Reflections on Christmas 2016

I was hesitant to fully engage in this holiday season. There were noticeable absences in our recent family photos. I forced myself to decorate. I forgot to download my Christmas music. I let Costco do my baking. The festivities that I had always embraced so naturally didn’t feel the same as they had before.

I continued putting one foot in front of the other. Faking it until I could make it. I knew that Richard noticed. Of course he did. He was doing the same.

And then it snuck up on us. In small increments at first. It began with friends and neighbours. Some came to call. Others invited us out. Understanding, empathy, and connection are deeply seeded needs of the human experience.

It then continued with our children. Spending time with our sons and their wives/partners brings pure contentment to my soul. Adding in grandchildren is a joy that I can never adequately describe. Reunited, we told familiar stories. We laughed at tales that had been retold a hundred times. We slipped into the comfort of not having to pretend. We luxuriated in the warmth of family. Our shared experiences continued to bind us more tightly than ever.

We hung our stockings near the fire. This year we hung not only our current ones…but also the stockings of loved ones who are no longer here.

During one family gathering, Richard and I looked at each other, simultaneously overcome by emotion. We both deeply felt the presence of those who could not be seen. The feeling was unmistakable. We now recognize that day as a turning point toward healing the pieces that have been taken from our hearts.

It is said that at the end of our lives it is not our careers, our money, or our possessions that we reach for. Instead, it is the gift of family that we yearn for and hold most dear. That gift, Richard and I have received in abundance. For this, we are most deeply grateful.

This post has been written in memory of our loved ones who have so immeasurably enhanced our lives. It is especially dedicated to our first granddaughter, Baylee Jade Kailuweit-Wageman who was born October 28, 2016, and sorrowfully passed away two days later. Rest in peace beautiful Baylee. You have enriched our hearts profoundly, as only an angel could.

With Heartfelt Gratitude

“Grief is love with no place to go.” Helen Macdonald

Less than one month ago, my husband and I sat atop a cliff in Mt. San Jacinto, just outside of Palm Springs. Surrounded by friends, health, adventure and each other, we were acutely aware, and immensely grateful, that our lives were deeply blessed.

Days later, we sat amidst a devastating family tragedy. We watched helplessly as the hearts of our children, as well as our own, shattered irreversibly. Mere days after that, our beloved husky, Cody, sorrowfully passed away. The final images were so painful that I have done everything in my power to block them.

Our souls went dark. My husband and I sat alone in our island home, sapped of all energy.

On the evening of Cody’s death, I picked up a pen. Unconsciously, my raw emotion began to drain. I did not self-edit. I did not polish.

I showed that post to my husband. I watched him nod. I hesitantly pressed ‘publish.’ I put my computer away and tried to distract myself through restless sleep, and robotic activity.

Instantly the outpouring began. We simply hadn’t expected the enormity of this. Kind words, heartfelt empathy and an infinitude of signs of love and support began to bathe us. Phone calls, emails, messages, comments, notes and gifts at our doorstep swiftly appeared. Across miles and time, family and friends gathered around us, both face-to-face and virtually. The strength that we received from this incredible generosity was truly incomprehensible.

We know that our healing will take its time. We are deeply grateful to each and every one of you for reaching out to us with your words, thoughts and virtual hugs across the world. My husband and I can never adequately express just how much your compassion and thoughtfulness means to us. We bear witness that kindness truly does prevail.

Not Ready to Say Goodbye

His photos have been featured on numerous of my previous blog posts. His presence can be felt between the lines of most things that I have written. For so long, he has been intricately woven into my husband’s and my lives, and the lives of our family. Less than six weeks ago, when I could not possibly foresee the dark shadows heading our way, I became lost in nostalgia looking at his baby photos. That nostalgia inspired a post where I mentioned how much he has added to our lives. Countless adventures, endless stories, and unparalleled laughter topped the list. I quoted research on how he, and his kin, can “heal our pain, help us cope and improve our well-being.” Source: Bjerklie, David (Ed.). (July 2016). Animals & Your Health.

For my husband and me, he has long been our sage counselor, among other roles. He’s been there through so much and has provided calm when we have needed it the most. Last week, in Ties that Bind, I spoke around a devastating tragedy that recently took place in our family. I have not been able to give details publicly on social media in respect of the privacy of my loved ones. Just over a week has gone by since that painful loss, and we are now back at our home on Vancouver Island. Normally he would be snuggled up beside us easing our pain, but sorrowfully, he is not here.

