Do you know that feeling where everything within you feels warm and safe?
This feeling is usually associated with a person or landscape. Certain smells can also bring back the tenderness of a person's smile or a delicious sunset. For me, two of these smells are freshly brewed coffee and soft bread toasting. I can recall moments in my past where this aroma enveloped my surroundings. I get drawn into light laughter with an edge of teasing between relatives around a worn antiqued table. I am taken to moments of gentle banter over slow-cooked scrambled eggs with others wishing the eggs weren't quite as slow. The memory of returning snow-covered from a freezing toboggan expedition comes flooding back. Usually, my cousins, sister and I would end up in some hedge or tree dodging twigs and branches. These moments were always surrounded by a loving glow and dappled with the fine fragrance of a nestled home.
One person that is attached to this feeling is my Aunt Faye. As a child, I would stay with her often during the holidays. Her home always had a smell that would feel instantly calming and safe. Faye always had a contagious laugh and willingness to see the lightness in things. I don't remember her ever getting frustrated or angry. I only remember her being consistently kind. Perhaps this baseline of constant behaviour helped settle me into a place of deep comfort.
Since childhood, many of my experiences have been unpredictable. People, like my aunt, who were consistent in their manner seemed to have a hum of warmth. That hum echoed a sense of safety, and a knowing that the person would always remain the same. It can be thought that being predictable is playing it safe or not expressive. I feel that there is a balance. If the constant is an open and non-judgmental approach it allows others to connect to you more deeply. This kind of predictability is more like having a solid root system rather than a fragile foundation. There is a certain quality and energy to people who are like this. They seem to create an atmosphere that allows you to relax and lean into welcomed conversation.
The past years have brought many loved ones passing. Each person has left a gift of learning behind, and it is always there if we wish to see it. Living life and considering what gift we wish to leave behind can help guide us onto the best path. The path can sometimes feel challenging and daunting. Remembering that in each moment we are at choice is empowering. That choice might be a slight shift in mindset or a plunge into all new terrain.
For me, Faye left behind many lessons of warmth and love. I still feel the love and laughter that embraced my life each time the delights of coffee fill my room. I try to pull together traditions of coziness in the kitchen and banter around a table. I hope that others will feel the gift of comfort through these gathering moments just as I did at my aunt's house.
We can let our loved ones live on through the traditions we choose to keep. We can choose to let our memories fade or be vibrant and full. We can pause each day and bring them back to memory allowing a gentle smile.
Breathe just for a moment, and let the pause settle. In these moments, we can feel the love and warmth of the past. Within the pause, we can be reminded that life is a little more opulent because of those we have loved.
It occurred to me over my predawn coffee how many moments in life are not truly experienced due to fear or the desire to stay within the box of norms. We have adeptly put that box in place from needing a sense of control.
In early childhood, we walk approaching life in splendour and wonder. Experiences bring new explosions on the senses creating a ripple. This expands from the moment we touch, feel, see or smell something to the responses others have around us while we are engaging through the moment.
A simple new pleasure can become a spectacle of others commenting and drawing attention to other areas we may not have noticed. Equally the responses may be of disapproval and in those moments the spectacular wonder can turn into shame or guilt. Moments of self-discovery can be turned into what pleases someone else rather than what it is for us. We can lose ourselves in those responses and process a new belief system.
The first moment of touching mud or tasting ice cream or seeing a butterfly can be swarmed with thousands of pieces of additional information other than our own.
How much of what we experience at this moment is truly based on our own opinion or being?
This is almost impossible to quantify as from the very moment we are born our life became a part of those around us. Each building block of information laid by what we interpret from others.
Even our rebelling over what we are not is based on our past and can be a dramatic swing of resistance based on unhealed wounds.
In its simplest form, take the child who is staring in wonder at a spider watching in delight as its spins its web. The parent who is terrified of spider’s shrieks so the child then turns that wonder into fear. This learnt response can remain for an entire lifetime.
We are such complex beings, facing new potential dilemmas daily from a point of reference of what social media dictates. We are consistently fed what is perceived as acceptable or desirable and this leaves it even more difficult to find who we truly are.
