All posts by futureaccess

Susan

Susan is part of our off-site transitional housing program. The way this program works is that the client pays the rent to the YW, and we pay the landlord. It’s a program that comes with the support of a worker, who is there to help the clients with setting and reaching their goals. Landlords on the other hand don’t have to worry about possibly not getting their rent payments etc., which is a win-win for everyone involved. Once clients complete the program, they have the option of taking over the lease.

Thank you for sharing your story with our donors and supporters, Susan!

When I entered this program, I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought would come from it, nor did I think I would gain anything substantial from being part of it. It was a means to an end; get out of my situation at the shelter, to have a real home that I could call my own. What truly helped, was being honest upon intake, about what I needed from the program, if possible. For myself, the biggest thing was accountability. I have a chronic illness, called narcolepsy. Because of this, keeping my place clean, and even sticking to self-imposed goals, were difficult tasks. The hardest part was getting into the habit of it all – setting weekly cleaning chores, making a visual list on a white board of short and long term goals, and using another white board for daily tasks that needed to be done. It took a few months, of course, but I slowly picked up the habits, and they just became routine.

This time last year, I was in a women’s shelter because of unforeseen circumstances, completely lost and hopeless.

This time last year, I was in a women’s shelter because of unforeseen circumstances, completely lost and hopeless. But now, I’m in the process of signing over a new lease with the landlord, on my own. I have an incredible apartment, lovely neighbors, a great location, and habits this program helped me create. Habits that have formed a healthier state of mind. I can see myself living here for years to come, which isn’t a place I saw myself a year ago. Coming into the program, I was dismissive about the help it could offer, but even so, I was quick to realize how wrong I had been; grateful I was wrong.

This program has given me life forming habits and mind sets; and a home.

For the first time in my life, I have my own place, and feel more than capable of leaving the program with the knowledge and habits I’ve learned, from being fortunate enough to have been part of it. Perhaps it’s just me, but there’s nothing more satisfying as an adult, than having your own place – and finally being able to look at paint swatches and aesthetic ideas, to make a place truly your own. This program has given me life forming habits and mind sets; and a home.

Rotary Club of Grimsby

They welcome you as you enter the Coldest Night of the Year West Niagara walk-a-thon.

They are the friendly faces you walk by during your 5 km walk in support of the most vulnerable in West Niagara.

They fully embrace the event and the cause.

The Rotary Club of Grimsby comes out to support the walk-a-thon every year, bringing their cheer! As a long-time supporter of our West Niagara Affordable Housing program, the Rotary Club of Grimsby has gone above and beyond to help support our initiatives. Whether it involves braving the cold and being route marshals during the event, or recognizing our charity as a recipient of their Fantasy of Trees, this club truly supports the work we do in the community and we are eternally grateful. Thank you to the amazing volunteers involved with the Rotary Club of Grimsby!

My life in shelter

My name is Jody, I am 33 years old, and I am far from perfect. I hate to admit this to you, but I don’t have to look you in the eye, so it’s ok: I currently live in the YW’s emergency shelter, along with my four-year old son. His name is Leo, and he is my everything. I am here for him. For him, I am doing everything I can to get us out of this mess. I am an alcoholic. I don’t want to blame it all on grief, it’s my own weakness that got me here, but when I lost my husband three years ago, I stopped functioning. It was a car accident that took him away from me. A moment in time. I had no idea how much he had held me together, until he was gone. I wanted to be strong for Leo, I really did. But the drinking was the only thing that made the pain go away. And I so much just needed it to go away.

The drinking was the beginning of the end. It lost me my job, my home, and now I have officially lost the support from everyone I know and love. Turns out, even the people with the biggest hearts will let you surf their couch and interrupt their lives for only so long. So here we are, in a shelter.

“Why are we leaving Aunt Dana’s house?”

“Where are we, mommy? What is this place?”

“Will we stay here forever?”

I wish he stopped asking questions. I wish I had better answers. The truth is, coming here has actually been amazing for him. Thanks to the Women’s Advocates and the other guests, I feel more supported and heard than I have in a long time. The woman next door has a daughter his age, and they play together with the toys that they have here. Everybody loves new toys, right! I am not sure for how long his little friend will be here but for now, it’s good for him to have some company, someone his age. The woman who works in the kitchen gave him a brand-new lunch pale, and the Women’s Advocate gave him a new backpack. He couldn’t wait to show those off at Kindergarten. It’s these little things that have given me hope. They make me feel like I have made the right decision for him by coming here. For myself, it has meant access to counseling, and the first few nights in a long time when I didn’t have to worry about where to sleep and what to eat. I know this is only the beginning, my Support Worker keeps telling me so. I know that Leo and I still have a long road ahead. But today, he is happy, and we are safe, and I have people around me who get it. People, who don’t judge me.

I want to thank you for caring about women like myself, for caring about my son. I hope that one day, when I am out of here and when I am well, I can give back to the YW in the way you do. It was such a hard decision for me to come here, but I am so glad I did. I don’t know where I would be today without the YW and without your help. Thank you.  – Jody, current guest at our Shelter

Daisy

Daisy’s journey began when she entered the Court Street Transitional Housing Program, after what she describes as a long walk of feeling alone and faced with many hardships. She felt completely supported from the day she moved into the YW’s supported housing. “I finally was where I needed to be,” explains Daisy. Having her Transitional Housing Worker just down the stairs from her to access when she needed support, was a relief and gave her a feeling she had not felt in a long time -that of safety.

Skills Development

While Daisy stayed with us at our Court Street building, she loved participating in our Skills Development workshops. At a time of her life when she thought of herself as someone who had lost all of her skills, it meant the world to be in a group that was all about celebrating your own strengths and beauty and all that you have overcome.

Moving on to Off-Site

Daisy successfully completed the Court Street Transitional Housing program, and then transitioned into the Off-Site Transitional Housing Program. During her time in the Off-Site program, she felt empowered by her Support Worker, who never judged, and felt she was met where she was at. Her Support Worker was able to focus on her needs and help her reach her goals. This month, Daisy completed the transitional housing program and has moved on to a place that she can now call her home.

Aftercare

Our support does not end there. One of the things that often make all of the difference for the women and families we serve, is that we are still there for them even when they have left our programs. For Daisy, knowing that the support is still there for her if and when she needs it, gives her the strength and the trust she needs to continue on on her path.

Daisy’s message for you?

“I’m just one of many individuals in the Niagara Region who are in need of this type of Transitional Housing opportunity and supports. Please keep in mind when you pass someone in public that you just never know their story. The YWCA is an organization that goes above and beyond for the individuals they support, and I would like to encourage the community to take the time to get involved or to learn more about what the YWCA has to offer the community.” For Daisy, the YW is the place where she felt empowered and supported every step of the way.

Trina’s Journey – Part 2

Our client Trina found West Niagara Affordable Housing in 2016 and had the courage to initially share her story at our Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) event, back in 2017. She was kind enough to return to the event this year to share how her journey has continued.
Telling her story is her way of thanking the team at West Niagara Affordable Housing, but it is also her way of thanking all of you, who supported CNOY, whether it was as a walker, volunteer, donor or sponsor.

