Remembering Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is Matt’s favourite holiday.

Last year, Thanksgiving knocked me sidewise.

I couldn’t remember Matt’s last Thanksgiving. It bugged me so much that I had this big hole of lost time with Matt. That I couldn’t remember him enjoying his favourite holiday. From what I’ve been able to piece together from our families, he was feeling pretty rough and may not have enjoyed it very much.

But what happened after Thanksgiving was too clear.

The day after Thanksgiving, we were at the hospital for an appointment with our oncologist. I hung back after the appointment and he told me that Matt would live for a few more weeks. I said, “Christmas?” He said, “No.”

I remember how it felt to come home to Ellie and hold her as I laid on the floor and sobbed. I remember not telling Matt what the oncologist had said.

From Thanksgiving to November 9 last year, I was living a flashback. I remember how rough Matt felt and I remember how hard we were holding on.

I’m worried that the flashbacks will happen again this year. I’m worried that Thanksgiving will lead to another spiral.

But I’m also choosing to remember before.

Thanksgiving is Matt’s favourite holiday.

There are lots of Thanksgivings before last year and the last one.

He loves the turkey–the bigger the better. He’s particular about his potatoes–and must mash them personally. He and his brothers have their own language when they are together (obscure movie quotes that are meaningless to everyone else).

Ellie and I have been working on finding the joy and the love and the gratitude–as we always do.

We’ve been writing what we’re thankful for on paper leaves and sticking them on our thankful tree. Ellie made a picture at preschool of her and Daddy “when they were turkeys.” I found a fortune laying on the ground behind our car that says, “Someone is looking out for you.”

It is so, so hard that Matt is not here in the way I wish he was. But I am thankful for every way he is with us.

Happy Thanksgiving. Whatever your situation, I hope that you can find happiness today.

Building for a life I don’t have

Sometimes I think I’m not doing grief right.

I feel like someone might think, “Grief? Why are you talking about grief? It’s been more than a year. Move on.” Or somebody else might think, “Your husband died. How are you able to function?”

I work very hard every day to be happy. I work at it. I choose it.

I work very hard to give Ellie as much joy as possible and as much connection to her Daddy as possible.

This farm helps.

Matt and I love this farm. Moving here transformed us in a wonderful way. It is incredibly special, and we had a vision for what this farm would be. I told Matt once shortly after we moved here (long before he was diagnosed), “I wouldn’t want to do this on my own.” Well, I’m doing it on my own. I’m working hard to make our vision come true.

So I go ahead and build a garage. The garage that we talked about and planned for and started saving for together. I’m proud that I did this on my own and that our plans for the garage have turned out so well.

But it also hurts.

Matt always wanted to park his car in a garage, and he never got to do that. I built a big two car garage, even though we only have one car. I built a big mudroom with open storage, so that he doesn’t have to open a closet to hang up his coat. The mudroom will have hooks for lots of kids to hang up backpacks and coats. Kids that we don’t get to have. It has a section for Baxter’s leashes and towels, which he doesn’t get to use. My Dad should have been our general contractor, but he doesn’t get to build anymore.

The losses pile up.

I keep busy. I feel most myself when I’m doing things. I also fear that if I stop, I’ll start thinking too much.

So I build a treehouse playground for our girl. I can’t give her her Daddy, but I can give her a fun playground. A place where we find joy.

Grief doesn’t come with rules. I can’t let go of Matt, my Dad, Baxter. I feel them here with me, supporting me through the garage and watching Ellie in her treehouse. I talk to them and keep them part of our life and the farm. I also can’t be crushed by this, not caring for our house, our farm, our girl.

I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m on my own. I’m not alone.

Matt and I had a vision for this farm. I want to make that vision come true for us both. I want it for myself, but I also want it for him. I am committed to him. He doesn’t get to do this. I can do it for both of us.

History

Thank you very much for your kindness after my last post. I appreciate all of the thoughts, prayers and support that have been sent our way over the last several years. They mean a lot.

Last weekend, on the anniversary of the day Matt came home, I felt like he sent a special gift for us.

A woman came to the farm who had been born here in 1936.

I have always wondered about the history of this property. Who lived here? What were their names? What happened to them? Where was the original house?

Well, now I know… at least a little bit.

Black and white picture of a two story farmhouse surrounded by open fields

The woman’s name is Lorraine. Her grandparents were the original owners of the property.

Black and white photo of a man and woman on their wedding day in 1897

Eventually her father and mother took over the farm, and this is where she spent the first six years of her life.

Lorraine

She talked about riding her tricycle down the barn ramp (just like Ellie likes to do in her little car), climbing trees and trying to keep up with her older brother.

