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Happy Birthday Ryleigh

Ryleigh’s favourite flower –
“Forget Me Not”

Today would have been Ryleigh’s 21st birthday. It is the 6th birthday without her. Ryleigh decided she wanted to move on from her pain and suffering by choosing to end her own life. I believe she did this after deep thought and with intention and purpose.

January 2014 \
Chemotherapy to prepare for stem cell transplant – we were all hoping this would be the answer to managing the Crohn’s disease and hopefully she would have some relief from pain, malnutrition, and extreme fatigue.
Sometimes hope can feel very painful.

At first, I was confused and immersed in deep despair and anquish not understanding her reasons for wanting to travel a different path from us. Some think death by suicide is an act of selfishness, but I believer her choice was an act of selflessness. I know this because through the past years I keep finding messages and hints from her actions, her writing, my memories, andthe pictures of her. All reminding me to live with purpose and joy even when I feel the darkest. These are what I call Ryleigh’s gifts. How better than to celebrate her birthday sharing her the tradition of gift giving.

In honour of her birthday, I am going to post a series of blogs as there are so many gifts Ryleigh shared with me. Please comment and share your own memories – July 22 is a day to remember and celebrate the gifts she gave us!

Ryleigh’s Gifts #1

Ryleigh left her playlists on her iphone. These were songs she listened to for a variety of reasons – to help her sleep, to block out hospital sounds during her various treatments, or just for pure enjoyment. I am sharing one of my faourites and evidently one of hers as it is found on the majority of her playlists. I choose to believe that this was one of her insightful messages to remind me that no matter how down I get “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder”. When I experience a grief attack I wil often listen to this song by The Secret Sisters and reflect on her message.

Black clouds are behind me
I now can see a hill
Often I wonder why I try
Hoping for an end
Sorrow weighs my shoulders down
And trouble haunts my mind
But I know the the present will not last
And tomorrow will be kinder

My first camping trip with my new camper!  A beautiful little lake  outside of Grande Prairie.  It actually seems like I am on  the coast as there are gulls and pelicans.  Quite a little find!

Winter was challenging for me – as I am sure it was for most. With Covid-19 restrictions, teaching in a Covid classroom, and living in a new community my physical and mental health was stretched. The forced isolation was not good for someone who will close off when things get hard – as I am sure many of my friends and family experienced from me. Complex grief coupled with a mood disorder did not fair well with isolation and anxiety about where we were going with this pandemic.

Mental health awareness has become front and center as more of the general population is experiencing pandemic anxiety and depression. I would not wish the struggles of mental illness on anyone but the awareness that is happening is one of the (dare I say it?) postive outcomes of Covid-19.

Because of the increase in public health concerns around mental illness, there were more options for care being offered. I was fortunate to participate in a wellness group provided by the BCTF.

What I learned that I was dysfuntionally functional! Little did I know that I have been on the verge of burn out for many years. However, I had coping skills that got me through. My coping skills were not always the most healthy (cheezies and coke zero) but they helped me manage. That being said I have spent the last months finding better ways to manage my moods and health.

Rest is the biggest one for me! As a teacher, I believed that when things get tough in the classroom or in life you just need to work harder and that will fix things. In actual fact that is counterproductive. Gee- do you think? Thirty years as an educator and I am finally realizing this. So, I am finding different ways to rest. And it is helping.

I am embracing my childhood loves – swimming, bicycling, and camping. This has lifted my spirits and I am looking forward to finding many moments such as the one this weekend at this prairie gem of a lake.

As well, my love for writing and expressing myself through my words! Wisemindedliving is important to me for my wn connections with all of my readers and to document my journey as a middle aged woman who is still trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up!

Please take some time to rest, my friends! We truly have earned it.

Until next time! JO

Back to Blogging….

Back to blogging…

Hello my friends! I am resuming my blog as I move into another season in my life. Sharing my adventures, experiences, and connections and ultimately fear and love as I live in my new home in the mountains. I have moved from on the the house on the lake to a quaint 90’s style apartment. My view is not the lake but instead a beautiful mountain in the town of Tumbler Ridge. I am embracing my fear of change to find love! Love is not the romantic love we often think about, instead it is the deep love that life gives us – laughter, joy, daughters, grandson, teaching, children, friendships, sisters, quiet, music, writing, cooking, waterfalls, road trips, independence……and on and on….so much blog about.

