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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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.

Puddles of Grief

Springtime is here. Sunny, wet, full of energy and hope. Yesterday, I donned my new Spring-coloured hoodie and set out for a run/walk on a popular local trail, dry and smoothly-paved, inviting and pleasant. As I progressed along the sunny trail, the occasional puddle popped up in my path, but I didn’t mind. The puddles were easy to sidestep and dodging them was fun and invigorating.

As the trail progressed, however, the puddles became bigger and more numerous until finally I encountered a puddle so large it completely obstructed the path. I was stopped in my tracks and wondered: is this a sign to turn back, or should I find a way around this big puddle not knowing what lies ahead?

While I pondered, my running companion scouted out a bypass through some trees and before we knew it that big puddle was behind us. But it wasn’t long before we were faced with even more puddles, so inconveniently placed that they could only be avoided by jumping off the trail and running along a muddy bank. Mud seeped through my shoes, into my socks and between my toes.

I started to resent the puddles for forcing me into an even worse situation than I’d been in before, and I found myself wondering if I would have been better off just going through the puddles instead. After all, my feet were going to end up wet either way, but now they were wet and dirty. Sigh.

Nevertheless I kept moving forward, only slightly comforted by the fact that I didn’t think my feet could get any wetter than they already were. That’s when I turned a corner and discovered the path was changing yet again. If I wanted to continue on, I would be trudging over snow in my wet running shoes with cold muddy feet inside of them.

Once again, I stopped and wondered: is it time to turn back? But I really didn’t want to. I had already come so far, and I really wanted to get to that long wooden bridge with the quiet lookout over the peaceful frozen lake, a soothing spot that would warm my heart (if not my frozen toes).

So that’s what I did. I slipped and stomped across the snow until finally I was standing on the bridge, admiring the different shades of colour in the ice below, and instantly all of the obstacles I had passed along the path didn’t seem so bad at all. In fact, somehow they made the reward of that solitary spot even sweeter.

That evening, I thought about how my journey that day mirrored my journey through life. Life can feel so effortless and pleasant when the path is clean and dry, but we just don’t know when those puddles are going to pop up, how big they’re going to be, and how muddy we’re going to get trying to sidestep them. Sometimes we need a friend (or running companion) to help us get around the really big ones. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves it’s better to keep moving forward than to turn back – there is peace beyond the puddles.

There’s a saying: “the only way out is through”. Whenever I’ve tried to sidestep grief, much like puddles, I’ve always ended up muddier and worse off than if I’d just worked through it. Sometimes there’s just no way to avoid getting wet.

So here I am. I am grieving, but this time I’m choosing to run through the puddles instead of trying to avoid them. And I know that eventually I will get to that serene lookout – whatever that will look like for me – and it will feel just a little sweeter knowing I got there despite all the puddles that popped up in my path. And I won’t mind that my feet are a little wet, at least this time they won’t be muddy too.

The Unspeakable Unfairness of Life

In the last month, I have been reminded time and again of the unspeakable unfairness of life as the grief of others has skirted me, overwhelmingly reminding me of the universe’s limitless capacity to inflict pain on those within it.

It began with JH, initials representing two people. First, a sad man who died alone in his apartment following a lifetime of battling addictions and depression, destroying countless relationships along the way. Second, his grieving son, mourning the loss of a relationship he never had, yet identifying so strongly with his genetic heritage that he began resigning himself to following in his father’s footsteps, slipping increasingly into his own addiction and isolation. Two generations directly impacted by our society’s inability (or unwillingness) to step up and take responsibility for supporting those who need a stronger, more proactive approach than just a paycheque and a handshake. Two generations directly impacted by our inability (or unwillingess) to protect children from growing up in homes where they are hurt instead of loved.

Next, JB. A beautiful and shy two year old boy who loved to sit in the pink fuzzy chair at my workplace’s childcare centre, who mischievously enjoyed pressing the tap on the water cooler until water spilled over the catch tray and onto the carpet, who grinned his widest grin as we spun him around in a tall office chair. His mother had recently finally decided to leave her abusive husband and was just starting to feel that her life had sunnier days ahead when suddenly JB became sick and died in hospital three days later. Just three days for her only son to go from a sniffly nose to a coffin.

Finally, OW. A healthy five year old girl who fell sick just before Christmas, went to sleep on Christmas Day and never woke up. Today, her visitation, with a special request to wear our most colourful, sparkliest clothing. As I approached her mother in her glittery purple dress and frilly headband, we fell into each other’s arms, sobbing. I told her she was beautiful, her most sparkliest self. She sobbed in reply, “I did my best for her.”

Helen Keller once said “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” It’s true. I am constantly amazed by the overcoming of pain and the strength of those around me, but right now I don’t understand why there has to be so much pain in the world. We are a species that can fly to the moon, that has devised ways to kill millions of people in the blink of an eye, and invented technology that puts the furthest corners of the world within reach of each other. Why aren’t we able to prevent the deaths of our healthy children? Why aren’t we able to protect innocent souls from abuse? Why can’t we commit to helping those struggling with mental health issues? I just don’t understand.