Inhabiting Identity

Who are you? Who are you really? Who do you aspire to be? How are you creating your life? How much thought have you given to these questions? For me, they are a guiding inquiry providing ample fodder for deep reflection.

I have been actively engaged in identity work for the last couple of years, becoming more of an active conscious participant in my own future, in creating my own destiny. I am doing this by becoming a magician (yes, you read that right) and living into being a powerful creator. Not a show magician full of dazzling tricks or someone who engages magical thinking, but a person who recognizes the power of combining deep spiritual work with practical mundane steps to advance a vision, intent or desire for my life. Learning how to do magic, be magic, live life magically.

A fitting image for the month of July 2020

I have found amazing teachers and tuned into a whole new world that has been waiting for me for decades. A world that has attempted to reveal itself through my spiritual journey but which often left me wondering what to do with what was revealed, with the spirit guides, guardians and supporters I knew to be available to me. Now I am learning how to build relationship, how to open the lines of communication more fully. And, I feel like my father through his death has opened a portal of greater access. Through this work, I am learning much more about identity, about my identity.

I recognize over the decades I have inhabited several identities – some more fully than others and none with the degree of consciousness I am bringing to this next evolution of who I am, who I am growing into.

Like everyone, I have a number of roles that shape who I am and contribute to my identity. Mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, lover, partner, friend, neighbour, consultant, trainer, teacher, coach, author, co-author, traveler, cat parent, caregiver. And these many roles are not the consummate of my identity.

My identity is more than my roles. Although all of my parents and grandparents are now departed, I am still a daughter and a granddaughter but these roles are different now. Since my father’s death, I am no longer a caregiver for my elder(s), which was a consuming role. I am no longer part of the sandwich generation – sandwiched between parents and children. I am now the elder in my family.

Since putting a period on 70 Dufferin Street, clearing out my parent’s house where my dad had lived for 45 years, a house my brother and I also grew up in, I have turned my attention to my own house of 10 years. There are a few items from my parents’ house that have made their way into my house and they needed to be made way for. They have sparked a transformative effort in my living space. And, it’s more than that.

My evolving identity is demanding a space to inhabit that is refreshed through paint, cleared of clutter, bringing a sense of order to each individual space and the house overall. I am in the midst of this now, in the summer of 2020, the year of Covid-19, the year in which I hope we see the tipping point of racial injustice and a rewriting of social contracts, a year in which the global economy is struggling and Jerry and I are reimagining our business and strengthening the foundation of it to ride the possibilities and opportunities post Coronavirus.

In the painting of each room in my house, a transformation takes place. When I painted my bedroom, I took everything out of my closets and cupboards and only about a third of things went back. Clothes that had been in the closet for a decade, brought here from another life, another identity, were shed. A wedding dress and shoes. Clothes given to me by other people that I did not wear but had a hard time letting go of. Gowns I would never wear again. Clothes I bought because I liked them but every time I put them on I took them off again because I didn’t like how they looked. Shoes I had barely worn. All gone. And as I caught sight of a few sweaters that had been much loved and enjoyed a few years ago, I recognized that the clothes we wear are all part of the identity we inhabit at any given time and it is hard to fully inhabit a new and evolving identity when the ghosts of past identities clutter our spaces.

I am on a mission. As I turn my attention to the next space(s) in my house, things are removed, new order is brought in. By summer’s end, all of my living spaces will have been refreshed and transformed. My sense of my identity will continue to deepen and I will walk in the world with more confidence and hopefully more grace than in all of the decades before.

For those curious about who I have been learning from, my main teacher is Fabeku Fatumise. Through him I have discovered Dan Carroll and chaos magic, Jason Miller and Aidan Wachter among others. Buy any of their books and prepare to immerse yourself in a new journey. For me, it is a healing journey full of new awareness. It is a journey that has kept me sane through difficult times and it offers me practical things to do and focus on in times when it feels like there is little that can be done. And, as I said at the beginning, it has given me practices that enable me to be an active conscious participant in my own life.

