Monday, July 29, 2013

For Lisa, Rest in Peace

Late last week I wrote a letter to Lisa Gibson as a blog post.  I had to do it.

It was the day after her children had died and she was still missing.  Her story consumed me.
It still does.

On Saturday, a female body was found in the Red River and yesterday it was identified as Lisa's.
Again, I am consumed with thoughts of her.

I experienced such relief knowing she was found.   But hand in hand with the feelings of relief, was such great and unspeakable sorrow.

I know that I am not the only one.

I know this because after I published my letter to Lisa on this blog, the response was immediate and  overwhelming.  The letter got shared, re-posted and tweeted and made it's way around to people who I had never met, but who all seemed to stand together with great compassion, understanding, and sorrow.     In our standing together, the message seemed to be, "there is no judgement here".

As I heard of the news of Lisa's death yesterday, I knew that only words on a screen would not be enough this time.  There had to be more.  There are too many people who have been so impacted by this woman's battle against an illness that would not let her go.  There had to be a way to communicate to her friends and her family that there are people in their community who understand and offer only compassion and share their sorrow.

As I communicated all this with my dear friend Joyce late last night, an idea was birthed as a way to remember Lisa and her struggle and to and publicly communicate the message of compassion for her and her family.  A gathering of those who want to both show their support and be supported will take place on Thursday, August 1st at 7:30 p.m. at The Forks on the steps leading down to the River Walk.  If you are coming to join us in the gathering, you are welcome to bring a candle to light in memory of Lisa and her children.   Those gathering together can also bring a white flower to place into the Red River in memory of Lisa and the struggle she faced.  These organic deposits will travel down the river by the current adding light and reminders of hope and peace to the dark waters as they flow.

Please spread the word through conversations with friends or social media.

Rest in peace, Lisa.

We know you loved them.
There is no judgement here.

If you are planning to come on Thursday night and are on facebook, please respond to the event page so we have an idea of how many people to expect.  Click on this link to take you straight to the event page.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

For Lisa Gibson

I haven't been able to think of much else today, except you.  I keep coming back to the computer - checking the Winnipeg Free Press web site to see if there have been any developments and hoping that you've been found.  I want you to be found, Lisa.  You deserve that.

I don't know much about you except that you are 32 and were a momma to two.  I imagine that Anna and Nicholas were two gifts you must have hoped for your whole life.  I know you are a pharmacist at the Concordia Hospital who is on maternity leave, as Nicholas was born only three months ago.  A pharmacist.  That means you knew and understood the pharmacology that existed to help you overcome the dark dogs that were obviously lapping at your heels.  All the knowledge in the world can't help you sometimes.

I know that.
I hope you know that many people know it too.

You had a husband and other family who were helping you.  They must have tried so hard.  It must have killed you to watch them try.  In moments when the light found a way to sneak in, you must have looked over at your daughter, or your newborn son and everything in you must have wanted to extend your hand.

Only you couldn't.

I don't know what the darkness or the voices were telling you to do yesterday morning.  It must have been so convincing and so terrifying.  You must have felt like you had control for just a fleeting moment.  You took that control - the feeling that must have been absent for so long - and you acted.  I know you didn't understand what you were doing.

I know you loved your beautiful babies.

I am so sorry that the darkness that plagued you was bigger than anyone knew.  I'm sorry there wasn't enough help or understanding.  I'm sorry that you found yourself alone with your babies, even for that short while.  You must have been so afraid.

I know you loved them.

I don't know where you are today.  No one does.  I hope that you were able to find a place to truly rest yesterday, even with those dark dogs chasing you.  I hope your soul and your spirit found a way to rescue you from your tormentors.  I hope you found peace.  I hope you are at rest.

There is no blame found here, Lisa.  Not at the end of these words that I write.  I look at the pictures of you and those of your children and I know you must have loved them.

I am grieving for so much today.  For your husband, for your babies, for all who knew and loved them.  But mostly I am grieving for you.  It wasn't you, Lisa.  I hope you know that so many of us believe that.

You were educated, middle-class, supported, and surrounded, but still it wasn't enough.
It was too big for you.

I know you loved them.
I'm sorry.
Be at peace.

At the time of writing, Lisa Gibson is still missing.
Update - Lisa Gibson's body was recovered from the Red River on Saturday, July 27th.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Things to Love About Summer

The rich chocolaty brown of Ellie's skin, getting deeper and darker by each moment she spends under a sunny blue sky.