One of the areas that saddens me is the vast amount of information that is judgment-based. There is an incredible amount of help, but also potential harm that is delivered through social platforms. One particular platform I noticed has many amazing people with varying abilities sharing their lives. Volumes of people send comments from a place of deep angered judgment while others from extreme joy and support.
It has been since the beginning of time that humans have felt they have the right to judge others. It is now at the surface and more visible than ever due to access to social media; it rules our modern societies.
I would love to be able to pull back the lever on social media and hit the pause button. Allow for us all to take a moment and rediscover the simpler things in life. To celebrate each other for differences and help to lift each other. I know that may sound cliché but none of us get out of here without wounds and scars; we all know that. We should try to stop adding to them or, at the very least, minimize them.
I have had many conversations recently on how you never know what a first or last experience will be. I for one want to be present enough to fully experience moments so if it is the first or the last it will be something tangible and expansive. Even the simplest of moments can provide a gift.
Allowing fear can serve a purpose when it comes to assessing physical danger, but when it comes to experiences of life it can hinder us beyond what we could have imagined. One of my lovely Aunts consistently reminded me that there were no right or wrong decisions in life, simply different outcomes; all have growth and all have new experiences.
Perhaps we are more like apples than we realize
Do you know that feeling when you are about to bite into an apple? Taste buds preparing for the crunch and the delicious burst of flavour?
Do you expect or desire tart or sweet? Crunchy or slightly soft? Chilled in the fridge, so it’s cold or room temperature?
Your mouth is lined up for that satisfying ahh as you bite into the apple delights.
You have been looking forward to that apple with stomach rumbling and taste buds producing salvia in anticipation, and then it is not the taste you expected. In fact, you must spit it out as it tastes horrible.
You created an expectation, and this was not met. Mixed emotions come forward over something as simple as an apple. Your mind and brain signals are now sending different messages than before. Your saliva glands aren’t producing the same amount of salvia, and your stomach acid is now increased, creating nausea rather than preparation of eating. Vast amounts of data and processing all occurring with you only being aware of a tiny percentage of them.
Life can be just like that apple. People, moments, food and relationships, to name a few, can all turn into a sour apple rather than sweet or a sweet apple that you expected to be sour.
Our preprogramming all creating expectations and pathways built on our preconceived notions. Past experiences and information that has been gathered over time all lock into these preconceptions, creating responses before we even know we are in them.
If you consider toddlers who experience things for the first time, their reaction can already be coded based on what they have observed in those around them. The classic example being a parent screaming about a spider creates a fear response in the child; therefore, the programming can turn into spider equals fear. Whereas a parent who readily picks the spider up in fascination will usually lead to the child having a spider equals curiosity programming.
How much of our outlook and responses to people and situations is our own? How much is learnt from a young age?
Genuinely getting to know yourself is breaking down elements of life and looking at it with curiosity.
I once spent time with each meal, really tasting it as if it was the first time. I was considering texture, smell and taste. I sat, seeing if my pleasure response was connected to any childhood or memories. I realized that some of my enjoyment wasn’t because I liked it; it was because it reminded me of a loved one or a time in which I felt pure joy.
Approaching life looking at it like an apple with the unknown under its skin is a freeing step in mind mastery. If the skin looks mottled and bruised, do you consider it to be an apple worth eating? If you see a person who looks dishevelled, do you consider them worth seeing in curiosity rather than judgment?
Does the texture of the apple make it any less than other apples just because it isn’t the texture you like? If someone or something is not your taste, does it make them or that any less than?
We all have a core, as does the apple. We were created through seeds of life, and our inside world is unique. We all have differing skins, yet we are all human.
Our environment determines how we grow and mature, as does the apple. The right conditions create the ripest and most delicious apples. A deprived environment can allow the apple to wither and die away. This is true of so many things in life.
We do have an advantage, though. We are the master of our own minds. We can alter our inner signals and create stronger pathways and can change our own environment. These changes can determine our thriving or shrivelling. Yet some may say the apple has the advantage. It doesn’t have the complexity of a brain complicating the life experience or putting judgment into the quality of its life or its appearance. It is as far as we know, just being.
