Good-bye For Now

2015-09-11 10.47.22It may seem odd to start a New Year brimming full of new adventures, ideas and resolutions, and speak about death, but 2016 has had the greatest outgoing of bodies and souls that I can ever remember. Singers, actors, and other notable beings have transitioned to another plane, along with, and more personally for me, a friend.

I am feeling a tremendous and profound loss for a woman I’ve known for the better part of my life to the dreaded and loathed, “C” word. I don’t even want to speak its name anymore. Like Voldemort, it creates such fear as to make one cower. Rather than simply being a disease, it has become synonymous with fear. It is a living breathing monstrous creature from the depths of hell; a true minion of destruction, vileness and evil. It’s personal.

I daresay, there hasn’t been a human being on this planet that has not been touched by its insidious, insinuating, intrusive and deadly hand. And it’s not because it brings death, we must all die, but because it lives and thrives on human suffering. Its nature is to torture. It cripples, it weakens. It wants us to be defined by its presence. It is sadistic! BUT . . . it cannot, and will not, have the last word.

I leave you now with hope ~

EULOGY FOR CAROLYN LOCKWOOD NYKILCHUK

Like a lot of you, I first met Carolyn through our Kalyna family.

I will never forget the first time she and I ever spoke. It was actually at Camp Sokil, Hawkestone. She introduced herself to me and said that her dad was the conductor of the St. Demetrius choir, and had sent her over to ask me if I would consider singing for him. I hemmed and hawed for a moment, and then she just smiled at me and said, “I think you should say yes because my dad won’t take “no,” for an answer.

At that moment, when she smiled, I thought she was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen. She looked like an angel – soft wispy blonde hair, twinkling blue eyes, and that smile, that lit up everything around her. She always looked that way, in what I like to call, “a constant state of glow.”

When I told her how gorgeous she was, she seemed surprised. She made a funny face, and shook her head as if to say, what, me? And even though she seemed completely unaware and uncaring of her beauty, she received the compliment, graciously.

As I got to know Carolyn better, I began to see where the beauty every one of us witnessed on the outside, came from … it radiated from deep within. She was as loving, as kind hearted, and as beautiful a soul that has ever graced this earth. But, it wasn’t just her kindness and love of people that made her special. She had a tremendous love of animals, especially dogs, and as Gilda Radner said, “I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me, they are the role model for being alive.”

It must be true because Carolyn exuded a natural reticent joy and an unconditional acceptance of everyone. I never heard her speak an unkind word.

You simply couldn’t be unhappy in her presence.

If you didn’t know Carolyn, you might think that she is being thought of especially fondly today because she is no longer in this physical plane, but to those of us who knew her, even superficially, know these words describe her to a tee. For those who knew her intimately as daughter, sister, wife, mom, aunt, and friend to so many here tonight, you know these words couldn’t be truer.

For all of us who forged a bond with Carolyn, be comforted, that bond will never, and can never, be broken.

For those of us who love her, that love continues.

Death is only a word. We created it to help us make sense of physical loss.

As humans, we are comfortable with tangibles; tasting, seeing, touching, but, it’s only the intangibles; kindness, caring, compassion and love that NEVER die.

Look around you. We are all here tonight because of love. We are here because SHE loved us, or moved and touched us in some very special way. We are here to honour and celebrate Carolyn’s indomitable spirit. When we remember her, we won’t focus on the disease that took her from us, but on the soul who brought us joy, kindness, unconditional acceptance, and love.

She has simply moved from the finite to the infinite, from the temporary to the eternal. All that she was, she still is.

I was privileged to know her, and although we journeyed together for only a whisper of a moment in the great scheme of things, she will never be forgotten. Her essence is forever indelibly imprinted on my heart, as I know it is on yours.

Tim told me that she didn’t want us to be sad, but, rather celebrate her life.

So, Carolyn, Happy Resurrection Day, my friend! May you be dancing in the Light.

A WINTER’S LULLABY

Christmas star for blogThis month I have opted to share a poem rather than my usual blog.  Whether you deem yourself a spiritual being or not, this time of year seems to elicit kindness, goodwill, patience and joy.  Peace is a precious commodity, and in painfully short quantity, yet the babe who came into the world two thousand years ago reminds us not only each year, but everyday, that it is the only way to achieve heaven on earth.  This New Year, let us intentionally work towards it. Let us make 2016 a year of acceptance and love. Let us attempt boldly to move away from our default reactions and move towards active listening in the hope of understanding each other to the fullest.  We are all starlight. We are all love. We are all one.  Dreams become thoughts; thoughts become action. If we can’t believe in miracles at this time of year, when can we?

I wish you and your kin a blessed and wondrous Christmas.  May your New Year bring contentment, prosperity, good health, a discovery, or re-discovery of your gifts and how they can be of service to others, and love.  And now. . . take a moment . . . sit back and enjoy the stillness of a “Winter’s Lullaby.”

 Winter’s Lullaby

 

Celestial spheres in heaven’s vault

Upon a burgeoning expanse

Do wink and glimmer

In gleaming hues ‘cross beryl skies

Surveying earth below

 

Sentinels from ancient times

Blink and twinkle in their beds

Observers of uncounted winters hushed

Dreamed of snow by incandescent moonlight kissed

Long before the world began.

 

Bare branches crackle in the wind

Slumbering yet cognizant in sleep

Birch amidst maple, evergreen and oak

Willows bend with moaning sighs

Yet must abide

 

Myrtle, sage and rye do weep

But greenest holly brings good cheer

And reddest berries blood the snow

On high a star which glistens bright

Awaits the hope who’ll come this night

 

Venerable pine be dismal not

Beauteous flakes shall dance for thee

And lay your children to their rest

Adorned with crowns of snowy white

Upon the hushed translucent ground

 

Gelid chants ‘cross woodlands whisk

Murmuring with icy breath

Peace ~

Be still . . .

