In Loving Memory (and living with regret)

This week I lost two people who were hugely important people in my past. I’d had a falling out with each of them a long time ago, eventually reconnected with each of them in the early days of Facebook, and then drifted apart from each of them again. They are both people who reached out to me just a few months ago asking to get together, and they are both people whose messages I ignored because it didn’t feel like ‘the right time’ to have them back in my life.

This is the week that I learned how brutally life will teach us that we may run out of time for second chances.

Katherine Ulrichsen

IMG_20180412_173305__01My childhood best friend, born only two days after me, Katherine and I had known each other from the early age of 1.5 years. We made mud shakes together, caught bees together, and went to my first concert together (George Michael). We were the best of friends right up until the middle of high school when boys (a boy) came between us. Of course, what a cliche.

On Friday morning, Katherine didn’t wake up from her sleep. We don’t know how she died, but hopefully an autopsy will reveal the cause. Katherine had reached out to me just before I was heading to BC in the Fall. I could see on Facebook that Katherine battled physical and emotional pain daily, and I just didn’t want to have to add that to all of the things I was already dealing with myself, so I didn’t reply. I kept thinking that I would reach out to her and make sure I saw her before I moved out of the province – that would have been within the next couple of months. We hadn’t seen each other since age 18; after more than 20 years apart, it never occurred to me we didn’t have a mere couple of months more.

The outpouring of love in response to Katherine’s passing spoke of a woman who was kind-hearted, giving, and caring toward everyone. I wish I had known the adult version of my childhood friend. I wish I had made the time to see her. I just didn’t know that was going to be my only chance.

Luke Neville

Four days after learning of Katherine’s death, I saw a Facebook post that Luke was missing. It was dated October 2017, being reposted on the 6 month anniversary of his disappearance. I didn’t know.

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Luke & Linda, sometime in our twenties

Luke & Linda – we were a complicated pair since our twenties. We initially bonded over a love of the same type of music. He lived in Ottawa, he would come and visit me in Toronto and I would take my son (just 4 years old at the time) to visit “Fireman Luke” in Ottawa. Most of the time, our romantic timing was terrible but one magical weekend, it wasn’t. We shared an amazing weekend camping and hiking in cottage country but as soon as we were back, reality kicked in and the complications kicked up again.

In my thirties we reconnected – he was now living in BC, I had to go to BC for work so we met up for a weekend. He took me to my first firing range so that I could check off ‘shoot a gun’ on my bucket list. Luke & Linda were doing great… until we weren’t. We had a huge blow up, it ended terribly, and I couldn’t forgive him for the things he said and did. Every few years after that he would send me a note to see if I was ready to reconcile but I could never figure out what to say in response, so I never replied.

Last August he was back in Ontario for a week and he tried again, and said that he would keep trying every few years. He ended his note with “Ok, well, I guess I said what I had to say and I’ll return to my hole for a few more years… ummm… you look awesome BTW… ok, well, have a great couple of years or so… Let me know if you’re in B.C. and want to fight… Too soon?… probably… k, bye…”.

Just two months later, I did go to BC, and I was in a town just a couple of hours from his small, remote town. I didn’t tell him I was going to be there, because I still wasn’t ready yet and I thought we’d have lots of time for that ‘right moment’ to come when we would be able to patch things up.

That day in October, when I was in that town close to his town, is the last day he was seen alive.

That day, when I was in that town close to his town, it’s believed that he was murdered by thugs from a local drug house. His body has never been found.

The day after that day, a post went up on Facebook that he was missing, but I never saw it because I was travelling through BC busily looking for a new home and excitedly planning to apply for grad school, so I wasn’t checking social media. I had no idea that just a few hours away there was now a search party combing the area, looking for the other half of Luke & Linda.

I wonder if I had reached out and asked him to meet me on that trip in BC, if it might have saved his life. Luke would have dropped everything to come and see me, and if he’d done that then maybe he wouldn’t have been where he was when they got him. I just can’t reconcile that it happened when – for the first and only time in my life – I was so close that I could have actually possibly disrupted that course of events. I know it’s impossible thinking, it’s just part of the grief process I suppose. But when it comes to living with regret, this is a big one.

