Posts Tagged ‘grief’

end of the road

There is no one solid story here.  No coherent thoughts that flow one into the other.  Just scraps of images that lie like bits of material waiting to be stitched together into one large quilt-like story.  There is no quilt here.  Not today anyway.  Just the scraps.

  • Standing with my hand on my Grandmother’s bare back, supporting her as she works her way through the ordeal of going to the bathroom.  My young-ish, strong brown hand on her fragile, bird-like back.  Skin pale and thin as onion skin.  Soft as velvet.   Warm.  Spine emerging through the flesh.  No longer any fat to cushion the bones.  I could see the struggle of her quick, shallow breath through the backside of her body.  Heard her panting with fear and effort.  I wanted to place my lips on that warm skin, to feel its softness on my own face.  This woman who has been a second mother to me.  Now I help her to have a pee.
  • Resting with my Grandmother in the alcove halfway down the corridor of her residence.  We’ve gone for a walk but her weakened heart and her tiny legs won’t take her any farther.  This woman, once a tank who flew up the street on strong legs so quickly that I, as a child, could not keep up.  Now she sinks into an armchair as we wait for her strangled heart to slow, for her breath to catch up.  I feel my own breath moving with ease through my lungs.  In….Out…In…Out… This has become my mantra, the one I use to keep the nightmare of this current reality at bay.  I hear her say, voice choking midway through her thought, “I don’t want to die, Tabby.  I just want to be with you girls for the rest of my natural life.”  Something about that last bit struck me as funny and got me chuckling.  That’s the way it is anyways, isn’t it, Nan?  For the rest of our natural lives.  I don’t want you to die either but even I know you don’t want to live this way.  Where do you go from here?
  • Telling my mother of the dream I had about my Grandfather who passed away many years ago.  Mum telling me of my Grandmother’s recurring dreams with him in them, but she never sees his face.  And I know the day she sees his face is the day he takes her hand and helps her cross over to where he is.  Not yet, Gramps. Please.  Not yet.
  • Walking into the hospital room.  My Grandmother all hunched over into herself, asleep, but looking dead.  I can feel the panic rising in my mother as she quickly moves to the side of the bed to see if she can rouse her mother.  My Nan lifts her face and I see it – Death is on her flesh.  The face that looks at me is not hers, not the face I’ve known for 43 years. The eyes are sunken.  Cheeks hollow.  Skin a sickly grey.  There is no mistaking the kiss of Death when it arrives and there it was, for a minute or two, and then it was gone.  We are granted the precious gift of my Grandmother for another day.  Thank you.
  • Sitting in Emergency beside the tiny frame of a woman who is the matriarch of my family.  I find I cannot look at her.  I cannot interact with her.  I cannot touch her.  Cannot speak with her.  I am disgusted with myself, humiliated by the tremendous feelings of anger that are raging up from the core of my being.  How could you do this to us?  So….fucking….selfish.  I am not impressed with myself.  I am thoroughly ashamed.  I vow to do better.  So far so good.

There is a changing of the guard in my family.  That woman I have railed against my whole life is stepping down from her position of power.  The responsibilities are clearly too much for her to bear.  And so the woman who sat terrified night after night when I was sick, the woman who fed me and cleaned my backside when I pooped myself, the woman who helped me get dressed, the woman who put me to bed at night, is now the woman who needs the same from me.

And my heart breaks.

I hear the words of my friend who struggles to care for her Alzheimer’s-suffering mother:  This is the new normal.  And so it is.

I hear the words of another dear friend of mine who has buried so many of her own already:  I don’t know why people are so afraid of death.  It can be so beautiful.  Indeed. For sure there have been exchanges during this time of disoriented new vulnerability that have never happened before, and they are as beautiful as I imagine the face of god to be.  This beauty seems only to come at this point, during these times, as one soul prepares to shed its skin, leaving the rest of us behind.

Scraps, all of it, waiting to be woven into a beautifully whole tapestry.  For now, only scraps, and this:

Peace, my heart, let the time for
the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.

