Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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They are Only Things…

The one question I have had to field constantly since Michele died is have you sold the other condo yet? The answer is no. After 25,000 why nots and a few oh it must be so hard for yous….I decided to make this a page in the book that my sister wanted me to write. One of her other wishes was the I get rid of her clothes immediately. Well, here is the story of packing her things up.

When I first started going through Michele’s things in January of 2021, it was overwhelming, and not because I was desperately sad, which I was. It was the sheer volume of the task. My sister, though I love her dearly, was a pack rat and couldn’t pass up a sale if she tried. I decided to start with her closet first. I opened it, then quickly closed it, then opened it again. What I saw in front of me was clothing Jenga. I feared if I pulled out, that I would be buried under a mountain of clothes. I gamely had garbage bags to stuff the clothes in and had a strategy of threes. Donate, keep or toss. Value Village will take things like orphan socks so that they don’t end up in land fills so I kept that in mind.

I took out the first piece of clothing and then worked for three hours straight. As I started sorting, I found so many clothes that still had tags. I put those on Michele’s bed. I continued to look at items for donation. After the first day, I had five bags ready to donate and half a bag ready for the garbage. This was when we were going through another lockdown so I couldn’t have anyone come and help.

Week after week, I would sort. I could only go once a week, and I couldn’t stay for more than a few hours. After concentrating on her closet for weeks, I decided to pack up the book case in her room using the same keep, toss and donate model. I was able to get through that in one day. I just didn’t have enough boxes to pack all of them up. They went into the living room to continue to clear out Michele’s room. If it wasn’t for the empty book case, it would have looked like I really did nothing – there was the aforementioned volume. I also had to contend with clothing at my now condo that my sister had there – and it too was plentiful.

I started just going through her makeup and threw out 11 kitchen catchers full of cosmetics. I kept numerous bottles of shampoo, toothpaste and body wash for myself and put together some packages for donation to the homeless. At one point, my cousin came over and helped me bring 28 bags of clothing to Value Village along with ten boxes of assorted other stuff like her old tapes, some records and knick knacks.

I had 1-800 Got Junk come and take out all of the old bathroom fixtures (there was a leak in one of the bathrooms and it had to be gutted). I also had them take a box of old blank video cassettes that had to be disposed of properly, a few pieces of Michele’s treasured furniture (my grandmother’s ottoman that had a holes and a little chair), old tiles and some other garbage. It ended up being a half a truck. Yet the condo still looked full.

I gave our Frousin, who is like a little sister, Michele’s nicest (and biggest) bag so that she would have something nice to remember Michele by. I gave my dear friend 11 pairs of Michele’s shoes (from both condos) and a bag that I thought that she would like. I gave my cleaning lady a bag of clothes, another gym bag packed with clothes, 10 pairs of shoes and a bag. I gave another friend another bag. I gave another one of Michele’s friends one of her bags. Four bags of clothes and toiletries went to the homeless. And still I packed.

I decided to keep all of the clothes that still had tags and put those, along with some of Michele’s remaining shoes and bags that I didn’t want on Poshmark and decided to donate the funds to the North York General Hospital Foundation in Michele’s memory and in honour of her oncologist and the nurses who cared for her. To date, I’ve sold 111 of her clothes, makeup, shoes and bags there with another 5 of my mother’s bags that Michele wouldn’t let me get rid up when we were cleaning out the closet. Last year, I was more diligent and donated $1,500 through selling 29 pairs of her shoes, 21 bags, assorted clothes and makeup. This year, I’ll only donated $500 + whatever I sell before the end of the year….I’m keeping only a handful of Michele’s bags and clothes for myself. and still I’m packing.

I packed up 55 clowns – Michele’s favourite and my least favourite. I gave away 4 and still, I pack. I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I gave away a huge bag of knitting wool and knitting needles. I packed up boxes of crafts. I gave away scrapbooking materials. My cousins, who are only in Canada for two years, took furniture and that really helped me see progress. The dining room table is gone, along with two book cases, two small tables, Michele’s mirror, highboy and dresser, two table lamps and one floor lamp. I threw out 3 large boxes of garbage, 2 garbage bags, a lamp, a medicine cabinet and assorted other goodies, and I’m still working. I have about 25 boxes that need to be donated and yes, I’m still packing. And yes, I will finish this soon, get that condo renovated and sold. I will be getting rid of most of my mother’s antiques too.