Luke and RobertLuke had a great laugh. He would get onto rants about all sorts of things, and I loved how when he ranted, he would elongate adjective vowels. Something wasn’t just “super annoying”, it was “sooooooooper annoying” haha. I do that too; I’m pretty sure I picked it up from him. He also didn’t have much of a filter, which meant that he was brazenly open about his desires for us to have a relationship, and equally brazenly open about behaviours of mine that he found problematic. You always knew where you stood with Luke. And he sure did love kids; he loved my kid.

 

I’m trying hard to understand what the universe is trying to teach me this week. I had been thinking that I was going to move out of Ontario without giving many people a heads up. I’m reconsidering that now. I think I need to make sure that I have lovingly closed my relationships here before I leave, especially those that have ended abruptly and/or without explanation, because I may never get a chance to do that and I need to make sure that people know I love them and that they matter(ed) to me.

I knew that Luke loved me, but I don’t think he knew that I loved him. Sometimes I didn’t like him, but a part of me always loved him, and it feels to me like the greatest tragedy that he died not knowing that. I just didn’t know I would run out of time to let him know.

say it

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Change is Hard

I have been feeling guilty about not writing a Year in Review post for 2017, because I like the idea of this blog being my memory-keeper of life and feel that I’ve somehow short-changed myself by not following through. However, here we are in February, and I’m feeling compelled to write about the unfolding of what was one of the most significant events of 2017, which is my concrete decision to move to British Columbia in 2018.

A few weeks ago, on a bus ride into the city to meet a friend for dinner, I spontaneously decided to reach out to realtors to start gathering information about selling my home this Spring. Suddenly, here I am at the beginning of February with my house completely in disarray being readied for listing in the next couple of weeks, and a photo on my phone, sent to me by my friend, of my house in the local paper being advertised as “Coming Soon!”

It’s all happening so fast. I’m freaking out.

The other major event of 2017 is that I decided to apply to graduate school in the hopes of getting my Masters Degree and ultimate PhD in social psychology research. I busted my ass to study for the GRE which I wrote in November, I further busted my ass to get applications written and submitted by December 1, and now there is nothing left to do with that but wait until I hear back from schools in March.

That means that right now I’m listing my house for sale, before I actually know if I’m moving to BC to go to school, or if I’m moving to BC to semi-retire in a small town by the ocean. I don’t know when to quit my job, I don’t know when I’ll be leaving for BC or where I’ll be living or even whether I’m moving to a house or a student basement apartment. I have no idea what lays ahead of me and yet every day right now, in this life in Ontario, I am being propelled to let go of everything that has provided me comfort, security, and stability over the last 16 years.

Everything familiar is changing.

My house is now an attractive and perfectly average shade of taupe-grey. The beautiful French doors that were a deep shade of wood stain are now painted a perfectly acceptable white. And the floor-to-ceiling wood bookcases that are full of character, originally installed by my father and later stained dark walnut by me, are now taken down and waiting for LetGo pickup because without them the space looks just a little bit larger which is more marketable. Suddenly everyone feels entitled to share their opinion about every little thing in my house. As I was told by a realtor, “your house isn’t your home anymore, now it’s a product to be sold.”

I’m so sad.

Without having a clear vision of what to look forward to – student life in psychology research, or semi-retirement by the ocean – I don’t know what to hang on to as I let go of my current life. I am quickly becoming displaced in my own life, and it’s all been of my own choosing, but it’s happening so quickly that I’m often gasping for air, scrambling to feel ground beneath my feet.

It’s a pithy saying, but these days I feel it in every atom of my body. I feel it every time I wake in a panic at 2am desperately thinking I need to cancel all of these plans and get comfortable with feeling settled in Ontario. I feel it everytime I’m on the cusp of some great unforgettable adventure that terrifies me to my core (like this one): change is hard. Change is so hard, and I desperately don’t like it, but I’ve also come to realize I can’t live without it.

Wherever you go, there you are

For the last week, I’ve been travelling through what I hope will be my future home province someday. I arrived with great hope and expectation about what I might discover, and nervousness that I wouldn’t discover anything at all. I was so thrilled to have an epiphany early on about what to do with my career that I started to think I could just relax on this trip, assuming everything was going to go well and life would all start to sort itself out into a state of clarity.