I would like to continue to share my story of hope. Hope that helped fuel purpose when I learned about West Niagara Affordable Housing (WNAH). Hope that has assisted in pushing me forward. I remember how sometimes that light gets dim and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. As I shared last year, I was at my most dim when I first approached WNAH.

I had some very unrealistic goals set for myself initially, not realizing just how many changes would occur, how little resources I had locally (no family) and how challenging it would be to break through the metal blocks I had been forced to create to survive. To help myself refocus, I then I began looking at nature, at the four seasons and how each season has a purpose. How without the full season the ground suffers, and it can affect everything that is grown. Or the farmer who is just starting off has high hopes his first year of having a bountiful crop. But in his or her excitement missed tilling the soil, or adding the right nutrients to help boost the soil to provide the bounty at the end of the season. Bounty to nourish families, give back to communities and enable them to be self sufficient. They can either choose to give up or learn and press through for the next year.

Both resonate with me as we all need time, and if we are breaking down and repairing the walls that had kept us “safe”. We also need to replenish, rebuild and renew ourselves to be able to move forward and take those next steps to being whole again. I choose to move forward, dig deeper and hold on. Which has enabled me to be one step closer to my goals of being an Holistic Nutritionist and being able to give back and continue to serve others.

We also need to replenish, rebuild and renew ourselves to be able to move forward and take those next steps to being whole again.

This program has enabled me to start again, while providing a stable and secure environment for my children. It has been a blessing and an answer to my prayer.

I would like to thank Cheryl and Keisha from the WNAH program for providing a service that has helped me and my children start again. I would like to thank the Grimsby Benevolent Fund for their kindness and support in times when unexpected things happen. For anyone looking for an organization to help, I strongly suggest you looking at WNAH. Their services change lives, I am just one of many. Getting back on your feet literally is one step at a time. Once again from the bottom of my heart – Thank You!!!

We are still accepting donations for our Coldest Night of the Year event until the end of March. Your money stays here in West Niagara and supports community members such as Trina here in Beamsville, Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln.

Please consider making a donation at https://cnoy.org/location/west-niagara.

Trina’s Journey – Part 1

Our client Trina had the courage to share her story at our Coldest Night of the Year event in 2017. Telling her story is her way of thanking the team at the YW, but it is also her way of thanking all of you, who support our work.

I would like to speak about hope today. Hope that I found when I learned about the YWCA Niagara Region.

When you are struggling in a bad situation, the one thing you hold onto is hope. However, sometimes that light gets dim.

I was at my most dim when I trusted a friend with what I was going through. She was very kind and took the time to listen. She suggested I contact Cheryl at the YW for help to see if they could assist me.

I was not aware of this program and I was so unsure, but finally reached out. It was through talking with Cheryl that I stopped being afraid and that I dared to take a chance. I am a firm believer in prayer, and God is someone I lean on daily. However, sometimes prayer requires action. After contacting the YW, I could begin acting. Cheryl helped me find housing and connected me with other service providers, counselling suggestions, financial support suggestions. WNAH sat down with me and helped me fill out the necessary forms to become part of their program. I was so overwhelmed and felt totally lost. They were there to reassure me. They took the time to listen, encourage and provide reassurance which was very much needed.

This program has enabled me to start again, continue with my schooling, which will enable me to get back on my feet and continue to provide for my children.

Since I’ve been in the program, they have not only helped me find housing for me and my children, but they also provided access to programs to assist in rebuilding life skills. They take the time to meet with you, assist you with goals, support you with court if needed, and assist you in any way they can. This program has provided so much to so many. This program has enabled me to start again, continue with my schooling, which will enable me to get back on my feet and continue to provide for my children. It has enabled me to rebuild myself in a safe environment, removed some stress, and I just can’t say enough good things about them.

If there is anyone here who needs help, or who knows someone who does, I encourage you to reach out to WNAH. Both Cheryl and Keisha are wonderful to work with and they will help you in any way they can.

I would like to thank Cheryl and Keisha from WNAH for renewing my hope and for providing a service that has helped me and my children start again. For anyone looking for an organization to help, I strongly suggest you look at WNAH. Their services change lives, I am just one of many. From the bottom of my heart – Thank You!!!

We are still accepting donations for our Coldest Night of the Year event until the end of March. Your money stays here in West Niagara and supports community members such as Trina here in Beamsville, Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln.

Please consider making a donation at https://cnoy.org/location/west-niagara.

READ HOW TRINA’S STORY CONTINUES….

To The Women Of Tomorrow

Dear Women of Tomorrow,

As I write this to you on International Women’s Day, two words keep running through my head, “don’t settle.” Don’t settle for inequality, racism, sexism, bigotry or intolerance. Don’t settle for less than equality. Your opinion and experiences are valid and valued. You are a change-maker. You are our future and I believe in you.
You are strong, brave and capable of anything. You can be the change you want to see in the world. It’s going to be hard but you are resilient. With every one of life’s challenges that has (or has yet to) come your way you grow. You will learn your strengths, to embrace your weaknesses and beauty of seeing new perspectives. You are unique, with each fresh perspective that is seen and voice that is heard society will continue to evolve. Discomfort inspires change. Be intersectional, be inclusive.
You are our future leaders, entrepreneurs, creators, artists, activists and more. You can can create societal and political change for the women who come after you. Know and understand what has happened in humanity’s past and strive to be better. Be better than us and those that came before us. I support you, I believe in you.

“I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking: what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther?”
Rupi Kaur

Written by Valerie Chalmers

www.ValerieChalmers.com

Activist, Creator & Influencer

Co-Chair of Promotions & Marketing Committee, Niagara Leadership Summit for Women

Podcast Host, Guest & Recording Engineer

Member of Promotions & Marketing Committee, NoFixed Address

Member of St.Catharines Culture Plan Subcommittee

A Guy is a Guy

So while the average folks of today only expect to hear a song like this at Shoppers Drug Mart on a Thursday, my partner and I enjoy incorporating wholesome 1950s music into our everyday lives – while we’re cooking, cleaning and subverting traditional gender roles – you know how it is with modern coupledom.

The only problem is, these songs are actually really not that wholesome. And a lot of time incorporate a whole lot of traditional gender norms (which shouldn’t be a thing), subtle sexist commentary, or straight-up overt “WTF” themes.

Most people reading this blog are probably familiar with some of the myths and harmful messaging that YWCA and other feminist organisations tackle:

  • Boys will be boys. (What does that even mean? And how can I get in on that excuse?)
  • Girls should be “good.” (Ew. That’s not how I racked up all those detentions in school.)
  • Women are property owned by a male (parent/sibling/husband). (I’m hoping most people have got this one out of their systems come 2018)

We know these messages are damaging, not only to the feminist movement but truly, in everyday life. They normalise rape culture. They uphold the gender binary. They keep individuals in boxes dictated by the social and cultural norms of the present day and the past. “Let’s put a halt on progress and equality!” they cry.