Back in the early years of Disney, Snow White is tempted by a juicy red apple that poisoned her. Through life, we are presented with many temptations that appear incredible on the outside. Frequently we find out that things are not how they seem. Sometimes we just see what we want to see rather than what is. Sometimes things can also be as good as they seem. As humans we generally find it much easier to be cynical though, therefore potentially sabotaging an experience.
Mastering your mind is essential to become aware of judgements, sabotages, and expectations, all of which can taint your life experience. Consider life and those you meet with gentle curiosity as from there, you allow yourself to grow more abundant and more bountiful in your own life and those around you.
Life is our orchard with growth, death and change. Seasons and elements all creating forces that allow us the opportunity to grow and adapt. Many of us fall, as does the apple. The apple can decompose and become food for the earth and create new growth. We either fall from our life journey and can rebirth ourselves or in our own death become growth for the earth around us.
With the saying comparing apples to apples, it is to compare something similar to each other. It is reasonably compared. Can the same statement be made about humans? We are all beautifully unique.
Much can be learned from something so simple and yet complex as an apple.
Enjoy your next juicy bite! Of your life and your apple!
I was rearranging a room the other day, and something made me turn over the art piece in the attached picture. I had forgotten entirely that there was a handwritten message on the back. The art had been given to my grandparents from my aunt and cousin. All of these fantastic and beautiful people have now passed. Most recently my cousin John who left us this Summer.
I studied the image. It reminded me of a story that my cousin Don had told at the service for John. It was about how they had crept into my grandparent's backyard and thrown his prize tomatoes over the fence in fascination. They were around four and five and apparently, they thought it was a magic land where things just disappeared!
The message brought tears to my eyes. So many of our loved ones have passed and so many times forgotten. I realized how often I have heard others say, "When you look back, you will remember these times fondly" or "Someday the children won't be at home, so make the most of them now."
People having to be reminded to take in the moment and to appreciate who they have is a symbol of how busy and disconnected we have become. There are many times of my life that I wish I could go back and redo or feel again in its full sense.
I grew up in England and travelled to and from Canada each year with my sister. I have happy memories of Christmases coming to Canada and being with my family. We did get up to a lot of mischief and laugh until our sides hurt. My older cousins Don and John, were the brothers I didn't have and always set us up with pranks and craziness. My grandparents would greet us with freshly baked butter tarts and a warm hug. My aunts, uncles and stepmom would make fantastic food and delicious coffee with lots of chatter and laughter and my dad would always play a plethora of music and create mischief.
My cousin Maryellen was my extra sister who introduced me to diverse music, movies and was part of my learning in being true to who you are.
Such coziness of memories I have worked to instil in my own life. I realized over the years that trying to re-enact this wasn't possible as although I could replicate the food, the music and tradition, I couldn't bring back the people. Ultimately the people and their souls made the magic. The ones who have passed bring their magic in different ways each year. The family that are here live near and far and the times we have are precious. Precious and very different from before. The solid foundation of these times settled into my being and allowed me to know the feeling of tradition and warmth.
I was out the other day and observed people scrabbling around with deep lines of stress on their faces. The shops all with line ups and people on their phones half-listening to those around them. The amount of detachment in our world today is incredible. This kind of detachment blocks us from being present or to feel experiences in the full sense. Many were taking time to take the perfect or happiest shot to share on social media or trying to make something feel good at the detriment of their own wellbeing.
When you truly look around you, who will be here this time next year? No-one knows. No-one knows what is going to happen one second from now, one minute from now or one year from now. All you know is right this very second. If you are disconnected right this very second, it is an illusion. You are giving your time away to falsities and fantasies. If all you know is this moment, don't you owe it to yourself and loved ones to be fully present and connected? To feel the fabric of love and your own tradition?
Remembering the past times, good or bad all have growth. They are reminders of what you do and don't want in your life.
The biggest lesson I had from reading this art was the reminder to laugh and to be taken back for a short time to the warm hug of past times and souls I miss. To have another Christmas with them all and hear their laughter in the kitchen and the warm hug after sledding in the snow and being snow pilled by my cousins is far more valuable than anything that can be purchased.
