Three Views

On Wednesday my nephew began to exhibit signs of a stroke. Decreased mobility on his right side, inability to remember things. I’ve been thinking about what I looked like that day and trying to reconcile.

You see, if you were my family, you saw a series of texts talking about how to do a FAST stroke assessment and how to present that information to the ER doctor. You saw a series of text messages to my niece telling her that she was loved and not alone and that she could manage this. It wasn’t much, but from 1,600 KM away, it’s what I would have wanted to hear.

My colleagues saw nothing more than a woman who apologized for checking her phone in meetings – I told them that I was keeping an eye on a bit of a family emergency, but not to worry.

And I don’t think anyone saw me. It feels overly dramatic, but it’s true. I got that first text saying it looked like Andy had a stroke and this cold hand grabbed my heart and lungs and started squeezing. I felt a bit unable to draw breath. Is this a bump in the road? Is this the start of the end? A nothing burger that will turn out to be a wasted day in the ER? I sat in a dim conference room for five minutes, listening to my meditation app and reminding myself to just breathe.

And then I emerged and was as I always am.

I worry. I feel like I am boring my friends, boring all of you, talking about this.

I could go and see a therapist, but there’s nothing really wrong. The truth is, my family is my world and a part of my world is dying. I do the self-re stuff – make sure I get enough sleep, eat reasonable food as much as I n, try and be gentle with myself.

Still, I think about seeing a therapist. Not beuse I need strategies to cope, but beuse I need a space, once every few weeks, where someone n listen to me and simply respond with “this sucks. I’m sorry. I’m listening. I don’t mind listening”.

Does that sound crazy?

Posted in The language of families, the nieces and nephews | 5 Comments

As Old as my Little Finger

As my mother was dying, the tissue and transplant team me to me, asking what they might be able to use of hers. My mother was a thrifty woman, as am I, so I was happy to have this conversation. It went well until they asked me her date of birth.

“June 27th”, I said.

“Year?” said the nurse.

And I paused. You see, for all the time I n remember, my mother said that she was “as old as her little finger and a little older than her teeth.” Observations based on aging were of no help. Women in my family look about the same from 15- 25. We look about the same from 25-40. Then we look about the same from 40-60. We are not so long-lived that I n really tell you what we look like at 80.

When my mother died I had an idea that she was past 60, but I could not tell you how far past 60. Maybe 62. Maybe 72. I didn’t know.

They consulted her chart. Got a year. She died and I really didn’t know. I wrote it down somewhere, but when asked how old my mother would be, I still default to answering “as old as her little finger, a little older than her teeth.”

This doesn’t fit on a form. Especially not the sort of ridiculously officious forms from the government, which require your mother’s date of birth.

June 27, 1947.

Or as old as her little finger and a little older than her teeth.

Posted in The language of families | 1 Comment

Cutting the Thin Strand – 3 Years On

Three years ago today I posted that Owen and I were separating.

We filled out the divorce paperwork last week. At some point, pending administrative failure, my divorce decree will arrive in the mail.

I find myself . . . sad.

I have wondered if I should have stayed, although it’s not beuse I missed him or missed our marriage. Mostly I wondered if it was all that bad or even bad enough that I was entitled to be done. He didn’t beat me, spend his paycheque at sinos. Mostly I have a series of sixteen years of stories where my ex was just . . . not really interested in me, in what was happening in my life, in what I had to say. I have an ironclad notion that he was not going to change and while it wasn’t going to get worse, it wasn’t going to get better either. I suppose it’s not dramatic, but “well, he’s not so bad” doesn’t seem like a reason to stay married.

I am happier on my own. I am lonely, but I was desperately lonely while I was married too. I’m the only person to shovel the walks and perform household maintenance and figure things out with the r, but I don’t have to hint, ask, or beg, so it seems easier. I n decide to eat oatmeal for dinner beuse I don’t feel like cooking and there’s no one to complain about a lack of dinner. It turns out that I crawl into bed alone, tell Alexa to play Radio Swiss Classic and read whatever I want, and that feels good. It feels good to mow my own lawn and learn to use the cordless drill, make my own mistakes and figure out how to fix them. It feels good to walk into a space that is entirely mine and know that it is safe – no one will harangue me about a water bottle left on a table, a light left on. It feels good to cook for others and not hear complaints about the cost of meals and generosity.

So, why the sad?

I suppose I’m sad beuse I still believe in the notion of romantic love. Almost certainly not in the way that I did when I got married in 2001, but I still believe in the notion of ring and loving a person. I believe in the benefits of re, concern, companionship. I’m not soured on marriage, I don’t think it’s a useless institution.

