No, You Don’t.

“I want my daughter to be like you.”
he said.

 “No, you don’t.”
was my reply.

Thankfully, I didn’t say it out loud. The response was blurted in my head. The speed at which the thought came astounded me.

“Well thank-you…that’s a pretty big compliment.”
is what I think came out of my mouth, as I stuffed my defiant thoughts aside.

I was in grade 11 or 12. A teacher took a moment to speak some encouraging words. To this day I value it as one of the highest compliments ever received, but I admit I took it with blaring cynicism.

I held my tongue, held the bitterness back.

“No, you don’t.” I wanted to say. “You don’t know what you are saying. You don’t want her to be like me – for to become like me she’d have to face hard things. No parent chooses my family’s ride for their kid.”

Anna Baby sucking finger 2

To be like me she’d see loss. I pictured the daughter he spoke of with her round, 6 year old face. I knew her name and glowing, breathless smile.

6 years old. My age when my dad died. Old enough to understand the physical happening; too young to understand the life-altering implications.

To become like me she’d navigate a blended family and major lifestyle shift. She’d cry for siblings left behind when attending a 15 year old’s funeral. She’d grieve for lost opportunity and ask big Why questions. 

She would comfort friends with sick brothers and dying moms and do a horrible job at it too. She’d learn cancer terminology and sit in the ICU. Her normal would not be normal.

To become like me she would learn frustration. To become like me she’d be resilient. Because she would have to be. She’d be stubborn. She’d be faced with decisions.

She would decide between bitterness and praise.34047_1438281571387_1663450531_976311_2089451_n

She would decide how to live her life now.
At age 11. At age 14. 15. 20.
Today.

Because today is all we have.

She would decide not if to test for the cancer gene, but when.

She would have to decide what would make life count.

She would learn to recognize growth, healing, and God.

She would learn
the hard way.

Experience.

But that’s not what you dump on someone who’s showing care. How does one express that without sounding bitter? I’m not sure you do.

You just smile a little, say thank-you and walk away, a little shaky inside.

And resolve again that if kids will look up to you, if parents will look up to you, you’d better make your life worth looking at.

It’s not about the experiences. What matters is how you choose to react.

Amid the Dark and Ugly; Part 2

Part 2
on When Hard Things Happen

I said yesterday that  I can’t compare when speaking of tragic circumstances – but I will admit, I do. I remember sitting in class and relating situations as I watched my science teacher’s young family.

A boy, a girl, a boy. Each under 8.

“That was my family. That’s how old my dad was when he died.” I thought.

I see young Rylee, the daughter of the friend with stomach cancer; the one given the number. She’s in grade 10. A year older than me with my mom’s diagnosis. Older than the day I was pulled from math class to the Intensive Care Unit to watch my friend say good-bye.

But my mom wasn’t given a number. And Rylee isn’t so young anymore. Or was I really that young too?

Maybe it has less to do with comparison and more to do with perspective. I don’t know; I’m still learning. As ICU and a mom’s bald head are part of my history, this number is a part of Rylee’s.

I think of my mom’s words, too, the spring of Grade 12:

“You will go to that funeral.”

She was referring to a family at our school whose dad passed away. (Incidentally, to the same type of cancer as my dad.) We didn’t really know him, but my youngest brother was friends with their middle son. My parents  would be out of town that weekend but us kids had strict instructions to go.

“You know funerals aren’t for the dead – they’re for the living. You go for the family; the ones who are left. You go to show support. You go to show they are not alone.

And this time, you three represent more:

YOU are a reminder that there are those who get it, who have been there before. Those who have made it and that life does go on. You are a reminder that God hears prayers. You go for those boys’ mom. 

You represent hope, whether you know it or like it or not.”

And so I’ve come back from Mongolia, but the mission field is not behind me. Maybe nobody died while I was there, but it is a time of mourning now. Maybe that was just the beginning, the prologue to this chapter, this chunk.

It’s interesting I’m not in the middle of the yucky, dizzying circles this time. This time it’s in arms’ reach, and I see I have a choice. God knows just how long my arms are, so maybe I’m back to reach out a little. I’m not in the centre – and I don’t have to be –

But I can reach.

Maybe I’m here to listen.

Maybe I sat on cold concrete on windy days in UlaanBaatar because I needed to practice for listening with tea in my hands at kitchen tables and living room couches and standing in doorways.

Maybe I’m still a sucky comforter and maybe I don’t often have the words to say, but sometimes your presence is enough.

And maybe I’m back now
because amid the dark and ugly,

I can show hope.

And that’s a way better four-letter word, in my opinion.

Some Four-letter Words: The Dark and Ugly

I remember coming back from Mongolia and being glad nobody died while I was away. Before I left my mom did frequently bring up the question of what to do if I died  – sorry – “passed away” over there; and I may be the youngest person I know to have a list of pallbearers ready.

Odd thoughts? Perhaps.

Sometimes I think I’m warped.
My mom just says “Experienced.”

Anyways, I came back from Mongolia. And nobody had died.

Now, however…

Now it’s a different story. Another season. Another chapter, another chunk. A season that will be darkly coloured in several lives I know.

