Home For Mom

Photo: Rob Bye
Photo: Rob Bye


While I lived in Ontario for a year, I came back home every month. It was not for a boy, but rather for my mom. She has terminal lung cancer. She won’t do chemotherapy. At the point where she was, there was no use- it could have killed her rather than saved her. Yes, her slow demise is really painful, and it’s been on my mind every day for more than a year.

I learned that my mom was sick in February 2014. Even before that, I had a feeling that the news would probably be gloomy because my mom warned me that she was going through a series of tests.

I was also worried because in December 2013, we went for a four-day trip in Quebec City and I realized that she was more tired than usual. She was dragging. She needed more coffee breaks.

I was fearing the worst while hoping that it would not be lung cancer. I’ve had the intuition that she was going to die from lung cancer for years. It was not a death wish but rather a strong intuition. I also have an amazing yet disturbing intuition, and it’s mostly right- precisely what makes it disturbing.

My mother smoked cigarettes for years. When we lived together, she would go outside, mostly, or smoke under the hood to mask odours. Sometimes, when I would come back from my dad’s place, she would have had opened all the doors and windows to ventilate the apartment. She would also often try to hide this because she knew that smoking in the apartment, and in general, was not a good idea. Still, she kept doing it, despite my many pleas. I even made no smoking signs in a heart-shape, imitating a Health Canada campaign from the 1990s.

When my mother told me about her illness, I was devastated. I kept it inside and went to my father’s place to pick something up. It was towards the end of the afternoon that I started crying and I couldn’t stop. At the same moment, my father and his girlfriend came back. They were shocked, but not as much as I was. They dropped me off to yoga class. I went because I thought that it would change my mind. I spent half the class crying, to finally breathe. 

A couple of days after this, I got a call: I was accepted in the master of journalism at the University of Western Ontario.

I felt guilty. I didn’t want to leave my mother in Montreal, yet I knew I had to go. One of my dreams was coming true. It was my second and last attempt to get into one of the few master of journalism programs in the country.  Again, my intuition was kicking in, this time telling me that I had no choice but to go.

Discussing it with my dad, he understood my dilemma. ‘‘There are times in life where you don’t know what is waiting for you, but you know that you have to go,’’ he said.

My mom wanted me to go, telling me that I had to. She didn’t want me to feel guilty. That being said, I also always felt that I had to be back as often as possible to Montreal to visit, and I wanted to. 

In February 2014, the doctors gave my mother six months to a year. I did feel guilty at times for choosing my future over my mom, yet I didn’t choose. I managed to give as much as I could to both. It was not easy because it required tremendous energy. I often felt discouraged, anxious, angry or sad, but I did it.

In the months prior to graduating, I applied to a bunch of jobs all around the country, not knowing what was coming up. I would have loved to move to a new city, probably Toronto, get a high-paying job, find a new apartment and buy new clothes. I would have loved to start anew. I would have loved to become a real adult, to enter middle class, to reap the fruits of my labour. 

Despite my lofty goals, it’s not what life has in the cards for me right now.

On Easter, I had breakfast with my mom and she told me the result of her last scan: she has six months left to live. While she has exceeded her original life expectancy, I know that she won’t this time. It’s more or less six months.

Over coffee, my mother told me that it was fundamental that I’m there for the end of her life. I knew it, but it confirmed it. Time is finite and life happens and then it’s done or as Nas would say, ”life’s a bitch and then you die.” Time with loved ones is precious and it’s probably the most important thing in the world. It’s something that can easily be forgotten in this individualistic and workaholic society.

I’m my mother’s only child and closest family member. While the responsibility can be a burden, it’s also an opportunity to prioritize what is really important. In a nutshell, life and death. In a word, love.

My mother is not the easiest person to take care of. She suffers from borderline personality disorder, which means that emotions are heightened and days unpredictable. Add to that the physical suffering that is worsening as days go by.

As she outlived her life expectancy, she stayed seemingly healthy for months, although inside she was losing every day. She doesn’t seem as healthy anymore. She coughs constantly, and it is harder for her to go to public spaces or to walk outside.

On Mother’s Day, we were walking on Blvd St.Laurent and she was coughing so much that a 20-something guy gave me a concerned glance. I will have to get used to those glances now.

As much as I love my mom, I hate life for giving me such a hard time. My favourite aunt (her sister) already died from cancer in 2005. Why is it happening all over again?