I am blessed to have a vast family in both England and Canada. My children experience love and tradition in many different ways and beliefs. This gift is to be comfortable in diversity. Although the times of the art piece are precious and irreplaceable, my amazing huge family creates new traditions and milestones every time we meet. Each generation learning and growing from each other.
Our family holds honour to those we have lost by carrying on some of our loved ones traditions. It is our small way of acknowledging the times we had and the love that they keep giving.
I hope you are able to take a moment this holiday to hold space for those who have passed before you. For anyone feeling the sorrow of lost love, I wish for you peace in you heart and to know that your loved ones are with you.
Wishing you all a loving and peaceful holiday.
The famous quote from Forest Gump about life being a box of chocolates always stuck with me, let alone some of the other amazing parts of the movies. I often pondered on the character of Forest and that this movie was released when mental health wasn't really talked about as it is now. My daughter currently works at a co-op placement in the life skills classes at a high school. It is one of her happy places as the students are just them. The students don't hide behind masks, as many of society does these days. They are just them. Emotions are out on the table and moods showed on display. Their souls shine brightly without the traps of social restraint that goes on for the rest of us. Forest had people who loved him for who he was irrespective of his thoughts or actions. They saw the sheer beauty of his soul.
The reference to the box of chocolates was a fantastic example of how expectations in life can be one of our biggest undoing in being mindful. Setting out with a prior thought of how something will be is not allowing the beauty of surprise or seeing the wonder of what is. The bite of the chocolate and anticipation of what flavour it will be allows the burst of bountiful flavour on your tongue or humorous reaction of distaste.
I was thinking about the game Bean Boozled that my children have loved playing or the Harry Potter Bertie Botts beans. So many times, there was much angst over if they were going to bite into vomit flavour or Berties earthworm flavour and then not wanting to play. Part of me couldn't blame them as let's face it who wants to eat vomit or earthworm flavoured beans! Each day of our life can be like Bean Boozled or Forest's box of chocolates. You can walk life with the sheer wonder of what the day will bring or in fear of the worst outcome. Forest approached life allowing opportunity to knock loud and clear with openness to his journey. What flavour of interactions and connections will happen? If some of the day is more like a vomit bean, then trying to find the humour or finding the lessons is far less impactful than attaching to the awfulness.
Taking lessons from those who walk in a world like the character of Forest Gump can be so very freeing. To learn to be in the now and not attaching to it. Now I am mad. Now I am sad. Now I am happy. The emotions come and go. Most of us feel an emotion and then create an attachment to it. If we are angry or sad, we might fear this emotion and do everything we can to not feel it or worry that there is something wrong. Often it is just our body processing stress of emotions; it is human. If we are happy, we often want it to last or try and recreate the feeling rather than allowing it to be. With this style of emotional attachment it takes far longer to heal or recover and can create an unhealthy coping strategy for feeling happiness.
Many people find it hard or uncomfortable to be around people who have developmental disabilities or who are having large emotions. The main reason behind this is mostly due to feeling inadequate in how to be, or it is a mirror back in their own life showing areas of their own emotion they can’t handle. As soon as we see people or ourselves as limited it can disempower and restrict the interaction and experience.
We are all human. We all have a heart, emotions and soul.
In life, can you spin the dial on the Bean Boolzed wheel of life and be open to what it lands on? Can you pick out a chocolate and eat it without knowing what the flavour is? Can you walk your day open to all possibilities?
If this thought instills fear, hesitation or doubt, then I encourage you to approach life much more in this way. Being in the now is freeing and allows so much more joy to come to you.
We can all learn from those who are free from the limitations and traps of society pressures. I for one am going to spinning the wheel and go for it!
I was working in my studio today and looked up to take in a drawing that is behind my desk. It is by my lovely friend Randy of his beautiful wife Amy after she had passed. Today marks the day of her passing. This loss brought many to their knees. Through their volume of love for her, it has brought them back up to standing again. The sheer love for her and each other became the strength to live life fully.
