Traditions build connections

It is through our traditions that we build and strengthen connections with loved ones. Holidays (and other milestone dates) can be equally as joyful as they are sorrowful. It can seem easier to try to avoid these dates, but they come and go whether we choose to engage with them or not. The thing is, choosing to connect with the event/date/day can be comforting and help us move beyond the pain, if we let it.

Building traditions strengthens our connections

That’s one of the best things about traditions, if we build them with our loved ones and connect with those rituals, we will always have those traditions to draw from in times of need. That isn’t to say that there is never pain associated with the memories, but the pain will give way to the love, joy and the connection we share(d) with others when we continue to carry out those customs.

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
― Gustav Mahler

Whether it be, birthday cakes with coins baked into them; stockings filled by Santa, left at the foot of the children’s beds and opened on Christmas morning; New Year’s Eve spent with family, playing board games and listening to the latest music gifted to us; or birthday meals of the honored guest’s favourite foods, shared with family and friends… it can be easy to focus on the loss of loved ones, or the days gone by, and become overcome by the grief associated with that loss. Sometimes that is exactly what our hearts need. For a time.

Whether it comes after the sorrow, or with joy, these rituals can also be the best way to remember and celebrate lost loved ones, or times of the past (indeed, even another lifetime). They can also be a great way to connect our present to our past and to our future.

Traditions connect generations

When my girls were young, we continued traditions that had been a part of my childhood, and my parents’ childhoods. We also started new traditions that belonged to us alone, especially after their father and I split up and we began a tradition of shared, yet divided, time together. I wanted them to feel as loved as ever, and to know that life goes on, even in a new form. But I also wanted to create memories that would be connected to nothing that caused any of us pain. We built new traditions of our own, while also honoring some long-lived customs of our families’. We found a balance that meant our holidays always felt special. And as they’ve grown and moved into the beginning of their adult lives, they take many of those traditions with them, and will start some new ones of their own.

Mindfully carrying out traditions

Some days I find myself engrossed in vivid memories of my mom, brother & sister rushing with me to see what was under the Christmas tree, as my dad observed from within – camera at the ready, capturing those looks of pure delight on our faces. At other times, I carry out the motions without a conscious thought about why they are so special to me.

I used to feel guilty about the times that I wasn’t feeling up to or even conscious of not taking the time to honor and cherish the past. But I’ve come to realize that not only is it part of the process of life to move on and make new memories, it is also how our psyche survives – and thrives. Just as allowing those memories to flood our minds and hearts when they come can be.

Whether it’s taking time to remember the loved ones who made cherished ornaments for the tree as we decorate for the season, or those who gave us gifts or baked goods, by making some of those very recipes to share with those of us who carry on… traditions bring stronger connections to those around us, those before us, and to those yet to come, by sharing in them right now.


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Family traditions

What family traditions do you have and share?

There was a time when one of our family traditions was that I wrote a lengthy newsy letter to include in Christmas cards that I mailed. I’m not sure when or why I stopped the practise. It wasn’t just that I stopped mailing cards. For a while I sent my annual family newsletter via email.

Holiday cards

My mom used to do so as well only she called hers “Holiday cards”. They never made it in the mail in time for Christmas.

We’d run through the past year chronicling the highlights. We’d share the highlghts of each family members’ adventures and misadventures.

This year in an effort to connect better with loved ones I decided to revive one of the family traditions. Only I chose to go back even further to the days when we hand-wrote most of our correspondence. Rather than send the same family newsletter to each recipient, we wrote a personal note to each.

Snail mail

I wanted to include a short hand-written note with each card. After about 4 cards I had to mail them off as is, in order for the rest to arrive on time.

If I were to revive the whole tradition I’d write a newsletter about our bi-annual family New Year’s Eve party (kid-focused); my oldest’s learning to drive and her new-to-her car; my youngest’s move to the much bigger English high school, but remaining in French (immersion instead of francophone); how the girls continue to perform: signing in music productions; and their busy schedules with dance and part-time jobs; they’ve added tutoring to the repertoire this year. And I’d share how lucky we’ve been to have a new member of our family since summer of last year; and how his family includes us all and makes us feel like part of their family.

