Lessons from Amanda 

I lost a cousin to cancer on April 11, 2005. She was twenty-three years old.  Incredibly young.  Amanda fought cancer valiantly and we actually thought she had it beat at least once.  Sadly, it was not to be the case and the tumours ravaged her body, taking control of her organs and systems.  

I’ll always remember the last time I spoke with Amanda.  It was a few months before she died, and she knew her prognosis was terminal.  She was taking the time to call and say goodbye.     I was in complete denial, staying upbeat and cheery “you’ll get better”, continuing to prepare a dinner of rice and steamed veggies for my family.  Amanda is my first thought every time I use that rice cooker, the memory of our last conversation replaying in my head.    Regret fills me, as all I could talk about was the journal I had sent for her to write in, but not hear her tell me she was too weak and had no desire to write.  I burned myself using the rice cooker, the steam scorching my bare hand, making it necessary to cut our conversation short.

Even with such a short life, she left a legacy in our family.   Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from her.

  • Find the beauty.  My aunt Shelley, Amanda’s mom, has a beautiful recollection of the peace in Amanda’s room as she took her last breaths.  The calm in the room offered solace to those who entered, whether in grief or as part of their employment.  Nurses, family and friends all felt the solemn grace.   Beauty can be found in even the most difficult situations.
  • Let go of the baggage – Don’t take it with you.  Amanda’s tumour had gotten quite large before she died, even earning itself a name.   It was important to her to not be buried with her and her last request was to have it removed after she passed.   Whether your tumours are literal masses attached to your body or figurative emotions, hurts and chattels your mind festers upon, they become cancerous to your well-being. The person who cut you off in traffic, your husband’s dirty clothes all over the bedroom, the friend who gossips about you…   Let them go.
  • Listen to what people are saying.  Hear them.  You may never have the chance to speak with them again. I would give anything to turn back the years to that last phone call.   I would have walked away from the kitchen and spent a few uninterrupted moments with my cousin’s voice.   Hear her say goodbye.   And talk about anything she wanted to tell me.
  • Take time to Remember – after Amanda died and her apartment was being cleaned out, the family kept finding pennies everywhere.  Apparently, before she died, she joked that she would continue to visit.   The sheer volume of pennies gave birth to the family axiom that every time you find a penny, someone in heaven was thinking about you.
  • Life is short.  This reflection not only comes from my cousin, but from other young (and older) people lost in my circle.   Love, dance, sing… enjoy the time you have.  Hug your children, your sister, call your best friend.  Visit your grandmother.  Sightsee.   Laugh.  Get the dragonfly tattoo.

While it has been twelve years since she passed, it feels like only minutes have passed.  Thank you for your legacy, Amanda.

In Memory of Shawn 

I lost a dear friend to suicide in 2016.   He was married to my best friend and the father to five amazing children and adoptive father to a truly gentle soul.

Shawn was not an easy person to know.   Years of a troubled childhood had made Shawn prickly and closed.  He allowed very few people to get close to him, and I was lucky enough to only see the gentleman he could be. He was a big brother, a protective man who always looked out for me.

Over the years, there were subtle changes in his behaviours. Or rather, as I saw him infrequently and he could easily hide these changes from me, they appeared subtle.  He became sullen and closed, his temper volatile and unpredictable. The family he adored was no longer a treasure but a burden he could not handle.

When Shawn walked away from his family,  he was angry and resented the life he felt had trapped him.   The details in the months away are sketchy; a few accounts from those around him paint a wildly partying life, full of travels.   During this period, he attempted suicide at least twice and was eventually located by police to be admitted to an Albertan mental health facility for observation and assessment.

After just over a month, he was released in early January.   And promptly disappeared.   The remaining weeks of his life were a mystery to his family until after his body was discovered in April.   From there, they discovered how he had been living at a childhood friend’s home since his release, having no support from the health industry due to “just missing” a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder.  There were other mental health concerns but inconclusive diagnoses did not support further treatment.   Shawn was ready for help but nothing was available within the provincial health care system.

Suicide follows the surviving family.  It becomes the unspoken topic when you are with friends, the whispered conversations of neighbours. The spouse and children feel as they are under constant scrutiny and every movement is being questioned, studied and judged against the deceased’s actions.   As my best friend says, “It is the White Elephant we cannot escape.”

Mental health issues are becoming more widely spoken of, yet they are still not supported and treated with the same seriousness as physical maladies.   Lack of understanding and stigma within the general populace, insufficient funding and structure from government agencies, and stretched front line workers add up to a vacuum of support for affected citizens.

It’s time to get beyond the stigmas, silences and sideways glances.

Whispers don’t save lives.  Speak up and OUT LOUD.

Reach out.

#mentalhealth

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Need help for you or a loved one?

Centre for Suicide Prevention   https://www.suicideinfo.ca/resources/

Canadian Mental Health Association  http://www.cmha.ca/

Alberta Health Services http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/amh/amh.aspx

British Columbia Mental Health http://www.bcmhsus.ca/

 

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Additional reading: Alberta suicide rates remain high despite ‘encouraging’ 20% drop – (from CBC.ca Dec. 14, 2016)

 

Happy 75th Birthday to my Dad

My father turns 75 today.

Born in a blacked-out Vancouver two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, he was the first child of Bill and Edna Pratt.   My grandparents had moved to the coast for different opportunities and a new life away from the extreme conditions of the Alberta and Saskatchewan prairie where they’d been raised.
The lustre of the big city didn’t take long to dim and they soon moved back to Esther, Alberta to complete their family with Marjorie, Wilf, Anne, Dale, Shelley and Gayle.