All is well within this night

 

And o’er the hawkish steel blue lake

Where slates of silvery frosting lay

Cross snowy banks of virgin white

Reflected silken strands of light

Will luminesce

 

And oh what joy this canvas brings

This palette sparkling silver white

That’s painted every branch and bough

And swaddled tight with apron white

Winter’s cradle in the night

 

All is hushed save sandman’s jaunt

Whose dreams like fairy dust are cast

Across the chilled reticent night

Through quiescent tacit woodlands far

Over marsh and bog

 

Fox and rabbit, deer and mouse

All creatures veiled within the night

Beneath cerulean moonlit skies

By winter’s lullaby retire

Vexed not by sweeping algid winds

 

All earth in dormancy takes rest

Below the frost and snow and ice

As echoed sighs of somnolence

Abruptly cease on winter’s wing

When newborn babe’s first cry is heard

 

From far above the keepers smile

In splendorous heavens crisp and clear

As angels and mankind ally

To sing a carol yet unsung . . .

A brand new winter’s lullaby

 

kIm

Christmas 2015

The Rhythm of Life

2015-09-11 10.47.22The month is only half over, and boy has it been eventful!

I’m not sure we truly understand time; how it moves, why. Oh yes, I know, there are explanations of time scientifically, but even scientists don’t know all there is to know about the ticking seconds of our lives, especially those dealing with quantum physics.

What we do know is that time, in fact, moves differently for each of us. One person waiting for test results will tell you that time is moving agonizingly slowly while a person who has only moments left with a loved one is painfully aware of time slipping away.

But this blog is not about time per se, but about the rhythm of life . . . our lives.

Way back in August, it seemed as if November would never come, and while lately I’ve made a concerted effort to live in the moment; to experience the “now,” this time, (excuse the pun,) I did look forward.

Living in the now, is much more difficult than I’d imagined. I seem always to be thinking ahead. What’s going on next week? Let’s see, I have to pick up groceries, and that package at the post office, meet a friend for lunch, physio, oh yeah, and that doctor’s appointment.

Our lives are full of things we have to do soon or shortly. When we aren’t thinking about what things need to get done later today, tomorrow, next week, or even next month, we’re thinking about something that happened a few weeks ago.

Usually, the times we manage to live in the moment are when we’re watching a sporting event, a movie, listening to a concert or having dinner with friends.

So, why was I looking forward to November way back in August? Well, as most of you know by now, I’ve published a book; “Cross.” Most of you have probably read it by now, and most of you already know the answer to the above question! I was, of course, looking forward to my book launch, and my first ever interview by a Ukrainian weekly news and cultural events show, called Kontakt.

I can’t tell you how intimidated I was by these events back in August; overwhelmed really! It’s not that I’ve never stood up and spoken in front of a crowd. In fact, I’m one of those people who loves public speaking, but this was to be in front of folks I’d grown up with, which brought a slightly elevated level of anxiety. Oh, but I digress!

Fast forward to November 19th. It’s all over. Everything. All of it!

In reality, all the things I’d looked forward to (and one I did not,) in November have already past. The book launch, a special lunch with friends, Brad’s birthday, Taylor’s birthday; even this blog.

On a much sadder note, my beautiful, sweet, gentle, Zeus had to be put down last week. He was the most loving cat I’d ever known. In the thirteen years we had him, never ONCE did he ever spit or hiss at anyone; never bitten or scratched anyone, ever! Even years ago when he’d ingested something and had to have on I.V. inserted for a week (we thought he’d die then,) the vet said she’d never met or handled a sweeter animal. As anyone who’s had pets knows, this is the part of (and to quote my husband,) “animal ownership, that sucks!”

I have noticed a palpable decrease in warmth and loving energy around my apartment this week. It is uncharacteristically quiet. Zeusie’s constant conversations with us have ceased. I am missing his presence; my heart is aching; my tears still bubbling up and overflowing, triggered by his favourite blanket or treat. The rhythm of his life has stopped, and in so doing, has caused my rhythm to be interrupted; the cadence altered.

How could his life be gone . . . just like that? Thirteen years. A long time to live with an illness, a brief moment to savour time with a pet.

All life is measured by time, by our limited and minuscule understanding of it. Perhaps we go on from this place, but we know without a doubt that our time HERE is finite. “A time to live, and a time to die.”

When we are aware, in tune, we can feel the tides within. Most times, they rock us gently, back and forth, back and forth. Other times they bring in a tsunami.

The rhythm of life can be quick or slow; shallow, deep; wavy or calm. Sometimes we “go with the flow,” other times we fight against the undertow, aware of being pulled under, but we cannot change it, or stop it. All we can do is bob along under clear skies, or ask for a rope in the storms.

So, live in the now. Enjoy the good times, savour the great, survive the painful and live in awe of the rhythm.

 

“Forever is composed of nows.”
Emily Dickinson

BLAME

2015-09-11 10.47.22Well, I was kinda torn this month on what to base my blog on. So much going on – the election, my upcoming book launch, Brad going to a conference in Kentucky (lots to get ready for.)

Recently, I’ve been drawn to the subject of, blame. Who’s to blame, for what, when, how and why, and where and when does it end? Or does it? I’m fairly certain I can’t provide answers, but I hope the questions make us think, so here goes.

At any point along our planet’s history, someone is to blame for hurting someone else. Blacks have been oppressed by whites, aboriginals by again . . . Caucasians; the Japanese by Chinese, the Ukrainians by Russians, Poles and who knows who else. Catholics by the Church of England (namely Elizabeth I,) the Jews, by yeah, just about everybody, women by men, gays by straights, and on and on it goes.

So, here’s my question. How long does it, or how long will it take before the offended parties forgive? How long before generations who weren’t even born yet continue to feel shamed or punished for what their ancestors did? And why is it that some people don’t get any compensation, financially or otherwise, while others are able to hold their grievances perpetually over someone else’s heads ?

I like to think of myself as an enlightened, sensitive person. I’m mindful of people’s pain, and I know that telling these stories over and over again is healing for the person, and in some circumstances, a nation, but surely there has to come a time when we can put hurts and grievances to rest; when the statute of limitations runs out.

This doesn’t mean, bad things didn’t happen and others weren’t hurt, it means that I shouldn’t have to constantly be reminded that black people were slaves, and it’s all my fault. Having slaves and the way blacks were treated was deplorable! But here’s the thing. I didn’t do it. I never owned a slave. No one I knew owned a slave. Should an entire race have to continue to feel as if they did something wrong, even when they weren’t born yet? Is it really, the sins of the father? And for how long?

We institute laws, our society changes, albeit painfully slowly at times; isn’t that enough? How long should any of us keep grievances alive?

My grandparents despised each other. One set was Ukrainian, the other, Polish. Why? Because injustices and atrocities were carried out one against the other. Even though I was half Polish, I never claimed this half of myself, because for the most part I was raised by a Ukrainian side, who didn’t speak highly of Poles, (well, at least my baba didn’t.) I understand my grandmother’s hatred towards the Poles, as she was directly affected by their cruelty. I didn’t think much of them either (mostly because my father was an ass – but that’s a story for another day.)

This is how hate is perpetuated – everyone knows this. Hating the particular Poles who did unspeakable things in my grandmother’s village might be acceptable (although, it really isn’t, as we are taught to love our enemies, and do good to those who hurt us,) but to hate ALL Poles for what some of them did, is simply not the way to go.

I think when we bend over backwards to make wrongs right, that’s good, but when we have to remain bent over backwards, that’s not good. That’s when our backs break.

Now, I’m going to say something here that I KNOW will not be popular, but I’m sick and tired about hearing how the blacks were wronged. I can’t watch another movie about slaves, or read another book about whites hanging blacks. Yes, I KNOW it happened. It might have happened to someone’s grandfather, or nephew, but I DIDN’T do it, and to treat me as if I did, is the flip side of coin.

I’m sick of hearing about the plight of the Jews.  Yes millions of them were killed in WWII, but so were millions of Ukrainians, and blacks, and Catholics. I didn’t oppress the Jews, and in fact in my grandmother’s village, the Jews owned all the businesses and had all the financial power. (Baba wasn’t fond of Jews either!)

Personally, I don’t care what colour you are, what your religious affiliation, or sexual orientation, but can you PLEASE stop throwing these things continually in my face! Proud to be this! Proud to be that! How about throwing pride out the window, and simply being content to be a human being on Planet Earth?

When injustices occur, we must deal with them on a one to one basis as they happen, and stop throwing all whites or all blacks, or all Jews, or anybody, into one bucket.

There are many injustices and atrocities being carried out as I write this; Congo – the African Continent is rife with genocide, famine, rape. There’s violence being perpetrated in Syria, in Ukraine, and a thousand other places. Aboriginal rights, are finally coming to the forefront – disappearing and murdered women, no clean water, no infrastructure. These are the issues of today. Let’s begin to tackle them.

The United Church of Canada has taken full responsibility for the residential schools that destroyed families and communities. They have publicly apologized and are doing everything they can to make reparations. That’s all that can be done, but once that happens, that’s it, let’s move on and tackle other wrongs.

Just this week, Sharon Lawrence was heard saying that women don’t get paid as much as men in Hollywood. Perhaps not in the same vein as some of the other more horrific things that are going on, but an injustice just the same. Let’s fix it, and move on.

At some point, in order to move to a higher plain of existence and enlightenment, we must begin to view ourselves as “humanity,” rather than blacks, whites, gays, straights, Jews, Catholics, Christians, Muslims, and the thousand other labels we paste on ourselves. It’s difficult to live without labels, because they are identifiers of sorts, but we must stop using them as manipulative tools to shame and punish others.

To everything there is a season, and then that season must end.

Let’s be people. Let’s stop the blame game. Is it difficult to let go? The short answer is . . . yes. The long and more important answer is … we must.

I pray that one day, all wrongs will be made right, all grievances and past hurts will be put to rest. Maybe it isn’t possible, I don’t know, but we’ll never know till we try.

Peace~

NEW BEGINNINGS

2015-09-11 10.47.22I think most of us would say that in many ways, like Jews, we celebrate or at least acknowledge that September is a “new year.” While summer isn’t officially over, when the last formation of Snowbirds flies over the EX – it’s over!

School begins for many; whether it be JK, Junior High, High School or University/College, but even if we have been long out of the world of academia, September marks the beginning of routine; first days back at church, choirs, sport’s leagues, book clubs and any other programs that were placed on summer hiatus.

Personally, I’ve always looked forward to the resumption of schedules. Knowing exactly where I’ll be, doing what and when, is surprisingly comforting. I hear the shocked expletives from some of you even before I write the words – I’m ready for the oppressive heaviness of heat and humidity to be gone! I long to feel the coolness at dawn and dusk as it settles over the landscape. I want to don my little red felt jacket and breathe in the autumn air. Gone be the days of smoggy haze and sweating brow!

When I was a kid, it seemed as if Septembers were cooler than they are now. My daughter Taylor would say, “Mom, is that really true . . . did you check it out on Google Scholar, or are you just making shit up?” I might be making it up, but it’s still my perception nevertheless.

