There’s no place like home

My family is grieving. We have been since September when dad passed away. We’re now in the process of packing up our family home – a different kind of grieving. The process has not been wholly depressing and sad, however, quite the contrary! There have been many moments of joyful reminiscing as we discover little treasures hidden away in the many, many, many nooks and crannies of this old house. And to be clear, all these treasures are dad’s.

My dad was a pack rat, no doubt about it. Not to hoarder levels, but the man seemed to have kept everything. Since September, we’ve collectively been chipping away at sorting through 38 years of stuff, most of it, dad’s. It’s the stuff that accumulates over a lifetime, the remnants of raising four kids, evidence of grandchildren and friends and family spending time within these walls. It’s the kind of stockpile that tells a story – in this case, the story of our family.

I know being a sentimental fool, or a chronic pack rat is not a hereditary trait, but through this process I’ve cemented for myself that I, like my dad, have the same kind of emotional attachment to things. There have been things of dad’s that we kids and Mom have claimed over the last few months and I have claimed the most things, which surprises no one. I seem to want to hold onto certain objects of my dad’s because they have meaning. At least they have meaning to me. And while my mom keeps reminding me, especially when I am at times temporarily plunged into the depths of grief and feel like I will never be consoled, dad will live forever in my heart. And of course, she’s right. I have so many memories! And I have a 42-year long relationship with him that is mine alone that I can reflect on forever.

But there is something about having possession of certain objects in my home that bring me comfort. I seem to need the actual, physical thing: I can look at it, and just by virtue of it being in my physical space, it seems to take on even more meaning to me. It becomes an expression of me.

And it’s not just my dad’s stuff. Even though I moved out when I was 18 and haven’t lived there since, there are still a handful of my things hanging around, the most significant of which is my piano. And I have been grappling with the decision I’ve had to make about what to do with it. Let me explain.

When I was about 10, my grandparents procured a piano for me. Grammy and Grandad were invested in my pursuit of everything musical, and they wanted to support me. So, they got a piano from a friend for just the cost of moving it. Obviously, I was beyond excited about this. The years I lived at home, I played the crap out of that piano, one of my favourite things about which was that whenever Grammy and Grandad were over, unfailingly, they would say “Play us a little ditty, Angie.” I loved that.

Sidebar: Grammy and Grandad were the only people allowed to call me Angie. Well, them and my dad, which he did only occasionally, it was always “Ange.” And in recent years, Kelly, my choir director just because I love her and she can call me whatever she wants. But that’s it! Oh, and my friend Cheryl, but it’s in an ironic way because she knows I don’t like it and it’s a little inside joke. But, for real, that’s it!

I digress. So, I moved out, successfully launched into adulthood with the plan that once I had “grown up” and had a house of my own, I would transport my beloved piano from my parents’ living room to mine and my piano and I would live happily ever after together. Well, my life didn’t really follow that trajectory: no house for me, I’ve lived in apartments and haven’t had space for it.

There is space for it in my home now, but there is no way to physically get it into my apartment building. My piano is massive – it won’t fit in the elevator and even if I could get it hoisted up over my balcony, it wouldn’t fit through my not-standard-size balcony door. It’s a Kreutzer, made in New York City circa 1913, it’s a large upright and it’s solid mahogany. She’s big, and she’s heavy!

As much as I would love to keep it for myself, it’s just not possible. My sister, graciously, has been trying since the fall to see if a local school or church would be interested, but no dice.

So, the conclusion was that it would just have to go…and likely be destroyed. This is obviously heartbreaking for me. I know intellectually that my piano essentially amounts to a giant box of wood and strings, but of course it means so much more to me.

First and foremost, it represents my grandparents and the bond I shared with them. And now with selling the house and saying goodbye to my childhood home, it has come to represent that as well. Not surprisingly, its significance to me is also wrapped up in my love and grief for my dad. There is the more insignificant meaning that it’s because I don’t own a house that I can’t just keep it for myself. I had a fleeting feeling of failure because I didn’t reach that perceived milestone of owning a home that seems to define adulthood. But, like I said, that feeling was fleeting because I realized long ago that those traditional milestones just weren’t for me and it doesn’t make me less of an adult. So that doesn’t really count.

Anyway, my struggle in deciding what to do with my piano, and ultimately, coming to terms with the fact that it will likely be destroyed, has been difficult and wrought with complicated emotions.  

In the end, with my mom and brother’s input, I wrapped my head around the idea that it will no longer exist in the world, but perhaps I could hold onto it in a different way. I’ve kept the piano bench and the front panel which contains the hand-crafted decorative carvings that, in my opinion, make it so special and unique. I think I’ll turn it into some sort of art piece, and it will live with me forever and every time someone asks me about it, I’ll be able to tell them its story and why it means so much to me. I think that’s the best compromise we could have come up with.

My point in all of all this, of course, is that while I’ve always known that a minimalist I am not, I didn’t fully understand just how attached I am (or can be) to certain things, the objects in my orbit. I’m emotional and sentimental, and I think I’m just one of those people for whom certain things become representative of something important – a person, an experience, a feeling, an accomplishment.

I’m impressed by my mom. She is not like her husband or her daughter in that she is exceptionally good at purging the stuff in her life. She’s the one that reminds me that home is where your family is, that this house is simply walls and furniture and a place, that dad will be in our hearts forever, and that she doesn’t need the stuff to keep the memories. This attribute of my mom’s has come in quite handy during this moving process. To me, it feels like we’re packing up our family’s lifetime – the things that represent our family over the last 38 years and beyond. But, my mom, in addition to being an extraordinarily strong woman, is also a very practical woman. She has kept certain family heirlooms that are important to her, and a few things of dad’s, but for the most part, if she doesn’t need it, if it doesn’t have a function in her new apartment, in her new life, she’s quite adept at deciding to throw it out or give it away. My mom is an impressive woman in many ways, and this is just one on a long list.

