Today I got the news that one of my sisters, the one I wrote about in ‘Realizations from My   Birthday’ [] has had a stroke. And my first reaction was fear – that I would lose her and I know that I’m not ready to have her not be in my life in any way at all.  I know that strokes are no longer the pretty much immediate death sentence that they were when I was a child.  And yet, I was afraid of losing her.  And then I was sad for her – that her life would become even more proscribed than it had been before the stroke.  And I remember something my other sister had asked me last week.  She wondered if I thought that our middle sister had decided to die.  Maybe this stroke had something to do with that.  And then my fear and sadness turned to anger at my brother-in-law who had not let me or my other sister know what was happening.  Hell, he waited until a few days after this event to let one of his daughters, who is out of the country, know.

I cannot understand his reasoning for that choice. And I wonder if my sister has chosen to die.  And there’s nothing I can do but accept.

When I was a child I learned very well to accept things: what I could wear, what I could eat, what school I was going to go to, what I could do with my free time, what I was expected to do at home to help with the smooth running of it all, how I was expected to behave at home and when I was out in the world, that I had to wait my turn, that I had to ask for permission, what was an appropriate career for me to follow, how I was expected to be as a female in my culture.  So many things I learned to accept without outward objections.  Oh, I had many reservations and questions about all of the things I was expected to accept.  And I found out very quickly that to voice my questions was a sure path to rejection and anger from my father.  And I learned that my mother would not intervene for me because she had had accepting literally beaten into her when she was a child.

One of the things I know to be true for me and about me is that I feel called to help and support others and to help them realize the fullness of who they innately are. That’s one of the reasons that I chose the career I did and why I choose to volunteer now that I’ve retired from teaching.  And, for me, it’s been about seeing a need and stepping in to help provide for that.

I know that I have to accept that there is nothing I can do to take this turn of events from my sister. There is nothing I can to do make it all better.  And I can only be involved in her life to the extent that she chooses to let me.  I have to accept that I do not have agency. I cannot step in without permission.

And as I write this, I know that this is the hardest lesson I have to learn. And it’s not easy.

While I find myself tearing up when I think of my sister, I know that what I’m really crying about is my sense of helplessness. I’m crying because I know that I must accept that.

Maybe learning to accept our very real limitations – those which come from inside of our true self and which do not come from any outside authority – is one of the hardest lessons for each of us.




Posted in choices, Personal Growth and Self-discovery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Realizations from My Birthday

On the morning of my 67th birthday, I realized that it was 50 years ago that I’d started Grade 13.  And, for some reason that I can’t intellectualize, I found myself crying about that.

Was it because I haven’t achieved the goals I thought were so important to me when I was 17?  At the time, I knew that I wanted to go to university and become a teacher.  And I did accomplish those goals.  I also thought that I had to be slim and svelte so that how I looked would map to what my culture at the time decreed was physically desirable.  Well, that one I haven’t achieved.  And I know now that if anyone is put out by my physical appearance that’s all about them and their issues and has nothing to do with me.  I thought I had to have a boyfriend and get married and have a family.  And I knew that I didn’t want to have children and felt that there must be something wrong with me because I felt that way.  And I’ve never had a boyfriend.  Oh I’ve had boy-slash-friends over my life but never a ‘boyfriend’ [how Amy Farah Fowler of me]. I wanted to be a good writer and a musician.  And I know that I’ve accomplished those goals and continue to do so.  And still there were tears.

I guess it was a day for introspection.

And I called one of my sisters that night.  She has Parkinson Disease.  And, as I sit here writing this, my heart is hurting for her.  I have such memories of her as bright and energetic and passionate about life.  I remember laughter.  I remember cherry pit spitting contests.  I remember sharing a bedroom for so many years.  I remember when she sat me down and told me the facts of life.  I remember great conversations about anything and everything.

And, that evening, I almost didn’t recognize her voice.  It seems her illness has advanced quickly to such an extent that she now uses her walker most of the time and doesn’t really have the energy to manoeuvre it by herself.  Her voice is getting very quiet and she’s now slurring her words a bit.  And as I listened to her, I wanted to make her better.  I wanted to find a way to lift this from her.  And there’s nothing I can do but let her know that I love her and that I’ll help her in whatever way she needs when she asks.  And that just doesn’t feel like enough.  And I know that I’m grieving for my sister and for myself.

And then I talked to my other sister.  She hasn’t seen our sister since 2011.  Oh, they’ve spoken a few times on the phone and written a few emails to each other but they haven’t seen each other for so long.

I’m glad we spoke.  It felt good to know that I wasn’t alone and to share how I was feeling.  You see, our sister who is in the middle just seems older than my oldest sister and me.  I’m 67 and my oldest sister is 71 and while our bodies are not young anymore, our spirits are.  For both of us, our world is expanding.  Maybe it might not look like we thought it would when we were teenagers and still it energizes us in ways which bring us joy.