So it was much to my chagrin to hear this sort-of love song on one of our favourite 8tracks playlists. Despite the conditioning and acceptance of many other songs with similar messages, none managed to so bluntly threaten today’s movement as this one by Doris Day (sorry, Doris!):

“Guy Is A Guy”

I walked down the street like a good girl should
He followed me down the street like I knew he would
Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be
So listen and I’ll tell you what this fella did to me

I walked to my house like a good girl should
He followed me to my house like I knew he would
Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be
So listen while I tell you what this fella did to me

I never saw the boy before
So nothin’ could be sillier
At closer range his face was strange
But his manner was familiar

So I walked up the stairs like a good girl should
He followed me up the stairs like I knew he would
Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be
So listen and I’ll tell you what this fella did to me

I stepped to my door like a good girl should
He stopped at my door like I knew he would
Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be
So listen while I tell you what this fella did to me
He asked me for a good-night kiss
I said, “It’s still good day”
I would have told him more except
His lips got in the way

So I talked to my ma like a good girl should
And Ma talked to Pa like I knew she would
And they all agreed on a married life for me
The guy is my guy wherever he may be

So I walked down the isle like a good girl should
He followed me down the aisle like I knew he would
Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be
And now you’ve heard the story of what someone did to me

And that’s what he did to me

After reading the lyrics (or listening to the song), it may come as no surprise that Doris Day was more known as an Animal Welfare Activist than a Women’s Rights one. I make no digs at Ms. Day, as she was a pretty stellar lady for her time. But it’s clear to see how this “good girl” was fully wrapped up and embraced by the patriarchal forces that still exist today (just not this overtly).

I’m not saying I don’t still listen to our 1950s playlists or get this song stuck in my head. And I’m certainly not trying to corrupt – in the words of Youtuber Gema Ibarra – “a song reflecting a beautiful innocent romance between a young man and woman.” There is certainly enough warring in the comment section – some pointing out the inappropriate stalking/uninvited stranger kiss/overall normalisation of rape culture, while others point out and try and save the wholesome and innocent virtue of the white, straight, cis-gendered romances of the 1950s. I could put my English Degree to use and go on and on about how things happen TO the heroine of the song and that she appears to be lacking any agency of her own. But I’ll save the over-analyzing for those interested in reading the comment sections. I’m way too tired for that.

Today in some ways, the sexism – through media like music – is less in your face (in other ways it’s not). It can be harder to deal with, confront and change when it is hidden. However, I am so glad that the #1 hit today doesn’t use the line, “Like a good girl should” as it did in 1952.

(Or does it? I actually stopped listening to the radio a while ago… Most of the time I think I’m just *hoping* we’re not moving backward. Keep me posted, would you?)

Love is in the air… or is it?

It’s time for our Blogger Talk! We asked bloggers Slavica, Kaitlyn and Franziska about love, Valentine’s Day and more…

Slavica

  1. What is your favourite love song – and why?

“So Sick” by Ne-Yo is actually more of a break up song dealing with the heartache of loving someone still while trying to move on with your life. To me it represents the lingering feelings we all have in our hearts even after relationships end.

  1. If you could select anyone – who would be your Valentine this year and why?

It would probably be with all my single friends because Valentine’s day always made me feel especially lonesome for some reason but with my girlfriends, I know It wouldn’t bother me at all because we would have each other.

  1. Romantic gestures aside, what is one of your favourite memories of an expression of love?

Knowing my significant other was always there for me when I needed them. It made me feel a little less alone in this world.

  1. Share with us an important lesson you have learned or experienced about love.

I discovered the hard way that it’s okay to ask for a break in a relationship. When I was in the 11th grade, I was having some personal problems and being very withdrawn from my partner which greatly affect our relationship.

We decided to first take some space apart but I ended up ending the relationship instead because I didn’t know how long it was going to take for me to deal with things and I didn’t want to keep him waiting but after two months of singleness I realized that I still really loved him and wanted to try again.

It took taking the pressure away from being in a relationship to really help me understand that I still wanted a relationship. And, thankfully he still wanted to be together with me too though a year and a half later we would eventually break up but that’s okay. To this day he is still someone important to me so regardless of what happened, I don’t regret either breakup because sometimes you need some perspective to know what you want and sometimes what two people want may be two different things so it’s okay to let go.

  1. Should children give Valentine’s at school? Yes, or No, please explain.

I always enjoyed Valentine’s day cards, I still have a collection from my elementary school days so I don’t have a problem with the cards because they are for everyone so no one is ever really left out. My problems were always the candygrams because you never know if someone was going to buy you one. I remember being really disappointed when I didn’t get one, like people didn’t like me or something. It always felt like a popularity contest to me.

  1. Love gone wrong……..what was your worst Valentine’s Day ever? What did you learn from it?

Probably when I was in grade 11 because me and my ex had been broken up for 2 months and it was the first Valentine’s day in two years where I was by myself and I realized how much I really wanted to have spent it with him which I did, along with my other friends, but not as a couple. A week later we ended up back together. It took the day of love to help me realize how badly I still wanted to be with him so I guess you could say that this was both my worst and best Valentine’s day.

  1. The big Valentine’s debate…….which is better, receiving heart shaped chocolates or flowers? Why?

This one is hard because I’m not that particular on flowers, I genuinely like all flowers and as much as I love chocolate, if someone buys me a chocolate from a brand I don’t like, I’m not really going to eat it. I think they’re both great…so if I got a chocolate shaped rose then I would be satisfied. One of my friends gave me one last year and I loved it. Chocolate shaped flowers are the best of both worlds.

Kaitlyn

If you could select anyone – who would be your Valentine this year and why?

I select my partner. It’s cheesy. It’s vomit-inducingly cliché. However, this is the second Valentines’ day I’ve celebrated (in the ‘traditional’ sense) in my 27.5 years. I have never been bitter about Valentines’ Day. I am not against it. It doesn’t spark a particular chord of excitement in me. But this year and last, I have had the pleasure of celebrating with a man who walks beside me in all life’s endeavours. Shares his support, encouragement and love. And receives mine humbly in return. That, to me, is worth celebrating on Valentines’ Day. And that is why I select no one else but my partner as my Valentine.

What should REALLY be celebrated and highlighted is Galentines’ Day! And I select ALL my best friends, family, and amazing women in my life who consistently inspire me!


The big Valentine’s debate…….which is better, receiving heart shaped chocolates or flowers? Why?

This debate (like many) has gone terribly wrong! It’s way too BINARY! Haven’t we learned there should be more than two options by now? 😉
We cannot assume that others want to be treated as we do – we must ask how they would like to be treated. How they would like to be shown love. Have you heard of Love Languages? There are 5. So the question becomes not “Which gift is better to receive?” but rather “Does my partner even LIKE receiving gifts as a show of affection?” Maybe they’d rather Acts of Service, Words of Affection, Physical Touch, or simply (my favourite) Quality Time. Skip the flowers and chocolate, unless we can both enjoy them together.

(That being said…I got both this year. The answer is definitely both.)

