There is no better way to walk the journey of grief, than immersing oneself in art, music and nature. The current exhibit, Onion Skin: a love that moves the sun and stars at Christine Klassen Gallery offered me a reprieve from this heart of sadness at the recent loss of both Max, my twelve year old border collie, and Bill Webb (my dear and forever-friend) who shared with me, just that sort of love.
I was greeted with pug love and Christine love, upon entry. Once letting me know that she was available to chat about the art, Christine was kind to let me disappear into the space. I let her know that I had walked the live streamed artist talk with her and Carl and shared that I have been greatly isolated for all of these many months. I celebrated that, in the gallery, I had distance and yet felt enormously connected. One doesn’t want to be vulnerable in such a setting, so no tears were had.
Carl’s paintings/objects are delicious in their ethereal (heavenly) handling. I was transported into the depths of my sadness, but at the same time, lifted into a place of hope and light. It was such a personal offering that it’s difficult to articulate here, in words. I could have crawled into the vessels and curled up. I was reminded of the cocoon of my warm blankets that fill my bed, a place where I have freely let my tears flow since September 28.
For the past many years, I have showed up daily, to walk a circle at the edge of the Bow River. These paintings suggested my life at the river…the vast expanse of sky that I enjoy every day, the flow and sound of the water, the light…and the Bald Eagle’s nesting bowl. The work felt familiar. It resonated with me at a physical level.
Back in the car, exhausted, I sat and wept. I wonder if this exhibit might impact you at a physical place? The galleries in town, I realize now, are peaceful places. I highly suggest you take some time out, just for you, and visit our local gallery spaces.
Thank you, Christine, for your hospitality. Seeing works by other strong women surrounding the main gallery space…beautiful pieces by Teresa Posyniak, Verna Vogel, Karen Klassen and others, was also a joy.
Congratulations to Carl White on this one. He has painted the fragility of life, its events, and its pared-down essence.
While books about this time of our history are very sad and very dark, it is so important, as a part of our education, that we continue to share these narratives. This book is particularly well-written, so steeped in an authentic voice, that it is rich and heart-breaking.
Given that I believe that the human spirit is rooted in love and compassion, I am reminded when I read such historical memoirs as this one, just how horrible and brutal human beings can be. There is an innate spirit of hatred that has surfaced throughout our human story. If a person focuses too much upon this, it can be very traumatizing. So many atrocities in the name of power, greed and difference.
I strongly recommend this book. It has been Max Eisen’s life work to bring his family’s story to light. It is historical and contributes to the documentation of the experience of this time.
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”
My daughter spent quite some time living in Vancouver. For some reason I always put up a bit of a wall when the possibility of traveling there was considered. I’ve had a friend living there for decades. And then, Bobbie moved there. But, I always felt some fears around its density, compactness or some unnamed unknown. A drunk person poured an entire glass of beer down my back at a Dave Matthew’s concert in Rogers Arena one night, years ago, and the same night, I stayed in an Otto Rogers themed room. That sums up my experience of Vancouver, until recently.
On the afternoon and evening of August 20, 2019, I had opportunity to walk and see a touch of what my daughter experienced. While I never did get to the water’s edge, I did walk a stretch of Main Street and visited one of her work places, a shop called, Front and Co. I’ve snapped a few photographs of places along the way. One has to admit that the vegetation is lush in Vancouver and varied. I tried to capture that as well.
In the evening, we gathered to feast and to toast Bob. One beautiful friend of the family delivered ‘Bob Likes Thai Food’ for dinner and another brought flowers and wine. As we sat, sharing stories, a huge murder of crows flew over our heads…a movement that is repeated each evening, like clockwork, over the house. I was overcome with the magic of this, the sounds of it and will never forget it.
When it was pitch black, we walked and talked our way to the neighbouring cemetery. There, we opened up a blanket and sat down, overlooking the lights of Vancouver. We talked until the early hours of morning about absolutely everything, but mostly Bob.
I snapped a photograph of sculpture in the Vancouver air terminal before leaving.