A Decade of Transitions and Transformations

I moved into my house in Bedford, Nova Scotia 10 years ago. A decade. 2010 to 2020. I realized it is the longest I have ever lived in one home in my entire life. It’s been a decade full of life and death, transition, rebirth, renewal, magic, evolution, transformation and increasing coherence. There is a lot to reflect on and a lot to celebrate.

My Children

My boys were 7, 17 and 19 when we moved. They have, for various times and for varying lengths of time, lived with me in this house. Now the older two are married and one is a father. They have lovely families and all of them (sons and daughters-in-law) are on good career paths. The youngest is forging a path which is his to walk, the outcome of which is not clear yet nor will be for some time. But he and his path, like with the others, is held in love and light.

I am privileged to be able to spend a lot of time with my grandson developing a relationship that I dream will be close and connected over the rest of my life. I wait with delight the arrival of his sister with the same anticipation of relationship.

He’s snuggly one. Here he’s beginning a nap.

My Partner and Work

Not only were there literal births of children, there was the birth of an unexpected relationship and new business in my life. When Jerry Nagel and I met just before I moved into this house, a deep friendship immediately blossomed. We hosted together in powerful work – each better because of the other – and we created a new business, Worldview Intelligence, born out of what we could see and discover together which we are still building. We also birthed a book about our work: Building Trust and Relationship at the Speed of Change.

Our deep friendship became intimate relationship although “unconventional” in that we live in two different countries. The relationship has not been without its challenges as we each work to step out of habitual and dysfunctional patterns created in previous relationships. We do this because we each recognize we are building on a foundation of mutual love, respect and strength. Because of this relationship and our work I have traveled more in the last decade than ever before. Now we face a new challenge with travel restrictions and the not knowing of when we will be able to be together in person, taking it one day at a time. We know the foundation of our relationship will carry us through.

The Loss of My Parents

While in this house I lost both my mother in 2012 and this year my father. I feel my mother’s loss more keenly since my father departed. While my father was alive and a significant presence in my life it partially filled the void left both by mother’s dementia and entry into long-term care and her subsequent death.

Now there is a nothing. But it is not really nothing. It is more of a quiet in which memories leap into view through photographs and through the bits and pieces of my parents’ belongings that have found a new home in mine.

A Slowing Down and Chaos

In this time of the great slowing down caused by the responses to Covid-19 and the great disturbances and chaos created by one more Black death too many and protests co-opted in the US by the Boogaloo Bois intent on violence and creating a civil war, other things are amplified.

During this time I cleared out and sold my parents’ home. 45 years of living in one place. Hardly anything ever thrown out. A 3 story house and full garage. Of memories. Of identity. Of stuff. Three truckloads of stuff not useful to anyone taken away. A houseful of furniture given away. Boxes of kitchen and other small items given away. Tools and machinery accumulated over a lifetime sold or given away as gifts. A house washed down, ready for a new owner, new memories, new identity.

Chaos, Order and Flow

Chaos in my house as it stores the things waiting for their new home – either with my brother or through a charity. Chaos which is being turned into order. And newness.

This house and land were waiting for me when my youngest son’s father and I finally sold the house we had lived in together to move into separate homes. It was a time of flow when things moved quickly – very similar to the sale of my father’s house. Once we put our old house on the market it sold remarkably within 24 hours. My house had just gone on the market. Within 3 weeks I was here.

Other than building an office in what had been a very large storage space on the first floor, nothing much has changed. The colour schemes were perfect in the moment. The house is big enough to accommodate everyone here at the same time and small enough that I don’t rattle around in it when it is just me and the cats. The cats are new-ish too. We arrived in the house with two older cats. They are buried in the back yard. The “new” cats have made it their home these last five years with their unique personalities.

My House Demanding a Refresh

Last year, something started to stir. The kitchen and the main living room seemed to be calling out to be painted. And you know once you start….. This year, the rest of the house is calling out to be painted. And I am on a mission, putting in 8, 9 and 10 hour days painting. I have the summer to complete the mission since it appears I may not be traveling anywhere. Hallways, stairwells and 9 rooms to be refreshed. The house is demanding a reboot. It may sound strange to describe it this way, but it is how it feels to me.