How do you plan to spend this year’s Valentine’s Day – February 14th?
I spent a week and a half leading up to Valentines’ Day alone in my apartment in a new town feeling quite isolated. (Okay – I DID leave my apartment to go to work and get groceries and do laundry…) While it was quite lonely, it gave me time to plan a scavenger hunt. So my plan is to see how good my partner is at solving riddles…

Franziska

If you could select anyone – who would be your Valentine this year and why?

Hawaii Five-O’s Commander Steve McGarrett because he is HOT! 

My amazing husband because he is my one and only Valentine 🙂


Share with us an important lesson you have learned or experienced about love.

The big Valentine’s debate…….which is better, receiving heart shaped chocolates or flowers? Why?

If it is not both, he clearly does not love you.

A New Year And A Not So New Society

By: Slavica Mijakovac

I find it interesting how when we talk about the New Year we speak as if we as people have somehow been reborn into something else, that somehow things aren`t the same anymore. That just because it`s January 1st someone’s able to change their whole behavior, routines and life instantly.

If that were true I wouldn’t be cringing after I read every #MeToo post on the internet or seeing articles upon articles of women and girls being the denied the justice they deserve because they somehow aren’t victim enough or their abuser has the power to shut them down like Harvey Weinstein did for 20 years.

When my parents moved to this country, they envisioned a better life for me than theirs. A life where I could get a post-secondary education, get a well-paying job, live in a house, get married, have some kids and live happily ever after with no worries. Unrealistic in so many ways but that’s all any parent wishes for their child.

When you immigrate to a new country, the dream of a better life is all you care about. I don’t know if my parents are disappointed with how things ended up turning but seeing how my dad thinks just me getting an undergrad will mean a high paying job means he clearly still believes in the dream. Makes me laugh because when my dad was growing up, that’s all he really needed. Now we need connections, experience, volunteer hours, we need anything that makes us unique, special.

Older generation think we spend too much time online and that’s true but what we’re doing is selling our brand, an image of ourselves to the rest of the world. This will help companies and organizations have an understanding of who we are as people, to see if we are the type of person they want to represent them and their organization, really what we’re building are connections but not everyone is an Internet celebrity, most people have practical jobs.

That’s why I find people’s displeasure with Canada’s raised minimum wage ridiculous because it truly means nothing when companies end up raising prices on items while cutting back hours. $14 nowadays is worthless because the cost of living keeps increasing. The time when a quarter meant you were a king is no more. Now it just means that you’re below the poverty line.

Being a woman makes things harder because as much as our former Prime Minister Stephen Harper liked to pretend that equality of the genders had been reached here in Canada, that’s not the case. The reality is when I enter the work force the likelihood that I will be paid the same as my male co-workers is slim to none, the probability of me being sexually harassed or even assaulted is high. Me being a woman, run by a world dominated by men makes anyone who doesn’t fit this pinnacle of idealness; rich, white, heterosexual, cisgender, able bodied, etc., an “Other”. This means that there are obstacles in my way created by our institutions that will make my progress of “success” much harder because I don’t fit the ideal society wants.

What I’m trying to say is that I may have citizenship status now but that will never erase the fact that my parents had to immigrate to Canada. They had to leave their lives in a place they knew to a brand-new country while having to learn not only a new language, but a new culture and history just to prove their “Canadian” enough to live here. It’s not easy. I am not a new me somehow because I’m Canadian. I will forever be both an immigrant and a citizen and that’s okay but as a woman living in this current political climate I wonder how a first world society can still be so backwards in how it views women and people of different races even after 150 years of existence. Clearly, society still has a long way to go before equality is truly achieved, let alone equity.

 

Question of the Month – Inclusiveness

In recent news, there has been a devastating display and promotion of exclusivity – people targeting minority groups with hate, promoting racism, and suggesting that inequality is just. This month, we tackle the question, Why are people afraid of inclusiveness and diversity? 

Kaitlyn

Why must we fear inclusion?
Why do we foster hate?
Why do we blame those oppressed
for the oppression we create?

Diversity is Canada’s strength,
but at each turn, we try and deny the Other
the same status as us at the table,
refusing to break bread together.

We chant Progress! Progress! Progress!
As we continue to work toward a future
that keeps tight reigns on the past;
Don’t rip the status quo for we can’t amend the suture!

Our verbiage gives us away as
to love becomes to tolerate
and action reduced still to a noun:
tolerance. Some claim it’s fate…

That a system built to oppress,
built to deny, to bully, to kill, to silence
is here because we worked for it fairly
and because human nature is violence.

Those differently abled, a rainbow of gender,
of skin tone, those who come to dinner
with different experiences and different voices
somehow deserve a smaller table, deserve to grow thinner.

We build a wall so we cannot hear their voices
The stories run into one another, too much the same
The problems too repetitious, too much proof
that we’re the ones to blame.

“The Problem,” we cry, “lies not with Us!”
When we are denied opportunity, justice,
we may take up the call that we have not
been provided for – trust us.

Yet, when millions of sufferers cry for help
– we have no problem pointing out,
That perhaps they have played their hand
with error, and they deserve to go without.

Or that somehow despite all the facts
that we are the ones who sit with power,
We have been screwed over by them
a visible minority, a lower class turned sour.

When we wish to exclude, the Other
suddenly has ability to control a nation.
When we cannot shoulder responsibility,
do we seek out the aberration.

It’s not the rich evading taxes through loopholes
not to mention the hidden offshore accounts.
It’s not the corporations syphoning billions
in a gluttonous attempt to heap amounts

of our resources away, keeping them inaccessible
to First Nations Peoples in a First World Country.
It can’t be the fact that we don’t earn a living wage
even though CEOs make 147 times as much as their lowest paid employee.

Our problems cannot be blamed on the fact we own too much stuff,
That we’re convinced our happiness can be bought with the newest shoes.
It’s certainly not an oil company lobbying for a 21st century genocide
all in the name of profit – but now I just sing the blues.

We would far prefer to blame the women
who won’t cooperate in being likable.
Or the people of colour demanding that
their lives could possibly matter.

Our fear is distilled to visible minorities
with NO. VISIBLE. POWER.
When they dare share their voices,
we feel threatened and cower.

When what we should do is
learn about FEAR.
Where does it come from,
and why don’t I know what’s really going on here?

We should learn about solutions to poverty,
to homelessness, to sexism and racism.
We should have the education we claim to hold,
we should move from ignorance to activism.

Stop the useless fear and worry,
open your hearts to love.
Learn about all Others
Inclusiveness here and now, not below above.

Ones Without Power will not take your job,
They’re not out to take your material possessions,
They won’t ransack your house or even kill you.
Disregard those false impressions!

If you have to rage at all, direct your anger
with more meaning.
Look at who really controls your life
Change the false belief to which you’re leaning.

Have courage to change the world.
Be inclusive and be kind.
Hard to believe as it is,
It starts with changing your mind.

Find peace in your own home.
Love your fellow human being.
You need not fear inclusiveness.
Leave fear behind – it’s freeing.