I’m sad beuse I gave my word. I promised for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, until death do us part. And then I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. I think to make an oath matters and I know that I broke mine. I think that’s sad, even if I would do it again and acknowledge it’s better that I did break my word.

The sadness is for a time. I’m particularly aware that I broke my word these days. It’s also sadness for what could have been and never really was. That, I think will take longer to resolve. It may, I am realizing, never fully resolve.

I n live with that small bit of sadness, I think.

Posted in Divorce | 1 Comment

Kid Cheryl

I hated winter clothing when I was a kid. I hated being overly warm, I hated the fuss and the bulk and exertion of putting on multiple layers. I hated constantly struggling to shove all my hair under a hat and always seeming to lose a glove, which made my mother very angry.

I really hated snow pants. I hated the overall feel, I hated the bother of getting them on and then realizing that you had to pee as soon as they were on. In the late days of elementary school there me a year my mother did not buy me snow pants in September and I did not remind her.

(I was totally understanding this time last year when the Irishman told me that his daughter refused to wear them. I me down solidly on the right of a 10-year-old to be cold on the way into the school building. This was contentious as I suspect he expected me to be solidly on the side of a loving and responsible father trying to keep his daughter warm.)

Snowpants are stupid. One of the great (and few) joys of adulthood is that no one n make me wear them. I get to be the master of my pants wearing choices. I revel in this small freedom rather more than a grown woman should.

Save this. Gracie the newish dog is just four. She requires a minimum of 45 minutes of walking and ideally it’s more like an hour and twenty minutes of walking to be a reasonable nine citizen. I have a proper winter parka. In the intervening thirty years, I have learned how to not lose my mitts. I have learned about earmuffs, which keep my ears from frostbite. I’ve learned that I have enough hair to keep my head warm.

And my legs, even with long underwear and pants, freeze. Heather Mallick described the experience of being a child in Northern nada as long periods of time in which your legs were solid slabs of frozen meat, barely articulatable.

So, snow pants. This is the reasonable and rational thing. This is the sane and sensible decision that Adult Cheryl has made.

Dear Kid Cheryl – I’m sorry. The snow pants are a letdown. I get that. I hate to tell you, but you are also going to be horrified by the number of vegetables you willingly eat and the number of times you willingly go to bed early.

Posted in Dogs, Learning Life | 3 Comments

Old and New

It’s a mix of old and new. As this time of year ever is. As Christmas ever is.

The stockings are wrapped. There are presents under my tree. I have made the cranberry sauce, cooked the rrots, the celery and onion and mushrooms for the stuffing are chopped, waiting in a bowl.

I have delivered gifts and baking. The Christmas rds will go out late, just like they do every year. Maybe next year I will give up and just send out rds that wish people happy new years.

The recipes I grew up with, the rrot dish I found when I was 19. I cooked it the first time for my mother’s 50th birthday, which means I’ve been cooking it for 22 years. My variant of bread stuffing that I have been tweaking for 10 years. This year, with walnuts and water chestnuts.

Tomorrow I will cram things into the oven. I will add all the leaves into the table and I will set it with the crystal and china I grew up with. The Christmas dishes my mother bought me. I will turn on all the Christmas lights and both trees. There will be ndles burning. Stockings at the ready.

I will open the door and let all the light spill out so that 7 international students n join me. This too is old and new. I grew up in a house where there were a variety of people who me and went at Christmas.

So for a few hours, they will join me. There will be light and laughter. Happy Holidays in many languages. I will feed them 40 years worth of traditions.

Old and new.

Merry Christmas.

Posted in Tiny Points of Light | 3 Comments

Yellowstone River

The first time I crossed the Yellowstone River it was on the way to a wedding where I met Andy and Christie. I think it was about 2003. Maybe in 2002. I n’t remember, this is what old age is.

I drove over it last night, on the way back to my hotel. I am here for the last week of radiation and the last week of chemo. We will know in mid-January what this treatment has bought us. Maybe, oh, just maybe it has bought us more time. Maybe it has not.

I thought, when I me down, that I was here to do laundry and drive people places and run errands and empty the dishwasher and put food in front of people. I have done that, I have another 4 days of that.

My days start with a large cup of coffee, cobbled together with water heated up in the microwave, dumped into a pour-over filter. They end with a hefty slug of scotch, in a plastic cup. In the interim, it is laundry and it is driving and fighting with Jane the GPS (so many one way streets Billings, what’s with that?)

