roaring fire, I took the opportunity to walk and process what was happening.  We watched her closely for the rest of the day. Guess what?  She was perfectly fine.

We now grieve the death of this dog who was so full of life and curiosity.  She had such a strong presence that there is an undeniable absence in our home.  A void of something that was that is no more.  Having another dog to focus on helps.  Mia and I have put everything into one another.  Having never been without a furry companion she follows me around more than usual.  I think she hopes I will lead her to Ringo.  Twice she has noticeably searched the house for her.  I smother her with kisses and hugs and cuddles, making sure she knows I love her.  She gets a car ride every day, something she loves that was impossible with Ringo.  We are getting to know Mia as Mia now.  Ringo overshadowed her.  For the first few days I felt her impending death and restlessly watched over her, determined to keep her alive.  That is easing now.  I am beginning to trust again and allow the course of life to be as it is.

Mia came in the car when we drove Ringo to the pet crematorium.  She sniffed the box where our son had honourably laid Ringo, who looked as if she were peacefully asleep.  With only three hours having passed, her body was still warm.  I am grateful we were able to pet her one last time and soak her with kisses and tears without getting the face licked off me.  I guess our timing wasn’t so bad after all.

***

I am learning about grief.  From this experience I know the importance of feeling it wholly.  The physical pain of it. The emotional ache.  The obsessive thoughts.  I want to accept death as a part of living.  I want to trust the ever changing ebb and flow of life.  I have been consciously observing the perennial summer blooms, some of them already starting to wilt, only to produce new seed that will encourage more life next year.  They are interspersed with annual plants that open in an array of colour and beauty that once gone, are gone for good.  Their short lives having helped to enrich our planet’s natural wonder.  Not a single one without purpose, yet temporary. 

I recently listened to a podcast about death that explored the notion that we are all dying.  The speaker explained that if you are talking to someone on their deathbed, the last thing you do is bicker over something trivial.  She challenged us to live life that way.  Imagine if every encounter with someone started with, “Hello. I’m dying. So are you.” How more authentic and real would our interactions be?  I want to remember that.

For the first day I couldn’t remember Ringo vividly.  Maybe it was self-preservation. Maybe I couldn’t see through the foggy anguish.  But now I can see her running the wooded path with Mia but always coming back to find me when she realized I was out of sight.  I can smell her paws.  How I love the smell of doggie paws.  I can hear her sigh as she finally settled for sleep at night right next to me.  I can feel her heartbeat in my hands as she sat upright in my lap, paws dangling in front of her, completely trusting where she was.  In the end, memories are all we have left.  I will continue make them.  I will continue to capture them.  I will continue to notice them as they are happening.  I will continue to remind myself that I am dying.  And so are you.

To grieve is to have loved.  Let’s love one another now so we can be lucky enough to grieve each other later.

***

 

 

An In-Body Experience

If you can have an in-body experience, I had one.  By in-body experience I mean the opposite of an out-of-body experience.  I really don’t know if either are really a thing. It’s just the best way to describe a way I felt for the first time a month ago.

First, some background.  The experience of being an adult and still feeling things for the first time occurred to me upon completion of my Masters in Education degree in 2010.  My friend and colleague, Terri-Lynn, and I were sequestered in my bedroom for privacy after the unreliable internet connection at her house kicked us out of our final online class where we needed to present our research study to our prof and classmates.  Hurriedly and panicked, right in the middle of another colleagues’ presentation, we endured the quick drive to my house where hubby and children were enjoying a typical Sunday afternoon.  Like a flash of lightning I hollered to all that we were there and not to be disturbed.  After our approximate 10 minute hiatus we were back online, sitting on my bed, hoping our absence wasn’t even noticed.  Before long, it was my turn, followed by Terri-Lynn’s.  The joy and excitement was building as our final session, the completion of a 3-year professional endeavour, was coming to an end.  When we signed out and closed the computer on that chapter of our lives for good, it happened. I t was a feeling.  Jubilance, elation, pride, accomplishment, personal victory – all rolled up in one. We ran downstairs to my kitchen and jumped and hugged and laughed. In mid air a thought occurred to me – I have never felt ‘this’ before.  I have felt all those aforementioned emotions, but not this particular medley, not to this degree.  It made me appreciate the moment even more – to stay there – to savour it.  Captivating was this notion that in adult life there will still be new emotions.