Hang In There, Baby

Hang In There, Baby

I remember hearing this saying for the first time in the 70s. I also remember all the hype about the Women’s Lib movement in the news and other media.  It gave me my first awareness that all was not peaches & cream in the land of females. I quickly learned that women were tired of being pushed around and treated like second-class citizens. They were very vocal about the rights of women being overlooked or ignored. Women everywhere were tired of the status quo. They wanted more out of their lives than the generation before them had experienced. They were not content with subscribing to the roles played out on TV shows like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show or The Honeymooners. Women wanted to get out into the workforce and have careers of their own. They wanted to carve out their own identity and make their mark on this world. They wanted equal rights, equal opportunity and equal pay that many men just take for granted. They wanted to be protected from sexual harassment and discrimination. They wanted the chance to pursue and fulfill their dreams and career ambitions. They wanted to be leaders not only in the home, but also in the world at large.

What actually happened was that women worked harder than ever each and every day of their lives. Most women are still expected to shoulder the majority of housework and child-rearing while juggling their own career or other personal goals. They are expected to keep a tidy house, cook meals, and raise kids; all while putting in a full day in the workplace. In addition to the previous mentioned responsibilities women have; many are also taking care of elderly relatives in some form or another. And I know I’m not the only one who values the relationships we have with our loved ones. We know how important it is to cultivate and maintain healthy, positive relationships that will produce happy, well-adjusted people for generations to come.

I have been taking Criminal Psychology & Behaviour courses for the last 4 years in order to pursue a new career.  Due to some injuries and health problems I am no longer able to do the physical tasks required in many of the fields I’ve worked in. It took me many years to accept my limitations and believe that I could still find meaningful employment. But what really shocked me was other peoples’ perceptions of what my days are like. Unfortunately, I’ve had to correct and educate friends and family about the importance of my time. This isn’t the 50s and I’m not your average housewife. I don’t watch soap operas or game shows. In fact, I don’t even turn the TV on during the day. I don’t lounge around the house with my hair in curlers waiting for my man to come home so I can wait on him hand and foot. My courses are intense and require lots of uninterrupted time and attention. My average grade is 94%. I don’t say that to brag; although I’m surprisingly pleased.

The point I’m trying to make is that I study and work very hard on every assignment I’m given. I take my studies very seriously and hope that one day I will be able to help others with the knowledge I’ve learned. Between my life experiences and lifelong interest in human psychology & behaviour, I believe I have finally found myself on the right path to the next part of my life journey. So when people assume I’m not doing anything all day long because I don’t punch a time clock, I am insulted and offended by their presumptions. I am annoyed when someone calls and expects me to give an accounting of my days to justify my reasons for declining to do them a favour. I find it astonishing that anyone could actually think that because I currently work from home that I’m not doing anything or that I should just drop whatever I’m doing and do their bidding. Nobody would ever call my husband and expect him to account for his time. Nobody would ever assume that he wasn’t busy or that he should be out doing everything for everyone else on his days off. Nobody would ever call him at the end of his work day and expect him to run errands for them. Instead, he is respected for his dedication to his career. He is admired and rewarded for his achievements.  And I am very happy for him and proud of his accomplishments.  We are partners and we support each other through the many changes life continues to bring us.

I still take great pride in creating a warm loving sanctuary for me and my family. I love preparing and cooking nutritious, delicious meals. I thoroughly enjoy my painting & decorating projects. I love the smell of a fresh clean house. I start every day by doing a load of laundry. I plan our social events and family gatherings. I work hard maintaining the gardens that surround our house and I love the serenity I get from doing so. I babysit my grand babies and help care for my elderly uncle. I enjoy my volunteer work with the YW.  But, all of these things require a lot of my time and attention. There is no magic wand I can wave and poof…all of my dreams and wishes come true. Instead, it all requires hard work and dedication.  My time is the most precious gift I can offer anyone. It is spread so thinly sometimes that I don’t think I’ll accomplish my goals. So when I choose to do something for someone I expect them to respect my time and not make assumptions about what they perceive my life to be. I am never bored or lacking in things to do. Sacrificing my precious time to help someone out is time that could be used to further help me achieve my personal goals. When I find myself being pulled in too many different directions I feel the need to step back and re-evaluate things. If I feel that my time is being taken for granted I become resentful and less willing to help others who are being selfish or demanding.  I definitely don’t respond well to “guilt trips” from people who try to manipulate me. Especially from people who say they love me.

When I look back over my life and review the expectations weighing heavily on most women who work and have a family I  can’t help but feel that women usually get the short end of the stick. What I’m trying to say is that women are still being overworked and underpaid. When we enter the workforce our workloads double. In addition to the pressures and stresses at work, most of us still carry the majority of the workload at home. We are expected to be everything to everyone. We are expected to have perfect homes while bringing home the bacon. We are encouraged to pursue a career as long as it doesn’t interfere with our family duties. Women have fought hard to advance the women’s movement and yet things haven’t changed enough. We are still expected to put others and their needs ahead of ourselves. It’s ok to return to school in order to better ourselves as long as we are still available to everyone. That is the message I hear when women are criticized or judged for the choices they make that make them less available to everyone. We are still judged by how clean our house is, regardless of how many hours we put into our careers or education.  The Women’s Liberation movement was started because so many women were tired of living the mundane life of a stereotypical housewife. It was supposed to free us up to be able to pursue our dreams and goals. Mostly though, it just added to our already-heavy workload. In the workplace we are expected to be multi-tasking robots that don’t dare call in sick or leave early to care for an ill child or elderly relative. The movement was created with the most noble of intentions.  However, that was over 45 years ago and I’m sad to say that we really haven’t come all that far in our quest to achieve those goals. We are still trying to achieve a healthy balance in our work/home lives but most women I know are still exhausted at the end of the day.  I’ve never worn a poodle skirt, I’m not sedated from valium and I’ll never be Mrs. Cleaver. This isn’t the 50s anymore and I’m never crawling into that box that just doesn’t fit me.

 

A Journey in Grateful Leadership

What’s the deal with Leadership?

Usually at this time of year, we love to speak to thankfulness, its importance, and especially for the things we are grateful for in life. I look forward to broadening that theme to include Leadership, specifically Grateful Leadership, and how I use it to define my personal Leadership Style.

diplomatic-leader

When most people begin to speak to Leadership, they first define it. Although to a degree we all know what Leadership is and what it means, it’s clear that definition is broad and expansive as this list proves.

My favourite way to define Leadership is to talk about what it’s not:

  • It’s not managing
  • It’s not telling other people what to do
  • It’s not using people as resources to accomplish a personal goal
  • It’s not about control

People follow Managers (and other authority figures) because they must. People follow Leaders because they choose to. Leaders have the ability to influence and inspire people to take action.

Whenever I’ve read a definition of leadership or attended a management workshop, I found I had a very “well, duh!” attitude to most topics covered. It seemed that management and leadership were so straight forward that you could simply use common sense to wield power and get positive results.

After a few workshops, I realized that something that came naturally to me, did not necessarily come natural to others. Even more so, I excelled in expressing gratitude where others did not realize that was even an important thing to do.

