- by Carolyn Klassen
Mamma Mia is one of those quirky movies that is one of my favourites. I love the beauty of the ocean, and the joy of the music. I own about 5 DVD's...and this is one of them.
There is one song that I have always loved...with an aching sadness that brings me to tears.
Every. Single. Time.
When Meryl Streep sings this song...I have always wept. As much for me as her...knowing that someday my day is coming to see my own child-become-man belong to another woman more than he does to me. As delighted as I knew I would be to see him launch into marriage...I knew I grieve the loss of that little boy who's gone and been replaced by this stubbly faced young man.
My Junior Tribe Member weds his sweetheart this week.
The little boy who loved face paint and climbing too high on the monkey bars.
The boy who, even when he was late for the bus, would stop and turn around for several quick "hug/kiss/hug/kiss" sequences. I used to ask him why so many hugs and kisses..and he said that he had to do a few extra, in case the first ones don't work.
He never could explain what a working kiss and hug did.
The little boy who would run to the door when guests came and snatch their coats to put away, because that was his job. The one who coloured place mats for when friends came over for dinner.
The one who grew to love riding his bike along trails, figuring out how to blow things up using firecrackers, and was a leader on his volleyball team.
And the one who met his future bride in February of Grade 9...several days after Valentine's Day. Because--awkward. When you're a broke 14 year old with a new crush, you wait until after, so you don't blow it.
I always intended to volunteer more for field trips, play more board games, go on more bike rides, shoot hoops in the back lane with him.
But it seemed so often there wasn't enough time. Things were busy and full. Too much to do.
This was an adventurous boy who didn't sit still. He was impish and full of fun...and forever creating ways to have fun...with messes and mis-steps. He would see my nerves were frayed...and he laughed with fun as he stomped on the last one.
That sweet boy has grown into a handsome young man, already handling the responsibilities of life. How did he get there?
The time...slipping through my fingers...but on the way through, it made me richer, fuller, braver and wiser. Parenting this boy leaves me a changed person...as that time slipped through my fingers, it changed my hands--it changed me.
I can hardly wait to watch him put a forever ring on her finger this weekend.
But even so, I will miss the baby who sucked his two fingers, the toddler who would fling his arms around me, the little boy who couldn't wait to go to school, the boy who fell in love with balls of all sorts--baseballs, basketballs, volleyballs, and soccer balls. The boy who came home from camps and field trips with broken bones for all his adventures and pillow fights. I'll miss the boy who learned to live in a world that had lots of laughter and big tears...and then hormones, which amped the whole thing up a coupla notches. I'll miss the young man who would help me put furniture together, and then learned to drive.
But I'll look at pictures to remember...and wait until, perhaps, one day, he gets his own little one--who I hope and pray is every bit the spitfire of adventure and fun and activity that he was!
- by Carolyn Klassen
I'm taking dancing lessons with Husband. For the wedding.
Correction...for the weddingS!
We have two Junior Tribe Members getting married within a month this summer.
Seriously...shouldn't you feel like a grown up all the way before you have JTM's getting married? I'm not there yet.
Anyways...I grew up in a culture with a rich musical tradition...it wasn't uncommon for spontaneous 4 part harmony prayer to break out before a meal when I grew up. We played musical instruments alone and in orchestras and bands and for Oma and Opa at Christmas at the grandchildren's recital.
But not dancing. Never dancing.
Last year, when I married Husband, we had a "basketball wedding"--because as a family of multiple JTM's who like sports more than dancing, it made sense to start our two-families-who-are-also-one-family that way.
So...when we had not one, but TWO JTM's getting married soon (!), it seemed like a fun thing to finally learn how to move to music. So, Husband and I, our two sons and their fiancee's and the two sets of parents of the fiancees are gathering together for every Tuesday night in May at Arthur Murray Dance Studio to let Alicia and John teach us to dance the light fantastic.
We watch him do it to show the men. Then we watch him demonstrate the steps for the women. We try it without music. Then we try it with music. We are awkward, and mechanical...and definitely not pretty.
But we are having fun. Learning.
He tells me with his hand on my waist where we are going next, and I work to listen and respond. He notices my legs are shorter than his, and he makes his steps smaller. We work to dance--together.
We bang into each other instead of moving in sync. And we laugh--together.
And we stick with it...through the endless counting and the "Slooooooow, quick quick" of the steps. And we begin to learn.
Dancing...moving together in rhythm...awkwardly and clumsily--but earnestly. Together.
Communicating, wordlessly...finding the patterns. Losing it and then finding it again. Together.
Experiencing the movement of life...to movement through life. Together.
The first dance song is traditionally chosen to represent something about the couple's dreams and hopes...or perhaps reflecting their experience or desire. One couple chose Jason Mraz, "I won't give up".
I'm loving the song they chose.
Isn't it beautiful for a couple to be aware that the skies are gonna get dark, but they've got a plan to not give up? That sometimes, one of them may need to say to the other. You are "needing your space, to do some navigating, I'll be here patiently waiting, to see what you find"? Isn't is profound for a couple, at the beginning of their marriage, to know that they are worth the fight...that they are worth not giving up on?