I want my family to be healthy and I want to get on with my life. But then, I’m conscious life is not only about me and the most important thing right now is to take care of my mom.

I find the situation increasingly difficult as her health is disintegrating. I have a guy friend who went through a similar situation with his mother and he told me that despite it being the hardest thing, it is very important to be there constantly, especially in the last moments.

It is fucking painful. I want my mom to revert back to a healthier state. Instead, I’m seeing her lose strength as the days go by. She is scared, she is sad, she is constantly living the full spectrum of human emotions.

I’m trying to ease her pain and help her out as much as I can. I help her clean, I bring her food, I listen to her talk, I record her voice so I can keep memory files.

It’s difficult to know that for me, my mother will disappear soon.

I will never see her become an old lady with a full head of grey hair. She will never meet my future children. That is one of the hardest realizations to have.

Also, the worst is that everyone wants to believe that things are looking up, that she will heal. She will not. She will lose all of her energy. She will die. So many people ask me dumb questions about her state, about whether or not she is doing chemotherapy. People hope for the best. I understand. But the best doesn’t always happen. 

My mother’s illness has made me realize everything that she has given to me, everything that she passed down to me in my lifetime. I wouldn’t be as smart, critical, funny, sensitive and artsy if I had another mom. Despite her difficult childhood, she gave me everything that she did not have. She worked hard at being a mom. She worked hard at being an artist. She gave me everything. The list is infinite.

I will never forget that. I will never forget her. And when I eventually have children, I will make sure to tell them who their grandmother was.

 

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Bye-bye, Baby

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Learning to be in a relationship again after being single for a few years is no easy feat. When I started seeing my now-boyfriend, I was not sure if I should give my heart away, especially because my heart had been crushed several times in a row. That being said, I knew from the get-go that he was a caring guy and that he had a heart of gold, so I learned to trust him.

Even if I wanted a relationship when this one began, I forgot the efforts it required. Of course, I knew that every relationship (friends, work, family, love) requires efforts from both sides in order to work, but being in a relationship after being single for months feels weird.

I’m used to being very independent, so I find it difficult to be in a relationship sometimes. There is more compromise involved in being together than in being alone, but providing the partner is good, there is a lot more fun too.

I know that a good man is hard to find but even harder is finding one that is a good fit for me. I’ve dated a lot of great guys that were just not right. That is why I’ve had more lovers than boyfriends. Finding a good fit, and a man that I can actually love, seemed like looking for a needle in a haystack, because love is not about finding the man, and then done, happily ever after! Both parties need to be genuinely interested, hold common interests and/or goals and make significant efforts for the relationship to flourish.

My boyfriend is a little bit younger than me and I originally thought that it would be an issue because of the discrepancy in life experiences. He is from small-town Texas and I’m from Montreal.

We are worlds apart and yet, we can understand each other. Being with him taught me much more than I expected at first. I tended to see myself as superior because of my many stories and globetrotting life, but I’m not. We are just different, yet similar. The great thing about being in a relationship is to teach each other how to be better people. We also get to share life together, and the company’s always good.

I find that being in a relationship teaches me to be patient in other aspects of my life, such as in my relationships with others and especially with myself. Sometimes, I get annoyed at my boyfriend and at other times I get pissed off at myself. Being in this relationship has made me aware of my limitations, of his, and then of every other human being. Limitations can be overcome with courage and curiosity, things that we both have. Everyone can get better, but at the same time, people are who they are and that is why finding someone who is on the same wavelength and willing to grow with me can seem like a never-ending quest.

Accepting somebody’s love is difficult too, as it is something that grows with time. I love my boyfriend more now than I did at the beginning of our relationship because I’ve learned to accept him the way he is, and he does the same with me. I used to be bitchier around him. I guess it came from giving up my independence or rather, not wanting to give it up. It also came from a resistance to change and openness. It also came from past fears, fights and feelings.

Even though being in a relationship is hard work, I wouldn’t trade it back for singledom. I’m not saying that being single sucks, but I was ready to be in a relationship when it happened and I got into it because he was worth it. I was not looking for just about anyone. I actually wasn’t looking anymore. And then, it happened. Life has its ways.

We dated for a month before I had to go home for the holidays and an internship. He was going home and then back to school. The long-distance relationship actually brought us closer together. Because we were not physically together, we had to communicate through words only. We talked for hours online. He sent me a paper he wrote. Seeing the extent of his intellect made me fall in love with him, and kept me looking forward to our reunion.