So when people ask why it’s taking so long…well, you didn’t know Michele. My cousins who took the furniture asked if it bothered me packing up her things. I answered truthfully, because I could tell that they genuinely wanted to know. They are just things, so generally no, I said. It’s the weirdest things that bring a lump to my throat. A dress that would have looked so nice on her that she never had the chance to wear – partly because she died and partly because it was buried so deeply in her closet that she never would have found it. It’s the birthday cards that she kept. It’s photos of family birthdays, photos of my mother and Michele together, forever frozen in that one moment in time….

So no, they are just things and they can be replaced. People and memories are not replaceable. And my sister was definitely not replaceable, although I would love to have a word or two with her about how I could have opened a thrift store and would have still had inventory with just her things.

I


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The Long Cold Road

Image by RHenkelmann from Pixabay

People who know me often ask where I’m off to next. As I wrote, I’ve always been a bit of a wanderer and after my sister’s death, I vowed to say yes to all opportunities. Plus, it’s great content for one of my real day jobs – DIVINE.ca (shameless plug for my website of course). So I was offered the chance to go on another media trip today…and of course I said yes. The catch was that I had to give an answer today because I leave next Friday. My next trip (and final travel of 2022) is to…DRUMROLL PLEASE…..

Edmonton, Alberta – YAYYAYAYAY! Could there be anything better than Edmonton in December? The sun will be shining. The birds with high fat content that were too dumb to fly south will be singing. I will be closer than I ever expected to the North Pole just in time for the holiday rush. Maybe I’ll even see the Northern Lights again?

I’m actually not going to see everything that the city of Edmonton has to offer. It’s for the Alberta Indigenous Tourism Gathering. The timing couldn’t be better (minus the winter part). I literally had a conversation with my friend Dwayne who works in BC with Indigenous youth about how I really need to learn more about the culture and history of this marginalized community. It is so much easier to learn in person speaking to people.

They have the usual packed itinerary for us which includes snow shoeing. If there are two things that I hate more than cold or snow, it’s butterflies and having nowhere to hide from insects. I had to deal with both of those issues in Miami and St. Kitts, so what’s a little more torture to liven up my life. Plus, I’ve never snow shoed before. I better not break my other ankle. My equally klutzy cousin has managed to do it on multiple occasions and has lived so he gave me some pointers. Plus he’s sending me off with his ski poles so that I don’t fall over. #grateful #blessed.

Saying yes to this made me feel so close to my late mother. I could literally hear her today saying the following words to me, as only my mother could, “Jill, what the EFF are you thinking? Are you stupid? What the EFF are you going there for. You’ll freeze” Next would be the exasperated sigh (from her), then I would say that I’m still going, and my mother would say, “Fine Jill. Do what you want, you will anyway.” Michele would defend me and then say to me privately, “Are you sure you want to do this?” This is why I miss them both. They had very different ways of showing that they cared – my mother with her very salty language and my sister who was no stranger to the Fbomb defending me while still doubting what I was doing.

BTW – even though my mother questioned some of my decisions in her own special way, there was no better mother out there. The other thing I can picture is calling her when I got home because I know that she would be worried and she would always tell me the same thing. “Oh, I was on that app tracking your flight – I knew when you landed. Did you have a good time?” That was my little Mummy – sugar and spice…and hopefully, hopefully, Edmonton will be nice.


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The Road More or Less Traveled

“There were so many things that I wanted to do…” my sister said with despair in her voice.

“Tell me Michele – what did you want to do?” I asked in a bid to keep her speaking.

“I wanted to travel more,” she replied, the despair in her eyes….

I remember that conversation with Michele like it was yesterday. Her time wasn’t up, but she must have known what I hadn’t accepted – that her time was coming to a close. I still wanted her to have hope, so I spoke about the places that she visited with and without me.

I’ve always been a wanderer – needing to see the world. Trying out every form of travel there is…even camping which I quickly decided wasn’t for me. I remember once having this dream of leaving Toronto and my friend telling me that it was ok if I was running to something, not from something. I always feel restless – feel the need for every day to be different. That’s what travel is all about.

Ever since my mother and sister died, the only time I feel like I used to is when I travel. I’m still sad, don’t get me wrong, but when I’m here, in my adopted city, it’s filled with memories and loss. Whenever I leave, those daily surprises that travel brings, those hidden gems, make me remember how life used to feel. Now all things feel possible, but not necessarily safe – not that I see that as a bad thing.

I know that Michele wanted me to continue to travel, and since she no longer can, I made a promise to myself to take any and every opportunity to go somewhere – anywhere the opportunity arises. This year, I’ve had the privilege of being invited on two media trips – one to Miami and the other to St. Kitts. Basically, the put the itinerary together and you go to wherever they send you with other travel writer, and yes, you write about it.

