Sunday, January 25, 2015


A year after a serious fracture I am still not able to exercise as I would like. The end result? Fifteen pounds overweight and a totally different perception of my own body. Clothes that used to fit me perfectly now hang in my closet unworn as I struggle to find my new self-image in a mirror that tells me over and over again that there are too many lumps and bumps visible, especially in light coloured clothing.

The answer, I thought, might lie in something Oprah apparently swears by; a pair of Spanx.

The saleslady at the store where I bought a pair a few days ago, was not terribly helpful. She showed me her limited collection and then, looking me up and down, said: "What are you, a Large?" I would hardly have needed reinforced underwear had I been a Small....

I admit fully that I bought my Spanx with great misgivings, not knowing what else to do given that we are about to head south to our winter home where linens and cottons are the cool but unforgiving fabrics of choice. I ignored that little voice inside my head that was saying....are you nuts?...
Instead, I paid a hefty $50 and took my secret purchase home, momentary lulled into thinking that I would now feel better about myself.

Once home, I removed the Spanx from the package in the privacy of my bathroom. I hoisted one leg into the flesh-coloured leg opening, then the other. I tried valiantly to pull the Spanx up towards my waist but nothing moved. The fit around the thighs was so tight, the scene reminded me of an episode of "Friends", the one where Ross gets stuck in a pair of leather pants. I started to laugh at the memory and then at myself, as I continued to try to bring the Spanx up from my thighs to my waist. It took me several minutes and required incredible force!

I eventually got things where they needed to be but by then I was so hot and uncomfortable, and the look of these skin-coloured panels holding me in around the middle while above and below, my flesh was being squeezed out, made me aware of how ridiculous I was behaving towards myself and gave me new insight into how far we women will go to try to look perfect.

So I had a bit of a talk with myself. I reminded myself that I am now of a certain age and that I am lucky that my fracture has healed so well. In any case, this look would require getting undressed in the dark, since it would have scared my poor hubby to see me in this type of sausage casing. Furthermore, I could honestly say that I was not willing to spend even five more minutes feeling this uncomfortable. With all due respect to women who enjoy their Spanx, this product is clearly not for me.

I ripped those Spanx off my body, enjoying the rush of feeling free once more. Yes, I am still lumpy and bumpy but at least I can breathe! And if truth be told, I was a little bit ashamed of having bought into the whole idea that you can cheat your way to a smoother figure. From now on, people will have to accept me for who I am, not for the way I look. And that includes me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


There is a man in Winnipeg who has recently been arrested for not having provided minimal care for his aged mother after she suffered a fall in the home that they shared. She had apparently pleaded not to be taken to hospital as she feared being put into a care facility. Instead, she asked for a blanket so she could remain on the floor. Her son, perhaps understanding her fear, complied.

It took five days for his mother to die.

I have always believed that my body and my life belong to me, Nobody but me has the right to decide what I do with my life except in the case where my actions might inadvertently injure someone else. Should I decide that I do not want to die in a hospital but rather on a mountain top, a beach, or even a bathroom floor, I feel that I have the absolute right to make that choice. Not only that, I believe that my family and my doctor must support me at that point, not fight my decision.

In the case of someone who has dementia, as the woman in question, it gets a little trickier. Does someone with a failing memory lose the right to decide what to do with his or her life? What if the disease is at the early stages when periods of clarity are still possible? Is a person with a brain tumour automatically deemed incapable of choosing his or her end?

I am  not talking about assisted suicide or euthanasia. I refer simply to the fact my life is mine, to do with what I feel is right for me at any given time. I am an adult. I have raised my family and paid my taxes, I am in debt to no one. Why should I not be able to choose where and how I will die?

Statistically, most of us will end up in a hospital or institution. It is simply easier to hook someone up with a catheter and ply them with morphine injections than it is to try to keep them clean and comfortable at home. It also transfers the onus of responsibility onto the medical profession and relieves the legal complications a doting son might have to endure if he were to honour his mother's last wishes.