As my reader’s know, my life over the last 18 years has been full of rich events some true blessings and others that were traumatic. The universe has given me so many opportunities to experience true fear and joyful love. Learning from Grabrielle Bernstein, I am realizing that I have embraced my fear moments as messages to move closer to love. I see that in most families who have critically ill children. In order to move through the fear – we must find the moment of joyful love. Years of parenting sick daughters has allowed me to find my way closer to love.
One of the many reminders of how I tried to embrace a fear as a love moment was Ryleigh’s first outing after her stem cell transplant. She wanted a hot dog. A Costco hot dog. The hot dog symbolized adventure and some rebellion. She was going to an environment thriving in viruses and bacteria. As well, she was not supposed to eat hot dogs as they were not good for her ostomy. This fear moment was turned into one of pure joy and love. Ten years ago, I would never have thought eating a hot dog would be such a joyous experience. When my friend’s The Togyi’s experienced the same connection with a hot dog for their son Avery as he is a little boy battling cancer. Their willingness to take a fearful time and transform to times of joy and love is inspiring to all of us. Read the Hot Dog Diaries to feel this transformation and to provide love and support for them. All I can do is send my love and positive energy to them.

My life has been full of fear, not just the fear of my children dealing with critical and chronic illness, but many other fears. As a 50 year old woman, I experience fears that are seemingly major and others that are minor yet still as paralyzing. As I have moved through my life, many have made comments about how they are not sure how I have coped and made it through. Truthfully, I do not know how I did either. I am realizing that it is because I have embraced the fear and used it to find love as best as I could. I have put my difficulties of my life to the universe and asked for guidance because I wanted to find love instead of wallow in the fear. When I got close to the edge of not enduring because of the pain, isolation, and heartbreak somehow love found me and I was willing to accept and create a small crack of light through the darkness.

So, my blog will be sharing my fears and how I attempt to find love in the past, present, and future. Those that are serious and major, to the minor fears that seem frivolous but have created responses that are based on flight, freeze, or fight. An opportunity to share my musings as well as process for self healing. Looking at my life with a sense of humour and seriousness…it helps me get through. So, thank you for being part of my journey.

My question to you — what moments of fear have created a sense of joyous love for you?

Happy Birthday Ryleigh

 

Dear Ryleigh,

Today you would have celebrated your 18th birthday.  A milestone that is typically a joyful time but as this day approached I was worried about how I might manage.  Over the past weeks I have been looking through photos, my blog posts, and your journals.  I continue to be inspired and astounded by your joy, selflessness, love, courage, and kindheartedness.   I look at your smile and sparkling eyes and remember how no matter what loneliness or pain you felt you would greet me with such joy and love — hugging me and reminding me of what is most important.

Ryleigh when you were with us, I was so immersed in the constant stress and trauma of our experiences.  I was so entrenched in doing all the things that needed to be done and looking forward to when we would be done with hospitals and you would be in remission.  I was not very good at slowing down and just being in the moment.  You were good at that…I should have learned from you.  I know your last few years were so hard  but upon reflection  I loved every moment with you.  I cherish our moments together when we would be in a hospital room- watching some reality show or criminal drama.  We would be waiting to hear about a test result or next steps, yet we laughed, talked, and spent time together that was meaningful.  I wish I had appreciated it more.

Ryleigh, I miss you so much.  Saying goodbye to you and missing you has been the hardest thing I have ever gone  through – there are days I wonder how I will endure the deep sorrow I feel. I endure my grief attacks because of you. I have moments when I am overwhelmed by your absence – bursting into tears, feeling lost, and wondering why. But I manage because I knew you wanted me to be happy.  You were selfless because you believed you were a burden.  Ryleigh, you were never a burden.  Your bright heart and joyful way of living even in the darkest times was something I admired and loved about you.  I wanted to give you a present for this birthday.

For your 18th year…

I will try to be more courageous and live life to the fullest. 

I will embrace each moment as if it is my last. 

I will hug and snuggle your sweet nephew, Callum, like you would hug me. 

I will look for joy and happiness in the smallest things. 

I will love with my whole heart and not be afraid to be vulnerable. 