***

For Christmas 2002 a cousin gave me a copy of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues.  I read it in one sitting while laughing, crying, tensing, reflecting.  In February 2003 I attended a live performance of the book at our local Arts and Culture Centre.  I made a commitment to myself after the show that someday I would perform Reclaiming Cunt on stage.  I wanted to get the audience to chant my favourite pejorative word.  I knew I could deliver it with the passion it required.  But more importantly, I wanted to be a part of that V-Day movement.

I never forgot about it, per se.  But I never actively pursued the opportunity either.  Life continued.  I reread the book a couple of times over the years.  I watched Eve Ensler’s performance of it.  I never loaned the book out for fear of not getting it back.  It meant something and I always wanted it nearby.

Last year I met a woman, Jackie, who would become quite influential to me.  During our conversation she happened to mention her involvement with the local annual production of The Vagina Monologues.  Enthusiastically, I shared with her my desire to perform in it one day.  We became Facebook friends and carried on with our respective lives.  Out of the blue on a lazy Saturday afternoon in January 2018, I got a Facebook message from Jackie telling me that auditions for The Vagina Monologues were ongoing that weekend.  I was so touched that she remembered our conversation.  And I was so ready to do it.  Immediately I signed up to audition the next day.  In my coveted book I turned to Reclaiming Cunt and started to rehearse.  By the next afternoon I knew it by heart and how I wanted to deliver it.  I got dolled up in a tight black bodysuit with sheer arms, and black pants.  I straightened my hair and showed up.  I showed up.  A few days later I found out I got the part!  

The month that ensued was a whirlwind of new opportunity for me.  I became a part of something.  I became a part of a group of extraordinary women, each with their own story and presence.  I became a part of theatre.  I learned a bit of the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff.  I became a part of the global feminist movement.  My voice would tell someone’s story.  I became a part of something that mattered.  I mattered.

Performance night came on February 18th, 2018.  Twenty-eight friends, family, and colleagues came out to see me perform.  I was absolutely beaming with joy and gratitude to have so many people care so much for me.  The set was small and the venue quaint. When I stood to perform the monologue that I had waited 15 years to do, I felt like I was getting a big hug for on my left, my right, and smack dead in front of me, were familiar faces all there to be a part of this moment with me.  “I call it cunt.” The first line.

monologuesI knew my part and I was careful not to rush it.  The stage was facing a mirror and I simultaneously caught an image of myself in the mirror and my medic alert bracelet (from recent diagnosis of Addison’s Disease). That’s when the in-body experience happened.  In that moment I thought to myself, “You are doing it. Right now.  This is a life moment.  Live it and be here. It’s happening.” All the while the words of the monologue were coming out of my mouth!  I actually paused in the middle of my performance to recognize how it was feeling to be doing it.  I watched it in the mirror.  I had never felt the power of aliveness so strongly before.  It was wondrous.

I came back into my performance for the part where I got the audience to chant the word with me. “Cunt! Cunt!” It was a moment I will treasure forever.  The high stayed with me throughout the entire next day.  I was afloat with that undeniable feeling of presence.

We will never grow out of new emotions.  But they are bred out of new experiences.  As we get older we sometimes tend to do the things we’ve always done the way we’ve always done them.  We believe it’s too late to start something new.  Or we are simply afraid to try.   I hope this blog encourages you to think of the last moment you felt alive. Cherish it.   Then plan your next one!  Go capture those new emotions.  They’re waiting.

The Life I Found That Was Never Lost

I was recently diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, an autoimmune deficiency when the adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol.  You probably have never heard of that because it is a rare condition affecting about 1-5 in 100 000.  The past six months have been unlike the previous six, and the six before that that.  My life became a little unfamiliar as my usual energetic and active self struggled at times to climb a set of stairs or stand to prepare a meal.  Your adrenal glands give you the boost of adrenaline you need to get out of bed in the mornings and to recover from minor things like falling or tripping.  During my illness, I often felt quite dizzy, almost to the point of fainting, just rising from a chair.  More serious are the implications on your flight or fight response.  If I were to fall and break a bone, for example, or get in a car accident, or need the superhuman strength to lift something or run from danger because my life depended on it, my adrenal glands no longer automatically give me the adrenaline for that.  As a result, in such a situation I could experience an adrenal crisis which can be fatal if my condition remained untreated.