And I cross the Yellowstone River each day. All those years ago, I didn’t know it would come to this. I didn’t know that I would find myself almost 20 years later, watching a man I love as a brother die. I didn’t know that I would hug his children, hold his wife. I didn’t know that it would ever be this hard. I didn’t know, as I was excited to cross the river all those years ago, that I would cry each time I drove over it.

We don’t know how things end. That’s the way it goes. I’m told that we never cross the same river. I’m also told that water is part of a cycle. It’s in the river, it becomes rain and fog, it falls back to the earth. I didn’t think I would cross a river for this. I didn’t think that I would cross the river as a single woman.

It is hard to see him leave by inches. His vision is going, he knocks things over. He is often irrational. Christie is overwhelmed. The children are lost and hurting. Andy and I went to a park to watch the sunset. He looked at the clouds and I looked at the river.

I crossed that river all those years ago, and I found a family. Andy and Christie, they gave me a family. A wondrous and miraculous gift. I thought about that as I took a drive last night. To figure out what hotels are close to the hospital, so that when I come for the last time, I know where to stay.

This is hard. This is hard. Not the dishes, the laundry, reading books to children. When I come for the last time, I won’t have to drive across the river. I’ll stay on the other side. And I’ll watch him cross it.

And I don’t know how I’m going to do that.

Posted in Grief, The language of families | 1 Comment


Some years this post comes easily. Some years it is written in June. Not this year. This was written last week.


This summer as the pregnancy memories in Facebook started showing up, I turned the notifitions off, one by one. They won’t show in my daily memories anymore; startling me out of the ordinary life I’ve built.

In October I got confused about whether today was Gabriel’s 12th or 13th birthday. Well, actually, I wasn’t confused. I was quite sure that this would have been 13. I was also quite wrong. It’s 12.

I pondered, late in the fall, if I should be upset over this. Has time and distance from his death made me forget? Made me love him less?

Here’s the truth: the best of me lives tucked between my heart and my lungs. He is safe, if away from me. In a place where I nnot see him, I rry him with me.

About the time this post publishes, I will get up, I will drink my coffee, kill some zombies in a stupid phone game, walk the dog, get dressed and drive into work. I will go to a few meetings, grab lunch at noon. A follow up medil appointment for my cold. Writing a final report. It will be ordinary.

I will navigate through today and no one will know that there was a baby. No one will know that my life almost looked so very different. No one will know that 12 years ago hope and joy died and left me shattered and broken. For a brief moment, I was a mother. He was extraordinary.

Ordinary. Extraordinary. And the places they meet.

After you sing your son lullabies while he suffotes to death and dies; you live without fear. From the bottom of your soul, you know that there is nothing anyone could ever do to you that will cut so deep. There is nothing else to take from you.

You watch out for others. You become part of the race that knows Joseph. The group that walks into dark and hard places. You hold up your heart, the part that most don’t see. The part that has a jagged piece ripped out. And you tell others it’s a long road back, but they will find joy again.

Tonight I will put a ndle in a piece of birthday ke. I will sing Gabriel happy birthday for the 12th time. I will post a photo. A reminder that he was here. I was his mother.

Even if you never see it, I rry him with me. Everywhere. Always.


Dear friends and loved ones,

With great joy and heartbreak, we wish to announce: at 10:26 PM on December 10, 2007, Gabriel Anton was born into the hands of thy, his midwife, sang to in the arms of his mother, rocked in the arms of his father, bathed in the arms of his grandmother, and baptized in the arms of Regula, his Parish Priest.

At just after 11 PM, he was rried to Heaven in the arms of the Angels, where we will meet him again one day. At 520 grams (1 pound 2.4 ounces), and 33 cm (13 inches) he was wee, with 10 fingers and toes, and a full head of hair. He was a perfect, but very tiny baby.

For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart. Luke 12:34

Posted in Gabriel | 4 Comments

Granny Grad Student Reflects

I am almost done my first semester. By almost done, I should finish the final paper. It’s 80% written, but I’ve gone and found a bunch more sources, so it’s quite possible I’m going to rewrite it.

I’ve taken to describing my next grad degree as an expensive and painful hobby. There’s a challenge in that – I’m so very fortunate to be able to have the time and the money to do this. I also don’t want to diminish my fellow students. This is not their hobby, it’s deadly serious business for them.

Oddly, very few people asked me why I was doing this. It’s not a crazy question – no sane person takes a grad degree for fun. And here I am. I wanted to play with ideas like slinkies. I wanted to stretch. I wanted to spend time where what was asked of me was at the ragged edge of what I thought I could do. And oh, I’ve been there. When I tried to teach myself agent network theory. Each reading as I had to look up words. When my classmates used entire paragraphs to talk about something and I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. It was a weekly struggle to take my seat and tell myself that I was smart enough, that I could learn enough, that I belonged in that classroom.