Deepening Spiritual Journey

The last decade has invited a deepening of my spiritual journey. For anyone who has read Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, you know how my spiritual journey has been guided in ways I could not have anticipated. In the 2000’s this journey began with developing a much greater sense of my guardians, guides and allies and still left me with a dissatisfaction and unrest of not quite knowing what to do with that information.  (By the way, I will be publishing a follow up to my memoir later this year. It will be more of a how to guide of spiritual journey and practice.)

In the mid 2010’s the answer showed up. I found a teacher and a deep community of practitioners and learners of “practical magic”, divination and enchantments. I heard clear yeses in my animal knowing to step into the offerings that were available. And, that has made all the difference.

I have learned how to be in relationship with spirit in a myriad of ways – through divination, prayers, offerings, talismans, blessing work and more. It feels to me that my father’s death has opened a wider portal to the world of spirit and a closer connection to the allies, guides and guardians who support me and my loved ones. I walk in a different space now than before he died. I have artefacts from his house that strengthen that connection including his rosary and a statue of the Mother Mary who he felt a deep connection to. I feel his presence on a daily basis. I know he – and my mother and other ancestors –  are actively watching out for me and my family and working on our behalf. It brings me joy and delight, even as I miss him on the physical plane.

Shifting Identity and Relationships

I have been shifting my sense of identity. I am learning to acknowledge that I am a powerful creator. I am changing my relationship with money, work and power. Through this network I have discovered a cadre of other teachers. In the times when it seems there is nothing I can do to change the state of the world – like now – I can turn to ritual, practice and meditation to transport myself to a different place to continue to imagine the future that is shaped by my conscious participation in it.

We talk a lot about coherence in these spaces – being coherent with what you want in your life, being internally and externally coherent. With each new level of coherence it is like there is a levelling-up in identity, in confidence and in walking in the world, sensing the sentience in everything.

So when I say the house is demanding a refresh, it is completely consistent with a levelling-up of my identity. It is part of the external coherence and it is bringing order to my spaces and a new kind of order to my life. Before the walls are painted they are covered in symbols representing what I want to draw into my life and my home. There is power in the symbols and you can feel it in the house. I am focused and I get more done that I want to do even as the world has slowed down. Even as the world has turned to greater chaotic upheaval than I ever expected to see in my lifetime.

I would not have wished this time on me or the world I live in. However, since I’m here, I’m grateful for the practice of magic, ritual and deepening relationships with Allies. I am soothed by family connections. And, putting energy into transforming my house through painting highlights the other transformations which are changing the ground I walk on.

Here is to the next decade. To more births, inevitably more deaths and to an enduring spiritual journey that gives power and agency to my life.

Putting a Period on 70 Dufferin Street

It’s been 106 days since my father, Hector Jourdain, died and 62 days since his funeral. In the 44 days between his death and his funeral, my brother Robert and I did almost nothing to his house at 70 Dufferin Street. His shoes stayed by the door, his cane hung from the radiator, his clothes stayed in his closets, his cupboards and fridge stayed full.

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Putting a period on 70 Dufferin Street.

It was a transition time, an adjustment period for us, the house and dad’s spirit as we planned what to do. Forty-five years of life in that house. Forty-five years of accumulation by a man who never threw anything out because it might be useful. Forty-five years of filling a wood workshop in the basement and a metal workshop in the garage. Forty-five years of life and all it throws at us.

We gave dad a good send off. His house was full of people, stories, laughter, food and drinks. I spoke about him before the funeral began and we included communion in the service. The priest did a great job capturing the essence of dad, describing him as steadfast. Our cousin Raymond did one of the readings in French. Afterwards we had a feast at the reception.

And then we got to work. The plan was to pull up the old carpets in the house, revealing the old hardwood on the main floor and a mishmash of tile and linoleum upstairs, find homes for some of the furniture and get the house ready for market. That is when Divine Guidance literally walked in the door.