Freckles appearing, more and more, on noses and cheeks and foreheads.

Sipping gin and tonics (with extra lime) and lime margaritas on outside patios.

Powerful, loud, crashing, lightening flashing thunderstorms that only a prairie sky can produce.

Seemingly endless evenings when the dark stays away.

"Sev" walks down St. Mary's Road for Slurpees, 3 girls and me.

Dirty, filthy, stinky, deliriously happy people at the end of a week at camp.

A tub full of brown water and sweet smelling clean bodies after washing the week at camp away.

Fresh picked strawberries.

Alarm clocks on "off".

Days full of pajamas till noon and empty calendar squares.

Unfolding your patchwork beach blanket and laying it down on the sand - fresh and ready for the day of adventure.

Lunch kits put away, out of sight and out of mind.

Watermelon juice running down a chin.

Bathing suits hanging to dry on the hooks in your laundry room, recovering from another day of action.

Little curly-haired boys holding frogs and toads in one hand, with their other hand cupped over top.

Cold beer, BBQ on, and a makeshift potluck with neighbors on their deck till the mosquitoes start to bite.

Stacks of books on your bedside table that you want to read, not that you have to read.

Time for new dreams and new plans to permeate in your mind and soul.

Golden fields of canola lining your highway travels.

Anticipation of friends and visits waiting for you at the end of your long holiday journey.

Piles of flip-flops in your entrance.

Pretty dresses.

Not leaving the house without your sunglasses.

Feeling the hot sun warm you from the inside out, thawing away the harsh winter you survived.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter

Several months ago the Winnipeg Free Press had a short review of the book, Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter, that immediately made it onto my "must read" list.    Just a few weeks later I was listening to Shelagh Roger's "The Last Chapter" on CBC Radio one afternoon and heard her in conversation with the book's author, Alison Wearing and her dad discussing the book and the stories it tells.  I was taken with the warm and witty banter between Alison and her dad, but also with the immense courage it must have taken for Alison to have written the book, and even more, for her parents to have given their blessing for her to tell their story.

This week I was thrilled to discover that Alison Wearing was bringing her one-woman play (from which the book is based) to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival this year.   Mike and I were able to take in her first performance at the Winnipeg Fringe last night, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Alison takes the audience from the time her mom and dad met through to the present using family pictures, music, a simple set, and monologue.  The story weaves its way through what her life was like as a child in Peterborough Ontario pre and post her dad's coming out.  When Alison's dad did finally come out of the closet and began living as an openly gay man, Alison was twelve years old.  She makes the ironic confession that it was just as her dad had broken free of his "double life" that she felt she had to begin living hers - terrified that neighbors and friends would find out her dad was gay.

I laughed a lot through out the show.  There are handfuls of funny moments, especially for those who also grew up and came of age in the 1970's and 80's.  I knew there would be emotionally charged moments and themes, but I was caught off guard by how deeply the show would impact me.  It was the ending, when Alison again takes the role of her father and begins to "conduct" the Toronto Gay Men's Choir through a recording that began my emotional response.  Alison later states, "my father could not help being gay any more than bats can help hanging upside down." Her journey through her father's story of coming out resulted in a woman with a deep and abiding love for her father, his partner, and the life he made for himself.

After the show ended, Alison turned to the audience with tears welling in her eyes, thanking us for coming to see the show.  She wasn't expecting many people in the crowd and was overwhelmed with the nearly-full room of people.  It was amazing for me to again see the power that "story" holds for people.  Even though she has written her story into a book and performed her play countless times, the telling of it and the reaction of people around her still holds power for her.  It held power for me too, as my tears began then too.

As we were leaving the room, a 30-something year old man approached Alison, held her hand and said, "I am your dad".   I could only imagine the way watching and experiencing Alison's story and discovering the beauty with which it has played out was deeply impacting for him.  After walking from her, he turned to his waiting partner who embraced him and pecked him on the cheek, and they walked out, hand in hand.   It was profound for me.

There was a short time for Alison to sell and sign her book afterward.  I walked toward her with red eyes and nose and thanked her for offering her story.

 Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter is playing at Venue 11 a the Red River College Princess Street campus  until July 27th.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Return to Folk Fest

After a two-year hiatus from Folk Fest while we lived in Vancouver, we returned to our happy place this weekend.  Yesterday was a scorcher.  We found us a little piece of heaven in Shady Grove for our first workshop of the day...

