But I Didn’t Know

For Mum

I didn’t know today would be your last Christmas.
I would have set up a tree in your hospital room,
Decorated with purple and green lights.
I would have made your favourite pumpkin cheesecake.
I would have spent less time complaining 
About how busy my life was.
Deadlines overwhelmed me, no time to enjoy the holidays.
While you spent Christmas in a hospital bed.
Couldn’t even see your own granddaughter.
But I didn’t know.

I didn’t know today would be your last birthday.
I would have made your favourite pistachio pudding cake,
Despite your pleas that it would just go to waste,
Since you had to spend your birthday in a hospital room.
I would have gotten you more balloons, more flowers, 
As many presents as I could carry.
I would have sung Happy Birthday at the top of my lungs,
Got all of the doctors and nurses to join in.
But I didn’t know.

I didn’t know today would be your last Mother’s Day.
I would have special-ordered your favourite whoopie pies.
I would have written you a poem telling you how much I loved you.
How you were “my person,” the one whose eyes still lit up
When I walked into the room.
How you gave me the gift of just being there when I needed you. 
Always. 
Until one day you simply couldn’t.
But I didn’t know.

You once told me, don’t wait
Until you are standing over someone’s grave.
Because then it’s too late.
But I didn’t know
How soon that day would come.
I thought I would have so many more
Christmases, birthdays, Mother’s Days,
To celebrate with you.
But I didn’t know.

One

It only takes one.

One person to love you,

When others do not.

One person to publish your story,

After years of rejection.

One winning ticket,

Out of hundreds bought.

One person who sees your worth,

When you cannot see it 

In yourself.

You are always just

 One step away

From life going right.

But you can’t win

If you take yourself

Out of the game.

So next time you feel

Like giving up, 

Remember…

 It only takes one.

Why

More often than not, I wonder why.

Why can’t life just work out the way I want.

Why do the people I love the most die.

Why am I always the one left to mourn them.

I don’t understand why people have to suffer,

Or live in poverty and hunger.

Why some have so much wealth,

And others just struggle to survive each day.

Why some people have everything,

And others have nothing.

Why some people’s lives are heaven on earth,

While others live in the depths of hell.

Why nature gives us sunrises and sunsets,

Rainbows and flower gardens,

Only to ravage us with hurricanes and tsunamis,

Tornadoes and drought.

Life is a puzzle it seems.

A puzzle no one has ever been able to solve.

I constantly look for meaning in this life,

But all I find are more questions without answers.

Someday, my child, you will ask me why.

And I fear I won’t know what to say.

All I know for sure is you are the reason 

Why I exist,

And my love for you is never ending.

This I do know for sure.

If I Had My Life to Live Over (Aimee’s Version)

I came across the wonderful verse IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER by writer Erma Bombeck:

I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for the day.

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

I would have talked less and listened more.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded.

I would have eaten the popcorn in the ‘good’ living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have sat on the lawn with my grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life.

I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn’t show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, ‘Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.’ There would have been more ‘I love you’s’ More ‘I’m sorry’s.’

But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute, look at it and really see it .. live it and never give it back. STOP SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF!!! (© Erma Bombeck)

Inspired by her words, I decided to write my own version. Perhaps reflecting on my past regrets will help me re-evaluate how I want to live my life from this day forward. And to stop sweating the small stuff!

IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER (Aimee’s Version)

I would have told my overly anxious teenage self to lighten up and stop worrying so damn much about everything and everyone. She carried around so much baggage and let other people’s expectations weigh her down far too much. Lighten up girl – you are young, have more fun!

In fact, I probably would have said the same thing to myself all throughout my 20s. A common theme for me in my life seems to be “I should have lightened up and had more fun.” Especially in my 20s, I should have stayed single more, travelled more, spent more time alone finding out what made me tick, instead of chasing dead-end relationships.

I would have wore less makeup, spent less time on my hair (and NEVER bleached it) and focused so much less overall on my appearance and weight. I would have focused more on being fit rather than just skinny.

I would have wore more sunscreen and hats, and NEVER visited the tanning salon. All the damage I did to my skin I am now paying for by having to get frequent checkups for skin cancer (which I first had in my early 40s).

I would have focused less on getting ahead at work and more on getting ahead in my own life.

I would have gotten a dog way before the age of 37. I can’t believe how many years I missed out on the love of dogs, they are the most magical of creatures. My first dog Bandit showed me the precious bond that can exist between humans and animals, and I am forever grateful.

I would have started my writing journey much earlier in life. I have always loved to write, but because I didn’t think I could make a go of it professionally, I put is aside. But it doesn’t matter if you can turn something into a career or not. Writing and other art forms is about creating, passion, something you do because it makes you happy first and foremost, not because you can necessarily make money at it.