As the carpets were being pulled up, a stranger arrived at the house. He had heard through the owner of the company pulling up the carpets that we might be selling the house. He was interested. We walked around the house. I shared stories about dad. We talked about our intentions for the house, that Robert and I knew it needed to go to someone who would give it the tender loving care it needed for its next transformation. The house is solid, was well looked after and a bit dated in décor. It was why we were pulling up the carpets. So what needed to be done would be clear to whoever bought the house.

He came back several times and with family. It felt like he and his family were connecting to the house. They understood it and they understood a man like my father. He made a private offer on the house, Hector’s House, including keeping some of the furniture and equipment.

The rest of the furniture found good homes. Sofas, chairs, a cupboard and kitchen things went to a recent immigrant. Dad’s chair went to a young woman whose physiotherapist recommended she try sleeping in a Lazy Boy to deal with a pain issue. One chair went to a woman who wanted it as an upholstery project. The final glass coffee table was claimed yesterday, my last day at the house, as a truckload of unusable stuff was taken from the basement of the house – the third such load. And, of course, Robert and I and my children chose a few precious items for our homes.

In some ways, the hardest part was dad’s workshops. They were his identity; signifying who he was and what he most loved to do. Most of the woodworking equipment and tools went to my two older sons. A few things are staying with the house. Dad’s neighbour, who of late I’ve been calling my neighbour, came over one day and sorted the woodworking tools and equipment. I told him how things were to be divided for my sons, with more allocated to the son who has a house and a room for a workshop.

A few before and after pictures of the basement.

When he was done with that he organized everything else into categories. I couldn’t have done it so well. He came over another day and helped organize the odds and sods that were left in the house. He and his wife had become good friends of my dad and of me. They also have a few precious mementos of their friendship. They were watching over the house for us. They had listed their house for sale last summer. For a variety of reasons, it took several months to sell. Their close date is May 7 – my mother’s birthday. The close date on dad’s house is today – May 1. Divine timing.

We advertised the metalworking equipment and the response was surprisingly swift. Among the equipment, dad had two lathes: a smaller one and a big solid one. There were lots of inquiries about the smaller lathe and none about the bigger one, probably due to price and size. One of the days I was in Lunenburg, people showed up for the equipment. One man showed up early with one of his sons. He was interested in the smaller lathe but there had been earlier inquiries about it.

While he waited, he helped two other men get the drill mill out of the garage and into their truck. He and I chatted. The more we talked, the more it became clear that the larger lathe would suit his purposes better but it was priced at almost twice that of the smaller lathe. I called Robert and we talked about the price and the man.

We offered him a much reduced price from what we had advertised. Because he is the kind of man who will take care of the equipment in the same spirit as dad. Because he will make great use of it. When I told him the price, his eyes grew wide. He told me he would never sell it. When he was done with it, it would go to his sons.

He had to come back to get it as it was too big for his truck. So, a few days later he showed up with a flat bed truck and his two young sons who clearly show an aptitude for mechanics. Polite, friendly, curious, talkative, endearing. It was clear the new owner of the lathe knew exactly what he was doing and that this was meant for this man and his family.

Dad’s garage was covered from end to end with tools, scrap metal and other bits and parts. While people who came for the equipment looked around and also bought a few other things, it was still a significant task to clear it out. I was told about a colleague of dad’s and called him. He came, looked around, thought about it and then came back with an offer for everything in the garage. Not only did he take away that which was useful to him, he cleared out everything. I’m pretty sure there were at least eight big garbage bags that came out of that garage that he also took away. The house wouldn’t have been ready without his work. He is a gentleman I will always remember kindly.

Before and after shots of the garage.

It is a strange thing to watch your father’s lifetime of equipment, furniture and life gradually and quickly disappear from the rooms, walls and the shelves. That it goes to places and people where it is useful and/or will be loved means a lot. Old blankets went to a friend to be used in building sweat lodges. Food in the pantry (that which wasn’t years beyond the best before date) went to a community food pantry to feed people who need it. There were enough dishes, pots and pans and kitchen stuff to fill the cupboards of three homes. My mother’s teacups went to friends who will treasure them. My kids each have some things that are meaningful to them. My daughter-in-law is taking mom and dad’s wedding clothes and will make memory bears out of them.

