I walk out into the cool, clear night. The cold air slaps my flushed face with the distant bitterness of snow and stars. From their dome of blackness, the stars peer down at me as I walk through the mud next to my Dad’s car, and open the squeaky gate to the alley to bring in the recycling bins.
My nearby house is bubbling with chattering children, playing music, building lego, drawing spiders and superheroes. Now, alone, in the cold and empty quiet behind my garage, the reality sideswipes me, the fact I’ve been busily avoiding catches me with a silent pounce—and I let it tear at my chest.
This was your last night on earth, one year ago today.
I try to be brave enough to stand still in this knowledge. To let myself feel it without running away this time. To honour this night, last year.
A bright object pulsing in the distance draws my stinging eyes to the sky above the end of the desolate alley. Is it the Chariot of Death, come to carry you to Heaven like it did last year? It taunts me by coming closer and closer, almost above me, but fails to stop for me. It has no place for me. I have no ticket. No pass. No way to come with you, Dad.
The bright chariot, disguised as a plane, flies on past the stars, and straight on till morning.
And now it is a sailing ship, Peter’s vessel, flying you to Neverland, where you will be ever young, and true to your boyish heart—your delight in life, your enthusiasm for movies, books, toys and trees and children and peanut butter banana sandwiches—will never, ever grow up. And Wendy will sing you lullabies. And I will cry.
You know you’re working hard when your kitchen whisk breaks—actually snaps in half like mine and become garbage. This pandemic is pushing us all hard…but instead of scrambled eggs we’ve been dealing with a scrambled world, and for a long, long time. Over a year.
It’s an exhausting long haul, and none of us wants to snap like that whisk and become useless. Surviving covid is like being on a tour of duty that just won’t end, though we can hope it’s coming closer. So in light of all this I’ve been thinking about resilience…and what it really means. My sister’s professor said something really wise about resilience that I’ve been mulling over a lot:
“Our one prof spent the last afternoon talking to us about how most of us equate resilience with a stubborn determination to keep slogging but that rejuvenation should be valued just as much. If not more.”
Rejuvenation—becoming young again, refreshed, restored—not just grimly slogging on without stopping for water breaks. This is a more sustainable vision of resilience…one that doesn’t involve pushing oneself to the breaking point. It means not just having strength but also the humility to know that everyone needs breaks and gentle self-care, especially at times when life feels like a marathon.
This all makes so much sense, but can be hard to put into practice when you’ve been in emergency mode for a long time, as our world has. Despite everything we need to relax, play, enjoy little moments and rest.
Babies are good at this. They nap a lot, cause all their growing is exhausting, and they make sure to eat well and often. They ask for help whenever they need it. Sometimes they cry, and other times they coo, but most importantly, they trust that they are loved unconditionally. This is the part we adults most often forget.
I’m giving myself this lecture as much as you. When my dad got really sick with his cancer last fall, and I had the honour to care for him in his last weeks, I resolved to be strong. To be there for him. To do all that I could, despite wanting to crumble and break. When he died, I had to keep being strong. Plan the funeral. Bury my beloved father, who was my biggest cheerleader and one of my best friends.
After that, as his executor, months of paperwork. Serious responsibilities requiring me to be, you guessed it, strong. But now, almost six months after his death last year on November 9th, I wonder if part of me has become petrified—so strong it has turned to rock—and in that sense not fully alive. Avoiding the grief I couldn’t find time for. Fearing the tears that might cause these walls to crumble.
This is not true resilience. I know this. Having been through deep grief before when I lost my baby Josephine 6 years ago in labour, I know that recovery involves going through grief, not trying to put your emotions on pause. So I’m trying to give myself permission to feel sad sometimes, with the longing that is simply love prolonged. I’m trying to give myself permission seek serenity before productivity…which means taking little breaks to refill my cup, rather than always pushing myself to keep going.
This is hard for me. Do you struggle with this, too? Are you harsher on yourself than you’d ever be with those you love? Can you be brave enough to believe that you deserve rest, joy, and serenity just as much as anyone else? Perhaps if we all support each other, and encourage each other to be kind, even to ourselves, the world will be more filled with resilience and hope.
If you’d like more encouragement on this topic, check out Jenn Dean’s Families Matter Most podcast. It is awesome, and filled with simple, doable ideas: Three Things to Get Through Hard Times. Plus she is funny, warm and honest. Listening to her is like chatting with a great friend who builds you up. Cole’s notes version: every day, connect with your peace, your purpose and your people. The three P’s. Even I can remember that.
At the beginning of Lent, I was chatting with a close friend on the phone and she told me that she and her husband planned to give up guilt for Lent, in favour of gratitude. By this they meant not guilt for actual wrongs done, the natural response to sin and hurting others, but rather shame—the feeling of unworthiness or unlovableness that we can sometimes fall prey to when we make a mistake or fail to prevent something out of our control.
Giving up such negative feelings, and looking for ways to turn difficult situations into opportunities to see the good and give thanks for it struck me as a great idea. So in the spirit of practicing gratitude, I will share a list of blessings I’m grateful for with you right now:
1. When my mother-in-law sent me birthday money this year, I decided to put it towards Kindle Unlimited, and have been enjoying reading lots of books on my iPad when I can’t sleep lately. Tonight I’m reading 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, and the first one they don’t do is indulge in pity parties! So I’ve put away the balloons and party hats, and brought out my gratitude list instead. 🥳
2. Various back aches and late pregnancy cramps made the midwives give me an ultimatum: no more vacuuming or carrying heavy things like the laundry basket to your outdoor laundry room under the stairs. What great things to give up for Lent! 🤣 I’m grateful my husband has taken over the laundry, and that he now has more first hand experience of this charming chore. “Is there more dirty laundry already? I feel like I just did a bunch!” Exactly honey. So it goes.