I also met a friend in Spain. I went to Mexico City for a wedding. I traveled with some other friends to Vancouver. I’ve been to Ottawa to visit my aunt four times. I’ve been to Montreal for another wedding. It still doesn’t feel like enough. I’m just saying yes to everything. If a friend invites me across the country, I’ll go. Around the world, I’ll go. Media trips – sure thing. I’ll go anywhere (well – almost anywhere).

I’ve been to 5 continents, 31 countries (some more than once), 8 provinces, 22 states, more cities than I can count, but there are 195 countries. I would like to see as many as I can without being stupid. I want to see every state in the USA, every province and territory in Canada. I know that many people don’t want to travel here or there because they have this sense of having the moral high ground. You can have that if you want, but I want to see, first hand, what the good and the bad is with my own eyes. Call it wanderlust, stupidity or whatever you want.

One of the best parts about self-employment is that I can work from anywhere as long as there is wifi. My home is always going to be Toronto (I think) but that doesn’t shut the door on seeing the world, however that looks.

My bucket list is as long as my arm, but here are my top 6 picks:

  1. Turkey
  2. Japan
  3. New Zealand
  4. Antarctica
  5. Egypt
  6. Argentina

Here are Michele’s dream trips – I’m going to go to each one, even though my dream trips are a little different:

  1. Panama Canal
  2. Atlantis in Bahamas
  3. An African safari

 

 


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Time Heals All Wounds or Does It?

I remember my mother always saying, “Remember Jill, laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.” Like every daughter, through the ages, I rolled my eyes at her. As I grow older, and have more life experience, I realize how true it is. People openly speak about mental health. Depression, OCDs, ADHD and more. I’m so happy about that – it should be an open discussion and mental health is everyone’s problem whether or not you suffer from any conditions. I’ve never had a mental illness. I’ve had about two days in my life where I couldn’t get out of bed because of grief. To be more exact, I got out of bed, and eventually went back to bed.

I know that I’m fortunate to have my mental health. But, what I do find interesting is how grief is still something that people are so uncomfortable with and it has yet to be normalized even though it is something that we all go through.

In the space of 6 years, my father, mother and sister all died. I was estranged from my father, which made the whole situation so difficult, but thanks to my mother and sister, I was able to get through it relatively unscathed. When my mother died, it felt like I was lost and that I would never find my way again, but I had my sister, Michele. She explained to me why the loss hit me so hard that there were days that I could barely breathe. “You looked after her. Sure, we had help, but you did everything else for her.” She just understood and that only comes with someone who shares your history from the beginning of your time.

When Michele died, it was different. I was her primary caregiver until two weeks before she died. When she died, I lost not only my sister and best friend, I lost my purpose – a purpose that I lost two times over with the death of my mother. We were going through a pandemic and I had to figure out my life without the support that was so important to me. The challenge with grief though is that you have a handful of people that truly want to listen. I get it, you become a reminder of the loss that grief represents past grief for some and future grief for others.

“Just let me know if you need anything” becomes the mantra of the well intentioned masses. Ok – but when I don’t know what I need and I can barely think for myself, how do I know what to ask for? “The firsts will be tough, then it gets easier” say a knowing few. It’s a nice thought, but the truth is the second and third are pretty hard too. The fourth is no easier. “At least she isn’t suffering anymore”. Yes, you nod, so true. But please, that’s still my loved one – I know that intellectually, but the grieving heart doesn’t care. “Michele is with your Mom.” Yes, hopefully, she is, but I’d like her here on Earth where she belongs. People also don’t understand the guilt that comes with being the one who is still alive.

Platitudes drift away as the months go by. I had a newish friend ask me something about how Michele died because that’s also a common question. I was telling her the story, and I could sense that she really didn’t want to hear it. I started to cry, because it was still pretty fresh. She was uncomfortable with my sadness. I got myself sorted because I know this much is true – grief after a certain period of time just isn’t acceptable. It’s almost a relief when you speak to someone new, who doesn’t know about your situation. For a few short minutes, days or weeks, you can be the person that you were BD – before death. Until they ask about your family…then it all changes and you realize that you have to face where your life is right now. AD – after the death of your loved one. Your life forever separated into those two parts.

Now before I go on, I should say that I am so fortunate. I have friends and cousins who support me. I’m so grateful every single day for them. They want me to talk about it, and encourage me to. I honestly never expected to have such a good support system. But, I still believe that as a society, we put pressure on people who are mourning to just get over it.

