Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Ups and Downs of Life After Loss


Grief is such a strange beast.

I joined a grief support group shortly after my mom and uncle's car accident.  The group facilitator described grief as like being on a roller coaster.  With huge ups and downs.  Moments where you can feel completely fine, and then suddenly be in immense pain once again. Grief can sometimes be triggered by an anniversary, such as today, but sometimes by just a smell, or a glimpse of someone who looks like your loved one.  There may be dates that you anticipate will be hard, only to find that the day goes much more smoothly than you had expected.  And then there will be others that you hadn't thought would be hard, and then end up to be excruciating.  Often, with no rhyme or reason.  Our facilitator referred to these moments as grief attacks.



I remember people at the funeral telling me that although the waves between these grief attacks become more spaced out over time, the intensity of them can be as intense as they were the day of the accident, even 20 years later.

I didn't believe them. 

I did not know what grief is.



The period following the accident is such a blur. So, so much pain.  More pain that I would have ever imagined.  A depth of pain that words cannot describe.  If someone had described to me that this is what it would feel like to suddenly lose your mom and uncle, I would not have believed them. 



It is impossible to imagine what it feels like to suddenly have your sense of security in the world ripped from you, like a carpet from under your feet. To lose that naive believing that all is good in the world, that subconscious trust that these kinds of things only happen to other people.  To realize that your assumption that you and your loved ones are safe.... was wrong. 

I had no clue that you could suddenly feel like you were watching life go on around you, as a complete outsider.  As if you were watching a play, taking place in front of you, but from the sidelines.  It is the oddest feeling to be sitting in your car, in a complete blur, watching everyone else around you smiling and laughing, wondering how in the world everyone else can be going on with life when THIS has just happened to you.  And to doubt that there will come a day when you will be able to be like them again.  

Carefree.  Happy.  Secure. 

Thankfully, for me, the roller coaster of grief has very much stabilized over the past year.  The downs are much more infrequent, and I can often think of my mom and uncle with a smile on my face, instead of a pit in my heart.  I now feel like I am once again mostly one of those carefree people, laughing in the street.  But perhaps, with my innocence stripped off and with a new appreciation of life.  People had promised this to me, and, although I didn't believe them, I am mostly there.  In a place where my grief no longer rules my life, as it once did in the days following the accident.  My love for them and the pain of their loss is still there.  But I have adjusted to life without them.




But today is the 2nd crapiversary of the accident, and for me, that equals a ride on the roller coaster. Since yesterday morning, the events of the accident keep replaying themselves in my head.  Begging for some attention. I truly believe that it is important to climb on that roller coaster when it comes knocking on your door, rather than running away.  You have to make time to let yourself grieve, so that your grief will not rule you, in all sorts of other ways.

And so today, I grieve.  Again.



There are so many awful memories from that day.  October 18, 2014.  A date I will never forget.

Memories of suddenly shifting from getting out of the pool, chatting with a friend, as our kids ran around happily, to sobs that I did not know were inside of me.  Memories of the kind elderly stranger who, seeing me screaming and shaking outside on the phone, insisted he needed to see if there was anything to do to help. 

Memories of making the calls to my other family members.  You see, I was the first to call each of my immediate family members, except for my brother.  He had gotten a call from the police before me.  Mistakenly telling him that our father was dead and mom was injured.  

I was the first to announce to all but my brother that their uncle/brother-in-law was dead.  The first to announce that my mom was in critical condition and being airlifted to Ottawa.  The first to hear the gut-wrenching sobs of each and every one of them, as the reality of the hell on earth we were suddenly living was learned.  It is a task I would wish on no one.  Those memories will probably always be amongst my most painful memories.  No one wants to tell their father than his wife might die.