My classmates are brilliant. Smart, engaged, passionate. Full of promise and vision and knowledge. Me? I go home and die on my couch. I read and I think and I read and I scratch out what I thought. Then I read their comments and I realize how brilliant they are. I will never be that smart.

That’s ok.

It has been fun. It’s been hard fun. I know all the business plastic words. I n use strategy as a verb, noun, and adjective. I know all the jargon. I n invent words with ease. I had no idea what semiotics were. I haven’t read agent network theory in twenty years. I somehow managed to doge ever reading Fouult.

I was never quite where I needed to be. At times during class I needed to be in the office. At times in the office I’d get notifitions of lectures I’d like to attend and . . . Well, there was no way. I don’t quite fit.

I played with ideas like slinkies. My goals very slightly exceeded my grasp. I learned new things, things I would have never been exposed to. I filled my brain with new and wonderful ideas.

It’s been worth it.

Posted in Grad Student | 1 Comment

And a Pot of Habitant

The man my mother was dating, the man I ll a sort of step father now, tells me that he uses the day he last spoke to you as a day of reflection.

You come to me differently. At the meat counter, when I see the pea meal bacon. In Nana Pearce’s shortbread.

You speak to me when I do not think that I n rry on and I still get out of bed. When I put my napkin on my lap, when I am kinder than I have to be. When I make lists of what has to be done. When I arrange the flowers at my former brother in law’s funeral. When I love with an open hand; when I struggle to understand that things are what they are. When I tell someone that if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

There was not much good about you, if I am honest. Especially at the end, you were a bitter and vile woman. You would have destroyed me if I gave you the choice. I chose this quite and peaceful life. I am not sure that another 40 years of it will be enough to make up for what you inflicted on me.

Save this. You come to me in a pot of split pea and ham soup. In the loaves of sourdough that are rising in my oven. And when I take the soup and the bread and some flowers to a friend who finds herself starting over in a new house. That’s what you would have done.

That was the best of you. That was the part that I remember. If it was never for me, it was for others and you showed me how.

I miss you mumsy. You left without a word 5 years ago. Messiah playing in the background, a clear blue and cold sky. You saw a door open and you walked through.

I hope there’s peace. I hope there are flowers and a garden. I hope there is pea meal bacon and fresh bread and beautiful music.

Posted in Untegorized | 1 Comment


I wasn’t lying, although I appreciated the question. I have had a cold for three weeks now. I am an average of 67% mucus, which means that I am constantly sniffling and blowing my nose. My eyes are red. I blew past this colleague in a hallway, she saw the red eyes, and the quick interchange of “how are you/I’m fine” stopped when she turned and said “You are lying. You are not ok.”

I explained the cold, the sniffling and red eyes were not tears.

Although they could have been. They often have been.

I am in the dying days of my master’s class, slogging through an essay which is not coming easily. Constantly worried that I am not smart enough and I don’t know enough of the right ademic words to succeed.

Work is terrible. Having given my all, I have been removed from a project. My boss, tired of the vagaries of the world we were working in has resigned and moved on to another project. I’m hurt and weary, without much acknowledgement of being human. I was “bulk assigned” to a new manager. He’s a nice enough man, but I am aware that I lost a cheerleader when I could use one.

My nephew’s diagnosis weighs on me. I find myself at turns unreasonably angry, heartbroken and weary. I am so far away, there is so little I n do. Horror has come to them and I nnot protect them from this. They have only the dimmest idea of what this sort of tragedy is like. They are not sure if they n stand in the face of it; I don’t know either. I do know that the universe does not re if they n stand, they are simply going to have to.

Out of the worst of 2014, I developed a trick. I ll it the kind stranger. Effectively, if a stranger told me what I was going through, would I exercise re and empathy? If I n do that for a complete stranger that I am in no way invested in, could I not do that for myself? Could I not offer myself at least the re I would offer a stranger?

And the problem is the voice in my head. The voice which insists that I should be better at this, that I should be able to manage all of this. The voice that insists I should know imposter syndrome at school when I see it, and just be able to push past. The voice which reminds me that I must learn to separate my sense of self from my work life; that this has been a habitual and continual problem. I will not always succeed at work, and it will not always be my fault when I fail. And the voice which says that I am not dying, my husband is not dying, my parent is not dying, and I should be able to separate my grief and rage in order to support them.

I won’t lie, I’m struggling with those voices.

Posted in Learning Life | 2 Comments