I’m not saying that being sentimental about things is better than not being sentimental, I’m just pointing out that people have different relationships with the stuff they accumulate throughout their lives. It’s not a judgement, just an observation. In fact, my mom is most assuredly better off being so cutthroat! Sorting through the contents of this house is an overwhelming and daunting task. I know that’s what dad felt. My parents had been talking about downsizing for years, but dad was always hesitant. In fact, last year, just before he got sick, he said to mom one day, out of the blue, that he felt good and healthy and thought that he could handle the upkeep and maintenance of the house for another few years. That may be true, but we all know that it was really about putting off the very task my mom and our family are charged with now.

While it has been hard and laborious work sorting through all his stuff, and figuring out where, or to whom, everything should go, we’ve had some wonderful treasures reveal themselves. And I’m so glad he kept this stuff!

Most precious to me is basically a piece of paper. For real.

When going through his (many, many, many) notebooks – the man made lists and kept records like the FBI – I found one such list that he had made entitled “Ange’s Projects.” It, not surprisingly, is a list of little projects that he and my brother insisted on executing in my apartment. This was just last spring, when my parents and brother were at my place often to be close to Sunnybrook Hospital where he had frequent appointments. And ever the “fix-it” dad (and, as it turns out, the “fix-it” brother), and man whose love language was Acts of Service, he made it his mission to get me all “set up.” Anyway, I found this list in the back of one of his notebooks in his signature sharp, perfect cursive. I now have it framed, sitting on my bedside table, and every time I look at it, a blanket of love and comfort envelopes me. It’s an otherwise throw-away piece of scrap paper, but to me, it is everything about our relationship and its value immeasurable. And I’m so glad I have the physical thing, in my possession, on display.

I know not everyone is like me in this way and that’s great! You do you! But for me, it is these things, the objects themselves which hold the memories and conjure the sentiments. After all this recent reflecting and processing, I’ve concluded that having a collection of certain objects from my life, and now of my dad’s, it provides a channel through which I can express, in a very physical, visual way, how much I cherish the story and emotions they hold for me.

When all is said and done and my mom hands over the keys next week, what we’ll be leaving behind is after all, just a building. It’s a collection of walls and creaky floors, a leaky basement and a lot of dust and cobwebs. And no matter what the new owners renovate or destroy or fix, to us, this house will always be ours in our memories.

It’s the place where countless Christmas dinners have been enjoyed and the talking and hanging out at the table extended well beyond the meal. It’s where doors have been slammed in anger, usually as a result of teenage angst, tears have been shed and deafening laughter has echoed. It’s the place where epic dance routines to the Mini Pops have been created, meltdowns over homework or fights with friends have transpired, where sick kids have been nursed back to health and boo boos healed with a Band Aid and a kiss from mom.

These rooms have borne witness to disagreements and petty fights over clothes or the TV remote and their eventual resolutions, where little kids ran around leaving chaos in their wake, the sharing of big news, and the learning of bad news. This is where our family grew for 38 years. It’s where all four of us piled on mom and dad’s bed when it was time to wake them up on Christmas morning, it’s where we searched with zeal for treats the Easter Bunny had left us and where we have blown out a million birthday candles. It’s where bannisters were broken during clandestine high school parties, where phone lines were tied up all night because of very important 4-hour long conversations with friends, and where spontaneous kitchen dancing broke out while two parents were making dinner…just because.

One by one we all left and launched into our own adult lives, but we’ve always called this house home and haven’t ever imagined not gathering there for holidays and family celebrations.

For me, visiting home will never be the same because I won’t be coming to stay at 780 Hopkins. But that’s OK. Time marches on and we adapt and forge new paths.

I miss my dad every day. Some days his absence hits me like a tsunami, and I don’t think I’ll ever recover, and other days I’m warmed by all the wonderful and funny memories and grateful to have had such an incredible man in my life.

Alas, the time has come to move on, and as a family, we’re doing it together. I’m excited for this new season in my mom’s life and day by day she and all of us are figuring out what our lives are without dad. I think it’s OK to be a little sad at selling my childhood home, but the goal is not to hang onto that sadness, not to wallow in it.

After all, we have thousands of stories to tell about the Peters’ adventures in that house. And trust me, they will be told, probably over and over – it’s kind of our thing.

Home for Christmas

There is snow on the ground in my hometown. It’s not terribly cold – yet – and today it’s bright and sunny. The tree is trimmed, anchored by beautifully wrapped boxes of all shapes and sizes. The stockings are hung, there’s a whimsical winter village atop the mantel. The fridge is busting at the seems with all the makings of the feasts we’ll share in the upcoming days.

All the markings of Christmastime abound, yet there is a distinct feeling in the atmosphere. It’s strange, yes, and it’s one that evokes a feeling that something is missing, and of course that’s true. But it’s something else too. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it since I’ve been home, but I can’t quite nail it down.

It’s been an eventful year. That’s the understatement of the century, right? As we barrel toward Christmas, knowing the start of a new year is around the corner, we are all undoubtedly reflecting on 2020. Instead of recounting all the challenges and hurdles and moments of despair and sadness, not that those things aren’t worth reflecting on, I’m trying my very best to muster some of the bright spots in this life-changing year.

I don’t think I’ve grown more in such a short period of time. One of the things I learned about myself this year is that I’m more resilient than I thought. We’ve all had to be, I suppose, but for me, given the trajectory of my life lately, this comes as a welcome and surprisingly joyful observation. That I’ve survived all the things thrown at me over the last 12 months is reason for celebration alone; that I’ve actually started to thrive is miraculous.

