- by Sabrina Friesen
And here's another thoughtful thought from Sabrina Friesen...
I am mama to a sports fanatic.
little guy learned his letters and how to sound out words by writing out the
team rosters for the Blue Jays, Steelers, and the Jets. He’s learned how to
Google search players and team lists, and spends countless hours writing out
name after name. It’s super cute to watch him bond with his dad over Sunday
afternoon games, and it is with much eagerness that he powers through all of
his morning tasks so he can whip through the PVR’d game from the night before.
Needless to say he was a little bit excited about the Jets making it into the playoffs.
I know he was not alone in his excitement and enthusiasm for his team. He was quite disheartened by the Jets’ losses in Anaheim, and was hopeful that they’d pull out a win on home ice. Tuesday morning, while I was convincing his sister to get dressed so we could get him to school, I came into the living room where he’d wrapped up watching the Jets’ heartbreaking game 3 loss. The poor guy was sitting silently in a dim room, with tears streaming down his little face.
“I’m so sad the Jets lost, Mom. They really need to win next game. Do you think they can do it?”
I wrapped my best guy in a giant hug and we
talked about how the Ducks were the best team in the division, and while it was
possible for the Jets to win 4 straight, it was not super likely. Sigh. Nothing like dashing your kids’
It was a similar scene this morning, complete with tears, as he wished his beloved Jets farewell for the season. Hard lessons in disappointment for a little guy, yet a brilliant life lesson – teaching my kids how to manage disappointment ranks high on my list of parenting goals, and this was a wonderful opportunity to let him practice that difficult feeling.
And while it was too bad to have the playoff run end so soon, my favorite part of this whole experience was this:
Now I’ll admit, I’m not a giant sports fan.
That competitive gene is one I’m missing, but I’m a sucker for a good story. I
found myself teary-eyed as I watched the Jets salute their team, in spite of a super
disappointing run in the playoffs.
This moment was too good to pass up with my boy, and I took the chance to highlight how incredible it was that even though the fans were super disappointed, that they could still stand with and celebrate their team. They didn’t scoff and scorn and walk out sulking, even though their feelings might have left them frustrated and annoyed with how the Jets just couldn’t pull out a win.
I think that we have a lot to learn from Jets fans in how they dealt with disappointment. Too often when our feelings are hurt, or when we hurt others – one party turns away and becomes unavailable to the other. I hear it all the time with folks in the office, “I didn’t want to disappoint her...what if she gets mad?” or I hear of how one partner ignored the other when they didn’t agree, sending the message that “You have to agree with me or else you’ll feel alone.”
A lot of us have a hard
time feeling disappointed and staying connected.
Thank you for staying when you maybe felt like going.
Thank you for celebrating in spite of disappointment.
Thank you for showing what it looks like to stick with your team even when it’s hard.
I’ve never been prouder to be a Winnipegger.
- by Carolyn Bergen
(Ok...fair warning. I'm getting married
real soon. I get that he and I are in an idealized moony-eyed phase where
we are understanding and accommodating. I get that there will be days
when it won't always be this easy, or that automatic. But I'm also determined
to hold onto the beauty of what is. I've seen this in couples that have been
married for decades, so I am wanting our relationship to be one of grace)
I am learning something about what it feels like to be in a relationship that is supportive and nurturing.
A few weeks ago, after the snow was gone, the skies gave us several slippery centimetres overnight. It was a day that was set aside for wedding prep.
I showed up barely on time at his home. But I forgot the wedding notebook. We had to go back to my home to grab it--backtracking...and making us even later for our first appointment than we would be because of the slick roads.
We picked up my wedding dress (!) and then headed off to the furniture store. I'd gone to the store from the tailors before, and I knew we could get there by turning left. I directed him left...and we got lost. Very lost.
Now I'd gotten us late and lost, back to back.
I braced myself for his irritation, and I apologized. And apologized again.
And he looked at me, shaking his head. "Do I look mad?" he asked. He didn't. I goofed--twice in a row--and he wasn't mad. He extended grace.
There's very little that attracts a heart more than easygoing forgiveness.
We got out the GPS and got us back on the right track. And then got ourselves to the store.
Which didn't open for another 45 minutes. Oops. Mistake #3. Third mistake in a row.
I don't like making mistakes...especially when they inconvenience other people. I hate it.
The weird thing was, he meant it. He wasn't hiding his irritation. He wasn't gritting his teeth to avoid snapping at someone who goofed at every turn. He just continued chatting with me about the day. He giggled at how often he has gotten lost in the city while going from one job site to another. It was real grace. He talked about how he goofs up too. We laughed and went on to do some other errands first, and came back to the store later.
He extended grace. The real deal...and I gotta tell ya, that is something that is remarkable to experience.
And we were stronger for the grace I experienced. Sigh.