Black and white photo of two children sitting on top of a wood gate

Her father worked the farm for awhile before he took a job in the city.

Black and white photo of a man and a horse working in a field

The driving shed (I always call it the drive shed, but she says “driving”) and the barn are the same as she recalls. She said that the original barn burned down when her father was young and was rebuilt.

Black and white photo of a child riding a tricycle in front of a small barn

The pond was not here when she was a child. It was just a stream that they crossed every day on their walk to and from school.

She says that the house burned down sometime in the 1950s. The property was always 129 acres.

Black and white picture of a two story farmhouse

Lorraine left the farm in 1942. She has returned few times since then, though the last time was about 20 years ago. Last weekend (with, I feel, a nudge from Matt), she got up her courage to come again and see who was living there now. I am so glad that she did. I feel like we connected right away.

Lorraine and I have talked on the phone several times and met twice more already. She came out to the farm again on Saturday and walked around a bit and shared more memories. She has given me so many stories and obviously some very special photos. I have so many more questions, but what I’ve learned already has meant so much.

The experience of connecting with the people and history of this special place is very precious.

One year

It’s been a year.

For awhile, that was all I was going to write here. I didn’t know what to say. I’m still not sure what to say. I have many stories. Many thoughts. All of them feel small. Inadequate. How do you write about a person? All of them. How they feel, how they sound, what they do, how they act.

I struggle that what I share of Matt with Ellie will be small. She will not know him for who he is–for all he is. But I need her to know him, even if it’s just a small part. So I keep telling stories.

When we moved to the farm, herons became my talisman. It was always special when I spotted one at the pond or flying overhead. That’s one of the reasons I chose a picture of a heron to hang over my nightstand in our bedroom.

Audubon print of a heron in my bedroom

Herons took on even greater significance during Matt’s illness.

I saw herons more than ever.

Heron wading in the pond

Wading at the pond, flying over the fields, in the east field (where I had never seen one before), out hiking with my friends. Twice, we even saw a heron flying over the highway as we were traveling to the hospital. Surrounded by concrete, asphalt and traffic, no water in sight, we saw herons.

These sightings gave me a lot of comfort.

Heron wading in the pond

On Saturday afternoon, as Ellie played joyously in the leaves outside, I saw a heron flying overhead. It glided down and landed in the pond. And I knew Matt was with us.

It has been a year. But I have never felt alone. It has been a year, but we fill each day with love and joy.

Thankful

It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. Thanksgiving is Matt’s favourite holiday. He loved the food and being together with family–and had very definite opinions on the importance of both.

It’s hard to mark Thanksgiving without him.

Yet, I am thankful.

I am thankful for our life. The choices we made, the things we have done, the opportunities we created.

I won’t say tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I honestly can’t yet. It hurts a lot to lose this love.

There is this one terrible hole in my life. And yes, it’s a huge and terrible hole.

But there’s one. Only one.

In so many other ways, I am incredibly fortunate. I know that. I never take it for granted. I appreciate it so very much.

The kindness of the people around us, the peace of this farm, the joy of our girl, good food, a safe home, financial stability, the option to continue to make choices, the chance to feel like myself and do things that matter to me. I am thankful for this and so much more.

We have a good life.

I am thankful for everything that Matt did–and does–to make that possible.

Like dandelions in the wind

A couple of weeks ago, our two oldest nephews came up to the farm to help with the grass. The oldest one got the tractor and started mowing. The youngest one got balls and toys and played with Ellie while I ran the push mower.

At one point I looked over to see him blowing dandelions with her. My breath caught. The last person to do that with her was her Dad. And now, one of her “big cousins” was doing it with her, and Matt will never do it with her again.

Matt and Ellie blowing dandelions

Today, Father’s Day, I am sad. So, so sad that we don’t get to celebrate Matt and my Dad in person.

It’s easy to let sadness be the only thing I feel today and to focus on everything that is missing.

But I’m choosing to be grateful. Grateful that her 18-year-old cousin is willing to blow dandelions with her, juggle balls and toss them in the air as high as he can, run up and down the barn ramp, collect pinecones to throw in the pond and spend a morning doing whatever a little two-year-old girl wants to do. Grateful for these two generous, helpful, kind young men. Grateful for the fathers and father figures in our lives.

Ellie has one Dad, and we celebrate and remember him every single day.

But today is Father’s Day, and we have many father figures. From cousins to uncles to friends to her Papa, Ellie is loved. And so am I. And that is what today is about for us: celebrating love of fathers and children in all their forms.

What ever this day means to you, Happy Father’s Day.

 

Bright moments in dark times

Last week was Matt’s birthday. We pulled together as a family–by phone, Facetime and a few of us in person–to remember him, talk about him and celebrate him.