Isolation is a bitch. The pandemic kept us all inside, spending more time in our homes than we probably ever remember, some of us with family, children, pets, etc., and some of us utterly alone. I am in the latter group, and while there have been moments of darkness, I can say with confidence that I’m pretty great to hang out with! I’ve always said that if you don’t like hanging out with you, how can you expect anyone else to? I’ve always enjoyed my own company, to be fair, but this year that was stretched to the limit. And aside from a few moments of boredom, frustration or simply being sick of myself, for the most part, being alone and physically isolated hasn’t been so bad! I’m a cool chick and I’d definitely hang out with me.

Relationships have been tested this year, for all of us. Living through a global pandemic in this modern world has affected us all in myriad ways, both for good and bad. It’s been a struggle. There’s no shame in admitting that it’s been hard and it’s OK to take a break from trying to find the silver lining all the time – it’s OK to wallow a bit. But, of course, life just goes on, and we must pick up the pieces and try our best to make sense out of the nonsensical, find good in sorrow, and gird ourselves for whatever comes next. And we can’t do any of that without our most meaningful relationships.

I’ve learned a lot this year. I’ve learned that I can cope in dire situations and manage my mental health like a pro. I mean, I had some glitches here and there, but I am quite proud of myself for taking good care of myself and prioritizing my wellbeing over shitty things and situations. I’ve learned that taking a giant leap of faith and severing ties with a company I’ve worked at for over 12 years is turning out to be perhaps the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s scary and it’s emotional to leave that part of my life behind me but pivoting and starting a new journey down an unknown path is exhilarating. And is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.

I’ve learned to be kinder to myself and others. I’ve learned that I don’t ever want to be the source of hurt for anyone in my life. I’ve curated a wonderful group of friends around me, and I cannot jeopardize that. I’ve learned that I can reconnect with an old love and emerge with the comforting knowledge that our connection and friendship is not only still intact, but also grown over the years and this relationship coming back into my life now is not happenstance.

I’ve learned and am still learning, what devastating loss is. I’m navigating grief in my own way, figuring it out as I go, but putting all my faith in just letting my heart lead the way. I miss my dad so much. Like, more than I thought possible. But my family is tight, and we’re here for each other and I know I can depend on that. I’ve learned just how lucky I am to have had a dad like mine, and I’m lucky to have gotten the time with him that I did. He has given me so many gifts and as those gifts slowly reveal themselves to me, I’m feeling more connected to him than ever before.

But it’s OK to miss him, it’s OK to be sad when I feel sad, and to laugh when something is funny. Christmas was his favourite holiday. I remember as a kid, Dad would come home from work, bursting through the front door on December 23 or 24, singing a holiday song he made up. He loved us so much. His favourite place, even above the football field if I’m being honest, was home, with his family, all his kids and eventually his grandkids around him, the chaos of 17 conversations going on at once, the laughter, the teasing, the smiles, and the hugs – that was his sweet spot. It’s mine too.

At the end of this strange year, I suspect we are going to reflect in a way we haven’t before. This year has been incredible in the true sense of the word – centuries from now, humans (if we’re still here) will read about 2020 and dissect the turning point of a nation, and of a people.

But, for now, I’m going to sip my coffee from my favourite mug, while my mom bakes shortbread cookies, and I’m going to soak it all in as much as I can. I’m going to look at this home in a way I never have before and appreciate it for all the love and life it’s held within its walls for the last 38 years. And though I will be sad when I feel the absence of my dad as we try to carry on with our family traditions as seamlessly as possible, I will be grateful for his presence. He was larger than life and the center of our family, and we’ll hold each other a little tighter and a little longer this year and be happy for the time we had with him.

Designing woman

I’ve been ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’–ing it. Without conscious plotting, shortly after my world crumbled around me, I began to transform my space. It started innocently enough: I left my job where I was miserable, under some pretty sketchy, awful circumstances, and I finally ordered the area rug I’d been coveting for literal years, a new coffee table and a new bed frame – you know, as a symbol of my severance from the life I’d known for so long.  

When I returned after a couple of weeks at home for my dad’s…death, I won’t lie – I was disoriented, I felt unmoored. I hadn’t had a chance to even begin to process the fact that I was, for the first time since I was a ten-year-old, without a job. Never mind the weight of all the reasons that led to my resignation, I was now faced with processing the bigger life milestone of losing a parent.

It’s a lot, guys.  

Before I knew it, I was sorting, taking inventory, reorganizing, purging, cleaning, and redecorating every square inch of my apartment. After the celebratory rug, table, and bed frame arrived and assembled, I became obsessed with getting a bar cart for my dining room to display all my cool, retro glassware. I mean, what is the point of having it if people (and me) can’t enjoy it?

It arrived, and after about three hours of screwing, occasional forceful wedging, and deciphering cryptic instructions later, I had assembled the coolest, most perfect-for-me bar cart. And then I was off.

I must tell you that at this point, I sought the help of a friend. Organizing and purging are not my forte. I mean, I think I have a good sense of style, but the actual details of what it takes to implement said style escape me. And I tend to hang on to things. Not like hoarder level hanging-onto-things, but let’s just say I tend to surround myself with…stuff. So, I called in a friend for whom this (organizing/purging/etc.) is a passion (and impressive skill!), and together, over the course of three solid days of work, we transformed my home into something I think I’d always fantasized it could be.

It was intense. Thank Beyonce my friend was firm but kind with me – I had to honestly face some hard truths about the things I had surrounded myself with for years, and in some cases, decades. She lovingly pushed me to really think about my everyday day-to-day existence and the objects and implements required to make that life a reality. Most importantly, she challenged me to consider that which truly brings me joy and peace.

The kitchen was the most difficult. I haven’t quite figured out why, to be honest, but it was a huge challenge for me. Granted, I had way too much stuff. In fact, I would venture to say much of it was crap. I had to confront myself as to why I was holding on to certain objects, and then evaluate, in a very pragmatic way, what purpose it may serve in my life.