Memories of the nurse repeating again and again, "we'll talk to you when you get here", when I called to ask for an update on my mom's condition.  I hung up knowing that meant that she was dead.  My gut told me that they didn't want to tell me by phone, but that she was dead.  Memories of my brother-in-law picking up the phone when I called my sister right after.  Memories of her wailing in the background.  I knew immediately, before he had said a word, that my gut was right.  Memories of him saying to me, "Linds, I'm so sorry".  Him knowing that he was breaking my heart, but that there was no other way.  Memories of my other sister beeping in non-stop on the phone, as I spoke to him, confirming to me that she had also just learned that my mom had died.

Memories of the ditch littered with broken 60's rock and roll CDs, and empty diet Pepsi cans, unmistakably my uncle's.  Knowing all too well in seeing this debris that this I was not going to suddenly wake up from an awful nightmare...  That this was my new reality.  

Memories of the perfectly preserved Frozen dolls in the trunk of my uncle's car.  Gifts from my uncle for Chloe's 3rd birthday.  For the party they never made it to.  Memories of wondering over and over again how two dolls can survive an accident in perfect condition, but two people who are loved so dearly cannot.

Memories of that one, final hug with my sisters, standing outside of Philo's Restaurant in Cornwall.  A place where I had gone uncountable times with colleagues in my previous life. The life where everything felt carefree and easy.  Now the place where we had sat and cried until there was nothing left to do, but leave.  That hug in the parking lot, where we all just grabbed onto each other for dear life, crying our eyes out.  Wishing we could turn back the hands of time.  Wishing that we didn't all have to pull apart and drive our separate ways, hundreds of kilometers from one another, and retreat back into our solitude of grief, alone, at home.

The memories are harsh.  And just as someone promised me at the funeral, as painful today as they were on that day.  

The good news is that the roller coaster doesn't last nearly as long as it used to.  I used to have days when I wondered if I would ever be able to love life the way I once did.  I now know, without a shadow of a doubt, that joy will return shortly... as soon as the roller coaster has taken the route it needs to take.

In the meantime, I find comfort in looking back at memories of their lives and of everything that has been done to honour their memories, like the balloon release we did for both of them at my mom's school.



When I watch the above video now, I am shocked at how young the kids are.  At how much they have grown and changed since the accident.  At how much the kids have missed out on, not getting to know them better.  And at how much my mom and uncle have missed out on seeing in just two years... the birth of two additional grandchildren they never got the chance to meet, the soon-to-be birth of a third, and the upcoming wedding of my sister.  Time passes so quickly.  Life goes on... without them.

Memories of Lynda's song, written in my mom's honour, by the music teacher she worked with.  He performed this at the funeral with some of the other teachers from her school and it touched me profoundly.



Memories of the tree that was planted outside of my mom's school in her honour.  And a video of the dedication ceremony that was done by teachers and students:




And memories of the Lynda Baynton Library.  This one holds special significance for me, as my mom was an avid consumer of children's literature. Her classroom held ceiling to floor children's readers. Her colleagues joked to me that when they were looking for a book they couldn't find in the library, they would head on down to mom's classroom to look through her personal library. 


Lots and lots of memories.  

There's not much more that needs to be said.  She was a pretty special person.






My uncle was also such a pretty fantastic person.  Warm-hearted, funny (albeit sarcastic!), kind and generous.  He would drive the 6 hours to Montreal, often by himself, multiple times a year, to visit with us and the kids.  He happily joined in on trips to the Ecomuseum and the zoo, and snuggled up on the couch with the kids to watch kids movies that I'm sure he couldn't have been terribly interested in himself.  He would take them out for walks, to the park... whatever he could do to spend some quality time with them in the few days we had together. 








Today is a day to honour their memory.  I'm heading up north decked in head to toe pink and the kids will be wearing their grandma shirts.  And I'll drink a Diet Pepsi instead of a Diet Coke, just for you, Uncle Rob ;)




We miss you and we love you. Always.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Dear Lady at the Mall

You probably know who I am.  Bright pink coat... walking ahead of her two screaming young children on the escalator in Sears.  I, on the other hand, can't actually recall a single detail of what you looked like.  I was so shocked by what came out of your mouth that the rest of the details are a bit of a blur.  But I'm pretty sure that you will remember me.