Yet our sister, who will turn 70 this year, seems to be collapsing both physically and energetically.  Each time I see her, she seems physically smaller.  And her world revolves around just making it through the day.  She has little beyond her living space.  She used to belong to a choir which she enjoyed and she’s given that up.  She used to tutor English and that’s gone from her life. She used to write and, together, we wrote music curricula for elementary teachers and she’s no longer interested in working on that.  She hardly drives anymore and she was a good driver and so, unless her husband or someone else drives her, she rarely leaves her home.  She was a great cook which is something she rarely does anymore.  She loved exploring creating through crafts and doesn’t do that anymore.  She has few friends who visit her and she doesn’t visit anyone on her own.

And my oldest sister asked me if I thought our sister was dying.  And it feels so awful to think about that and it feels like my oldest sister is right.  I wonder if our sister has just given up living.  It feels like she’s enduring and waiting.  I remember watching my father do that and I remember that my parents both died when they were 69 and that the onset and progress of their illnesses were quick [less than a year].  And I’ve realized that even though I can accept the possibility of what my oldest sister said, I’m not ready to lose my middle sister.  So I know that I’m grieving for myself about that.

And I can’t do anything to change things for anyone else but me.  That so flies in the face of who I AM.  And I remember to breathe and know that it’s not for me to change things for anyone else.

Posted in choices, Personal Growth and Self-discovery | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

My ‘C’ Words

I love BSI sessions [] with Sheila Winter Wallace. I go with something lurking in the back of my mind and playing out in my body and, within a few hours, I’m clear about what was bugging me.  I’ve worked through and metabolized it.

Such was the case at my last session. I’ve suffered with migraine headaches for much of my adult life.  When I was completing my teaching training year, the worst migraine I had lasted for over a month.  It was bad enough that I thought that I’d have to withdraw from the programme.  And I got through it and completed the year.

What I know now is that migraines are, for me, all about performance. It’s when I’ve felt that I’ve had to put up with something and not say anything about what was bothering me, when I’ve been told, “Just do it and quit griping!”, when I’ve been told that there’s nothing wrong so what’s my problem – like I’ve been the cause of my discomfort, when I’ve questioned my right to honour what I was feeling, when I’ve felt that I should just go with it all and not make any waves – that’s when the migraine has developed.

Lately, they started to come back first as ocular migraines which severely affected my vision. Now there’s a metaphor if there ever was one – my clarity of vision for mySelf was compromised.  And then they developed to the kind of headaches I used to get – the kind that not only affected my vision but also my digestion.  It’s like my whole body has been saying to me, “Pay attention!  I’m telling you something!”

And I have paid attention and in doing that, come to know the C words in my life: care, curiosity, clarity, capacity, contribution, and courage.

I’ve always cared about the people around me. I’ve always wanted everyone else to be happy and comfortable.  I’ve always felt that it was my job to be their champion: to stand up for them against bullies and petty martinets and anyone else who seemed to believe that it was their right to make everyone else feel small and less than.  I’d ride my metaphoric horse to the rescue of everyone else.  What I forgot to do was to do that for myself first.  I’ve heard voices from my past telling me that, in caring for myself first, I was being selfish.  Selfish was a dirty word to me.   And in not caring for myself first, I ended up wondering what was wrong with me.  Why did no one stand up for me or intercede for me like I was doing for them? And in the end, what I’ve felt was despair and rage.

What I know is that being the champion for others is part of me and who I know mySelf to be. What I know is that I need to care for and about myself first.  I know that it is vital that I always listen to mySelf first.  I need to pay attention to mySelf first.  Only then can I take a stand or be a support for others.

One of the things I enjoy about me is my curiosity. I wasn’t the kind of kid who picked up bugs and examined them or would put anything I picked up in my mouth to see what it tasted like.  That wasn’t me.  I was the kid who read a wide variety of things, who listened intently to conversations and lessons, who would try a lot of things, who would look at the sky and marvel at the myriad shades of blue and listen to the wind and the rain.  I am the person who wants to know how things work just to understand the miracle that living is.  Yet, for all that I have celebrated my wanting to know, I’ve also labeled myself a dilettante because I don’t always follow through on any one thing until I’ve exhausted the information available to me.  I’ve decried what I’ve held as my lack of follow through.  I’ve heard my mother’s voice telling me that I’m a jack of all trades and a master of none.

What I know is that my curiosity and sense of wonder are an innate part of me. What I know is that I’ve explored things to the degree I’ve needed to satisfy my curiosity.  What I know is that I’ve loved being struck by the miracle of things – that’s what’s energized me.  And I know that where I feel that sense of wonder in my body suffuses every cell and feels so much greater than the confines of my body.  My curiosity does not reside in my intellect.  It lives in my whole self.