For instance, I had in my possession, at least 13 wine openers. Why does a person need more than one or two wine openers, let alone a baker’s dozen? I had shelves spilling over with odds and ends, rubber bands all over the place (for some reason), old flyers, pens, paperclips, random notes and passwords I’d jotted on post-its. I had recipes scribbled on loose paper, just lodged in between various mail, some of which was important, and there were broken pots and ratty tea towels.

It wasn’t filthy, rather just kind of chaotic once I was able to open my eyes to see what was really there. You know the phrase “nose blind”? When your surroundings smell a certain way, but you’ve lived with it for so long that you don’t notice it anymore? Well, that’s what my kitchen felt like. Except instead of nose blindness, it was actual blindness. The excess of useless, space-sucking stuff was simply not visible to me up to that point. Not until I began this process, and certainly not until my friend pointed it out to me, could I start to see the stuff (literal and metaphorical) that I’d been dragging around with me for years. That’s what it takes sometimes – someone to shake you awake and force you to open your eyes to what’s right in front of you.

So, without planning it, I stumbled into a full-on overhaul of my home in the aftermath of some pretty significant life events. And it has turned out to be the catharsis I really needed. I feel like I’ve said this before, but I can actually feel my life moving. Something is happening. I believe this is the beginning of something great for me. Hell, I think I’ve started a whole new book.

To me, the parallel is obvious: I am disrupting, dissecting, and dismantling my living space to redesign it for the new me. And just as I am redesigning aspects of my life and my future, it is of course reflected in my physical surroundings.

So, the moral of my story is: redesign something in your life, and something good will follow! It could be the bathroom shelves, your closet or your entire home, but trust me, the catharsis it brings will help navigate you through whatever needs to be redesigned in your life, be it a coat of paint or a complete gut job.

Just go with it. You will find the answers. And maybe that pair of glasses you lost months ago.

Sundays are tough

During the last 10 years or so, my dad would occasionally come to Toronto in late January for a big executive meeting of the Ontario Football Conference (OFC) – he was one of the Vice Presidents. This is what my dad did in his retirement – built a whole football program at the competitive rep level. You know, instead of like, gardening.

Anyway, these meetings would start on a Friday night and then go most of the day on Saturday. For a few years in a row, the OFC put the out-of-towners up at the Royal York downtown. Fancy.

Even though he had a meeting to get to on the Friday night, he would always plan to have cocktails (aka wine) in his hotel room with me. I would head out of the office a bit early that day and meet him at the hotel.

It was a kind of fast visit, maybe an hour or so, but it was something I really looked forward to. I’d like to think he did too. He would bring snacks and wine – red for him and white for me – and when I got there, it was just the two of us. That might seem unremarkable to those who come from smaller families or whatever, but for me, alone-time with Dad was a rare treat.

We would sit and chat about the usual stuff, and by chat, I mean he would pepper me with questions; how’s work? How’s (insert guy’s name who I was seeing at the time)? How’s Bec and Brookie? Is Fish (who is a person) still involved in football in Guelph? What do you think of this or that? I’m really impressed with David’s blah, blah, blah and I talked to Christina the other day and man, she’s just like grandma, it’s non-stop entertainment with that one; updates on the grandchildren and Carolyn and her work, and of course, a detailed breakdown of whatever construction was going on in Peterborough and so on.

He would definitely tell me at least one or two stories I’d heard 27 times before, but I would listen and smile and laugh, usually because the story was funny, but also because it was so delightful to hear my dad tell it and see the pure joy it gave him.

After a while, I would head home, and he found his way to whatever conference room his meeting was in. I can remember thinking that I was so lucky to have a dad who went out of his way to catch up with one of his kids. Well, to catch up with me.

In the summers, whenever the Peterborough Wolverines were playing Toronto, I would meet him at the football field and we’d watch the game together. He’d introduce me to the coaches and parents, etc. who I didn’t already know, and every single one of them would say something along the lines of “Oh, you’re Angela, the singer, the one who lives here! I’ve heard so much about you!”

Dad and I wouldn’t really talk much during the game. As my mom says it was like talking to a brick wall. So, I would just immerse myself in the game and watch my dad watch the game.

After the last game and as the players and coaches headed back home on the bus, Dad would take me out for dinner. He’d always say, “get anything you want, Ange” and wink at me. He’d order something predictable for him, and a glass of red of course. He’d flirt with our server, laughing his little ‘Ernie’ laugh (as in Bert and).

We’d have similar conversations as we did in the hotel in January. And while I never got the sense he was divulging secrets to me or saying anything he wasn’t going to recount to Mom when he got home, it felt so private.

You know that thing of when you realize that your parents are actual, real people, not just your parents? Well, even though I’d come to that realization years before, it was these little moments alone with Dad when it was just so clear to me that he was so much more than my dad. I mean, he’s still my dad and he definitely asked ‘dad’ questions, but I would get little glimpses of how others saw him, how people responded to him, how much he was respected and revered, and who he was as a person, outside of his role as my dad.

I miss those solo visits with Dad. This time of year, especially on Sundays, I always feel a little homesick. Yes even at my ripe old age and having not lived at home for over half of my life I still get homesick sometimes. Let me live my life!

And Beyonce help me if I catch a football game on TV – it’s over. Just the sound of football being played makes me think of my dad. Dad, Sunday family dinner and football are pretty much what fall means to me.

It makes me think of cold, crisp fall days, standing on the sidelines watching dad and my brother on the field, or depending on how old I was, the cute boys in their tight football pants.

I’ve never considered myself a so-called ‘daddy’s girl,’ but perhaps these little visits were the closest I ever got. I had all of Dad’s attention and it was just so damn special. There’s no better word, as trite or corny as it may sound.

I miss my solo dad visits; I miss his Ernie laugh and I especially miss the excitement in his voice over the phone in the weeks leading up to our visit when he would go over the plan with me at least 14 times.