When he went to pick me up at the bus station, he brought a big bouquet of flowers. Our relationship became stronger after that, and eventually cemented into something official.

I love having my boyfriend around me. Being together makes life easier and more exciting. We laugh a lot. We have fun even in a small town because we go on dates or we talk and chill out at home. In tough moments, we have each other’s backs, we talk it through, we make each other feel better. He takes care of me and looks at me with loving eyes. We cook for each other. I got him into cooking more, and I’m always pleasantly surprised when he whips up a new healthy recipe.

I got him into quinoa, tofu, eating more veggies, going to yoga and drinking herbal tea before bed. He got me into following music, scholarly ideas, space and learning how to be more patient.

I went home with him for Easter. Actually, he drove me there. He met my parents, who absolutely adore him, despite the language barrier. That trip made us realize that we could live together in the future. If you’re able to go through such a trip together, support each other and come out stronger, it’s a good sign.

On the road, he waited in line for food while I got us coffee. We sat down together and ate breakfast before going on to new adventures.

In the car, I read him stories to make sure that he was awake and entertained.

On the way back, I was exhausted and had a deadline the next day. Despite our intention to go sleep at my friend’s place in Toronto, he suggested going straight home and it was such a relief to know that he was willing to go the extra mile (literally).

He is extremely patient, kind and affectionate. All of this positive energy really helps me to keep going. We encourage and support each other in our endeavours. We are both intellectual and active people, so we always have something new to talk about. We keep our bodies and our minds in good shape. We always have smart conversations. We are both immensely curious.

We tell each other ”I love you” many times every day. We call each other a lot of silly nicknames, which I won’t reprint here, but let’s just say that there’s a lot of baby animals involved. The difficult part now is that despite all of this, life is not a Disney movie.

In a few days, I’ll be going home to Montreal for a few months and my boyfriend will be staying in London, Ontario. The good thing is that he’ll drive me home and that we’ll get to spend a couple of days there together. The bad thing is that he’ll have to come back to London.

When I wake up next to him in the morning, I always feel blessed. I’ve got a good, fun and smart man to hold. I don’t take it for granted, and I know I’ll miss him. At the same time, I know that I’ll carry on being both a good girlfriend and an independent woman.

When we’ll see each other, it’ll be a celebration. In the meantime, we will have to communicate over phone, text, email, Skype. We are setting up a two-people book club to deal with the separation, reading the same books at the same time.

Although it’s hard to say bye-bye baby, it’s also nice to have this time to write and figure my adult life out. I’m still an independent woman and it’s important for me to remember my individuality when I’m in a relationship. I don’t want to lose sight of the single girl because my inner independent woman is what keeps me going. Being alone for most of my life shaped who I am and where I’m going. That being said, it’s also nice to share.

Dear 15-Year-Old Me

wishes

Dear Me,

Greetings from the future – where cars don’t fly, and food isn’t yet in pill form. However, you have an awesome phone and can buy your own booze so it all balances out.

You are 15. Your life is about school, friends, family and all the little details of your everyday existence. You are coasting along, happy as can be and so confident in who you are and who you want to be.

I wish I had more of your blind confidence, your unwavering belief in your abilities and your clear view of the future. As you grow up, your view of the future gets a bit misty, but rest assured you do accomplish a lot.

Now for some words of wisdom, things that I want you to know to get you through the next 15 years of life.

Trusting in someone is hard, being betrayed is even harder. It will happen; friends, lovers, co-workers. You learn to trust the right people and in your judgment. This pain is temporary, a brief storm in your life that will pass.

Life will hurt you, break you, and scar you, but you will survive. It’s never as bad as it seems.

Don’t ever think you aren’t worth it, aren’t strong enough. You can doubt yourself fifty thousand ways but it doesn’t change the truth, it doesn’t change your strength.

Be yourself, be happy in the little things, be caring, be wild, be anything you want.

All of your dreams won’t come true as you imagined they would. Don’t give up. There is no deadline on dreaming.

Finally, don’t stop writing. Whatever you do. Do. Not. Stop. Writing. It may seem hard or you’ll feel blocked, but down the road, you’ll be sitting here writing this letter. Even when the words fail you in real life, there is help in a notebook or keyboard. Writing will always be a part of who you are, don’t forget that.

Dear me, your life is so simple right now. It may seem complex and stressful, but know that you real life is out there waiting for you. That your uniqueness, your strength and caring heart will grow and bring the right people and the right things into your life. Maybe it’s not your dream life, but I promise you are very happy and one day you’ll know that’s what really matters.