For the first time in years I planned a vacation (without kids) and had a great travel companion to come with me. My youngest did some of her own traveling this summer, flying unaccompanied for the first time and spent two weeks away from home.

It’s really been a pretty fantastic year!

What family traditions mean the most to you?


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What would mom say? And a small #12er update

I thought about mom so much today. And yet, I felt I had very little time to think of her at all.

I screwed up my baking and knew mom would have a good laugh with me about it. Reminding me that I usually prove to her that I did not get my baking skills from her. That it was likely just a hiccup in an otherwise wonderful talent.

There is so much happening that I wish I could talk with her about, from challenges with family, to my plans to get back into a good state of health. I’d love to share all the little details of the business I am considering, to hear her thoughts of what I could do to make it my own.

I want her to walk through the door with her exaggerated exclamations at all of the progress we’ve made in settling into our new home. She’d ask after my 12in12 challenge, and how my quest for greater joy in the big picture of life is going. She’d offer me encouragement at my set-backs and bad pain days, and she’d share with me how she feels/felt the same way sometimes. Mom would find the little celebrations, like how I’ve managed to walk everyday (yippee, today is day 25!), and she’d wonder at how fortunate it is that we bought that treadmill.

Mom would remind me, as if I might have forgotten, of what a good man I have found in Ian. How she knows he only wishes for my happiness, and that I only have to ask and he’ll do everything in his power for me. She’d point out all of the things she’s noticed about how he’s taking care of me, of us, of our family. She’d share again her happiness at our marriage and assure me that she was there with me cheering us on.

She just couldn’t hold on any longer.

She’d be saddened at how some things have unfolded since her passing. But she’d assure me that one can only do so much, and that I have to take care of myself, so that I can take care of those precious not-so-little-anymore girlies. She’d remind me that she’s here in all the wonder of life around us. She’s watching over and keeping an eye on dad out there all by himself.

Mom would ask after the books I am reading, and whether I’m still enjoying the book club. She’d ask after my friends. She’d tell me how much she’s enjoyed my photo projects and the annual family photo calendar I created and gave them again. Mom would have so much to say and ask of me, while as always sharing very little about herself.

The one thing she’d tell me of herself is how much she’s aware of my heartache and that she wishes she could take it away for me. She’d tell me that she remembers how hard it was when she too lost her mom far too young. When she’d had to comfort her children who’d lost their Nanny too soon, and look out for her dad on behalf of everyone, including her mom. She’d want me to be comforted in knowing that she eventually grew to accept her loss, and that I too would come to live on in her absence – finding joy in all of the little things and even more in all of the big things.

Mom would remind me that she’ll be here with me/us in every new dawn.

And for that, I thank you, mom.

DO right now. That which is most important.

Have you ever thought about what you want from life? Have you ever REALLY thought about it?

What is MOST important to you. If you had to make sacrifices in your life dreams, what could you absolutely NOT miss?

Since my loved one was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I’ve found that my priorities have become all the more clear to me. What have I identified as being the MOST important? Family.

I’ll bet if you took a real hard look at your own, you’d say the same.

Why is that even when we KNOW our greatest priorities, we rarely treat them as such?

How many of us are guilty of letting life get in the way?

Remember that old saying? “Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?… When it comes to relationships of any value to you, it’s more like: “never put off until tomorrow what you value today…”

I’ve been completing some projects that are really important, but just hadn’t gotten done. Have been making some decisions that were being put off and most importantly, have been putting the most important people and activities to the top of my priority list. It is so unfortunate that it takes the circumstances of a loved ones’ sudden terminal illness to wake up. Don’t let that be you.

Do today, right now, what is important. Don’t put off the things that you most value in life.

Tell your loved ones how much you care about them. Give hugs. Talk about the important stuff. Most of all make the time to have no regrets.

Drop me a note in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter @ceilidhontherun, email me at ceilidho at ceilidhontherun dot com, or use my contact form!