People always remarked how much time I spent with my family. But I would have spent EVEN MORE time with my Mum and brother Robbie had I known how soon they would both be gone. When you lose two of the most important people in your life far too soon, you will ALWAYS regret the times not spent with them. The times you could have and chose not to. Those unspent times will haunt you forever and a day, and I wish I could bring them both back to me now and never ever let them go. I would hug and kiss them and tell them over and over again how much I love and miss them so much I ache inside most days.

If I am lucky I will have the second half of my life to make amends for the first. I want to live more fully in each moment, instead of merely existing in it.

We only get one trip around the sun. We all need to live our lives. NOW. Before the light burns out.

The Slowness in Between

We run around being busy,

And call it a life.

But real life is the slowness

In between.

It is the morning cuddles with your daughter

As you lay in bed.

It is noticing the five different colours of the sky

During sunrise and sunset.

It is walking through the woods,

Seeing the beauty of freshly fallen snow

Linger in the trees.

Life’s best moments don’t appear when you are

Busy running races.

They are found when you stop to smell the flowers

Along the way.

2021

I was so ready to say good riddance to 2021. The worst year of my life. The year I lost my beloved Mum.

But now I realize that 2021 is also the last year of my life where I could see my Mum, hug her, hear her voice. Every year since 1975 had my Mum in it. 2022 would be the first year without. Suddenly letting go of 2021 is not so easy.

But I promise Mum that although you will not live to see my future years, I will carry you with me in any way I can – your stories, your memories will live on, even when you cannot.

Rest in peace my beautiful Angel.

Packing Up a Life

Photo Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/steamer-trunk-trunk-luggage-antique-3414018/

[Author’s Note: This story appears in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book “Grieving, Loss and Healing: 101 Stories of Comfort and Moving Forward.” (February 22, 2022)]

After my Mum died, walking into her little apartment all alone without her there was more than I could bear. I laid down on her bed and cried into her pillow. I pulled her blankets all around me, trying to breathe in any remaining scent of her. I went out and sat in her favorite chair and looked through old family albums. In a few short weeks I knew I would have to let her apartment go, my last remaining connection to her.

As hard as it was, day after day, to slowly sort through and pack up her things, in many ways, it brought me great comfort. It was my quiet time, away from the noise of everyday family life, where I had to be strong and not cry every second in front of my little girl who had just lost her Nannie.

Sorting through Mum’s things was emotional hell, but it also felt like in a strange way, she was still there, and we were spending time together reminiscing about old times. I would shut the door and be transported back in time to when she was alive, when I would drop by for visits. Some days all I could do was sit and look around and soak it all in, trying to take a snapshot in my mind so I would never forget.

And at times, it was like finding buried treasure – secret envelopes revealed poetry my Mum had written over the years. A lover of words, she also had clippings and post-it notes of inspirational and humorous thoughts literally everywhere – taped in cupboards, hidden in closets. My Mum and I are both writers, so although I wasn’t surprised at the fact I found some of her writings and clippings, some of it I had never seen before. It was like discovering a whole other side of her that I wish I could have gotten to know better while she was still living. A regret far too common I’m afraid after loved ones are gone forever, never to return.

As I was packing up my mother’s life, I was also unpacking some of it into mine. Boxes of her photos, books and other personal mementos I couldn’t bear to give away ended up on my shelves and on my walls. I started wearing her jewelry, her watch. Wrapping her favorite blanket around me as I watched her favorite movies.

People said they are just things, you can’t keep it all – and of course I couldn’t. But I was determined to keep whatever I could, and also ensured friends and family were given some of her treasured possessions as well. Because these “things” are not just “things” – they are the last remaining remnants of my mother’s life. And when I wrap myself up in the soft warmth of her favorite lime green housecoat, I can still feel her close to me again.

Losing a Sibling – A New Solo Journey Through Life

alone-2666433_1920Photo source: https://pixabay.com/photos/alone-sad-depression-loneliness-2666433/

Losing a sibling young is an abomination of the natural order of the universe. Your siblings are, in theory, the only ones who know you your entire life. They share every childhood moment. They watch your children grow up. They help you survive a parent’s demise. At least this is how it’s supposed to be – in theory. Unless you lose your one and only sibling at a young age. Then you effectively become the only one who knows you your entire life.

This is my new solo journey now. My wingman, my partner in crime, my younger brother, was taken from me at the age of 27.

My brother was born the day before my 4th birthday, so I was convinced he was my birthday present. And when he came home, I was convinced he was mine, period. “Don’t touch my baby” I’d say to anyone who dared to go near him. At night, after my parents went to sleep, I would steal him away and lay him in bed beside me.

And throughout his life, I continued to be the big sister with a vengeance. In my mind, I was his protector, his guardian angel, even when he didn’t really need one. We fought as normal siblings do, but we laughed more. We had that rare sibling relationship where we actually enjoyed spending time together. We were best friends, movie buddies, had the same sarcastic sense of humor. 