I spent 3 nights in a small town, renting a room in the home of a man the same age as me. We ended up spending a lot of time together as he showed me around town, took me on hikes and we stayed up late into the night sharing life stories. He talked about wanting to take me on his motorcycle someday, wanting to show me so many more things in the future, and about how his mother would be surprised to learn he’s dating again. By the time I was leaving, we were holding hands in the car and kissing goodbye. I didn’t think I was personally investing too much, it just felt nice to be connecting with someone in that way after what has felt like a long time of being single.

Of course now, two nights later, I just feel profound loss. In the light of day, I see how he is too much like every emotionally unavailable, narcissistic guy I’ve been involved with in the past. I see how I let myself get caught up in a ‘relationship’ for no reason other than it felt nice not to be alone. I see that everything he said and did was self-serving and insincere.

I thought I had left these old patterns behind and yet here they are, following me halfway across the country reminding me that wherever I go, there I’ll be. There I’ll be with all my history, all my old wounds that are still healing, all my vulnerability and weakness and fear. Just when I think I’ve left them all behind, there they are.

Man, what a crappy discovery to have on vacation.

Belonging

When I was in Europe in April, I fell into a personal crisis.

It began at my work retreat in Angers, France. We were coached on how to walk a labyrinth – take a quiet moment before entering, clear your thoughts, and let your truths reveal themselves to you as you walk slowly through the path. With each step, I wept – sobbed – as the words “I don’t belong” kept coming up, over and over again. I didn’t know what they meant or why they were so adamant about being heard, but I do know that it was the beginning of an unprecedented physical stress response that resulted in me being sick, in pain and very medicated for the remainder of the trip. It was undeniable that something really big and important was trying to make itself known to me.

Since that time, I’ve been struggling to understand what belonging means to me, and why it feels like something I urgently need to address. I know that it has something to do with my work – I’ve come to accept that I absolutely do not belong in my workplace, and that I need to make a move. I know that it also has something to do with where I live.

So, after an incredibly difficult several months, I’m now on a two-week trip in British Columbia checking out towns, looking for a new place I’ll be able to someday call home. My hope for this trip was to get some kind of hint about what my next steps should be; some kind of clarity about something, anything, as long as it would bring me a step ahead of where I’d been before the trip.

And then today, on day two of my trip, I had an epiphany on the drive from Chilliwack to Maple Ridge, a realization about what I need to do next in my career. It was such a deep and honest realization it literally brought me to tears, as I think it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time but subconsciously always felt was out of reach.

And today, on day two of my trip, after spending the morning driving through neighbourhoods looking at real estate listings, and after spending the afternoon hiking in Golden Ears Provincial Park, I was suddenly overcome in the most peaceful and calmest of ways with the unexpected gentle whisper of these precious words: “I belong.” They felt like warm sunshine in my heart.

I’m not sure yet how this will all unfold, but today I have great hope and joy that I am heading in the right direction.

bc me golden ears

2016: Year in Review

To be honest, I feel a bit shell shocked by this year. Nevertheless, growth and progress come in many forms and now this year too has passed so, without further ado, here are my highlights (or perhaps more aptly named, key themes) of 2016:

1) Exploring the West: In the summer I took a 2-week solo trip to the Western US and Canada, starting with a 10k race in Oregon, moving on to rainforest hikes and ocean beach walks in Washington, mountain hiking in British Columbia, and horseback riding in the Alberta Rockies. Mid-trip I took a break in Nelson BC, staying with a friend for a few days, cementing what is becoming a soulful lifelong friendship. On this trip I discovered my strength and visceral need for connection with body and nature. Coming back from this trip, I started biking to work instead of driving and making day trips to Algonquin Park on long weekends for hiking with a view. I was embarking on an important and much-needed lifestyle shift.

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2) Exploring Love: After two years of purposeful singledom, I started dating again in the Spring, learning a little bit more about myself from each brief relationship. From a nice guy with no sexual chemistry, to an annoying guy with abundant sexual chemistry, to a wealthy guy with no self-reflection, to an unconventional guy with little empathy, I am gradually learning more about what I need, and refining and solidifying my dealbreakers. Whether or not I’ll ever meet a guy who will someday become my best friend is anyone’s guess, but I think there’s value and personal growth in the search.