You see... there are all sorts of things about my life that you don't know.  And yet, tonight, you nevertheless chose to tear a strip off of me in front of everyone... including my own children.

You started in at me while I was walking in front of my children, ignoring their misbehaviour.  Perhaps you thought they were misbehaving because I was ignoring them?  You don't know that I was ignoring them intentionally.  Because giving attention to these kinds of behaviours will actually teach my children to use them more often.  You don't know that the reason my children were crying in the first place was because they hadn't been behaving.  So after a few warnings, I applied a consequence.  We were leaving the mall, as I had told them we could no longer eat at their favourite noodle restaurant. 

You don't know that my kids were crying because they were trying to get me to change my mind.  You don't know that I didn't really want to leave.  That I had a couple more errands to run and was also really hungry.  You don't know that, regardless, I was holding firm, and we were leaving the mall.  So yes, they were crying.  But I know that staying to stop them from crying won't ever help improve their behaviour.  It will make things worse. 

You don't know that tonight, I was doing it all right.  My kids' therapists would be proud.  I am proud. 

I tried to explain this to you, but you didn't want to hear anything I had to offer.  I couldn't get two words in.  You just kept yelling at me about how I needed to learn to "control my kids" and how you had your own two children, so you knew what you were talking about.

You don't know that both of my children have multiple diagnoses, and that their behavioural challenges are part of these diagnoses.  Now, this doesn't mean that I think they can behave however they please.  But it certainly makes it likely that you would struggle with them just as much as we do.  You don't know that both of my kids have been in regular therapy since they were 2 years, and 6 months of age, respectively.  You don't know that we have consulted Occupational therapists, Physical Therapists, Speech-Language Pathologists, Psychologists, Behavioural Consultants, ABA therapists, Psychoeducators and a whole other host of medical professionals in the 4 short years since we became aware of their challenges.  You don't know that we are not just letting our children do whatever they please.  You don't know that we continue to pay professionals, out of pocket, to help guide us. You don't know that we are doing everything in our power to help our kids learn to manage their emotions in a more socially acceptable manner.   But yes, there are still challenges.

I thought of trying to explain this to you, but realized that you weren't there to listen or try to understand anyhow. 
 
You don't know that my mom and uncle were killed in a car accident a year and a half ago.  You don't know that the last year and a half has been the hardest period of my life.  Harder than I could have ever imagined.  You don't know how challenging and exhausting it has been to raise two children with emotional regulation and behaviour problems when you are entirely drained and depleted yourself.  You don't know that I got up each and every day and did it anyhow.  You don't know that even on the darkest of days, I have continued taking the kids to therapy, and that we have continued to do our best to provide them with a positive, supportive home environment, where they are loved and appreciated for both their skills and their weaknesses. You don't know that even on days when we feel depleted from the demands of life, we always do the best we can to parent our children.

You don't know that just before my kids' meltdown began, an elderly man passed out on the escalator behind me.  You don't know that my kids waited patiently for maybe 10 minutes while I helped carry the man to the top of the escalator, with a few other people. You don't know that, in that time, my children learned how to put the needs of a complete stranger before their own.  You don't know that they were learning some great life lessons about how to be compassionate and caring, even if it is towards someone you have never met before.  You didn't see the looks of concern for this man, etched on my children's faces, as they watched this scene unfold.  

You don't know that seeing a 2 minute slice of my life is in no way a reflection of who I am as a mother.  Tonight I was doing it right.  But even if you had seen me while I was doing it all wrong (and yes, we all have these moments), you still do not know, at all, what I am like as a parent.