– “The Gardener LXI:  Peace, my Heart” by Rabindranath Tagore

Until that parting, I vow to step into the fold with you, Nan, as you have done with me so many times, so that you will not walk alone along this path.  Please, forgive me the mistakes I shall make.

Let there be ease.

May there be grace.

May there be peace.


May it be so.

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In the End



Shattered woman,

leaking soul from your lips,

What does it take to get to this place?

Leaning against neglected walls

clutching your string of pearls

The ghost of your child

            is your rope of death.


Hollow woman,


            slit open

 by the searing blade of loss,

love-guts long washed away by your pressure-hose tears,

you speak to me in cold whispers about your dream—

            that a bullet in your head

            stops your heart.


the machine deep inside your chest

keeps that heart beating.

Your life


moves along.


Shadow woman,

stroking the porcelain back

of your headless child-replacement

seated beside you on the couch.

Searching through a box of eyes

so that what is sightless can see,

you are blind to the ones who still breathe.

Lifeless creations you cradle in your bosom,


while the ones still in warm flesh

stand bleeding for your love.



that once was Woman,

swinging by the vapours of

a child long gone.

What is vital,

sacrificed to memory.

Here there will be

no peace.

~ Tabitha Kot 2012

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And everything is not always as it appears to be.

My house took on water this week.  Basement leaks are nothing new in this old house.  As we were outside pushing snow away from exterior walls and re-routing improperly draining downspouts, water was snaking its way through the centre of the house from a leak in…we know not what.  And just as mysteriously as the water appeared, it vanished.  The plumber’s visit of 3 1/2 hours uncovered…NOTHING.  All we knew was that water was soaking the ugly carpet of the storage room and winding its way towards my most sacred territory–the yoga studio.  At first glance, other than the soaked carpet, everything looked fine.  The floor in the yoga studio appeared to be dry and all was well, except for the unsettling question of what the hell went wrong in the first place.

Yesterday, as I ventured through the studio, preparing to wash the floors, my eyes landed on something that wasn’t there before–curled corners on some of the laminate boards.  My heart started pounding and I thought I was going to puke.  I heard myself at the beginning of class only three days before asking my students, “What do you do when the rug gets pulled out from under you?  How do you respond?  Or do you react?”  Ironic.  I’ll tell you what I did.  I’ll tell you what happened to me when I discovered that water from a mysterious source had infiltrated the most sacred room in my home–I…LOST…MY…SHIT.


I started pacing.  I couldn’t breathe.  ALL of my yoga/meditation training went out the window and my vision narrowed to a pin prick.  Obsessive negative thoughts invaded my mind–“You’re finished.  It’s over.  This is simply the first sign that the good times have come to an end and it’s all downhill from here.  This is the first indication that you will fail.  God is telling you your business is going to tank.  It’s ruined, completely ruined.  The space is tainted now and no good shall come from this any more.”  On and ON the voices droned, stripping me down to nothing.  And then the top blew off and I started crying and yelling.  I was absolutely out…of…control.

And yet, in the midst of this mental chaos, I heard a voice asking, “What is it about water that takes you out?  What is it about this water that has you losing it so badly?”  Like I said, this was not the first time I had dealt with water in my basement and the damage from this incident, fortunately, was minimal.  I honestly did not understand what was going on.  All I knew was that I felt young and small and vulnerable and violated.  I felt helpless and powerless.  You can’t fight water, you know?  It has a life, a force and a power all of its own.