My house right now is a maze as I hang onto things for me and my brother, who couldn’t travel here because of the pandemic. We still have lots of things to sort through, especially pictures. And there are a dozen or more boxes of things to give away as soon as charities are accepting again.

Borrowing a phrase from one of my teachers, we have put a period on 70 Dufferin Street. On our life there. On a regular in-person connection to our hometown, even with all the family friends still there. Our family no longer has a presence there.

The house is ready and waiting for the new owners. I celebrate that it is not a transaction with unknown buyers, but a caring transition to people I know dad would have liked, done without the fanfare of a for sale sign. A quiet transition, like dad would have wanted. There is no question in my mind dad has had a divine hand in what has transpired in the last 62 days – and I just noticed January would have been mom and dad’s 62nd wedding anniversary.

Robert and I will be able to go visit and see the new lease on life that emerges in the next chapter of 70 Dufferin, after this period that marks the end of an era.

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What Futures are You Mourning?

Easter morning 2020. This already would have been a different Easter since my dad died in January of this year. Like most, we typically would have gathered as a family, my kids and grandchild – here at my home or, as has been the case more recently, we would have taken Easter to my dad in Lunenburg.

March 1-2020

March 1, 2020 – the last time most of us gathered as a family just after my father’s funeral.

Not only is my dad gone, so too, for many of us is any sense of traditional celebration or family gathering for this year. Day by day the assessment of how long we will have to self isolate and physically distance seems to extend. It started with two weeks, expanded to two months and now there are ruminations that it could be as much as two years.

This means an indeterminate unknowing about what the future holds. Groundlessness continued for an indefinite amount of time. Will we reach a breaking point or a breakthrough point? Probably both. Probably more than once.

I am mourning my family celebrations. I grieve that my family and I cannot come together in person and reminisce about my father, among other things. I get this is for the greater good and the longer-term future but that doesn’t mean I can’t grieve this current moment or that I can’t grieve the future as I imagined it to be. As we all imagined it to be. We all get to acknowledge our emotional reactions and the rollercoaster global moment we are in. It is healthy to do so.

I grieve the uncertainty of knowing when I will be able to be with my beloved again. The time of reunion keeps getting pushed off. First it was maybe the end of May, then June, then the summer and now who knows when. We have a long distance relationship nurtured in mutual love and respect and the ability to travel to be together frequently. Now complicated by the fact it is an international relationship – me in Canada, him in the US. I feel despair in this, even as I know our relationship is strong enough to weather this.

What will be the impact on our business? Our livelihood? I get this is a moment of great opportunity in the midst of uncertainty. But what will that look like?

In the middle of all of this, I am clearing out my father’s house, getting it ready to hand over to new owners. It is a lonely task thanks to social distancing. I drive from one empty house to another, bringing back contents from one to the other, waiting for the opportunity to give away that which my brother and I have decided to let go of. Holding onto other things until such a time as he can travel back to NS from PEI safely and my kids and I and my partner can gather.

It is not just this moment that is unsettling. It is the loss of futures we dreamed of that are not available to us right now. The weddings that are cancelled, postponed or happening in a different form. The funerals that can’t be held right now. Being with loved ones in the time of death or the time of birth. Birthday, anniversary celebrations and so much more. We each have our own lost futures and it is okay to grieve them. Give yourself permission with compassion, forgiveness and care.

Hector Jourdain: A Modest Man, Life and Legacy

Today would have been dad’s 87th birthday. He wanted to live until he was 90. He also wanted to live out his days in his house, which he did. He was a walking miracle over the last few decades of his life. He was sustained by a strong will to live and a deep faith.

Over the years and various health crises he kept adjusting his ideas of what good quality of life meant for him until he reached the point where he could not see beyond sitting and sleeping in his chair and making his way into and through the kitchen to the back door or the bathroom. He knew he could no longer find his way downstairs to the “magnet” in the basement that was the Bluefin model he was working on.