So many times in my life I’ve felt overwhelmed. There have been too many options or possibilities.  And there have been too many obligations – things I felt I needed to complete first before I could choose to do what I wanted to do.  It’s felt like such clutter and noise to me. And, when I’ve felt overwhelmed, I’ve often distracted myself usually by shutting down and choosing to ignore everything – including what I really wanted to do for mySelf.  It’s often been difficult to make decisions and to choose.  Clarity has not been easy for me.

What I know is that it’s when I’ve had options to choose from which mapped to someone else’s agenda and not my own, things have been clouded for me. And when I’ve chosen for mySelf and listened, really paid attention to what my gut or instinct or heart of hearts was telling me, then I’ve felt such a sense of clarity and vision.  The path ahead has simply presented to me with ease and direction.  That’s what making the decision to sell my last home and move felt like – easy and quick and without fear or question.  What I know is that I need always to choose clarity for mySelf first.  And, in doing that, my world will unfold as I intend to create it.

I have the ability to work on several things at the same time: to set goals for completion of tasks, organize my time, and to finish things by set time lines. In fact, I work best when I have several things on the go:  that way I never get bored and am always energized by what I’m working on.  I know that I like the variety this affords me.  And it’s also been a trap.  Because others have known that I can work on many things at the same time and get’er done, they’ve looked to me to take charge or to just do it.  It’s felt like they’ve foisted their own work on to me and then expected to accept any praise for the work which has been done.  And I haven’t felt that I was able to disabuse anyone by making it clear just who had done the work.  Tooting my own horn was frowned upon when I grew up.

As well, I know that I have said ‘yes’ when asked in the past to be involved, sign on for, work on committees – you name it. Why?  Because I believed that the more people asked me to help them, the more they valued me and my work and the more essential I was.  I have been ambushed by my capacity to do, complete, manage.

I really enjoy my ability to multi-task. I don’t get bored.  I learn new things.  I create and write and educate. What I have been learning is to say ‘No’ to others rather than ‘Yes’ immediately.  What I’ve been learning is to say ‘Yes’ to mySelf first and choose to be involved only in those things which really interest me and which light up my day.  And I know that it’s easier each day to listen to mySelf and choose for mySelf first.  And, when I do, it’s simple to let things go without any sense of question.  Then I use my capacity to accomplish a great deal for my own interests first.  Then I use my capacity to create the world in which I choose to live.

There was a time in my life when I worried that, when I’d die, no one would have even known that I had been here. I worried that I would not have made a great enough contribution to the fabric of the world to have made a difference.  And so, I would do more and generate more stuff and always look to others for their approbation.  Somehow I believed that if I didn’t get a stamp of approval from someone else, then what I had done meant nothing.

I know that a drive to make a contribution to my world and, by extension, the world of others is bred in my bones. I am an educator and not only because I love learning.  It’s just part of who I am whether it’s working in a classroom, tutoring, volunteering, coaching, teaching music privately, being a choir director, sharing what I know as a gymnastics judge.  I make a contribution to the lives of everyone I work with, talk with, or advise.  I couldn’t stop making a contribution if I tried.  I know that my knowledge and learning are to be shared.  What I know now, and keep reminding myself, is that it doesn’t matter what others say or think about what I do.  What matters is that I continue to honour the creator and contributor that I was born to be.

Throughout much of my life, I’ve never felt that I was very courageous. I’ve done whatever I’ve felt I needed to do in order to avoid arguments.  For all that I can yell with the best of them, raised voices make me cringe.  In so many ways, I’ve backed down from standing up for what I know has been right for me.  I’ve let others’ voices and wants take precedence over my own.  And I know that I’ve only been able to do that for so long and then I’ve reached a threshold where I can’t back down anymore.  Then, my rage has spewed forth to such a degree that others have chosen not to engage with me.  And, since the final straw has usually been something which, to their minds, is minor, I’ve been held as unpredictable and unstable.  And I’ve believed that this view held by others has really been the truth of who I am.

What I know is that I have the courage to stand up for what I know to be right even when it’s not convenient for me to do that. I have the courage to speak up when I feel that it’s necessary.  I’ve been able to stand up for myself and say, à la Peter Finch in Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” What I also know is that, often, I’ve had to plan what I wanted to say and practice it so that I would not get caught up in any emotional reaction.  And, after the fact, I’ve sometimes dissolved in a puddle of tears.

And then I remember when I took a stand about what I was willing to accept when I was a church choir director. I made the right decision for mySelf.  I followed my own agenda and listened to mySelf first and I resigned.  And I remember how I felt when I was driving home after my last Sunday at the church.  The total sense of release and freedom and power was greater than anything I could have imagined.  Being courageous might seem daunting and in being courageous I’ve been true to mySelf.  It’s not always effortless and I remind mySelf that having courage really is about expressing my truth in every breath.

In the past, it’s not been simple for me to put mySelf first in my life. And each time that I do, it’s easy. And I relish how I feel: intense, immense, and unstoppable.  What a great way to live my life.

Posted in choices, Personal Growth and Self-discovery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment