I know where I live

I live on Grief Island, population: one. It’s a pretty dark and lonely place with lots of shadows. The weather is inclement and unpredictable which means it’s definitely not a vacation destination.

Occasionally, people will wave to me from their boats miles from the shore of my island. I can see them waving and I can see that their mouths are moving, but the distance between us is too great for me to hear what they’re saying. Sometimes a plane will fly overhead with a banner trailing behind, “Everything Happens for a Reason!! Stay Strong!! Time Heals All Wounds!!”

I spend a lot of my time on the island aimlessly wandering around in the shadows, trying to anticipate the weather. I’ve tried to light a fire for warmth and light but as soon as it gets going, the clouds open up and the rain puts it out.

Rarely, someone will swim out to see me on the island. I know it’s a long way so I am always so surprised and delighted to have a visitor. People don’t usually stay long, which I understand (the weather, the shadows) but, even after they leave, the sun comes out for a little while.


Grief is everywhere

It’s in the mother yelling at her toddler on the subway this morning.
It’s in the very sad song that somehow creeps into my head when I least expect it.
It’s in the bookmarks bar on my computer under “baby registry”.
It’s in the face of my father when he talks about fishing with his grandson.
It’s in the cubicle at my office where I sit alone, trying not to cry too loud.
It’s in the sound of my two-year-old nephew’s voice when he sings a song to no one in particular.
It’s in the basement in a box labelled “maternity clothes”.
It’s in the mother at the mall, swaying and singing softly to the baby asleep in her lap.
It’s in a box on our shelf next to his ashes.

Mortality Madlibs

On this day, three years ago, my biological grandmother passed away. She suffered from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and passed away in her home. Six months later I met my biological mother for the first time in a crowded foodcourt at a mall north of the city I live in. During our first encounter she told me about her mother. The love was palpable. I know D misses her mother so much and I’m sad I didn’t get to meet her because life is _________.

This month has been heavy (and not for the usual reasons). Bless my poor sweet Odin, I’ve barely had any time to give him because life is _________. I’m wide awake at a completely unreasonable hour because my own father is currently laid up in the hospital after a scheduled, non-life-threatening, (but entirely gruesome) surgery on his leg. I have a tendency to worry about him more than most people in my life but I guess that’s just what love is. Not knowing how to live without a person who you love more than you can explain with words and sometimes worrying (irrationally) that the day you have to start living without them could come at any moment because life is _________. I’m trying to get my bruised heart to hope that that day is thirty years in the future because someone needs to teach a kid of mine how to fish (and not catch anything, and not care about not catching anything).

Sometimes when the reality that I will actually die someday slaps me in the face when I’m trying to sleep at night, I realize that it’s not so much that I’m afraid to die. It’s that I’m afraid that I will outlive everyone I love most. Because life is _________.

Guess who has therapy today! Me. It’s me, I have therapy today.

When do you cry?

I mostly cry at night when it’s time for bed. I crawl under the covers and try to relax and then I succumb to the weight of it all.

I cry when I think of a friend who is hurting deeply.

I cry when I accidentally listen to a sad song.

I cry in all medical spaces: doctors offices; support group rooms; at therapy; getting blood work done.

I cry when I see a deer on the side of the road that’s been hit by a car.

I cry if I think too much.

I cry at weddings, funerals, and family dinners.

Sometimes I cry to feel connected. (It’s something I’m working on.)

I don’t think crying is a bad thing.

Music, Triggers, and Katy Perry

I met with a new therapist this morning — a very smart and caring woman who I’m looking forward to working with. We talked a bit about triggers and that lead me to tell her about my first encounter with a triggering song. In the early months after Odin was born I couldn’t listen to any music at all. Capital “b” Before I tended to listen to pretty sappy emo music that could make me cry even pre-loss so pretty much everything in my catalogue was off-limits. I also didn’t want to associate any of my favourite songs or albums with the deep depths of despair I was experiencing. I was trying to protect my Future Self from triggers.

Eventually, I started listening to Top 40. But it took a long time.

One day in the fall, shortly after returning to work, I was at my desk listening to (what I thought was) a super-safe playlist of pop songs all written by the supreme goddess Sia Furler. All of the songs were fine until Katy Perry’s Double Rainbow started playing. And I started paying attention to the lyrics. And sobbing.

“You’re a one-of-a-one, a one-of-a-kind/ That you only find once in a lifetime […] You speak to me/ even in my dreams/ Wouldn’t let you go for even the highest price/ They say one man’s trash is another girl’s treasure/ So if it’s up to me I’m gonna keep you forever/ To the bottom of the sea I’d go to find you/ Climb the highest peak to be right beside you/ Every step I take I’m keeping you in mind”

I can’t even copy-and-paste these lyrics for you without getting emotional. You might be thinking, “Katy Perry? Really?” But, like grief, music is both a powerful and very personal thing. Some days I can listen to songs that other days I will find incredibly triggering. Just like some days I wake up and feel pretty okay and other days I want to stay in bed and stare at pictures of Odin with a mountain of Kleenexes at my side.

I’ve got a playlist that is a work-in-progress in case I’d like to sit and have a good release-cry someday. So far I haven’t actually listened to it in full because I’m still crying pretty regularly and at will. But I know some day I will be grateful for the work I’ve put into it. The song (“Bloom” by the Paper Kites) is actually what prompted me to write this post. It popped up on a random Spotify mix and right away it resonated with me because the lyrics are exactly what’s in my heart today. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m at a crossroads with letting go of some sadness and embracing the work of parenting Odin. (Heads up: this will be my life’s work and I’ll be figuring it out as I go.) I love the lyrics of “Bloom” because, for me, they are about the work of keeping Odin close while also carrying the sadness, loneliness, and longing of losing him.

“In the morning when I wake/ And the sun is coming through/ Oh, you fill my lungs with sweetness/ And you fill my head with you/ Shall I write it in a letter?/ Shall I try to get it down?/ Oh, you fill my head with pieces/ Of a song I can’t get out/ Can I be close to you? […] Can I take you to a moment/ Where the fields are painted gold/ And the trees are filled with memories/ Of the feelings never told?/ When the evening pulls the sun down/ And the day is almost through/ Oh, the whole world it is sleeping/ But my world is you.”

The song is very sweet and not overtly sad, which is how I eventually want to be able to look at my relationship with Odin. The song definitely got to me but, at least for today, I’m not crying about it.

2016 “Best Nine”


These aren’t my “Best Nine”, but they are nine I wanted to share. A friend from far away sent me the picture of Odin’s name spelled out in stones today and it helped me realize that since the fraught days of Christmas have passed, I’ve been trying to exist without the weight of losing Odin — attempting to have a “normal” relaxing vacation as I would have a year ago (which I suppose is an okay thing to try for). I’m learning that I need to give my grief its due time. As 2016 ends (and so many people celebrate the changing year) I can’t help but be sad to say goodbye to the year that our son was here with us. So tonight we’ll light a candle and spend some time thinking about our baby boy and what we want to do this year to honour and remember him; love him and keep him in our hearts with everything we do. (From top left: Odin’s hand print, ornament made by Angela, Odin’s bracelet from the hospital, Nana Zarnke reading Odin’s special book “The Boy Who Lost His Name” to Clara, Odin in stones from far away, the butterfly from the BFO release in September, our favourite photo of Odin with his candle, my dad’s Odin talisman, me 21 weeks pregnant with Odin.) From Instagram.