My Guilt-Ridden Journey to Being a Mom

photo-1414432548815-900106408037 copyIt’s a dark and lonely journey sometimes. The one leading from the day you have a child to the day you become a parent. “It’ll come,” they said. “It’s all natural,” they shushed.

It didn’t feel natural.

I ignored it, basking in the surrounding warmth. My mom was there to help me, a welcome breath in the blur of new parenthood. I rarely got to have her around, so it was lovely to have her by my side. I was surrounded by helpful and positive souls. That helped. Helped me forget there was a problem. Helped me sweep it under the rug.

“It’s just baby blues. It’ll go away,” I told myself.

Baby blues! That even sounds ‘cute’. And dismissible.

So I dismissed it.

That mommyhood ‘glow’ was not something that happened to me. I’d had a C-section. My body was struggling, not because anything went wrong, but because someone had to cut through seven layers of me to get to a baby, only to sew me back up and send me away, tasked with the care of said baby.

I call her Murphyskid. She was born in distress and had infant reflux. She never slept for more than 40 minutes at a stretch, and when she did, it was sprawled out across my chest.

This is the stuff you’re unprepared for. The stuff no beautifully presented prenatal class or book tells you.

Three months of lovely, helpful guests, having meals cooked for me, and endless helping hands later, my mom left. I remember her trying to prop me up a few days before. She’d pretend the baby wouldn’t settle with her and hand her over to me (having done most of the heavy lifting first) and when she did fall asleep, I’d get big smiles of,”Look how good you’ve gotten at this.” God bless that woman. She is my hero. No matter what your relationship is with your mother, make it work. Fix it; shine it. You’re going to need her (or the closest equivalent thereof) if you plan to do this baby thing.

The night before my mom left, I lay in bed crying. I could not imagine doing this without her.

She left and I had no choice but to cope. My husband and I lived in Dubai at the time and we had access to some household help. My in-laws came to visit. They were all great with the baby, but I still felt like something wasn’t right.

Was it normal to only feel fine when the baby wasn’t with me? It sounded wrong. It made me feel guilty. So I ignored these vague wonderings, grabbed a footing and hung on for dear life. All the while, I was feeling nothing for my child but mild curiosity. Cue more guilt.

Then the rug was pulled out from under my feet when we moved to Toronto. That in itself is a task of mighty proportions, but add in a sick, cranky baby and it was almost unbearable.

Symptoms got worse with the baby. Unknown to us, she had a dairy allergy, one that took the doctors (two different competent ones on two different continents) 11 months to figure out. Allergies often have associated pain. And when they are too young to tell you, they cry, and gripe and cling. In our case, Murphyskid did all of those. For nearly the whole first year of her life, when she was awake, she sat on the back of the couch, behind me, hanging on to my hair. She only slept with me beside her, holding my hair. I’d stay still and not breathe, in case I woke her and we had to do it all again.

Personal space was gone. I felt claustrophobic and angry all the time. Completely out of control. And guilty. I felt so guilty.

I fantasized about ending something. “We’ll put her up for adoption,” I said. “Lots of people want babies. She’s young enough that she can forget us.” Or we could move to someplace where we have a bit more help. Or, at worst, I thought I could just kill myself.

My husband, M, listened quietly, helplessly, desperately trying to help take the operational burden off me, so I could breathe on my own. That helped a bit, but still it was so much easier for me to just sit there and feel sorry for myself. So I did. And I was passive aggressive about it. Even malicious. I hugged too hard. Pushed too far. Yelled too loud. Cried too often. Maybe if I did that enough she’d stop wanting to be so close? Maybe then I’d have more space and that would make me happy?

That’s when M and my cousin suggested that I look into the resources available for mommy depression. “You cant be the only one,” he said.

I dragged myself to our family doctor, and I say “dragged” because it was such an effort. Shower, get out of pyjamas, and go out? That’s got to be more than I can take. Why cant I just stay here and sleep? I did a lot of that at the time…sleep. And feel guilty. My typical day involved: Wake, ineffectually cope, feel guilty, sleep, overeat, cry, cope, sleep, feel guilty, feel guilty… you get my drift.