71 - 32087394_10155921192792740_8555127562852892672_nDad was partly defined by the patterns of his generation. He craved relationship with family and friends, with my children and their partners. Although everyone valued their relationship with him, he wished it could be more. The pattern of his generation is that it was the younger ones who minded the older ones. My mother always used to say, “Age before beauty.” It was another way of voicing respect for your elders.

My father taught me the importance of nurturing relationship. Our relationship grew over the last decade of his life. I learned a good pattern of checking in with him by phone or by visit. I used to leave him a list of my travel plans so he knew where I was when. If I called too often, he would get irritable. If I didn’t call often enough, he got irritable. I know he was lonely and he missed my mother and he wished my brother and I would visit more often and for longer.

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My mother had been in long term care for awhile when this picture was taken on some special occasion. In this picture, you can see the love my father had for my mother radiating out in his gaze.

His desire for relationship stays present with me as I reflect on what is the relationship I want with my children and grandchildren? How do I make sure I nurture and sustain them, individually and collectively? This applies to my partner, my siblings and other close relationships too. It is easy to lose track of people, even people who have been close and for far too much time to go by without reaching out.

My brother and I are now charged with the dismantling of dad’s house, which is akin to the dismantling of the physical aspects of his life. Some things are easy. There are books that are decades old that nobody has read in forever, papers that were important to dad but of no value to anyone else, things that have accumulated over the years that were part of dad’s day to day existence but, again, of no value to anyone else.

There are other things that have value and that are harder to deal with. My father was careful with his money. He often worried about whether he would have enough money to live out his days. He did. Robert and I were reflecting on how dad never threw out any furniture and some of it is from when mom and dad got married 62 years ago.

Very little expense was spared for the Bluefin, for his machining workshop where he repaired engines or his woodworking workshop where he built rowboats, repaired a canoe and worked on the model of the Bluefin. But there was not a penny spent without careful consideration and a lot of thought about whether it was the right choice. He has boxes and boxes of screws, nails, washers, fittings and so much more, because he could see potential in them. He often said he should probably get rid of some things but as soon as he did he would need it. Now Robert and I need to figure out what to do with it all.

My father’s parents had been millionaires in their lifetimes. My mother’s parents hadn’t been millionaires to my knowledge, but they lived well enough. My grandmothers each outlived my grandfathers by 2 or 3 decades. In the end, when they all left this world, there was no inheritance left for my parents for a variety of valid reasons.

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Summer 2019. Painting the porch had been on his mind. I finally took charge and did what I could for him.

My father was a self made man. I’m sure he is satisfied that he managed his affairs well and well enough that there is a legacy left for me and my brother. It certainly isn’t millions. It is a modest amount that reflects the modest lifestyle of a modest man.

Happy birthday dad. Know you are remembered well and will always be loved by so many of us still walking on this side of the veil.

My Father Was a Complex Man

My father, Hector Jourdain, was a complex man. He grew up in challenging circumstances, the full extent of which I will never know. He was the youngest of six children of entrepreneurial and demanding parents. He grew up in Cap Chat on the Gaspe coast in the 1930s and 40s. He worked hard but never quite felt like he measured up to the expectations laid out for him. It shaped him, like we are all shaped by our upbringing.

For people who knew my dad, they know he was not always the easiest person to get along with. He was very particular, which is likely why he was known as Hector the Corrector as I wrote in my last post about him.

He lacked some social sensitivity, particularly for today’s age. He didn’t always listen well. Perhaps because he couldn’t hear well. Perhaps because his mind was going a mile a minute all the time. He was known to express his frustration to friends he hadn’t seen in awhile, “You drive right past my house but you don’t stop in to see me.”

Dad and my brother Robert in Perce, Quebec

And, he had a quirky sense of humour and an impish grin. He could as easily light up a room as darken it. He drew people to him in unexpected ways. New neighbours, others he met along the way, who became good friends, some of whom saw the charming side of him and some of whom learned how to put up with the ornery side and show up for him anyway. And many people could see the multi-dimensionality of who he was.

