Thursday, April 30, 2009

The bug

Here's the insidious thing about grief: it's like a parasite.

At the very beginning grief is wrapped up in fear. Whether you admit it or not, grief is already there, skulking and sneaking around the edges of the unspeakable fear that you struggle to keep at bay from the moment you hear someone you love is ill.

And only when the unspeakable happens and grief rushes over you like a tsunami do you dare admit that you have been entertaining it for ages: that a small part of you started grieving at the very beginning, that all along you were taking grief's measure and testing yourself against it in small bits, preparing yourself for the day (the inevitable day?) when you would be forced to face it head on.

And when that day comes, you wonder if maybe it was a good thing that the grief was always there, living in the fear. Perhaps that means that a fair bit of grieving is already behind you. The absence of fear is a such a great relief, you think perhaps, on its own, the grief won't be so bad after all.

But then the grief takes up residence elsewhere. It burrows into your day-to-day trials, but even more troubling, it finds a home in your happiness.

It whispers in your ear: "You can't possibly cope with this without her help," and then, even more menacingly, "This is a lovely moment you managed to create for your son: how she would have loved this."

I am sleeping more than I have ever slept in my life and yet I awaken every morning in a fog of exhaustion. I am struggling to cope with the major life changes Rob and I set in motion before Henny's death and I am, I fear, an attractive host for grief.

I have so many stories to tell, but unlike last year, when blackness also descended upon our house, I cannot seem to summon the energy to tell them.

I want to make you laugh by writing a series of posts about Rob and my antics at the 2003 Emmy Awards (did you know Rob was nominated for an Emmy?) I want to make you misty with the tale of my extended family's recent return to Ireland, where my people are from. I want to try and justify why Graham is STILL sleeping in his crib. (I KNOW! Please don't judge!)

But I can't.

I have always been proud of my ability to write my way through anything and yet right now I can't.

I fear my energy, my confidence and - oh how I fear! - my coping mechanism is slowly, but surely being eaten away by grief.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, April 24, 2009

Truth telling

In view of the gross misinformation flying around the media and in the interest of both clarifying the truth and preserving the love and respect of all my American readers and friends, I am interrupting this blog and its musings on life and death and parenting to make a short political statement.

Check it:

Not one of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks entered the United States through Canada's borders.

None, nada, nil...nope.

Not one.

Are you listening Janet Napolitano and John McCain?

I hope so. Because when you start talking smack like that it wounds me.

It wounds us all.

Now back to regularly scheduled programming.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sorry state of affairs

Just for the record: Graham is sorry.

He's really, really sorry. He's sooo sorry 'bout that. Gee whiz, is he sorry!

Yesterday after spilling half his breakfast on the rug (through sheer carelessness) and receiving a tongue-lashing, Graham turned to me and delivered his apology in a drawl so affected I half expected him to deferentially tip a cowboy hat to reinforce his regret; "Well gosh, I truly am awful sorry 'bout that Mama."

And then he turned away and cheerfully resumed spilling his food.

But as cute as his apology might sound (and Lord help me it was cute), it was also supremely irritating.

It was irritating because ever since Graham has learned that the word sorry has power he has abused that power like a Third World despot.

It is frustrating to me, someone who prides herself on using words as precisely as possible to convey meaning, to see my son continually expropriate such an important word to aid and abet his willful misbehaviour.

I have explained to him over and over again that it's not enough to just say you're sorry; you have to be sorry.

"You have to mean what you say Graham. Do you understand?"

"Yes mom, I understand."

"That's good."

"And I'm soooo can I have a treat?"


Apparently sincerity is in a sorry state around here these days.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, April 20, 2009

What's missing in Cuba

Oh...wait...did you think I was going to get all political on you?

Not a chance.

With everything that's going in my life these days, I'm not inclined to spend my energy stoking controversy on the Internet.

That LeeAnne though?

She really did just come back from Castro's homeland and she has something she wants to share with you...

Alright...okay...she doesn't get political either.

But she did post a great recipe for Cuban paella over on Don Mills Diva Recipes and Reviews.

And also? There's a picture of her in her bathing suit over there, so you should totally check it out...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The noive

So it starts when Daddy says, "Hey, want me to help you colour?"

And it ends with the realization that when Daddy says "help you colour" he actually means "boggart all the crayons in a selfish attempt to regain my long-forgotten childhood".


Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, April 16, 2009


It was two days after Christmas and my mother-in-law had been in the hospital for only two days when Graham and I visited.

We enjoyed a coffee together in the cafeteria and while she lamented the crappy hospital food in her typically vigourous way Graham raced about the room like a banshee.

Every time he darted out of sight, I chased after him and chastised him. And chased after him and chastised him. Until one time I held back for half a minute to finish a thought and was rewarded with an ear-splitting scream just out of my line of sight.

I dashed around the corner and there Graham lay, sprawled on the floor beside a table surrounded by a gaggle of grey-haired ladies who materialized out of thin air to cluck and tsk. He was sobbing as if his heart would break and blood was gushing from a nasty gash across the bridge of his nose.