By summer’s end, I think I have a small taste of what retired folks complain about. The lines between work and play are uncomfortably blurred, and while “winging it” might be welcome sometimes, (like summer and holidays), it can get dreary. Again, I hear you, all you who are still slaving away, working for the man, but in some ways you might have the best of both worlds; scheduled weeks and unscheduled week-ends. Notice I said, “might.” At my age, there wouldn’t be anything that would entice me to go back to the grind, BUT when everyday feels like the one before it, a melancholy occurs. When there’s nothing to look forward to, well, it can get depressing.

It’s fun to relax for a while, but without purpose, one begins to feel usefulness slipping away. Then, you feel as if your days are running away. I ask myself quite often how I ever got to be 58? How did my life seem to catapult into fast forward without me even realizing it?

These days that are slipping away cause me to yearn for new beginnings. Brad says that everywhere I go, that’s where I want to be. He’s right! It’s exciting to be in new places doing new things. I call it NBS (new beginnings syndrome.) Even worse, it might mean renovating. Oh, how he hates to hear that word! I’ve been staring at my kitchen cupboards with much disdain over the past year; he knows it’s only a matter of time!

A routine is essential to good mental AND physical health. So . . . guess I’ve slacked off on my walking long enough – time to get back to it.

For all of you entering into “new beginnings,” I hope you feel refreshed, re-energized and excited to get back to it! I pray you encounter countless blessings and miracles along the way.

I especially want a shout out to Taylor who began Social Work school this year. Learning to think with your head is one aspect of life, now she’ll be moving into what I like to call the “heart world.” Put those two together, and you’ve got a very well rounded being. I’m proud of her! A special prayer also goes out to my son Matt, who is re-entering the scholastic scene. May your goals spur you on, son!

As for me, well, I’ve decided to continue my monthly blog, and I do in fact have a few things to look forward to this fall. I’ll keep you posted on that a little later.

People have been asking me of late if there will be any more books in my future; perhaps a sequel to “CROSS.” Frankly, I’ve been exploring the idea of a prequel, but it probably won’t happen this year, as I’m facing shoulder surgery. This year might bring the challenging task of learning to use my left hand and arm for everything – that’ll be new! As Gilda Radner used to say, “It’s always something!”

For the rest of us, whose days and nights are, well, not as structured, I pray for guidance in how best to spend our time wisely.

For those facing difficult tasks, my prayer for you would be to have focus, inspiration, motivation and some good old fashioned luck.

However this September has begun for you, may this fresh beginning bring peace, love, laughter, integrity and authenticity!

Happy New Year everyone!

A Year In Review

me-2-oppositeWhat began as a year of feeling lost and unfocused, transformed into an abundant oasis of inspiration, artistic grit and determination, translating into several new skills; ultimately culminating in the publishing of my first novel, “Cross.”

When I complained to my husband last August about having no direction in my life, he suggested I learn a new skill, so I took up graphic art and began painting my head off. He then suggested that I gift people with my note cards, books and greeting cards. At first I was disappointed with this notion, as “A Story Just For You,” IS a business after all, but the more I thought about it, the more freeing the idea became, and I LOVE giving gifts! With some guidance from my computer guru, (aka, Brad,) and many annoying moments of unwanted interruption (much to Brad’s dismay,) I began.

People had also suggested that I write a blog. At first I thought it was a rather narcissistic practice but quickly warmed up to that idea as well.

Then, a rather unexpected yet amazing thing happened; and perhaps I owe this all to Janice Gula Fedak, who put forth a Pay It Forward initiative on Facebook, last August, which read, “for the first five people who say, ‘I’m in,’ you will receive a surprise of some sort within the calendar year.” The caveat was that I in turn had to pay it forward to five other people. I jumped right in. It sounded like such fun surprising people with a gift! I couldn’t wait to get started!

Through that one initiative, I re-connected with Gary Dzugan, a dancing colleague from my Kalyna days, and Lilian and Oleh Perun, whom I first met in Argentina way back in 1972.

My friends Olena and Irene also said, “I’m in!” They were going to be tricky! Over the years, we’ve given each other just about everything you can imagine; cards, concert tickets, dinners, music, art . . . you name it; we’ve already exchanged it at some time or other.

At the same time this was all going on, I was also my usual retrospective self. I asked myself if I were to die tomorrow, what regrets would I have, and the first thing that popped into my head was, “CROSS.” Hmm, there was a thought! I hadn’t thought about him in years. As most of you know by now, I had begun Cross’s story over twenty years ago. Could I dare to think I could finish the story? Where would I even begin?

I hunted down my old manuscript that was little more than bits of paper filled with handwritten scrawls, some of which I couldn’t even make out anymore. Pages were filled with arrows pointing to other pages I couldn’t even find. There were entire paragraphs that had been scratched out. How would I ever make sense of it all?

Like an addict, I told myself, one hour at a time. I began sorting, reading, re-reading, and by January of the following year, I had all my old notes and basic storylines in my computer. Okay, so six months to just get the old stuff in, now what? Well, now it seemed that I had to actually finish the story, which meant researching . . . a lot! Some days, that’s all I did without writing a single word; but the words did come, and I wrote.

I have come to rely on prayer quite a bit over the last few years of my life, and so I prayed. I asked God to please help me finish the book, and the next morning, I knew where Cross was going. When I got stuck in a couple more places, I prayed again and was given further guidance.

I knew my goal for completing my pay it forward surprises was August, and I had already completed two of the four projects for my pay it forward inductees, but could I, would I finish CROSS? I kept at it every day, all day, and on July 12th, my baby was finally finished.

