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Remembering The Things That Matter

6 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Walking down the aisle with my brother

This week, my first wedding anniversary came and went without me really posting anything about it, other than a status update on Facebook, in which I tagged my beloved.

For about three months before my wedding I was fraught with stress. Had I sent out the invitations with enough time to spare? Would we get a DJ? Would the venue be OK? Where would I get shoes that were comfortable?

I worried about whether a wedding would be too overwhelming for a child with autism. I had a falling-out with the lady who was supposed to make the cake. We couldn’t afford to pay for decor and we hoped that what the venue was providing would be sufficient. My intended and I had silly little arguments over nothing.

My bridesmaid, speaking from the comfort of her decade-old marriage, assured me that no-one would care about the details. When people looked back on our wedding, they would not remember what colour the napkins were or the fact that I hadn’t been able to pony up the cash for chair covers.

To tell the truth, I barely remember those details myself. The stuff I do remember seems so much more important. Like the fact that my friend Fran, who was doing the music for the ceremony, arrived a few days in advance and along with my mom, helped me wrap the guest favours and take care of final details. Or the fact that her friend, who was accompanying her to the wedding, arrived two nights before and in spite of  being a complete stranger to me, cheerfully rolled up his sleeves to lend a hand.

I remember the fantastic respite worker who took charge of the kids for the day and helped them have a wonderful time. And my maid of honour and bridesmaid, who showed up on my wedding day and whisked me off to get my hair and makeup done.

I recall the humour in the fact that the only time Jehovah’s Witnesses have ever come to my house, it was on my wedding day. And how funny it was when various people had to take turns doing up the buttons on my dress.

And I remember – with such fondness and love – walking down the aisle on the arm of my brother, who looked so proud (and possibly relieved to finally be marrying me off) as he ushered me in to my future.

Finding The Path Of Healing

18 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 18 – Open a book: Choose a book and open it to a random page and point to a phrase. Use that phrase to get you writing today. Free write for 15-20 minutes without stopping.

My random phrase comes from a book called Watermelon, written my Marian Keyes – one of my favourite chick-lit authors. The sentence I pointed to with my eyes closed was strangely appropriate. “I was no longer carrying my humiliation like a weapon.”

I am a natural-born late bloomer. I have done many things in life after most people: I was 24 before I selected a career, my first child was born when I was 33, and I finally got married at the ripe old age of 41.

Now that I am old and wise, it doesn’t bother me that I tend to lag behind other people in some respects, but when I was in high school it was a great source of embarrassment for me. Socially speaking, I was streets behind most of my classmates. I was not exactly ostracized by my peers, but I was definitely not one of the “cool kids” either.

I got invited to parties from time to time, but I always felt so awkward when I got there. While my peers were laughing and chatting effortlessly, or retreating to private corners to snog their boyfriends, I was sitting by myself trying, and failing, to look as if I belonged. I could only really enjoy social gatherings if my best friend was there too. My best friend was the one who stopped me from drowning completely, and bless her heart, she is still my best friend today.

I had a couple of half-hearted boyfriends as a teenager, but compared to my classmates, I was geeky and socially inept. At an age where people are desperate to fit in and be accepted by their peers, it was painful. I was an unhappy teenager, although I never really admitted that to anyone.

When I graduated from high school, I went to a university 1400km away from my hometown. I figured that being among people I didn’t know would allow me to turn myself into the person I thought I wanted to be. I had always felt slightly inadequate and I didn’t like myself very much, and I wanted more than anything to reinvent myself.

Even though I made friends at university and had some kind of reasonable social life, the truth was that I was lonely. Never really a party girl, I tried to shoehorn myself into a party lifestyle because that’s what college students did, and I wanted so badly to fit in. And so I found myself immersed in a social group who were a laugh to be around, but I yearned meaningful contact. In those days before the Internet made the world a smaller place, I was not able to confide in my best friend. When waves of depression hit me, I had to get through them alone, with no-one to talk to.

And so, when a man started paying attention to me in my second year, I was flattered enough to fall for him. I do not want to share the details, but I will say that the whole thing was an absolute disaster from beginning to end. I was immersed in a situation that I had no ability to deal with.

The effect on my life was catastrophic. It was as if my future had been mapped out for me, and then a tsunami had come along and wiped everything away, changing the landscape of my life.

I floundered in the wake of this personal disaster. I completely lost all sense of who I was and what I wanted. I vacillated between depression and anger, and I blamed myself for having allowed my life to veer so far off the course I had planned. I drifted for a while, literally and metaphorically, and eventually washed up in a career, albeit one far away from what I had originally wanted.

One day, after having carried around the baggage of my past experiences for twenty years, I looked around me at all I have today. I have a solid job and my dream to be a paid writer is starting, in small but definite increments, to come true. I can run half-marathons in spite of not having a “typical” runner’s body. I managed to move halfway across the world and establish myself in a place I had never been to. I have a husband and two miraculous children. Although I make my mistakes, I think I’m doing well as the parent of a child with autism.

That tsunami that had swept so much away also created a new landscape with new paths for me to follow and new goals to shoot for.