I considered how each second of each day marks the passing of beautiful souls across the earth. When you think of it, there is someone in grief every second of every day. There is also joy, love, laughter and birth rippling across all time and all places. Souls are entwining in space and time floating in and out of awareness. Spirit is within the ripple in the grass, a song of a bird, the sighting of a hummingbird or a lyric that won't stop playing in your head. All connecting and reconnecting.
I noticed the flow of the pencil within the picture of Amy and saw how art in itself can connect you to emotion, memory or a loved one. As the brush or pencil flows, you are giving birth to something new. Something has become where it didn't exist before. As the shape of the movement becomes the face, your hand is touching that face once again. The outline, the texture and the feeling of the person comes alive for a time. A sparkle created in the eye can bring a smile to your own face and the tilt of the head can bring warmth to your heart.
Part of the gift that our loved ones leave behind is an awakening within our own spirit. A depth we didn't unlock before.
The drawing of Amy brings joy to my studio. I have had the honour of sharing some of Randy's art of Amy over the last two years in my work and exhibits. Amy is still helping others through Randy. The love and journey doesn't end just because your loved one has left their physical body.
As we allow our healing, pain and love to flow, so will their spirit and growth around you. At any time, you can reach them, whether it's when you are cooking a favourite meal, stroking your cat, throwing a stick for your dog, catching falling leaf or feeling the first snow of winter. Time entwines time, and love never ends. Rest in peace is often said to our loved ones who have passed, and I feel they are saying that right back to us.
"Rest and have peace. Know I am always here."
Written in honour and respect of Amy and her beautiful family.
Shared with permission by Randy Stiles - drawing of Amy by Randy Stiles
I was thinking back on when I went recently to a puzzle room with two of my children. We were led into a room where two of us got handcuffed to one wall and the other handcuffed on the opposite side of the room. We were told, "You have one hour to escape the room." That was it. For a few moments, we just looked at each other, realizing there was nothing apparently within our reach. My first initial thought was, "We are still going to be here in an hour, cuffed!"
A series of events within the room unfolded realizations and surprises, not to mention a few red herrings and complete mind-bending tricks. We did get out of the cuffs and also did not escape the room.
The experience in the puzzle room created such a different kind of bond between us as we all had such different strengths. The key was to remember each one of us has value and a right to be heard. It can turn into an absolute comedy farce or epic disaster if you can't hear each other's worth. At times I was so caught up in figuring it out that I didn't take in the pure magic of seeing them problem solve, work together and tease each other. There is an eight year age gap between them and seeing them listen and collaborate was one of the most significant clues for me on that day. The answer to that particular clue was the reminder to see beyond the immediate problem as there is growth in everything.
I considered how people can feel trapped in their life and feel that there is no possible way out. This leads to looking for escape rather than solving the situation. There have been times in my life where I have also felt this way only to realize that it was my own mind that had created the so-called handcuffs. We are our own greatest magician, and often the biggest illusion is the one we tell ourselves.
I considered how I often wanted the answer or the why to situations in my life. Sometimes when I am paying enough attention to my clues in life; I see the why easily and other times the clues seem to elude me. Life can also feel like a Rubik's cube where you move one piece, and then it shifts another and another only to realize you can't get back to the first piece at all!
I thought on my loved ones who have passed and wondered if when you leave this body if you get to have a good old chat with spirit and say" So what was my lesson in this lifetime?" and even more curious if most people went "Nooo.. so close!" A bit like we did in the puzzle room.
There was a moment in the puzzle room where we had to use an old radio. I won't give too much away in case you get to this room yourself. We had to try and tune it into certain frequencies. For me, this was a reflection on life and how in-tune you are to your clues or connection to life or energy or spirit. Tune it out or tune it out. Be connected or not. To me, it feels a little like a scene in Star Wars trying to use the force both within the puzzle room and in life. When you try and force the answers or get into your ego, it won't flow. There is the classic scene where Luke tries to levitate his jet out of the bog and Yoda, as patient as ever, speaks of feeling and not forcing the energy. Being. Who knew such an old classic had such relative and spiritual meaning!