I’ve recently had another dear friend move to Vancouver. I have family in Comox. Vancouver, I’ll be back!
“Later I will tell him: our courage comes out in different ways. We are brave in our bold dreams but also in our hesitations. We are brave in our willingness to carry on even as our pounding hearts say, “You will fail and land on your face.” Brave in our terrific tolerance for making a hundred mistakes. Day after day. We are brave in our persistence.”
― Kyo Maclear, Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation
My dear friend, Bobbie, lived bravely, passionately and his spirit transcends everything that bound him to the earth…I love you and my life has been incredible because you have been here for me…for us. No words for now, but I’ve sipped coffee this morning in the quiet of the house, Max at my feet, revisiting our friendship. These are, in part, moments along the way. But, we spent most of our friendship looking out at others and beauty. So, I can not possibly share all of the immensity of that. Know that you were loved, my beautiful Bob.
ACAD third year…and we gathered to celebrate spring. I will forever be grateful for meeting you.
After meeting you, you were a part of every celebration. My children love you. My friends love you. And we became family, all of us.
Bob is found written into so many journal pages…a few appear in this post.
I will let Ed know…
Gatwick Airport, before the train.
Oh, the places we have seen! Angel Glacier, beautiful hikes…so many hikes…walks…galleries…Paris, Giverny, London…Argenta…road trips…books, art, family, friends.
I am blessed for having Liz, Janet, Bronwyn, Peter, Artemis, Cedar…I am blessed for the circle of love.
Well, Mr. and Mrs. lost the first clutch to Northern Flickers competing for the nest early in the season. This is the second year this has happened.
But, determined, the Sparrows laid down new nesting for a second clutch. On Sunday, when I left town, I collected some documentation of the three little chumps that were voraciously eating and the determination of the adults that flew until sunset, feeding these little ones.
I returned Monday evening and couldn’t help but being hit with the complete silence at the kitchen window. The little guys were in no way ready, with enough secondary feathers, to fledge, so their demise was likely due to the Corvid family that successfully fledged two juveniles just four days earlier. The two juveniles have been so vocal and so needy. The adult crows have been determined, vigilant and doting parents (if crows can be parents). In the end, I’m reminded of how brutal nature can be. I also know clearly that life ends on a dime. While we wait nine months for the birth of a child, we have no idea the time or the place when that life will end. I don’t mean to be so ‘dark’ this morning, but I am very much aware of the immediacy of loss. And, there is no way that we can prepare ourselves.
I am also very impacted by how the instinct of the Sparrows tells them how hard to work for the life of their youngsters. I’m amazed by parents and their love. While I never saw it in myself, I now know how hard I worked to keep my children well, even though my resources were always meager. It can be unnerving when one witnesses parents who are failing their children. Even in nature, this happens, but instinct tells the adults to nurture and tend, feed and water. As detached as House Sparrows are from any emotional bond (I imagine) with the eggs and hatchlings, they certainly demonstrate commitment. Today, I am sad for the empty nest. I am also very mindful of lessons that the nest teaches me.
This morning, my prayers are specifically for those mothers and fathers who have lost children, through miscarriage or at birth, through illness or through tragic accident. There is nothing that can be said about this but again and again, “I’m sorry”. I can not imagine or know. I was speaking to my Auntie Eleanor, yesterday. Now in her nineties, still, when she speaks of my cousin Laura Lee who died as a child, she tears up. When my Auntie Ruth speaks of her daughter, Linda, who passed as a young adult, she also wells up with tears.
Glad to see that Mama was feeding her little ones ants from my garden.
Dad fought so hard. Every time he went to the nest, he turned his back on the youngsters and was vigilant to protect them.
A beautiful walk and picnic today at Many Springs with my dear friends and family. Throughout the hike, I was thinking about our sister-friend, Wendy, who died this past year. I also thought deeply about my brother, John. His son was able to join us on this Father’s Day and I felt such heart ache for him. I didn’t talk about anything that was going through my head though, and instead, made a real effort to frame my thoughts around internal monologues such as,
Wendy would say…
“This day is incredible.”