That doesn't mean it is the right choice for everyone. I, for one, would be horrified to die in a hospital and would do everything in my power to avoid that scenario. I would much rather lie on the floor of my home and wait for Nature to do what it eventually must. The only way to ensure that my choice about my life can be met and respected, is to state very clearly what I want and then back it up with a legal document that would protect my loved ones.

Sadly, the woman in Winnipeg seems to not have left a Living Will behind. Her son, will, therefore, likely pay a hefty price for what I believe was her rightful choice; to determine where and how she wanted to die.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Drowning is like a slow-motion dance with the rest of your life.

The final choreography is heavy in its weightlessness, each little movement bringing you closer to the truth of who you are.

Something as sharp as broken glass enters your mind, cutting veins at their deepest, causing blood to rush out of ears, nose, mouth.  Blood, like blue water, can becomes beautiful and translucent, allowing us to glimpse the hidden folds of our own time. It does not flow but pools instead, shifting sand into old, nearly forgotten wounds.

I take two steps forward in the shallow water that is my destiny.  The ground beneath me falls away almost instantly. My mind spins in disbelief as my toes try to stretch towards a bottom that is no longer there. Water simultaneously washes over my head, blurring my vision and muffling sounds. Electricity surges through my entire body. A split second and everything familiar no longer is. I come up for air, try to find the horizon. I keep my head above water and breathe. I notice the most mundane things passing by me; floating seaweed, a cloud, the sound of my own heart, even as fear beats heavy fists against my ribs.

Who is watching? Can anyone see my anguish, so raw and exposed? Life, like death and birth is propelled by a force from beyond the stars. We start out like water and end in dust, dancing for a brief time in between. We do not realize until the moment of truth, that this must all be done alone.

Then comes a silence that envelopes me and erodes my thoughts. It enters my mind like creeping vapour and settles in corners I cannot fathom. Memories come from afar as though in a dream.
I begin to soar, first over water, then above the trees, my belly skimming the highest branches. I look down at all the places where I have lived, all the people I have loved, and my heart rejoices as the wind kisses my cheeks.  Air rushes past my ears as I pick up speed and glide with ease over great distances. I see the room where you first looked at me with intimate eyes, the very spot where you made me tremble with unquenched desire and a peace descends upon my heart.

On a table I see my name in red ink, angry slashes on a white page. I come up for air once again. I absorb that the sky is still blue in spite of my own tragedy. The world will continue no matter what happens to me. I reach out but can only feel my own deep grief as well as joy at having been loved.  I am still dancing, not yet ready to be touched by a watery hand.

And then I understand completely. Memories are more painful than the cuts of knives, and water, fluid, clear, intoxicating water, is much more powerful than metal.  I can become a prisoner of my own fear or I can let go and allow the dance to take me to the place where even the mirror does not recognize me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


It doesn’t really matter if immigration takes place because of war or persecution, or simply to try and give your children a better life. The mere act of migrating from the country of your birth to another means the migrant will forever be torn between two places; the one he loves because his roots are there and the one he loves enough to try and transplant himself.
I have lived with this duality for most of my life. I arrived in Canada as a child and I have grown to love and value being a Canadian. I have contributed to Canada's future by working hard and giving it two children, one grandchild, and over time, many tax dollars! I have buried loved ones here, made lasting friendships and traveled from coast to coast, appreciating our Canadian diversity and vastness and beauty at every turn. I am a proud ambassador of most of what Canada stands for and can get quite cranky when I hear unjust criticism of it.

But I admit freely that I have never lost my yearning for the light and the language and the music of my birth country, knowing full well that if I were magically transported there this very minute, I would feel like a total stranger. The country has moved forward without me and the span that has created can no longer be bridged.

What we immigrants really pine for is not so much a physical place as a moment in time that is long gone. This is why we get so excited when we stumble upon a restaurant that serves foods we grew up with, or hear a song in our mother tongue; it instantly transports us to all those lost moments and allows us a few seconds of reprieve from those feelings of permanent loss. One could say that to become an immigrant is to live in a permanent state of grief and that this dull ache becomes totally acceptable over time, as the positive aspects of the new chosen life, hopefully outweigh the negatives one has opted to leave behind.