I have so many stories to share of my dad, and so many things I have learned.   We have not always had the easiest relationship – my stubbornness rivals his, and as he’s always encouraged us to learn and read as much as we can, debates and arguments could be well-informed and quite heated as neither of us would back down from our positions.

In spite of himself, he raised me to be a feminist – I constantly challenged the gender stereotypes from his generation and clamoured to learn how to drive tractor, shoot gophers and be taught the same things as my older brother.   When he wouldn’t teach me within the timeline I demanded, I learned on my own.   As I got older, there were certain things he insisted I master – knowing my vehicle’s motor as a prime example (oil and tire changes, even taking out an axle once) – so I would not be disadvantaged in the marketplace nor rely on others to look after me.

My dad has always been one of my strongest cheerleaders and has told me I could “take on the world with a bucket of water and win”.

I’ve heard from his siblings what a great brother he has been, offering counsel and advice  and as a fantastic uncle to their children.

I wish I could be there to help celebrate your birthday today.  You’ve been a great dad and an amazing grandfather.

Thank you Dad!

Bring on the Sparkle

I have some HUGE news on a couple of fronts!  I am very excited to share it with you. One of my friends always tells me I don’t share my “sparkle” enough, so you’re in for a healthy dose this morning! 

  1. I’ll be presenting at PowHERtalks this Sunday October 2nd in Calgary.  I’m honoured to be the “closer”, the last speaker on the program.   The topic of my PowHERtalk is “Taking the Ick out of Politics”. I want to change the Political landscape in Canada by encouraging  more women to run for elected office and to follow my own vision of a more collaborative Canada at the highest levels of government. You can find more information at: PowHERtalks Calgary .  There are a limited amount of tickets still available of you’re free this Sunday!   Videos of the Calgary PowHERtalks will be available in a few weeks if you can’t make it this weekend.  I’ll share the transcript of my PowHERtalk after Sunday. 
  2. I am thrilled to announce I’ve received my license as a REALTOR(r) in BC!    I am working with the tremendous team of Royal LePage Sussex, based out of the Sechelt office.   It’s been an exciting and challenging time as I’ve worked through the course and exam.     And here I am!  

Thrilling times ahead, and this is only a piece of what’s going on.  Can’t wait to see what sparkles next.  😉 

All the best,

Lori 

Consent Awareness 

Raising awareness about consent. Red light, green light at U of Calgary.

CBC’s Coverage of University of Calgary’s Consent Awareness Campaign

Wow.
I’m happy a university took it upon themselves to hold an event of this scale to bring awareness to the definitions of two of the shortest words in the English language, the concepts of which are pretty definite.

If you detect a small amount of sarcasm,
I am saddened that IN 2016, we have to teach how NOT TO GET RAPED.

How NO means NO. Not maybe. Not later.

That CONSENT means the object of your amorous advances says YES and AGREES to allow you to touch them.

Do you want to go skydiving? No. Then I won’t drag you on to the plane, strap a parachute on you (or not) and throw you out.

Do you want to have tea? Yes. But I only want a bit, and I like it plain.

Would you like this sandwich? Yes.   Wait,  I’m not comfortable having  more than this half.  Stop trying to feed me more!

Consent means agreement to do something.  If the person changes their mind, consent is no longer valid.

It it crucial to educate what consent  IS in an era when misogynistic judges reward convicted rapists with paltry sentences so as to not “ruin their futures”.  There is little justice for perpetrators and even less reporting due to shame and fear of repercussions for victims.

It’s great to see initiatives like U of C’s to bring awareness to this issue, especially on a large scale, collaborative manner and involving new students.

But my heart still hurts and worries for my daughters’ safety in today’s world.

Lest We Forget

During World War Two, my daughters’ great uncle was captured after his plane went down in the European countryside.   He was held in a prisoner of war camp until he and a fellow Allied soldier escaped.

After a fortnight of dodging German troops in the marshy swampland, they eventually found passage over to England.

A short time was spent recuperating in England, and then he was released home to Canada.   Arriving first in the United States, up to Ontario and then home to Vancouver Island, the record of his journey home appears relatively uneventful.

Only a few hours after his arrival to his parents’ homestead, his mother discovered that he had taken his life in his childhood bedroom.  It was June 1st, 1945.

The inquest after his death revealed that he received no greeting from The Red Cross, which handled the repatriation and “welcome Home” aspect of Veteran’s Services at that time.

Medals awarded, both posthumous and prior to his death proved his bravery and service to country.    A model soldier, a hero.  Lost.

This year, lest we forget our heroes that have returned home safe, yet not fully sound. They still live with images and memories that will not dissipate with the passage of time.  We have soldiers that are hurting, and they must be helped.   And never forgotten.

Canadian Armed Forces has a section of their website dedicated to this issue:

Suicide and suicide prevention in the Canadian Armed Forces

There is an effort to remember those lost;  Renata D’Aliesio’s article last week in the Globe and Mail tells of the “Soldiers of Suicide” Memorial.

Military memorial commemorates Canada’s soldiers of suicide

You can also find out more on Honour Our Canadian Soldiers

Alison Howell’s article in the Globe and Mail today discusses the need to for our new government to further support Veterans on their return home in the modern age.

For my children – the link to your uncle’s name in the WWII Book of Remembrance.

WWII Page 514