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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Connecting with grief after loss

When mom died, I spent the first several months helping dad take care of things, taking care of my girls, and otherwise going through the motions. I did not spend time or energy connecting with my grief. As we approached a year after her death, I found myself with an opportunity to spend some time alone. I knew that I hadn’t really allowed myself to process my loss. I also knew that I needed to experience and live through my grief if I wanted to live a life being present in the moment, feeling all the feelings.

Live through the grief

Since losing mom, I’ve had more than one occasion to offer solace to a friend. The most important thing I could offer, next to acknowledging their hurt, is to allow yourself to live through the grief. It cannot be avoided, but by allowing yourself to connect with your grief and experience the pain you can move through it.

One thing I know is that we cannot numb feelings selectively. If we numb the tough feelings, we also numb the joyful ones. So, if we want to have the full experience of life, and of joy specifically, then we must allow ourselves to experience the full extent of the heartache too.

Be intentional

So, on this date back in 2012, I sat myself down on the floor of my living room, with family photo albums from my childhood, and my girls’. And I intentionally relived the memories captured in those photos.

As I allowed the memories of family gatherings like movie nights at the corporal’s mess at Canadian Forces Station – Inuvik; Christmases with my Grampy (mom’s dad); family reunions at our home in Arcadia – like when all of the immediate McCourt Family came together for a couple of weeks one summer; and watching from the sidelines as my little brother performed in his Christmas concerts… I found myself sobbing. I sobbed until my head physically pained me. I cried for the loss of future memories with mom. I cried with gratitude for the life we had together. I cried for my children who would never know the joy of sharing their next milestones with their Nanny.

It was a purge of sorts. Not that it took the memories away, but it took away a cloud that had obscured them from me as I had been blindly walking through the days, weeks and months following mom’s death.

The pain of loss doesn’t ever go away entirely, and sometimes revisits us suddenly. But as time passes the pain becomes less intense. The human experience means that everyone one of us will experience loss of a loved one, if we are fortunate to live long enough.

Preserve their stories

Anderson Cooper has a new podcast, “All There Is”, about grief and loss. Interestingly, I’ve been thinking a lot about many of the same things he talks about. In his first episode he speaks of the importance of sharing the stories of his family with his children, so that the stories will live on. By sharing stories of our departed loved ones, we keep them alive within us. These stories shared with lost loves are also a part of us, and the only way to preserve them is to share them with those we care about and who care for us.

That’s a project I’ve been working on since before my children were even born. I have been gathering family tree research, photographs and other mementos. But the part that I’m still missing is recording a lot of the stories. Many of those stories have now been lost with my mother and grandparents’ passing. I’m trying to document some of them now.

There is no winning against grief

In the second episode of “All There Is”, Anderson Cooper speaks with late night talk show host Stephen Colbert. One of the most profound things Colbert says is that “…grief is a doorway … to another you.” He is so right. It is impossible to experience grief and not be changed by it.

One thing that those of us who have lost loved ones all eventually learn is that there is no holding grief off. There is only pausing it, until it rears its head again. And it will continue to do so, until we live through the experience of it. Colbert said “…we think we can win against grief. We think we can fix it. But you can’t. You can only experience it. And to fully experience it you have to accept that it’s real. The loss is real.” … “Grief is not a bad thing. Grief is a reaction to a bad thing. Grief itself is a natural process that has to be experienced.”

Accept support

If you have experienced a loss and not allowed yourself the grace of connecting with grief, be gentle with yourself. But don’t let yourself off the hook, it will only sneak up on you when you least expect it. Rather, allow yourself the space and accept support when it is offered, by talking about your loss with people who care. Talking is a form of acceptance and will help you to come out on the other side of grief. As Colbert says, you will arrive at a place where you can enjoy the beauty of life and the world, in spite of its grief.

One of the most profound ways that we can live an authentically connected life, is to have the courage to suffer. And with suffering, eventually comes healing and growth.

Have you been trying to win against grief? Has some offered help that you can accept and talk through your grief with? Making the space to connect with your grief will help to connect with joy as well.