I won’t go through the arduous and laborious process I took editing, but needless to say, there were many longs hours spent editing. Brad, (my official editor) spent countless hours doing set up, checking open and closed quotes, while I did re-write after re-write, trying to get a sentence or paragraph, just right.

One of my most thrilling moments this year was presenting the first books to my pay it forward recipients, Irene, Olena, and my BFF, Debbie. My son, Matt, is already reading his, and my daughter Taylor and mother in law, Diana will receive theirs when I see them next week.

With great blessings comes great responsibility, and on that note, I would like to tell you a little about the group I will be donating half my proceeds to.

“BUILD-ON” is a tremendous organization supporting literacy and education in some of the poorest countries in the world; places such as Burkina Faso, Haiti, Mali, Malawi, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Senegal.

I believe that education is not only key to picking people up out of poverty, but it is also a means of alleviating economic distress, violence and crime, civic disengagement and more. According to Build-On, the statistics on illiteracy are staggering! Fifty-seven million children of primary school age have no classroom access at all.

There should be no one on this planet that cannot read and write, and Build-On’s motto is, “It’s not a charity, it’s a movement,” and one that I’m proud to say I will be supporting through the sales of Cross.

From the desert to an oasis. What a year it has been; acquiring new skills for my paintings, gifting others, writing a monthly blog, and accomplishing something that has turned out to be one of the greatest achievements of my life . . . CROSS.

So, where will this year take me? I haven’t decided yet.

Next week I will be travelling with my family, (myself, Brad, Taylor and Diana,) to visit my great grandparent’s homestead in Glenevis(50 miles north of Edmonton). From there, we’ll be taking the train through Jasper and Lake Louise, then on to Vancouver, after which I will re-assess as I always do.

I want to take this moment to thank all of my friends (new, old and recycled,) and family for supporting me through this tenuous, uncertain, amazing, incredible year; for caring enough to read my blog; for posting encouraging and thoughtful comments, and for sending positive and heartwarming messages.

To all those who are already reading Cross, I thank you! To all those who have already sent him abroad so that others might share in his amazing journey, I thank you. To all those who’ve shared in my excitement and joy, I thank you! To all those who have extended tremendous opportunities for me, I thank you.

Thank you also for helping me support literacy and education across the globe. As the adage says, and read in the style of my editor, <Open Quotes> one of us is a drop of water <comma> but together we are an ocean <ellipsis> <closed quotes>.

Friendship . . .

me-2-oppositeOne of the things in my life that has always fascinated me, is how relationships work. If I hadn’t been a stay at home mom, I might have been a therapist.

Growing up in the St. Clair-Oakwood area, most of my friends were of various ethnicities. My best friend Angela was Italian. I think I could speak English, Ukrainian, Polish and Italian before I was two.

Angela and I were best friends; I mean the very best. We spent every single day together. We took turns being in charge.  If she wasn’t bossing the kids in our neighbour around, then I was.

She taught me how to hoola-hoop; I taught her how to ride a bike, but the single greatest return on my friendship investment with Angela, was the discovery that I LOVED Italian food.

My mom once told me a story about my paternal grandmother being heartsick regarding the fact that I was not eating, and told my mom she should take me to the doctor. At first, my mom scoffed at the idea that anything could be wrong, but after a couple of nights, she noticed my grandmother was right. I refused to eat dinner, saying I wasn’t hungry.

The next night when she called me in for supper and couldn’t find me, she began scouring the neighbourhood, eventually locating me in the basement of Angela’s house, smack dab in the middle of her dinner table, eating pasta with about twenty members of her family. They didn’t seem to mind another mouth, and I was in heaven. Mystery solved. Who wanted to eat two dinners? Lol

I miss the innocent days of childhood, when you could be mad at each other right after breakfast, then be best buds again by lunch. No dissecting the problem, no delving, just carrying on.

Unfortunately, life got a tad more complicated than that.

Carol, (my good friend from high school) and I hardly see each other but when we do, it’s as if no time has passed. We re-connect without any awkwardness whatsoever, and recently I was thrilled to see her again on the occasion of her husband’s retirement. We laughed, we cried . . . it was wonderful!

I have other friendships like that too. I’m sure we all do.

Back in my teen years, there was a lot of drama within our Ukrainian community. Friendships were made and broken at the drop of a hat. This person said that behind someone’s back, then this one did that with someone’s boyfriend and so on, and before you knew it, the best of friends had become mortal enemies; which usually lasted for a week or so until they managed to patch things up again till the next time.

During this time, I began developing serious long term friendships; one was, and still is with my bff, Deb. We’ve known each other since childhood, but became real friends once we began dancing in the same group together! We had two mutual friends, one named Nadia, the other, Donna.

We were close back in the day, and most of us roomed together whenever we travelled. Nadia lives in Kingston and I’m elated to have re-connected with her this past year on social media. Sadly, my friend Donna has passed away.

After I was married, I made new friends, one of them being my friend Elaine, who I met, through my then husband George. Elaine and I were married the same year and became pregnant with both of our children at the same time. She is a wonderful woman, honest, forthright, smart and funny; a person I can totally be myself with. Being able to be that free with someone is truly a gift! We don’t agree on everything, but we never argue, and we have never had a serious disagreement. It’s a freeing relationship; easy. I hope she feels the same way about me. We don’t see each other that often either, but when we do, it’s always a treat. We are like two peas in a pod when it comes to most things, and I count her among my dearest of friends.

