In Loving Memory of a Generous Grandpa

January 3, 1945–November 9th, 2020

Thank you to everyone who supported me yesterday, on my Dad’s first anniversary of passing away, whether by a phone call, text, email, food, flowers at the door or even a gift basket brought by my sweet neighbour Lorie. It means a lot to be loved and accompanied by you all!Thank you also for your prayers which carried me through the day with a lot of extra peace and grace. We are truly so tenderly supported!

Last week, I was chatting with my friend Sister Angela as she came to drop off some bread and fruit for us (yup, spoiled again) and she said something helpful about loss. That there’s a saying that when you are missing someone, you should do what they would do…strive to imitate the things you admired about them.

So in my Dad’s memory, because he had such a heart for the poor and oppressed, we are going to make a donation to a family who is fleeing persecution overseas, and needs funds to help keep them at a temporary safe-house until they can get their refugee papers completed to come to Canada.

What grabs my heart is that they are good, hardworking people who are fleeing an unjust government, and that they had to leave almost everything behind, except their two children and a suitcase or two. In this precarious situation, with death threats hanging over them, they are trying to be a loving family and reassure their little children who just want to go back to school or play outside. Right now they can do neither.

But for $35 a day they have room and board for the next few months, and help to bring them food. This already is a miracle, as their previous situation was even worse. My dear friends Monique and Ryan who are fundraising for them are in direct contact with them, as one of their relatives is a student of Ryan’s. He explains much more on video updates on his gofundme site.

Please pray for their safety, as for all the paperwork to go through as soon as possible. if you’d like to hear more of their story, or share it with others, please visit the site below:

Bring a family safe to Saskatoon

“Every day, expect a miracle.” ✨Bob McCandless, my Dad ✨

This Night Last Year

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.

Life, death and love: writing about what matters

Until my October Garden post not long ago, I hadn’t written on my blog for so long. It is not that I stopped writing, but that I stopped sharing. Sorting through my Dad’s belongings this past summer while I cleaned out his apartment, I was at times overwhelmed with memories, longings and regrets. I read over old letters and cards I wrote him as a child. He saved every one in a special folder, “Anna.” Every one since since before I could spell Daddy.

The pain of having lost so much time with him as a child after the divorce, and while living overseas in Holland as a teenager, resurfaced. I didn’t want to talk about it, because I didn’t want to hurt my Mum, but silence is suffocating, at least for me. I need to let things out to let them go.

I did pour that pain into poetry, and as my Dad’s one year of passing approaches on November 9th, I am going to share some with you again.

Since losing a baby 7 years ago in labour, and losing my Dad last year to cancer, I have written a lot of poetry about grief. I wonder if this bothers some people in our “get over it and on with it” society. Am I that weird lady who always writes about death?

At the core of it though, I realize I am ultimately writing about love—because love is what connects us beyond death. Grieving is not being stuck in the past, but honouring the fact that parts of your heart have gone ahead to the future, leaving holes until you are reunited.

All we can hope is that the holes will make our hearts bigger, and let the light shine through from those we love, who are already bathed in heavenly peace. If this is all too cheesy and cliché, that’s just too bad. I am tired of not sharing. So with no more fuss, here is one of my poems from this summer:

Laundry Landay

1 July, 2021

I am sitting in the living room
folding laundry when I find a sudden sign of you

I inhale your familiar scent
lingering beyond the grave in your soft pillow case

I crumple and hide my face in it
faded and butter-soft from oh so many washing’s

I think of your quiet gentleness
your simplicity, poverty, and deep love of peace

I remember your arms around me
my eyes closed, my face resting against your shirt buttons

I breathe in deeply and the pain swells
my heart bursting with the bittersweet scent of you, Dad

True Resilience Requires Rest

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.

My new whisk! 😋

Wrestling with the Remote Control

Since the baby came certain things are on pause—

it’s hard to find time to write, to think,

to grieve, to pray

except through my body as I rock and sway,

rock and sway my little one to sleep.

Other things are going fast-forward—

there’s no stopping kids growing,

squabbling, questioning everything

and making messes everywhere I look.

In the anxious moments of early morning,

my mind tries to rewind,

to second-guess and over-analyze

but there’s no going back.

What I’m forgetting

as I grasp for control

and it slips like sand though my fingers

is the one button I need to press:

Play.

Play right now, as things are

in the mess and chaos of my 8 kids

doing silly dances and laughing,

finding a moment of togetherness.

Be right now—

allow myself to have a moment alone

walking under the cherry blossoms—

stopping to listen to the hummingbird

who sings above me

pointing it’s tiny beak heavenward,

little messenger of my Dad.