These weeks we've been dancing to Mraz's lyrics that profess:
I dunno, I'm just thinking that if each bride and groom, as they launch into their marriage, could find a way to hold onto their own lovability and worthiness, it would change the way they related to their spouse when they faced a disagreement.
I just know that it would reduce defensiveness and increase collaboration if a spouse could be curious with the other with their own spirit quietly confident.
If they stepped on the other's foot in the dance of life, it would hurt their toes but not their souls.
If they lost their rhythm, there would be no need to point the finger about whose fault it was...they could just work to find the rhythm again.
Moving forward--together--valuing oneself, the other, and the pair together--would have them face challenges together, rather than see each other as the challenge.
The fundamental bonus of seeing self, other, and the couple unit as valuable and lovable and worthy is a calm, stable ability to be fully present, steady and boundaried, calm and powerful.
Dancing through the rhthyms of life. Together. The joys and sorrows, the relationship ruptures and repairs. Listening and responding to the cues of the other. Hearing the musical score of their lives and letting themselves respond to that music and gently move to it. Together.
Always together. Never giving up in the dance lessons of life.
- by Carolyn Klassen
Years ago, when I was studying to be a therapist, there was an expectation from the counselling school to see a therapist myself. After all, if I'm going to be a counsellor, shouldn't I be willing to go through counselling myself?
I do think it's important for each therapist to feel, in their body, what happens while you wait in the counselling waiting room for your first appointment. Therapists need to know that gut churching feeling of what it is like to take a deep breath and decide to jump into saying something out loud for the first time that has only been thought of a thousand times.
But just because I was studying to be a therapist didn't mean I was looking forward to being in therapy myself. I had the same concerns as my clients have. How would it go? How would I talk about the really hard stuff? Would I like the therapist? Would the therapist like me? Why was I asking myself questions about being liked enough?
I was apprehensive. I knew being in therapy would a good thing for me personally and to prepare professionally. I was curious about what experience would be like. I was looking forward to how I might grow and learn more about myself--but therapy is a vulnerable experience, and so I was nervous.
I believed the old adage that a therapist can't take a client farther than they themselves have gone. I didn't want to be a therapist that would hold my clients back, so I wanted to invest...but then I could find good reasons to hold off on making an appointment. Like I had to wash my hair, or wipe the counter, or fold a load of laundry. It was at moments like this that cleaning out those gross containers in the back of the fridge I had forgotten about seemed like they should be cleaned.
Y'know, important stuff that meant I would have to call another day.
I was talking with a classmate one day about making the call, and I was asking her for ideas about which therapist I should make an appointment with. So, I asked her the question, "Which female therapist do you think is the one I should see?"
And she answered (already picking up on the subtleties that suggested that she would be an awesome therapist), "Why are you only asking me about female therapists?"
"Because I can't see a male therapist. A male therapist wouldn't take me seriously." I responded automatically. I knew, from experiences in my life, that a male therapist wouldn't hear my story profoundly, that he would minimize my pain, trivialize my concerns, and generally be trite with me, because I was just a girl. Just Carolyn. And men in authority don't listen deeply to Carolyn. I knew that
And she said nothing. Didn't have to.
I heard myself.
She just looked at me silently, letting the moment sink in.
After a long pause, she cocked her head slightly to the side, gently lifted one eyebrow, and softly said, "You know what this means, right?"
<Insert very heavy sigh here> "Yes," I knew, and I reluctantly moaned..."I will go see a male therapist."
And I did. I didn't like it. I didn't want to. But I did.
I didn't just talk about some of my gender based concerns, and unconscious internalized patriarchy...I lived and experienced them. I had to work through the way I saw my place in a world that was half men in real time, not just intellectually in conversation.
So often, when folks call our office to book an appointment, they presume they will work with a female.
Women want to work with female therapists:
Other folks, when they are selecting a therapist, may find seeing a male therapist as a challenge, but it is a "just right" challenge...it will push a person, within tolerable limits, to bump up against issues that are beyond their conscious awareness. When explored, the power these assumptions and untold stories have through their unawareness is dismantled, and it can free a person up to relate differently in all relationships.
I work closely with two male therapists, Michael Quiring and Lindsey Walsh. Caring, kind, gentle yet strong men who listen deeply...not unlike the male therapist that I (reluctantly) saw years ago during my graduate studies.
At the beginning of January this year, as I reflected back on previous years, I sent a thank you email to my old therapist. He lives in California where I studied, so I haven't seen him in a lot of years. I told him of a couple of memories I have of being with him...how those times fundamentally changed how I saw my place in the world.
I remember being mad at him for something he had said once. After a week of stewing about it, I came back to the next session and told him about how I thought he misspoke. Took everything I had to challenge him on it. I wasn't sure how he was gonna respond. He was great. He listened to me, and he clarified. Once I knew what he had said (which was different than what I had heard), it resolved. The victory of growth had been in the safety of the therapeutic environment to challenge him, and see that I could be taken seriously.