The physician was great. He was matter of fact, and empathetic. He suggested self help as the first line of attack, primarily because we didn’t have insurance to cover rounds of psychotherapy, and secondly because he is a fan of cognitive therapy. In normal speak that means being aware of what you’re thinking, feeling and doing; trying to establish patterns that will help you find the sticky areas, which hopefully you can work on fixing by being less negative. It’s heavily reliant on your action and that’s exactly what I needed. Control. Not in a bad way, but in a, “I need to be responsible for stopping my life from spinning out of control” way.

It was an investment of time. I had to read a book he recommended. I had to fill out exercise sheets with how I was feeling, when and what triggered it. I had to quantify emotions. What a load of crap, I thought. How can this possibly help? I hated my life, I hated my child; how could the way I felt at 7:30 am this morning possibly help me figure this out?

But then I surprised myself. I found those patterns. M helped me distance myself from some of the situations that aggravated my anger and helplessness. Even today he does more bedtimes than me because that was one of the things that undid me. My claustrophobia would come out to play when I was trapped in a dark room with her climbing all over me because she didn’t want to sleep.

Soon I needed less and less logging. My mind found clarity. We paid to take Murphyskid to a naturopathic doctor for holistic help. The dairy allergy was found. A switch to soy and three days later she was a new person. The wasted time and effort of it all could’ve driven me on a downward spiral, but instead I felt relieved. Like a mom would. It was a sign of wellness.

The doctor also put me on B vitamins, which were responsible for the functioning of the central nervous system. She told me carve out a portion of the day for myself. Have a few drinks with a friend once a week. Exercise.

I can’t say I did all of those things. But I did some. And it helped. Oh, how it helped!

Yes there is a happy ending to my story. I am now 3.5 years into my relationship with a walking, talking, feeling, intelligent little person whom I love from the bottom of my being. We could’ve got there a lot quicker if I had had the right expectation. If that default screen saver image of what motherhood should look like hadn’t been planted in there to mess with my head.

I am respectful of the mind now. It’s not all about thinking, it about feeling. It’s about making deeper, more meaningful connections. It’s about letting myself love, both myself and those around me. It’s about learning coping mechanisms for when life becomes overwhelming. It’s about talking to people. And most important of all, it’s about taking it one day at a time.

Susan Diaz is a writer and independent communicator. She lives in the mad bustle of downtown Toronto with her husband and challenging 3 year old who drives her to blog most days! In her blog Carrots and Peace, she offers a humorous perspective on the things close to her heart – food, no holds barred parenting and musings on just about anything else in-between. She’s on twitter @susandiaztweets.

Friends for the Ride

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‘‘When you have guests in your car, they become family!’’- an Indian taxi driver in London, Ont.

Taxi drivers are intriguing human beings. They sometimes have complex life stories, whether they became taxi drivers after fleeing a war-torn country or did so because they dropped out of school. Most of the time, they are very good at reading people. It is not surprising considering that what they do day in and day out is picking people up and talking (or listening) to them.

My fascination with taxi drivers began in childhood. I grew up in Montreal, and with a mother that didn’t drive and a father who didn’t have a car, we took taxis between and to places from time to time. My parents also used to put me in taxis when it was time to ship me back to the other parent with all of my stuff.

For the month of January, I was lucky to have the opportunity to intern at CBC in my hometown. With that came the privilege of getting taxi coupons to go between places for reporting or other journalistic purposes. Usually, the drive was not very long- CBC is downtown, so most of the city is a short cab drive away.

That was until I was sent to St. Leonard to record streeters for a radio show. Streeters are when a journalist ask people for their opinion on any given topic. I had to ask people in the area what they thought about the fact that legendary hockey goaltender Martin Brodeur was retiring. I was going to that specific location because Brodeur is from St. Leonard and has an arena named after him there.

St. Leonard is a borough of Montreal that used to be its own city. It is a predominantly Italian borough, but that is quickly changing. It is situated in the North-East corner of the island of Montreal and is hard to get to by public transit (no metro goes there). That being said, I knew that getting there (and back) was going to be the longest part of my mission.

I called the cab inside of the CBC building and stepped into the sunshine. My taxi was already waiting for me. I got in and gave the driver the address. Of course, he didn’t know where it was. Thank God they have GPS these days.
My Bengali driver spoke in broken French to me. We talked a lot about what we did, what we thought and banalities about Montreal or the January weather. It was a long ride, so much that it was the maximum allowed for a taxi coupon (35$). As I was paying, he wanted to tell me something. But he couldn’t find the words in French.

