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

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.

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.

Birthday Awesomeness

Guess what – today’s my birthday and I’m giddy about it!

Growing up as a Christmas Eve baby in a family of self-centred people wasn’t easy – often my birthday was completely forgotten, and always it was treated like an inconvenience – so I have had to work HARD to get to the point where my birthday is something to be celebrated rather than dreaded. Over the years I have drowned in depression, flirted with suicidal thoughts, and questioned my worth in this world, but not this year!

I would never have imagined that this year I would be sitting here on this beautiful day, the sun shining and my heart bursting with love for myself and the world, feeling absolutely giddy that it’s my birthday.

So today, on my 41st birthday, grinning like an idiot in this Starbucks sipping my free birthday latte, I want to take a self-indulgent moment to acknowledge all the awesomeness that is me and my life. (I’ll understand if you choose not to read on – I know how annoying super-happy people can be. :))

Awesomeness #1: I have awesome friends! I have done a fair bit of culling and cultivation of friends in the last few years, and I am so blessed now to have people in my life who are loving and supportive and smart and fun and funny. I think for many years I didn’t feel I was deserving of all these great people and their time, but I have come to recognize that I’m a freakin’ awesome person myself and a great friend and they’re as lucky to have me as I am to have them!

Awesomeness #2: It’s fifteen degrees in December. Yes global warming is terrible and I do care tremendously about the environment, but selfishly I am so happy to be basking in the beautiful sunny warmth of today. I don’t have to worry about bundling up or driving in a snowstorm, I can just live my day however I’d like which is an unusual luxury on my birthday. Thanks, universe!

Awesomeness #3: I run! Despite my struggles this year with my back injury and lack of motivation due to work stress, I haven’t given up. Running is my sanity, my freedom, my challenger, my salvation. This morning I went for a run in capris and a light jacket and thought about how today’s run felt like a renewal of vows, of sorts – no matter what obstacles will try to pull us apart, running and I are partners for life. I read about someone who runs his age in miles on every birthday. I doubt I’ll ever be that person (I can’t even run my age in kilometres!), but I think it would be cool to make sure that on every birthday I give myself the gift of running. I’m sure glad I did it today.

Awesomeness #4: Music! In the last couple of years, I have reignited my love affair with music, and become an out-and-proud fangirl of Twenty One Pilots and My Chemical Romance. More than that, though, in my teen years I used to compose songs and dream of becoming a songwriter. After recently sharing that with my son who is a tremendous musician in his own right, he has set me up with a DAW (Digital Audio Workspace) connected to my digital keyboard so that I can start composing again. He says he can’t wait to hear what kind of music I make, and I can’t wait either!

Awesomeness #5: My family sucks, and that’s ok! I’ve finally been able to let go of that impossible dream of turning these blood relatives into a great loving supportive family, because I’ve learned how to give myself that life of peace and love that I was chasing for all those years. My parents and siblings, they’re just part of my story, my history, but they don’t shape my present or future. I don’t have to hate them or need them or feel guilty about not trying harder with them, and I don’t have to love them or like them either. We survived a lot of bad years together, and now we can go in our different directions and that’s totally ok! It’s so lovely to feel free of that weight and claim my life as my own.

And finally…

The greatest awesomeness of all: I make this world a better place. In work, in friendship, in love, I make this world a better place. I’m smart, funny, caring, compassionate, honest, adventurous, life-loving. If I wasn’t here, the world would get along just fine, but I make it just a little better. I don’t do it in big flashy ways – I don’t have millions to donate, I don’t create brilliant inventions, and I don’t compel massive audiences to change their lives – but people in my life have told me they admire me, they respect me, they’re inspired by me and they’re so grateful to have me in their life. My presence brings joy to those around me, and really I can’t think of a better reason than that to celebrate that 41 years ago today, I was born.

So here we are, December 24 2015: Happy birthday to me!

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Me as a little girl

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Me at age 41

Know When to Fold ‘Em

This has been a summer of unexpected events. When I planned my training schedule for Fall races, I anticipated minor diversions but mostly thought each day would gently blend into the next, much like last year. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In early July, I hurt my lower back. I’m still not 100% sure what caused it, but it was definitely a combination of overzealous training one weekend, not warming up and cooling down properly around an intense 8km trail run, and not doing yoga regularly like I had last year. For a month I tried to alternate between resting my back, stretching it, doing more core strengthening, and doing more stretching and strengthening of surrounding muscles. Last week I finally went for my first physio appointment where they recommended I take a break from running while working on healing my injury. Lower back pain – major setback #1.