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Time passes…

No matter how much time passes, it doesn’t get any easier. The time between hurting gets bigger, but the hurt is still there, waiting to bubble to the surface. …not always for warned of the triggers, getting through most anniversaries without too much life interruption. But this particular time of year is just hard. As much as I’ve tried to make new traditions… change my associations with this time of the year… I just can’t seem to … stop… can’t stop that train from charging through.


From a time when the hurt was a little more fresh… raw…

Why *is* death such a hard thing to talk about?




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Missing my mom

It’s been two months. Two months since we buried our mom. I went to the cemetery twice today. First I went alone. I needed a few moments to just be there with mom. I brought some flowers and placed them in the vase/holder on Nanny’s plot next to her since mom’s marker is not in the ground yet. I went back later with my girlies.

Last night I dreamed of mom. It was a bizarre situation in that I was pregnant, then delivering my baby(ies). It turned out at their birth that I was having twins. Mom and dad were at the hospital in a family room with the girls, they stayed while we were still admitted and took turns coming to visit us in our room. Before anyone starts asking… there is no plan for Ian and I to have babies. Getting married doesn’t change the life we’ve been living for the last 4+ years. 😉

Mom was helping me with the twins when we got home, she’d alternate between the two girls taking one with her and allowing me time to spend one on one with my daughters. I felt completely comfortable leaving my newborns in mom’s capable hands. She was really the only one I did, aside from their father. Since waking from my dream I just keep asking myself what I will do when I come across those situations in life when mom is the only person I would ever have relied upon for support?

I miss my mom. My heart aches at her absence. Yet, I still find myself looking for distractions to keep myself from letting the hurting take over. I make new friends. I explore business opportunities. I plan mini-vacations. I read up on election candidates.

Perhaps this is it for me. I’ll keep missing her in spurts and not knowing when the heartache will grow to bursting before quickly subsiding again.

These past two days I have felt particularly unfocused. My mind is moving in a zillion directions and all I really want is for it to quiet and to sit with my mind uninterrupted.

I am hopeful that a get-away with a good friend and a complete break from anything that is part of my daily life and its stressors will help me to quiet my mind again. Perhaps then I can allow the pain to wash over me and pass through, rather than halting it abruptly shortly after it begins and forcing the waves to recede.

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.

12in12, Day 8. OR It hurts so … good?

This weekend was a real mixed bag, so to speak. Much like with the Nova Scotia weather and its frequent changes there were just so many different emotions flying around that I think my system has gone into overdrive or perhaps is actually beginning to force some sort of a shut down.

It went from a very positive explorative interview regarding a business opportunity, to highly emotionally charged confrontation, to worrying about loved ones, to successfully meeting challenge without prodding, to a sense of foreboding, to helplessness and loss, to feelings of unconditional love and support, to relaxation, to productivity, to progress, to physical pain and exhaustion, to … on and on, it seemed.

The highlights, the positive events that I wish to focus and report on, begin here.

Today begins week 2 of the 12in12 challenge. I have successfully met the daily challenge so far. On days 5 and 6 I had to get a little creative and fit my walks in around momstaxi services.

Day 7 I got a much needed break, after arriving at dad’s emotionally spent, and took his dog for a walk in the dark. We grabbed a flashlight and headed down to the wharf first where the water was calling me as it softly washed onto the beach. I was reluctant to move on after seeing that the Christmas tree always erected by Santa’s helpers at the end of the wharf had gone up again this year (after a couple of winters that mom and dad had spent away at Christmastime). I could feel mom’s presence right there with me telling me how fortunate they were to have such loving neighbors who remembered and continued the tradition again, for dad. And so a few tears flowed as I walked back up the path and continued along the road past my parents’ home until I could hear the ocean calmly lapping on the shore again as I was once again following the water’s edge. The fog wrapped a blanket around me, secure and cocooning as I needed, and I felt the serenity of the place my parents have made home for the last decade.

After returning to the house we had a nice spaghetti dinner with dad and my girlies, relaxed by the fire, tucked the girlies into bed, had a long chat, and then I had a soak in the hot tub. There is nothing like a tranquil soak on the deck overlooking the silent cove. The fog was so heavy I couldn’t see much of the water, but I knew it was there, absorbing all of my troubles for those moments.

