Boundaries of Absence

It’s a challenge, a double-edged sword. There’s an assumption, implicit, but there, that my personal time and my social life have less value because I don’t have children. There’s an assumption that I can work overtime, stay late, come into work early because I have no children at home.

And it’s true.

I want my colleagues to spend time with their children. I want them to take them to school, to read them stories, to eat dinner with them. In a great many senses, I’m happy to do the extra work. The years are short. Their children will only be little for a while. Memories take time to happen.

I know this because I don’t get to make those memories. I can tell you the value of those memories because I have mapped the boundaries of their absence.

Posted in Learning Life | 3 Comments

Also, My Mother

I am fighting with Netflix. I realize it must look like I am blogging, but what I’m really doing is fighting with Netflix.

Also, my mother.

I’ve been fighting with my dead mother since Monday at about 8 am. That was the fifth poke to start the IV for my MS drugs. I have great veins you know. They don’t always last, but they are large and mostly straight and it’s easy to start a line in me. It hurt. I have massive bruises on my left arm, but more than that, it hurt. It was really painful. I was mad that my mother the OR nurse, who could have gotten a line in, wasn’t there.

I was mad on Tuesday when the other two women had their mother’s there. I was alone. Thankful for the friends who drove me,  but I wasn’t going home to a mum who was going to make me dinner or tuck me into bed. I was alone. I was sick and I hurt and I was upset and my mum wasn’t there. I needed someone to take care of me, and she wasn’t there.

I was angry on Thursday when I got the drug rash and drove my sick and itchy self to the neurologist who prescribed more steroids. I was angry I had to take the elevator up with a coughing toddler because I’d just spent 3 days destroying my immune system and his cough could put me in ICU. He’s just a kid with a cough and he’s 2. He’s not going to cover his mouth.

I was angry at the pharmacy when they informed me that my insurance would only cover the generic, which came in the smallest dosage, so I was going to have to swallow 16 pills at once, on an iffy stomach. If I wanted the non-generic, so I would only have to take 6 pills, that was going to be a thousand dollars. I started to cry.

In my arguments, as I get mad at my mum, she points out what she did for me.

My mother gave me grit. The grit that got me through the IV starts, the grit that got me through the bone pain, the grit that let me bill 20 hours last week, the grit that got me out of bed each morning so someone could put poison in my veins. It was the grit that got me to the doctor’s office for the steroids, the grit that made me swallow the pills.

“Do you want cookies and TV? Or do you want to know you can face each day as it comes? Do you want to be cosseted or do you want to survive? I gave you survival. I wasn’t so bad.”

In my saner (and less prednisone rage induced moments), I know that she’s right.

It’s just that those moments aren’t these moments. So I’m fighting with Netflix. And my mother.

Posted in MS Gets on Your Nerves, The language of families | 1 Comment

All my Thoughts on Thoughts and Prayers

I’m gearing up for my next round of MS drugs. For those who haven’t been following along, this is where evil pharma shells out $70,000 in compassionate coverage for drugs that my insurance won’t pay for. These drugs are chemo drugs, which means that I barf and lose my ability to taste anything and I suffer from crippling fatigue for a good two weeks. The bonus is that I will probably lose 10 pounds before my convocation. So there’s that.

Preparation consists of buying an absurd amount of over the counter drugs to manage any possible complication from barfing (which won’t help), to Tylenol, for the headache (also won’t help) to a wide variety of anti-allergy medications (which also won’t help, there will be a rash). I’ve also laid in a store of Boost. Mostly because I can tip it back while plugging my nose. This will help because I can’t taste anything anyway.

I posted the photo of the Boost on Instagram and Facebook. With a pithy comment. Most of the reactions were fine, except for the one from someone who was praying for me.

I was a Christian for most of my life. When they say that they are praying for me, I believe it. I know it to be an earnest and sincere offering. I suppose I’m not clear on what they are praying for or what good it will do. If you are praying for a cure, well, about that. It’s just, that’s going to be stem cells. And since those are ethically a problem, if you are a Christian, well there’s a dead baby thing. So, you aren’t praying for a cure, or at least not the obvious one.