Think about it. You get three days off from work if your child (seriously – a child), parent, sibling or spouse dies. One day for a grandparent, cousin, uncle or aunt. I had to take vacation time to sit shiva for my mother. At a time in your life when you are barely getting over the shock of losing a loved one, you are expected to be able to resume your job.

People can go on stress leave, but they cannot properly mourn their immediate family. Someone asked me how I was feeling after my sister’s unveiling. My answer, “I feel like I really want my mother, but at the same time, I’m happy she isn’t here.” I would never want my mother to face the death of her child. Nor would I expect her to be ready three days later to resume her life.

I always think that no one ever reads this blog, that it’s my place where I can just write whatever I feel like. Happy, sad, indifferent. Then I see the people from around the world that read it. I still think of it as my place but there is a door here that is open. I hope one day to write the book that Michele always wanted me to and in some ways, each entry to this blog is a page of that book written out of order. I hope that it will help normalize the discussion around grieving.

The thing that gave me the most help with coping with my sister’s death was a book called “Surviving the Death of an Adult Sibling”. It brought me such comfort reading the perspectives of people who were on the same journey as I am because I only know a very small group of people that have lost a sibling. If you are in the same position or just want to help someone who is, here is the link: https://www.amazon.ca/Surviving-Death-Sibling-Through-Brother/dp/0609809806


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Remembering Michele

When you are grieving, dates matter. On October 19th, it will be the anniversary of our grandmother’s death, but it is also the five-year anniversary of Michele being diagnosed with breast cancer. It is one year and ten months since her death. It is almost 4 years to the day of our mother’s unveiling. This is so much harder because losing Michele is the first time in my life that I’ve had to deal with something without her.

There are so many things that I miss about Michele that we would be here all day if I listed them all, but here are just a few.

  1. Michele’s love of shopping and a deal was notorious – thanks to Howie, she was nicknamed Label. Our Boxing Day shopping extravaganzas were something that we always looked forward to. Michele would always find that little gem. One year, she found her favourite little black sequined dress. Whenever people complimented her on it, instead of saying thank you, she would proudly tell them it was $9.99 regular price $200.
  2. Michele always had an honest opinion to share whether it was shopping or life. If we were shopping, and I’d ask her how a colour looked on me, she would give me the thumbs up or a disgusted look and say it’s awful. Or she would say, don’t you know your size? You aren’t as fat as you think you are. Another time, we were on a trip to Israel and let’s just say she thought I exaggerated about how high maintenance my friend was. She told me that I was right, and on a particularly bad day with said friend, she told her off and said friend said, well I’m sorry if I embarrassed you. Michele then proceeded to say, as only she could, “Oh you didn’t embarrass me, you embarrassed yourself.” I miss her candor – you never had to guess if she liked you or she didn’t.
  3. Michele’s love of shopping was only matched by her love of junk food. Our treat queen didn’t discriminate between cookies, cakes, candy, or pie. She always had a candy drawer. She was also generous in sharing if you didn’t ask. My mother hounded Michele constantly for candy. Michele would give her an exasperated sigh and then slap licorice, jujubes or whatever the treat of the day was into her hand. My mother would invariably find her candy hiding spot and eat all the orange and red candy and my sister would open the drawer and see just the hated yellow and greens left. Michele would freak out – my mother would laugh, and all was right with the world.
  4. Michele was always protective no matter how sick she was. I’m a weirdo magnet and Michele sometimes had to step in. One time, we were coming home from an appointment at Princess Margaret Hospital when I felt a nose in my hair. Michele gave the weirdo in question the dirtiest look, pulled me out of the way and let out an exasperated sigh. She was tiny but tough. Whether she was my bodyguard or just my confidante, I always felt protected knowing that my big sister had my back…and the back of my head.
  5. Michele always looked tidy. She always was well dressed. Even more fascinating was how easy she was on her shoes. Her hundred or so pairs look like they have never been worn and her bags were equally pristine. She even fell with grace. One time I heard what could only be described as a light tinkling like bells, and then I heard Michele say can you help me up, I fell. I had no idea – only Michele could fall without a tell-tale thud.
  6. Michele showed true strength and had a great outlook on life. She handled cancer the way she handled everything – in a forthright, unselfish, dignified way. From the time she found out that she had metastatic breast cancer to the time that her life ended, she always had hope. When she found out that she would lose her hair, she wore a wig that she picked out with Gail. When she felt sick, she still pushed herself to do things. We traveled, we went to plays, she went out with her friends. Although cancer was part of her life, she never let it overtake her life. She never complained and in the most important ways possible, she was my mother’s daughter.
  7. Most of all, I just miss having my big sister. I took care of her physical needs, but she took care of me too. I know that she asked people to look after me when she died. It was typical of Michele to put others before herself and to consider my needs first. I said this before, but she knew that when she died, and I lost my immediate family, that although I may have a place to live, my heart has lost its home.