I will eat black forest cake from the middle and enjoy each spoonful as I dig in. 

I will smile more and try to add some sparkle to my days as you did to mine.  

I will write more – share my thoughts and ideas. 

I will love myself and cherish each moment I have with hope, grace, and kindness.  

I will honour who you were the best I can.  

Ryleigh, you were never a burden – instead your are a true blessing and gift. Each day I treasure your gifts and what you gave to our little world.

Happy Birthday my Miss Merry Sunshine….I love you so much.

Mom

 

 

 

 

Another Mother’s Day

mother's day

I remember my first Mother’s Day as a mom.  Chloe was three months old.  We went to the symphony in the park.   My  memory has gaps – for a variety of reasons be it trauma, chronic stress, and grief.   But I believe I remember those precious moments because of the wonderfully, delightful, and mesmerizing baby Chloe was. Sitting under the shade of the tree and listening to the music she nursed and we cuddled.  I remember her big eyes and  beautiful smile.  The warmth of the sun keeping us cozy and comfortable.  Somehow, I felt this was a profound and special moment and it is why I remember it so clearly.

The next few years, my memory of the day celebrating mom is muddled by the everyday stresses of life working, parenting, taking care of others…there were no significant memories. However, I remember  the Mother’s Day just after Chloe had  turned three years old.   Chloe had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  This was a Mother’s Day when I was scared and frightened.  I remember how sickly she was and questioned how was I going to keep her safe and well She was diagnosed with cancer – even though the doctor’s said she has a treatable cancer, I was not sure how I would survive the pain of losing her.  The deep fear that my child would die is a memory I could not erase.  This was a day I remember thinking that being a mom is such a gift that is tenuous and fragile.  I would choose to celebrate being a mom -not my children celebrating me.   As the year passed, celebrating Mother’s Day had been a quiet celebration.  My mom had passed away and the girls were struggling with their health issues. The day would come and go without much fan fair and I did not mind.

Mother’s Day has changed for me now. It has more significance because I think about the half of my heart that is missing causing a emptiness that is unexplainable. This will be the second Mother’s Day without Ryleigh. The feeling a loss and despair does not get better with time and nor should it.  I am just learning how to be different. How to manage without that part of my heart.

Years before I had worried so much about losing Chloe to cancer, I would have never imagined life without Ryleigh.  In fact, I believed that  the rest of my life would be centered around caring for Ryleigh.   I would be Ryleigh’s primary caregiver as her illness was so disabling that she would need her Mom to look after her and care for her.  I had a deep, secret thought that Ryleigh would not have a long life.  Her illness and all the medications and treatments that had ravaged her body would have reduced her life expectancy. So, I had thought she might leave me before I left her.  However, I thought I still had time.  Time to love her more than ever, time to share stories, debate issues, experience living….

Although she is not with me physically, her actions, writing, and my memories of her continue to inspire me to live a life of purpose and be mindful of my presence in this world.  I continue to find her writing in odd places.  Her writing and thoughts about enduring constant pain and how she managed.  Her reflections on the world she lived.  She thought she was a burden financially, emotionally, physically; that she was taking so much from myself and Chloe.  How I wish I had let her know more often how she inspired me and helped me get through each day – she was not a burden she was a gift.

I have always felt that being a mother  a selfish act.  I chose to bring my amazing girls into my life. They did not choose it, I did.  I wanted to experience the deep love and connection of being a mother.  Loving Chloe and Ryleigh so deeply and unconditionally is my greatest blessing.  I feel selfish every day because of the great feeling of love and joy I experience by memories of Ryleigh and my precious interactions with Chloe.  My daughters have shown me the power of love.  The strength to endure pain, illness, fear, and isolation.   Through their challenges and triumphs they taught me to appreciate the mementos of life – not the typical achievements a parent wants from their child.  Their wisdom at even the youngest of ages has taught me to be mindful, loving, and patient.

A life changing moment for me happened when Chloe was four years old. She was sick from chemotherapy and asked me one day to play with her.  At this point, I was now a single, working parent and I had so much to do.  The tasks that I thought were important: laundry, dishes, vacuuming, lesson planning, marking….I responded by saying I would play with her after I finished the dishes.  She looked up at me with her bald head, steroid induced puffy cheeks, and her big, stunning brown eyes and wisely, yet so innocently said to me, “Mommy, dishes can wait.  I might not be here tomorrow.”  Children have such profound things to share with us. We need to listen more and honour their ideas.