img_20140419_1421443) Exploring Loss: On December 1, a dear friend of mine died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack at age 63. I’ve never lost anyone close to me before, I had no idea how to even begin to process that she’s no longer in this world. I don’t think I’ve quite wrapped my head around it yet. And then on December 25, my childhood idol whose music I’d hung on to through my worst years of loneliness growing up, passed away suddenly at age 53. I’m surprised at how complicated my grief over George Michael’s passing has been. These two sudden losses at vastly different levels and degrees of proximity to my life have left me feeling very melancholic, and focused on the importance of living fully and immediately rather than perfectly.

img_20160810_1131544) Exploring Change: On my Western adventure, I came to realize that I experience myself and the world differently when I’m around mountains. In the mountains I feel like there is room for me in the world, and I feel like I can breathe in a way that eludes me in this flat congested landscape that I currently call home. I realized that I have unconsciously been travelling to mountains every chance I’ve gotten over the last few years since I started travelling alone, and I think I’m starting to understand why. I’ve now begun to lay the groundwork to make a big move in my life within the next couple of years which feels a bit scary but also exciting and very life-living.

So, those are the biggest themes/highlights of 2016. The only thing left to do now is choose the song of the year!

Song of the Year: 2016

It’s hard to choose this year’s song since 2016 has been so emotionally dichotomous for me. At various points I would have thought my selection would be one of my most-played Awolnation songs of the year – either “MF” or “Windows” – but I’ve decided it’s going to be an old Cage the Elephant song from 2013 that I just discovered a few months ago. As much as I love their newer release “Trouble”, this older song “Telescope” really represents my state of mind this year, ending with the important reminder: Time is like a leaf in the wind / Either it’s time worth spent or time I’ve wasted / Don’t waste it.

With that, I thank you for reading and wish you a happy, healthy 2017 full of love, peace and joy.

Trump and Crickets: The end of a relationship

“Bummer about Trump, eh!”

Those words marked the beginning of the end of my latest relationship.

I was still in shock, reeling from the news I’d woken up to at 4:45am – the news that overnight, the world had changed in a way that I naively never saw coming. I was still grasping to understand how this could have happened and what it meant to me, to vulnerable people in America, and to the world. I didn’t know how to make sense of it, I couldn’t find the words, but I knew “bummer” was not one of them.

Prior to that day, I had already been starting to struggle with my partner’s lack of awareness of his privilege, his lack of deep engagement in meaningful discussions, and his seemingly superficial, self-interested approach to life.

Just a few days earlier, in response to me sharing that I’m feeling a strong and urgent pull to figure out bigger ways that I can make positive change in the world, his response was: “Not everyone can be Nelson Mandela or Ghandi.” I countered that, in fact, there are lots of people – seemingly ordinary people – who make big and small important change in the world all the time, and gave him the example of the two college change-makers in the documentary The Hunting Ground, who found a way to force colleges to deal with sexual assaults on campus. But I knew it was a bad sign that instead of lifting me up, his immediate response was to try to pull me down ‘to reality.’

I knew it was a bad sign a few weeks earlier that, when he was telling me about his first volunteering shift playing squash with underprivileged youth, his story about what made it so great was all about what a great guy he was and how much the youth talked about how great he was, but I didn’t recall him talking about how great any of the youth were.

That conversation came in the middle of a volunteering shift we did together, sorting shoes that were being sent to Haiti as part of a microloan initiative to help families build self-sustaining businesses. When I’d asked him at the end of the shift what he’d thought of it, he replied he’d been hoping we’d only have had to be there for an hour or two so we could have just gone for coffee and hung out, but it was “fine”. I couldn’t help picking up on the tone of annoyance that he was trying to hide.

And it was definitely a bad sign when he chose to dress up as Trump for Halloween, telling me “it was fun to be politically incorrect for a bit. I told some gals that I’d spank them but they were only a ‘4’ so not worth it.”

And so the day came when I learned that Trump was president-elect, and I received an email from this guy talking about how much he had killed it in his squash game the night before, how he was going to a fancy restaurant with corporate finance brokers that night, and then ended with that throwaway line, “Oh, and bummer about Trump eh!”

I replied that bummer was an understatement and explained how and why I was struggling, and that I was just trying to surround myself with like-minded people to process and work through it. I distanced myself from him for the day.

The next night when he came over, I had decided that I wouldn’t try to gloss over my feelings or pretend everything was fine just to make things more comfortable for him. Instead, I told him I was still not ok. I explained how that election decision made me feel disillusioned with society, and how I instantly felt less safe in the world as a woman. I told him about how heartbroken and hopeless I felt that the bad guy won, people made the bad guy win.