3. I had a nice outing to the dollar store with my daughter on the way home from ballet class, and bought cute socks for myself and the baby to put in our hospital bag. His have tiny blue stars, and mine say on the soles, “If you can see this, rub my feet.” Thought they might make the nurses laugh.
4. I’m also really grateful for Jenn Dean, a parenting coach from the Families Matter Most podcast. I first saw her speak at on online homeschool conference recently, and found her approach to fostering positive thinking though addressing core beliefs which influence our behaviour so compelling that I’ve started doing some coaching with her on Zoom. She’s great!
Jenn encouraged me to journal and keep track of my thought processes, especially when something goes wrong, so I can be aware of what core belief is affecting my response. Sometimes that belief could actually be a lie, such as “Such and such went wrong because I’m useless and mess up everything.” In this case, awareness of the lie is a necessary step to be freed from it and embrace the truth, which is simply that some days are harder than others, and tomorrow is a chance to try again. I liked this journal and got it for myself.
5. I’m also grateful for the sweet surprises my friends have brought me lately, which are such a tangible sign of their affection and support. Isabela and Claudio brought us pizza buns and homemade chocolate chip cookie dough, Lisa brought us tiny red velvet cupcakes made by a talented coworker, and tonight, Sister Corina brought us Purdy’s chocolates and a fruit topped cheesecake! Yes, this baby is destined to be chubby and cute, and everyone is ensuring their part in that! 🥰
6. I could just keep going, but this list is getting long, so the last one for tonight is my amazing neighbour Lorie, a retired nurse who does professional house cleaning part time. She has been a total Godsend, and has been helping us declutter and clean our house, one room at a time. First, we tackled the garage, and after hiring the great guys from Half-Price Rubbish Removal, we now have so much more space to store things in an organized way. Everything is being sorted and labelled, such a bins of clothes for various kids to grow into. We even strung up a rope in the garage to hang extra or off season coats, so I can see what we have before buying new ones.
Sometimes it’s a struggle emotionally to let someone else help me deal with my mess, but in those moments I’m trying to reframe things. Instead of thinking, “I’ll never get organized on my own cause I’m too sloppy,” I think, “Caring for all my kids and house is a big job, and I’m so grateful to have friends willing to pitch in and help.” Lorie does such and good job, and is so cheerful about it, that we call her our “Fairy Clean Mother,” whose super power is making things sparkle. The kids love her, too, and are inspired to help out more, which is a huge bonus!
I captured this moment on a rare early morning walk alone on Ash Wednesday. My luxurious excuse for alone time? A 35 week pregnancy blood test. Yup, living it up here.
But I must say, the peaceful morning bird song and the sight of their feathers illumined from below by early sunrise were a treat. Since my pace right now is best described as moseying, I tried to make the best of it by taking time to notice the beauty above the city streets.
Despite the barren lack of leaves in the trees, tiny signs of spring could also be found at my feet.
After another long pandemic winter, it’s nice to see hints of hope…warmer days coming, brighter days, and new things, like my baby, in about a month!
These brave crocuses in my garden even survived our recent snowfall! So while I feel pretty much ready to wave the white flag and give up—enough winter, enough covid, enough late pregnancy—I’ll try to be brave and keep looking up to find the sun, and looking forward to those precious newborn snuggles, and remembering the reason it will all be worth it come spring.
Shortly after my Dad died, I bought myself this amazing flower, an Amaryllis Lily. Its bulb is dipped in golden wax and it is self-sustaining. You don’t need to water it or anything. It just keeps blooming…these are the second set of flowers it has produced, after the first ones died off. The resurrecting flower. A sign of hope.
Of course, after admonishing our kids not to wake up too early for Christmas (they once woke up at midnight to open the stockings on the ends of their beds) it would be me, their mom, who woke up at 2:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. So silly, as the kids and I had worked so hard to prepare ahead, had finished wrapping and had even stuffed the stockings and stowed them in a box days ago, so I wouldn’t have to burn the midnight oil playing Mrs Clause. Yet I woke up. Was it pregnancy heartburn, excitement, or insomnia?
Whatever it was, I decided Santa’s tradition of the post-midnight snack was a good idea and got up to have an angel sugar cookie and a glass of milk. I’d say I had a snack with Santa, but you’d know from Google Santa Tracker that he was already safely back home in the North Pole by this hour.
So while I’m up, I thought I’d take this quiet moment chance to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, despite everything, and a lot of hope for better things to come in 2021. Thank you so much to all our family and friends who supported us from afar this year, as we went through the pandemic, and through the illness and loss of my Dad, Bob, to cancer. Your loving words, encouragement, cards, flowers or food dropped at our door have meant a lot.
Shortly after my Dad passed away, in the morning of November 9th, it began snowing, which is rare on the rainy coast. “Mum, Mum,” said the kids with excitement, “Grandpa is sending us snow from Heaven with Josephine!” It’s amazing how positive and resilient kids can be in the face of loss. Here are a few pictures from our house, where we have tried to find all the joy and sparkle we can this Advent.
May God in his humble nearness at Christmas surround you with blessings and give you the eyes to see them, so the little hidden miracles of each day can shine and bring you hope.
Lots of love from all the Eastlands here at Just East of Crazy Land! Thanks for being here, making me feel less alone as I eat cookies and milk at 3 am, and await the sparkly madness of Christmas morning with 7 kids! ✨🌲✨🎁✨🌲✨