Where else, than at a Folk Fest workshop stage, would you combine a Danish brass-infused polka/folk band, a bluegrass fiddler from the States, and an old-time string band from Winnipeg?  Stranger still is that it worked.  They made beautiful music together.

After a banjo workshop at Shady Grove, our next stop was one of the new stages - Spruce Hollow.  It's a bit of a trek to get to, but there were glorious pockets of shade and an amazing fiddle mash-up.

After three great workshops, I was getting a little worried.  I still hadn't found my "one" new glorious discovery of the folk fest.  I didn't have to wait long.  We pulled up close to the stage at Spruce Hollow for the "Songs I Wish I Wrote" workshop.  It was an eclectic mix of singer-songwriters playing cover tunes written by some of their favorite writers.    They covered songs by The Talking Heads, The Clash, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Dire Straits, Elvis Costello and more.  It was ridiculous.  In a goose-bump inducing sort of way.

One of our discoveries was the deep deep voice of New Yorker Sean Rowe...

Mike was feeling the vibe of Bhi Bhiman.  Chill.

But the guy that stole it for us was Canadian Danny Michel.  He's like a merger of Elvis Costello and Paul Simon.  He's just released an album with the Garifuna Collective from Belize that we've been playing on "repeat" all day long.  It's reminiscent of Paul Simon's Graceland album.  We found our "one" of the festival for sure.

The new space for food vendors was up and running and we feasted!

Some people dozed.

Our girls lapped up their return...

Can you spot the teensie folkie caterpillar?

There was a glorious prairie sky for the main stage show.

... which included treks for Whale's Tails and...

.... kettle corn (which can also act as a stand in for a guitar).

It was late into the night when Dr. John started his groove on stage and the Penner dance party ensued.

Once the dirty feet were washed clean and the kettle corn kernels were brushed out of my teeth I lay in my bed with a satisfied sigh.

Music.  People.  Magic.  As close to a perfect day as you can get.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Want(ed) Ad

It wasn't until I resigned from my teaching job to be a full-time, stay at home mom,  that I realized how all encompassing the word "job" was.    Suddenly, it seemed like it was everything.  It's no wonder, really.  I think now to how often I ask the kids in my life "what do you think you would love to do when you grow up?" and it makes sense.  What you DO or what you want to do gives me a window into who you are.  Or so it seems.

In all my years as a mostly full-time stay at home mom, I came to detest the question that would arise within minutes of meeting someone.  "What do you do?".  I was always amazed at how I'd feel compelled to say, "I stay home with my girls, but I used to be a teacher"  OR "Right now I'm at home with my girls, but I'm actually a teacher" - as though being at home with three girls wasn't enough somehow and I had to qualify myself with more.  As each daughter left home and began school full-time I detested the question more.  At least there is something "noble" about being home with three little girls, but having only one at home part time while she's in kindergarten the rest of the time?  There's something inherently shameful about that.  (At least there was for me.)

This past year I was able to answer the "what do you do" question a little differently.  I could say I was a Master's student and a substitute teacher.  And all of a sudden I found my shame in my answer had decreased and my willingness to say what I did increased.  I let that settle with me during the year, and as all good therapists in training do, I muddled it over and examined and re-examined it from all the angles.

Funny thing is, I've always been the champion of "your work doesn't define who you are" or "you are more than what you do".  Yet here I was, and am, playing for the other team (in my cloudy, murky head).  That role of playing for the other team has intensified all year as I knew I couldn't sub as a long-term solution to making an income.  The more I knew this, the more I knew that I had to find something more permanent, reliable, and consistent.   When I knew this, the fear rose up because I'd have to actually find something, or in reality, make someone find me.

And so here I sit.  Midway through July, and knowing that by September, my goal is to be gainfully employed.  I read ads and job descriptions and see if I could see myself in them.  I know some would be perfect fits.  I also know that for every perfect fit there is usually a "full time" descriptor at the bottom of the ad that I know my mind and my weaker parts won't let me do.  There is the process of acceptance then.  To have to accept your limitations and jobs pass you by because you know you'd crumble beneath the expectations and time constraints that wouldn't allow you the space to breathe and find your way.

But in the midst of all of the hard parts that shine their light onto all of my weak parts, there is still a glimmer of hope.  What if I found a job that made me feel alive?  What if I could work doing what I felt I was born for?  What if I could do something that actually matched my skills and my master's studies?  And in those thoughts lies the possibility that there might just be something for me after all.  And it's then that I dare to dream a little and expect to not just be satisfied.