I'm hoping he experiences the same from me.
He is helping me to embrace all of who I am. He tells me he loves me for all of who I am--and he's given me the chance to learn about grace by living in its beam. To be able to accept my own imperfections because he accepts them. Powerful.
I love that man. Think I'm gonna marry him! ;)
- by Carolyn Bergen
A letter to Carolyn, from Carolyn. That can sorta catch people off guard, including me. Why do we have to have the same name?!!
I'll be honest here. I'm torn. I can only be deliciously happily-in-love because you died. And that's totally messy, eh?
Last week, my fiancé was filling out a form to allow his youngest Junior Tribe Member to go to the U.S. with another teammate to attend a sporting event. The team made a form available giving signed consent to allow another adult to take him into the United States. I was at the desk doing some other odd job when he asked me to witness his signature.
I noticed then, that there was two lines for signing...one for each parent.
He signed the top line. The bottom line was empty.
It stayed empty...and instead of your signature as his mother agreeing to the trip, it remained blank.
And instead, he paperclipped a copy of your death certificate to the form so the border patrol would understand why that line was blank.
There's something seriously very wrong with sending a child away on a fun sporting trip with a copy of his mother's death certificate in his bag.
You should have been around to sign that. The line that begged for your signature looked glaringly empty. Shockingly empty. Wrong on so many levels.
I wept...for the JTM who couldn't lovingly be sent off on a fun adventure with a hug and kiss...and your signature on his form.
I wept for you...who fought so hard to hang in there to be a part of moments such as that. Those ordinary, simple moments of motherhood...you got cheated of all of these now with your little one.
And that's when my head fairly aches with the messiness of it all...cuz I so wish that they still had you.
But if they did, I wouldn't be looking forward to the rest of my life with him.
You were such a part of his life...you come up in conversation pretty much every day. Naturally, without effort. How could you not? When I ask why something is where it is in the kitchen, or where one of the kids learned something, or when the kids talk about their favourite brownie recipe.
Like yesterday, for example.
We were setting up new bedroom furniture in what will soon be our bedroom, and putting the nightstands next to the bed. He giggled at how the nightstand's height blocks the bottom of the window...he talked about how you loved huge windows everywhere, and how he couldn't talk you out of enormously tall windows in a room that traditionally begs for privacy.
The conversation then moved on to talk about how that room used to be his and your room, and soon will become his and my room. You were already terminal when you and he moved into that house...but he was desperately hoping that you would living in that house for a lot longer than you did.
We talked about what it was like to have it be a different paint color and different furniture than what is was when you were alive. And how it signalled a new life with me...and how that was uber exciting on one hand, and yet acknowledging the sad end of an era with you on the other hand.
While he still misses you, he makes it very clear that he loves me. I can tell he does, and it's wonderful.
He tells me that he can love me because of how well you and he loved each other. You guys were good together, supported each other, had each other's backs. From experience in my work, I know how much easier it is to have a great marriage when you have had good examples lived in your life--and he not only has his parent's marriage as an example, he has the lived experience of the one he had with you.
Husbands are a little like a comfy pair of loafers, I think. Sometimes they fit the best once they've been worn a while and broken in. There's some advantages to getting a husband that has been happily married before...he loves working together in the kitchen, and it's fun to prepare a meal together. Sometimes he'll be especially thoughtful, or he'll help me with something that I wouldn't have thought he would notice, and when I thank him for it, he'll say, "Car taught me that."
I am loved, very much. And very much only because you're gone.
I'm grateful to you. So grateful.
I can't replace you. Wouldn't want to. Couldn't anyways.
But something very sweet tugged at my mama heart the evening of that blank space where your signature should have been.
The JTM called down from his bedroom and asked me to check his bag by the door that he would take to the tournament the next day to make sure he had everything packed for his overnight trip.
This love is so often untidy in life, isn't it? So often, our greatest time of losing it is also the greatest time of experiencing the support of others. And loving is so often painful...being a mother has taught me so much about messy love--I would give my life up in an instant for a JTM, but so many moments I also want to yell and scream and pull my hair out in frustration at these very same JTMs. And then there's the heartbreak of watching someone you love make decisions that seem doomed to fail, or to struggle with an injustice beyond their control, or to suffer the natural outcomes of their own choices. And now, for me, to find love only because of the tragedy of the cancer that was relentless. And to have richness in that love precisely because of how much your death affected my future husband.
Both of us have loved and lost painfully. And that changed him and me, too. We treasure the gift of each other.
We have both have experienced big things in life. Big hard things. And so, so many things that would have seemed big when I was in my 20's, I know now are not big. They are not worth fussing or fretting over. It's hard to be irritated when he's a little late, cuz when he shows up, I can see how alive he is, and how committed to us he really is.