-I’ll just tell you in English, OK?
-OK.
-Keep doing what you’re doing. You are a great person. Keep working hard, and you will be famous one day.
-Thank you so much!

This small Bengali man had seen a glimpse of my personality during the taxi ride and we shared a positive connection. His kind words gave me the courage to embark on my real mission: asking people for their opinion.

I went to the arena and found awesome hockey moms (who also happen to be figure skating moms looking at their daughters ice-skating through the window). I approached them, and one of them said:

-I don’t want to be filmed!
-I don’t carry a camera with me. It’s for radio!

I always love to see how the public can misunderstand the media.

I interviewed a couple of people, but it was a tough chase. Most people who were hanging around the arena were underage, so I couldn’t interview them. Many people didn’t know who Brodeur was, and some didn’t want to be bothered. I was so desperate that I went to the pharmacy to buy a snack and even asked people inside for their opinion. I even tried to interview the guy working there, and he said he would, but he didn’t speak English. Tough luck.

I called another cab to get out of the faraway borough, thinking that I had been saved by the hockey moms. As I was stepping outside, I ran into two Italian gentlemen carrying boxes. Perfect. The grey-haired one spoke to me. He used to play hockey with Martin Brodeur’s brother. He was opinionated and memorable, and he made my streeters just that much better.

Content with my few good sound bites, I was waiting for the taxi. I was going in and out of the pharmacy’s hall for a good ten minutes and I was about to call back the cab company when I saw one. The driver pulled over awkwardly, almost getting in another car’s way.

I climbed inside.

-I called a taxi from your company like 10, 15 minutes ago!
-But it’s me!
-It’s you! Ah!
-What’s your name?
-I’m Lili
-I’m Lou.

Lou was a chubby black male in his late twenties. He was a true comic and a friendly type. He was already high-fiving me as I got into his car.

-I was in the neighborhood and asked people what they thought about the fact that Martin Brodeur was retiring. Surprisingly, not everybody knew who he was.
-They don’t know Martin Brodeur is! C’est chien! *

We drove on the outskirts of the city, down Pie-IX and West on Notre-Dame. It was around five, the golden hour in late January. It was calming to be driven around and to look at the no man’s land around the city while the sun was beaming its last rays. An orange colour was overtaking buildings and streets, softening the industrial landscape.

We covered a wide array of topics. We talked about facial tattoos and the people we’ve met with them on- what they say, why they have them. The conversation became very philosophical as we talked about the fact that modern-day lifestyle is not adapted to human needs.

As two anxious people, we talked about well-being and then showed each other breathing exercises. We almost got into an accident on René-Lévesque Blvd as I was showing him a breathing technique I learned in yoga class.

Lou was like the cool, older version of elementary school friends I had years ago. He was easy to get along with, and his sense of humour, openness and familiarity made me feel like I’ve known him for years. That, and the fact that we are both quintessential Montrealers. Lou dropped me right in front of the building’s entrance, giving me a last high-five.

Taxi drivers like these easily turn a grey day into a bright human experience. These two drivers made my interviewing adventure in St.Leonard so much better. It was like having friends for the ride.


*It loosely translates as ”it’s mean” but realistically it means ‘‘it’s dog!”

Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Associate Editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

Photo: Peter Lindbergh for Vogue UK, September 1992.

Doing Yoga With Dave Moffatt

Doing yoga with Dave Moffatt

“Thank you for coming to practice,” he says, adjusting the volume on his headset to make sure everybody can hear him. It hums as he fiddles with it, but I barely notice. I am too busy concentrating on the sound of his voice, the familiarity of it.

How is it possible life has come full circle like this? It perplexes and intrigues me how this version of my past could collide with my present in such a way. I imagine going back in time 15 years to tell a younger version of myself that this would be happening. I never would have believed it. I can barely believe it now.

But there he is: Dave Moffatt of the 1990s/early 2000s Canadian band the Moffatts, leading a free yoga class at Toronto’s Mountain Equipment Coop of all places. This is somebody I saw perform sold out concerts at some of the city’s biggest venues more than a decade ago. Friends of mine had scribbled his name in black Sharpie on neon posters from the dollar store, and although my favourite member (as it is customary to have a favourite member when you are a preteen-aged young woman) was the lead singer, I am still a little star struck being in the presence of somebody who helped define so much of my adolescence.