She would say…
“This picnic is fabulous.”
My brother would say…
“Thank you, Sis.”
I held a lot in today, but that’s alright.
In past years, whenever one of us would pop our heads out of the shade of some bush, asking, “What is this one?”, Wendy would come back quickly with the name of the flower, or would look it up in her reference information.” We are always going to miss this and so much more.
I’m grateful for the rituals that we share and for the many memories we have collected, as friends and family. While I didn’t allow the emotions to surface, I felt them all and that too, is very special.
Some of the brilliance of this day is captured in these photographs, but not all. We all missed our friend, Darlene, today. She was also in our hearts.
In 2013, the great flood occurred and my mother died after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. I went home in June in order to stay with my father through the following months. I watched the news of the flood from Belleville, Ontario.
We didn’t spot any Western Wood Lilies today or Bracted Bog Orchids.
Yellow Lady’s Slippers
Dodecatheon pulchellum, commonly known as pretty shooting star, few-flowered shooting star, dark throat shooting star and prairie shooting star, is a species of flowering plant in the primula family Primulaceae.
*ALERT this is a personal post. If personal posts make you squirm, go no further. While this post digresses at points, from its subject, this is what losing a person does to another. Loss causes people to evaluate and re-evaluate mostly everything. Grief acknowledges in everyone, their humanity, both as it applies to the person who has died and as it does to the people left behind.
Since my brother died, this is what my family room work station looks like.
The Milk-Bone box contains treasures for a very special friend who was enduring invasive surgery at the same time as John was settling in at home, for as long as he could remain, as was his wish. In tandem with these two life-jolting experiences, a dear friend of mine died, leaving me absolutely crushed. Wendy was a huge strength for her circle of friends and for me and we were left, devastated. I continue to hold her husband and daughter in my quiet prayers. I still have not posted that parcel. It has, however, left the upstairs dining table, moved to the coffee table and then found its way here.
The photographs…well, I am meticulous about archiving and these are all that remain of the former stacks and stacks of loose photographs, a project in documentation that I began in 2007. Apart from these, all photographs are sorted and stuck into over twenty albums containing archival paper. All photographs, apart from those my readers see here, are documented. Something about losing my oldest brother, set this chaos in motion.
Something clicked inside of me. I don’t know if it was a click-on situation or a click-off situation, but, I’m just accepting what it has become. A positive example is the switch that was turned on and found me back in my studio, painting. And for this, I am very grateful.
Now, about losing Isabelle. (I am still ill-prepared to write a tribute for my brother, but one day, I will). This is not a tribute to Isabelle as such, but a heartfelt response to the news that my first born has lost her Granny and I have lost a friend.
With the news about Isabelle’s death early on Thursday morning, I pulled the albums dated ‘late 1970s’ off of the shelf and I noticed an obvious absence of bric a brac or photographs. This caused me an immediate sadness. I am left, in my mind, at least, experiencing loss (again) and want to reflect upon my time with Isabelle. I find visual images really help me with that when I can not conjure up pictures in my head. In this case, I have nothing to look at.
Through the loss of marriage and the pain of divorce, in anger and fear and incredible loss, it appears that I cut a chunk of my life away. It looks very much like I did not have a camera, but I’m pretty certain I did. If we look back at our lives, some of us selectively edit them, don’t we? I think that is what is so interesting about memory. We might, even to others, exaggerate a story of a memory that is particularly sharp within us. Or, we might interpret the events in a slightly different way, forgetting related sadness or retelling in a way that might be more complimentary of our own behaviours. Don’t we always, as characters in our own lives, wish to be viewed in best light? Historical fiction is, by far, my favourite genre for just this reason.
One day I’ll write down the story about how I arrived at the place where I fell in love with and married Isabelle’s son. Certainly, it is a story that even my dearest may not know. But for this moment, and for the purpose of this reflection, I want to aim this ship toward the subject of Isabelle.
I have, in my belongings, only two photographs of Isabelle as I remember her in 1979. I am sharing one of them here.