We had a particularly special celebration to take care of as well.

Matt and I had been given a bottle of champagne when we moved to the farm. We had been saving it for when we paid off the mortgage, and that is what I did a couple months ago. So Matt’s Dad opened the bottle, and we had a toast.

Glass of champagne on the patio

This is obviously not at all how we wanted to pay off the farm. While this milestone is usually a great accomplishment, for us it felt tragic. Today, I’m sharing something I wrote when I got home from making that last payment.

I hope you’ll read it because while there is great tragedy, there was also great beauty, and I think there are some lessons we can all take in these challenging days of COVID19.

The music was driving me crazy.

I was sitting at the credit union feeling like I was holding it together by the finest of threads. I was there to pay off the mortgage.

I had been anxious about this appointment for weeks.

Paying off the mortgage was super important to Matt and me. Especially Matt. We’d worked really hard and paid about half of it down in the 7 1/2 years we’d owned the farm.

Before he died, Matt and I talked about his life insurance. I said, “Well, I was thinking of paying off the mortgage.”

For Matt there was no question. “You’d better pay off the mortgage!”

Now I was here, and I was paying off the mortgage. We were achieving something we’d worked so hard for and dreamed about for so long. But I was alone. Matt was paying it off, but in the worst way possible.

I was trying not to cry, not to scream, not to lose my mind. And the music was about to send me off a cliff.

A speaker in the ceiling of the office was playing a local radio station.

I haven’t been able to listen to music for a long time, and this felt so noisy.

Then the words started to make it through.

I’ll be there for the highs and lows… By your side, when you’re all alone. I will be there. (Walk Off The Earth)

 

Then the next song.

I’ll carry the weight. I’ll do anything for you. My bones may break. But I’ll never be untrue. (Serena Ryder)

 

Tears were rolling down my face. I looked up at the ceiling at that terrible speaker and said, “Thank you for being here. I love you.”

That afternoon, I came home to the farm. I let Baxter out and we walked out over the fields. I talked to Matt. “We finally did it. You did it. You worked so hard for this. Thank you. It’s ours.”

I know a lot of people are facing really hard situations right now and there is a lot of fear about COVID-19. Reach out to family and friends. Look around you for those moments of love and joy–like a song on the radio that you don’t hear at first. Know that you are not alone. Even in the hardest hard there is good. You will get through this.

Resolve

I’m not sure what to say. Where do I start? (This question drives me most days.)

I am sad. So, so sad. But working hard to not let sadness prevail.

The saying is that time heals all wounds. Right now, as time passes, a lot of things get harder.

Matt’s absence feels stronger.

But there is still great love and still great joy. I have resolved to choose love and to choose joy.

Writing is hard–which is really hard. Writing is how I think, and the words aren’t coming right now. My fingers make mistakes as I try to hit the right keys. Familiar words look foreign.

I can’t write about Matt yet. I feel like once I do, I will succumb to this abyss that lurks behind me all the time. An abyss of sadness and loss and grief and no love or joy.

So I put on this mask of resolve. Of a capable, dedicated, hard-working woman. I take care of Ellie and Bax and Ralph and the farm. I go for walks and breathe the farm air. I lean on my family and friends. I knit and sew and organize.

And today, I write.

This writing, this blog, this imperfect, potentially inarticulate, writing is important. Even if right now its importance is in the role of a distraction.

Matt and I have a lot of plans for this farm, and I am resolved to carry them on. This farm is us, and sharing this part of us makes the journey more special. I am not sure what’s going to happen and how plans are going unfold, but I will share them as we go.

I am not planning on turning this into a grief blog–I can’t do this publicly. Or a Mommy blog for that matter. I will talk about Matt and Ellie because they are still my life. But I will be talking about renovations and projects and gardens and animals and farm life and working every day to find love and joy.

A friend gave me the winter edition of Magnolia Journal for Christmas. In her letter from the editor, Joanna talked about the word resolve.

“The meaning of resolve is often interpreted in duality, as being both/and. Resolve can manifest as both grit and contentment: I will resolve to set my own course and I am resolved in the lot I’ve been given… Resolve can catalyze a beginning and determine an ending…

 

“Making our own way in this world requires our resolve to always be weaving together the old and the new, the parts of who we’ve been with who we are still becoming. To choose that way of living–one based on all that we are and all that we could be rather than the things we’re not–begins and ends with resolve.”

 

For the past few years, I’ve chosen a word of the year every January. This year, I wanted a word to guide me and shape me. I felt like I needed it. But I’m so lost that I couldn’t find it. I was thinking and reading and searching, and when I read these words, they connected so deeply. This is me, right now.

I am resolved.