The Moffatts were my band. While my peers were drawn to choreographed pop stars like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, I was taken by how the quartet of brothers played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. I liked the topics the Moffatts explored: first, young love and innocence; and later, in their best and final album, more complex issues such as sex and depression, matters not often associated with a band best known for a bubbly ballad called “I Miss You Like Crazy.”

But more than that, the Moffatts were my first introduction to a community that made me feel like I was finally part of something. Music made up for all the holes in my real life, the void other girls filled with boys, parties and other things I knew little of. The Moffatts brought a richness to my life. They were a catalyst for new friendships, some of which became life long, and they were the foundation of the quintessential preteen fantasy that boys like that could write songs about girls like me. But eventually this faded. My heart turned to real boys, new bands, and a growing circle of friends, and I no longer needed the Moffatts the way I once did. Yet seeing Dave in the flesh brings some of these feelings and memories back, and they come with a sort of sadness, filling me with this sinking awareness of how things that once seemed necessary can end.

***

It is a Sunday morning in mid November and it is snowing ever so lightly outside. By this point I am starting to get used to waking up at sunrise to go to yoga classes on weekends. In the months leading up to Dave’s class, I had started trading in late nights at the bar for early mornings at the studio in an attempt to introduce more balance into my life. I arrive to class eager and early, so I find myself drinking coffee in Starbucks and staring out the window down Spadina to pass the time.

As we ready for class a little later, I can’t help but almost stare at Dave. He is smaller than I imagined he would be, tiny and bendy. I watch as he contorts his body into inhuman shapes. I have been practicing yoga for just over eight months and am amazed by what my own body has learned to do. I wonder if mine too will be able to shape shift like that once I have the experience he has.

The previous night, I had been out celebrating my friend Erin’s birthday when I saw a guy who reminded me of Dave Moffatt. I hadn’t really thought about the Moffatts in a long time and I wondered what Dave looked like now. I Googled it, and as I began typing his name, “Dave Moffatt Yoga” came up.

My heart skipped a beat. That couldn’t be the Dave Moffatt could it? I knew he lived in Toronto. A friend had spotted him twice in her neighbourhood, once at the post office and another time while walking down the street. As the page loaded, my doubts quickly disintegrated: the keyboardist of a band I was once admittedly obsessed with was indeed now teaching yoga classes in my city. As fluke would have it, he had tweeted about a class taking place the very next day. “Are you teaching?” I giddily tweeted at him. He responded shortly after with a yes, you should come. Erin and I agreed to part ways and reconvene for class in the morning.

It takes all of my energy to not burst into laughter at how surreal everything feels the next day. I cannot make eye contact with Erin for it would surely push me over the edge and at times I can barely even look at Dave himself. But I get into the class, as you always do with yoga, and for a while I forget it is Dave teaching. I become lost in the flow, no longer even in the room but in another realm entirely. Just like with music. It only comes back to me when he adjusts me, repositioning my body just slightly. As he walks away I can’t help but mouth to Erin, “He touched me.”

The feeling is enough to make me aware once again of the strange nature of the situation. As the session winds down and we rise from savasana, he begins to chant melodically. Singing and chanting are not part of my usual yoga practice, but it feels almost right in that moment. Of course he has to sing.

When class ends I have to talk to him. Something inside of me needs him to acknowledge that this is real.

“Hi Dave,” I say as I stagger up to him. “Thanks for the great class.”

“Sheena, right?” He responds, surprising me. “I recognize you from Twitter. It’s nice to meet you!”

“Nice to meet you too,” I say, as if I hadn’t before. No teenybopper can go through her teenybopper career without the compulsory experience of at least one crazed autograph signing.

I smile. Nothing about this makes sense and yet somehow everything does. The coincidence forces me to truly reflect on where my life is now and on how much has changed since I last saw the Moffatts perform on stage. I am not the same girl I once was.

Yoga is powerful like that. It grounds you and makes you come to terms with things in the most meaningful way. The practice comes with an awareness and acceptance of your self and the things around you in a manner that is both internal and infinite. Something feels different as I walk away from class. I am aware of each snowflake, in awe of how beautiful everything looks in its dusting of white, and conscious of just how calm the world can be on a sleepy Sunday morning. Everything is in its place, and I feel exactly where I need to be.

***

Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde. Image from Tribe Fitness.

Losing Monica

remembering monica

On November 18, 2013, we lost Monica. And I say lost, not as a colloquial term to avoid referencing death, but because that’s what it felt like—that one moment my brother’s beautiful, talented, kind-hearted girlfriend Monica was there, and the next she wasn’t. Gone. Lost. Never to be found.

