Thursday, May 29, 2008

A complicated sadness

(I wrote this on Sunday night, but wasn't ready to post it until now.)

I didn’t see it coming.

The weekend was full of celebrating. Little Jack had been born. He was healthy and strong. The tumour that had worried all of us since it was discovered on a 20 week ultrasound was disappearing almost before our eyes. The mark that was left seemed little more than a birthmark – a little anti-climactic after the months of tears and angst and unanswered questions that baffled even the doctors.

I was rejoicing to hold my new nephew. Rejoicing to see my sister welcome her son. Rejoicing to see my little niece so in love with her little brother. Rejoicing to see the family all return home to their own house.

I didn’t see the sadness coming.

It snuck up on me. The first twinges came as I watched my sister nursing her son on her couch in her home. I thought it was tiredness from watching a two-year-old for a few days, staying up too late to welcome the out-of-town family who’d come to rejoice with us, and living through the emotional roller-coaster as fear turned to hope which turned to joy.

The twinges grew when I climbed into the bathtub hours later. “I think I’ll have a hot bath,” I’d said. “I’m feeling a little tired and achy.” I thought it would be refreshing. I didn’t know that my body was trying to tell me to escape to a quiet place where I could entertain the feelings that were creeping up in me.

The first tears surprised me. “What’s this?” I wondered. “I’m supposed to be happy. My sister has a new son and he’s HEALTHY. It’s better news than we even dared hope for.” But then melancholy waved its hand in front of my face to get my attention. “Remember me?” it whispered. “Your old companion? It may be seven and a half years, and I may not visit very often anymore, but I’m still with you.”

Then deep and abiding sadness, my old friend, wrapped its familiar arms around me and I nestled in, letting the tears flow. Trying to resist the sting of guilt over what seemed like utter selfishness, I whispered my truth to the bathroom tiles. “My sister got to bring her son home, and I didn’t. The answer to her prayer was ‘yes’. Why did I have to live with a ‘no’?”

I climbed out of the tub and did the only thing I know how to do when sadness creeps in and consumes me – I went to visit my son. At his grave I sat and wept. I wept for the lost years, for the empty arms, for the milk-filled breasts that didn’t get to nurture my son. I wept for the lost potential, for the “what ifs”, for the “what age would he be now?”

As I wept, I recognized – and almost welcomed - the comfortable warmth of tears on my cheeks. These were not bitter tears – nor were they tears of jealousy. These tears were the healing reminders of what had grown to become a comfortable sadness. Adding to the mix this time were tears of joy for the little boy I’ll get the privilege of watching as he grows up – a little boy who bears the family genetics of both my husband and myself.

“Matthew, I miss you. I wish you could be here to meet your cousin.”

As I whispered my son’s name, I knew that I was rich beyond measure for the complicated sadness that had filled the hole his death left behind.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Blogging from the front lawn

The lovely Abby fell asleep in the car on the way home from the hospital this morning, so instead of disturbing her sleep (since she's had a fairly disruptive couple of days and needs some rest), I'm perched on a lawn chair near the car and trying to hold the laptop in just the right position to connect to the wireless internet.

It's a lovely day today, in more ways than one. We've had too many cold, windy, dreary days lately, so this morning the warm sun is a welcome delight. And the sunshine mirrors our mood around here. It feels like just the right kind of "day after".

I sat and held Jack for a long time this morning, and as I gazed into his peaceful sleeping face, I had to choke back tears. When you've longed for something so badly and you almost didn't dare to hope for it, the blessing at the end of the darkness can almost overwhelm you. This family has known too many stories that didn't end well, so we knew better than to casually assume "it wouldn't happen to us".

There are still many unknowns about Jack's future, but I heard the doctor say this morning that "things have gone so much better than we might have expected" and those are words enough for me to hang onto this optimism.

Almost as good as seeking Jack look so beautifully normal is the sight of my sister looking like someone at peace.

Peace and hope are two of my favourite words today.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Beautiful baby

I have a new nephew named Jack. He's beautiful. He has a full head of dark hair (not quite as dark as his sister's, but still fairly dark.) In almost every way, he is so blessedly, beautifully normal. He cries like a newborn, nurses like a pro, makes little squeaking noises when he sleeps, wiggles and squirms - does all the things a newborn is supposed to do.