I have been given a gift that arose out of the tragedy of your life. The relationship I have with him is life giving and precious. The situation is hard and lovely, beautiful and painful, awesome and brutal.
Life is messy...and I'm determined to get in there and experience it fully...I wanna be a person who gets full on dirty in the messiness of life because therein lies the richness of it all..
Love is something that should not be squandered or lived carefully--life itself is something to value and treasure and be lived as a gift.
The last of a series:
- by Carolyn Bergen
Life is messy, isn't it? Exquisitely so, maybe…but exquisitely messy.
My marriage to your husband, I think, is a classic example.
Even that sentence, sounds odd, doesn't it?
Let me explain.
At your service, your love of packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child was mentioned several times. Your husband said that you imagined that your happiness packing shoe boxes is probably what being a happy drunk feels like. You invested so much in the lives of children you would never meet.
Then, this last November, there was a shoe box packing party at your house--you should have seen the tables overflowing with socks and pencil crayons and notebooks and toothbrushes and such that so many of your people brought. The place was packed with your friends and their kids as they packed shoe box after shoe box full of presents for kids in other countries. It was awesome. Your friends laughed and packed and ate and remembered you in the finest of fashion. You would have loved it.
Your husband hosted it. At the beginning of the evening, he told the group how he remembered how you would pack those shoeboxes for many years, and how, in your last fall on the earth, when you were too sick to shop and not strong enough to pack, your friends had come over with piles of stuff and spent time with you packing shoeboxes for Samaritan's Purse. He said that the afterglow of that shoe box packing party had lit up your life for weeks. You had loved being together with friends, imagining the faces of the children who would receive them. He was so grateful for your friends and what they had done for you that day.
Sigh…as your passion for Operation Christmas Child suggests, you were pretty incredible, and your memory has sometimes felt a little hard to compete with. I've struggled sometimes, with how I will relate to the people closet to you…they lost so much, and I feel so very inadequate. You might know that feeling too, of inadequacy--don't we all, as humans, struggle with that?
This measuring business where we compare ourselves with others that we are so prone to do, can get so painful.
When your husband and I began walking last fall, talking about how concerned he was for your children, and we realized one night that we clicked in a way that said this was actually going somewhere, I got scared. Not because of who he is, but because of who you were. And how much your friends loved you. And how much you meant to them…and how much they still missed you.
I was convinced that his and your friends wouldn't accept me, couldn't accept me in their lives as someone that was dating him. You were a wonderful friend to them…warm, caring and thoughtful. They had sat with you while you were ill--and so many told stories of how you had cared for them in your gentle conversation with them during that time. You asked them about their kids and their concerns when they came to be with you during your last weeks and months. How could anyone walk in the door hand in hand with your husband, and be accepted?
I worried that their loyalty and love for you would mean that they wouldn't have room to get to know and like me. I was worried that I wouldn't be good enough for them, that they would judge me harshly, that they would be cool at best, or rude at worst. I remember plaintively wailing to your husband, "They're gonna hate me."
Not my proudest moment. Quite possibly one of my most vulnerable ones. I can hardly tell you that now…how scared I was that I would be rejected.
I was wrong.
Your people have been very, very good to me. They have extended grace in ways that take my breath away. They have challenged me to increase my understanding of the capability of healing hearts to be in relationship.
Your friends' grace-extended hardly makes sense for me.
When J. told your best friend that he had begun dating someone, her first question, and I kid you not, was, "When can we meet her?" Your best friend, the one you hung out with for 25 years, double dated, played cards with, laughed with, and cried with--wanted to meet me. She and her husband were so gracious and kind…somehow they know how to miss you and grieve you and still hold space to get to know (and even seemingly like) me. She emailed me after our first double date to say:
- by Carolyn Bergen
They wore red. Each of them. Their shirt or in their tie. It was your favorite color and one of the many ways they honored your memory that day. I remember them walking in to the church and down the aisle to the the front, all slow and somber and dressed up. They cleaned up real nice the day that the church was gathered and packed to remember you .
They are more comfortable in sweats and gym clothes really. And their dad knew that, too--so they went to the gym in the other part of the church building with their friends while the grownups visited after the memorial service. He let them be boys. After dipping deep into the grief, he created a space for them to come up for air. The gym is a space of comfort and familiarity. In a world that just turned upside down for them, he gave them the gift of being with their friends in the place they feel most familiar.
His first concern was for them. He was lost himself, for sure, because of all that you were to him as his wife. But the extra kicker was that the parent most able to help them through, was the one they had just lost. He was floundering some, not knowing how best to be there for them after the death of their mom. And that was why he called me.
Friends call their plumber friend when their pipes spring a leak on the weekend. Folks that are moving call their friends with pickup trucks to help. And friends call their therapist friends when they are in over their head in relationships. And just as plumber friends and truck friends help out, so do therapist friends. Not to be a therapist. Not at all. But to be a friend. I knew from personal experience what it was to walk Junior Tribe Members through the loss of a parent in the household, and to grieve a way of life that was, and now is no more.