Then there’s my kooky friend Olena. (I say that in the most heartfelt, loving way.) In fact, it’s her quirkiness that opened my mind and heart to notions of peace, tolerance and everything as yet still unproven in the universe, being more front and center.  She is an excellent example of patience, and is one of the kindest, most decent and loving persons I know. I consider it a great privilege to be able to call her, friend. Finally, but not lastly by any means, there’s my friend Irene.

The last two relationships have not been without their ups and downs over the years. A triad can be complicated; one of us may be experiencing joy while the other two are going through some terrible time, or vice versa. It gets complicated. At times, alliances have shifted, even broken for long periods of time; but for the most part, they’ve been restored.

All in all, my friends have stayed the course with me through the worst of times, and the best.

What’s odd and terribly disconcerting is that no matter how close you grow to someone, it doesn’t take much to sever those ties.

An unkind word, a heated argument or disagreement, and friendships can suddenly and instantly be fractured. We begin to wonder whether the relationship is worth the effort; and if there’s a significant undercurrent of repressed hurt or anger, the process of severing ties and re-connecting over and over again, can get wearisome. Even if nothing of any significance has happened, sometimes people simply drift apart.

I used to imagine that when we reached our age, we’d have more time to spend together; our kids grown and gone, retirement closing in, but I have found just the opposite. My friends and I are busier than ever, and one of the things I know to be true about keeping relationships healthy is that they require time; but there are other things that erode the bonds as well.

We grow and mature at different rates, and some of us never mature; living by the adage, “It’s easy to grow old, if you haven’t grown up.”

Friendships remind me of the way one mimics a train moving; forward, then back, then forward again. With all those moving parts, there’s bound to be friction.

One of the other things I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that I don’t tolerate things the way I used to in my younger days. I don’t seem to have the elasticity, or energy I once had, to argue, debate, get angry, break apart, then reconcile.

As I’ve aged, I’ve found things once thought of as vitally important, simply aren’t anymore. I find myself wanting to be with others who’ve acquired peace within themselves; with those who fill me up, rather than deplete me.

Every so often I re-evaluate the criteria for friendship, because as the quote says, “To have a friend, you need to be a friend.”

It means that if I can’t meet with you as often as I’d like, I’ll call, (or in my case, e-mail, as most of my friends know I HATE talking on the phone!) It might mean taking a moment to say, “hey,” on Facebook, or sending a card or thoughtful gift, just to let someone know I’m thinking about them and still care.

Being busy doesn’t mean not keeping in touch. It means you keep in touch despite being busy.

After all, we’ve been told a thousand times that at the end of our lives, it won’t be working longer hours, or making more money that will have mattered, but rather time spent with loved ones and friends.

In the end, it’s really a fifty-fifty proposition. It’s partly up to me to make sure my friends know I love them, but it’s not solely up to me, and if it doesn’t seem to be worth the time or effort to do so, then it’s probably not a worthwhile friendship.

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

me-2-oppositeWhen we were younger, most of us were afraid of our parents. We were afraid to break curfew, afraid of getting caught smoking, or drinking; today, kids hide the weed.

We were afraid of our teachers; our dance instructors, coaches, and authority figures.

These fears could be positive motivators. We came home on time because we didn’t want to get punished. We completed our homework to avoid being sent to the office. We listened to our coaches so we wouldn’t get sidelined.

But what if we were afraid to be ourselves?

I was a good kid. I liked rules and boundaries and for the most part did as I was asked or told. I believed that being good and working hard would bring rewards, and when I was little, it did.

Receiving praise from my grandmother; who I revered, was reward aplenty, but once I entered my teen years, like the elder brother in the prodigal son story, rewards were not exactly forthcoming.

For years, I struggled with self-acceptance. I tried very hard to be someone other than myself. What I found was that I didn’t like myself very much, and when I was myself, I found others didn’t like me very much.

A teenager’s world is one in which rules are broken, the establishment bucked; unfortunately that just wasn’t me. People said I was uptight, and I guess I was. I believed drugs were bad, and being drunk was unacceptable (especially because I knew what living with an alcoholic was like.)

I blame my father, who personified bad behaviour. He was a clinic in how NOT to behave. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the police would be knocking at the front door, while my father was running out the back. I had first-hand experience that breaking the rules of any kind would land you in jail or worse; so I was afraid.

I didn’t smoke weed, or drink to excess, and I kept hoping that being “good” and doing all the right things would eventually grant me acceptance by my peers. I was wrong.

It’s devastating not be accepted and loved for who you are, because after all, it’s the only person we can be.

Granted, from the time I hit puberty until well into my forties, I suffered with depression and was not a happy person. We didn’t know much, or talk about depression back then. If you were miserable, it was because you were a “normal” teen. I really don’t know how much of my angst was caused by that, as opposed to my personality, but I can say it was an emotionally isolating time to be a part of a large community knowing I wasn’t liked.

Those early experiences hurt; and like phantom limbs, have continued to cause pain.

My first lesson t’ords extricating myself from fear came from a very dear friend. To outsiders he was the life of the party. He knew how to drink and have a good time. He fit in and everyone liked him. He was always with the most beautiful woman in the room; publicly he had it all.

What people didn’t know was that he wasn’t very happy. Something was missing. He never let anyone know that he loved opera, poetry and philosophical and spiritual conversation. One night we drove to the country just to watch Hale-Bop and talk.

We dated for quite a while, but it was all on the Q T. He was afraid to admit that he liked me; even to himself. One night, he turned to me and said, “Why do you have to be like . . . you?”  It crushed me, and that was the end of our romantic affiliation; thankfully not our lifelong friendship.

He was afraid others might see him for who he really was, a sensitive, loving and deeply spiritual being.

One day, years later he called, depressed and dejected. He said that he’d finally found peace, but that it had come at a great price. You see, this party guy had become a priest, and most of his friends wouldn’t or couldn’t accept that. He said he knew that they laughed at him behind his back, and that it hurt him deeply.