What is Grateful Leadership?

Grateful Leadership comes down to the most obvious thing: gratitude.

Grateful Leadership means acknowledging people in an authentic and heartfelt manner. It means saying thank you. It means being specific in your praise. It means knowing and understanding what drives and motivates people. It means understanding what others appreciate.

Grateful Leadership is often categorized as having a genuine interest in what people have to say. This means you are motivated to truly understand others, what motivates them and how you can change your approach to respect their personal work style.

It also means having a genuine appreciation for the people you’re working with.

Finally, as a Grateful Leader, you do not view people just a resource to get a job done. You don’t take advantage of what people can offer, and you don’t manipulate them. You are honest-to-goodness thankful for their support! You don’t view people as interchangeable; rather, you appreciate what an individual has to offer that another cannot.

Why is it important?

Feeling appreciated is a need that most people have. And it’s hard for people to express when that need is not being met. Firstly, we may not recognize that this is a need or that it’s not being fulfilled. Just because we leave work or another commitment feeling grumpy, tired and drained, doesn’t mean we can automatically pinpoint that it’s because of not being appreciated or thanked – especially when this starts happening over a period of time. Secondly, just because we have identified that a need is not being met, does not mean it’s easy to communicate that.

As Laura Trice points out in her TED Talk on The Power of Saying Thank You, we don’t tell other people our needs, because they come from our vulnerabilities. We would be sharing information that is intimate, personal and puts us in a vulnerable position. Is someone likely going to share that vulnerability with their boss? Before trust has been established?

Why should you care about being a Grateful Leader?

The two most important things, in my humble opinion, when working on a team are: Trust & Communication.

Without tust, communication suffers. Without communication, there is no trust. These two items hinge heavily on each other. Once trust is gone from a team, it can be nearly impossible to get back.

Expressing sincere and honest appreciation for someone’s work is a great building block for both trust and communication. Valuing someone as an individual – and not just a tool to complete a job – can influence them to dramatically increase their productivity and engagement. It shows that you’re paying attention as leader and taking note of individual contributions. It’s also a way to get to know your peers and colleagues and understand them better.

How do you express Thanks?

It’s important to be specific and sincere in your appreciation. Compare the two examples below:

  • 1: “Everyone did a great job last week – thanks for your hard work completing that project!”
  • 2: “I want to thank everyone on this team for coming together to complete the project we were working on. Tammy, you stayed late and even missed your son’s soccer game to get this done! Bill, you put in extra effort to ensure the final draft didn’t have any errors. Rebecca actually drove the final copy to our partners instead of having it mailed. Your work is really appreciated!”

Ex. 1 seems nice at first glance. But imagine if you received this over and over again. What about your specific contributions to the team? What was great about the project? After all, it wasn’t a smooth process getting it completed. And now it sounds like we’re ready to rush into the next one.

Ex. 2 delves into specifics. The communicator has highlighted the different contributions of individuals on the team, acknowledged sacrifices they may have made, and shared appreciation of their ability to work together. Bill knows his proofing skills are valued, Tammy knows that making a personal sacrifice was noticed, and Rebecca is recognized for doing something outside the norm – even if it was her job to do so.

There are also a ton of other great examples on how to show appreciation here, here and here.

Why do I care so much about Grateful Leadership?

I worked in an organization where I constantly felt undervalued for my work, where none of my extra efforts were noticed, or – my favourite – when I did something above and beyond my role not only was it not noted, sometimes it was “punished.”

I now take even more care to make someone feel appreciated. It felt as though my former boss ruled under a “No Thank You” policy! If you did the work in your job description, you weren’t thanked because it is expected. And if you went above and beyond, you weren’t thanked, because no one asked you to, so why should that be appreciated?

That kind of mentality really wears a person down. That mentality is one that no person with “common sense” should ever develop. However, no matter our leadership style, there is always room for more gratefulness. It’s not just the horror-story managers that are lacking in their gratitude. We can all improve.

It costs nothing, and means everything.

Dealing with trauma

“I don’t want to keep retelling my story.”

“I’m tired of being bounced from service to service.”

“How am I supposed to trust helping professionals if they never give me the support I need?”

I regularly hear these comments from the people I serve; and having worked for a number of organizations in Niagara over the past 20 years, hearing them still breaks my heart, even after all this time. Presently, I work with individuals living with the impact of sexual violence and intimate partner violence. I consider it an incredible privilege to support others in negotiating the daily impact of the harm they have endured, and it has been some of the most rewarding work I have ever engaged in. I also believe that working with survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence has fostered a new appreciation of why the above comments are significant and deserve further consideration.

Victim Blaming

Sexual violence and intimate partner violence are significant and widespread; the outcomes of both are far reaching. Although a number of statistics exist indicating who is most at risk and/or who is primarily affected by these concerns, I have learned in the course of my work that sexual violence and intimate partner violence do not discriminate. And for multiple reasons, many people do not report their experiences or reach out for assistance. Individuals who have endured such pain are often reluctant and anxious about telling their story for fear of what others might say or do. They are regularly told to “get over it” or “move on”. They are shamed into feeling they did something to bring the violence upon themselves, or end up being criticized and judged about how they chose to respond. These reactions from loved ones, friends, and helping professionals cement for me the notion that abuse tends to exist in a shroud of secrecy and fear. Is it any wonder when people continue to be silenced and blamed for circumstances beyond their control?

Dealing with trauma

The impact of sexual/partner violence extends beyond one’s mind or body; one’s very spirit has been violated as well. When someone is wounded in these ways, their ability to feel safe and trust others becomes compromised. They struggle with a number of crippling physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioural reactions that are often confusing, frightening, and exhausting. A person’s experience of the world becomes forever altered, and the harm that has been perpetrated insidiously seeps into every crevice of their life. It shows up in the most unexpected ways, and causes significant damage to the relationship with oneself and others; because at its very core, trauma is relational.

I’ve come to appreciate the complexity of trauma whether it’s childhood sexual abuse, recent sexual assault/rape, or intimate partner violence because the brave souls I encounter in the course of my work somehow find the courage to reach out for support. It is incredibly difficult to cope with the aftermath of these forms of trauma. The impact to one’s mental health is significant and people often engage in coping strategies that are labelled “unhealthy”. I struggle with framing coping in this manner because if people were able to manage their pain in another way, I’m convinced they would. People don’t intentionally try to make their situation worse. They do what they need to do to survive. And it’s is easy for us (i.e., external others) to judge how they manage the outcomes of their harm, particularly when we haven’t walked in their shoes. No one has the right to judge or shame; these responses cause as much, if not more damage, than the original violation.