Looking like a celebrity at Jacob and Nellie’s wedding in 2017

He had trouble understanding the fluctuating nature of friendship or what we might now refer to as the “reason, season, lifetime” that explains why someone is in your life. He wanted all his friends to be lifetime. He wanted the camaraderie of the Bluefin days to exist in perpetuity. That people’s lives changed and families expanded from children to grandchildren and different interests, even as his own did, challenged him and his memories. My brother Robert reminded me the other day that when and where my dad grew up, people lived in the same houses for lifetimes and families lived within walking distance of each other much of the time.

Our memories are fuelled by the stories we tell of our past and our experiences. My father loved my mother. A love that was enduring up until the day he died. There was never anyone else for my father, not even the entertainment of the idea of someone else, even though he outlived mom by 8 years – 12 if you count when she went to live at Harbourview Haven.

I didn’t always see or understand that love because not all the days of their marriage were calm – to put it mildly. So, in his latter years when he described my mother as his best friend, saying they never went to bed angry any night during their marriage, I only raised my eyebrows but never commented. It is not quite how I remember things. But, he was entitled to the stories that were true for him. Especially because it was his love for my mother that guided his care for her as she was overtaken by dementia. He went above and beyond for years. Even after she went into long-term care, he visited almost every day and, with my brother and me, was there with her when she passed in 2012.

Dad defied medical odds. He tiptoed up to the edge of death on many occasions, looked over and said, “No, not yet.” Doctors would look for the medical reasons why my dad recovered – from being in a wheelchair because he had no strength in his legs to walking again, from being diagnosed with chronic lung disease to having his home oxygen removed because his lungs improved to other inexplicable recoveries. There were no medical reasons. There was a strong will to live.

One such time of defying medical odds was during his second open-heart surgery in 2006. His first open-heart surgery was in the 1970s. This time, he was on the wait list for the surgery – waiting for the call. Instead, I got the call in the middle of the night that he was in the hospital. He had driven himself to emergency with my mother who later drove the car home – which was all she could talk about since getting out of the parking lot was perplexing to her. Dad was being sent to Halifax via ambulance. I had to drive to Lunenburg to pick up my mother. Driving down the 103 at dawn, as I got near to Mahone Bay, there is a stretch of road where you can see a long distance ahead. There came the ambulance as the sun was rising, lights flashing. Driving past that ambulance, knowing my father was in it and I was going in the opposite direction, was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

Dad was exhausted because his heart was in bad shape, because he had been taking care of my mother and who knows why else. He was afraid they would send him home too soon. He fixed that. He didn’t wake up from the surgery for 10 days. When he did wake up he was, naturally, disoriented. It took him a long time to understand how many days he had been out. He chastised me for keeping him on life support when I knew his wishes. I told him, there was never any question about his recovery.

Years later, he shared a story with me. He said, during that time when he was not fully conscious, he went “up above”. He was in a corridor with a lot of doors. He was knocking on the doors and trying to open them but was not successful. Finally, one of the doors opened. It was Arch-Angel Michael and he said to dad, “It is not your time, you need to go back.” My dad believed he had not yet atoned for his sins. He told me he knew what it was he needed to do. Apparently he has either completed that mission or come to terms with it.

Dad had confided that story in someone who told him that it could not be true because “once you go there you do not come back.” It took him years to share the story with me. “Do you think I’m crazy?” he asked me. I told him, “You’ve read my memoir – several times. Of course I don’t think you are crazy.”

I made my peace with my father a long time ago, as part of my own journey. I was his patient advocate and his chauffeur. I will miss our jaunts to Busy Bee, Princess Auto and other spots where he would pick up tools and other supplies. I won’t miss the numerous doctors’ appointments so much. I will miss our lunches – just the two of us usually but sometimes with a guest or two – my children or my friends. His favourite joke to the wait staff was, “She’s not my girlfriend. She’s my daughter.” I will miss our trips to Quebec of which we were fortunate to have a few in the last few years. We had plans to go again this summer. Life is quiet without him in it.

Surrounded by nieces and nephews in Rimouski at his sister-in-law’s funeral

On the board walk at St. Luce – summer 2019

We often say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to care for our elders. And my dad, grumpy as he could be, as difficult as he could be, had a village of love and support beyond which he fully knew or always appreciated. My brother and I are grateful for the enduring friends and the more recent friends without whom life – and care for my dad – would have been a lot harder.