You don't know that my 4 and 6 year old heard and understood everything you said to me tonight.  You don't know that they both started crying tonight while eating dinner, asking "mommy, why did that lady say you are a bad mommy when you are a nice mommy?".  You don't know that when my son said that you were the bad mommy, I didn't tell him you were, even though I was so tempted.  You don't know that I told him that you're not a bad mommy, but that you were probably just having a bad day.  Because I refuse to spread hatred and intolerance, and to teach my children that it is ok to make unkind and hurtful remarks about others. 

I gave you the benefit of the doubt that you couldn't offer to me.


You don't know that I will not let you shame me into believing that my children crying is a reflection of me being a bad parent.  You donn't know that I will not let you shame my children into believing that they have a bad mother, or that they are bad children because they cannot "learn to stop crying".  We sat around the dinner table, once we got home, and discussed how it is not nice to say things that hurt other people's feelings and how even though someone tells you something about yourself, it doesn't mean that it is true, or that you should believe it.  My hope is that this will be the first step towards my children learning that they cannot let themselves be defined by how others view them. 

You don't know that you cannot shake my confidence that I am exactly what my children need as a mother.

You donn't know any of these things because you didn't stop to ask. 

Perhaps, next time, before you denigrate a total stranger, you might want to offer the person a few kind words, ask if they are having a bad day, or if he/she needs any help.  Or you could maybe just remind yourself that there might be one or two things about that person's life that you don't know, and choose the route of compassion and caring instead.



Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Losing a Piece of Me Forever - Part One

When I look back at the carefree posts written when I first began this blog, I almost cannot believe that I was the person who wrote them.  In just a few short years, life has changed in more ways than I could have ever imagined. 

Many people have asked me why I had stopped writing my blog.  And I never really had a good answer, other than that my need to share my emotions and experiences had diminished, along with my free time.  So my blog slowly petered out in a natural fashion. 

My desire to blog came back with a vengeance in the weeks following October 18, 2014.  A date that I will never forget.  Ever.  My need to blog was fierce.  I would compose blog posts in my head.  But the energy to actually write one was nowhere to be found.


You see, October 18, 2014 is the day that my mom and uncle were killed in a car accident.  It still feels surreal to type this, 7 months later, even though I know without a shadow of a doubt that it is very, very real.

It was a day no different from any other.  Reading through my texts weeks after the accident revealed that my big plans for the weekend had included hitting up Target for some awesome flannel onesie adult pyjamas and maybe picking up a pair of on-sale pants from RW&Co for one of my best friends.  


A text to my mom, just 1 hour and 12 minutes before their fatal car accident reads "where r u guys?".  A text that was to go forever unanswered.  Though I did not have the faintest idea of this, as I headed off to swimming lessons with my two preschoolers.

Saturday swimming lessons ended at 3pm, as usual.  I was in the change room with both kids, getting them dressed, when my cell rang.  An area code 613 number.  "Huh...?", I thought to myself, hesitant to answer.  My cell is also my business line and I didn't want to end up on a work call, on the weekend, with my two kids around.  And then oddly, I thought "maybe it's Uncle Rob, calling to tell me when they will be getting here". 

My mom and Uncle were driving out to visit us to celebrate my daughter, Chloé's 3rd birthday.  Although it was not at all logical that my Uncle would be calling from a Cornwall phone line (rather than his own cell), this conclusion led me to pick up the phone.

The rest is a blurr, interspersed with pockets of excruciatingly detailed memories.  "This is the Ontario Provincial Police".  Howling that I did not know I was capable of producing.  Stares from everyone around me.  Strangers stopping dead in their tracks at the scene I was making.  The elderly man who came over, put his hand on my shoulder, and asked if I needed any help.  Logan and Chloé's stricken faces as they struggled to comprehend why their mother had suddenly turned into a wild animal, right before their eyes.  The other mother we were with, repeatedly reassuring me that everything was going to be ok, when deep in my gut, I knew there was only a small chance that this might actually be true.  Leaving my children in her care, while I ran outside to call my family members.  My brother had been informed, but no one else was yet aware.