The ultimate unlocking of the final door is when we pass on from this life. We then possibly have our own "Ah-ha!" or "Oh and ahh" moment. It’s like the big reveal of "So this is what the other side of the door is!" The final door is just a new chapter or the next season in your own soul series.
Forcing and trying to get pieces to fit into your life blocks many wonderful things that are right in front of you. Flow, not force, will always allow realizations and the beauty of life to reveal itself to you. I don't know about you, but I always feel that a bit of Yoda in your day is a great thing!
I was out on a boat with my dynamic and loving cousin Don and my family last month. We stopped for a short while to take in the Gatineau beauty and my cousin showed me a photo. It was of my recently passed other Cousin John. It was the first photo I had seen of him in years. He had withdrawn himself after having multiple surgeries on his face from cancer. As I took the phone to look more closely at the photo I was surprised. Not by his changed face but by his beauty. Yes, his face was different but there was a deep beauty within it. All I could see was his smile, his loving eyes and a new spirit within him that shone through. It was his soul that came through that photo, not his scars. I felt sad that I didn’t have the chance to tell him that. To tell him what I saw. As I had that thought my glasses fell off my head and plunged into the river. My son leapt to his feet to try and rescue them with the net. It was too late and they settled deep within the lake bed.
To say my vision is not good is an understatement. I didn’t have extra glasses or lenses with me and we were 5 hours from home. Everything was a grey blur. The ride back was challenging as movement and sound blurred within different shades of blurriness. I realized how much control I had wanted on the ride out. I had felt like I had to be the second set of eyes for my cousin with various “look out for the bird’ or “there is a boat coming” add ons by myself. I now sat with no control as couldn’t see to be the so-called second set of eyes. The ride back allowed an entirely different experience. I smelled things I hadn’t on the way out and felt the movement of the boat differently. I got to be more in my heart, mind and soul rather than what I was seeing. I challenged myself on why I felt I needed that control on the way out. Why I hadn't come more from trust. The answer was that I felt totally out of my comfort zone and so control had kicked in. This was a gift allowing me to be out of my comfort zone and come entirely from trust.
I went without being able to see properly for almost 24 hours. I had to ask for help and use my other senses more. By the time I got new glasses, my eyes burned my head hurt but my soul was more at peace.
From that point on I became more aware of the subtleties of how much we all base what we see as actual reality. How much investment we put into how we look, how others look and what our environment looks like.
I have talked openly before about my history with body positivity and that loved ones have journeyed with eating disorders. The world has nearly lost some of these beautiful souls to eating disorders. Body dysmorphia has been part of that journey and I now realize that many have life dysmorphia. What is real and what we distort it to be. This can come from many things such as managing trauma or from mental health. I consider it to be the “see me, don’t see me cycle” or “see it, don’t see it cycle. “ Our mental health can easily distort reality and we can live in that world for long periods unaware.
I have had many situations in my past that have been so entirely out of my control that every single sense was challenged. This has led to me letting go daily and what I now handle or thrive in is vastly different compared to my past.
I was taking down my art from a local exhibition and I realized that we often walk with two or more different paintings. Our external painting and our internal painting. If my internal world is more like a Picasso yet my external world is a Rembrandt then there can be friction causing unrest and anxiety. How we see our world is entirely on how we choose to look at it. When coming from a healthy mindset a different version of dysmorphia can be turned into a positive. An example could be “I choose to see this as an opportunity” rather than “this is out of my control”.
Looking at Rembrandt paintings you can find elements of Picasso if you wish too. It can be found within the stroke of how he depicts someone’s eye or the shape of a mouth whereas equally, you can find Picasso within Rembrandt. It is perception and choosing not to control what you think you should see.
When I looked at my cousin Johns photo I saw his soul and his beauty, not his changed appearance. I don’t think I could even tell you what his scars looked like.
Choosing how we look at our life can make all the difference between stress and frustration and joy and acceptance. What we see can translate into what we feel and what actions we take. How you choose to feel about life will also change how you see it. I am blessed that my glasses are now settled on the lake bed as I was given a gift in return. A renewed gift of soul sight.