When I lost Michele, I lost all of my remember whens….I never knew a life without Michele in it – she was my oldest sister and the keeper of all the memories and our history. She remembered everything from me coming home from the hospital, things that we laughed about as children and things that we cried about as adults. Her loss is the first thing that I have had to do without her.

 “The enormity of the room whose door has quietly shut” describes how someone who is grieving feels. You walk into the lives of these people who have touched your own, like Michele. But when that door shuts, you can never walk through it again.

I don’t know if my sister realized how much space she took up in our lives and hearts. But now, although mine is filled with grief, it is also filled with love for my sister’s memory. With my sister’s death, I’ve lost my safe space BUT I know what she would have wanted for me. It is the same thing that my mother told me to do when she lay dying of the same disease that took Michele. Live your life she would say. I promise to do that for you Michele, to remind people that your life mattered and to carry you with me wherever I go.


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A Card from an Angel

I’m just going to go ahead and say it – I hate my birthday. I have for most of my life. I could never put my finger on it. Maybe it’s because I was a summer baby and birthday parties just didn’t happen for us. Maybe because I spent time at camp and it just wasn’t a big deal there. My mother and sister were both dismayed by my birthday hatred.

Now that they are gone, birthdays seem like ever more of a chore to me. People try to make it special but without the person that gave birth to me and the sister who was there for me my whole life, I just don’t really want to celebrate. I don’t know if it is because they can’t celebrate, so why should I be able to or if it just doesn’t feel special anymore.

The first birthday after my mother died, I cried the entire day. My sister tried so hard to make it special for me. She took me for high tea – I cried non-stop from the moment we left the house to the time the tea was over. I told her that our mother would be flattered, and Michele looked at me, and shook her head and said, “No Jill, she wouldn’t.”

I cried the first birthday that after my sister died too. I know that she would have hated that, but it’s just how it is.

Tonight is the eve before my second birthday without Michele and the fifth without my mother. I can tell you that I’ve been crying for hours and I’m totally fine with that BUT because something incredible happened.

I’m very organized, but when it comes to stupid things, I have a tendency to procrastinate. Michele bought me a smoothie blender a number of years ago. It sat, unopened, in a box at the condo that I’m packing up to sell. I decided to bring it to my home and open it today, the day before my birthday. As I took the box out of the bag to open it, a card fell out. It was a birthday card for me from Michele. It was one that I had never seen before. I opened it – and it was by far the dumbest card that I’ve ever seen BUT I will cherish it forever – bad donut jokes and all.

Michele always wanted to be the first person to wish me a happy birthday. Somehow, even beyond the grave she succeeded and I love her for it.


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The Seasons, the Ocean and the Star – Happy Birthday Mummy

There is a reason, a season, a lifetime for friendships, at least they say that there is. You have a friend for a reason. The one you go to movies with, the other who is perfect at a party or yet another that is willing to try anything and pushes you to do the same. Some friends will last forever – they are your lifetime friends. Some are meant to be in your life for shorter periods. Sometimes there is a falling out or sometimes, you mean to call and too much time goes by or you simply have drifted apart.

Grief has a an obvious reason – the death of your loved one. Many people believe in a season for grief meaning you have a window where you can fall apart and after that you are expected to be the same person you were before the grief event took place. The reality is that grief is a lifetime and the seasons of grief are those windows of your grief journey when it becomes more or less painful. It is ever present though.

The same way the ocean ebbs and flows, so does grief. At the beginning, it is tumultuous and unpredictable like a stormy sea. At times, it is more calm, and manageable, but ever present like when the seas are relatively calm, but there are small ripples in the water. Like ocean currents, grief changes, but always comes in waves.

Lately, my grief has been more focused on my mother. I miss my sister dearly, but have missed my mother’s humour and savvy. The longer she’s been gone, the more I realize how much I still had to learn from her but in some ways, when I complete something, I can hear her steering me to those calmer seas that I crave. My mother was the most powerful presence. My sister was more reserved – more of a north star used to direct us versus being the person that would rock the boat.