I pictured mom sitting with me as she would have done chatting away filling every silent void with thoughts and expressions of her love of life and all it once offered her. Dad and I both retired to bed after watching the last end of a semi-final curling game. And I slept like I haven’t slept in many, many weeks.

Today, Day 8, youngest girly asked if we could go for a walk. I suggested she invite Grampy, and that maybe we all could go. After lunch we did just that. We carried out some long-held traditions the girlies had with their Nanny and Grampy. It gave them peace to know these things did not have to stop happening even though Nanny was no longer with us to share them. In fact, she was very much with us as her granddaughters chose treasures from their beachcombing that remind them of Nanny and will be used in creations to aid in that for much time to come.

After returning home I felt agitated and couldn’t shake the hurting. As a distraction while the girls were still up and I needed to hold it together, I worked on some new challenges to assist with my 12in12 reading commitment for later in the year. I took the #50bookpledge and signed up for the To Be Read 2012 Challenge.

Once the girlies were tucked into bed, the sadness just rolled over me and I let myself just be – however I needed to be – for a few minutes. I sought out a little comforting and then sat down to write this post.

Tomorrow is another day. Day 9 of the first month of #12in12, just 21 more to go!


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Finding our new normal

The grieving process has so many aspects to it. We grieve the loss of our loved one. We grieve the loss of our future as we envisioned it. We grieve the loss of our daily normal life as we knew it.

For those of us directly effected by that normal daily life it can be the most challenging, emotional, exhausting part of grief.

When my ex-husband and I split up 6 years ago this was most definitely true for me and our girlies.

When we lost my 59 year old grandmother suddenly to liver disease 25 years ago, this was certainly true for my grandfather.

Since losing my 59 year old mother after a short illness with cancer 4 weeks ago, this is absolutely true for my father.

Nothing prepares us for the grief or loss in such circumstances. It is raw. It is ever present. It comes in waves. And it overcomes us.

There are no tried and true answers. There is no remedy for grief. Time is the ultimate healer. Yet, I do try to assist this process along.

Holidays and special occasions bring with them added intensity to feelings. Some of our traditions and rituals bring great comfort with the wash of happy memories that come with them. Others bring an unanticipated painful flood of raw grief.

It’s not possible to stop the hurting, nor is it healthy to try to do so. However, I have found that creating new memories and traditions that will be associated with them have brought comfort. The things that I have found most challenging to face, I tried to change in some way. Letting someone new take it on, or doing it in a new way, and creating a joyful association with the new rituals that will continue with our new normal.

The firsts are always the toughest. This will be our first Christmas without my mom. We will all be gathered in my home, which became the new tradition after my girlies and I moved back to Nova Scotia. Every Christmas that I have them home with me, we host and the girls get to sleep in their own beds before waking up to the spoils of Santa’s mid-night visit. Christmases without my children are very different, and intentionally so.

This year I will prepare mom’s Christmas brunch on the eve. We’ve asked my grandfather to provide a soup for Christmas Eve that he hasn’t cooked for us since he remarried. Mom won’t be here to overfill the stockings with her little extras that could fill a stocking each on their own. I decided to take care of everyone’s stockings myself rather than try to recruit help when no one is in the spirit. And this year my sister, dad & I will prepare the feast without mom’s singing to keep us inspired.

There are gifts under the tree from mom. These will be emotional and special in her all-to-obvious absence. It’s also far too reminiscent of a Christmas long ago, when the three of us kids unwrapped some very special knits that mom’s mom had completed, right down to the wrappings before she became ill herself.

Yet, it will be the first Christmas in six years that dad will have all of his children under the same roof as he. The first ever that all of his children and grandchildren will be. It will be the first that we are all together with my grandfather (mom’s dad) and wife, and my uncle (mom’s brother), just like the many Christmases after we lost Nanny.

Family drawing together to guide one another through a difficult and bittersweet time. Drawing upon the children for the joyful spirit that most of us aren’t naturally inclined to this year, we’ll make it so for the girlies.