The Birthday I Became “Grand”

I was looking forward to my 43rd birthday like I had every single one since I can remember: with gratitude, joy, and, well, just the promise it held. I had never been one to worry about my age, or try and hide it. Still don’t. Everyday I wake up is a blessing. Every anniversary of my birth, a miracle….a promise, an opportunity.

Over the years, I have watched and listened with true curiosity when a sister fell apart as she turned 30; a friend lied her way into 50; a child tried hard to rush headlong into their 20s while they were still in their teens. I didn’t get it. I have loved every age I have been, and while some years have certainly been better than others; some decades more rewarding, each has brought with it many gifts, but none like that birthday all those years ago.

Our daughter, who was expecting, was living with us, and over the months prior, I had done what I could to ensure she had a healthy, happy pregnancy.

At first it was just her and I, as my husband finished off his work commitments in another community. We were living on the top floor of a three story apartment building…with no elevator…and no outdoor space.

Everyday after work, and on weekends we would walk all over town, getting to know our community by exploring it on foot. We would walk to the grocery store and carry our bags home and up those three flights of stairs where we ate healthy meals. I loved every second of those days. We grew closer than ever and looking back, those were some of the happiest days I’d ever had being a Mum.

Some weekends we went exploring, taking what I thought were shortcuts, but weren’t. Like two billy goats we climbed rock bluffs, cut through back yards, and laughed our way around obstacles in our path.

As spring turned to summer, we found a cheap little car which broadened the horizons of our adventurers.

Weekends came and we’d pack a picnic lunch and head out of town. Talking the whole way, we would stop when a place looked interesting, and we’d go exploring. Crawling our way across still melting rivers and small waterfalls, I watched as my daughter blossomed. Her skin became sun kissed, her eyes sparkled again, her heart healed and her soul soared with the thought of impending motherhood. She was healthy in body and spirit, in amazing physical shape for the upcoming birth, and happy. Hearing her laughter was like feeling sunshine on my face. My heart swelled with love…and wonder, and the realization that I was going to be a GRANDMOTHER.

We talked of names, wondered what gender the baby would be, and laughed with joy as the little one growing inside her kicked happily to the music at a summer street festival. We joked about her due date…my birthday, and how women never give birth on their due dates…especially with their first child.

I watched with love and pride as she sat with headphones on her growing belly, or sat quietly reading aloud to the life inside her. We searched yard sales for baby gear, and found all we needed for this wee one that would soon be joining our family. We scrubbed the carriage, the highchair, bathtub, and washed stacks of baby clothes. And talked, and laughed, and shared our hopes and dreams for the future of their lives….her and her child. I wished every night that my daughter would have her own daughter…but we both knew it wouldn’t matter. This child would be loved and nurtured.

But she knew. She knew, even as she decided on names for both a boy and a girl, she knew the baby she was giving life to would be her daughter. Just as I knew when I was carrying her, that she would be a girl. In fact, like me, she never really settled on a name for a son. Just a daughter. A Gaelic name, to honour her Grandmother and her Scottish heritage.

The days passed, and soon it was the day before her due date…the eve of the anniversary of MY birth. The three of us; her Dad had finally joined us, took the dogs out for their evening walk. Just as we started the trek back up the hill we had wandered down, it began to sprinkle. As we reached the top of the hill, we all stopped short. There, right in front of us, was the most beautiful double rainbow. Not faint, but in full vibrant colours, it’s arch and ends clearly visible in the mist of the evening shower. 

Joking, I laughed as I hugged my own baby girl and said, “It’s a sign!” As we three and two dogs piled into the truck, that rainbow stayed in our line of vision all the way home. We delighted in the splendour of it all…but our ‘signs’ had just begun.

The light autumn shower had stopped by the time we got home, and the rainbow disappeared into the warmer colours of the coming dusk. We had a nice dinner, and as I began clearing the table with my daughters help, I said to her…”I’ll do this. You relax”.   A short time later she went out on our balcony for some fresh air. The evening was one of those rare autumn evenings in the north. Still and warm, but with just a hint of chill in the air.