Systemic Challenges

It is equally important to recognize that the complexity of an individual’s circumstances is often compounded by the way in which various systems support them. The pitfalls that individuals encounter within systems they access are numerous, oppressive, and cause considerable harm to someone who is already struggling and incredibly vulnerable. Although these systems are in place to support individuals in addressing the outcomes of their trauma in a meaningful way, more often than not, I have found these systems to be inadequate and ineffective. As a result of my work, I have come to believe that systems, not the people they support, are the problem.
I encounter few people who sing the praises of the systems that address various aspects of trauma. And I don’t blame them for this one bit. It’s not that people are ungrateful for the support they receive. If anything, I would argue they have come to believe that substandard support is what they are entitled to because they encounter it so often when attempting to engage in services that are supposed to help. But the people I serve deserve better. They deserve more. They deserve care that is accessible, timely, compassionate, and integrated. This means the systems people utilize in their efforts to get back on track need to work together to streamline support and put their clientele at the center of care. Trauma’s goal is to disconnect and fracture, and it does this incredibly well. We cannot expect to assist people in healing from the harm they have endured if we ask them to accept support that is fractured and disconnected. If we do, we run the risk of perpetuating the same harms that we are tasked with standing up against. Instead, connection and collaboration is required across systems and in conjunction with the people we are responsible for serving.
I have deep affection and admiration for the people I serve. And I respect the guts it takes to reach out from the darkness when it would be much easier to hide in the shadows. Every single day, the people I work with teach me about what it means to negotiate interpersonal harm; I am surrounded by the courage it takes to share one’s story and I am blessed with multiple opportunities to witness the endless possibilities that exist for healing. I am regularly reminded about the resilience of the human spirit and feel incredibly honoured to walk with people through some of their toughest moments. It is with gratitude that I engage in supporting others who are struggling because I am acutely aware that how I choose to engage matters. Because the way in which we respond and connect to others, without question, makes all the difference.

Behind The Smoke And Mirrors

I have a cousin who lives in the Ottawa Valley who thinks that Niagara Falls would be the greatest place to live. She sees the glitzy commercials and buys into the hype that Niagara Falls is a spectacular place to thrive in. She comes to visit at least once a year and takes in all of the sights and sounds that are offered to the millions of tourists who visit. Since I was born and raised here, I have a totally different outlook on this place in the land of plenty.

My great-grandfather

My great-grandfather, Antonio Salvatore Potenza came here from Potenza, Italy with almost nothing but was able to acquire much property through hard work and dedication. He owned most of the street he lived on and was able to build a house with his own two hands to raise his family in. Later on, he built houses for my great-aunt Mary and my maternal grandmother Elena on the same street. He also ran a bootlegging business out of the back of his house to make extra money for the finer things in life.crate-895939_1920 He was known as a shrewd businessman with a notorious reputation for being tough and someone you didn’t want to mess with. His wife and children feared him. He worked hard in construction and had certain standards he expected his family to live by. He had no problem with evicting his oldest daughter out of the house he bought for her when she refused to stop supporting her unemployed live-in boyfriend who played in a band; even though he was the father of her youngest children. My great-grandfather had no tolerance for what he perceived as laziness and he refused to support someone he considered to be a “good time Charlie”. There was even an article with pictures in the newspaper showing my aunt and her children evicted with their belongings on the side of the road. He ruled with an iron fist and didn’t back down to anyone.

The rich and the poor

I’ve watched Niagara Falls grow from a small town to a major destination in my lifetime. strawberries-1350482_1920I’ve also watched the chasm grow even bigger between the rich and the poor. When I was growing up, the Niagara Region was known as The Fruit Belt. The land was populated with farms that produced delicious, nutritious fruit for jams and juices. There were big-name canning companies like Bright’s that manufactured peaches, cherries, strawberries and apples. Years later, I watched in horror as farmers let their fruit trees shrivel up and die because they said there was no money to be made in the fruit business any longer. The canning companies closed up and moved away, unemployment rates increased.

Eating is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

I live not too far away from the upscale tourist industry that brings billions of dollars into the city every year. I also live down the road from one of the local food banks that is always asking for donations for those less fortunate in this town. I see people forced to ask for assistance because they just don’t make enough money to be able to pay their rent and eat too. Eating is not a luxury, it is a necessity. But most of the jobs in this city are seasonal and/or minimum wage and it’s just not possible to survive on such meager wages. We have breakfast clubs in some of the schools that are in less affluent neighbourhoods. I’ve also worked in the hotel industry and it’s been my experience that if you’re lucky enough to get in with the right crowd, the quality of your life changes drastically. There is definitely still a class system in this modern world.hotel-1330850_1920 If you are lucky enough to be one of the chosen few, things are handed to you on a silver platter. The more money I made, the less I paid for things. I was given perks and signing privileges. I was sent on wine tours and tourist destinations to evaluate them and give feedback to my employers so that they could continue to improve on the “tourist experience”. I stayed in high-end hotels in Canada and the U.S at minimal cost with all kinds of benefits at no charge. At the same time, I watched other employees, who worked in other departments, that weren’t considered to be as prestigious, trying to eke out a living. They worked twice as hard with few benefits. They were looked down on and treated like second-class citizens. This always boggled my mind, because in my opinion without cleaners and servers the whole industry would fall apart. I believe the first line of success is achieved through cleanliness. Can you imagine the horror of a guest finding a dirty toilet in their hotel room? I’ve seen rooms comped for much less because you never want a visitor leaving and spreading the word that things weren’t perfect. Word of mouth can make or break a business.

There is definitely a double standard in this city.

Sure it’s beautiful, clean and luxurious in the heart of the 5-star 4-diamond hotels and restaurants of Niagara Falls, but it’s a far cry from the reality of the life most of the citizens that populate it year round. There is definitely a double standard in this city. The most recent example I can give you is the recent ban on fireworks because of the dry heat and lack of rain we’re currently experiencing. The locals were forbidden to shoot off fireworks yet Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake didn’t dare disappoint their many visitors. Instead, the show must go on…and indeed it did. They even had firetrucks at the scene to monitor the situation and jump into action to save the day. I hope nobody’s house caught fire those nights. The people who live in big fancy houses in the north end and drive high-end cars are all connected and live the high life. They have no idea what it’s like to go hungry or wonder how they will pay their monthly bills on minimum wage. No, they don’t! They take care of one another. They watch out for one another while overlooking those they consider to be unworthy. If you have connections you will always be taken care of and are almost guaranteed a shot at the good life. It’s very true that you have a better chance at succeeding by “who you know”… not just “what you know”.

The two faces of Niagara

It breaks my heart to see children go hungry so I donate food and I volunteer. But I am only one person and unfortunately I see an elitist attitude pervading my hometown. My great-grandfather was raided many times for his illegal activities in the days of prohibition. He took it in stride and did what he had to do to succeed in this country. I’ve often wondered what he would think about the fact that we now live in “wine country”, where billions of dollars are to be made from the same industry he was vilified for. Not to mention the billions of marketing dollars promoting “Wine Country” with huge winery estates lining the Niagara Parkway. Now that the “right” people are the driving force behind the wine industry it’s now accepted and promoted. Famous people like Dan Ackroyd and Wayne Gretzky have set up shop in the Niagara Region doing the same thing my great-grandfather was harassed for and discriminated against. It seems to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same!

The glitzy commercials and flashy lights aren’t accurate depictions of everyday life of living in the Niagara Region.