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I was heading to the cottage last week when I found out that my cousin John had passed away. As with many sudden deaths, it brought many realizations, regrets and wishing for last moments with them. The cottage is a time each year that always brings such blessings and growth and this time it brought much reflection and healing. I woke early one morning with my cousin on my mind. I brewed a pot of coffee which I knew with much certainty would not be the kind of coffee John would brew! He had many passions in life and one of them was coffee. The absolute best cups of coffee I have ever had are the ones he made for me. Some of them taking over an hour to brew with outlandish brewing methods! Songs came in and out of my head while it was brewing with flashes of memories of his love of music and his sparkling smile. He had worked most of his life at Bay Bloor Radio delighting in the sheer glorious sounds that the equipment produced. After many years he joined his wife at Coffee Tree Roastery in downtown Toronto, and it was here that he followed his coffee passion to the next level. He delighted in getting more people to experience a John cup of coffee which was more like an amazing art form.
I headed down to the water with my own hot fresh cup of coffee and sat to take in the morning. The coffee tasted empty compared to anything John would have made me. Sitting in the stillness of the new day I realized I was the only person around with little or no activity on the water. There were, however, hundreds of dragonflies dancing in a beautiful swarm. I had never seen that many in one area before.
I sat next to the cool still water watching the morning light glisten and tiptoe on the gentle ripples while dragonflies continued their dance with the morning chorus.
I saw how similar they were to humans. Some racing around at a fast pace not really sitting and others languishing in the morning sun. Varying shapes and sizes all creating their own intricate web of their own version of society. Even with the stressors of society John always included his passions within everything he did. Music, coffee, family, friends and in the last couple of years, faith. He had found his own way to intertwine joy within his life where most of us forget that this is an option.
It was at this time that an amazing and graceful heron landed on a tree next to me stopping and perusing its new surroundings. Shortly after two ducks landed in the water and settled right in front of me. At that moment I felt nothing other than the air on my face and a warm peace settling into my heart.
The heron moved a little and with a gentle lift took off. It was so low that it nearly touched the ducks. They were unfazed by this and continued to just be still in the water together. As the heron disappeared activity seemed to get jump-started and other birds started to chorus around me with the faint knocking of woodpeckers in the distance.
After a time, I headed back to the cottage and joined the family antics that were starting. Johns funeral was the day we left the cottage. People at the service talked of John with memories of pranks, laughter, love and his passions. Many stories of coffee and music were within each tale. One of the lessons John had given in life was learning to be alone and enjoy stillness. It took me back to my time at the cottage and that if I hadn’t chosen to be alone and still, I would have missed the fantastic moment in time and nature with the heron. John had lived with cancer in his last few years and the stressors and hardships that came with it. He had made choices that felt right to him in his healing. It occurred to me that we all make choices that at the time we feel is right or best and it will never be exactly what others would do or approve of. That when faced with cancer it is hard to know what your choice or decision will be. It is one thing to be the person watching a loved one go through the process in pain and a whole other thing being the person with cancer. Knowing that choices can lead dramatically to two possible outcomes is far-reaching and beyond daunting. I was reminded of what you see isn't what is in the heart or the soul when it comes to anyone. A few of us had lost touch with John while he was on this path and within this time John gained new friendships. They knew him for the man he was today. The man walking with cancer and ongoing surgeries. They took John in and loved him for the man right in front of them without the past of what he was before. For myself and my family, John was John. Past, present and now all around us. John was a shining bright star that taught us of the delights of many things and how to remember your passions.
It often takes people passing away to remember them in clarity and is usually followed by regrets over things that had or had not been said. This happens so frequently, and John funeral wasn’t an exception. I have found that being authentic and coming from a place of love and non-judgment with everyone in your life allows less room for regret. If you don’t agree with their choices let them know that it doesn’t take away from love itself. Knowing your boundaries and when to remove yourself if the choices affect you in a negative way is part of love. Holding yourself and loved ones in a place of love is healing for all.