Which leaves me wondering if you are praying for me. Only, if that’s what you are doing, it does seem that you might want to ask for what I need. I could use some prayers for a quiet week at work, or that my veins would hold up through all the days. If you must pray –

There’s an obvious problem with that too. Really, if I can have my druthers, what I’d like are a few casseroles. Maybe some company. A willingness to run for Gravol when I run out. Or maybe, if I know you and I like you, you could hold my hair and give me something to wash my mouth out after I barf. If that’s a bit too servant leadership for you, perhaps you could shovel or walk the dog. Those would be handy. You could just come for a visit (if you are healthy).

As it stands, an atheist, an agnostic and a Buddhist are going to take care of me. They’ll drive me to my appointments, make sure I have food, shovel the walk, walk the dog and make me tea. They aren’t going to pray. They’ll be rather busy.

So sure, you pray. Someone probably should.

Posted in MS Gets on Your Nerves, The Cheerful Agnostic | 6 Comments

Grief Smells Like Tuna Fish

After Gabe died, when I came home from the hospital, I remember eating tuna fish casserole. Alone. I hate tuna fish casserole, I ate it because I could not figure out how to cook and I needed to eat.  I added the casserole dish to the pile on the counter, made a note of who sent it in the book. I tried to keep the barest remnants of sanity together long enough to return the dish to the correct owner and send a thank you note.

“I just put the books on the shelf. No disrespect if you brought a book”

I did not bring a book. I did not bring a teddy bear, a card, flowers, gift certificates for the spa, poetry or a tuna fish casserole.  Or anything else. I came alone.

This happens. Probably a dozen times since Gabriel’s death. I get a call, an email. See something on facebook. Friends of friends. Your second cousin, twice removed.  It’s just me. That’s all I bring.

When you join the dead baby club, you realize that books only provide help when you are ready, flowers wilt, everyone who doesn’t understand brings casseroles and teddy bears.

You bring you. More to the point, you bring your heart. The real one.The one you don’t let most people don’t see. There’s a huge and bloody chunk torn out of it. You hold it out.

It’s taken me a decade to learn. There are no answers to give. There’s no way to make this make sense. You don’t tell them it will be ok. You don’t provide advice or condolences. You just sit.

The smell of raw blood and pain? That’s ok. I know that smell. I’ve been there before. I can sit with that smell.

It’s the smell of tuna fish casserole, eaten alone, which frightens me.


Posted in Baby Loss | 1 Comment

While Knocking on Wood, Crossing Fingers, Spitting and Throwing Salt Over your Shoulder

I present myself as a deeply rational person. I work in IT, I believe in science. I’m logical and sensible and not given to flights of fancy.

Except for the parts of me that are deeply superstitious. Anna used to get this. She understood how you could be both sensible and rational and still not want to tempt fate. Fate is ugly and possessive and prone to jealous fits of rage. Whatever you do, don’t tempt fate. Keep your secrets and your hopes and your wishes to yourself.

knock on wood :: cross your fingers :: spit :: throw salt over your shoulder

I’m doing all of that. Then some.

Here’s the thing. Ms. Fab has always told me to relax and enjoy the process of starting a new relationship. I have always maintained that she is absolutely crazy. No one likes this. This is awful. It’s stressful and annoying and frustrating and I’m always on the back foot and out of my comfort zone. It’s horrible.

Except for this time. This time I realized that I have no idea how this will end, but I’m enjoying the process. It doesn’t feel stressful or forced or contrived or confusing. It feels quite normal. I’m really enjoying it.

I’m really enjoying getting to know him.

I finally understand why people like this process.

Posted in Adult Dating | 3 Comments

When, not if

It’s a strange thing. In my old life, when I was still a good Christian woman(TM), we took it as an act of faith that Christian marriages did not end. Good marriages did not end. I remember telling someone that maybe when marriages ended the two people in the marriage hadn’t really ever given themselves over to the marriage. It wasn’t so much that the marriage failed as the fact it never took place.