This realization, when it hit me, was like a breath of fresh air. Although some scarred remained, I was no longer carrying the humiliation like a weapon.

For the first time, I felt that I owed it to myself to try to heal.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kudumomo/3140538425/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

A Letter To My Younger Self

10 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 10 – Dear 16-year-old me: Write a letter to yourself at age 16. What would you tell yourself? What would you make your younger self aware of?


Dear 16-year-old me,

I am writing to you from 26 years in the future. I am 42 years old, and a lot has happened in the last two and a half decades. The world is a different place now, and I have grown up a lot since I was – well, you.

I don’t want to tell you too much about the next few years of your life, because as painful as some of it will be, it wouldn’t be right for me to change it. I am who I am today because of some of that stuff. You have to live through it, knowing that you will survive your worst times and come out stronger for it.

However, there are a few things you should know, that will make it a bit easier for you to navigate the next 26 years.

1) You are not fat, no matter what anyone tries to tell you. You are a beautiful young woman, and this body image problem that you have is just going to cause problems for you later in life.

2) When you go to that birthday party that’s coming up and drink a truckload of beers, Mom will smell your boozy breath from a mile away when she picks you up. Especially when you open your mouth to make lame excuses for why you’re tripping over your own big toes.

3) When they bring in the school’s first computer later this year, pay attention to it and learn how to use it. Computers will become a massive part of your life so you may as well start now.

4) That hairdresser appointment you have next week? For the love of God, cancel it. Believe me, you do not want a perm. It will take the phrase “big hair” to a whole new level.

5) If you meet a good-looking guy in the hallway of the medical centre, don’t talk to him. He’ll just cause trouble for you. Don’t fall for his flattery.

6) You’re allergic to mangoes. Like, seriously allergic. If you avoid mangoes, you will avoid anaphylaxis and a trip to an Israeli hospital where they’re very nice but don’t speak good English.

7) Things will happen during your University years that will be very hard on you. You will not be as alone as you will feel, and if you ask for help, you will get it. Don’t try to go through it alone.

8) Just because one therapist is mean and judgmental, that doesn’t mean they will all be like that. Don’t try to deal with depression alone for twenty years before you get help.

9) Find out as much as you can about autism and take your first child for screening as soon as you see the signs. The doctor will try to get you to wait for another year. Don’t listen to him. Threaten to sit in his office gathering dust until you get a referral.

10) Post-partum depression is a terrible, scary thing, especially when it goes undiagnosed for over a year.

11) Take care of your feet. You’re going to be getting plenty of use out of them. When you really get into the running, your feet will not be your most attractive feature. Wear your callouses and blackened toenails with pride.

12) You don’t realize yet that you are a runner. When your inner runner emerges, go running with Dad every opportunity you get. Later in life, you will hold onto the memories of those runs like treasures.

13) You deserve happiness, and you deserve to be treated with true respect. Don’t settle for anything less.

14) Enjoy your sleep while you can. When you become a mother, you will yearn for it.

15) In a few years’ time you will go to Israel. It will be one of the best times of your life and you will meet some people who will become lifelong friends. Enjoy it and store as many memories of it as you can.

16) The degree you do at University will have no relation to your eventual career. That does not matter. The degree will be useful to you in other ways.

17) Spaghetti mixed with ketchup does not make a gourmet meal, and you will get some very strange looks if you make it for your parents as a special treat.

18) Don’t try going on antidepressants without the guidance of a therapist. As the depression lifts, some other feelings will emerge that will seem scarier. You will need help managing those feelings.

19) The person who has been your best friend since you were ten will still be your best friend when you are 42. Your friendship will survive a rift and you will be there for each other through many major life events. Treasure this friend, because she really is a gem.

20) Life is too short for bullshit. Don’t bear grudges, don’t procrastinate, and make the most of every opportunity you have.

21) Take care of your teeth. When Mom lectures you about flossing, she’s right.

Enjoy your youth, Younger Me. It will be gone all too quickly, and you want to have some good memories of it to carry you through the darker patches of your life.

I’ll see you in 26 years’ time. Enjoy the ride!

Regards,

Older You

Journey–Part 2

24 Feb

On Wednesday I started chronicling my recent trip to South Africa. I intended to put everything in one post, but as it turned out, a lot of activity was packed into my ten days there. This is an account of my last few days.

2012-02-15 14.27.52Wednesday: I have been looking forward to this day ever since I arrived. My friend Jenny picks me up and we spend the day together. Why am I so excited about this? Because Jenny and I have been friends since we were ten. We live far away from each other now, but something as paltry as distance isn’t going to change the fact that she is my best friend and always will be. We go out for coffee, then take a walk around the bird park. We watch a live bird show – part of it, anyway, before the rest of it is cancelled due to rain. After that we head indoors and have lunch together. It is a great day, one that concludes with us resolving to have a joint 50th birthday celebration in some exotic location. We have a few years to nail down the details.