Chloe continues to inspire and brings me joy.  Her love and positive presence helps balance the hardness my heart feels sometimes.  She has moved towards  her making her own  life  and is experiencing the joys and celebrations of creating a home for herself and her loving partner, Shem.  She has her fur babies to care for and has so much hope for the future.  How can I not be proud and celebrate the wonder and strength she has shown? Chloe demonstrates every day how to love deeply, live fully, and be mindful and present.  Her belief in healing, moving on, and celebrating the small moments inspires me to live a more daring life.   I am grateful every day for my brown eyed girl, that she survived so much and continues creating a wonderful imprint on my heart.  Chloe is a gift that keeps on giving…

This Mother’s Day, I will do my best to remember the truly precious moments my daughter’s have given me.  But, I will also need to embrace and honour my own sadness, loss, and loneliness.  My happiness goes to all the Moms who will receive phone calls, emails, flowers, candy, gifts, and hugs from their sons and daughter’s  this Mother’s Day. My heart goes to those mother’s that will miss those connections with their child as they will only have thoughts and memories to cherish.   You are not alone, and sadly there are many of us who understand.   My love and compassion to all of those that will find this day challenging.

Different

 

cant-explain
Time comes and goes without my really knowing how much has truly passed.  I was  asked by a few followers when my next blog was going to be posted.  I was not certain when I was going to post again as I have difficulty with finding the lens of optimism  that I have had the gift of looking through.  I always attempted to write in a hopeful manner to inspire myself mostly.  But, my journey cannot always be one of the rose coloured view.  Sometimes spending time in the darkness of grief, loss, and loneliness is needed.

Losing a child is the greatest heartbreak I can imagine.  It was always my greatest fear to have Chloe or Ryleigh die before me.  But having Ryleigh make the choice to die by suicide rips my heart to shreds.  Her suicide leaves me in a state of pondering—what clues were there? Was this a choice made form mental illness or from mental strength?  Isolation, pain, lack of hope for a “cure”, financial and familial stressors—she experienced all of this.  As a mother, how come I could not protect her from such misery.  I do not blame myself but am aware of the whispers around me of doubting my abilities to really know Ryleigh.  I taught both my daughters to believe in themselves, trust their decisions, and be independent.  Ryleigh through her choices showed us she could be that.

I am different—losing Ryleigh has made everything different.  I know I am strong and will find my way but I have had to come to terms with the fact that I am not who I used to be.   In reality this has affected all parts of my life—relationships, work, self care, and every day living.  It is not really negative—just different.

Those who are close to me may find the difference challenging to deal with as I am not as sensitive to other’s needs as I once was.  I cannot explain this.  I was once able to counsel, show empathy,  mediate, create stronger bonds, forgive, create moments where others feel loved and cared for. Yet now, I cannot find the strength to be there in the way I once was and as a result some of my relationships have fractured.  I am deeply sorry if I have not been the friend, sister, daughter, co-worker, teacher  that I once was.   I am navigating this difference in a way that only I can understand….I cannot explain it.  Sometimes I may be insensitive and hurtful, it is not my intention it  just happens.  Perhaps one day, I will venture back to being the person others want me to be.  But right now, I am who I am…please understand that my journey is now  different.

 

Daring Greatly & Living Strong

daring-greatly

 

As another Christmas passes and we move into saying goodbye to 2016, I continue to be reflective wondering about how life moves on even when sometimes we can be stuck.  This past year has been a challenge yet immersed with moments of great wonder and joy.  I am constantly moved by the extremes of emotions one feels when they have lost a child especially by suicide.

I am blessed to have a deep connection with Chloe as she pulls me away from sadness and grief by her positive and thoughtful way of living.  It is strange to have her show me how to live for the moment, to embrace gifts that come her way, and to jump whole heartedly in making her life purposeful.  Chloe has moved to Dawson Creek to be with her boyfriend and obvious to me her life partner.  She is content, happy, and so sure of herself.  It is a blessing to see her create a home for her partner and her family of pets.  The way she does not let her pain or past struggles determine how she will live her life is so inspiring.