And then I received an email from my mother about this weekend being the 15th anniversary of my Grandfather’s death.  That email tore open the floodgates.  Out of some dark corner of my heart came a rush of grief that had hidden away for 15 years.  Like a magician pulling a scarf out of his sleeve, this email pulled out insight that helped me understand that something much deeper was going on.

senior Gramps

My Grandfather struggled with congestive heart failure.  Over time, this robust man’s heart weakened and became enlarged.  Its decreased pumping capacity meant his lungs could not oxygenate his body properly.  His kidneys could not effectively flush fluids from his tissues.  In short, over time, my Grandfather’s body took on water.  Water seeped into his tissues and stayed there, flooding the space, causing him to swell.  His feet became so enlarged that the skin shone and his slippers needed to be slit open in the back if he was ever to put them on.  Slowly but surely my Grandfather began to drown and, after a point, there was nothing anyone could do for him.  My Grandfather was taking on water and he was going to die.  All I could do was sit there and watch.

How much of the panic and fear I was experiencing was about the actual water that came into my home, and how much was about unresolved conflict and feelings around my Grandfather’s death and other instances when I have felt completely helpless?  When walking around the yoga studio as a crazed lunatic, pressing down on the floor boards, was I really trying to flush the fluids out of the floor, or was I unconsciously trying to save my Grandfather’s life by squeezing the water from his lungs so he could breathe again?  When I obsessed about washing the studio floor, how much of that had to do with the footprints on the laminate, and how much of it was the unresolved guilt I felt for being too afraid to touch my Grandfather’s swollen skin before he died?  The water’s infiltration into my home and sacred space, along with my reaction to it, was a sneaky signpost, something that pointed the way to the truth–that my stories of powerlessness and helplessness were the issues here and the things that needed healing.

So the next time you, like me, find yourself in a predicament where the extent of your emotional response goes far beyond what is warranted, may I suggest you take a moment to breathe (or at least try) and ask yourself these gentle questions:  What’s really going on here?  What lies beneath the surface of this experience?  What memory has been triggered that is asking for my attention?  What buried piece is surfacing that needs healing?  How can I best nurture myself at this time?

Everything is not always as it appears to be and, often, one thing leads to another.

Wishing for you the courage and ability to dig deep and to see with soulful, insightful eyes.  Wishing for you hugs when you’re feeling tender, band-aids for the places where you hurt, healing balm to soften your scar tissue, and hip waders for when the water seeps into your world.  😉

Many blessings and much love,


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butterfly life cycle

It’s been a hard month for deaths.  We haven’t yet flipped the calendar to February and already my circle has sustained 5 losses, 4 human and 1 furry.  I don’t get the whole death thing.  I mean, what the heck is going on here?  How can you be there one second, a functioning human encased in skin, and then you simply vanish?  Your skin is still there, for a while, but you as you have walked the world for so many years, are not.  Hunh?  Seriously…don’t…get it.

I have always approached the topic of death from the standpoint of the ones who have sustained the loss.  It was only after K’s client died that things lurched off in a different direction, confusing the whole death issue for me even more.  What about the person who is dying?  I had never before considered that this was an experience for the one leaving as well as for the ones left behind.  What is that experience like?  Is it like the closing of theatre curtains with a growing sense of darkness, a pin prick of light and then POOF!  Nothing?  Is it similar to the sensations of a baby moving down the birth canal to leave the enveloping, safe darkness of the womb (skin) for an evermore expansive existence?  Is it like the cracking of a shell that brings with it a sense of relief and release?  At the end of it all, do we feel more stretched out and free?  DOES IT HURT?

My client, who recently had to put down his most special and amazing dog, Chester, has complete faith in the afterlife.  He believes that those we love, human and otherwise, continue to exist and always send us messages of connection.  Like leaving calling cards, those who have moved on let us know they’ve “arrived” safely and are still with us, but in a different, non-corporeal kind of way.  The trick for us is to go to the “mailbox”, to open our hearts, and to receive these messages.  Chester let my client know he was okay by leaving a dog cookie in the most unexpected place–a coat pocket where there was no cookie just minutes prior.  Others I know have received these messages in the forms of pennies popping up in strange places, and of extraordinary goldfinch sightings.  I like this idea. It brings me comfort when the weight of loss presses heavily down on my tender heart.