I picked him up, cooed in his ear and wiped the gash. Then I led him back to his Oma where Graham allowed himself to be further fussed over while we discussed whether I should investigate the possibility of getting the gash stitched.

Ultimately I decided not to bother and Oma concurred. It was a rather nasty gash but I wasn't sure you could even put stitches on the bridge of the nose and I figured it was unlikely to scar - his lovely skin was regenerating so quickly, surely it would disappear in just a few days.

But over the next few months I watched that angry mark on his nose with a curious mixture of fear, uncertainty and nostalgia.

When it was still prominent enough to solicit remarks at the beginning of February I felt a little sick about my failure to take it more seriously. I wondered if I had done Graham a great disservice (and ruined his chances of being a teen model!) by assuming that it would clear up and disappear in just a few days.

And yet, as the weeks went by and my mother-in-law got sicker I felt strangely comforted to see that the mark on Graham's nose was still prominent and appeared relatively fresh. I remembered clearly how energetic and vibrant she had been on the day that Graham fell and the physical reminder of that day - the mark - was a way of reassuring myself that she had been in good health just a few days ago and therefore would be in good health again in no time.

It didn't work out that way of course: she died a month ago.

And yesterday, as I peered at the bridge of Graham's nose as has been my daily habit for three and a half months, I realized that all evidence of the mark is now completely gone too.

And even though I should have felt relieved that the evidence of my neglect was finally gone, I didn't feel relief at all.

I felt unbearable sadness, rather, and an inexplicable wish that my son's scar was still on the outside where I could kiss it and comfort him just like his Oma had done just two days after Christmas.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back to life

We're home!

And believe it or not, we're home with a few hundred dollars in our pockets even after having somehow convinced Lady Luck to cover all our meals, drinks, souvenirs and gifts PLUS tickets to see Elton John at Caesar's Palace.

(Thank goodness for a husband with a will of steel who can actually walk away once he wins!)

The trip was a ton of fun and a welcome diversion, but shortly after we arrived home late at night on Easter Sunday - our first without mom - we realized that the real business of grieving has barely begun.

There are changes afoot in the DMD household - there are life-altering decisions being made and now that we are home there is no imminent glitzy and glamorous get-away to distract us from our current difficult and stressful reality.

My brain is buzzing. My head is full of things I am not yet ready to write about. And so for now I leave you with these...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Diva does Vegas

Remember way back at the end of last summer during the Toronto Film Festival when Rob and I went to the fancy-schmancy charity fundraiser at Norman Jewison's Canadian Film Centre?

No? Well we did.

And though I didn't mention it at the time, while we were there I bid on an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas in the silent auction and....gulp...won.

It was a steal. It was when Rob was in the middle of a job that was due to last for several more months. It was before his mom got sick and before the headlines were trumpeting financial collapse and economic ruin.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Taking off to Sin City is not something that would naturally occur to Rob or me right now, but the trip was paid for long ago and the deadline to actually take it was staring us in the face and so as you read this, I am likely playing the nickel slots at Caesar's Palace while sipping a margarita or stuffing my gullet at some all-you-can-eat-buffet.

Good times, my friends, good times.

My darling boy is safely ensconced at my parent's house and looking forward to taking that all-important first spring flight with his Grandpa this weekend. I'll be back here on Monday to recount my adventures.

Happy Easter to each and every one of you and thanks again for all your lovely friendship and support over these last few weeks. I'm gonna put a ten-spot on black just for you...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Joy

"The joy of a spirit is the measure of its power."

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, April 5, 2009

On friendship and death and birthday parties

March 12th would have been Julie's 41st birthday.

I can scarcely believe that my beautiful, ethereal, sarcastic-as-hell partner-in-crime would be in her 40s had she not finally succumbed to the violence that chemotherapy wreaked on her body when she was a mere baby of two.

It seems impossible to me that last night was the 14th year in a row that I have been treated to a birthday dinner by her lovely and gracious parents. For nearly a decade and a half we have celebrated her birthday together and spent the evening talking about the joys and the pain of our respective past years.

We dined nearly a month late this year: our date was delayed as the result of another death, another loss, another type of grim milestone the likes of which life always, no matter how otherwise joyous, ultimately forces its survivors to mark and endure.

We had a wonderful time. We marvelled at how time has flown. We laughed about how they just knew the boy who accompanied us for dinner in 1996 was NOT the right boy for me and how they figured I would marry the one who tagged along in 1999: I did, last night was the 11th time that Rob has joined us.

For the first time in 14 years we went to a new restaurant. For the previous 13 years we had dined at Julie's favorite spot but in recent years the place has moved and seemed to decline to the point where her mother declared last night that she just felt Julie was admonishing us from above, "Come on you guys, live a little, mix it up a bit!"

And so we did. We raised a glass to Henny and to Julie and joked about how they had probably met in Heaven by now and how Julie, who surely owned the place, was showing her the ropes. We laughed in all seriousness about how alike they were and how much they would have loved each other had they met here on earth.

And as always I marveled at the grace and gentle humor with which these two people - these people I could not love more if they were related to me by blood - have managed to endure their loss. This year, that grace is especially poignant to me as Rob and Graham and I struggle to deal with our own loss.