The patio door opened and, with those huge blue eyes sparkling, she said, “Mum, you’ve got to see this.” As I joined her on the deck, the intake of my breath was audible.

The sky above us was a swirl of red, and mauve and green. Like the flowing skirts of many dancers one moment, to the slow drawn out brush strokes of a painter, the Aurora Borealis were really putting on a show.  As I pulled my sweet woman-child close, I began to cry. My heart was so full of love in that moment…and hope. Together we stood looking up at those dancing lights. And we knew. Her child, protected and loved in that safe, warm place was about to enter the world.

About 4am that next morning, a soft tapping on our bedroom door woke me from a deep, untroubled sleep. There she was, standing there whispering “It’s time Mum.” Suddenly the quiet of those early morning moments exploded into a flurry of action. Truck heated up, brother called, bag remembered, and dogs let out. It could be a long day, after all – her birth had taken nearly 36 hours.

She, the calm one in our little family that descended on the hospital, had asked me weeks prior if I would go in the delivery room with her. I told her I’d think about it. I am a tad squeamish and didn’t want any attention on me ‘when’ I passed out. Plus, it was one thing to go through labour myself…I didn’t think I could bear to see my own child in that kind of pain. I finally, after many sleepless nights, discussions with her Dad, and thinking it through, told her I would be there with her.

All I remember about those next hours are showers, back rubs and nurses telling her what great shape she was in and it would surely help her labour. My mind wandered back to all those hikes, walks and stairs…more to avoid the present than anything.

About 9:30am, I went out and told her Dad and brother they might as well go home and get some sleep. It would be awhile. Her brother stayed while her Dad left to check on the dogs and grab some breakfast. 30 minutes later, I had her brother call him back…it wouldn’t be long after all.

Her calmness and focus during this whole time caught me off guard. I had expected her to be frightened…to be overwhelmed, with the pain of labour, but also with the enormity of what was about to happen. She was neither. Grace under pressure. Strength. Quiet determination. Fearless.

Suddenly it was happening. Seven hours after that tap on my bedroom door. It was time. The baby was coming. I stood by her head holding one hand while a nurse stood on the other side, coaching her and holding her other hand. Suddenly the room began to spin. OH MY GAWD!!! Don’t you DARE pass out!!! Those were the thoughts racing through my head as the nurse touched my shoulder and said ‘Perhaps you should sit down’….at which point those enormous blue eyes snapped up and me and she said “Mum please don’t let go. Don’t sit down.” I snapped out of it. I was right. It IS difficult to see your daughter in that kind of pain. No epidurals for her. Natural childbirth. She wanted her strength and love to be the only thing that brought her child into this world.

Suddenly, the words we’d been waiting nine months to hear. “IT’S A GIRL.” Those blue eyes locked mine and a small smile lit that beautiful, exhausted face. With a squeeze of my hand, she said “Happy birthday Mum.”  Kylie. In Gaelic, or in English…she is indeed Beautiful.

 

Happy Mother’s Day Brandi.

Good Wishes on Little Christmas

Sitting here this morning of “Little Christmas” at the beginning of a new year, thinking about the Christmases of my childhood….before I became a “tween”. Sweet memories came flooding back…and with the memories come the tears. I miss the days of innocence, before cynicism crept into my consciousness. The days before I realized that there was anything wrong with my world…before I realized how little we had.

32280060bb10728f3f6a8083752c8e97A week or so before Christmas, we would set our shoes on the edge of the hot water tank of our big kitchen stove. That stove was so central to our lives, providing heat for our home, a place to cook the food that sustained our growing bodies, the oven, where my Dad, every winters night, heated large flat beach rocks, that he would wrap in towels and place in our beds a bit before bedtime, to warm them so that we weren’t freezing when we climbed in.