Some of you already know who I’m talking about. But he, like the “one that must not be named” would wish this to be private. I can see him cringing from heaven as I write this.

It can be excruciatingly difficult to give up a disingenuous life for fear that people will be unaccepting of the genuine; yet I have never personally been able to don a coat or mask. Gift, or curse?

Lesson number two. I was at university and the phone rang. It was my mom telling me that someone we knew had had a horrific accident, and was not expected to live. I thought a lot about him and what I knew of his life. Another party guy who had a penchant for, shall we say living life to the fullest? At any rate, thankfully he lived.

I’m not sure how it was that I began visiting with him while he was on the road to recovery, but on one of my visits he disclosed that the accident had made him realize what an asshole he’d been. (His words, not mine.) Quite a revelation. In this case, fate had taken away his good looks and charm and given him no choice but to become a better person. I’m privileged to call him, friend.

For most of my life I have been afraid to be fully me; mostly because it has been my experience that people don’t like me all that much. I have never felt as if I measured up to other people’s abilities or talents. I have always been the outsider. I don’t divulge this in order to garner sympathy; but to deconstruct and gain understanding.

In the past few years I’ve been inspired, mostly by my daughter, who has spent the last 21 years plowing through fear; tackling gender bias and sexual preference head on; but also by my son who has endured emotional hardships of his own. They have both taught me to embrace myself fully; lay fear aside, and live!

In this regard, social media has also been affirming. I read messages daily from people, in particular women, unafraid of letting their cellulite and baby bumps show; about the importance of nurturing and loving oneself; about acceptance and letting go of past pain and negativity.

I am making strides. After years of not singing, and without formal training, my husband and I formed The Synergistics. After years of writing, and again without a degree, I formed A Story Just For You; write a monthly blog, and continue to work on a larger project, which I hope to share with you soon.

I have taught myself graphic art and enjoy painting.

After years of isolation, I look forward to one day becoming part of a community again.

I’m finally letting go of fears that have held me back my entire life. Yes, I’m still a goody two shoes, but that’s okay; in fact it’s more than okay, it’s genuinely me.

I’ve discovered there’s a fine line between not caring what anybody thinks, and caring about what everybody thinks. Ultimately and finally, it all comes down to what I think. Better late than never, as they say.

Recently, I was inspired by a movie called Hector and the Search for Happiness. For those that have Netflix, I highly recommend watching it. There were simple and enlightening messages. For me the one that stood out was, “happiness is not comparing yourself to others.” I’m working on it!

As I continue to age, I know there will be new fears to face; wrinkles, loss of mobility, most certainly illness and death, but as long as I can fully accept myself, just as I am, flaws and all; I know I will be able to face whatever comes, and be happier for it.

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Jack Canfield

Backwards and Forwards

me-2-oppositeIf April was the month for looking back into the past, then May is definitely the month to look forward to the future.

It’s inevitably true that it is most difficult to live in the present moment. We awaken, get others going, feed pets, think about what we’re going to have for breakfast; answer e-mails; plan errands, formulate meal plans, and think about a hundred other things.

Being present and in the moment is a luxury and a gift. Striving for that illusive “I am here, right now, nothing else matters” moments are few and far between, and I daresay for most of us almost impossible to achieve.

Last month I thought a lot about my mom. April was the month of her birth and death. Each year, a great deal of that month is taken up with memories happy and sad, with May simply being the next month on the calendar. This year however, I have a great deal to look forward to in the merry month of May. My twenty-one year old daughter Taylor is graduating from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova- Scotia, with a degree in Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies. She managed a grueling six course semester (not recommended for us mere mortals) with a 3.95 GPA. As if that wasn’t enough, she worked at a café, was a server at a banquet hall, a coat check girl, and a professional hoola-hooper on the weekends.

She came to a crossroads last year, deciding on whether to pursue a masters in Sociology, (which would mainly be research and statistics) or to apply to the School of Social Work, and chose the latter. She wanted to in her own words, “make a difference.” She has tremendous people skills, empathy, an open heart, and is willing to do whatever necessary to help change this sorry world for the better. She is definitely the person that the adage “you may be only one person to the world, but you may the world to one person” was written about. I’m going to go out on not so far a limb and say that she will change the world for many, many people.

Being a parent in the sandwich generation provides a unique perspective. We can look back and view the past, and look forward into the future through our children. I must admit, it is somewhat bittersweet. Don’t get me wrong, While most of us still have a lot of life to live, our goals have mostly been achieved. We’ve had careers, whether in the corporate world, or being moms who’ve kept homes and raised our amazing children, and hopefully, we have achieved at least some of the goals we set for ourselves way back in our twenty something’s.

I look at my son and daughter and yes I’ll admit it, I’m a bit envious that they are just starting out on their paths. Like most of us those paths will be filled with excitement, joys, hardships; I hope love and marriage, and perhaps children of their own.

Awhile back I read something that asked. “If you could go back in time, what one piece of advice would you have given your younger self?” An intriguing question. I would have told myself to stretch more, to be braver and take risks. I would have told myself that yes, you can do it!

My daughter has already done these things and more. She is one of my heroes. She has accomplished more in her twenty-one years that I could in a lifetime, and she has just begun.

I am so proud of her, and on May 25th, our family will gather on the Atlantic Shores to celebrate her scholastic achievements, which are not yet done by any means, as we got word earlier this week that she was in fact accepted into the highly selective Dalhousie School of Social Work.

She will be the first person on my side of the family to ever graduate University, and I know that past and present will culminate in that moment as my grandmother and mother will both echo the sentiments of love and pride that I will express to her on that day. It will be one of those very rare, truly “present” moments.