I miss my dad

I had no idea what to expect when my dad died. I’ve read a lot about grief but it’s something that is deeply unique to the one experiencing it and something you simply cannot understand until you experience it. I’ve read that it comes in waves, that time does heal, that eventually you adapt to your life without them and move forward. I’ve also read that it never really goes away, that there is no “getting over” the death of a loved one. I like to imagine that the grief gets smaller and smaller still, so that you can carry it with you instead of being consumed by its infinitely vast void.

The truth is, it’s hard to say where I am in my grief right now. It just happened a few weeks ago, not that there’s a timetable for grief. In the immediate days after he was gone, it was surreal. I told those who asked how I was doing that it felt like it wasn’t real life: this is something that happens to other people, not us, not yet.

It was as if my family and I were suspended in a sort of protective bubble, floating above our bodies on earth, our bodies who were going about the business of…what you do when someone dies. We busied ourselves with all the details of making arrangements and decisions about how to celebrate my dad’s life in the midst of a worldwide pandemic – you know, the usual.

We were (and still are) experiencing our loss personally while also rallying around our mom and each other because it’s a collective, shared loss, of course. Being together helps. Loving each other helps, crying together helps, talking about dad helps. I suspect it always will. I’ve never been more grateful to have heard dad’s stories a million times over the course of my life. We can all recite them pretty much verbatim. We teased him, mercilessly sometimes, about repeating the same stories to us over and over. Now we understand that it’s a gift he gave to us.

How we decided to honour my dad, both privately and publicly, was beautiful and perfect and the exact right thing. And yet, it feels like it’s not enough.

Well, of course it’s not enough. Enough would be having him here with us. It was too soon, it wasn’t his time yet. But the universe had other plans for dad whether we were ready or not. And there’s nothing to be done. He is gone, and there is a giant hole in our family.

I’m surrounded by him everywhere in my home, in my memories, in my experiences. It’s both comforting and devastating. I’m trying to focus on the comforting, but I do feel the devastation too. When I was cleaning up some stuff on my balcony the other day, I looked up and saw the lattice partition dad made for me just this summer. When I was reorganizing my kitchen, I re-discovered the hole he had drilled right through the drywall when he was mounting the shelf he made for me. That one made me laugh – we laughed a lot when it happened. I remember telling him that whenever I looked at that hole I would always think of him. I was right.

I recently put together a bar cart I ordered. Putting furniture together is not my forte. But I was determined to do it by myself – I’m not sure why. To prove that I could do it? To feel like I accomplished something? I hadn’t had that feeling in a long time, so maybe that was it.

It took me three hours. The instructions said it should take about 30 minutes. There was some swearing, lots of talking to myself, some laughing at myself, at my total ineptitude at this particular task. And there were tears. Probably five or six times, I got frustrated and wanted to give up and I burst into tears just wishing my dad was there to help me.

I miss my dad. I wish he was here. But his sweet moment has come and gone and I will carry him in my heart for the rest of my life, until my sweet moment in this world ends.

It’s all decided for us, this world has only one sweet moment set aside for us.

– Queen, ‘Who wants to live forever’

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun

I don’t yet have my own words, so for now I’ll defer to W.H. Auden. My heart is broken and it hasn’t yet sunk in. Maybe it never will. I don’t know, this is uncharted territory. A piece of me is missing. A piece of my family is missing and we are lesser for it.

Funeral Blues – W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I’m a fake, apparently

I’m 41, almost 42. I live on my own in Toronto, in an apartment which I love. I’m single and I have no children. No pets, just plants. I have a great family who I love deeply, but none of whom live where I live. I have a close circle of friends who have proven themselves over and over and over again to be the most caring, loving, supportive and consistent people I have ever known. I have a secure job, which I (mostly) like. I make a decent salary; I have excellent benefits for which I’ve been very grateful over the last couple of years – I don’t pay for any of my meds, of which there are many. I can, for the most part, put food on my table and pay my bills (even though some of them are sometimes past due).

And yet.

And yet I struggle. I live paycheque to paycheque right down to the cent. The thing is, I don’t think I’ve had a ridiculously hard life. There are many who would scoff at my use of the word ‘struggle.’ Case in point: I’m not out on the streets, I’m not starving (most of the time), I have a roof over my head, I have electricity and I have a phone and clothes and shoes, etc. I get it.

I don’t come from money. Of my high school friends (who, again, are some of the most wonderful, amazing people I know), I had the least privilege. And that was relative. I worked from a young age – babysitting since I was 10 or 11, and then full-time summer babysitting gigs in my early teens. I started working in the restaurant industry when I was 17, and I’ve been working every day since.

I went away to university and after one year, realized that my parents couldn’t help me financially anymore, and it was up to me and OSAP. So, I got a job. It was the same restaurant chain I started at in Peterborough, and I fit right in. I quickly proved myself to be a good worker, and subsequently got lots of hours.

My bank is clearly broken 😦

Eventually I became a person who was less a “student who works” and more a young adult who worked full time and just happened to also be completing her bachelor’s degree. I worked full-time during my university years. I even took a fifth year to complete my degree so that I could work full-time and be a part-time student the last two years. I don’t regret any of it – went from almost failing out (or possibly quitting) to graduating with honours. One of the biggest accomplishments of my life thus far 🙂

Fast forward to 2008. I got out of dodge as fast as I could when I landed a job in Toronto. 2020: here I am now living and working here for 12 years and counting.

I don’t want this brief history of my path here to be interpreted as me whining about my terrible, challenging, awful life. Of course I don’t believe that. In some ways, my life has been charmed.

I suppose my point in revealing all this detail, willfully humiliating myself, as it were, is not to elicit sympathy or even pity. It’s to just come clean, if you will, about the fact that it’s f-ing hard to navigate life alone, especially when you are underpaid, occupying a mid-level role in a big company.

I cannot express this clearly enough: being on your own – living alone, paying all your own bills, footing the whole bill for everything while the coupled people around you share the load, is hard.