Those times with him helped me understand the way I had been acculturated as a female, designed to multitask and look after everyone always. Our conversations challenged the way I saw myself, and gave me permission to draw boundaries, decide what to focus on (and that would involve making choices to say "no"). I thanked him for the influence he had in my life.
He sent me a short and thoughtful email back in response, ending with:
Learning what to focus upon and emphasize in life to maximize our fulfillment and reduce stress and unnecessary tension can be challenging until the journey's end.
To your journey........
...To your journey too!
- by Carolyn Klassen
Mother's Day is a day for celebrating motherhood...and it's often a day when mothers are celebrated and honoured.
I love the way my Junior Tribe Members have made macaroni necklaces, picture frames from popsicle sticks, and handmade cards over the years. (Teachers--bless you, truly).
But I'm even more grateful for how my Junior Tribe Members have made me a better person for having been their mother. This Mother's Day, I celebrate that I get to be their mother.
The JTM's have been a personal fan club...they've cheered when I walk in the door. They've jumped up and down when I'm serving mac'n'cheese (they don't care when I've been too tired to make anything else!). They have waved from the preschool Christmas choir concert and then all through the years...including now, sometimes a look in the camera with a salute when I watch a JTM play games live streamed over the internet.
They catch me when I do something I've told them not to do. For years, I got called on it when my elbows were on the table, or I said something was stupid. As they grew older, we would discuss ideas, and they simply wouldn't let me get away with behavior which was something other than what I expected from them. Why should they?
And one summer, I believe they saved me.
11 years ago, I became a single mother. You know when a car accident is gonna happen...it hasn't happened yet, but the wheels are in motion, and there is nothing to do but wait the fraction of a second for it to happen? That was what it was like for several months before he left. It was coming. It hadn't happened yet. But there wasn't anything I could do to stop my life from blowing up. It was like living in a perpetual state of wincing...that state of raising your shoulders and closing your eyes waiting for the big crash.
On April 11, the crash happened...but it was three long weeks before he could move into the apartment he subleased. We all went to a JTM's basketball game that Saturday morning, came home, had some fruit and muffins for lunch, and then he left. The JTM's peered over the back of the couch with me, and we all cried as he pulled away.
I didn't know how I would go on. Didn't know how the mortgage would get covered. Didn't know how I would juggle all the balls of raising these precious ones and a career and managing the whole household on my own. But mostly didn't know how I would live in a world where the man who had affirmed and encouraged and believed in me for 16 years now seemed to not care what happened to me.
I wanted a coma. A nice, long 6 month coma. It just all seemed too much, and I just didn't want the pain of existing. (I know--I KNOW--comas aren't a very effective way of checking out of life...but this wasn't about being practical...it was about not wanting to face life in the months after I was left alone)
Kids are kids...And the good thing about them is that even the day after your husband leaves to start a life without you, kids need breakfast. And to get dressed. And they need extra reading to, extra cuddles, and extra reminders to practice their piano lesson. They needed me...and there was no room for staying in bed, never mind a coma.
Kids are kids...they grieve and cry...but they have short attention spans and a need and desire to live. They wanted to play...even the week after he left, they wanted to play. Of course they did. And they asked me to play with them. And reluctantly, I did. But I did. I played with them...and it was good for me.
In the summer after he left, we were a little band of three. We played tennis, used sidewalk chalk, had friends over, rode our bikes--just generally spent a lot of time together. We needed each other. We needed to see that we were each OK. (Yep, they saw their dad regularly that summer--that was hard for me. I was a mom that signed up for parenting 24/7 and so seeing them go with him was like having my momma heart pulled out of my chest for while they were gone. But it was great for them--and important. And then they came back.)
Our resources were tight, but my aunt sent me $40.00 in an encouragement card...and I declared that $40.00 our "fun money" for the summer. We stretched that forty bucks a loooooong way. Slurpees once or twice on a hot day. We went for ice cream too.
One beautiful summer evening, we ventured out to The Forks. From our house at the time, it was well over 6 km. A challenging bike ride to do both ways in one evening when your legs are short. It was the farthest they'd ever gone in a single evening. It was an adventure. The climax of the adventure was to be the sharing of a bag of those little doughnuts which we all loved. We savoured those little morsels sitting outside and enjoyed the evening bustle of our city's centre.
Half way home, something happened to the little one's bike chain. It seized/fell off/broke. His little bike was inoperable...and the back wheel was locked--it wouldn't roll. He was just 8.
We figured something out. We had to. It was getting dark, and we didn't have any options. A couple of kilometres from home. The JTM's were tired. So we figured out:
It seemed like that trip had us all realize that we could do hard things together. We could make it farther than we thought. We could carry more than we thought. And if we cooperated, we could accomplish things we couldn't on our own.
We would figure it out, and we would make it.