She is teaching me that staying in one place, one moment, or one event is not what Ryleigh wanted for us.  Ryleigh made a choice for herself and as we are learning for Chloe and myself.  Who am I to NOT embrace her choice and try to live a meaningful, joyful life.  I think because I am just a “bit” older and somewhat entrenched in my own experiences and beliefs it is a bit more challenging.

I am not afraid of the challenge yet so many memories and so many what if’s swim through my mind.  I have not only spent the last 18 years as a parent (much like most of you) but I have spent the last 15 years immersed in the lifestyle of being a hospital mom, full time teacher, and full time care giver at home.  I did not imagine that in the span of one year I would only have one of those responsibilities.  Eighteen months ago – I believed that I would be the lifelong care giver of Ryleigh.  That although she was bright, clever, and independent her body would not let her live the life she wanted to live.  I had not even planned or thought that I would be an “empty nester”.  I had not prepared mentally and emotionally for it.  So now I am adjusting…slowly but surely.

I am trying to figure out my new life. Living in a home that was made for a family – not for a single.  How do I use my time that was so immersed in hospitals, medicines, emotions, ostomy changes, doctor appointments, travel arrangements, teaching, making specific meals, and other typical parental responsibilities?

I am slowly trying to renew past interests and hobbies.  Trying to immerse myself in my own healthy pursuits and not spend all my extra time working on classroom and school “stuff”.  To retrain oneself from a busy lifestyle to try and relax is very hard.  I am not complaining but I wish it were because of different circumstances.

Spending time this holiday season with family has continued to enlighten me on the importance of those moments we often take for granted.  I am reminded that even during the temper tantrums, family arguments, long lists of things to do, balancing all aspects of one’s life that one should never wish it to be different. One can manage the stressors differently but when it is all taken away from you – you realize how precious those things are.

As a new year comes upon me.  I realize the what I need be (not do) this year.  I sincerely hope that as the new year comes upon me – I continue to truly figure out what matters in life.  I will continue to be strong in my beliefs.  I will advocate for those that cannot advocate for themselves.  I will dare greatly.  I will continue to build strong and heartfelt relationships and try to find peace and hopefully some resolve in relationships that have been damaged over time.

I am going to try and be adventurous and live life in a way where I will  dare greatly and continue to live strong.

All the best in 2017!

Purposeful Pauses

 

helen keller

As my life transitions into something different I ponder about the power of pausing.  Being mindful about our lives has become a buzz word but really, what is mindfulness?  For me it seems to be purposefully pausing.  For me the word pause is much friendlier then stop…pause means I can continue on with my life …after I take a moment.  Pausing…is helping me get through the heartache and pain but it also is allowing me to find glimpses of joy and hope.  Pausing is allowing me to do what Ryleigh wanted – to explore, live a life of caring and kindheartedness, and follow her dreams and mine.

The challenge to get through each day as being  burdened by the loss of Ryleigh is one that will never go away.  However, there is an ebb and flow of my grief…time is allowing me to build that bridge over the hole that will be forever there.   However, when I do take the time to pause…find ways to slow down and honour my feelings…I can focus on what continues to be important to me.

First and foremost – I am so blessed to have Chloe at home.  Chloe’s youthful joy and zest for life keeps my spirits up. Chloe  has found the way to pause for her own well being.  She definitely knows the way to mindfulness. Chloe has been so generous with her love and understanding.     I absolutely love the fact that she is so attached to all her critters.  She has found a way to help heal her own wounded heart  with caring so lovingly with her critters- dogs, guinea pigs, and her rabbit.  Her excitement and love for these creatures is wonderous.  Chloe demonstrates a power of pausing when she slows down and focuses on her furry friends, takes a nap, plays her computer games, and exploring youtube.  She is an amazing young woman and I learn from her every day.

Pausing for me has not been as easy but I am working on it.  It is slowing down and appreciating one thing at a time.  It is being outside without my phone, music, CBC radio.  It is listening to the sounds of nature as I dig and explore my garden.  It is focusing on the smells of the garden – slowing my mind down to not what I have to do but what I want to do.

Being purposeful about my life realizes that I need to let go of the ties that are anchoring me down in a way that are not allowing me heal and grow.  Yet, holding on to the ones that are holding me together….such as my daughters, my passions for writing, reading, educating, and the hopefulness shared towards  me by my close friends and family.  It is their strength that helps me get through and manage each day.