I let him know we could meet and visit and brainstorm as parents who care about their kids. That was how he and I got to talking, Carolyn--out of concern for your children.
Your children have been very important considerations in our relationship all along, Carolyn. They got shafted big time when you died…kids need moms. They weren't finished being mothered by you. You were such a good one, too—and so your loss was doubly felt. Their tender hearts needed to be considered--protected and cared for. I'm sure we've made mistakes, Carolyn--but our mistakes haven't been for lack of effort.
And now, they didn’t get to pick this woman that their dad would marry—thought we did consider them and their thoughts in the timing of it. We asked each of them for their blessing. We asked them about their concerns and their fears. There's so much in this situation that could have them feeling powerless…we have done what we could to include them, and make sure that this is working for them.
Years ago, I read an article where a woman wrote out a list of all the qualities her future husband should have. She did that as a helpful objective measure for when the time came, to remind her of who she was looking for. I thought that was a good idea and did the same. On my list was this: I wanted my future husband to: “struggle with how our relationship will affect his kids…and have that impact our relationship”.
I wanted that future husband of mine to have his kids matter--I wanted him to sometimes tell me it didn't work to see me because his kids needed him that day for a special event, or simply because they needed time with him. That's not so noble as it sounds, Car—there is actually an element of practicality there—if he put his kids as important priorities in a dating relationship, then I knew he would make space for me to do the same with mine. And that would also have me know that he could have his priorities have him make inconvenient decisions (when you're new in a relationship, it's so tempting to want to spend every minute together, eh?)—which would mean that he would be able to be able to hold me as a priority in his life over the long haul through thick and thin.
He does that, Carolyn. There’s times when I want to see him, but we both are hanging out with our kids doing their thing. That’s one of the many things I love about him. He's a good dad.
So…soon your children and I will be part of the same family…two families working towards the process of becoming one. I get that it's gonna take time, and it's probably often gonna feel like two families who are clumsily trying to do a multi-person waltz for the first time. Toes are gonna get stepped on, I know. It's a vulnerable position to be in. I will be living with them in the same house as we all figure it out. I want it to go well…but I don't wanna try too hard at it either--because kids can smell it a mile away when you force it. Forcing it wouldn't be respectful to them. I just wanna be real with them…and even more, create a space where they can be the real with me.
So…here’s the deal, Carolyn: You are their mom. Always will be. Not gonna try to take your place. That would be disrespectful to you and them…and well, a total pipe dream to try to replace you. You were and are their mama. I do hope, in time, to be allowed to mother them. To someday be a woman who provides a mothering spirit in their lives—but for now, I’m their dad’s fiancée and we are friendly friends.
Some have expressed concern it will be hard for them to call me “mom”. That’s not an issue. They aren’t planning on it…that’s simple. I’m "Carolyn" to them. That’s the way I want it. Because that's the way they want it.
They may not consider me as their mom, but I do consider them my sons. It's a little odd getting a sudden pack of new Junior Tribe Members. They are growing on me, fast though, these boys of yours. Remarkable sons you birthed, these ones. Kinda funny how quickly my heart has been captivated. Last weekend, one of them limped off the court after a particularly rough play, and it bugged me to see that one of the opposing team had hurt "my boy". I didn't even notice that feeling as unusual right away--it felt so natural at the time.
I think that's how step mothering works best--to come to love them like your own, and yet allow them to see you in whatever way they find works for them.
I've started a book, which I keep at their house--things to remember about each one so that I remember the quirks and uniqueness of them. One doesn't like mushrooms or olives. Another one doesn't like tomato chunks in the tomato sauce. One likes Lord of the Rings--and now I am watching the movies, and will yet read the books. The older ones are fiercely protective of the younger one. I write in the book things I want to remember about them.
We are having fun. We went tobogganing this winter…and laughed as we went down the hill in various combinations on the sleds. We've gone out for dinner, played games, and watched March madness on TV. And I get to watch them play in the gym--watching from the bleachers is one of my favourite things ever. They're fun boys, Carolyn--and I know how you didn't want to miss their growing up. We laugh and joke. Sometimes I ache, thinking of how I get to enjoy these moments in ways you longed to, and would sooo loved to have been a part of. These moments then become doubly precious to me.
I think one of the most important roles I have in relating to them is to make sure that they know I honour and respect you, and I want to be the champion of your memory in the household. You raised them to be honest, to care for others, to have fun, to look for ways to help others, to be brave and try new things, and to work hard at things they are tackling in life. I am looking to support that legacy you left them.
We will have some family pictures up on the walls of you with them, and pictures of you together with this one or that one around the house. I want to make sure you come up in conversation as we tell stories around the supper table--of how your feet were always hot even in the middle of winter on the cold floor, and how you liked the colour red, and of the birthday cakes you made for them.