I have been a proud Canadian for 50 years now but I know that I will forever long for a pocketful of memories that keep a certain light and language and music, alive in my soul.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I was sitting at my hair dresser's this morning, sipping a latte and reading about William and Kate in a magazine. It was either that or read about the Kardashians  and I really wasn't up to that. I wish them well but I think they should all be shipped to a far off island.
I was lamenting the fact that it was -36 outside and that my boots, which I had hoped would see me through one more winter, had started to leak this week. I reviewed, in my head, all the things I still have to do before tomorrow and then got that niggly feeling that I had forgotten something.
And sure enough, I had.
I had forgotten to enjoy the moment I was in! How many more good moments am I entitled to before Fate intervenes? Like learning to tread water, I am teaching myself to not hurry forward all the time nor to look back over my shoulder at things that have already taken place. That's a waste of a precious commodity; my own time allotment. But sometimes I forget and fall back into my old pattern of wistful nostalgia combined with a kind of 'must-do' nervous energy.
My hairdresser, a young woman of 39 who looks all of 20, perhaps got a whiff of my winter mood and suggested that I might do something dramatic with my hair. The old "you can always grow it out" mantra worked. With only a second's hesitation  I gave her the go-ahead and returned to my reading, leaving her to get creative.
When I next looked up, two inches of hair were gone and the rest was layered and wispy. I finished my latte, put on some fresh lipstick, paid, (Woo-hoo, I am now entitled to a senior discount!) got back into my heavy coat and leaky boots, and left for home feeling good about absolutely everything.
It's not the haircut, although a new look is always psychologically refreshing. No, it's the fact that I took the time to just be and to savour everything around me; the flavour of the coffee, the sound of the scissors snipping away, the photos of Kate Middleton, now pregnant like my own daughter was not long ago. And yes, even the feeble sunlight which I enjoyed as I walked home in our  frigid weather.
With no other thought than getting inside as quickly as possible, I turned into my walkway, fished the keys out of my pocket and opened my front door. A wall of warmth greeted me as my sunglasses fogged up and my nose dribbled. Our old dog, deaf now and no longer very energetic, wagged his tail upon seeing me. As I unzipped my coat and removed my boots I caught a glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror. The woolen hat I had worn had given me static electricity and I no longer looked anywhere near as glamorous as I felt!
But that's okay. I had a great morning in spite of everything. None of us know how many more winter days we will experience in good health so I'm glad I took the time to enjoy this one. I wonder if the Kardashians know anything about living in the moment?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Gratitude

It goes without saying that the most precious gift to come my way this year is our grandson, a strong and healthy boy with lungs to match and a smile that melts our hearts.  But there were countless other blessings as well for which I am most grateful.
One in particular came in the form of an unexpected gift.  In the fall, a very dear friend of mine lost her elderly mother. She had been chronically ill for quite some time so it was not a surprise when things took a turn for the worse. Nonetheless, it is always a shock to lose your mother and my friend was quite sideswiped by how intensely she felt her loss.
True to form, however, she and her sisters did what their mother would have wanted them to do under the circumstances. They got organized, rolled up their sleeves and got to work. There were phone calls to make, cards to send out, and an entire apartment to empty. Time for grieving would come soon enough.
I first met my friend’s mother some 25 years ago when she would come to our city to visit her daughter. My friend would pick her up at the train station and then give her free reign in the kitchen where she always took all the cupboards apart so she could wash down and then re-paper the shelves. It drove my friend nuts but she never complained because she knew it was a gift from the heart, something that made her mother feel useful.
Every time she came I would make it a point to go and say hello to her, partly because she was a very nice woman and I enjoyed talking to her but also because my friend objected strenuously to her smoking in the house. This meant she was often banished to the garden where she would sit alone puffing away, much to her daughter’s displeasure. It was her only vice, as she once told me, one she was never able to give it up, not even when her health went into serious decline.  As an ex-smoker myself, I was not as offended by her bad habit as my friend was so I would sit with her on the porch and we would have these brief little chats about motherhood, about recipes, her grandchildren and above all, my friendship with her daughter, a full ashtray on the table between us.
I was genuinely saddened when poor health prevented her from further visits a few years ago, sadder still when I heard that she had passed away. I was happy however, to note that all of her daughters had managed to spend quality time with her at the end and that they had had the opportunity to say their good-byes. Her courage was extraordinary for she did not want to linger and go piecemeal once she learned of her final prognosis. Upon hearing it she made sure that her ending would be dignified and on her own terms. This was a great comfort, even to me.
A few weeks ago my friend came to visit me with a little bag. Imagine my surprise and genuine delight when I opened it and discovered a beautiful china tea cup that had once belonged to her mother. What an honour to be given something that she had treasured throughout her life. A gift like that is immeasurable in value because you then hold a piece of that person’s history in your hands. It connects you forever to that person and to those she loved. In my case, it has added a new dimension to the bond with my friend because by entrusting me with this cup, she is telling me that I have a lasting place in her heart. There is no better gift than that.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