A few weeks later, the JTM's spent hours making a fort in the basement. It was awesome. Blankets and duct tape and all manner of furniture acting as tent poles to create a cozy space that was actually quite livable.
The JTM's asked for a camp out in the fort.
It seemed like a lotta work. It seemed like a lotta clean up. A camp out seemed too much for a scared and tired single mama who was hardly holding it together..
But in a world where hard things had happened beyond their control, it seemed like it was something I could do for them. I agreed.
That night was magical and it will be forever engrained in my memory.
We had terrible store bought frozen pizza as a picnic in the fort . Somehow, all food tastes gourmet when it's in a fort. We giggled and talked.
The fort was cozy with blankets close over our heads as we sat on the floor. The furniture was close by, to form the walls. In a world that had become big and overwhelming, the fort was a cozy retreat that became a safe haven from the rest of this daunting life we lived.
After supper we watched "Because of Wynn-Dixie", a cute little movie we rented (yep...another splurge from my aunt's fun money) in the fort. The movie follows the story of a young girl struggling to find her place in a strange new world, missing a parent, and having a parent who is trying hard but misses the mark sometimes. Her story, though different in detail, seemed in many ways, to parallel our own.
My JTM's will still recall how much I wept during this little children's flick. They remember the evening now, as one to tease me over my tears...but warmly, somehow. Even all this time later, they too remember the night under the blankets in the fort, where we shut out the rest of the world and were safely together.
I didn't make them take it down the next day. As a matter of fact, our first night in the fort was so memorable, we spent the next night there too...but nights end, the blanket's ceiling had sagged and was brushing up against us as we lay.
The fort was tired and ready to be dismantled...but it had done it's job. It had reminded us of the little ring of family: Safe haven. Stable base. The nights in the fort reminded me that life could be good again. That it was good.
They relied on me to be their mom...and expected I would continue routines and patterns...and so I did. It was hard, and I often wasn't sure how I would make it through the day...but I did. They laughed, and their laughter invited me to join them.
They gave life to me during the death of my marriage.
This Mother's Day, I celebrate my children. Being their mother has been healing and life-giving.
The tag line of the movie, Because of Wynn-Dixie is:
That movie spoke deeply to us...the miracle found me that summer.
Thanx to my kids, the miracle found me.
- by Sabrina Friesen
I was woken up early this morning.
5:38am to be exact, which
is an hour where I am often far from
pleasant—but when it’s your 5 year old at the side of your bed asking if you
could come to her room for a minute, you muster up some gusto and go.
I know what a can you come to my room request usually means. It’s my girl’s way of letting me know she’s had a bad dream and wants to tell me about it.
And so I go. Every time.
As a kid crossing
the threshold of my parents’ bedroom door was an event that would take a pretty
significant night time crisis—and I am sure I navigated many a scary dream on
my own, deciding that it wasn’t worth the courage it’d take to ask for comfort.
So with my two kids we have been intentional about making sure they know we are
available. Even at 5:38am.
As we walked across the hall into her room my daughter told me about her dream. “Mom, I had a dream that my teacher said I had to go home and couldn’t come to school anymore.” Woah. For my little keener who absolutely loves school—this sounded devastating. I crawled into bed with her and wrapped her up in a big snuggle. She was stuffy and her little body was racked with giant sobs, and she sputtered out a bit more of her nightmare...”He said I was great, but not great enough.”
Cue: Mom. Heart. Sink.
She cried harder after she spit out those words and clung
tightly to the arm that was wrapped around her chest. It is heartbreaking to see my small person
fight shame in her dreams. “You don’t get
to pick your dreams, right mom?” she asked.
But her dream spoke of things that we all experience. Things I see daily at work. Emotions that we navigate on a regular basis. Feeling not enough. Feeling rejected. Feeling left out and excluded. Everything in me would love to buffer her from these experiences, would love for her to never question her worthiness. But even in her dreams she is wondering, am I enough?
These are things she is going to need to know how to navigate, because they aren’t going anywhere.
We were up together for quite a while, and apparently talking loudly enough that my husband had to come and close her door so we didn’t wake up her brother too. As we snuggled and made sense of her awful dream I named rejection—and talked about how it doesn’t feel good, not for kids and not for grown ups. She talked about how her BFF sometimes says, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore”, and how that feels awful too—and my girl was able to say that it’s probably that she’s just mad and doesn’t know how to say it.
I assured her that grown ups do this
too, and some may say, “I want a divorce”
when they really mean, “You hurt me
and I’m devastated.”
As we chatted I realized the profundity of these conversations.
We spoke of worthiness, enoughness, and how I would march into the principal’s office and let her know if a teacher ever said anything even a little bit like that.
We talked about a family member with special needs and how he is totally enough even though he doesn’t do a thing. And how he would be enough even if he were an adult who needed help with every life task.
And I continued to affirm to my sweet girl that enoughness has nothing to do with what we do or produce or can achieve, but that it has everything to do with who we are. I fundamentally believe people matter because they are, not because they do.