The other day it was the youngest's turn to help with supper and so when I had some things for him to do, I called him downstairs to the kitchen. I asked him to wash and quarter some strawberries for the salad. He pulled out a dishtowel and put it on the counter. I wasn’t sure why he pulled out a dishtowel to cut up strawberries but I let him do his thing. After he washed the berries, he put them on the dishtowel and then cut them up. As he did so, he let me know that, “This is how my mom does it.” Almost right after, he corrected himself to say, “This is how my mom did it.” It’s heartbreaking to hear a young boy have to change the verb tense when he’s talking about his mother. Afterwards, he apologized for the red stains on the dishtowel that the strawberries had made. I didn’t care about the stains. Please know that I'm fine if the dishtowels in our home get stained if that’s gonna be a way he remembers you. Every. Single. One. can get dirty. I want that.
So…like I said, these boys are more at home in a gym with a T shirt and shorts than fancied up in dress duds. We want our wedding to be comfortable for JTM's…and so instead of a dance, we are having basketball and volleyball in the gym. They are each inviting some friends to enjoy the wedding and the gym with them. Whomever wants to can play on the court, and the rest of us will sit and visit and watch the fun. I first knew your sons from the sidelines many years ago…and it will be a blast for all of us to be in the gym on the wedding day.
I have the cutest sneakers to put on with my wedding dress for the gym part of the evening. Hot pink with white laces.
Pink sneakers. Very pink--very cute. Not red.
Red was your colour…and I will make sure your sons will always remember that.
The third in a series of letters to Carolyn. The rest:
- by Carolyn Bergen
I remember coming back to the office in the afternoon after I attended your funeral and told Melanie, "It was beautiful how he loved her. He spoke so well of her. He spoke to his sons about who she was in a remarkable way that taught us all a little about what makes for loving relationships and a lasting legacy." It was beautiful what he said about you to his kids while the rest of us 1000 or so people listened in. He really loved you.
The minister at the funeral told us about a conversation he had with you three days before you died. You were dying, and tired and in pain, and you spoke at length about your husband and your marriage, and the life you created together. I find that powerful…of all the things you could have chosen to say to the pastor, you used the energy and the time that day to speak of your love. What a presence of mind he had to turn on the recorder on his phone so that he could quote you directly at the funeral. He said that you told him that you had won the lottery in marrying J.
The minister said that you loved being married to him, and valued him, and loved him for more than just his accomplishments. J. told me later he didn't even know what you were referring to when you talked about his accomplishments. We all do that, don't we--don't see the good we do the way others who love us see it?
He loved being married to you too. In fact, he often says that one of the reasons he can love again is that he knows love so well from loving and being loved by you.
His world was awash in grey for months after you died.
He used to wake at 4:00 am, dreading the day ahead, because you wouldn't be in it. He couldn't sleep though. Grief does that to people.
He told me about the physical ache, almost a dull pressure, that was in his chest. It pressed on him all the time, and he felt like he couldn't get a deep breath.
His workers told him that when he showed up at the job site in the morning, he would take a huge deep breath with a heavy sigh as let it out. They thought it meant he was frustrated with what they had done before he got there and felt judged and discouraged. They misunderstood completely. What he was really doing was mustering up energy he wasn't sure he had to soldier through that day without you.
We all do that too, don't we? We see what others do as a reflection of how they feel about us…and so often what others do has everything to do with what is going on inside.
Even though he couldn't even quite see straight during those days through the haze of desperate loneliness, I remember him telling me that there was a part of him that knew that it was gonna get better--that he would get through it, and that one day he would smile again. That might sound callous to some, but only if they didn't know that this wasn't his first rodeo. You both learned about the rawness of hardcore grief when heart of your little daughter stopped at only three and a half weeks of life many years ago. Though it seemed impossible then, you and he learned years ago that smiles and laughter would come again.
He knew his heart would heal eventually, because it had before…but he just didn't know how or when.
He told me a lot of stories about you…and wished others would ask you so he could tell more stories about you to more people. He wanted to talk about you, to share his memories of you…and he would long for folks to say, "Tell me something about Car". He was itching to have you be a part of conversations.
A long time after I got to know him, he told me about one of the conversations he had with you. It happened the day before you died. You told him that it was OK for him to find somebody else after you were gone. Tell me, Car…how is it that you had the presence of mind in the midst of the pain and the suffering to release him to the potential of a new relationship after your death?
Who does that? The answer: You. You did that.
That was awesomely thoughtful of you, at a time anybody would have forgiven you for being completely self centred.
He thought that was "crazy talk" at that time, and he didn't want to hear it. Couldn't hear it at the time. But now, much later, it is an incredible gift to him for which he is grateful. I marvel at your thoughtfulness of him even in the midst of dying.