On the heels of dreaming, I'm creating my perfect job description.
My ideal job would:

-be half time

-allow me the chance to either bring my girls to school or pick them up at their regular time

- be relational

-build on and utilize the skills I've gained in my first year of my MMFT training

-provide me with therapeutic experience

-possibly integrate my education background with my therapeutic training (training, teaching, etc.)

-cross into areas like mental health, emotional wellness and care, sexuality education, parenting, etc.

That doesn't set the bar too high, does it?  Or does it?

It might.  But for now it's only July and I've still got time to dream a little.  I will dream as I uncover my perceptions and expectations around why the answer to "what do you do?" means as much to me as to everyone else I meet.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Oh Canada (A Safe Place to Land)

I've always taken great pride in being Canadian.   For a bleeding heart liberal, I can't think of a better country in which to live.   Just the CBC alone would be enough to convince me that this is the best place to make my home!

Over this past year I've had the chance to see Canada through a new lens and now appreciate it with even more gratitude.  Back in September, I had the gift of meeting a fabulous new friend.  We connected at the U of W Graduate Studies Orientation and then found that she was in all of my courses this year.   She was an International Student and had just arrived from Egypt (via some months spent in  Kentucky) to begin her studies in Marriage and Family Therapy.  I liked Mary right away.  She had a great sense of humour, knew how and when to laugh, and came from an educator's background, just like me.    As we got to know each other more, I discovered that Mary's partner, Jennifer, had also relocated to Winnipeg and that they had a rich story to tell.

Most of you will know about the tremendous political tension, conflict, and uprisings that have happened (and are still very much in process) in Egypt.  Over dinner here one night, Mary and Jennifer shared their story of what it was like to live through the Egyptian Revolution as women in a place that was volatile, unsettled, and lacked security.  Their story was full of fear, of loss, and of deep and abiding love for Egypt and the friends they had to leave behind.  But it was also full of courage, commitment to each other (in a place in which their relationship made them vulnerable, afraid, and at risk), and determination to find themselves a home in which they could live free of fear.

Mary and Jennifer were essentially in hiding when they began the process of seeking a safe place to land.  Friends of theirs who they learned to know and love in Egypt were now living in Winnipeg and quickly agreed to act as their sponsors as they applied to become permanent residents of Canada.  It was a tumultuous time, full of confusion and a million other emotions.  Egypt had always been Mary's home, and though Jennifer was an American citizen, her life and world was in Egypt as well and had been for many years.  They wanted to live their lives together in the way they wanted to, and they knew that there were few options of places in which they could do that.  Canada was one of them, and it seemed to be calling their names.

After spending some months in Jennifer's home state of Kentucky, the two of them made their way to Winnipeg and began to tentatively make a life here.  Mary began her studies, and Jennifer began to work.  They are the kind of people who open themselves up to you right away - sharing stories, amazing food, and their hope.  They spoke with such gratitude and affection for their adopted home and country - comparing it to the difficult and dangerous world that so many of their Egyptian friends still found themselves in.  I was discovering Canada through new eyes - as a place that was safe, accepting, and welcoming.  I liked what I saw.

Throughout the school year Mary and Jennifer were going through the process of waiting to see whether they would receive Permanent Residency.  Just this last week, on the day of our last class of the year, Mary was full of life and excitement as she announced that they had just received word that they would become Permanent Residents.  There was joy, anticipation, relief, and expectation for what the future would hold for them.  It was a night to celebrate!

We went out and toasted Mary and Jennifer after class - she was wearing her newly acquired "Manitoba" t-shirt in honor of the news she had just received.  

As a few of us were walking together on our way home, our friend Donna noticed a rainbow in the sky - the ultimate symbol of hope.  We got Mary to stand in such a way as though the rainbow was landing on her.  It seemed only right as she was embarking on the ultimate journey of finding hope in a new place.

This last Sunday, Mary and Jennifer hosted a gathering of their friends an colleagues at Bird's Hill Park. We shared a feast, played some games, and learned a little about each other and how our stories intersect.  There was great joy there.  Gratitude that they had found their home and their home had welcomed them to their rightful place, just as they are.

I'm thankful that my country makes room for people who need a safe place to land.  
I'm grateful that Mary and Jennifer landed close to me.

Happy Canada Day!