Even if she was the worst at math, or the slowest
runner, or got left out, or when I fail
at completing small tasks on my to-do list, or burn something on the barbecue
(again), none of these things have anything to do with our enoughness in the
And I told her she’ll probably forget from time to time. That she might question her enoughness when her feelings get hurt, or if she doesn’t make the team, or is excluded from a party. And I told her that if she ever forgets if she’s enough, that I will always be there to remind her of her enoughness in the world.
It’s rare that a 5:38am wake up would be something I am grateful for, but today, I am.
As I heard her recount her dream to her brother before school it
was just as heartbreaking to hear the second time around, but this time there
weren’t tears—just her telling her brother how mom would make sure a teacher
who did that got in trouble for being so rude.
Oh, that she would know she is enough.
Oh, that we would know we are enough. Not because of what we do, but because the space we occupy in the world matters.
That we are significant simply because we are.
- by Carolyn Klassen
Husband and I have been married a year.
We told guests at the wedding that their "presence was the present". Many didn't listen, and gave us tickets to the Gold Eyes, a board game, coupons for a "jailhouse break", gift cards for restaurants, etc.
Family building time is best present anyone can get!
When I tell Husband something like, "I'm senstive to being teased about that," Husband simply responds with, "Thank you! That's good to know."
It's a line I've used several times myself now, after he let me experience it. A brilliant line that welcomes teaching and guidance as we figure out this "being married" thing. Or any relationship, for that matter.
It's amazing how a non-defensive response like this creates closeness. It's not an apology--one isn't necessary. It's not explaining himself--that's not why I bring it up. It's not justifying himself...I already know he didn't do it to be malicious.
It's a simple, "I hear you, and I want to use this moment to love you better" message.
I like having a lit candle or three in our home during our waking hours. Done it for years.
When I moved in, and the littlest JTM asked why a candle was lit in the middle of summer in the day time.
A logical question with no logical answer.
I didn't know what to say. I blurted: "A candle is what makes a house a home." He turned his head to the side and raised his eyebrows. The line has become a classic in our home.
But it turns out it's not a lit candle that makes a house a home. It's said-lit candle being blown out...often as fast as it is re-lit. (And to be noted, the littlest JTM is often the one that re-lights it).
The wisp of smoke created by an impish kid--now, that's home!
Watching grown JTM's hunt for Easter Eggs...some for the first time in many years, while other JTM's insisting on this ritual...was rich.
Participating in the annual Klassen March Madness basketball draft was a first for me...but the winner was excused from supper clean up for a week.
Sigh...it's a beautiful thing to not clean up supper for a week.
Really beautiful. (I plan on winning again next year.)
We do Tuesday family suppers now. Treasure hunts at Christmas. We celebrate Birthday Eve, Birthday, Birthday Boxing Day. We find reasons and excuses to celebrate and learn each other's family traditions, and create some unique "Kla-Berg" traditions.
Celebrating ritual creates memories.
And when you're a new family, you need to be in the memory-making business.
Don't need to say anything about this.
But getting that backboard done late the night before it is due, still gives a burst of adrenaline like little else.
Science fair completion is it's own drug.
My name is virtually inconsequential, because I now know that my name doesn't define me. Who I am defines me.
I had a blast at my wedding because what was important was the people, not the details. I wore pink sneakers because they were comfortable and let me visit without blisters or aching toes...even tho they were decidedly un-elegant.
I know now that what is important in the first year of marriage is cementing my relationship with Husband. I said no to lots of important opportunities to say yes to what was vital. Friends of mine (who are also older and wiser) were completely compassionate on giving me a pass on being a faithful friend. They understood that being married with lots of JTM's who need some support with adjustments, and a new husband, and running my own business still, meant that I was busy. Not meeting with them as often didn't mean they weren't important...it meant I was spread thin.
I know now that I don't have to prove myself with being a "super-wife" in ways that leave me exhausted, frustrated and resentful. Husband offers me compassion and I work to accept it. I'm a better wife if I have a nap on the weekend, even if that means that the closet didn't get sorted.
They both belong there. Together.
"I have been at the bedside of many, many deaths in my nursing career. But that was some good-bye. I've seen a lot of good-byes at death...but never one like that. That was clearly some sort of incredible love between them. I've never been married...but that's the sort of good-bye every person would dream of. It was a holy moment."
Then the nurse gave me a hug, and told us how special she thought we were, and how good it seemed we were for each other. She asked to give me a hug...a warm and kind embrace. The woman that sat with Husband in the most painful hour of his life is a special woman in my life.
The depth of love and loss that she saw Husband and Car experience that night was profound for her.
The day before she died, Car told Husband she freed him to marry again. Amazing foresight, that woman, to give him a gift like that in the midst all of the thinking and planning that is involved in leaving this world while incredibly sick. He tells me that this was the one and only time in their marriage that he (gently) told her to "shut up".
The thought of remarrying for him at that point was nothing but absurd crazy talk. He couldn't have imagined us.