I was wrong. I was married. I was married for almost 16 years. There is no way I didn’t give myself over to my marriage. I’m pretty sure he did as well. It was definitely a marriage. Sometimes it was even a good one. It just didn’t work. It couldn’t work. It was never, ever going to work. We were fundamentally different people to start with.  At some point, the chequing account of my marriage was so far in the red from the withdrawals of being different people that I simply wasn’t willing to believe that it could ever be brought to a zero balance.

Maybe I’ve never told you, but I finally realized that the reward for sticking it out wasn’t a gold star, wasn’t some sort of happy prize, it was however much longer of being miserable from a poorly conceived match. My promise of til death do us part wasn’t enough. I wasn’t willing to be miserable any longer. I broke my promise.

If you are me, who believes in loyalty and fidelity, who considers herself to be a romantic, this is a tough place to be. I believe part of what makes love works is a refusal to give up. I also gave up.

Which makes me wonder – should we be saying “and when you realize your relationship needs to end . . . ?

That’s not a romantic proposition. It’s definitely not the sort of proposition that most Christians are going to get behind.

It does feel a bit true though.

I wonder – if our conversations about relationships were based on the idea that they could end, maybe sometimes they should end, how would that change not just the ending of relationships, but the entire life span?

Posted in Learning Life | Leave a comment

Guilt and Sorrow and Reconciliation

The women in my family have told a story for generations. It’s a simple story:

At some point the Fort of York came under threat from the Iroquois, so the women and children were put on boats because the Fort was burning. My ancestor, who had come from England and now lived in this wild place, refused to get into the boat without her mother’s tea service. She was not leaving it behind to be burnt. Someone went and got her tea service, she got in the boat and everything was fine. Apparently, her diary is now at the ROM, and you can read these and other observations. 

It’s a bit tongue in cheek, but it’s also about standing up for yourself, remembering where you come from and remaining connected to that. I don’t have the tea service from the story, but I do have a tea service. I use it, at least sometimes. The culture and the etiquette of tea is part of me, as much as being driven and determined.

I am sketchy about which female ancestor it was. There really is no one for me to ask, but maybe it was Simcoe’s wife. Could have been Prevost. To hear my mother’s family we are related to all the interesting people in Upper Canada’s history. It’s clear I tell half a story. I have tried to figure out the other half of the story. The more I tried to get to the full story, the more uncomfortable I became with the story. Why was it Iriquois? And why were they the bad guys?

What story would an Iroquois woman tell about that day*?

As Canada works through reconciliation, through the manifest ways our settler history deliberately destroyed the lives and cultures of indigenous people, I have thought of my half the story. Trying to get to the full story has been, at least in part, about me trying to understand reconciliation. For some, the sins of our settler forefathers can be removed. Not me, they can proclaim; my family didn’t steal indigenous lands. My faith didn’t put them in residential schools.

Even with half a story – yes me. My family did steal their lands. Oh, we talk of treaties, of being fair and how very much better than the American’s we were, but my ancestors wanted their land, so they took it. And my faith? The Anglican church ran three dozen residential schools. We too thought we could kill the Indian in the child.

More stories, and more half stories. My family would tell you of Simcoe’s good work. He’s the reason there was no slavery in Canada. It was outlawed here before it was outlawed in the British Empire, and long before it was outlawed in the US. My faith – it kept me upright during the worst periods of my life. It baptized me, married me – it carried my son home and told me he was safe away from me.

The tea service story.  I thought about just not telling it anymore. It’s only half a story and not a good one at that. Maybe it doesn’t matter? Maybe, given the ways it got history wrong, in the ways it ignored indigenous reality, maybe it wasn’t a good story to tell.

I don’t think that helps. I think there’s a better path to reconciliation. It’s where I tell half the story – acknowledging the gaps and the breaks and the hurts.

And I ask those who can fill in the gaps – those my ancestors hurt, and those I unknowingly continue to hurt – will you help me fill in the gaps? Will you tell me the parts I don’t know?