The purpose of our shoes on that stove was to have a place where Santa’s Elves could collect our letters to the jolly old man before Christmas Eve.images-1Oh how I struggled with those letters! I thought long and hard about what to write…it was a fine balance…making sure what I asked for was just enough…never enough to tip the scales to excess…I didn’t want Santa to think me greedy. Of course, being the eldest, I also had to make sure that I mentioned my two younger sisters and all of my cousins too. I also generally enquired after Mrs Claus, the Elves and the reindeer.

I did really well in school, and so, I painstakingly ensured that all of my i’s were dotted and t’s crossed, and that each word was carefully reviewed to make sure my spelling was impeccable.

Our parents were clever…they had ways of getting us to be on our best behaviour all during the holidays.

The shoes went back on the stove on New Years Eve….but in the morning of each new year, there magically appeared three of Dad’s heavy wool work socks hung behind the stove where we dried our mittens. christmas-socks-1940s-2They were filled with another lovely big juicy orange, like we’d had in our Christmas stocking, and a few extra treats that Santa had left over from his ’round the world trip on his way back to the north pole!

As young children growing up on a small island, we had no concept of time and distance, so it made perfect sense that Christmas Eve in Australia was a whole week after our Christmas Eve. Of course, now we all know that Australia’s Christmas Eve is basically the day before ours, but back then, for Santa’s trip to take an entire week went without question.

Me and my two younger sisters one Christmas morning circa 1958/59
Me and my two younger sisters one Christmas morning circa 1958/59

Our perfect little “Westport” tree, that Dad had usually drilled holes into and added branches, always stayed up until “Little Christmas”, January the 6th.

As my Catholic raised father had taught me, I always knew that January 6th was the Feast of the Epiphany; the day the Magi visited the Christ child with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and it was revealed to them that the baby was the Son of God. It is also, in the Christian faith, celebrated as Twelfth Night in some denominations.

In my mother’s Irish heritage, Little Christmas was…and still is…known as “Nollaig na mBan” or “Little Women’s Christmas”. It was the one day a year where the women got the day off from the drudgery of housework and the men were in charge of the household chores and the children. The women gathered together at the local public house…or pub…and had a glass (or SEVERAL) of stout and corned beef sandwiches, leaving all their cares at the door.

images-1On this day, we children were usually given a bag of chips…Scotties, which had stars that I collected and sent in to get books like Treasure Island and The Hardy Boys… and a small treat to celebrate. And then we would pack away all the tree ornaments for another year and Dad would haul the tree outside, where, if it still had any needles on it, he would cut the boughs off to bank our house against the harsh winter winds, along with the ones already there.

Looking back on those early years, I realize now how little we had and how difficult it must have been for our parents….but we never knew. It was never discussed in front of us..how difficult it was to buy those oranges; the scrimping and saving to buy us that special gift . We had chores and responsibilities but worry wasn’t among them. That was for the adults, our parents. We were just allowed to be children. We were oblivious….and happy.

Grace, Glory & Love

10670074_10152767021582254_6859924459435006058_nWe shared the same Irish DNA, Dana and I. My grandfather Welch, was her great grandfather…her father, my first cousin. She got the red hair, I got the green eyes.

I remember when she was born…funny that…as I don’t remember many other births of children when I myself was a child…outside of my baby sister’s. I think I remember Dana because of that ginger hair and those curls.

A decade apart in age, by the time she started school, I had left the small island fishing village where both our stories started. Our paths crossed sporadically over the years and then about 8 years ago we reconnected…via Facebook of all things.

I was back living in the North, she in the BC Fraser Valley. We had both started blogging. Dana even landed a contract with the Huffington Post. The blog posts and the woman behind them quickly garnered a large following. I was among them.

980481_344756642315277_3546972887458950953_oI don’t know much about Dana’s life after she left the island, but I know it wasn’t easy…until she met Mike. Her King, she called him. Her, his Queen.