“Hector the Corrector”

So, my dad, Raoul Hector Jourdain, died recently at the age of 86 and 3/4, as he liked to say. His goal was 90 and another more important goal was to live out his days in his own home. I had the good fortune and grace to be there when he passed on January 16, 2020.

He went into the hospital – again – just after Christmas – for an issue with his bladder, which was going to be a forever reoccurring issue due to damage from prostate cancer and radiation therapy a decade ago. He also had congestive heart failure and diseased lungs. He was on home oxygen, had a permanent catheter and walked with a cane. Managing a cane, oxygen tank and urine bag all at the same time when your mobility is increasingly limited is not for the feint of heart.

He had already walked up to the edge of death many times in his life, looked over and said, “Nah, not yet.” More of those stories to come. Three years ago when I was sure he was not going to live after two stints in hospital for bleeding, I started a blog post about him. A couple of days ago, I took it out and brushed it off, because, well, this time he decided to fly over the edge.

I had a good laugh when I read about boiling eggs. He had been in the hospital just before Christmas and I sprung him loose in time for the holidays. The first morning home, he wanted boiled eggs. So, he instructed me on how to boil them. Then he instructed me on how to peel them after he tried but didn’t have the strength to stand and do it himself. I did what he asked and at some point he shook his head and acknowledged that I probably did know how to boil eggs and had probably done it many times. Yup. And, he had also instructed me in this task just three years before. He was particular in his ways and his approach.

When we drove around Lunenburg, he often gave me directions. For those who don’t know, Lunenburg is a small town, emphasis on small. I grew up there. Pretty easy to find your way around. But it made him happy to give directions.

My dad had his ways of doing things. He had two workshops – one for woodworking and one for metal working or machining. Each workshop had a place for everything and everything was in its place. He was a gifted diesel mechanic and machinist. When he left National Sea Products in the early 1990s he set up shop in his garage, calling his company Lunenburg Marine Diesel. He was in demand because his skill in engine repair and rebuilding was unsurpassed. If he couldn’t find a part or didn’t want to pay the price for it, he made it.

Dad with an engine

Raoul Hector Jourdain doing what he was extraordinarily gifted at.

It is only very recently that I became aware that my dad had a nickname: Hector the Corrector. I think he was kind of proud of that. I totally get where it comes from although I hadn’t heard it before. Dad’s specificity of instruction made me believe he was not such a good teacher or coach. He never taught me how to Captain the Bluefin for instance, but that could be as much about my own desire to just be a passenger as his to have it done in a certain way.

Receiving this story from dad’s friend and one time neighbour, John Pollack, expanded my own worldview about my dad in a beautiful and generous way.

“When word got out that we were planning to spend a year on our boat (1996) and to sail towards the Caribbean, your dad became worried about our safety and ability to look after ourselves.  He didn’t say anything, but I guess he gave it some thought.  One day there was knock on our back door.  It was Hector.  He had a plan.  I was to attend his garage every morning at 9:00am for the foreseeable future to watch and learn as he rebuilt one of many diesel engines.

“Hector’s ‘College of Diesel Knowledge” was born.

“We had a pretty good time.  He teased me about having “school-teacher” fingers.  (His thumbs looked like spatulas!)  He taught me how to take engines apart and mostly put them back together — I usually wound up with a few extra bits.  He was patient and funny.  I suspect we made a pretty odd pair to anyone observing, but we became good friends.

“When we were finally ready to leave for the boat trip, Hector delivered a few small boxes of parts and spares he knew we’d need.  This was all stuff he had made.  Everything was machined and custom ready for our needs. He had made spare zinc anodes for all the places he knew I’d need replacement parts.”

I knew the friendship between John and Cathy Pollack and my dad had been enduring and this story gave me insight into why as well as making me smile. Maybe he was Hector the Corrector. But he wanted things done right and he cared deeply for quality and for friends. Sometimes it just wasn’t worth arguing with him.

Shaping Our Experiences Through the Stories We Tell

 

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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.