I have been very busy since becoming a grandmother. Our little man arrived ten weeks ago under blue skies which I pray is an indication of many such days ahead. One doesn’t want to be greedy but I wish this precious boy all the happiness this world has to offer even though I know he will not always be spared his share of hardship and grief.
When I first laid eyes on him, my throat constricted and my heart actually felt a physical burst of love.  I was so happy to see him and I  got teary at the mere thought that my daughter and her husband had finally had their dream come true. They had waited a very long time for this precious gift. Good things come to those who wait.

By no means is our boy an easy baby. He is a light sleeper and he has digestive issues. His parents have spent many nights rocking, cradling, singing, pacing, burping, coddling, worrying.  When I hear these stories I always remember my own time as a new mother, a time when things were done very differently.
For one thing, I think we worried less. My daughter’s crib had a bumper pad and she also had a thick blanket which I used without fear to cover her up to her chin. We had no monitoring device with a video camera for me to observe her 24/7. If I wanted to know how she was I had to climb the stairs, which I did many times a day. Back then we even laid our babies on their sides or on their stomachs to sleep which is absolutely verboten nowadays.  

The six year gap between my two children meant that by the time the second one arrived, the world had moved from cloth to disposable diapers (hurray, no more lugging a heavy diaper pail up and down the stairs!)  and Tommy Tipee had invented the monitor, a hideous set of plastic boxes with thick brown antennas which allowed even our neighbours, who also had this contraption for their baby, to listen in as I read my baby a story every night.
I was without fear when it came to my babies, believing with all my heart that only I knew best what they needed and wanted. It never occurred to me to heed the warnings on labels or government decrees. By today’s standards, that would likely make me a negligent mother. But I am watching my daughter's confidence grow and blossom as she has come to understand her own strength as a mother. It is like passing on am invisible torch.

I have discovered that I am willing to be taught new tricks. I like the video cam monitor very much as it gives you lasting peace of mind. I also like the natural fabrics that are now used for cribs and baby things in general. No more plastic and no more synthetics!  I could not use my collapsible baby stroller in winter but my grandson has a Cadillac model which will allow his parents to push their way through even thick snowbanks.
There are no rights and wrongs. Every generation has to find the middle ground of balance and harmony. For me it was all about getting my babies on to a schedule as soon as possible so that I could lead a life within those bounds. My daughter, in contrast, feeds on demand which means that her baby has no particular schedule.  She doesn’t have much opportunity yet for things not related to baby….but she is very willing to make that sacrifice for the sake of her son’s well-being. If only we had known then, what we know now…

As much as I am learning how to be a modern grandmother, my daughter has a new-found respect for me as a parent. You can’t really tell anyone how tough it is to be a parent until they are in the game. It’s nice to have that acknowledged.
So we are clucking along, my daughter and I, like the two mother hens that we are,  watching and loving our little man from our respective points of view. He will be all the richer for the unconditional love which flows so freely towards him, allowing us to cull the best from our combined experiences. Everyone benefits when things are done lovingly and respectfully.

As I said, I have been very busy.