There is still no real news about the tumour (or whatever its technical name is) on his back, but the size of it is much smaller than I expected from having seen it on the ultrasound. And it doesn't seem to be alarming the doctors too much, because for the most part, he is being treated like a healthy newborn, spending much of today in his mommy's room, being passed from arm to loving arm of his mom, dad, sister, grandma, auntie, uncle, cousins, and friend.

Tomorrow some time, J-L will probably get a chance to post over at Jack's blog, and you can hear about it from the proud daddy's perspective, but as the proud auntie, let me just say that I feel so incredibly blessed today.

As I drove home from the hospital, I listened to Sara Groves sing "hope has a way of turning its face to you just when you least expect it", and I wept, because after weeks of not knowing what today would bring, this feels alot like hope.

Just hangin' around waiting for Jack to be born

We're getting a little impatient, but we're finding ways to fill the time.

I'd almost forgotten what it's like to have a 2 year old around the house. Just how many questions can one small person ask in a day? (I'm having flashbacks to my firstborn.) And did it REALLY take an hour to wash a few pots and pans back then? How did I ever get anything done?

Stay tuned for the arrival of Abby's little brother...

And since you're all good people, why don't you pop on over to that blog I just linked, say a little prayer for the safe and happy arrival of little Jack, and then send him a welcoming postcard.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

To Jack

(I wrote this the last time my sister was expecting a baby. I was going to write something new this time, but when I read it, I couldn't come up with enough inspiration to change it. So here's to recycling - with a few changes...)

To Jack
I can’t wait to meet you
little one
I can’t wait to hold my cheek against yours
to kiss the top of your head
and let you wrap your little fingers
around my thumb

I wonder
will you be dark like your daddy (and sister)
will you have red hair like your grandpa
will your laugh ring out with delight
like your mommy’s
will you be effervescent and bold
like your sister
will you always want to play "would you rather"
like your cousin
will your compassion be your compass
like your grandma

I hope
you will be innocent yet wise
questioning yet accepting
compassionate yet strong
bold yet cautious
fanciful yet practical
cynical yet full of wide-eyed wonder

I know
you will be blessed beyond words
a daddy who will
adore you and spend hours just gazing at you
a mommy who will
help you dance to the mystery of life
and delight in discovering the world through your eyes
a sister who will
show you all the wonders of the world
and introduce you to all of her favourite people
a grandma who will
climb trees with you and
teach you about love
a mémère and pépère who will spoil you
cousins who will smother you with kisses
and lead you to adventure
aunties and uncles who will
fight over who gets to hold you
and be there for you ever moment you need them

I want
to watch you grow
to see you dance
to follow you for hours when you learn to walk
(especially if it’s at Folk Festival)
to hear you laugh
to be there when you need a grown-up who’s not mommy or daddy
to read you stories
and to see parts of the world with you that you’ve never seen before

I love you already little one
you will enter the world
surrounded and protected
by love

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday five

I lost another 3 pounds (that’s a total of 18, if you’re counting). Which is kind of surprising, since I’ve allowed Nutella-by-the-spoonful to become an integral part of my daily diet.

Speaking of diets… last night I surprised the girls and took them out for ice cream after soccer – and we hadn’t even had supper yet. It kind of blew their minds. Just before Julie got in the car, I said to Nikki “watch this – this time when she asks for ice cream, I’m going to surprise her and say YES.” Julie is very predictable that way – she asks for ice cream after EVERY soccer game and/or practice. She never really expects me to say yes, though.

Marcel has been substitute teaching almost every day since he started. And he’s in such a good mood, it’s contagious. (I’m glad I accepted that first French immersion job, because he figured out he could do it and now he’s getting all kinds of jobs in French immersion schools.)

Next week, I get to meet my new nephew, Jack. AND I get to hang out with my lovely niece Abby for a couple of days. I can’t wait!

I have nothing to do this long weekend. NOTHING! That’s a beautiful word. After the craziness of last weekend (OH MY GOSH – about 9 commitments in 2 days), and almost every evening so far this month, I’m looking forward to some leisurely time of just doin’ nothin’. PLUS the weather has finally turned around, so look for me on my bike or at the playground… or picking dandelions with Maddie. Picnic, anyone?