Aware that the O.P.P. officer had told me that my uncle was dead.  Aware that my mother was in critical condition, with plans to airlift her to the Ottawa Civic hospital.  Aware that their lives had already been changed forever and that they did not even know it yet.  Aware that they were going to feel shattered in a way that none of us could have ever even imagined. 


I acutely remember my conversation with my father.  I had assumed that he would have already been informed.  It became blatantly evident when he picked up the phone that he had no idea what had happened.  I tried to hold it together, though I'm sure that I did far from that.  "Dad?", I asked tentatively.  "Have you talked to anyone?"  And he had not.  So on I went, announcing to him that his brother-in-law was dead and that his wife was in critical condition.  A memory that is forever etched into my brain.

Alongside the nurse's tone, when I worked up the courage to ask her if my mother might die.  The long pause, followed by a grave "your mother is in very critical condition".  Pause.  "But there is always hope".  And so began our separate races to the Ottawa hospital, coming from Ste. Catharine's, Woodstock, Bradford and Montreal.  Minutes that felt like hours and hours that felt like days.   
 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Paddy's Day

I wanted to share a few photos from our weekend celebrating St. Patrick's Day.  As I scroll over my posts from exactly a year ago (also here), I realize what a long way we have come in just one short year.  It gives me hope that in another year's time, I will look back at our current struggles and feel yet again that so much has changed.

This past weekend, we took the kids to the St. Patrick's Day parade downtown.  I wasn't super looking forward to the potential prospect of dragging two screaming toddlers to a parade in the freezing weather, particularly since Saturday had been a challenging day for us. 

Ok, to be honest... it was mostly because we'd been out late the night before drinking with friends... But that's besides the point.


I'm determined to not let my kids' challenges get in the way of activities we would be doing otherwise, as much as my energy can permit, so we decided to go anyways. 

Ok, to be honest... we'd already told Logan the day before that we were going and I wasn't psyched about the idea of listening to him tantrum all day if we changed our minds.  So I popped a few Advil and headed out in the cold.

And we had a wonderful day.  Logan loved getting all dressed up and covered in tattoos and he was super proud to wear the craft that he had made at daycare.



Chloé wouldn't let anyone go near her with anything other than a tattoo (she now looks like a biker baby).  But both kids loved watching the parade and were super well behaved.  They must have known I'd had too much to drink the night before ;)
Logan loved getting his hair done green this morning for daycare.  Unfortunately, he then got a little grump and this is the best pic I could get:


And I got to sport my awesome dollar store earrings.  And share a pair with my favourite Starbucks barista, who has been making me lattés for as long as I can remember.  He happened to ask me to give him my pair for his birthday and Girl Scout me just happened to have an extra pair in my bag.  Happy birthday Matt!


Tonight's dinner was green pancakes and bacon, in a lazy, I've been busy working and running kids to therapy all day kinda way.  I wish I could say that the pancakes were green from spinach.  But that was my old life.  These were done with some good old fashioned, full of chemicals, green food colouring.  And with a gf boxed mix to boot.  And so far, we're all still alive to tell about it.  Though I can feel myself losing my readers as I write this!  My little picky eaters even dared eat to eat the green pancakes.  Goes to show how much they have changed in such a short time.









Happy St. Patrick's Day to all.  Hope everyone had a great weekend.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Homemade Dark Chocolate Nutella. Yum!

Mmmm nutella... That's about all that I can say.

Before going dairy-free, I really only ever ate Nutella when we would make crêpes.  Which was maybe only twice a year.  But now that I can't actually have Nutella, there is something that makes it that much more exciting to have found a Nutella that I can eat.  Belgian hazelnut chocolates have always been my favourite, and this is as close as you can get without flying to Belgium.

This recipe was sent to me by a dear friend of mine in France.  I basically sat back and let her do all of the work, testing multiple variations of homemade Nutella until she found one that she felt was up to par.  That's where I stepped in and decided to make some myself.  The original recipe can be found here.

