Shaping Our Experiences Through the Stories We Tell

 

slide1

We are shaped by our experiences and, more importantly, by the stories we tell that help us make sense of our experiences. We can tell the story about how worn down we are and how awful it is or we can focus on the grand adventure of where and how life sprouts and how it sustains itself no matter what. The circumstances we encounter shape us. How they will shape us is up to us.

In these days when there often seems more bad news than good (at least in my worldview), remembering there is a positive story too – that things are awakening as well dying – can help us remember that nothing ever stays the same, everything changes, all the time – imperceptibly or dramatically and everything in between.

Where do you want to focus your attention so that you have an intentional hand in shaping your experiences?

The Passing of an Era

It was the end of January 2008. I was driving down the highway on my way from Halifax to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia on a beautiful sunny winter’s day. I wasn’t just on a road trip for the day, I was on a journey to another era – a past I knew very little about, to visit a man I knew very little about. I was on my way to meet Fred Hanson. A few brief weeks before this I had found out he existed, that he was my birth father, that I had a birth family of which I had had no conscious awareness. Yet he – and the whole family – knew about me for all of my life.

On Wednesday, October 21, 2015, Fred died with his wife Doris, her son Corey and my sister Debbie van Soest present, bringing to a close another chapter of my own life, the passing of an era.

Kathy (2 years old) and Deb (5 years old) visiting in 1964 at Nanny and Grampy Hanson's house in Digby

Kathy (2 years old) and Deb (5 years old) visiting in 1964 at Nanny and Grampy Hanson’s house in Digby

I did not know Fred well. Most of his life had been lived by the time I met him. There are three things that stand out. When he, at the age of twenty-three, and his little family – me as an infant and my sister as a three year old – were abandoned by my birth mother, he did what he could to make sure we were looked after. This meant uprooting us from Halifax to Digby NS where he had grown up and where his parents still lived. Because my grandmother was already ill with brain cancer and my grandfather was already well on his way to alcoholism, they searched for help. Help arrived in the form of my parents, Mary and Hector Jourdain, married a few years, living in Digby at the time and still childless. An agreement was reached for my parents to adopt me and for me to know my birth family. Which I did until my grandmother died when I was still very young. Fred knew where I was and for all the years my adoption was a secret (from me and my brother at any rate), he kept his word and he did not seek me out.

Fred and Kathy

Me and Fred – March 2008

The second thing that stands out is how nervous he was to meet and how welcoming when I walked in the door. He’d been pacing from the front window to the kitchen window to the door in anticipation of my arrival. The door was opened before I even had a chance to get out of the car. He hugged me and we found our way through the awkwardness of first meeting. He gave me pictures from when I was baby.

The third thing that stands out was his agreeing to let me interview him for my memoir: Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness. As I asked him questions and took him back through memories he had not thought of for decades, he forgot for a moment that I was interviewing him. He reflected on the moment my birth mother left and his incomprehension, still all these years later, that she could leave two babies behind.

Doris and Fred 2006

Doris and Fred Hanson, 2006

Fred had a sociable side that enabled him to fit in many places – like the Red Knight in Yarmouth where he and Doris often when for a beer and to hang out with friends. And he had a sarcastic wit that made him a great sparring partner. I didn’t know his second wife who raised my sister Debbie and brought my half sister Robyn into the world. I did however have a chance to meet Doris and experience the warmth and hospitality of their beautiful home. They were together for 28 years.

I am blessed to have known him, filling in some blanks of life story for both him and me. There are many stories that will not be known and many that will not be written now. I do know his brother Bill, his parents and others greeted him as he passed over. My mother and my birth mother had a pact together with Fred and my dad that has gifted me with multiple lineages that are important and relevant to my own life journey and in many ways I am only at the beginning of that exploration. And for now, it is grieving and celebrating the passing of an era.

Parenting Children in Their Twenties is Harder

Parenting children in their twenties is harder than parenting them when they’re younger – at least that has been my experience. It requires responsiveness, resilience, adaptability and great unattached, unconditional love – which is easier to say than live at times. And the transition of the parenting role can be unexpected and different than the empty nest syndrome.

If you have children in their twenties (or have been through that stage) and just did that wide-eyed look of dawning comprehension because some of your experience just got named for you, that is the look I’ve been getting from friends when I say this out loud to them. They know. They understand. Like me, it hasn’t been a conversation they’ve had in exactly this way and naming it brings relief.

When I mentioned to my older boys’ father that parenting the kids in their twenties is harder, he laughed. “That’s because we thought we’d be done by now,” he said. There is some truth to that. And it is more than that at the same time.

When your children are born, people will warn you about the terrible two’s and the rebellious teen years. Never once did I have someone say to me, wait until they are in their twenties! Not once. Yet, this age offers interesting and unexpected challenges from a parenting perspective.