Maybe death is like the developmental process of the butterfly.  Maybe, like the caterpillar, we move into this fleshy cocoon, transforming silently over time and, eventually, break free into a new, more vibrant and expansive form.  Maybe the butterfly, like the cookie or the pennies, is our message from somewhere else about how things go, about what to expect and about how it is afterwards.  Who’s to say?  It’s possible.  I won’t know for sure until my turn comes.

For those whose hearts are broken as a result of loss, I leave you this:  Look for the “cookie”.  Your loved ones are right behind it saying hello, gently tapping you on the shoulder, or sweetly rubbing your back.  They’re letting you know they’re still there and always will be.

dog cookies

May you have a blessed, butterfly-filled, “cookie” kind of day.



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sacred touch

It was only  a couple of weeks ago when the phone rang during dinner prep time.  K. took the call in the other room while I continued on at the counter.  In no time I could hear it, that unmistakable wailing “NO” that can stop your heart and make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.  Death had entered the house and grief was well on its way.  I don’t deal well with grief and as soon as that familiar “NO” was heard I began to pace like a wild animal in a cage, all the while looking at the cat, rubbing the back of my neck and saying, “Oh fawk. This isn’t good.  Oh fawk…oh fawk.”  (Yup, I’m an “Oh fawk-er” when things get really rough.)  K. had just found out that her favourite client of 12 years, the man who had become more like a Grandfather to her than simply a work connection, had died suddenly, and his widow was on the phone relaying the story.

I’m not so sure it’s the grief part that sends me reeling, although it is the world’s reminder to all of us that we, too, will suffer the searing pain of loss over and over again as we move through this life. (Still not sure about that part of your plan, God, and absolutely not a fan of it, by the way.  Just sayin’.)  I suspect it’s the raw, bleeding vulnerability that grief calls forth that makes me cringe.

It’s a strange thing, I can fully embrace and protect the innate vulnerability in babies, animals and the elderly, but when it comes to the vulnerability associated with a torn and shredded, broken heart, I fail miserably.  I can feel a hard shell coming over me, like watching a shallow puddle beginning to form ice crystals and crust over on a frigid winter’s day.  I bristle.  I tense up.  My muscles seize.  And I crawl, no, SPEED towards my brain and as far away from my own tender heart as possible.  I become a logical problem-solver when someone really needs her hand held.  I strategize instead of hug.  Heck, even the act of writing about vulnerability has me wanting to run!  I’m not proud of this; I simply have to admit to it.

What is it about softness that can feel so scary?  I suppose there are all kinds of possible answers for this.  Animals guard their “soft bits” (throats, stomachs, etc.) as a means to survive.  Yup. That makes sense.  We’re naked animals.  Perhaps this applies to us as well.  I also come from a family where my Grandparents spent years in forced labour for the Germans during the Second World War.  Surviving those conditions often hinged on not showing weakness; vulnerability in any way could get you shot.  Yet another form of covering your “soft bits”.  Perhaps this mentality gets passed down through the generations and I have somehow adopted the notion that becoming open and delicate equals death.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that it can feel like crap to pull away from the openness of another in her time of need.

How do we learn to soften in the face of vulnerability when our instinct is to harden and run?  I think we all have to find out for ourselves what works and what doesn’t.  Of course, understanding our patterns in the face of vulnerability is a great start.  For me, I “take it to the mat”.  I drag myself, kicking and screaming, to my Yin yoga practice where I take some unbelievably uncomfortable poses and I hold them for long periods of time.  Yes, this is a tonic for my body but, more importantly, it is a way for me to learn to soften and to let down my guard.  In Yin, a pose can become that much more agonizing if you strain against it.  Conflict within the pose can restrict my breath and cause increased tension, a contradiction to what I hope to achieve in the practice, which is more fluidity and ease.  The way through is to notice the tension, the holding, to consciously soften the hardened tissues, and to fall (sometimes quite literally) more deeply into the pose.  And if the conditions are just right, maybe, just maybe, a flood of emotion will wash over me and I will begin to cry.  Maybe I will begin to soften the edges.  And maybe if I do this enough with myself, I will be better able to do this in service to another who is crumbling before my very eyes.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  😉

So, what about you?  How do you behave in the face of great vulnerability? How does it make you feel?  And if you find holding space for someone who is raw and wide open is easy, can you share that story with the rest of us?  I could sure stand to learn some tips.  🙂

Here’s to peeling away the layers!