Together, can we make a full story? A true one at that?
*She wouldn’t, as it turns out. I started trying to match this story to history late last year. I suspect my story is from the Battle of York when York was actually burned. The Iroquois were not at the Battle of York. It was the American’s who burnt York.

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Learning Life | 1 Comment

In Humble Defence

Years ago I was sitting in a church service, and the pastor argued if you were going to marry someone, the best thing you could do was see that person in a very wide variety of situations before you decided to marry them.

Obviously, this was based on the idea that people really shouldn’t date (which meant giving your heart away to a variety of people, and horror of horrors, potentially have sex with people you weren’t married to) and the idea that marriage was permanent and forever and ever, regardless of whether or not it worked for you.

I still think there’s logic here, the idea that dating maybe isn’t the best or even the entire way to see who a person is. So, Costco, which is deeply practical, has at least some merit.

For the record, I did manage to sort out dinner and theatre reservations tonight. I’m not completely hopeless.

Posted in Adult Dating | Leave a comment


At the start of March, I had to go back to Victoria for business. I’ve been back to Vic in the 2.5 years since I left my old employer, only it was for school, so a different part of the city. The trip went well, I got lots of stuff done. There will probably be a few more trips, which feels nice because Victoria is always a bit like coming home for me.

I was sitting in reception, waiting for a colleague I’ve never met. Old colleagues and clients are coming by. In the 15 minutes I waited, I had 4 people offer to let me in. It was like I left last week, not almost 3 years ago.

And there’s the catching up. Telling people what I’ve been doing. The travel routine hadn’t changed, but I have. Almost nothing about my life is the same. Different job, different employer, not married, have MS, have MBA.

A lot has changed. In the last three years, and also in the last 10.

Which is worth mentioning, because this blog turned 10 a few days ago.

And I wanted to say thanks for being here. In the middle of all the changes.

Posted in Learning Life | 2 Comments

What you Call Yourself

Last summer I had a very explosive fight with a friend, which effectively ended our friendship.  After doing what seemed like a somewhat chauvinist thing, my friend pointed out that he was a feminist. Actually, he insisted he was a feminist. The whole thing seemed a bit rich when the argument started with a defense of the Google Manifesto. Can you argue that there is a biological basis for women not being good at coding and still call yourself a feminist?

The whole discussion became a thing that I pulled out and thought about every so often, usually in those liminal minutes between wake and sleep. Sometimes over coffee or beer with a friend. I confess I hadn’t really gotten anywhere. What do you say when Sarah Palin and Ivanka Trump call themselves a feminist? Clearly, the definition is a bit muddy.

I had dinner with a business associate last week. He voted for Trump.

(And it’s worth an aside here. Partly we stay in contact because of the exigencies of work, but also because I find it helpful to remind myself that some people who voted for Trump have redeeming qualities as human beings. When I never talk to Trump voters, it’s easy for me to cast the entire lot as racist, misogynistic halfwits. It’s a bit harder when you know one. I will never agree with his vote, but reminding myself to humanize people seems like a better path forward.)

My business associate talked about how proud he was that Trump was upholding Christian values. I was perplexed because I don’t know my associate to be a Christian. In the 8 years I’ve known him, I’ve never heard him talk about going to church, reference reading the Bible, mention prayer. Why on earth would he care that Trump called it Christmas and was a Christian? Indeed, when I made reference to the “render unto Caesar”, my  associate had no idea what I was talking about. He’d literally never heard of the verse.

Mostly my liminal self-conversations have made me realize that anyone can call themselves anything. It’s not incredulity about what titles people give themselves. I’m past that.

My struggle is what to do with those titles.

It feels, well, it feels rude to look at someone and say “sorry if you don’t know basic scripture, you can’t call yourself a Christian.” More than that, it feels like a fight I can’t win. It seems like Jesus is going to be a better arbitrator of who gets to call themselves a Christian.

But I also confess to some frustration.

I used to be a Christian. I still am a feminist. Those words have meaning. They have requirements. They don’t belong to just anyone.

Posted in irrelevant reverence | 2 Comments