Your thoughtfulness…well, he says it has helped him become more thoughtful. Often, when I tell him something that I appreciate him, he'll say something like, "Car was like that…I learned it from her," or, "I admired Car for that, and I guess some of that rubbed off on me."We went shopping the other day at Costco. I lifted the sodas from the bottom of the cart to the conveyor belt by the cashier…and he lunged at me--trying to grab them out of my hands. He tries to save me from lifting the mixer from the bottom drawer, or shovelling snow. He forgets that I have two good arms, that there is no cancer in my bones--he is so used to being protective and caring. He has told me how very much he loved taking care of you. How cancer had taken away so much from you both, but it had given him the opportunity to love on his wife in a way that had him feel valuable and useful.
- by Carolyn Bergen
It's odd isn't it? The name, "Carolyn" isn't very common, particularly with our spelling. And yet we share it, just as we now share the same man as our love. What is even odder was that we shared the same profession. There's not many of us Carolyn's that are Occupational Therapists. I avoided him those first months after your death, you know. I sent a card but didn't talk to him at the funeral or for months after. I thought it might be hard for him to see this Carolyn--who was an OT, alive, when his Carolyn--the OT was not. I didn't want to possibly increase his pain because it was very clear how very much he hurt for you.
You and I didn't meet for coffee or play on a team together, but I enjoyed chatting with you when we had occasion to meet when our sons might be playing against each other, or when we bumped into each other on a walk in the neighbourhood. Gosh, you had this way of gentle friendliness that people really gravitated towards. It took me in, too.
I remember when we watched our 5 and 6 year olds play basketball years ago. Wow...we were proud of them, weren't we? And you had the youngest one, in the cutest overalls, generally along…and you would follow him around as he cruised along the bleachers, handing him snacks when he asked, even while we sat and watched our little kindergarten-athletes.
I remember being tired from parenting and desperately looking forward the 45 minutes of sitting in one spot watching a child without having to actively parent--rather like a child looks forward to an ice cream cone on a hot day. I needed a break!! And I would watch you continue to patiently be with your toddler with no break…and marvelling at your patience and gentleness with your little one. That little one who will now be one of my own. I hope to have but even a shadow of your goodness to him.
Your cancer journey was one that so many concerned from near and far. You had children our children's age, you liked Pampered Chef and walked to work and made cookies and did ordinary things like the rest of us…and your diagnosis could have been our diagnosis. It could have happened to any one of us moms--the moms who had children in your class, on children on your children's team, or just knew you because you were friends with so many--but it happened to you. We could pictures ourselves in your situation, and that picture sucked. And it was your reality. So many cared so much.
I knew your sister better than I knew you, and I would check in occasionally with her about how you and your family were doing. It sounded really rough. Major surgery. Chemo. Radiation. The cloud of a dismal diagnosis overshadowing your life. Ongoing meds with unpleasant side effects. The return of the cancer. More treatments of increased brutalness. All the while raising those children and seeking to provide them with as normal a life as possible. I admired you--your pluckiness, your fight, your determination. I prayed for you and your family, often. I hoped your body would respond to the treatments and you'd get a new lease on life.
I remember the whispers at a tournament in the fall one year. It was said that you had gotten even more terrible news from the doctor in the previous days--but partnered with that was the idea that you were at the gym to watch your son play, and didn't want to focus on the cancer at the gym. You said friendly hellos to folks that weekend, but were pretty careful to keep moving so as not to invite conversation. You knew people cared and wanted to check in, but your actions told us to us keep it about the volleyball. You came to the volleyball tournament that weekend to be about living with your kids, not be about dying from the cancer.
You always had chutzpah that way.
I read in a letter you sent to folks when it became clear that your cancer was terminal…that you were dreading "leaving the party early". Such a poignant way of saying you didn't want to die before you had a chance to raise your children to adulthood, and enjoy friends and family, and even all the hassles of life the way the rest of us took for granted as we went about our days today.
Your funeral was beautiful and painful and exquisite and hard. I cried--for you, for your children left behind, for your husband who was bereft without you. I had never been to a funeral before where the deceased preached at her own funeral via video. Pretty darn powerful, y'know, to see and hear what was important to you. How you grew and developed through the hell that cancer is.
You were special and valued and loved and missed. You are not forgotten. You live on in your husband, your children, your family and your friends.
I will soon be your husband's new wife.
But I am not replacing you in his life or in anyone else's.
You were the Carolyn that was you. I am the Carolyn that is me.
I couldn't even try to replace the you that was you. So I'm not trying. But I am doing something else.
I consider it now one of my life tasks to make sure that you are remembered and valued, and that your legacy lives on.
Part of becoming a new family with your husband and your children and my children is helping them remember you regularly and well--to value your life even as I live my own.