While I talked, he ‘listened’, periodically sticking his nose deep into his wine glass and breathing in deeply to once again admire just how fantastic the red wine he’d brought was.

He dismissively made comments like, “well we just have to be glad we live in Canada” and “I just don’t stress about it because there’s nothing I can do about it”. I felt deflated. His commitment to complacency was fierce.

He commented about how I’m always thinking and grinned in a self-pleased way as he said, “In my head, there’s nothing, it’s just crickets.”

Crickets.

My son said to me yesterday that I have a “big mind”. He said it with a tone of admiration and respect, which was a contrast to that almost condescending remark my so-called partner had made a couple of days earlier.

It all became crystal clear. I ended the relationship.

Because in the world I want to live in, people will choose to actively work toward creating a society that is safe for all, whether it impacts them directly or not. People actively engage in critical thinking to challenge dominant beliefs and systems that are not only holding us back as a society but, in many cases, damaging us and the world we live in. Because for me, ultimately, complacency and ignorance are not sexy and frankly are no longer acceptable. And neither are crickets.

ghandi

2015: Year in Review

Heading into 2015, I had a feeling it was going to be a great year and it was! Since turning 40 last year felt like a rebirth, this first year in my ‘new life’ was unsurprisingly a year of great growth. Here are my highlights of 2015:

1) Universal connection. In the Spring I took my second solo trip, this time to Iceland where I was humbled by spectacular glaciers, terrifying winter driving, and an unexpected spiritual expansion that kept sparking my soul on every day of the trip. I learned on this trip that I’m tough, and vulnerable, and connected to the universe in deeper ways than I’d ever known before.

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2) I found my place. Mid-year, I left the women’s agency where I’d worked since my move out of the corporate world three years ago, and joined a different women’s agency. It was an emotional move that was made primarily for financial reasons, not because I’d wanted to leave. I feared I would regret leaving a place I love, but with four months under my belt now I know that I am where I’m meant to be. This takes me to #3…

3) I found my voice. For reasons unknown to me, at this new agency, I speak my mind, I go against the grain, I’m referred to as someone who is ‘shaking things up’, all of which are tremendously out of character for me. I have always been afraid of rocking the boat and saying something people disagree with, but now it just flows out of me whether I like it or not. For the first month or two of speaking my mind, it was actually incredibly unsettling. I would go home and question over and over why I had said whatever I’d said and what the potential ramifications might be; yet, the very next day, I would go in and rock the boat again. Now I don’t worry about it anymore, I love that I’ve found my voice and my team is so relieved to finally have someone providing real leadership. I have no doubt that I’m where I’m meant to be, becoming the person I’m meant to be.

B612-2015-09-13-20-41-524) |-/. This is the symbol for Twenty One Pilots, a band that sings about the struggle of fighting depression and anxiety; a band that urges their listeners to stay alive; a band whose fans continuously say “thank you for saving my life”. I discovered TOP last year, but 2015 was the year I really became a die-hard fan. I got to know what the boys were all about, I went to my first TOP concert with my little sister this Fall (our first concert together), and next year I’ll be going to see them again with my son and his friend. Twenty One Pilots does more than get me through the hard days, they have become a bonding agent between me and the twenty-somethings in my family. I love this band!

chicago first class5) A first class year. Thanks to a generous offer from my sister and an Aeroplan glitch that prompted even more generosity, I got to fly business class for my brief trip to Chicago this summer. It was an incredibly fun experience – smoked salmon, white wine, glassware instead of plastic, and all the leg room a girl could ever want on a plane. I loved every second of it! Then, for my birthday last week, my son treated me to a VIP movie experience that reminded me of those first class flights – cushy big seats, good food and wine brought to our seats, and again, all the leg room! What a wonderfully luxurious cap to a great year.

One final thing before I go…

Last year I ended Year in Review with an Imagine Dragons video. The video I’ve selected for this year is Ode to Sleep by Twenty One Pilots (of course) – not just because it’s a great song and a heartwarming video concept that fits beautifully with this year’s theme of growth, but because today is the one year anniversary of this video being posted which I think makes it the perfect fit!

On that note, happy new year blogging friends! I wish you all a happy, healthy 2016 full of love, peace and joy.