Thursday: Mom and I head out early to do the shopping we were going to do on Tuesday. We buy presents for my boys and food for the memorial that is planned for tomorrow. Then Mom drops me off at a shopping mall, where I have arranged to meet up with my friends Faye and Njabulo. I used to work with Faye and I was in Toastmasters with both of them. We spend hours drinking coffee and talking. Eventually we go our own reluctant ways. I do a bit of shopping before meeting up with my cousin Philippa, who is visiting for a few days from the coastal town of Knysna that is now home to her. We have coffee, do more shopping, and then head home to have dinner with Mom.

2012-02-17 15.11.45Friday: My brother arrives at a prearranged time, and the three of us drive out to my aunt’s house. We have a small private memorial planned – just a few us of us, all family. With my brother protectively carrying the ashes, we go up the hill behind her house. My brother says a few words that bring smiles and tears to the rest of us, and then we scatter the ashes under a tree – the same tree where both of my grandparents were scattered many years ago. My aunt’s final resting place is absolutely gorgeous, and the rain has held off for this occasion. We go back to the house and share memories. This is just the kind of final farewell that my aunt would have wanted.

Saturday: My friend Caroline picks me up and we go out for brunch. I haven’t seen Caroline for about twelve years and she looks just the same. We have a great time catching up, and then she comes back to the house to have tea with me and Mom. After she leaves, Mom and I go out for lunch with my brother. It will be a long time before I see him again, so I am glad of this opportunity. When Mom and I get back to the house, my aunt and cousins come for tea. I finish my packing, and then Mom and I tearfully say goodbye to each other before my cousins drop me off at the train that will take me to the airport.

I returned to Toronto on Sunday afternoon, feeling jetlagged, exhausted, and filled with the sadness that comes from leaving behind a grieving mother. I wish I could split myself in half. I am so happy to be back here, with my husband and children. But I wish I could have spent more time with Mom. I feel like she still needs me, and I hope she knows that even though I am far away, I am always at her side.

Goodbye To A Lady

2 Feb

To my beautiful Aunt Ann,

For months, I have been telling myself that I would write you a letter. The Internet never made its way to the charming old farmhouse that has been home to you for your whole life. Since I moved to Canada eleven years ago, we have kept up with each other’s lives through my Mom, the occasional phone call, my two visits home, and the odd piece of snail mail.

When I got married last year, you painted me a picture. A bright, beautiful picture of flowers. It brightens up my mantle and I think of you every time I look at it. And although I sent you a card to say thank you, I promised myself that I would write you a proper letter, full of news and anecdotes. Maybe I would put in some pictures of my boys, the great-nephews who filled you with joy even though you never met them.

Now you are gone, tragically taken from us while the letter in my head remains forever unwritten.

When Mom called in the early hours of this morning to give me the news, I could not believe it. You have always been such a big, influential part of my life, and I cannot help wondering if my world will ever be able to adjust to your absence.

You were, to me, the epitome of a lady. Stylish and elegant, you were utterly beautiful inside and out. The many wonderful qualities about you will never be forgotten: your warmth and kindness, your generosity, your patience, and of course, your second-to-none baking skills.

Memories of you are playing in my head like a slideshow.

…the countless times you helped me prepare for my piano exams, showing me with infinite patience where I was going wrong and applauding what I was doing right.

…the times I walked around your large property with you and your dogs, helping you feed the pigeons.

…the times I played checkers with Granny when she was still alive, while you tried out a sewing experiment at the other end of the table.

…the way I admired the garden that you put so much love and care into.

…the lazy summer days I whiled away on the hammock in your front yard while you happily pruned roses nearby.

…the times I ate the shortbread that only you could make just right, that you dipped into melted chocolate.

…the little “Happy Birthday” music box you had, that you would play over the phone to whoever was celebrating a birthday.

…the time you took me and two of my cousins to the lion park.

…the time you tried to firmly but lovingly talk sense into me when I made a stupid decision that would have far-reaching effects.

…your home renovation escapades that made the rest of the family alternately despair and laugh.

…the way you folded me in your warm, loving embrace when my Dad died, comforting me even while you grieved the loss of one of your best friends.

…the day, shortly after Dad’s funeral, when you and I broke the corkscrew while it was still in the cork and we ended up having to strain the wine, and we agreed that Dad was messing with us.

…your absolute delight when we welcomed my firstborn child into the world the day before your birthday.

At the beginning of this week, I was gripped with inexplicable intense anxiety that wouldn’t go away. For three days I was living with the iron first of dread, and I didn’t know why. Little did I know that my universe was bracing itself for your sudden departure.

It is surreal to think that you left your house expecting to be gone for a short time – just long enough to walk your dogs down the road and back. You probably thought you would return home, have a cup of tea and maybe a sandwich for your lunch, and spend the rest of the day relaxing in your garden with your dogs.

I wonder if you had any sense of what was to come as the car approached, starting off the chain of events that would lead to your death. I hope you went quickly, without feeling any pain.

I love you, and I always have. I am going to miss you more than words can possibly express. And I am grateful that I had the honour of being your niece, that you were such a big part of my life, and that you helped shape me into the person I am today.

I know that you will be worrying about Mom. She is devastated. You were her best friend and she will miss you so much. But we will take care of her. We will make sure she is OK.

Rest in peace, beautiful lady. Someday, I’ll see you on the other side.

Kirsten

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