Husband is wiser, gentler, more loving for the experience of being loved by, and then losing Car. This first year of marriage has him offering to help me and hold me and heal me in ways that stagger me. He treasures me because of how very aware he is of the preciousness of life...my life, our lives. He pays attention to what's important to me, to what I read, to what I like to drink, and when I drink it--so that he can show me he's attuned to me.
- by Michael Quiring
Carolyn here: Michael Quiring, one of the therapists here, is one of my favourite people. His dad has been struggling...I've been asking him about his dad's health for years. Michael's dad became acutely ill a few weeks ago. I spoke to him early last week...the situation was grave, and the odds were stacked against recovery, but his dad had already remarkably made it through extremely difficult days. It was just a day or two later that we found out that Michael's dad, Henry Quiring, died. I went to the funeral on Sunday and was struck at the profound way in which the family honoured and remembered their dad fondly and honestly. I asked Michael if he would share his story, and if I could share his story on my weekly chat with Dahlia on 680CJOB. It's complicated to grieve the death of your dad, when alcohol was already stealing parts of him for decades. The compassion they had for him was evident too.
My father would have been sixty years old today. I wish we got to celebrate his birthday one more time. Although, this is that chance, isn’t it, to celebrate him? Celebrate my Dad’s life...It’s bittersweet. I want to honour my father...and let the light of his life flare before all of you. I hope to do him justice.
My father’s tale begins far from here on a farm in Russia. Born into what would become a large Mennonite family with six siblings. Dad had many stories to share from that time that always left my brother and I wide-eyed and bewildered: how Dad lived in an allegedly real fear of gypsies finding them alone and kidnapping them. The time that my dad was fatally ill as a child, the doctor said he couldn’t do anything, and so my Opa ventured to try a seemingly insane alternative medicine route - he slaughtered a calf and placed my Dad’s naked body inside the still-warm stomach for a few hours – miraculously it worked. He talked about how the family had to keep their Christian faith very secretive – one of Dad’s aunts was once caught and imprisoned for several years by the government for merely teaching Sunday school.
My Dad and some other kids would sometimes run out into the starlit Russian fields in their underwear under the cover of night in a sort of primal revelry. We used to have a vast, untouched field beyond our backyard several years ago. My Dad used to walk it late at night and remember his early years.
When Dad was 11 years old, the whole family uprooted and came to Canada to find a better life. That transition was difficult for everyone. Dad could barely speak any English and yet was thrown into a fully English education system. As I understand it, my Dad took it particularly hard and fell into a bad crowd. I was shocked in my later years when Dad chuckled and shared with me that he used to be one of those guys who lifted car stereos. He even spent a few hours in a cell due to his mischievousness and defiant attitude towards the authorities. Dad was quite the rebel in his teens and early adulthood. The why still puzzles me a bit – I think there are parts to my Dad’s story that he never wanted me to hear – and I am okay with that.
What I am grateful for is that there were people who had an unassailable love for him in that time. In my Dad’s most reckless days, Gary absolutely refused to give up on my father. Dad told me recently that he once had a vision of himself surrounded by a ring of light with the revelation that Gary was interceding for him. This mentorship left a deep impact on my father – it left a mark that never would leave him until his dying day. I know this to be true because I always grew up knowing my Dad as someone who tried to pay that forward.
It seemed like there was always a younger fellow in Dad’s life who was struggling to get their life on track that Dad was trying to steer towards God and a virtuous life. Even in the hospital in this last week, I saw him bonding with one of the health care aides who was exhausted in his own walk of life. Not only did Dad have many examples from his own mistakes to draw from, he had much wisdom to offer out of his deeply introspective nature; but what really drew people to my father was his gentleness. His gentleness was born out of the grace of God that he knew so well.
Fatherhood was an extension of this mentoring heart. I’m not sure I have ever met a more sincere father. We had a happy childhood because of how much Dad strived to become a good father. Dad loved to watch his boys play sports, help us with school projects, take us camping, teach us how to frame a house. In elementary school, I remember being a little inventor, and would come to my Dad with blueprints to make a peddled go-kart or a secret escape rope-line from our tree house – Dad was always there to help my dreams become reality. Henry poured out himself into Chris and I, out of his deep love for us. We are the fruit of his love and dedication, and he continues to live on inside of us – his gentle/loving/reassuring voice is an anchor to us when the storms of life bear down on us.
Every son desires to know that their father is proud of them: Chris and I were lucky enough to have never doubted this.
My Mom always told me that she was looking for a man who would love her and never leave her. She chose well. Dad was faithful to her and never failed, every anniversary, to buy her one rose for every year they were together – 38 years together. My mother told me that Henry’s legacy with her is that, he taught me the true meaning of how to love and be loved.
I cannot tell Henry’s story without mentioning his love of building. He completed post-secondary schooling in carpentry and spent the better part of three decades in the craft. He was the type of man who liked to do a quality job and take pride in the work of his hands. I marvelled at those hands as a boy, so powerful and calloused – as tough as leather.