My mother’s birthday is on April 15th. With that comes the waves of grief. I won’t be able to celebrate with her or just celebrate her in general. I won’t be able to buy her the ridiculous cake with the big flowers that she loved so much. She always cut a piece with the biggest flower. Once she finished that piece, she would start cutting little pieces off of the end. Cake was her favourite food group and as much as I hated that damn thing, I miss seeing her glee over her birthday dessert.

When the waves of grief are smaller, I laugh thinking about some of the things that my mother pulled. She had no shame. I think of her voice on the phone when she’d leave me a message. It was almost always this same, “Hi Dayo. It’s your mama calling. Where are you? Bye.” I miss her spirit and her smile. I miss being able to ask her a question with the confidence that she would almost always have the answer. She was brilliant.

I know that there are days when the swells of grief may feel like they will be too much. In those difficult days, I remind myself that my mother went through grief too, and she did what we all have to do. She survived and she lived her life. I allow myself that moment though. She deserves it.

I’ve always felt a pull to the ocean, having spent my childhood there. The poem, Sea-Fever by John Masefield reminds me, not just of my love for the ocean, metaphorically, my mother, but the star to steer the ship by – my sister:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.


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Behind the Pink Ribbon: October 19th, 2017

I remember the words like they were yesterday. I was sitting in the emergency room at North York General Hospital with my sister. She was angry with me for making her go. Her arm was swollen and she showed me, so I immediately said that we needed to get it checked out. She sat down with me after speaking with the triage nurse. I said, “So, do they have an idea of what it is?” I naively thought that the universe wouldn’t be cruel enough to give my sister a major illness. She looked at me, and said matter of factly, “I have breast cancer.”

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I immediately denied it, saying “That’s not true.” I realized, in horror, that it was. I remembering sobbing. I was unable to contain the grief I felt in that moment. It was the worst news possible, my mother was also dying of breast cancer. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn’t stop crying, and my sister needed my support.

“How long?” I asked. She knew what I meant.

“I’ve known for a while. A few months maybe.”

“And you didn’t tell me or go to a doctor.”

“No,” she whispered.

“Is it because you were scared?”

She nodded unable to speak.

“I’m scared too, Michele, so scared. But I’m here, and I’m not going to go anywhere. We can’t tell Mummy until we know everything.”

She nodded in agreement. I proceeded to cry some more, still not able to control myself. I literally cried for hours. Michele was shocked at how broken I was over this. Although we all had our moments, I usually saved my tears for sad movies, or for my worry over my mother’s illness. Never in front of my mother of course, I only let her see me smile, or the odd time, at a doctor’s appointment, see my worry, although I learned to control that too and focused on being her advocate. I was her primary caregiver – although I had help with the day to day with the most wonderful “ladies”, I went to all of the medical appointments. I ran my mother’s errands. I handled her finances (mostly just doing the legwork – her mind was a steel trap). I stayed with her for hours in the hospital. But, I just couldn’t wrap my head around this moment.

I couldn’t face the thought of losing my mother, but as sad as that made me, my sister’s illness devastated me. Losing your parents, although hard to bear, is natural. Your siblings are supposed to be there for you in your old age. In those moments, my unassuming sister finally realized how important she was to me. I realized that life would never be the same. Michele said, “It’s tragic.” I couldn’t speak, the lump in my throat was so large, so I just nodded. There was a lot of nodding.

As the clock struck midnight, the day gave way to October 19th. A sad day in our family. It was the anniversary of our beloved grandmother’s death. About an hour into the new day, Michele was finally called in to be seen. She looked at me, and said, “You aren’t coming in yet.” So, like a child, I stood outside of the exam room, mindfully doing what I was told. I knew that my sister was angry with me. She was angry because I was making her face the truth. She could no longer deny that she had cancer. I was shaking, because I knew that the ER doctor was going to confirm our worst fear. I heard him say to my sister, “You know that the news isn’t good, don’t you?” She simply said, “Yes.”

As he walked out of the exam room, he looked at me, and said, “You made her come in?” I said yes. He then said, “You did a good thing.” In that moment, I didn’t think so. It felt like Pandora’s box was opening, and the truth was too much to bear. I went into my sister’s room, and we looked at each other.

She said, “I’m going to fight.”

I said, “I’ll be there for you, every step of the way.”

And then, I broke down again, not realizing that there could be any tears left, and said, “Oh my god, how can we do this to Mummy?”