These young adults are ready to be independent and launch their lives while at the same time still needing support, although they, and consequently you, are not exactly sure what that looks like. And the journey to independence is not straightforward or a straight line. It is fraught with missteps along the way. This journey needs to be acknowledged and not over dramatized. It is just the journey of life unfolding as it does.

These young adults, our children, may ask for support and balk at it at the same time. They may want to be close to extended family and want to be left alone to live their lives – and who can blame them. As a parent, feeling the sometimes contradictory energy and tuning into how best to hold that space can be a challenge – because we love our kids, we only want the best for them and we want our family connections to stay (or grow) strong. Understanding how to hold family close and lightly at the same time, as a parent, is new learning. Hold it too tight and you risk pushing loved ones away. Hold it too lightly and you don’t end up honouring values that are important to you. Lean in too close and it is suffocating. Lean out too far and there is less substance and connection.

My twenty-something sons and their partners.

My twenty-something sons and their partners.

As we navigate a new stage of relationship it is important to hold that space with love, to extend love, to not take the quest for independence personally or be offended or hurt at times.  Keep inviting – true invitation, not insistence. Celebrate the next stages of life – yours and theirs. Both my twenty-something year old sons are in long term relationships, living with their partners, launching the next phases of their lives. I’m proud of them and cherish the relationships I have with all four of them. As a bit of an independent leaning individual myself, I value their own journeys and want only the best for them. I want them each to be and continue to grow into their own uniqueness as individuals. I suppose there is also some grief from time to time mingled in with the celebration, which surprises me a little although maybe it shouldn’t. It is the need to let go of previous stages of attachment and relationship to be open to what will serve best now, in recognition of new stages of maturity – of all of us as individuals and in our relationships with each other.

Everything moves in cycles. It is important to remember the ebb and flow of things as you hold intention for your family connections. One thing I learned when the kids were younger was to not project current (unwanted) behaviours or patterns onto the future as if the future would simply be more of the now. Life offers us the opportunity for our relationships to grow and mature. What that looks like with our kids in their twenties is different than what it looked like when they were younger and is likely different than what it will look like when they are in their thirties and forties (I don’t know for absolute sure because I haven’t gotten there yet).

I know I have a new appreciation and respect for my own parents and I have a new appreciation for my twenty something kids as they continue to be my teachers in this openhearted journey of life.

Death and Dying – Lessons I Learned From My Mother

Originally Posted on February 16, 2012 over at Shape Shift Strategies Inc.

Never having been present at a death before, I didn’t know what to expect; and, it wasn’t what I expected.  My brother, father and I held vigil, practically holding our collective breath, as my mother, Mary Patricia Ann Ritcey Jourdain, drew her last, peaceful breaths on Wednesday, February 8, 2012, falling quiet at 12:30 pm.

Then there was silence.  Her silence.  No more rattling breaths drawn with some effort through her lungs into her ravaged body; ravaged from dementia for many years and the refusal to eat for many months.

Our silence.  In reverence for my mother, her journey and the honour of witnessing the final stages of her transition from physical form into spirit.  I already believed much of her consciousness was active in the subtle realms even as her physical presence diminished.  With her last breaths I imagined her spirit gently tugging until the last wisps of it were finally released into a delightful little dance of joy and freedom.

My mother with the beauty of youth.

My mother with the beauty of youth.

My mother’s journey with dementia was a long one.  My journey through hers was an inspired one.  Her greatest teachings for me may have been in these last few years when she could no longer string coherent sentences together, during the contrast of those times when she seemed to have no awareness of my presence to when I knew she was aware I was there.

I had one of those moments of her awareness the night before she died.  We had moved her to a special room where I could stay with her overnight.  One of her medication times was missed.  I was aware of that but she didn’t seem to be in distress. So, I sat on the arm of the couch, eye level with my mom.  I looked into her blue eyes and she held my gaze.

Summer 2008 212

Me and my mom just after she went into long term care. We posted all kinds of family pictures on the wall behind her in hopes of, I’m not sure what.

When I say she held my gaze, I really mean she held my gaze.  She was just as present as I was.  In fact, I was mesmerized.  I couldn’t take my gaze away.

So, I talked to her.  I told her about some things in my life.  I told her how beautiful she is – not was, is.  I told her how gifted she is and how loved.  I thanked her for being in my life, for being my mom.  Mostly, I held her gaze with love.  Until she began to exhibit signs of distress and I went for the nurse.  And then she was gone again until the moment of her final breath.

Four of us still in the room but now the shape of our lives fundamentally shifted.  As long as we stayed sitting in the room, it was like she was still there in her emaciated form.  But, of course, now she was free of form.  Eventually we had to move and leave her next steps in the capable hands of the Harbourview Haven staff who would transfer her into the equally capable hands of the Dana L. Sweeny Funeral Home.