This photo is not, nor will it ever be framed and sitting on a mantel. But, it represents a moment of complete and utter happiness, a wintry night in 1979. And Isabelle was there.
She held concern for me and did her best to take care of me. In those years, we had very little and with her first grandchild on the way, Isabelle would appear at the door to our basement suite and pad pad pad down the stairs, arms filled with bags of groceries. She welcomed us to many beautiful meals and shared in her traditions of Christmas baking.
It was Isabelle who showed me how to buy vegetables in bulk and who canned with me at my small gas-burning stove.
Once we welcomed my daughter into our family, Isabelle was a remarkable Granny and their bond remained incredibly close right up until the late hours of June 5th. I find myself writing and deleting/writing and deleting so many acts of love that Isabelle demonstrated along my journey. I suppose I want to keep them close to my heart and alive in my own memory.
I am grateful that my daughter has always put her family first and equally treasures her husband’s family. This is a quality to be deeply admired in today’s world. Bonding with family creates a fabric of love that is strong and endures pain and hardship.
With the loss of my marriage, Isabelle continued to embrace me. We were able to continue to visit and to share laughs. I will always be grateful for that. We were two women who loved my daughter with an insatiable love and that will never go away.
I am very sad for Isabelle’s loss. I pray for her family at this time and for her dear friends who enjoyed her company over all of these years. Isabelle will have lessons to teach me through the coming days. I will watch for them.
The first of these lessons is to, even in your pain, keep those photographs. Put them in the albums. It is too late to write characters out of the script of your life. Shut the covers of the album and tuck them away, but know that one day, these will matter to you. And you will be filled with a wisdom that carries you beyond resentment.
A baby born to its parents is put into a position of utter trust and vulnerability. It can do nothing to earn or keep or appreciate your hard work and your giving heart. The infant child can only receive love. To be ill in body or mind, or to be dying, leaves a person in the same vulnerable state of being as was once experienced as an infant. This coming and going of humanity leaves all participants in a place of tremendous sacredness/holiness/grace and belonging.
As I consider my own challenges, I need to remember that I am good, for the simple reason that I am. I belong in a circle of belonging.
Sometimes the world can tell us differently. Sometimes our own heads can try to convince us that we are ‘not enough’. There are days when we act like squirrels, gathering in ‘stuff’, thinking that somehow that ‘stuff’ will make us safe/secure/better. There are days when we forego time with our families so that we can work harder and earn more so that we can provide more, when all our families needed most was our presence. We need to reflect upon that presence.
To each of my readers, “You are good.” Celebrate your wondrous design. Have a dance. Listen to the words to this song. Have a great weekend. Thanks, Hollee, for sharing birthday dinner with my family. Thanks to Cayley, Shawn, Erin, Doug and Steven, Linda and James for Dragon Pearl feasting and Crave cake! Thanks, Steven, for the jazz invite in the middle of the week. Thanks, James for attending with your ol’ Ma. Thanks, Wendy, Tammy, Karen, Lauraine, Jas and Dan for Sunday jam at Mikey’s. Thanks, nephew for almost daily “I love you”s by text. Thanks, Dad, for 5:00 Skypes. Thanks, Val, for connecting with me in real time and in dreams. Thanks, Erin, for restorative Yoga. Thanks, Kath, for studio painting time, bird watching, dog walking, teaching big kids and small. Thanks Mary, Pat and Janet for tea and snacks. Thanks, Facetime Friends, for all of those online messages. Thanks, John, for everything you were for me in life and how you inspire me now. It’s been a good week. I love you because love never ends.
I’m skirting around the subject for now. I sit at my brand new computer, feeling like I’m recreating everything. In my vulnerability, I’m going forward, after a long period of sitting in what felt like dampness.
I had booked myself in to be with Steven that week. My body felt nothing but exhaustion, but when I had the chance to hold him in my arms and then watch him, giddy, ‘running running running’, I felt as though I had levitated somewhat into another world, some place above. The mire of wet mud that had been pulling my legs downward, suddenly let go and I was connected to other aspects of life and living. Most importantly, I was connected with my grandson, a personality who has more than once, shared with me the powerful innate sense of ‘being’, fully being, apart from everything but the sensory core of wonder. In a strange way, this is the exact same wonder I had been present to with my brother.