Just one week before the lower back incident, I had applied for a new job. Throughout the month of July into mid-August, I can count on one hand (one finger?) the number of nights I got a good sleep. Mostly, I spent all those weeks in a whirlwind of stressing out and preparing for interviews, navigating emotional storms about leaving my current job, then madly training everyone at my old work and gearing up for the new job (which I started last week). It has been exhausting and, having cut out caffeine a few months ago, it all feels like a strange dream that I travelled through in a semi-conscious state of barely functioning. Changing jobs – major setback #2.

So, I have finally made the difficult decision that I’m not going to run either of the Fall races I signed up for because there is absolutely no way my body is going to be ready for them at this point. Maybe I’ll still go to the events as a volunteer to cheer on the other runners, and I’ll definitely plan to run these races next year because they look like super fun events I’d still like to participate in someday, but it’s just not feasible for me to push through them after so many weeks of lost training.

Last year, when I faced the possibility of not being able to run my first half marathon due to injury, it felt absolutely unacceptable. This year it’s not ideal, but it’s ok. This year just isn’t going to be the year that I make big gains in running. Instead, this is the year of making big gains in life and learning to take better care of myself. It’s not the win I had planned, but it’s a hell of a win just the same.

know when to hold em


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My Secret Life as a 15 Year Old

Do you ever feel like you have a secret life? Maybe it’s a side of you your coworkers would never expect, or a secret hobby your best friend knows nothing about, or a way of thinking your family would never identify as being yours. Regardless of what it is, it’s something you keep secret because somehow it just feels safer than putting it out there for the judgement of others.

This morning, I realized one of my secret selves is a 15 year old girl. When I woke up today, I saw a post that my favourite band had finally – finally! – released a new song and video, and the new album is finally – finally! – being released in May, and they’re going on tour in the Fall! My heart immediately started racing and I wasted not a second as I pressed play on the video link. Then I watched it again on the official band website, and then again on YouTube where I read the comments and started to notice some of the subtleties in the video.

At this point I should have been doing grown up things like my morning yoga, making a healthy breakfast and showering, but instead I checked Twitter to see what everyone was saying about the song, posted my own excitement about the release, checked the singer’s Twitter feed, then the drummer’s, and then the official Twitter feed for the band.

I eagerly soaked up everyone’s perspectives and, after watching the video five more times, I finally came to my own understanding of the lyrics and the excitement and anticipation for the new album began to explode inside me. I haven’t felt this excited about (perhaps even addicted to) a band in at least twenty one years. It’s a fun and weird place to be as a 40 year old woman.

Yesterday at work we had talked about age and life stages, and this experience has reminded me just how much my life stages are out of order. I had a baby when I was a teenager, so I lived two decades of serious adulthood and responsibility at a time when my friends were partying and exploring and self-discovering. Now, when society dictates I should be responsible and mature, I feel like I’m going back to finish that interrupted experience of adolescence.

Officially, to outsider eyes, I’m too old to be feeling this way and behaving this way. But really can you give me any good reason why? We’re all looking for something to relate to in life and, with all the crazy censorship and stigma around certain topics, if music is saying something I can connect to then of course I’m going to gravitate towards it. The messages in these songs have so much more authenticity and meaning than 90% of the conversations I engage in with the people around me on a day to day basis. Something about adulthood makes us feel like we need to be “fine” and “have it all together” or “fake it til we make it” – we stop having honest interactions; we learn to suppress and endure.

At some point I’d like to work up the courage to foster absolute authenticity in my real adult life, but I’m still figuring things out and not quite ready to fuse the fragments of my self into one coherent, public identity. I can’t help but wonder, though, how many of us actually have that soundly formed identity and how many of us are living secret lives just pretending we’ve got it all figured out. I wonder if anyone else I know has a secret teenager inside that comes out when they’re alone.

I wish I knew, I wish we talked about that, because I think it would be pretty cool for our teenagers to hang out sometime.