However, this time circumstances are not mine. It’s other families, in outer circles. A few steps away but not out of reach. You may have heard about Kris, and that’s not been the only event since I got back.

I don’t believe in tragedy lists, for life and death is not a competition. Therefore, I’m not listing the hard stories I’ve observed since getting back. Let’s just say there’s been a few. If life hasn’t been fair to me, it hasn’t been fair to anyone else either. Our lists may look different and our pain comes at different times and different pictures and I cannot judge, sneer, or compare.

Nobody knows what’s going on inside a life for not all battles come with chemo and a bald head, or take place at the ICU. If you know my family, you’ll know that some of my family’s hard things have just happened to be a little more public than others’.

That aside, I will tell you that I’m listening to Tenth Avenue North’s  song “Worn” tonight. It’s one of those nights. One where you’re looking at hurt. Hard. Maybe looking at some pain too, I don’t know.

A friend was given a number, you see. The number of months expected to live.

That’s ugly.

And yet, I’m okay. I don’t know if it’s because it’s not in my family and I’m awful for even considering that for why I’m not in shock (or maybe I am), or maybe I’m in denial and shutting it out to avoid the hurt that news like this brings. or if I’m just too tired to allow the familiar feelings of grief wash over me. I am reminded that grief is exhausting.

I always thought my Mom coined the term ‘Pre Grieving’, but a quick google tells me it really is a ‘thing’. Of course it is; I have a smart mama!

And I think that’s where I’m at. I am subtly grieving as I listen to this song and absorb it all, rather realistically. Looking at the hard news from a few steps away, deciding where I stand on this one. Half way between processing and shutting it out. Halfway between hurting and ignoring.

I’m half way between calloused heart and empathetic neighbour,
because I know what grief is, and that means something.

It is far enough removed that I could very well block it out and choose not to go there, not to touch it, the dark and ugly.

 But I get it.

I don’t want to, but I do. I could think of what’s next for this family, but I don’t want to. Not so much denial as resistance through apathy. I don’t want to be involved. I’m screaming between “Yup. That’s life and it sucks. See y’all in heaven.” and wondering how they’re doing. Wondering if anyone has gone to drop off chocolate milk for the kids…

Chocolate Milk and a Night of Slush: Lessons on Life, Death, and What to Do

 The Superstore parking lot was slush. Disgusting. Wet.

And snow coming down. Hard.

Big flakes that got down your neck, reflected in the streetlights and melting immediately, making you squint and hope not to drop your mittens in the wet.

Puddles, ice, and nastiness. The weather was gruesome. Uncomfortable. A fitting experience for the night.

Mom and I had spent a longer time than expected in Superstore that night. We came out with bags of assorted foods – foods we didn’t necessarily see in our cupboards regularly:

Tea. Crackers. Chocolate. Cranberry juice. A lovely basket. Fruit. Grapes. Cereal. Chocolate milk. (It goes down easier than food when there’s a lump in your throat, you see.)

2 Staples in life: Tea & Kleenex

2 Staples in life: Tea & Kleenex

Because when family comes for a funeral it’s nice to have easy-access food. People drop in. They snack. And kleenex wads pile up so let’s throw some garbage bags in too. You eat at weird times.  Or run on coffee. Honestly, you only want to look at meat-and-cheese platters and miniature sandwiches with the crusts cut of for so long! And it’s nice to have a cup of tea in your hands.

My mom knows this.

And this is how we came to superstore on a random, atrociously wet Thursday night.

A coworker lost her dad. And that’s what you do. You show up. 

My mom did more than buy chocolate milk that night. This was more than the giving of her many minutes, or the amount the grocery bill came to. Those weren’t things to feel good about, a rank or accomplishment to pin to our chest like a ribbon and walk away, feeling a duty accomplished.

It was a lesson in community. Bravery. Generosity. In compassion and legacy. 

She took her 18 year old daughter along, but age didn’t matter. She would take an 8 year old. She would tell them the truth – that it hurts, but there is hope. That mourning is real and that in a culture where the protocol with death has been lost, this is something you can do.

You show up, even if it’s awkward and  you don’t know them well. You don’t have to stay long or even take off your shoes. Grief is uncomfortable, but it means more to show up.

Our society has lost our protocol of grief. We don’t know how to deal with death, we don’t remember how to grieve. So here’s what you do when you know someone is hurting and you don’t know what to do.

You take care of people. You give. Cheerfully, not chintzily.

Driving home through the onslaught of snowflakes you might expect me to say my heart was warmed, looking at these inspiring lessons, knowing I would carry this experience on for the rest of my life.

Nope. I shivered. Because it was snowing.

And that’s what you do, in reality. You shiver and drive and just do life (the day to day AND the not-so-day-to-day). There is no feel-good music like the movies. I know this. But it was good, regardless.

It was food for thought that night, those crackers and milk in the basket.  There were lessons in that night, and a memory to hold to for many nights to come. The example was powerful.

And if nothing else – please do know
that if you don’t know what to do and someone might be grieving

you really can’t go wrong with a big ol’ bottle of chocolate milk.