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Come Together

When crises hit, families tend to come together like never before. While we go through the turmoil of the declining health of our loved one, we try to find the positive things to grab onto. I find the simple coming together of our family to be one of those, as I am sure do all of my family.

Helping one another to cope, emotionally and physically, we all are looking out for one another.

Regardless of the depth of the challenges you have faced, you must have experienced something like this to some degree. You come to realize just how many people’s lives you touch, and who you can really count on. Your family sometimes expands to include non-blood relations, but friends who care as deeply, possibly sometimes even more so.

We are so fortunate to have a family who has overcome great obstacles and can pull together without hesitation. It also brings us such relief to know that the community immediately surrounding my family geographically can and will step in when we are unable. Yet, we also know that the ones who can provide the greatest comfort are without doubt none other than ourselves.

I have learned through previous situations of crisis that I must be proactive and plan how I can deal with these challenges with the least long term impact on my own health. Ultimately, my health effecting my ability to function and care for my family on a day to day basis. It becomes necessary to look at the demands and determine which ones cannot or will not be lessened, whether or not it be by choice. Where there is room, changes must be made, including making self care an even greater priority.

This certainly is easier when a practise of self care is already integral to your daily routine.

What does this look like for you?

For me, I have had to choose what commitments I need to cut back on, then make the time to include activities that have been falling to the wayside. I am including Moksha Yoga in my regular weekly practise, starting every 3-4 days, and will gradually increase as my body adjusts (fibromyalgia changes things from what I once would have done). In between, I will include other fitness programs that are also low intensity (i.e. going to check out Goodlife‘s Bodyflow class in the next two days), walking, and hopefully swimming and cycling.

I also need an emotional outlet: this blog, my scrapbooks, my photography, and other creative outlets will hopefully allow my mind a better flow of functioning.

So far, I feel like I am managing alright. My pain is worse, but that’s to be expected. Hopefully a regular routine of self care will start to bring about some improvements, or at the very least prevent further escalation.

I find it helpful to share with others when making life changes. Are you on a similar path to find balance?

Drop me a note in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter @ceilidhontherun, email me at ceilidho at ceilidhontherun dot com, or use my contact form!

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Risk Vs. Action

Sometimes, no matter how hard you work to avoid a certain outcome, it just happens anyway.

I’ve been on this journey for what seems like an eternity, and yet here I find myself again. Ultimately I believe the answer is right there in front of me, but it’s a big risk, and there always seem to be life circumstances that make the risk too high. It’s time to find a way to reduce the risk, or at least the potential impact. This makes the solution even more challenging, more time sensitive, and still more compelling.

If only I were the only one who would be effected, it would be much less complex. Perhaps that’s the place to start, forget mitigating the risk to myself – a successful result will make it worthwhile. How do I mitigate the risk to my family though?

Running for a cause with one of my most precious

It’s amazing what one can bring themselves to do when it involves a cause one believes in passionately. I have run for Team Diabetes twice before. My involvement was prompted by my sister’s late-in-life (relatively speaking) Type 1 diagnosis. She was 30, her sugars 31. Within two months she began having seizures. It’s been a very difficult battle, with many, many new health complications. All of which interact and effect the other. I signed on with Team D when I was at a complete loss to support her while living on the opposite side of this vast country.

Last year my ten-year-old told me upon finishing that she wanted to run for Team D herself next time. Next time, was this past weekend. Much of the fundraising I was able to do simply by setting up our donation pages and posting frequent details about the event, motivation of our participation, and how to pledge. Everyone expressed their support for her extraordinary drive. Breanna took her pledge sheet door-to-door all by herself and collected donations from the neighbors that she knows. I was proud of her for being willing to step outside her comfort zone and do that all by herself.

Then we were invited to share our story and our “why”, the story behind our support for the cause. We spoke briefly at the pre-race pasta dinner, and as scared as B was, she overcame her nerves and shared a few details about four people she knows who have their own battles with the disease, most importantly her auntie. I probably rambled for too long. I did not prepare notes as it felt like it would be more impressionable if it came directly from the heart. I had to compose myself a few times, but I managed to keep it together and share some of the biggest challenges Dana faces, as well as my desire for people to know how much impact Diabetes can have on a life. So many people have no idea what it can look like.