Again, I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. Not even a little bit. And I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to be totally honest about my reality and the reality for many of us.

I entered the world after university graduation with a shit-ton of debt and no real clue about what to do next. I was so busy working and earning enough money to support myself, pay my rent and bills, not to mention my tuition and books during those integral university years, I guess I just forgot to really come up with a plan to start my career. All I could see was the goal in front of me – make it through and graduate.

I’ll spare you all the other details that have led me to this place in life and just get to the point, which is this: it was pointed out to me recently that perhaps the reason a few of my friends (those who I consider very close friends and who have seen me through all kinds of difficult things in the past and vice versa) have just sort of stopped talking to me. Apparently, this is because a) I’m too much ‘drama’ and they don’t fully believe the things I tell them that are going on in my life, and/or b) I never have money and they’re tired of ‘footing the bill’ for me.

Follow me here – I try very hard not to be a Debbie Downer. I’m generally/historically a positive, optimistic person, and despite all my challenges (including clinical depression), I really do try to be there for my friends in a meaningful way. I very consciously put my shit aside and do not center myself in the conversation when a friend comes to me for support or advice.

The truth is that shitty stuff happens to me. Or if not to me, shitty things happen around me in my life that affect me in a shitty, painful, stressful way.

In addition to my own mental illness, which has been tested to the limits during this pandemic, it seems like it’s just one shitty thing after another – family members in crisis, a sick parent, the loss of a trusted therapist, money issues, a break-up, followed by an ambivalent entanglement with said ex, followed by another, final, heartbreaking break-up, work stress and oh! an apartment fire two doors down from me, among other things (yes, unbelievably, there are more things).

Again, I’m not asking for sympathy or pity.

Everyone has issues…let’s just accept them and move on 🙂

I’m trying to give you a sense of the shitstorm I’ve been dealing with for months, and, as was pointed out to me recently, is perhaps the reason certain friends are ‘over’ me: because they don’t believe me.

Perhaps they think that I’m making this stuff up, or that I’m exaggerating, or otherwise trying to create drama. And they are tired of me, they’ve had enough, and so when I relay the news that my dad almost died (twice) and there were big family talks about DNRs and other awful, scary things, they simply didn’t believe me. And thus have not spoken to me or reached out to me for over a month.

I feel a little self-conscious about feeling hurt by this. I mean, is this me centering myself in the story? Am I really too much for some people? The aforementioned boyfriend has actually told me more than once I am in fact ‘too much – too much everything – I talk too much, I’m too sensitive, I’m too emotional, I’m too intense, I expect too much, I want too much.’

Are people, even my friends, my best friends, tired of me? Rather than hear one shitty update after another from me, are some of my friends ignoring me away?

I suppose, on one hand, I kind of get it. I haven’t exactly been a barrel of laughs the last couple of years. It’s been a struggle (and you, dear reader, know all about that struggle if you’ve been following along with my story). It’s been intense to say the least. It’s been scary, with real, raw moments of life and death and unearthing deeply hidden secrets and damage, and not everyone is equipped to handle that. I get it, I really do.

I have empathy for everyone. I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable and I definitely don’t want to be a harbinger of darkness and negativity.

But I assure you, I’m not being dramatic. I’m not exaggerating. I’m not making stuff up, and I’m certainly not lying to get attention. There is a difference between needing to be the center of attention and simply not being a wallflower. Let me be clear: I don’t mind attention, I don’t mind all eyes on me – but I certainly don’t seek it out, especially by using sad, difficult or traumatic elements of my REAL GODDAMN LIFE!!!!!!!

In addition to me being too sad or dramatic or ‘fake,’ there’s the issue of being a broke ass. I’m proud of my accomplishments, and I know I’m way farther ahead in life than a huge swath of people. Please know I think about that every day. The fact that I’m financially challenged has simply been a fact of my whole adult life – well, at least since I left the restaurant industry. When I was managing and serving, I was completely comfortable financially. But I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. And going from that to an entry level admin role making a salary so small that I worked 3 other jobs to make ends meet, was a shocking adjustment.

I suppose I had secretly been thinking this for years, that my friends resent that I never have money to do stuff. I can’t seem to get my shit together, and so they feel sorry for me and pay for dinners here and there, or loan me money for this or that. My therapist (who I miss dearly) used to tell me all the time that I had to stop feeling guilty that my friends were helping me out so much. He would constantly remind me that they wouldn’t be stepping up like that if they didn’t feel they got something in return. He would turn it around and ask if the roles were reversed, would I be there for any of them the way they had been for me?, and of course the answer was an emphatic yes. Without question. But, for some reason, I always, and still do apparently, have a hard time believing it when it comes to me.

So, I guess this is the summary, the thesis, as it were of what I’m trying to get across: my friends/peers are resentful that I never have money, and I therefore can not be relied upon to contribute to group dinners/hangouts etc. Also, we can conclude that I’m and Debbie Downer and people, aka friends, are tired of hearing about my shitty life. They’re so tired of hearing it, they actually have questioned the validity of what I say. So, following that logic, there are certain people in my life who might actually think that I would lie and/or exaggerate about the state of my dad’s health for…what? Attention? Sympathy? A handout?

Let me assure you, I ask for nothing. My pain is real, I came *this close* to losing my dad (twice), my (ex) boyfriend thinks I’m ‘too much,’ I vacillate between insomnia (like right now) and sleeping for 15 hours straight. I scrape together ‘meals’ so I don’t starve, plotting my grocery list for my next pay day (which is impossibly far away and never seems to come), and I grapple with what to share with whom every day.

I’m in a weird place. And I don’t see a clear path forward, nor do I hear any brilliant answers being whispered to me by the universe.

I’m going to go lie down in my bed and stare at the ceiling. Hopefully I’ll fall asleep soon and I’ll wake up to my alarm so I can make it to my 8:30am meeting. I can do it.