So…when my cousin Vicki gets stars in her eyes when she talks about how she wishes she grew up and lived here, I feel compelled to show her what’s behind the smoke and mirrors. The Niagara Region is a beautiful place with many points of interest and excitement. But, it is not without its faults and downfalls. The glitzy commercials and flashy lights aren’t accurate depictions of everyday life of living in the Niagara Region; if you don’t have the right connections to the movers and shakers that rule over the majority. I’ve worked very hard my whole life and I’ve had some amazing experiences with some really great people who worked in positions of power who truly do care and do give back to this city. But, there’s still a lot of work to do. Nepotism is rampant in this city and it definitely affects the quality of life most people with no real power have in this area.

A Tribute to My Father

He was the first man I ever loved. He was wild and dangerous. He was exciting but scary. He had a disarming smile that barely disguised the vile temper that dwelled beneath it. He was a contrast of moods and temperament. He could be the most fun you ever had or your worst nightmare. He was a hard worker who partied even harder. He hung out with hard-core bikers but he also had a strong belief in God. He was either your best friend or your nastiest enemy.

There was never any middle ground with my father.

He was a combination of many personalities. He was a lot like Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa but with a twist of Elvis Presley thrown in. He was also very much like Ray Donovan with his secret life and violent streak. There was never any warning when someone was about to feel the sting of his wrath. He wasn’t a big talker so when he snapped and lashed out at someone they were usually astonished. Most times they didn’t even know what they had done to make him angry. It could be as simple and innocent as a look he perceived you were giving him to something someone said that he found disrespectful or distasteful. But then, there was also a side to him that was very much like Dominic Cooper in the new series on TV called Preacher. He tried really hard to walk the line of good and truth. But, then he would get bored or he would meet up with someone from the past and his wild streak would take over.

My mother left us when I was 14 and he took it really bad. They had been fighting for years and she decided she had enough. The problem was that she had left with his best friend. He was outraged by the betrayal and stayed out late at night trying to drink his feelings away. Within a few months we went to live with our mother and her new man. It was awkward and uncomfortable but we didn’t have any other choices. For the next couple of years my father went through women and booze like there was no tomorrow.

Then suddenly, he hooked up with a woman who belonged to the same cult that my parents had joined when I was 5 years old. When they got married a couple of years later, he dropped out of our lives. I tried to reconnect with him over the years but eventually I gave up when I saw how uncomfortable he was because of the way his new wife acted around us. She alternated between ignoring us and being outright rude.

Years went by without hearing anything from him. His family continued to tell him to contact his children and make amends before it was too late. But by then he felt too much time had passed and he was afraid we would reject him. He didn’t handle rejection well.me with jimmy and parents

The call that I had been awaiting for years came on a freezing cold day in February of 2008. We had been out riding on our Harley Davidson when we came home to a voicemail from my uncle and his wife asking me to call back right away. I told my husband that my father was dead. He said it could be a hundred different reasons why they were calling. But I knew! I knew in my heart that he was gone, I could just feel it. But, I made the call and sure enough she said he had died the day sometime during the night. I asked her if he committed suicide. She was horrified and could barely get out the words, “the Jimmy I know would never do that…”. I calmly responded with, “well, the Jimmy that I know, would!”. She gave me the name of the funeral home and quickly got off the phone. I was numb but I wasn’t shocked. I had been there the times he had tried to end his life. He would call me on the telephone and I would go to him, sitting beside him all night, making sure he didn’t die on me. He didn’t reach out to me in the end. I guess he thought it was too late. He must have thought that too much damage had been done for me to forgive him. He was wrong. If he had made that call I would have gone to him. I would have helped him get the help he needed. I would have tried one more time. I would have given him one more chance.

Later, I would find out that he died alone in a room he was renting from a couple who lived in a big house in the same city as me. He had overdosed on the painkillers and psychiatric drugs he was self-medicating with. He had been going to different doctors getting multiple prescriptions and then filling them at different pharmacies.

He was wrapped in a bunch of blankets but he was very cold to the touch. His beautiful face was bloated and distorted.

There was no funeral, no burial, no closure. I went to the funeral home to see him even though his ex-wife (the executrix of the will) said that he didn’t want anyone to see him. The funeral director tried to talk me out of seeing his unprepared body because he said it would traumatize me. I bluntly told him that after years of working in palliative care nothing would shock or scare me. I was taken to a back room (with my loving husband at my side) and he was there in a body bag on a stretcher. He was wrapped in a bunch of blankets but he was very cold to the touch. His beautiful face was bloated and distorted. I talked to him for a couple of minutes and then kissed him goodbye on the forehead.

He is at peace now. He isn’t suffering anymore. But I’m left with more questions than answers. We weren’t included in the reading of the will or given any details about his life leading up to his death. He was cremated and the ashes were given to my grandmother. He is going to be buried with her when she dies. Last year I contacted the Coroner’s office and I was told that I was legally entitled to know everything that was discovered during the death scene investigation. I received the package from the Coroner’s office and found a few surprises. I learned that he had 2 tattoos, which shocked me. He had always been adamant that tattoos were trashy and getting one was equal to defiling your body. Also, he had been under the care of a psychiatrist. Perhaps he had finally tried to slay the demons in his head. Lastly, he died before morning, as he sat on the side of his bed. The last phone call he made had been to his ex-wife. She told the investigators that she knew he was taking lots of different pills and had been depressed, but she denied knowing that he was suicidal. I also found out that he had been excommunicated from the dangerous, mind-control cult he had committed himself to years ago. He was also divorced from the woman who treated us like we were nothing and didn’t matter.  If I had known those  pieces of information sooner I would have absolutely reached out to him one more time. My biggest fear since I was 16 was that he would die before we could make amends. My worst nightmare became a reality on  February 2, 2008.

The only things I have to remember my father by are his cane, an old unopened Elvis Presley calendar and pictures from the past. His ex-wife gave away his belongings to her children even though my brother specifically asked her for his guitar that he carried with him since 1961. His family was outraged by the way we were discarded but were helpless to do anything about it. If he were alive to see all of the changes in the world and all of the corruption and scandals that are finally being exposed, I think he would have had an easier time adjusting to life outside a controlling cult that commanded and demanded that he choose them over his own flesh and blood.

My father’s death forced me to face all of the bad things I had suppressed and repressed for so many years. But, it also showed me who truly cared about me and my family. My father, James or Jim,  would be extremely happy to know how much closer my ties with his biological family have become.

Today, my life has come full circle.

I grew up feeling like an orphan from the time my parents joined a “doomsday” cult when I was 3 and they cut off all family ties to anyone who wasn’t open to joining too. Today, my life has come full circle. I was recently given pictures from my childhood that I have never seen before. It’s been very healing for me to have visual proof that I had lots of people who cared about and loved me when I was a little girl.  It’s great to have the images in my head match the pictures I’ve been given by a thoughtful relative who remembers when we disappeared from their lives.

Sometimes I feel my father’s presence and it comforts me. I don’t know if it’s wishful thinking or if there’s an afterlife but I’m keeping my options open…just in case I get one more chance to see him again and tell him everything I know.