My mother had been through so much, and finally had a bit more energy. She was bedridden, but brave, and funny and herself. I adored my mother. Admired her. My sister did too, but as she always said, I was a suck up when it came to my mother. I was “the baby”, like it explained everything. No matter how old I was, my mother still introduced me to her friends as, “And this is the baby.” I’d smirk and Michele would roll her eyes….but….

I was the one that my mother relied on the most, particularly with her health. I could deal with doctors. I took the time to learn every facet of her illness. I fought for her. I was her voice when she was too tired to speak. I wouldn’t let the medical system write her off. Caregiving and advocating for my mother was the greatest thing that I thought I would ever do.

I read my mother’s charts, eliminating the scary information that no one wanted to hear. The doctors glossed over the facts with her, not delving too deeply. When I read her charts – growing up and hearing medical terminology my whole life helped – I knew how bad it was. She would ask, of course, what the charts said, so I would read her portions – only those portions that gave her the information that the doctor’s gave – my mother knew all of the same terminology that I did and more, having worked in my father’s office for so many years. I was always so careful not to mention how broken her body was, because I didn’t want to break her spirit too. My sisters told me that they didn’t want to know what I knew. What could I do? I had to keep it to myself. In that moment (yes, I know that I’ve said it a lot), I knew that I would have to do the same for my sister. There would come a time when I alone would know the secrets that she didn’t want to hear about her illness.

We left the hospital with an appointment in hand with a surgical oncologist. It was around 2:30am. When we walked in the door, I bent over a chair and sobbed again. My sister tried to comfort me, but she was exhausted. We slept on the sofas together in the living room. She was afraid to be alone and I was afraid of what would happen if I couldn’t see her. I tossed around all night – too afraid to close my eyes. She slept mostly. She told me to go to work the next day. I was supposed to go to my mother’s, like I did almost every day. We agreed that I would go, and that I would hold it together.

I remember when I walked in, I put a big smile on my face before I saw my mother. She smiled, her big beautiful smile. I held her hand and she asked why I looked so tired.

“No reason Mummy, I just didn’t sleep well. Work was busy, the usual.”

“Dayo – my Dayo, you are doing too much. You need to take care of yourself.” (Dayo was her pet name for me).

“I’m good Mummy, don’t worry about me. Save your energy for you. I’m ok.”

Only I wasn’t. How could I be? But, if you have ever been a caregiver, you know that there are days that you will be. And days that you won’t. It all depends on the people that you are caring for and their test results. You begin to live your life in 3-month increments – from CT Scan to CT Scan. If the results are good – you feel elation. If the results are bad – then you feel despair only you can’t show it. Then you leave the appointment, look at your loved one and say, “The test results don’t account for everything. You are still here. You’ve got this.” Inside, you know that’s not true, but outside, they need to believe you. So you walk with them or push them in the wheelchair and you give them a reason to believe what you are saying, whether you yourself believe it or not.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Get checked out so that nobody has to have a night and a day like October 19, 2017 and so many days and nights before and after that. And remember that behind the walks and the pink ribbons, that there are stories of real people. One of those people was my mother, the other my sister. Their lives deserve to be remembered and so do the lives of so many others.


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Mid-Life Crisis

Photo by Harry Cunningham on Unsplash

Someone that I know had their 50th birthday this year. I asked, in a not-so-serious way if he had a mid-life crisis to go with said special birthday. His answer – daily. While I don’t believe that is the case, I do know that it made me think about why some people have them, and some people don’t. It’s not a good or a bad thing – just something that I always find interesting.

We all know the clichés when it comes to men and women and their respective mid-life crises. Men trade in their SUV’s for sportscars that they can barely get into or out of. Depending on their budgets, the cars range from orange Corvettes on the low-end to lime green Lamborghinis on the high end. The obnoxious colours a mystery. Usually, in addition to their cars, they have done a trade in of another kind. I live in an area where I often see men with canes with their 27 year-old girlfriends. Sometimes, on a rare occasion, and I have seen this, it really is a love match, but that’s 2% of the time.

On the other hand, women who have hit that very same crisis have traded in their button-downs for leopard prints. Hey, I’ve been a fan since my 20s, I peaked early, I get it. They also officially enter cougardom, using cringe-y phrases like “let’s go dancin'” – apparently, in middle-age, you lose the “g” at the end of words. Sometimes, it’s “I gotta be me” – again, grammar goes out the window – words are lost, and the English language suffers. Said woman then goes on the prowl at places like STK and other assorted places where the boys are.

