Danielle Christopher

Grief Without Borders/Thank you, from Canada

Jul
04

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It is 2018. Many fellow Canadians are opting to not travel to the United States because of the current political climate. I can’t help to think of the American experience we had in 2013. It was the first Family Day here in my province. And we had to leave our country for the day.

My husband rolled down his window as the car drove up. I handed all of our IDs to him, fanned out to be make easier for the border guard.

“What is your purpose for entering the United States today?” he asked.

After a long night planning to make sure we had everything, and the extra bag for our kiddo with special needs, I couldn’t believe how we made good time to get to the border. I wished it were for a better reason.

“To attend my wife’s uncle’s funeral.” My husband replied.

The guards looked at all of us dressed in our formal wear in the early hours of a Monday morning. He glanced briefly at each of our pieces of identification. As he handed them back , he informed us that we only needed one piece of id per person to cross the border by car.

“I’m sorry for your loss. Hope the next visit will be for better reasons.” He concluded

We thanked him and drove away. I was so grateful that there weren’t no issues. We were early by the time we got near the church, so we stopped at the local Starbucks. We could stretch our legs and snack up. I lined up to place our drink orders as hubby spread out snacks from home for the kids.

I got to the counter and told the barista our order. She asked what we were doing today since we were all dressed up. I told her. Her face fell.

“I am so sorry for your loss. The coffees are on us today.”

I couldn’t reply, the tears bubbled in my throat. I was overwhelmed by the kindness we were shown from strangers. It is only 10:30am!

We arrived at the church with ten minutes to spare. My husband stayed with our youngest because she likes to roam. Our older daughter joined me to honor my uncle. She wrote in my notebook as we sat near his casket. At the reception, many people from my aunt and uncle’s church community had come up to me and complimented how my oldest had behaved during the service. It amazed me how much kindness could surround grief.

As the reception wound down, it was announced where the vehicle procession to his final resting place would begin. We joined the line in the adjacent parking lot, and was the last car. As the cars started their engines, we did too. A State Patrol man on a motorcycle had fallen in behind us with its lights blazing. As we proceeded through the streets and ran red lights with the escort, I was awestruck at how many cars pulled to the side, and some pedestrians took off their hats and put their hands to their hearts. They didn’t even know my uncle, yet they showed their respect to our grief. He wasn’t a celebrity and was important to so many that loved him.

I have been to multiple funerals here in Canada. We never had the support of the RCMP to make sure all those mourners could make it to the gravesite. Nor were those who passed on treated by passerby with such dignity like we had seen for my uncle.

It has been 4 years since that day. While it was sad for our family, it also showed how grief has no borders. We were treated without judgment or prejudice because of where we were. We were treated with kindness and empathy. From the border guard, to the police officer escort to the cemetery, we felt enveloped in the kindness that is America.

 

I Shouldn’t Be Grateful, But..

Oct
10

This is something I wrote last year on another cypher place. It is still true today on my 43rd birthday. Be grateful.

Cheers!

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Well, there it is. It is my birthday. My 9 year-old daughter circled the date with a big, red circle. The swirl of the crimson shape makes me feel heavy-hearted. This year brought nothing to celebrate. Why should I acknowledge turning another year older?

At the beginning of the year, I underwent a thyroidectomy. I have been battling thyroid disease for many years. The medication rollercoaster to get my levels balanced did nothing in my body’s fight with my lumpy organ. My spare and second spare tires around my belt loop are the reminders of just how awful my body was losing the fight.

It took months of treatments and many medication changes to get it right. On the day of every test I would kiss my loved ones to wish them a good day. I didn’t know if it was for the last time. I became convinced I wouldn’t make it out of surgery. Maybe it was my time. Mom died at 39 years old. Today, I am 42.

The weeks that followed after surgery was like being on an old wooden rollercoaster ride that never stopped. From follow up tests, the worries, more challenges, my youngest’s rough time communicating and so much more. I kept hoping things would die down. But it never did.

Winter blended into Spring, Summer arrived with a leg injury. It was my fault. I had received the 6-month clearance that day. I was playing with my youngest. I caught her in a jump and she came down hard on my kneecap. My leg swelled from knee to toe. I couldn’t do anything fun with the kids for the rest of summer break. The kids did okay with limited activities. I felt like such a failure as a mom.

To say I was depressed was putting it mildly. After a battery of medical appointments, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was sent on the way home with a prescription and orders for self care. HA! Putting myself as a priority is odd and unfamiliar. I had a lot of reprogramming in myself to do. I started by journaling and doodling in the coloring books for adults. It became easier to do in between interruptions.

When school was back in session, I thought I would finally get me time. That honeymoon ended swiftly as I would get the rescue calls to get my youngest. Her communication abilities completely shut down. She has autism and is partially verbal. My girl was screaming at school for reasons unknown. It turned out she was hit with a big mess of infections. Screaming was her way of dealing with the foreign feelings in her body. It broke my heart (and ears) every time she would wail in my arms. Eventually, she healed. We learned what to do the next time she physically communicates pain. School is being a happy place again.

When a lump was found, in the ultrasound the technician stopped the scan. She got the doctor who saw it and sent me directly to the OR. It had grown too fast. I had a lumpectomy right then and there. I hadn’t prepared for surgery so I had to drive myself home after. And the worry train started up again.

Thankfully, those test results were clear. I had a lot of emotional healing to do. I slowly took back the reins of my life. The bad days are still always just around the corner. Sometimes the crushing pressure on my heart makes me not to want to get out of bed.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!!!” I hear the chorus coming down the hall. It is my kids and hubby.

It is as if lightening struck my depression bubble. Everything becomes sharper and brighter.

It is my birthday. I am here. I know I didn’t feel grateful in the OR. I felt grateful when I woke up in ICU. I felt grateful to hear my family’s beautiful voices. I didn’t feel grateful that I couldn’t have coffee. I did feel grateful when I could have showers again. I didn’t feel grateful when loved ones disappeared when I needed support. I am grateful for the people who surprised me with their love and care packages. I didn’t feel grateful when friends passed away or their children.

I am grateful for the healthcare system. I am grateful to be able to celebrate my 42nd birthday because I can. I am feeling such appreciation for the small things that turned out to be so big and mean so much.

As I blow out the candles, a feeling of gratitude washes over me. It is okay to feel sad. It is okay to be grateful too. I am grateful for another year. The New Year is looking a lot brighter now.