Pausing is  being quiet and still.  Reflecting in my minds eye and my hopeful heart about the work that I am doing to heal.    Being still has always been a challenge for me as for the last 15 years of being a “hospital” mom has not been a  time to pause and take time.  Focusing on others has been my priority…now it is time to take time for myself. To become healthy inside my heart, my mind, and my body. Being purposeful,  I am finding my way back to being the woman both my daughters admire and love…I want them to be proud of me.

Summer is a time to re-energize, grow, and heal by taking those moments to  pause.

 

 

Forget Me Not

As we move into another season I am surprised by the sea of blue flowers adorning my flower beds and yard.  These were Ryleigh’s favourite flower and every time I go out in my garden it seems like the amount of blossoms have doubled.  Just the other day I saw a beautiful butterfly.  I can feel Ryleigh’s presence and so I am spending many hours outside. As I tend to the garden I reflect on all my precious moments as a mother – with Chloe and Ryleigh.  The last eight months has been very painful for me.  The hurt that comes from your children leaving you in ways that are not expected is unexplainable.  But through unconditional love for my daughters I can overcome the heartache and learn to embrace the calm and serene times. Forget Me Not

A never mending story…

233746-This-Hole-In-My-Heart

I have realized that this heart of mine will never mend.  This is a sad frame of mind but it is also a bit freeing.  Knowing that time does not heal all wounds – time just allows me to figure out ways to manage.  I have been reminded a few times of the significance of today – March 24th – six months since Ryleigh chose to end her life of pain and suffering.  Friends and family helping me cope with the 6 month mark…remembering and reminding how this must be a difficult day.

I reply (in an unintended rude tone) that every day is difficult.  And it is…from the start of the day to the end.  Difficult has been my journey  for many years but this is a whole different kind difficult.  It is relentless.  The endless wonderings of why? What could I have done differently?  The feeling of emptiness – realizing how Ryleigh was so much  part of my being and daily happenings.   I miss the hospital stays – how ironic is that! It was a time with Ryleigh that was focused, intense, real, and honest.

When Ryleigh and I used to stay up late together I would be so tired but I wanted to be there with her and for her but would wish for a full night sleep.  But now,  my nights are seemingly endless.  Not getting a full night sleep – but I do not wish for it anymore.

I am on Spring Break – lost on how I am going to spend the time.  I am not used to time. Chloe celebrated her 18th birthday and is finding her way to being independent.  Living in our basement – converting it into her little apartment.  She has left the nest so to speak.  A year ago I was not worried about letting her fly – because I still was on the parenting path with Ryleigh.  But now, I have been thrown into being an empty nester.  Something I looked forward to – but now I dread it.  I was not prepared…I was so busy caring for my daughters I do not know what to so now.  A friend said to me that is like I am untethered.  It is true…I am.   I feel lost in the grief not sure  of my role in the world anymore.  I spend time in Ryleigh’s room smelling her pillow and trying to remember as much as I can.  Memory is a weird thing…I remember the oddest moments with Ryleigh.  How she liked to have her ham and cheese cut in a particular way, her lipstick, butterflies and fairies, her music, and of course her giggle.

Remembering my  last 12 hours  with Ryleigh are bittersweet….

Ryleigh finally wanting to share her writing with her English teacher, Lisa Thiessen.

Having lunch with myself and a former student – chatting away about devices, apps, and what they both liked on the internet

Wheeling her down to her social studies class.  Getting her settled as inconspicuous as possible and as I walk out of the class room I hear her say “Mom?”.  I turn around and she comes right up to me giving me a big hug and sloppy kiss.  “I love you Mom, you are the best”.  She knew these were to be my last words I would hear from her.  She was always so generous with her love and caring.  I had no clue that would be my last conversation with her.  I told her I loved her too and that she was also amazing

Four hours later – I am in a panic as Ryleigh is unconscious and I cannot revive her.  Waiting for the ambulance.  Trying to resuscitate.  Hospital.  Decisions.  Singing her  the songs I used to sing to her as a baby as she took her last breath.

Now I am without her…wondering how to be.  My heart will always have a hole- the  work will be building a bridge over it so I can still be at least part the person Ryleigh loved.