Hang in there, friends. It has to get better than this, right?

From my balcony

From my balcony, I can see a fragment of life in the city. Any city, really, mine just happens to be Toronto. Leaning over the railing, raspberry ginger cider in hand, I watch as people mill about, living their lives. Couples walking hand in hand, carrying bags of produce from one of the markets around here. Another couple, gleefully decked out in their rainbowiest of rainbow attire – so delightful. And yet another couple, the woman very pregnant, shuffling up the sidewalk, her leaning into him for support, him bracing her arm and back as if that’s his only purpose on this earth.

A father and son walking their beautiful (and very large!) husky, three little kids, probably siblings, racing each other on their scooters down the middle of the almost-empty street. I think the father/son/husky family live in my building – I don’t forget a pup’s face as beautiful as that one. There are cars coming and going, of course, but at a much slower frequency than usual. Although, I must say, I’m losing my frame of reference for what ‘usual’ actually is – or was.

There’s a slight breeze, just enough to dance with the leaves on the trees and to make my balcony floor come to life with patterns of light and shadow, suggesting a play being acted by invisible marionettes. My big spider plant, at first greedily sunbathing in the sun’s generous warmth, is now wrapped in the coolness of its shade. The smell of burgers on a grill waft up to me from someone else’s balcony from below, instantly making me long for BBQs with friends and family, and bonfires. I love a good bonfire. I feel homesick for it.

In the slow-motion bustle of my once-animated street, I can still hear the whispers of our stories, it’s just more subdued now and somehow – more telling. People dutifully wear their masks, or don’t, making quite a comical effort to distance themselves when passing each other on the sidewalk. I know; I almost face-planted the other day trying to social distance from a very tiny elderly woman with her very tiny dog.

There is some commerce happening around here, but not much. There are more people than there are places to go. The Wine Rack, just around the corner from me is open and back to full operating hours after a brief closure earlier in the year – thank goodness! It’s a good thing I was already all about cheap Canadian wine, so it’s not an adjustment for me. The number of eggplant-y plum-coloured plastic bags I see dangling from peoples’ hands has seen a significant spike in recent months.

I close my eyes and listen. The sounds of my street, my neighbourhood, my city.

It’s quiet uptown.  

This isn’t my sunrise, but my own photos don’t do it justice.

It’s a Saturday night in mid- June, and I’m standing on my balcony, luxuriating in the sun’s last appearance for the day. I welcome it to warm my face and my chest, reminding me that I’m here.

I. Am. Here. We are here.

Life goes on. There is still uncertainty, and fear, but inevitably, we all seem to just go on. It may be a little faint, but I can still feel the pulse of my city. I saw the sun rise this morning, and I get to see it go down tonight. The colours are dumbfounding. And, even though the monstrosity of a condo building directly across the street from me blocks a big portion of ‘my’ sky, I still get to have the sun greet me and bid me adieu. There’s a certain beauty to that, I think, like bookends. I like the bookendedness of it.

I’m going to savor these moments on my balcony, with my neighbours, even if they don’t know they’re sharing anything with me. I must capitalize on this perfect weather window while I can. Soon it will be too hot to spend much time out there. I hope not (but who am I kidding?).

I vow to continue to watch and witness as my neighbourhood, my city, gets on with it. I’ll take notice of the couples and families and best friends and drunk buddies who traverse my outdoors, albeit, more distanced and conscientiously than before. I vow to close my eyes and soak up the sun’s last drops of gold when I can, and just breathe.

I’ll breathe in and I’ll breathe out and in and out. And comforted by the sounds and scents and pulse of my home, eventually, I’ll be able to breathe in and out without even thinking about it.

Notes from the valley floor

So, I’ve hit a wall, guys, an emotional and mental wall. My nerves are fried, my emotions, an exposed nerve. As if living through an historic global pandemic isn’t enough, I’ve been experiencing shitty life stuff, one shitty thing after another. I’m a strong person. I think I’m strong, anyway. I’ve been through a lot of shit. I’ve come out of some pretty awful, terrible things and I always seem to be able to keep moving forward.

But because I know what awaits me on the other side of my (managed, for now) depression, I’m not ashamed to admit that the steps I’m taking to take care of myself right now are motivated by fear. I’m afraid to sink back into that familiar darkness. I’m afraid that if I do, I might not get back to the light this time. This feels urgent, vital, like everything is on the line.

So, here I am, finally with the clarity to write about this because I kind of staged an intervention on myself. Something had to give, I needed to do something if I wanted to protect my mental wellbeing because if I didn’t, I was going to break. And I mean for real this time.

I took a couple of weeks off work and got outta dodge. I’ve basically been holed up alone in my apartment for the last three months, barely leaving, except to take walks and pick up stuff from the store occasionally. I was losing touch with reality a bit, and suffering from the lack of human interaction. Phone calls and video chats just don’t do it for me anymore.

I’m spending the week with a friend (don’t worry – we’re both COVID-free and being very careful). I cannot express how much better I feel having stepped outside of my life for just a few days now. I can breathe, I feel lighter, I have slept well.

As we know, it’s not just the pandemic that’s causing so much pain right now, but I can’t write about that yet. There’s too much to process about the state of humanity for me to articulate into words. I will, but I need some time.

Instead, right now, I want to share some of my thoughts about the effect of the pandemic on my mental health, on our mental health, universally.

Please know that it’s OK for you to not be OK right now.

The whole world is hurting. Everything has been turned inside out and upside down, and while there are plenty of wonderful, heartwarming and inspiring things to focus on (and we should!), we also need to recognize the universal sense of despair we’re experiencing as a collective.

Some of us are navigating this strange terrain while balancing work, children, partners, pets, and/or elderly dependents. Some of us live alone and are grappling with an isolation never before faced, feeling alone with our fears and worries.