This was a really great lead up to the race and helped both of us to feel more connected to the larger movement.

(Click for Part 2)

What our family has learned from a loved one’s deployment. (2004)

As I was preparing lunch one day, just weeks after daddy’s homecoming, I heard my daughter from the other room.  She had been watching Franklin on CBC Kids, and I hadn’t noticed it was over.  The news was on when I heard her saying “My daddy was in Haiti!”  I walked in the room to see her intently staring at the TV where the entire city of Gonaive was mud.  I asked her if she knew why Haiti was on TV, and told her that the people there have now lost their homes.

I was amazed that our three-year-old made the connection between our family and what she’s seeing on TV happening across the world.  When her daddy came home, after I told him about her reaction, he asked her if she saw Haiti on TV.  She went on to regurgitate the story of how “the people lived in the houses and then the water came, and then their houses blowed down into the water…”  She said that he should go there and make them new homes, and that while he was back in Haiti she would have jellybeans.

Now you may be asking yourself – Jellybeans?  How does a three-year-old’s connection to such worldly things lead to jellybeans?  After my husband had left on tour six months earlier, I was still unsure of how to help her ‘get’ the concept of time, and how long daddy would be gone.  I didn’t want to use paper chain links, and tear one off each day, because the original deployment was for 90 days, and I felt certain it would be extended as long as a six month tour.  How would I suddenly add double the chain links, if she wasn’t getting the whole time thing?  It was suggested to me that I use a jar of jellybeans, one per day.  I thought it might be easier to sneak extras in if necessary.  So daddy in Haiti equals a jar of jellybeans…

How many preschoolers have enough world knowledge to understand or even consider what is happening so far away?  My daughter has not only gained knowledge she likely wouldn’t have had about the world, but one day I hope it will extend to a humanitarian concern for things globally.  I have realized that my daughter still doesn’t grasp all of what is happening in this world today, she still needs concrete connections.  Five months after the disastrous tropical storm struck a country our soldiers had just left, after months of trying to assist an already ravaged nation back on its feet, my daughter still talks about when daddy goes back to Haiti to build those people new homes…  She doesn’t understand that there are other places in this world that other children’s mommies and daddies are assisting while their families at home are missing them.  Perhaps one day it will hit home with her, when daddy leaves for another lengthy absence on another tour to some place else in the world.  Or perhaps his absence won’t occur again until she’s already figured it out by grasping more abstract concepts.

I could write about many things that others cannot truly comprehend the depth of, without experiencing them. But I hope that most, whether connected to the military or not, at least consider the sacrifices being made everyday by children who did not choose to see their parents go off to war-torn countries and play their small part in making peace in this world.  It is obvious that a parent’s absence for large blocks of time have huge consequences on a child’s life.  We will never now how our daughters’ development in their formative years would have been different had daddy been here for every day of it.  Daddy will never get back those missed first steps that the infant he said goodbye to just months earlier took, only for him to return to a toddler racing after her sister to greet him.

What I do know, is how their lives have been impacted, and what opportunities for learning this  has brought them.  At a time when separation anxiety could rear its ugly head, our youngest daughter learned that even when she has difficulty remembering, daddy does come back – and her attachment to him only grew stronger upon his return.

I have always believed that “what doesn’t break us, makes us stronger”, and I have born witness to it in my own life.  We could have let this time apart come between us, but we’ve learned from our mistakes, and not only did “absence make the heart grow fonder”, but my husband and I also found a way to grow closer to one another each day that passed.  We are so fortunate to be a part of today’s’ Canadian military.  Gone are the days of years at a time, away at war, with little to no contact.  I cannot imagine how families coped with letting one another back into their lives after so much time and so many events had taken place separate from one another.  Canada is not at war, but the risks of making peace in war-torn parts of this world are still great.  I am thankful for the lines of communication and support made available to military members and their families today.  And I am proud that my children can grow up with a unique understanding of how the rest of this world needs us, Canadians.