Monday, May 12, 2008

A little surreal

Almost 5 years ago, we were in a church hall in a town not far from here, celebrating my Uncle H and Auntie M's 50th wedding anniversary. It was a pleasant summer day. Maddie had just learned to walk (well - run really - she rarely bothered to walk) and wanted to spend most of the day wandering around the reception hall. For awhile I took her outside so that she could walk on the grass. My dad chuckled at her and then offered to give me a break while he happily followed her down the hall. (My introverted dad usually tired of big gatherings, so I'm sure he was happy for a little break.)

It was a pretty ordinary day. We don't see much of our aunts and uncles and cousins, so it was nice to connect with them. And of course it was lovely to spend some time with mom and dad.

That was the last time I saw my dad alive. It was the last time Maddie got to make her grandpa laugh. Two weeks later, he was killed very suddenly in a farm accident.

Another two weeks later, Uncle H, who'd just celebrated his golden wedding anniversary with his family gathered from all across Canada, dropped dead of a heart attack. We were back at that church for his funeral. And then two months after that, my grandma (dad's mom) died.

This Saturday, sitting next to my mom, who has since remarried, I was back in that same church hall, sitting at approximately the same table, watching Auntie M get married again too. (It was also the same church where I'd helped carry my grandma's casket to her grave.)

Sometimes it's a little surreal how life shakes you up and rearranges the furniture.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Are you up for a challenge?

With the global food crisis looming larger and larger every day, we're issuing a challenge to people - eat nothing but the rations a person might receive in a refugee camp (or after being hit by a cyclone) for three days. You can read more about it here.

A daily ration is 400 grams of cereal (rice, flour, oatmeal, cornmeal, etc.), 50 grams of pulses (lentils, beans, etc.), 50 grams of oil, and 5 grams of salt. Plus water. Nothing else.

Do you think you can do it? If you follow the link above, you can find a video of a family that tried it.

Our family is thinking of trying it, but the girls are reluctant to do it while they're in school, so perhaps in July. "But not during Folk Fest," say the girls, "cause we HAVE to have whale's tails." Perhaps we'll do it in the days leading up to Folk Fest.

Anyone want to join us?

Monday, May 05, 2008


Marcel is a teacher! He just got his first substitute teaching job today! He's getting PAID to teach!

After 5 and a half years of university, lots of stress and agony, way too many assignments that I had to edit... he's actually teaching!

He got thrown into the deep end today - teaching high school French Immersion (and two of his classes are law). Yikes! His French is a little weak for that. But the electronic "sub-finder" that called our house last night lets you either "accept" or "decline" and doesn't give you an option for "wait a second - I have to call my husband home from his cousin's place and let HIM decide." So I hit "accept" and thus launched him rather haphazardly into his teaching career.

I just got an email from him saying he's doing well and the students are quite well behaved. Whew!

Friday, May 02, 2008

The jet set life

This week I had a whirlwind trip to Ottawa to participate in a big (and rather crazy) press conference. (Thanks to the federal government for giving us more money to support hungry people in the middle of this food crisis.)
I had just enough spare time for a quick jaunt around the parliament buildings for a little photo fun. (Okay - truthfully, I had time for TWO jaunts around the parliament buildings. The second time was to try to find the cell phone I'd lost. D'oh! I suppose I shouldn't slip a cell phone in my pocket when I'm planning to lie around on the grass taking pictures of tulips.)
I've been to Ottawa about a dozen times, but I never seem to be there when the tulips bloom. Except this time. What a treat!

After spending a couple of days with government communicators again, I was reminded why I am no longer one of them. I never could get the "look" quite right - the well-coiffed hair, the well-pressed suit, the blackberry on the hip, the shiny high heeled shoes, a copy of the Globe and Mail tucked under the arm. I fit in alot better in a non-profit organization, where you're expected to look like you just stepped off a plane from a developing country. I do "rumpled" really well!
You can see other photos here, if you're interested... http://www.flickr.com/photos/fumblingforwords/sets/72157604852224741/ (my linky things not working properly.)