Still others moan about the best years of their lives being over and wonder, what the meaning of life is. Existential crisis, mid-life crisis, it’s all the same. I asked some of my friends about their own mid-life feelings. One said “I just don’t care” (a good friend of mine said this, and I believe her). A guy friend of mine who is of that special age just said to me, I still think of myself as a kid. Happily married, he isn’t into shall we say douche-y cars and women less than half his age. Yet another friend told me it was because he didn’t fear death and he thinks that things go downhill at 70 – although that isn’t always the case – so he wants to enjoy his best years.

I’ve thought about why I won’t have a mid-life crisis of my own. Part of it is because of my experiences. My sister, for example, died at 55. That means her mid-life was 27.5 years of age. My mother lived to be 78 which makes her mid-life 39. My Uncle Max, our reluctant family patriarch lived to be the ripe old age of 102 (give or take a few years). He played 9 holes of golf a day until he was 97.

In a convoluted way, what I am trying to say is that none of us know what or when our mid-life will be. We don’t have that mirror into the future. I don’t know if I’ve passed my middle age in my 20’s or if this is my mid-life. When I mused to a friend who thinks more deeply about things than I do, he said that the reason that I’m not having one is that for the last few years, my life has been so much about other people, that it was never my own and that now is a time to start it.

I think about aging, of course. I look in the mirror and sometimes, I stick my tongue out at myself because I don’t like what I see. I hope that I just age gracefully, and more than one person told me to get botox or fillers or other procedures. I’m just not into that – but if that’s your thing, go for it. One of the bonuses is that you also don’t care as much about what other people think of you – there are some benefits for sure.

Really, the crisis is that we fear is that our lives will end and that we won’t have ticked all of the boxes that we think that we should have and that perhaps, our lives won’t have meaning. But, I also think that we need to realize how much we have done before we hit that special age that we all think of as mid-life and how much there is to come after. Mid-life means that you have life, not that life is over. There are still things to discover and those boxes left to tick and sometimes you will find what you are looking for right under your nose.

I’ve mentioned this before, but there was a day, a very difficult day, when I allowed myself to cry in front of my mother for the one and only time during her illness. It was the day we told her that my sister had cancer. I knew just how bad my sister’s prognosis was, but kept it from my mother and told her that Michele would live. But the question that I asked in that moment was an all-encompassing “What am I going to do?” Her answer was simply that “You’ll live your life.” I knew then, that she knew more than she was letting on, but I carry those words with me every single day. Not just the words but how she said them. The way she looked at me so emphatically. And that is the best advice that anyone ever gave me.


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You Know You Spend Too Much Time…

…around death when the person that you are ordering the monument from remembers you and the special order that you did for your mother. As I was ordering my sister’s monument, he mentioned how unusual it was; meaning the stone that I ordered. When my mother died, my sister and I wanted something a little different, but you can’t just order whatever you like in some places. I had to go pick the stone out by myself, but I called Michele after figuring out what I wanted to do. I wanted the blue granite from one sample, the carving of another, the shading of yet another, and a tree of life from, yes another stone.

The gentleman felt so badly for me, that he gave me the same price for Michele’s stone as he had for my mother’s. The whole process was so familiar, it took less than 20 minutes. A whole lifetime is summed up on that stone. The day my sister was born, the day that she died. But, there is no in between. Just a few words saying who she was to me, to the other people that loved her and a 5-7 word epitaph. Nothing more – nothing less. Nothing to describe the perpetual ache that I feel not having the person that I trusted the most to confide in. Nothing to describe how brave my sister was. Nothing that completely says who she was.

Sometimes, when I think of my own time, which is rare, I think about what my own 5-7 words be. Then, I realize that it won’t matter, to me at least. It’s the before, not the after that matters in life. After is the “what if” that we all fear because no one can tell us what happens. It’s about faith that there is something better for some, and acceptance that there is nothing else for others. I’m somewhere in between. Just like life is about that in between. There was a poem that my cousin shared about this ]a few years about when her own brother died. It stayed with me – just thinking about the years for my sister 1965-2020. With only 5-7 words to describe that in between – the life that she led

I went for dinner tonight with someone who mentioned that I haven’t blogged in awhile. If he is reading this, thank you – I’ve decided to write tonight because thoughts of that in-between for my sister have been weighing on me and I needed a push to talk about it. Not just because I miss her, but because it’s that in-between that I miss. The way that she understood situations. I can’t fit that on her headstone. The way she could read people. Not enough room. But my heart has the room that I need for those memories. My sister will never be far from it. Even though she is at the end, not the in-between