But we have to put our own oxygen masks on first. We need to prioritize our mental health above all else, otherwise we cease to be productive, engaged, empathetic, and flexible. Our ability to cope and be resilient, both for ourselves and for those around us, is paramount.  

It’s OK.

It’s entirely OK to feel what we’re feeling, to struggle to process our individual circumstances and to not feel like ourselves right now.

Remember: there’s no precedent for this. No one, not even the experts, definitively knows the right thing to do. We’re all just winging it, trying to focus on the day-to-day of our lives, while not dwelling on what’s to come, because the fact is that we have no idea what’s to come.

Easier said than done, right? The truth is that the mountain peaks seem impossibly far away when you’re withering on the valley floor.

But here are some scientific, physiological explanations for how we’re all coping with this worldwide pandemic that might help us make our way out of that valley.

Do you feel flaky and inconsistent?

That’s because your brain doesn’t know what to brace for next. There is so much uncertainty, and your brain is simply reacting to that.

Do you get tired easily?

That’s because your brain is burning your energy 10 TIMES faster than it usually does, in a perpetual state of fight or flight.

Are you having a hard time staying focused?

To protect you, your brain has temporarily shut down some functionality in the prefrontal cortex – the part of your brain responsible for complex thinking and planning. Your brain is simply trying to help you survive, to keep you alive – it’s a perfectly normal stress response.

Do you feel creatively blocked?

Your brain is temporarily diverting all its creativity (the ability to problem-solve) to simply keep you alive. Seriously! Your brain is in a state of a sort of slow-burn fight or flight, trying to keep you focused on not dying during this pandemic.

Do you suddenly not care about things?

It’s hard to care about goals and plans when you don’t know what’s coming next. We are in a constantly evolving situation, and whether it’s a work project or a future vacation you don’t know if you should cancel, your feelings of ambivalence about those things now is your brain’s way of coping. Your brain knows that being short-sighted is the safest way to think right now.

Give yourself (and your brain) a break and remember that this won’t last forever.

Stop feeling guilty for not working the way you did before (in the office or not), for simply not being the way you were before. This pandemic is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and we must take care of ourselves – physically, emotionally and mentally – in order to make it to the finish line.

And we simply must do what we must to stay healthy and, in my case anyway, alive. There are no rules, this is uncharted territory for everyone. Do what you need to do.

I am, and I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that I’m certain that I’m saving my life.

angestories

Ange’s take on: spring

Well, spring has sprung! Apparently. I mean, officially, as of March 20, the season shifted from winter to spring.

Strange self-isolating times aside, people generally have strong feelings about this time of year. We talk about spring in terms of newness, rebirth, fresh starts, the earth coming to life. And while all of that is true, I think, I have a very strong feeling about spring.

I hate it.

Unpopular opinion? Probably. But hear me out.

The time spanning the end of March to the end of June are not great in terms of weather. This time of year, the weather is, in scientific terms, all over the f-ing place. It’s rainy, it’s snowy, it’s windy, it’s 0 degrees, the next day it’s 17 degrees. It’s sunny, it’s cloudy, it’s cold, it’s warm, it’s thunder-storming, oh look, there’s hail!

See what I mean? Aside from never really knowing what to wear, which shoes are appropriate and constantly having to remember where you left your umbrella, for me, the constant and drastic shifts in the barometric pressure give me splitting headaches that last for a week at a time, and worst of all, migraines.

Sidebar: for those of you who need a quick education on the torment that is migraine – they are NOT headaches. I mean, yes, obviously, that’s the main component, but they are a wholly different beast than their cousin, the headache. Not to say that headaches can’t be awful. Headaches can be really painful, making it hard to concentrate but they go away with some ibuprofen and maybe some water. With migraines however, people experience all kinds of symptoms including, but not limited to; nausea, sensitivity to light, sound and smells, seeing an aura, feeling dizzy, vomiting, feeling faint, feeling very warm, feeling very cold, loss of appetite, belly pain, upset stomach, and pale skin. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?

Sorry for the sidebar rant. I’ve suffered migraines since I was a kid – I can remember getting them as early as 7 or 8 and I had no idea what was going on. I remember even having to go lie down in my BFF’s parents’ bed during her 10th birthday party because I was so sick. I missed the whole thing. And it was a pool party.

So, suffice it to say, I get super annoyed when people say they have a migraine when what they mean is that they have a headache. I get those too, so I know the difference! In fact, when I was in my early twenties, they got so bad I went to the clinic and was diagnosed with both chronic headaches and migraine. TWO. DIFFERENT. THINGS.

OK, now that we’ve gotten that sorted…one of my strongest triggers (there are lots of them, and I personally experience many) is sudden shifts in the weather/barometric pressure. This happens almost daily during the spring, hence my disdain for it.

Also, during the spring months, the world is generally grey and dirty and barren, at least for the better part of the season. Everything is always wet or damp, there are no leaves on the trees, no flowers blooming yet, everything is dull.

Until, of course, it’s not, and the weather finally shifts (for good). Something in the air changes, leaves and grass start their rebirth, and you start to hear birds chirping. You start to realize that there are more sunny days than not. And then one day you wake up and suddenly there is colour outside again! Of course it’s been happening for months, but you always seem to notice it all at once and it’s as if, overnight, the season has changed.

So, maybe I’m being a little hard on spring. After all, it’s just the first part that I hate. It does get better. The headaches lesson, the migraines retreat (for the most part), the smell in the air reminds me that summer is just around the corner. And I start to feel hopeful.

I retract my earlier statement – I don’t hate spring. It’s still my least favourite season, but she always wins me over in the end, it seems.

So, happy spring everyone! I hope that even though we’re confined to our homes right now, living life on the inside and adjusting to our “new normal” for the foreseeable future, we can still somehow invite spring into our homes and our lives.

After all, the season really is about rebirth, renewal, and new beginnings. And I think we all could use a little of that right now.