I was fortunate enough to work alongside him last autumn as we installed new flooring in our home. “Mike, the master carpenter!” he would say to me. “I learned from the best,” I would reply. Of course, by this time my father’s health was waning, his vision blurred, and his energy a tenth of what it once was. I become his hands and eyes, while he guided me with his seasoned knowledge and gentle reassurance.
It is hard to see your father’s strength fade.
If there was one regret that Henry had it would be that he never found the strength to completely conquer his addiction to alcohol. My Dad used to drink pretty hard in his early adulthood, and for the love of his family, he set aside his habit for over 15 years. Sadly, in these last several years, my Dad lost the will to keep it at bay. Eventually it cost him dearly.
Addiction is a thief. It steals your very self from you.
An ardent prayer of my family for the last while has been that Henry would regain his integrity in his last days. The irony of his passing is that my Dad actually quit drinking six weeks before finding himself at the ICU in St Boniface Hospital a couple days after Easter Sunday.
The timing of it all is meaningful to me.
It means that Dad was sober for about 40 days leading up to Easter, which roughly coincides with the Christian season of Lent, where one abstains from a habit of their choice leading up to Easter in the same way Jesus fasted in the dessert for 40 days. Wittingly or not, my Dad participated in this season.
In this time, an old familiar light rekindled in his eyes. He started making exciting plans for the future, and showed renewed vigour for life. In the last few weeks my Dad repaired relationships and brought our family closer than it has been in a very long time. Just as in the Easter story, my Dad seemed to come back to life for awhile.
For that, my family and I are eternally grateful.
- by Sabrina Friesen
The magnitude of this work
is not lost on me.
Four and a half years after beginning as a therapist I still find myself utterly awed at the courage and tenacity of the folks who plunk down on the couch and whisper words that have never made it outside their heads or hearts.
55 months of stories have graced my ears, and the wonder of change and
brilliance of raw courage still moves me deeply. The act of being entrusted
with the most tender and most vulnerable places of another is something that
words cannot adequately describe...it is this mindblowing experience that
happens on repeat each day within our sacred walls.
Sometimes the nature of this work really hits me. As I left the office last night I noticed it, a wordless ache deep in my chest that I could feel with each exhale. It was a full night of sessions and as I drove home in the late evening a deep sense of overwhelm settled into my bones as I reflected on all that transpired.
There was nothing particularly out of the ordinary in the evening compared to other days of this extraordinary work, yet the gravity and magnitude and privilege of journeying with people struck me afresh. As I cruised along lonely streets under the cover of night I searched for words that could clothe the feeling in my heart.
I think of how delighted I am to watch my kids learn new things, and grow into who they are more and more...and I realize that this is the same sense of delight and wonder and pride I feel in the brave work my clients do.
I crawled into bed and
found myself teary eyed and full of reverence for the holiness and privilege of
sitting with clients each week and being given a front row seat as their lives
take on new shapes and depths.
So to you brave souls out there who reach out in times of struggle or stuckness and give us therapists space to enter in, thank you.
Thank you for the privilege of being invited into your experience, of seeing all parts of who you are, of bearing witness to your stories.
It is a gift to see you, a gift to journey with you, and a gift to celebrate with and delight in the shifts that you have worked so hard for.
We truly are wired for connection, and it is such an
incredible privilege to be invited to support you in the hard and brave and
courageous work that you do.
- by Carolyn Klassen
April 11th, 2005 was a Monday, too.
After months of awkward silence, where I was desperate to understand what was happening under my roof, and hearing almost nothing, he asked me to have a conversation with him that evening. It's odd when your family looks the same, but the foundation has been rocked, is likely crumbling, certainly not being rebuilt, and there are no status updates.
I was gonna get what I'd been hoping for...some information. But I wasn't excited..the sense of dread overwhelmed me.
The void of information would be filled somehow, that day. I didn't have a good feeling about it. The months of waiting to hear how this husband of mine was doing, where he was at on this inner journey that I knew very little of...were brutally hard. And now to know? Would that be harder?
I went to work, a full day of clients ahead. I stewed and wondered, almost beside myself with wondering what would happen.
Monday was full, but Tuesday was scheduled to be even busier.
I feared the worst, that day on April 11, 2005...and in preparation for that, sent my first love an email. I told him that I had worked hard to maintain normalcy during the long hard winter that had passed, but I was stretched and tired. I told him that I had 6 hours of class at the university the next day to facilitate and lead. If he was leaving, I needed him to contact the course coordinators for the two classes I was leading to let them know of a family emergency. I didn't think I could be with students for 6 hours the day after my husband would tell me he was leaving.
I didn't want to know if he was contacting the university. I had clients that evening...couples working to save their marriages, ironically. I wanted to have my head in the therapy room with my clients.
I needed to not know until I finished my clients for the day. I just needed to have my teaching load cancelled the next day if I was gonna find out I'd be facing life without him.
At 2:24 pm on April 11, I got an email from L at the university:
I received the phone message from your husband this afternoon about being unable to attend the tutorial session tomorrow morning. No worries, we will figure something out. Hope everything works out OK with your family member!