We corresponded back and forth over the years…a few emails, mostly private messages on Facebook….and of course our blogs. Hers was about helping…mine about healing. We laughed about some family things…we cried about others.

I remember when she said she was taking a writing class…I was afraid that she’d lose who she was by ‘conforming’ to someone else’s style…and I told her. She didn’t…it gave her confidence.

Then came the news that she had been diagnosed with cancer….#fuckcancer became her battle cry and those of us on her team circled the wagons and vowed there would be no “you poor thing” emails, messages, or blubbering conversations.

Well right now…I want to burn the fucking wagons, kick the shit of out something…scream into the cold dark night. But I don’t.

Instead I melt into a blubbering mess…sobbing my heart out as I try to find the right words to honour my friend. Dana never considered herself a ‘cancer patient’. Her response was to live each day with “Grace, Glory & Love”.

535447_10151292147247254_1720503241_nShe loved vintage clothes, but not many things got her more excited than a kick ass pair of shoes. I remember her delight when I told her about a pair of bright orange stilettos I had…and what I called them. Now THAT makes me smile.7e14ec3d00463c64d8cf6724c1fc9874

I remember sharing a couple of memories about her mother, Nancy, whom had also died young…and how Dana always planted a new rose bush each year in her memory. I like to imagine the two of them together in a field of roses, or baking bread…hmmmm, another smile.

14448775_10154382213357254_6003122785937245351_nWhen she first shared her diagnosis almost 2 years ago, I told her that while I hadn’t been a major player, I had always been on her team. Nothing would change that.

After I received word of Dana’s passing during the early morning of Christmas Eve…I cried. A lot. Just when I thought I’d cried myself dry of tears….the flood gates would open again. Many of those tears for my own loss, some were for the shortness of Dana’s life….most were for her family; her three children, her three grandchildren…two Princes and a new Princess, and for her King. God, she loved them all fiercely. And I cried for her extended family who have been through so much grief in recent years. My heart felt like it was being torn from my chest…like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t imagine their pain.

Serendipity. Luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for. Fortunate happenstance.

A few days after her death, I was back on my computer, revisiting Dana’s blog at www.thebeautifulreal.com  and reading the posts shared on her Facebook page. When I couldn’t read through the tears anymore, I started just scrolling through my own Facebook page when a post popped up in my news feed about a piece of art that was for sale in a nearby town.

I immediately called the artist and had the piece purchased within minutes of the post. It’s an eight and a half foot high piece of driftwood, painted to look like the Aurora Borealis…or Northern Lights. I call it ‘Dana’ in her honour.

15782630_1852385068306404_1621807652_nStretching and reaching as high as she can….overcoming all the odds, the awkward little tree became a thing of immense beauty. All it took was the right person to find her and bring out her shine…her sparkle…her limitless potential. To love her unconditionally. My ‘Dana’ will hold a place of honour outside at our home. Beneath the warm sunshine of our long summer days and under the moonlight of our cold, dark nights she will continue to reach high and dance with the stars. Like the Aurora, twirling her vintage skirts of green and pink …with perhaps just a whisper of leopard print beneath the folds…to keep it interesting…and unique. Like the Dana for whom she is named. One of a kind. A gift to all of us blessed enough to enter her sphere.

The circle of life continues to spin. A birth, a death…and in between, life. Dana’s legacy is a reminder to grab that bit between our birth and our death and run with it. To be fearless. To be true to who we each are…to not conform. Adjust that crown…even if it’s a tad tarnished, hold your head high and wear it with pride. Life is short. Buy the damned shoes. And Dana….#fuckcancer. ❤

 

Photo Credits: Used with permission from Mike O’Dell

Photo of Dana wearing crown of roses by Sarah Sovereign Photography

All other photos of Dana by Mike O’Dell, who ‘saw’ her ❤

Driftwood Art by Natacha Kruger Rewega Paintings