To celebrate your fingerprints in the lives of those around me when I see them and to know my life is richer because you were there first. To remember that you are still missed and loved, and tho you may be gone, the pain of your loss is not gone.
You were loved deeply…and so you are grieved…deeply.
And those that loved you are the ones I now love. In loving them, I have come to grieve you even more, as I see them without you, and hear more of how much you meant to them. In loving them, I grieve you with them.
I read an article on the internet today that said that at its best, resilience in grieving is:
the awareness that people normally find healthy ways to adapt and live with loss. That’s not to say it’s a quick and easy task. It’s not that grieving suddenly ends and the person forgets and moves on. No, what happens is that a weight that initially feels unbearable becomes, in time, manageable. The grief becomes compact enough, with the hard edges removed, to be gently placed in one’s heart.
I want to be a part of that, Carolyn, in the lives of the people who loved you--to be able to help the edges to soften and to make the weight of losing you manageable.
Life is precious, Carolyn. You had an awareness of that…and now I, not living in the shadow of your death , but rather living in the shadow of your life. That shadow of life often reminds me how life is fleeting and priceless and not-to-be-taken-for-granted.
May all who read this break open wide the bottle of affection and splurge with it on others whom they love today. May it be a huge vat of fine wine that is liberally poured about regularly with those they love. And may that love be savoured and delighted in as fine wine should be.
We want to be (lightly, only lightly) aware of death not because our story will end, but because the stories of those we hold dear will end, perhaps before ours. The awareness of premature or unexpected endings can motivate us to routinely demonstrate our love to those important to us. Let’s not save our affection, as if a rare wine, for special occasions. Give and receive it as essential nourishment.
- by Carolyn Bergen
Years ago, during grad school, I was flying back to California to study after a visit home. I and the other passengers were sitting in the airplane while it was waiting on the tarmac. As we sat quietly waiting to taxi to the runway, soft wisps of smoke began to emerge from the ventilation system. Very soft and gentle. None of us were moving, and the attendants were at the far end of the plane so there was no drafts to stir up the smoke. so it stayed close to the top of the bulkheads where it was coming out of the circulation vents. It was about 2 or 3 inches thick at first, and gradually increased to about 6 or 7 inches.
Thick grey smoke filling the cabin.
All of us passengers noticed it…and it was somewhat of a curiosity, really. Soft murmurings could be heard, and you could see heads turning into the aisle to ask the person across the way if they also saw it.
Duh…it couldn't be missed.
But nobody was panicking or concerned--or, at least, they didn't appear to be--so I decided I wasn't either. (Actually, I was pretty nervous about it, but I thought if I said or did something, other people would look at me oddly because I was the only one--funny how my first concern was "What will other people think?" even when there WAS SMOKE IN THE AIRPLANE CABIN I WAS SITTING IN SHORTLY BEFORE TAKEOFF--seems ridiculous to write that now)
Nobody else was doing anything, so neither did I. I, like everybody else, just sat there and watched the smoke slowly increase, taking up more space along the bulkhead.
Nobody did anything for what seemed a very long time.
In a slow, calm move that has me chuckle even now, I could slowly see one hand about four or five rows in front of me tentatively rise and push the flight attendant call button.
The flight attendant came to attend to the call and her eyes got pretty big, pretty fast long before she reached that passenger. She moved quickly towards the cockpit.
We were evacuated almost immediately.
As we milled around in the waiting area finding out what would happen immediately afterwards as we were waiting to still somehow get to California, I overheard the pilot in the waiting area of the airport say that when the flight attendant came to tell him about smoke in the cabin, he thought that perhaps an individual was smoking, because he couldn't hear any distress on the part of the passengers.
It was quiet, so it mustn't be a big deal. or so he thought.
When he saw the level of smoke in the cabin, he had trouble believing there wasn't mass panic and freaking out on the part of the passengers.
It hadn't occurred to me to panic…because nobody else had.
I just went along with the crowd. As did everybody else.
Classic example of pluralistic ignorance. We do what everybody else does…because everybody else is doing it…cuz we are all taking our cues from everybody else doing what everybody else is doing. Why do we join others in pluralistic ignorance?
One reason may be that when a situation is unclear then we look to others for clues to define what is happening. We then make decisions based, sometimes incorrectly, on other people’s actions, reactions or lack of action. This is known as pluralistic ignorance – when the group’s majority privately believes one thing and mistakenly assumes that most others believe the opposite. For instance, when we drive past a car accident, we might assume that someone else will call 9-1-1 or stop to help. Pluralistic ignorance occurs frequently and in diverse situations.
It would seem that too many of us have this underlying concern of acting differently than everyone else in the crowd with the almighty question that seems to rule too many of us too much of the time:
- by Carolyn Bergen
I've been on my own for about 10 years now.