The staff at Harbourview Haven taught me about human dignity and respect through how they related to my mother.  Even up to the last moment, they treated my mother as if she was fully present and aware.  They called her by her name.  In the middle of the night they would come into our room.  “Mary,” they’d say, “We’re going to turn you over now.”  “Mary, we are going to give you your meds now.  It might sting a little.”

On the morning of her death, a care worker came in to wash her face and freshen her up, providing a depth of love and care, dignity and respect to a woman in her last moments on this physical plane.  I can’t say enough for Harbourview Haven and the care they provided, not just in those last few hours but in the three years and eight months (plus a few days) that my mother lived there.  And not just care for her.  Care for my dad too.  For our family.  They understand about death and dying.  That it is a process and a transition.

My nine year old (at the time) understands about death and dying.  Enough to ask to visit his grandmother with me when I told him I was going to see her.  He hadn’t been there much lately.  I told him what his grandmother looked like and how she was.  He still wanted to come, even when the call came to say it might be her last day.  And his older brother and his girlfriend came too.  We all sat vigil the day before she died, for hours.  Watching my mother with sidelong looks every time her breathing stopped – for the eternity that shows up in a moment.

I am now aware that dying and death requires the same kind of loving care and attention as birth does.  It is birth.  Birth back to spirit.

When my older boys were young children their grandfather on their father’s side died. Their dad and I had already separated.  They went to the funeral and afterwards I asked them how it was.  We began to talk about death.  They said to me, “We think it’s kind of like this.  You know when you go to sleep and dream and when you are in the middle of a dream it seems real?  But then you wake up and you know it was just a dream.  We think life is like that.  It’s really just a dream but it seems real.  Then you die, but really it’s like waking up and realizing it was just a dream.”  Such wisdom out of the mouths of babes.  Closer to source.

I wonder how my mother might be reflecting on the 79 year dream that was her life as Mary Patricia Ann Ritcey Jourdain this time around?

Untangling the Messiness of Transitions

My mother died on February 8, 2012. That night, as I drove from Lunenburg to Halifax by the light of the full moon, I felt her dancing spirit, free of the confines of a deteriorated physical body and I felt joyous and euphoric, recognizing the beauty and tragedy of transition all alive at the same time in the same moment. ~ Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness

 Last night I awoke to the light of another full moon and I had a flash of insight. Full moons signal times of completion. In my life and my family right now we have been experiencing a number of life transitions and I am celebrating the five year anniversary of  a significant life transition. Some of the transitions are easily named and obvious, some lie in the more intangible spaces and are not so easily named.

In the last few weeks, having been at home for an extended period of time (for me), I have been experiencing a whole gamut of emotions and they are all tangled together in the messiness of transitions. Celebrating and reminiscing. Joy and grief. Delight and general malaise. Acknowledging life and loss.

IMG_1353In my family, we are celebrating graduations, new jobs, new cars, moves and the animated energy of new pets. We are also grieving the loss of a beloved pet a few months ago and I am grieving changes in my household as a result of one move while celebrating the next steps in my son’s life just as much as I am appreciating the alone time for reflection and my own rhythm of life’s patterns.

IMG_1533 Jacobs car

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is the five year anniversary of moving into my house, post divorce. Five years provides a significant marker for reflection on all that has transpired in that time – new growth, what was achieved, what was not achieved, the joy of finding my way, my voice, my life and the disappointments of not realizing all I dreamt possible in this time while feeling immense gratitude for the unexpected gifts that showed up, particularly my new partner with whom I am in an intentional, whole hearted, cross border, life and work journey. With new and inspiring visions for our work together.

IMG_1120

 

In this moment, there is a transition working its way through me yet again. It is intangible, energetic, spiritual. It is another aspect of my soul journey manifesting itself in physical form. There are not adequate words to capture the essence of the moment and sometimes words are not what is needed. While this is going on I am struggling with my current body image as I reinstitute my fitness regime that has been sadly lacking over the last few months of interrupted patterns.

 

 

Mary Ritcey Jourdain, 1970s

Mary Ritcey Jourdain, 1970s

And, I find myself missing my mother – unexpectedly and deeply. This might not be the “right” thing to say, but mostly I don’t miss her much. We are connected in spirit and in soul journey. She is in the next stage of her soul journey and I am cool with that. Partly sparked by family friends posting pictures from another moment in her life when she was young. Partly sparked by upcoming consulting work for a long term care facility – not the one my mother was in for four years, but sparking memory just the same. Partly sparked by mother/daughter Mother’s Day promotions and my mother’s birthday being in the month of May.  You never know when these moments will hit.

All of these things (and maybe more) are tangled together in this moment of new and old transitions. I am grateful for the full range of emotional experiences because our emotions are our guidance system. The contrast of emotions helps us know we are alive, helps me know I am alive. Each moment is temporary. This too shall pass. The sight of the full moon last night reminded me about completions. I am ready to cross the threshold that is waiting now. To welcome what wants to flow while honouring all that has transpired in the multitude of transitions all alive in this moment.