Friends of Johns who were musicians started to play some his favourite songs along with his guitar teacher and my lovely and vibrant cousin Don. We all stood and started to sing Amazing Grace. John loved that song and the people who were there singing it too. Family and friends together reconciled and brought together in grief and love. I was taken back to the heron and that I had thought of it as being amazing and graceful. Such a gift to be reminded that amazing grace is all around us. We are often so clouded by the bustle of life that we don’t see it. It can be in the twinkle of someone’s eye, within the deliciousness of that fresh coffee, a delight within the sweet tune of a melody, the touch of a hand, a leaf falling or birds singing. Grace is found in forgiveness of ourselves and others and from loving someone and seeing them for all that they are. Grace is amazing and it is connection to life. Grace is not based on materialism or the things of life. It is in love, connection and experiencing life.
The song came to an end and I could feel Johns warm smile shining down on us as tears flowed for many.
As with losing all loved ones gifts come forward and with John the gifts are bountiful. His lessons and examples will reach far. The fabric of our loved ones can be found within the dance of the dragonfly and the swoop of the heron wings. It is the essence of all and is always unending. Connecting with those you have lost by pausing in stillness holding your heart and soul into the beauty of the moment. Some of the reminders I take from John is to pause over my coffee, lose myself within music, watch the waltz of nature, remember to laugh, learn new things and to intertwine my passions into each day. Perhaps the biggest gift from John and all who have passed before him is the reminder to walk our own lives with doors and heart open to the amazing grace of life itself.
I was cutting the grass today, and out of the blue, I thought of my friend who I had lost touch with years ago. I recently found out he had died along with his sister, who was also a friend of mine. As grief seems to do, I was overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions. Regret being one that I had lost touch in the first place and profound sadness that I would never be able to see him again or to tell him face to face how much I thought of him.
Many people I have loved, cared for or just had the privilege to know as a friend or in the community have died in the past 15 or so years. Varying ages and varying circumstances. Some without warning and others with time to say goodbye being gifted a few extra precious moments.
I sat, remembering them both with love and considered how grief manifests in life. The grieving process weaves its way with loss of relationships, loss of moments in time and situations you wish you could change to name a few. So many times, people forget the impact of loss of all levels. Many relate it only to the death of a person or pet.
To start grief can feel like an alien thing that is happening to you rather than is part of you. Travelling through the tornado of emotions can be exhausting and all-consuming. Relationships can change during this period as many do not know how to be around you while you are in your pain. Other times you may not share with the outside world what you are going through and therefore retreating socially.
Unprocessed grief or trauma can lead to PTSD, which is a condition that I have experienced. It is misunderstood and not discussed openly too often. It can be challenging to explain what this is, and to many, it is vastly different from person to person. From my experience, the differences come mostly from what the triggers within PTSD are. Triggers are a reaction to smell, environment, person or sound, for example. It can come out of the blue when least expecting it. The triggers can lead to body trauma, nightmares and other health conditions.
In an everyday mode, you could smell coffee brewing, for example, and it reminds you of a long lost family member. For me, Dove soap is a classic. Without fail, it reminds me of both my grandmothers and such vivid memories come into my mind with it. With PTSD however it then might lead to several symptoms including shaking, sweating, nausea and flashbacks. This can be all-consuming.
Over the years I have built on my behavioural training as a wellness guide to support others through grief either leading up to an expected loss of a loved one or after loss has occurred and also to support people who are experiencing PTSD. With support and tools it is possible learn to walk with the grief as if it is a friend rather than in fear of the next wave of pain or heartbreak. Flowing with the journey to acceptance rather than fighting it can reduce stored trauma in the body.
Today with the memory of my lovely friend, other losses came forward and settled into my heart. The familiar feeling of grief wove its way through me. I breathed in the warm air and let out a breath of love knowing that I have the tools and strength to ride the wave of loss and welcomed it in. Grief is part of my life as it is with many. It is an honour. It means I am strong, I have loved, I have known love, and I have had opportunities to learn from challenging times. It has given me the tools to support others in their trauma.
I carried on cutting the grass with my friend on my mind and a smile on my face for the happy times we had shared and deep gratitude in my heart.
Andrea Lines is a mental health advocate and life coach with a passion for dynamically supporting change.
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