We look backwards or forwards most of our lives. It is a unique blessing to experience life through your children’s eyes and lives. Taylor and Matthew, you have given me a totally different experience from my own, and I thank you both for that blessing and privilege. I look forward to seeing where your paths lead you, and if you look back a little, you’ll see I’m always right behind you.

Mom

me-2-opposite

April is not a month that is near and dear to my heart. It is the month my mother died, on Good Friday, on her own terms. She told me that she would not die before Easter because she knew that if she did, a Ukrainian song that she hated would be sung at her grave. Instead, she wanted a different tune sung, which could only happen if she were buried after Easter. “Christ is risen, death is vanquished, and to those in the graves he granted life.” This is the song she wanted to hear, and so she hung on through that holy week, patiently waiting for Friday to come.

My mom was a strong woman, in mind, in spirit, and in self. Some liked that about her, and some did not. She was strongly opinionated, and wasn’t concerned that others might find her opinions offensive, although she never went out of her way to deliberately hurt or offend anyone. There were many times she held her tongue when she had the opportunity to say something scathing and hurtful, because she had the wisdom to know she might later regret those comments. She rarely spoke when she was angry, and she was not angry often.

She was an optimist to the nth degree, and lived life with a sense of awe and wonder.

She loved to learn about far-away lands, and anyone who was even barely acquainted with her knew she had a passion for anything Hawaiian. Music, dance, the beaches, mountains, valleys, and its people. She saw every movie that was filmed anywhere in the Pacific and dreamed…

She loved animals, all animals; ones that couldn’t stand anyone else, ones that hissed and spit, ones that bared their teeth and bit, and others that were just plain nasty to everyone else, loved my mom. She was the original animal whisperer. She grew up on a farm naming chickens and horses, stray dogs and cats, and even ran away once with the family pig, hoping to help it escape its inevitable fate. Once on her dinner plate, she refused to eat it. She could not abide cruelty, and when she was only five, kicked a neighbour as hard as she could because he had shot the family dog.

My mom was an average student at school, but was a brilliant self- taught scholar. She read voraciously, and loved everything from history to fantasy. She was a huge “Trekkie” and loved all things science fiction. She often wished she could travel to distant stars. She had an adventurous spirit, and a genuine curiosity about . . . well . . . everything!

Her early life didn’t exactly turn out like the one she’d dreamed of . . . Pregnant at 18, followed by a hasty elopement to a man her parents despised, (and one who would never be, could never be a true husband or father.) Forced to live with a mother-in-law who hated her and called her a whore; bearing an estrangement from a father who meant everything to her, and looking after a baby she had no idea how to look after. No, it was not the life of her dreams.

As an optimist and romantic, she did the only thing she could. She divorced my father, re-established a relationship with her mother and father, and then escaped mentally and emotionally into a job she loved, and into the arms of the love of her life. Unfortunately, he was a married Catholic, and the relationship ended when he drowned on vacation somewhere in the Caribbean.

She moved in with her mom, or should I say, we moved in with her mom, and the two of us literally and emotionally “grew up” together. My mom showered me with a tactile love her mom could never show her, the lack of which she eventually accepted as a generational flaw. She reconnected with her Ukrainian roots and came back to the community she’d been raised in. She found a new life there for herself and me.

We sang together in choirs, even danced together once in a show in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was her last show after which it took several people to pull her dance boots off her swollen feet and ankles. She swore, never again!

My mom accomplished remarkable things such as becoming one of the first female bank managers in Canada, and THE first for the C.I.B.C. She became comptroller of a company with math skills she basically taught herself.

She was smart, fun to be with, a loyal friend, and a wonderful mom. Was she perfect? Of course not, none of us are. She had flaws like the rest of us. She could be unyielding in her decisions, never uttering an “I’m sorry.” She believed in being tough…always, so empathy was not her strongest suit. But I know she did her best, and I know whatever she did, she did out of love. As she matured, she gained an understanding of her own mother, just as my own maturation has gained me an appreciation and deeper understanding of her.

Growing up, my mom and I were like the Gilmore Girls, except for the best-friends part. My mom had strong parental boundaries, and I always knew she was the boss. She granted me a great deal of leeway growing up, but when I broke rules or curfews, she always followed through on whatever punishment she’d already prepared me for.

As an adult I have of course forged my own path in the world, and made decisions I know she would not necessarily agree with. There are ways in which I have brought up my children that would make her cringe. There are choices I have made that would have her shaking her head, but through it all I know she loved me, and loves me still.

I credit and thank her for instilling in me a sense of awe and wonder about our world and the ones beyond our horizons; a love of reading; my deep love for animals; my abhorment of cruelty; my sense of humour; my love of all things Star Trek; my faith in God, and many more things that if listed, would make this blog too long to read.

She had many qualities that I have not inherited, but strive to incorporate into my life. Patience, optimism, holding one’s tongue, and one of my favourites, “pick your battles.”

When my mom was in her final stages of life, I asked her if she was scared of dying, her reply? “NO! It’s the next big adventure.” I hope the adventure has far exceeded her expectations and imagination!

On the fifth anniversary of her death, my husband and I took her to her final resting place, a beautiful sacred garden on Oahu, and placed her ashes in amongst the trees and flowers she loved so much, to rest in perpetuity. We knew she was pleased when a sudden and dramatic gust of wind suddenly arose out of a calm, windless day, and subsided just as quickly.

Motria Myrna Bedry-Drake -April 5th, 1937 – April 18th, 2003 – my mom, and one of the bravest women I’ve ever met.

Christ is risen, death is vanquished, and to those in the graves, he granted life.