After breakfast and teeth-brushing, we loaded up the stroller with the big yellow truck and headed out on our adventure. It was with an openness to the world that we examined a pile of old leaves pressed up against the protection of a stair well, felt sand under our feet, threw sand into the water (stoop, back over head, release, stoop, back over head, release, a rhythm again and again…a series of new mechanical actions, each time followed with a laugh) and made observations of geese. While Steven wasn’t aware, Gramma was also silently moaning that she didn’t bring her Canon, as a male loon drifted by on the silky smooth lake water.
My own drifting movement through the muted spring background kept me present, concerned and in keen observation. “These are important times,” I thought to myself. “This grandson of yours is learning and practicing and discovering all of these moments and making new connections. You had better not miss out on any of it.” Morning was a gift.
My friend, Wendy, used to delight in really unusual words. I enjoyed the fact that sometimes, late in the evening, a word would show up in my text messages. It might be absquatulate or blatherskite.
I never really understood until now, what a wonderful thing that was…that my friend shared words with me in the night.
(Weird blog post alert…go no further if you are in the mood, more, to tune into Netflix.)
Lately I’ve been having a very narrowing experience that has turned out to be exquisitely broadening at the very same time. About art, these last ten years, I’ve said that my visual world and sensory interests have become very specific…it’s as though my visual world is in close-up and while shrinking, has become utterly complex. This started happening as it related to the act of walking. (circling the same pond every day for almost six years/walking a loop at the river every day for the past two.)
It was right about that same time, that I started taking photographs. Until that time, I had never had an interest. I think I was wanting to capture a moment. Birds became a part of that experience, simply because I would find myself standing still in front of a landmark; a bush or a tree; and I would analyse, in a very sensory way, the impact of light, atmosphere, sound, the smell on the air…and from a concentrated state, I would see more than what I anticipated…a Bald Eagle gazing down at me, from mere meters away, water dripping off a branch, a bright yellow bird flitting through low brush. In standing still, my world expanded.
I guess I first noticed this while spending time with Mom during her journey with Alzheimer’s disease. To give an example, I remember once leaving a lady’s wear shop, Pennington’s, after an hour of shopping with Mom. Once stepping through an inside door and into the entrance way and before moving on through the outside door to go to the car, Mom stopped. I stood behind her, hoping that no other customers would either leave or expect to enter. I gave her time. I looked at her face. Her head was tilted back and her eyes were closed. I asked, almost in a whisper, “Mom, why have you stopped?” She said, “Listen.” It was then that I stopped rustling the packages weighing down my arms and stood still. There was a very quiet but constant hum of air pushing its way from a vent above our heads…had I not stopped, taken pause, I would not have shared that moment. After a short while, Mom just moved on.
When the events of my life, over months and even years, became very focused…it seemed that the world continued to bustle as usual…rushing…filling…overflowing and moving on. All the while, my own focused days became slower. They became extremely sharp- edged. They became very specific.
These recent days… for example.
Since mid January, there is a particular rhythm to my days. I know that particular rhythm through the events that occur, predictably, around the clock. I find myself in the very same place at any particular hour. Some times it feels as though I am reliving time. Some would liken it to deja vu. The name plates beside the doors change, but the events do not.
It was a day like every other except that one of the temporary name plates read, Milton Born With a Tooth. I drifted past because, well, a person just doesn’t stop in front of some one else’s door and I was, after all, in the rhythm of my schedule, the very same that I had lived the day before. But, Milton’s name stuck with me. Didn’t his life somehow intersect with mine? YES! I’ve written, over time, about my love for the river. This passion began while living in the University of Lethbridge residence, perched on the edge of the Oldman River in southern Alberta. Graduating with my degree in 1977, I had established a connection with the river that would, as it turned out, never be broken. It was in the mid 80s, here in Calgary, that I became engaged with the group, the Friends of the Oldman River as Ralph Klein’s government seemed to be pressing ahead with the construction of a dam that would, in my view, impact our indigenous brothers and sisters, the environment and encroach horribly on species native to the region. I was appalled.
