Thursday, December 8, 2016

Please Don't Tell Me How Lucky I Am...

My dad died two weeks ago. 

 Please don't tell me how lucky I am.

Please don't tell me how lucky I am that he died suddenly.  Yes, I am glad that I did not have to see him suffer.  But I never had the chance to say goodbye.  To him, or to my mom and uncle two years ago.  And he was dead, alone, for almost a week.  And no one even knew.

Please don't tell me that I am lucky that my sister will soon have a baby, bringing joy to the family in a time of sadness.  Yes, I am looking forward to meeting her baby.  But her having to give birth to a child, for a second time, just weeks after losing a parent sounds surreal... and yet is somehow true.

Please don't tell me that I am lucky to have children, to help keep my mind off of it.  Yes, they certainly keep me busy.  But seeing their pain at the loss of their last grandparent is almost more than I can bear.

Please just tell me that you are sorry that we are going through this again... so soon... so young.  

Please do not just sweep my pain under the rug and suggest that I just focus on the positives in my life to make everything better.  The positives do not make losing a parent any less painful.  They will, with time, make their loss easier to bear.  But not today.  It is too soon.  

Please, let me have time with my pain, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

RIP Bill Baynton, Dec. 6, 1948 - Nov. 24, 2016
Lynda Baynton Aug. 16, 1949 - Oct. 18, 2014

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.