All my love,


ps.  My friend Dana shared this TEDtalk with me.  It’s by Brene Brown and it’s called “The Power of Vulnerability”.  If you’re in the mood, have a look.  It’s quite brilliant…and it made me smile.  Thanks, Dana!  🙂

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There’s been a lot going on lately with deaths, relationships standing on the rocks or ending, houses being sold and friends moving away.  Endings.  Loss. For me, this is the emotionally tough stuff of life.  In honour of the emotionally tough stuff, I offer this repost.  And for those who stand broken open with tender hearts bleeding, I offer one of my favourite Buddhist blessings:

May you be happy.

May you not suffer.

    May you know peace.

All my love and healing blessings,



I don’t like endings and there have been a lot of them lately.  A friend’s mother died.  A long standing friendship has been blown apart on the tailwinds of a new-found romantic relationship.  My grandmother has moved from fierce matriarch to tender, fragile being in need of more care.  Endings make my mind go numb.  I don’t quite know how to deal with them and, when the tidal waves they cause are upon me, you will find me a blubbering mess at the most inopportune times and in the most awkward of places, like the grocery store or in a traffic jam.  But I never realized until recently, when I was preparing a piece of writing for submission, how much this aversion to endings bleeds into my life.

If I look back at my history of writing I find myself consistently struggling with how to end a piece.  Whether it be an essay or a poem, I am constantly wrestling with that last sentence, that final hurrah.  I want the piece to have impact, to end with a punch, but what I end up with is an ending that fizzles out like air slowly seeping out of a balloon.

I…don’t…like…endings.  I can’t cope with them.  I believe somewhere that if I just keep moving, if I can walk fast enough, I won’t have to face them, but like the rollerblader on a city park path, endings are upon me before I even know what’s coming.  They knock me over and leave me shocked and breathless.  I don’t like feeling out of control, groundless, and I certainly don’t enjoy the pain of the proverbial scraped knee as I rise from the sidewalk.

In fact, I dislike endings so much that I think I avoid beginning things in the first place; you never have to say “goodbye” if you’ve never said “hello”.  How can I devote more time to being a working writer?  What would my life look like THEN?  While I’m not fond of how I spend most of my days and I ache for change, change means an ENDING and, well, I don’t like them.  Better to sit in that comfort zone than deal with the discomfort of venturing into something new.  But is it better?

For me, lately, the pain of sitting in the comfort is becoming far more unbearable than the fear of having to face uncertainty and endings.  It may just be the time for that change.

Yesterday I went hiking in an area I’ve never visited before.  As I was heading back to my car I came across two women and a small boy.  We got to talking and one woman was quite astounded that I was alone hiking in a new place.  She thought that was “quite risque”.  Her reaction surprised me; I never imagined being afraid to venture out on new paths on my own.  I simply trust I’m in a safe space, I trust in my own abilities and instincts, and I believe I am looked after.  After some initial nervousness, I plunge in making my way bravely through new terrain, and I always trust I will make it safely to the end.  The end…safety…safety at the end means making it back to my car in one piece and so far, I always have.

I can do that when I’m hiking. I have complete and utter faith in all that is and the end is something I look forward to as an accomplishment, not a loss.  I wish I could do the same with as much grace and ease with the more amorphous aspects of my life.

My friend Heather has a wonderful circular tattoo on the inside of her forearm that reads:  The beginning is the end…..Or, if you jump in at another juncture it reads:  The end is the beginning….In its totality it runs endlessly as:  The beginning is the end is the beginning is the end……It never ends.  It always begins.  It always ends.  It………fizzzzzzzzzzzzzles.  🙂

Much love,


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