I remember the first week I was alone rather like a blur…or maybe rather, I don't really remember it at all. I wasn't sleeping; I had lost weight; I was just putting one foot in front of the other. My friends were supportive and were checking in on me regularly cuz to say I was a bit of a mess is like saying the pope is a little bit Catholic.
However, I do remember one call that week very distinctly. L called me Wednesday of that first week that I was on my own to check in.
I had known L for a long time and she was one of my best friends. I had met her when she was a new single mom, and had walked with her through the adjustments and grief of being a single mom--with all the heartaches that come with trying to parent solo in the middle of one's own loneliness. Now she was walking with me.
It was in the morning…and she reluctantly told me about a date she had had the night before. I pulled it out of her--she was very hesitant to pour her joy over my sorrow and lostness.
But I needed good news. I needed to hear of hope in action. I was desperate to see somebody else's light at a time when I was in my own darkness. So, I made her tell me of this fantastic promising date in the minutest of detail. She was set up by a mutual friend. He was friendly and warm. He had a huge mustache.
L had met Gary…and over the months as I continued to adapt to my singleness, I watched L fall in love with Gary.
Our friends and I were like mother hens. We quizzed her about him. Was he kind? Was he good? Was he good for her? And when we met him, while being friendly, we secretly did what we could to screen him. He had to pass muster with us. L had been hurt before, and we were gonna make sure this guy passed inspection.
He did. With flying colours.
Gary is a gentle soul, made very wise in the school of life. He was a student of life experiences and he had learned much. He's the sort of person who helps people in incredible ways--but only when he thinks no one is looking. He reminded L of her value, and reminded her to slow down to take care of herself. He's so good to so many. He was good for her.
We approved (not that she needed our approval--but don't friends offer their opinions even when they aren't requested?). And they got married. Gary and L have always been a couple of hope for me…with their beauty rising up as my world was crashing.
Gary is Oro de Rey, a concierge jewellry service. He provides personalized service for custom designing jewellery of all kinds--remaking old heirloom brooches into funky modernized pieces. He helps couples design the wedding rings of their dreams, and then he makes it come to life. Gary is a bit of a jewellery magician, really.
I trust Gary. So much so that I gave him my original engagement and wedding ring. I told him that the ring had a history of many good years of a great marriage in it, and I felt it best that they continue to bless another couple in a great marriage. I wanted my rings to find a new and positive reason for existing again.
Both Gary and L relate to all sort of people, including some that have little or no resources. I asked him to give it to a couple who would benefit from a set of engagement/wedding ring but wouldn't be able to afford one. I asked him not to tell me when he did this, and to never give me details of it. I wrote an anonymous note that could be passed on with the rings, inviting the recipient to celebrate her relationship with these rings that had been worn with love for so many years.
And every once in a while, he would tell me, "Carolyn, some day when you meet the Special One…and we are gonna design your ring. That's gonna be some ridiculous kind of fun."
I knew he meant it. I just never knew if it would happen.
It's for real. It's my ring and it tells our story. J got down on one knee and slid it on my finger in the most romantic of moments.
I wanted a beautiful ring--and I think it's incredible.
It's two rings woven into one--one white gold, one yellow gold--like two families, woven into one. Each unique and different--and exquisitely beautiful together.
There are three diamonds on top…our faith is important to us, and so it acknowledges God in the centre of us. He and I together with God on the ring, as in life. It implies a sense of unity and togetherness, mission and purpose.
There are three diamonds on one side, and two on the other…representing his Junior Tribe Members and mine. It's an family engagement/wedding band--we are two families marrying, not just a man and woman. I am committing myself to his children, and he to mine. They are represented as important and critical components in the ring, just as they are in our lives.
To visit Gary in the planning and design of the ring was a dream come true.
To plan my life together with J is an even bigger dream come true.
To read more about the love story, born unusual and sweet as can be, read here:
- by Carolyn Bergen
I'm getting married.
Yep…the marriage therapist is herself entering into the commitment of a lifetime of love. I believe that we are created to bond closely with another. I believe in the power of connection. I have watched and facilitated relationships heal with trust being restored.
I know that research says that those who are married in committed life giving relationships are healthier, react differently to pain, are grounded and therefore are able to take greater risks in other areas of their lives. I believe in marriage. My couple clients have taught me over the years that marriage is life-giving.
But therapists are human…and when we get hurt, we fall into the same fears and patterns that all humans struggle with. And so the thought of a lifetime love for myself was something I longed deeply for, yet was simultaneously terrified of.
I was married once. For years and years to a wonderful man in a wonderful life in a wonderful marriage.
Couldn't you just feel the love? Jets fans support the team after 4th straight loss...something we can all learn from.
Flaws are the glue to which grace can stick. Beautiful thot, ain't it?
Letters to Car...a series of letters to my fiancé's late wife