I am now medicated on a low dose steroid that I will take twice a day for the rest of my life.  I have to wear a medic alert bracelet so paramedics would know to give me an immediate injection of hydrocortisone in the event I am unconscious or unable to communicate after a traumatic occurrence.  I also carry my own injection.  Unlike an EpiPen, I would have to insert the syringe in a little vile of clear fluid and inject it intramuscularly into my thigh if I were to get injured or experience any kind of trauma.  If I get sick to the point of vomiting or diarrhea I have to go the nearest ER and receive my medication intravenously.  Needless to say, I have learned a lot about why our adrenal glands are so darned important.

Luckily, my condition is treatable and surprisingly, the meds worked almost immediately. Within a day or two I felt I could get through the day and not feel like I needed to rest.  I could plan to go out in the evening without cancelling due to extreme fatigue.  It’s like I am getting my life back!

After listening to the needle scratch, please reread the last line and imagine that sound immediately following it.  Ready?

It’s like I am getting my life back!  (needle scratch)

That’s the sound that sentence elicits in my head.  I said it on two occasions during this ordeal, mainly because I have heard it said in similar situations and thought that was what you are supposed to say when your day-to-day life is altered.  Each time I said it something felt wrong or untrue.  Those words simply do not resonate with me at all.

“I want to get my life back.”  “It’s like I am getting my life back!”

That completely discredits the past six months of my life.  It makes them not matter.  It implies that whatever I have been doing I might as well stop now because, damn it, I have my life back.  

Except for one very important detail…I never lost it.  

This has been a life experience for me.  I have remained present in it.  When I needed to rest, I did.  Without guilt or shame.  I often examined my level or worry and fear and it was quite low.  I trusted that whatever was happening to me would be resolved one way or another, and not in a dogmatic way that believed some greater force would save me.  I quite accepted the resolution could have meant terminal illness or death.  I am ecstatically proud of that!  I never let this illness or the fact that I was uncharacteristically off work for an undetermined amount of time redefine me.  It was and is my life.  

I am thankful for that time.  My husband’s retirement earlier this year allowed him to be with me every day and help when I needed it.  The love for me I saw in his eyes and actions is nothing less that whole.  Our usual playful banter was plentiful and we laughed a lot, together, over the past six months.  I had time to reflect on my life and what works for me and what doesn’t anymore.  As I get my energy back I plan to continue through life at a slower pace, no longer by force, but by choice.  This time has allowed me to recognize and face some truths that I wish no longer to be.   I had time to further nurture my spiritual being.  Yoga and meditation has played a prominent role in my care and rehabilitation.  The messages of love and support from my family and friends will never again permit me to feel alone in this world.  This blog has surfaced from just having time to sit and wonder and consider how scary it would actually be to write a blog.  Truth be told, it’s scarier for me now to refrain from taking a chance at something that inspires me to write and find creative expression.  When our son moved out I converted his small bedroom into a walk-in closet/wrapping room.  I am in the process of converting it more into a creative space for me to write, paint, sculpt, wonder, and imagine.  I am literally carving out a space in my home for me to create.  

So never mind getting my life back for it was never lost.  Having been given the gift of time to reflect has made my life a little more abundant.  

Today is New Year’s Day 2018.  Last night my husband and I stayed home alone, prepared a nice meal together, and wrote a list of what we were grateful for in 2017.  There was no shortage of items for which we consider ourselves to be quite fortunate.  I also wrote a list titled “What I Lovingly Release in 2017…” and I burnt it in our wood stove.  I was surprised at how long that list was, full of beliefs and habits that were preventing me from being my most authentic self.  I like to believe I would have arrived to this level of consciousness without the past 6 months, but it helped to accelerate the process.

The last list I wrote was my outlook for 2018 which I share below.  I am infinitely proud of this list.  I see me in it in a way I haven’t seen me in a long time.  

I thank our medical system for diagnosing my illness and for the creation of a small pill that fills me with energy.   I am no longer the Energizer Bunny.  More now like a wind-up toy that once released propels itself in whatever direction it wants until it needs to be rewound.  My pills wind me up when I need it and in between, I play.   And that’s just fine with me.  I have found something but not because something was lost.  I has just been rediscovered.

As you go through unexpected events in your life, and you will, please acknowledge that is your life.  Every moment of every day plots your story.  Take the liberty to write the current chapter that is most truthful for you.  If it’s been a tragic novel so far, you have the power the rewrite it.  You absolutely do.  You have nothing to lose.

Cheers to life in 2018!

outlook2018