Rheumatic fever, the doctors said. Irreparable heart damage. My brother spent his 18th birthday in hospital, and was gifted with a 50/50 chance of living another 5 years prognosis. He defied them all by living another 9. 

Grieving the loss of a sibling while they are still living is one of the most heartbreaking yet valuable lessons one can possibly learn. Knowing my brother was going to die sooner than later forced me to confront the notion of mortality, showed me that you must seize every opportunity to live life to the fullest.

But mostly it taught me that the most valuable things in life are your loved ones, and you must never take them for granted – not for a single second. Because when they are gone forever, all you will have are your memories of your time together. And if you have any regrets at all about how you treated them, or how little time you spent with them, they will haunt your soul – forever. 

The memories of my final years with my brother will forever burn brightly in technicolor. The trips we took, the birthdays we spent together, the afternoon we just randomly stopped and played a game of catch in the park. Leaving the hospital on the day he died, all I recall is that the outside world looked grey, devoid of all traces of those vivid colors. Where had they all gone to? 

That first year, I barely slept, rarely left the house, walked around clutching Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. I was a crazy woman, wading through knee-deep snow to place flowers on his grave for his birthday. What little sleep I did manage culminated in dreams about him that caused me to wake up bawling hysterically. 

But one particular dream I had was beautiful, and gave me much needed peace. In it, we were walking over a bridge together, looking out over a beautiful meadow. In the next instant, he was no longer beside me. I looked over to see him standing in the meadow, arms reaching overhead skyward. Was he trying to send me a message from heaven? Was he trying to tell me that it was okay to let him go? 

Grief completely consumes your life at first, but its almighty power over you gradually subsides. Over time, you are able to laugh again, to look through old photos with a smile instead of through a haze of tears. The color does return, but it will never be as vivid as before. 

Someday, I will be the only surviving member of my birth family. My intimate childhood recollections will remain mine alone, as the only other person who shared them with me is missing from the story. 

This is not the journey I chose, but I have to somehow make peace with it. Although my brother will no longer be accompanying me on this journey through life, I like to think there will always be a set of invisible footsteps walking beside me.

Family Ties

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Family has always been the one constant in my life, my happy place, the thing that anchors and sustains me over and above anything else. Now in middle age with my own family, I often find myself reminiscing about my childhood and family of origin. I think about the connections between past and present, wondering how the former has influenced the latter.

I remember as a child getting so homesick whenever I had to go away to summer camp. I could never bear the thought of leaving my family behind, even for just a few days. This is probably the reason why I never left the city I grew up in. Or why I have yet to spend even one night away from my daughter. The constant pull of my family, both past and present, seems to be rooted deep within my soul, and is unwavering in its devotion.

Over the years, I have seen various friends and family members move away to chase better career opportunities or life adventures. Occasionally, I have even contemplated this myself.

But then I see my daughter hugging my mum or dad, feel a glow of happiness when I take her to one of my favorite childhood haunts. I think about all the years my brother was ill, in and out of hospitals, and all of the special memories I was able to share with him in the last years of his life.

All of these special moments in my life that I hold so dear would never have been possible if I had been hundreds or thousands of miles away, chasing other life adventures.

My life adventure, it seems, can be lived out a little closer to home.

The Kindergarten Blues

I can’t believe this is really happening. How did 4 years go by so fast???

I am sitting at my daughter’s “Welcome to Kindergarten” meeting for parents, which is being held 8 months before school officially starts. They begin by showing one of those sentimental school videos, where the kids frolic on the playground, set to sappy elevator music. Normally, those types of videos would make me snicker, but this one is different. This time, all I can do is picture my baby girl as one of those frolicing children. Thank heavens I am in the back row, because it is all I can do to keep the waterworks from flowing.

A little while later, they are talking about doing lockdown drills with the children. Apparently by law, they have to do so many a year. Just in case, you know, someone marches into the school with a gun. Oh great, and up until now, by biggest worry was bullies on the playground.

Oh, how I adore this little school. It is the first school I ever taught at, and years later, I ended up living in a house where I could literally see it from my kitchen window every day. My daughter has been playing here since she was old enough to walk. Many hours have been spent here already, splashing in mud puddles, going down slides, picking apples and berries from the trees. So as I leave the meeting and head out for the short walk home, I am trying very hard to push down the feeling that this school is suddenly the enemy. That it is in some way stealing my daughter away from me.

Luckily I come to my senses – after my very short, yet seemingly endless walk – and realize that it is not actually school that is the enemy, but life itself. Going to school is only the first step in a never-ending staircase that will see her growing up, and growing away from me. At least when she’s in school, I can look out and see her from our kitchen window. Life, however, will take her on journeys much further away, where I am not always within walking distance.