Unexpectedly, barely a week before our family tragedy struck, our beloved Husky, Cody, became ill. We were at the vet’s instantly. Despite test after test, nothing was conclusive. We tried everything. The vets tried everything. But Cody became weaker. Something was malignantly growing in his lungs and just would not be stopped.

My husband and I have spent the past few days taking Cody to his favorite places, trying to feed him some of his favorite foods and desperately wanting to return the love that he has given to us so freely. When his lungs simply could not take any more, and I was saying goodbye, all that I could manage to say was ‘thank you,’ over and over again. I wanted him to know how immensely grateful I am for how deeply he has enriched our lives. I wanted to thank him for his unconditional love and for always being there. Selfishly I wanted to tell him that we still needed him, that our home would not be the same without him, that we weren’t ready to say goodbye and that now was not the right time. But thank you was all that came out.

Rest in peace beloved Cody. We love and miss you more than mere words can express.




Ties that Bind

There are things that I am afraid to put into writing for fear of making them too real.

For this week’s post, I had planned to write a lighthearted self-reflection on something or other. Then the past few days happened. Without going into specifics, these days have been tough beyond measure. All lightheartedness instantly evaporated. The importance of strong family relationships took over my field of vision and was reinforced more than ever.

I am part of a large extended family. The dynamics are sometimes messy, sometimes complicated and seldom quiet. Despite occasional squabbles, our family pack is a good place to be. Our bonds are strong.

In the past few days, these ties have been tested. Despite the size of our brood, every single individual has risen above their own pain to help one another. The cohesiveness of our fold has been commented upon by many.

In a previous post, I highlighted current research that has shown that nurturing and supportive family relationships can decrease stress levels. I looked specifically at expanding research that argues that family relationships can provide stimulation, purpose, a sense of connection and validation, especially when we are no longer in the workplace.

This past week, I was repeatedly struck by family members, at all stages of life, supporting each other. They each demonstrated incredible acts of selflessness, at the most difficult of times. I looked again at studies on families with this lens. The research was abundant.

Below is a small highlight of a smattering of takeaways that I discovered when barely scratching the surface of available sources.

Your Mom CAN Make It Better – In a 2010 study, conducted at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers found that children who spoke with their mothers following a stressful situation, showed increased levels of oxytocin (believed to decrease our stress response). Source. This phenomenon has caused some researchers to comment that “Mothers know without being instructed how to soothe a child.” Source I was fortunate to be with my own mother at the start of this terrible week. In my case, I totally agree with this research.

Being a Parent May Increase Your Life Expectancy –

A study of 21,276 couples from Denmark, revealed that parents (both mothers and fathers) were four times less likely to die early from accidents, cancer, or other specific diseases. Although these results contradict the findings of many earlier studies, this does seem like a nice reward for all of those sleepless nights! Source

Caring for Others Helps Us Take Better Care of Ourselves-
Various bodies of research now suggest that taking care of people that we love may help us to take better care of ourselves. Included in this research is evidence that our immune function and stress regulation is improved when we are around our family and close friends. Source As you may have already suspected, according to researchers, family and friends are very influential in terms of our lifestyle.Source In one study, “36 percent of people say their nutrition is affected by influence from their friends and family. And 46 percent of people in the survey said that their loved ones make a difference in their overall healthy lifestyles.” Source

Siblings Decrease Loneliness and Increase Happiness –
Although much of this research was conducted on sisters, studies have shown that having a sibling is good for your mental health, and can help people (especially preteens) feel less lonely/less self-conscious and happier. Having a sibling was also linked with greater family communication as well as more inclination to do good deeds. Source

Blood Just May Be Thicker Than Water –
New studies from the University of Toronto reveal that, for seniors, having close relationships with family members is more important than friendships, especially in terms of life expectancy. According to this study, retirees who were very close with family members had lower mortality rates than those who relied solely on close friendships. (11th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association). Source

The pain of this past week will remain in the hearts of my family forever. But the selfless acts of family members that we witnessed again and again will equally never fade. I am immensely proud and grateful to be part of such an incredible family pack.