I’ve been fortunate in my life, in that up to this point I had never really felt grief. Sure, I had experienced sadness—for lost friendships, missed opportunities, a difficult breakup—but I had never truly known what that all-encompassing, suffocating, painful grief felt like. I continue to be blessed with the love and support of all four of my grandparents, and my friends and family are in good health. It almost seemed like for the first 27 years of my life I enjoyed a sort of innocence—that I was blind to, and sheltered from, the harsh realities of loss.

In some ways, especially at the beginning, grief brings people together. Clichéd though it may sound, when you lose someone, you also lose a bit of yourself, and leaning on those around you helps plug the hole and stop the flood. I probably have never felt closer to my immediate family than in those first few days after losing Monica—at the very least, it had easily been a decade since we had all spent that much uninterrupted time together. My tears were their tears, and there was comfort in our shared sadness. And sometimes even through heartbreak, there are smiles—my younger siblings, Noah (now 6) and Leila (2), helped bring light to the darkest moments with their innocence, their laughter, and their love.

I was (and still am) touched by those friends and relatives who came to the funeral or visitation, who called or sent an email, or who reached out to tell stories of their own. I was grateful to my boyfriend for being the rock that I needed, and to my colleagues who picked up the slack, no questions asked. I also found a friend in Monica’s sister, who I had not met prior to her passing, and who I remain friends with to this day.

But when the dust settles, when life goes on for the people around you, grief is isolating and lonely. Everything seemed to be a constant reminder that I was no longer just Emily, that I was also now Sad. Returning to work after a week, finding my coffee mug in the exact place I left it and my computer still on, I felt alone and resented the normalcy that percolated around me. I found it hard to concentrate, and even harder to make small talk or sit in a meeting. When I heard people complaining about home renos or the weather or a subway delay, I wanted to scream, “Don’t you know what REAL problems and REAL sadness are?”

I was angry and fragile—like if someone pushed too hard, I would turn to dust and disappear. I hated to see people having fun. As much as I remembered and valued those who were there for me, I became fixated on those who weren’t. I was spiteful when people would ask politely how things were going and then shift uncomfortably in their seats if I told them the truth, or shared too much for too long, or—heaven forbid—cried. I know now, and probably deep down knew at the time, that this was unfair, but in my weaker moments it didn’t matter. To me, I had the right to be sad whenever I wanted, in whatever way I wanted, and that it was selfish and mundane to expect to talk about work or Christmas shopping when I had just lost Monica.

There were times when I too felt selfish, and guilty. Monica was a beloved member of my family, but I had only known her three years and she wasn’t someone I saw every day. Compared to my brother Jacob, or to Monica’s sister, parents and lifelong friends, I had hardly known her at all. I often asked myself if I even had the right to be as sad as I was, if perhaps in my grief I had claimed something that wasn’t mine to take. I had, after all, gone back to the office after just a week. I moved in with my boyfriend, had dinner with friends, even ran my first half marathon. On the outside I had resumed my life, even if in my heart I still felt Sad, Sad, Sad.

In time, I realized that to survive, I had to be gentle with others, and with myself. It was ok to cry, to wonder why, to miss Monica, but I also had to know that I couldn’t expect others to be sad alongside me all the time. I reminded myself that there’s no shame in accepting that things weren’t ok, but that running or working or having fun didn’t diminish her memory and didn’t mean I cared any less. Slowly I’ve also started to remember Monica, not just grieve her. She was a knitter, and I’d always wanted to learn, so I took a few classes—putting it mildly, knitting is not for me, but it helped me reconnect with the notion of Monica as a real person, not just someone we had lost.

It’s been a year now, and after losing Monica, I’m now on the journey of finding Emily. I have learned that grief can be erratic. It is confusing and completely non-linear, but it is mine and it is part of me, whether I’m alone or not, through the days that feel normal and those that don’t. I know that not one day has gone by where I haven’t thought about her, or missed her, and I know too that time may not, ultimately, heal every single wound. But, I’ve also learned that though there is so much pain in loss, there is beauty and even laughter in remembering—whether it’s something kind she did, a joke she made, a story she told, or with the scarf I’m (unsuccessfully) trying to knit.

This article is dedicated to the beautiful Monica Post (August 31, 1992-November 18, 2013), and to my courageous brother, Jacob Abrahams. I love you both.