Jérôme took the kids outside this weekend to splash in the water on the street as he emptied the pool.


Superman rocking a bathing suit
and rain boots
 


And to dig for endless worms:

 
And play some street hockey:
 


And ball:


Just like two years ago, it was warm enough to be out in short sleeves and much too nice to be cleaning up the leaves. 


The kids had a blast and stayed outside for hours.  Leaving me all alone inside for a short while to whip up some delicious Nutella.  Poor Chloé loves this so much that she pretty much has a temper tantrum every time that I put it away.  But if I just let her go at it, I think she'd eat the entire jar in one sitting.  Right off of the spoon!  It truly is that good.

150g whole hazelnuts
100g dark chocolate
1/2 C icing sugar (or a bit less if you find Nutella too sweet)
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. hazelnut oil (or other flavourless oil - I used canola)

1.  Roast the hazelnuts in the oven at 400 degrees Farenheit for 8 minutes or until they are fragrant.  Alternatively, you can roast them for a couple of minutes in a pan. 



2.  Peel the skin off of the hazelnuts.  (The original blogger, Lucie, said she got blisters on her fingers doing this, but the skins slipped right off of mine). Don't fret if some of the skins stay on ;)

 
3.  In a food processor, mix the hazelnuts until you obtain a purée with a texture similar to peanut butter.


 
Lucie mentioned that this took a lot of patience.  She processed her hazelnuts in the food processor for approximately 20 minutes and then used a mortar and pestle to finish the job off.  I used my brand new VITAMIX!!!! and mine was like peanut butter within a few short minutes.

4.  Melt the chocolate mixed with a bit of soy milk on the stove, stirring constantly.  We used some of that delicious dark chocolate we brought home from France for this :)))
 
 
 

5.  Add the remaining ingredients and process in the food processor.  Add more soy milk, if desired, until you have reached the consistency you want.




Enjoy!!  Keep in the fridge, due to the added milk and just take out a few minutes before you want to eat it so that it is easier to spread.  That is, if you don't just eat it right off the spoon ;)  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Homemade Dairy-Free Strawberry Ice Cream

My kids are obsessed with ice cream these days.  Which is kind of funny, given that they can't actually eat real ice cream, due to their dairy sensitivities.  It all started a few weeks back, when I found these gluten-free ice cream cones (note: although we all like the sugar cones, none of us much cared for the gf cups, which just had an odd cardboard-like texture...).  I picked up a box of these cones alongside a carton of coconut ice cream as a treat for the kids when I discovered the cones.  A few weeks prior, Logan had been on the verge of tears, telling me about how all of the kids in daycare had gotten an ice cream cone while he had had a popsicle instead.

Little did I know that this was going to start a mad obsession with ice cream...  So we have been making various sorts of homemade "ice creams" lately.  Hopefully, I will get a chance to post a few more before summer is out.  Esspecially the particularly delicious mango version we made last week.


Our latest creation was based on an ice cream that Jérôme's grandmother used to make for him as a child.  She would crush fresh-picked strawberries with a fork, then add some crême fraîche and sugar and then freeze until ready.  Simple.as.that.


Since we are dairy-free, we used a soy cream substitute:


And I puréed the strawberries in the KitchenAid, since my kids are so particular with textures.  

 

This recipe only takes minutes to make and is delicious.  The kids have enjoyed it several times this week.  As have I.  Our neighbour's one year old son also got to enjoy a cone with us.     

 
 
 
  
3 pints fresh picked strawberries
1 carton Belsoy cooking cream or equivalent amount of crême fraîche or cream
1/2 C sugar, or to taste

1.  Mix all ingredients in the food processor.  For a more textured ice cream, crush strawberries with a fork and then mix in remaining ingredients.


 2.  Place ingredients in an ice cream maker, or freeze until ready to serve.




Difficulty level: easy