At this point, my readers are asking themselves, ‘how is this connected to your subject, Kath?’ Remember, please, my original premise…that in the workings of my narrowing life, my experience is broadening.
Yesterday I attended a marvelous book discussion at the Fish Creek Library. The book, Separation Anxiety, by Miji Campbell was easily read in the week following our February book discussion. I’m smitten by this group of women… so smart, fun and accepting. While my days are very overwhelming, generally, and while I need to be very responsible and engaged as a caregiver, I will move sun and moon in order to carve out time for this book discussion group.
I slipped in to the room and on to one of the last remaining chairs, just as the moderator was making introductory remarks and introducing the author, Miji Campbell. Her face was open and the feeling in the room was relaxed and welcoming. In the corner, there was a display of very nostalgic items that resonated for me and captured easily, my own narrative as a little girl, growing up in post war/cold war Canada. There was a Barbie Doll case… A Midge doll… some old black and white photographs.
The book discussion was remarkable. There were interesting questions and engaging responses from the author. I listened with great interest as the relationship between mothers and their daughters was discussed, topics of birth order, mental health, anxiety and the stigma attached to treatments for such anxiety or even the act of seeking out treatments. The conversation was a real exploration of wellness, a topic that I dearly need to explore right now, but struggle to set aside time for such reflection.
As I was listening, completely engaged, my mind began to piece together wee bits of information that Miji was sharing, connections that had not been made by me while reading the book. It was as though a light went off when, suddenly, I realized that for years, I had taught with Miji’s mother. And even more startling was that I was good friends with her oldest sister through my University experience. At the conclusion of the afternoon activity, I sprung out to the neighbouring Safeway store, in order to access the ATM machine and fly back to the room where I could purchase my own copy of the book and have it signed by Miji. As I drove home, I wondered about the various layers of this reading that were intended just for me…also, I pondered what messages I was supposed to connect with through the reading and the characters, who were people very much alive in my imagination and in my memory.
Miji’s cousin, Hughe, took video rather than photo, but I am grateful that he captured our meeting!
I think that in sitting in the stillness, I notice more. I notice the shift in weather, the changes in people, flavours, reactions. I make new associations.
This morning, I received a brief text message from a friend. I think it was comprised of fewer than seven words. But, the words were potent and remarkable and they gifted me with a daytime of support and love. How easy it might have been, given my past engagement with schedules, events and social media, that I might not have ever realized just how much power a message has…to heal…to wound…to break…to mend.
On Friday morning, I folded clothes and put them away, created just a little bit of order in my seeming chaotic life, these days. I relished the folding…the simple pleasure of the uniformity of it…the way the order gave me a sense of space and breath.
On Saturday, I went for a drive outside of the route that has become my routine. I was on sensory overload. Has this ever happened to you? There was almost too much to take in. What an amazing and complex world we live in! For every vehicle on the highway…a life living…a complex human being, overflowing with challenges, joy, questions, family, self-awareness, belief…open sky…melting ice on the water…stones kicked up…tires spinning…a huge machine beneath me.
Revelation is an act of noticing and being fully conscious to your life. The protagonist, young Douglas Spaulding, of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury was the one who taught me that specific lesson. I want to come back to the revelations of these past months when my world stops shrinking and begins to grow again; when I am in my life as a player more than an observer. I am wanting to remember that I am grateful, but not in a self-help-book-kind-of-way, but in a really authentic sort of way. I think it is an important thing to see the beauty in the enormity of the sadness/challenges that face today’s human family. I think that it is not so much about hope, but about presence. When I am fully present, I am open to delight, surprise and revelation.
In the meantime, send one another messages. Create a care package for some one who never anticipates receiving anything at all in the mail. Place a treasure on someone’s front door step. Bake cookies. It all counts for magic in the end.