Embrace right now with its little inspirations to

to snuggle my down-soft baby

and write an imperfect poem,

unpausing my frozen voice which felt

unable to speak

unworthy of being heard

afraid to crack open bitter walls of strength

and cry.

Just press play.

74 Days into Grieving My Dad

Dear Dad,

I miss you so much in ordinary little things…I’ll be deciding what to make for dinner, and thinking I’ll make something you like, and then suddenly remember that you can’t just drop in for dinner anymore. I will see someone in the corner of my eye wearing a reflective vest, and think for a second that it’s you, riding on your scooter. If a car goes by that looks like yours, my heart skips a beat, wondering if perhaps it’s you coming to visit. I still think, “Oh, maybe Dad can drive me to this appointment,” and then have to remember you can’t.

I was there when you were dying. I arranged your funeral and wept over your ashes when I picked up your urn from Kearney. I was there when you were buried, but my head and my heart are having a hard time catching up. It’s like I can’t really realize you’re gone. Often I say to myself, “I should really call Dad and catch up,” and then I remember that I disconnected your phone after you died, and why can’t I remember that? I feel like someone who is constantly waking up from a happy dream, only to have reality slap me in the face.

So many things remind me of you: the garden beds you built out front, filled with brave spring bulbs peeking out, and the planters in the backyard by the garage, your worksop, which contain the mournful remains of summer sunflowers and tomatoes, now scraggly and black, the little hooks on my cupboards which you hung up for my washcloths, and the many books on my homeschool bookshelves, which you were always bringing for the kids, whom you adored. It is hard to realize you’re gone because there are so many signs of your loving presence everywhere.

One night shortly after you died I couldn’t sleep, and went to read on the couch. I pulled a book from my Montgomery bookshelf: “Emily Climbs.” In it was an inscription from you to me as a child, “to my dearest ‘star,’ love + hugs–Dad.” Emily Starr was also very close to her gentle father, and lost him at a young age. Reading this always made me cry as a kid, because it felt like my pain in being separated from you after the divorce. I was four then, and now I’m forty, but I’ll always be your little girl, and being apart from you still hurts terribly, especially each time I momentarily forget, only to remember again. 

Loving you always, and waiting to give you a huge hug in Heaven,

Anna

Cookies and Milk at 3 am

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! ✨🌲✨🎁✨🌲✨

Grapefruit Spoons

Going to your apartment shortly after you died

I gather your important papers,

the things I’ll need to help take care of everything for you,

but I don’t want to touch anything else

or unsettle your calmly organized cupboards

covered with labels in your sweet hand:

“Tea,” Spices,” “Cups,” “Bowls.”

My sweetest scatterbrain Dad,

who worked so heroically hard this past year

—reading Marie Kondo and likely highlighting half the pages—

to make everything organized for me

because you knew you were dying

even when I couldn’t let myself believe it.

To me your home feels like a shrine

a testament to all the things you did last—

where you hung your bathrobe, your plaid shirt,

the dirty baseball cap that you’d wear doing carpentry in my garage.

I want to hug everything—

the blankets and sweaters that smell like you—

but don’t want to take anything

except the fancy grapefruit spoons with jagged little edges,

tiny teeth which I used to scoop out that half kiwi

which you allowed me to feed you slowly

your last week at home,

and that little quarter of yellow mango,

your baby bird diet

which I desperately hoped would somehow sustain you

when your body was too tired to eat

and your soul was ready to surrender.

These little grapefruit spoons

I tuck in my purse

and flee your empty apartment

where I wish you would come back

and let me feed you again.

A Tiny Piece of Night Sky

Right now I don’t wear mourning black

because as I told the kids before the funeral,

Grandpa loved the bright colours of gardens

and flowers in the sunshine,

so dress for him.

But I do wear around my neck

a black necklace studded with tiny stars

—piece of night sky stolen by faeries—

to remind myself in all dark moments

to seek the sparkle.

It’s not a bright, dawn-rosy piece of Heaven

but a scrap of far-off night sky,

piercingly cold and beautiful,

the kind you look up at in silence

longing for the things that do not perish.

My heart thumps near my necklace,

aching to burst forth from my chest

and reach this forever with you,

beating its warm little drum

to the echoes of eternity.

Executor

Executor,

someone you love has just died

but there is no time for tears.

You ought to be eating ice cream on the kitchen floor,

surrounded by crunched up Kleenex,

but you’re swimming in a sea of papers instead.

Executor,

someone you love has just died—

now call strangers, the government, charities

and tell them so.

Accept scores of condolences

from people with calm voices.

Thank them politely

and get on with business.

Executor,

someone you love has just died.

Pay the bills,

plan the funeral

plan the burial

plan the epitaph.

Capture in two lines

the life of someone you love

who has just died.

Executor,

where are your tears?