Because the thing is, no matter how much we may all say that grief and loss cannot be quantified, surely you can agree that the death of a bright and vibrant young woman in her 20s is infinitely more tragic and galling than the loss of a woman who toasted her seventh decade in good health surrounded by her loving family.

And so I feel just a little renewed this morning. I feel that perhaps a little bit of Julie's parents' grace has rubbed off on me and that perhaps our enduring friendship on earth really has inspired the beginning of a beautiful one in Heaven.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, April 3, 2009

The emergence of the Mean Mommy

I never thought I could do it, but I have.

Over the last few months I have morphed into what I'm sure Graham would describe as a Mean Mommy.

Notwithstanding my attempts to be sensitive to Graham's confusion and sadness over the loss of his beloved Oma, my approach to discipline these days sounds less like "He's-so-cute-and-I-love-him-so-much-that-I-can't-stand-to-see-him-upset!" and more like "I've-had-enough-of-your nonsense-and-it-will-stop-this-instant-or-there-will-be-consequences!"

But it hasn't been easy.

For many years before I started my current job, I worked in a managerial position with a unionized work force. I hired people. I disciplined people for all manner of infractions. And, with little hesitation, if people didn't tow the line, I fired them.

For the most part, I was perfectly okay doing what I felt needed to be done. In fact, I was proud to develop a bit of a reputation as a hard-ass (not literally, alas) because I felt, and continue to feel, that supervising people in a fair, but forthright and firm manner eliminates stress and uncertainty for everyone. For many years before Graham was born I assumed I would naturally conduct myself the same way when it came to parenting.

Was I ever deluded!

I didn't know then that Graham could simply bat his eyelashes (his gorgeous, long eyelashes!) and I would go all loopy and goopy inside. I didn't realize that the mere thought of his discomfort would cause my own breathing to become shallow and my chest to tighten. I never imagined that hearing Graham cry would hurt me - physically hurt me - so much.

I even wrote an ode to the beautiful inevitability of my powerlessness.

But, truthfully, there was nothing beautiful or inevitable about it.

It took a massive blowup serious discussion with my husband a few months ago to make me realize not everyone in the world is forever going to find Graham's incorrigible antics as adorable as I do.

"I do NOT want to be those people that no one wants to be around because their kid is a brat Kel!" he screamed said. "Graham is a great kid but I am NOT going to let him become THAT kid - it's not fair to him."

And just like that the light bulb went on.

I realized almost instantly that Rob was right. I realized that this parenting gig isn't just fun and games: it's about the business of molding and shaping and teaching a new person how to be kind and respectful. I had a flash of insight into just how easy it would be for me - how easy it would be for any of us - to suddenly wake up and realize my kid was THAT kid.

It scared the crap out of me.

No one plans to end up with a bratty, out of control kid. No one expects that they will. But the truth is, it doesn't take long for small decisions and daily acquiescence to produce one .

And so I have changed my ways.

We have rules now and I articulate them firmly and clearly. As much as possible, I ignore the tightness in my chest and my rising blood pressure and I DO NOT give in. I have stopped tolerating tantrums and I do a minimum of negotiating. If Graham wants to watch just one more video on Youtube in the evening, I say yes when he agrees that he will only get two bedtime stories instead of three. When he inevitably throws himself on the ground begging for the third story, he is swiftly dispatched to bed.

Bedtime used to be a 45-minute affair, but not since I articulated the rule. The rule is that Graham's door is left open only on the strict condition that he not repeatedly whine, call out or otherwise cajole me to come back into the room after tucking him in. If he persists, he gets a warning (okay, sometimes two) before the door is shut for the night, screaming be damned.

And you know what?

It works. Not only is Graham better behaved, he seems happier.

Every night for the last few weeks, just after I have given him his last kiss goodnight Graham has looked up at me with the same soft smile on his face and asked me the same thing.

"And mommy, before you go, what is the rule again?"

"The rule is that you need to go to sleep and not keep calling for mommy or else mommy will come back and shut the door. Do you understand?"

And every night he smiles and says.

"Yes mommy, I understand. Goodnight"

And he goes to sleep, secure in the knowledge, I like to believe, that mommy, however mean, knows best.

Apparently kids DO like rules.

If only someone had told me sooner. Or rather, if only I had listened.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I was getting Graham ready for bed tonight when a thought popped unbidden into my mind.

I wonder if his Oma will drop by tonight to say goodnight to him?

And then it hit like a punch in the stomach: No, she won't. She won't drop by tonight or ever again.

But instead of breaking down yet again, I bit my lip and started to do what I have resolved to do from now on every time that the darkness threatens to descend upon me.

I counted my blessings.

I am blessed with a strong marriage and a husband who adores me.
I am blessed with a well-paid, challenging job that I enjoy.
I am blessed with wonderful family and friends.
I am blessed with readers who care enough about my well-being to leave heartfelt comments and send lovely, thoughtful e-mails.

I am blessed to know a love I never dreamed possible.

I am blessed.

Stumble Upon Toolbar