The wind was sucked out of the room. I had two more couples to see before I went home to find out he was leaving me.
It's an odd feeling, it is. To help couples restore their marriage just before I go home to experience the blowup of mine.
But in an odd twist, it was the couples that day, and in the months ahead, that taught me that marriage was still beautiful. That many couples struggle and fight the good fight. That there is hope for making it through if you desire to make it through.
Over the coming years, it was my clients who taught me to stay believing in marriage. That marriage is hard. But so many fight the good fight. Clients showed me so much:
That two imperfect people enter into it, and in the process of living, are gonna step on each other's toes. There will be misunderstandings and hurts, but the beauty of it, is that committed couples can figure it out.
That husband and wife both enter marriage with sharp edges that cut and harm...and over the years, those edges get worn and smooth--but the process to get there isn't always that smooth.
That marriage is a place where grace is extended because of love. Grace, by definition, isn't "deserved" or "given with merit"--but simply offered because to offer it to a loved one feels profoundly right.
That a spouse can mess up, but forgiveness is offered, and relationship restored...not easily or quickly or lightly (at least that's what I see in the office, because we know that forgiveness offered quickly and lightly isn't the real thing) but solidly...often replacing the innocent, often fragile, bonds of new love with a strength of mature bonds that have been forged out of challenges.
He needed to leave our marriage, and I understand that. It wasn't anything to do with us, or me, but who he discovered himself to be. And that wasn't compatible with being married to me at all. I believe it wasn't easy for him. I know it was brutal on me. Often April 11th has been a day that has been full of remembering the horror of that day.
This is my first April 11th to be married again...to Husband. Husband, who loved his late wife, Car, through thick and thin. Because of that, he was a man whom I trusted before I loved. Trusted him to the depths of my belly in the way I wouldn't ever have thought possible. There were lots of ways I healed in the decade after he left, but there was additional healing made only possible when everything in me dared to trust another...and Husband provided me that opportunity.
He woke me up this morning gently. Handed me a latte he had made just for me, and visited with me as we started this day like we start most others.
It's gonna be a great day, this April 11th.
- by Lindsey Walsh
If you’re late for work and your young child refuses to put on her shoes, what happens in your brain?
Do you think, “If I don’t get her shoes on, we’ll be late getting out the door. If we’re late getting out the door, I’ll be late getting her to daycare. And I’ll be late for work. If I’m late for work, I’ll get in trouble with my boss. If I get in trouble, I will lose my job….”
If so, don’t worry, you’re normal. Very normal.
We are built to fear for the worst. That’s how we survived life before indoor heating and supermarkets.
But, I am curious, does your catastrophic thinking lead to:
Now, normal is normal and it probably won’t do that much damage to your kids for you to go a little nutty on occasion. In fact, spazzing out every once in a while in front of our children is probably better than being cold and reserved all the time. At least kids know that their freaking-out parents are human parents.
Freaking-out parents are toddler-human, but still human. A parent who doesn’t over-react some of the time is probably not paying much attention to their child and the world they live in.
Nevertheless, we do need to raise our game above toddler-status, at least most of the time.
And our kid’s nervous systems need us to be mom and dad, rather than raving lunatics.
...at least most of the time.
So, here’s what I propose:
1. Time Cushions:
Build more time into your schedule. Never, ever, let your child run the clock. If it takes 10 minutes to get your little angel’s shoes on in the morning, plan for 20 minutes. I do and it works like magic.
2. Cut the Fat in your Schedule (by sitting on your butt):
If you are perpetually stressed out because your little Sally has stuff to do every night of the week, I bet little Sally is even more stressed out. A little stress is good; a lot of stress is very, very bad. Yes, activity and excersize are necessary, but so is sitting and collecting one’s thoughts. You and your child both need and deserve time off of the clock.
3. Hire a Baby Sitter:
There may be times when you need to not be with your child for the sake of your own sanity. Be prepared for those occasions! Make a list of people to call (possibly with bribes) on those days when you’ve nearly forgotten your partner’s name due to:
- lack of sleep
- lack of sex
- lack of conversation about the parts of your beloved’s day which did not involve childrearing OR
- all of the above.
With time-cushions, a lighter calendar, and baby-sitters we can keep time from crushing our souls. Without them, well, we are likely to keep sledding down the slippery-slope of catastrophic living.
Here’s to being calm (enough), brave (enough), and curious (enough) to create family-sized schedules.
Here’s to facing the clock and the onslaught of time as co-creators rather than as frantic and powerless minions.
It ain’t easy, but it’s doable.
Where does the time go...it slips through our fingers. A Junior Tribe member gets married.
Dancing lessons for a wedding...dancing lessons for the marriage...don't give up.
Should I go see a male therapist? Sometimes you want the answer to be "no"...but it's actually "yes"...
The summer my children saved me...celebrating my own state of motherhoodness this Mother's Day...my Junior Tribe Members made me a mother, and their relationship to me got me through one of the toughest times in my life...