Category Archives: Special Occassions

Giving Thanks, this Thanksgiving

On a good day, it is easy to express thanks, share that feeling of contentment and be grateful for all you have.

Let’s look at gratitude on a bad day…week….month,  or year.  It’s hard yes, but not impossible.

The Thanksgiving holiday, from an emergency shelter perspective, is something I wish everyone could experience.  Not to be homeless, I do not wish that on anyone.  I am talking about the incredible sense of community that happens at our King Street shelter in October.  The generous spirit of the Niagara community never fails to amaze me.

Local businesses, service clubs and individuals donate food and funds, enabling our top-notch team in the kitchen the ability to prepare the most delicious turkey dinners.  Included are all the trimmings, and a few extras that we consider luxuries in the non-profit world.  All in an effort to make the day one of a celebration of family, community and thankfulness.

People that have never met share what they have – with those in difficult circumstances.

I am honoured to see firsthand how this gesture from the community in their donations, and volunteering of their time, their caring …….fills the women and families at the shelter with gratitude.  You can see it in their faces and feel it in their hearts.  Someone cares, even when things look…well, bad.

To everyone that finds it in their hearts to give of themselves this Thanksgiving – THANK YOU, I am truly grateful  for the hope you provide for the women and families we serve.  Experiencing this every year, I am given the ability to draw on this feeling of connectedness when I am having a bad day.  It also makes me reach out, beyond myself to help raise my community up – and for the ability to that…..I am also grateful.

 

 

 

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.

 

An Open Letter To My Dad

Dear Dad,

Communicating with each other has never been a strength of ours, so I’ll just jump right in. We’ve had our fair share of disagreements and for the longest time, I was always the child who had to do what she was told. Sometimes, it’s hard for you to remember that I’ve grown up into an adult now and sometimes, it’s hard for me to remember that you only want what’s best for me. So, thank you. I don’t tell you this enough, but you amaze me. You are so talented with fixing anything around the house which, as a child, didn’t mean much to me. But you were able to use those skills to solve my problems like fixing broken necklaces and even shoes when I was younger! Now I’m able to appreciate your skills and your heart. We don’t say it and we rarely express it, but I am so grateful that you are my dad. I got really lucky. I guess all I really want to say is thank you for always being there, despite our disagreements and despite our lack of communication sometimes. Like most of our conversations, I’ll keep this sweet and short. Thanks dad and I hope you have an amazing father’s day.

Love always,

Evelyn

Father – Daughter Interviews

With Father’s Day just having passed, we decided to celebrate and interview our fathers/step-fathers/father-figures. The fathers were asked to answer the following questions about what it is like exactly to be a dad:

  1. Tell us one thing you want everyone to know about being a Father/Step-Father/Father-figure?
  2. What would you love your daughter to know about you?
  3. Sometimes there are those not-so-perfect Fathering moments – what is one piece of advice you can give to help each other through those moments?
  4. As a Father, Step-Father, or Fatherly influence, what is your biggest worry?
  5. Can you share the best memory or moment – that made you realize….I’m a Father?
  6. What is the best or most useful piece of advice you can give a new Father of a daughter?
  7. If there was one thing you could tell your wife, or women in general that would make being the Father of a daughter easier – what would that be?
  8. Has having a daughter(s) changed you?  Can you share how?

Mark & Kaelyn:

What would you love your daughter to know about you?

pot picture
Kaelyn and Mark behind a pot Kaelyn worked on for months to give to her dad for Father’s Day.

I would love for my daughter to know that I think about her every second of every minute of every day when I’m away at work.

Sometimes there are those not-so-perfect Fathering moments – what is one piece of advice you can give to help each other through those moments?

Love unconditionally and don’t let unnecessary expectations rule your relationships.

As a Father, Step-Father, or Fatherly influence, what is your biggest worry?

Biggest worry: my child gets sick or hurt.

Can you share the best memory or moment – that made you realize….I’m a Father?

The first time I got to hold you and to this day each time when I get to hug or hold you.

What is the best or most useful piece of advice you can give a new Father of a daughter?

Teach her to smile and not to take her time so seriously.

If there was one thing you could tell your wife, or women in general that would make being the Father of a daughter easier – what would that be?

Share them equally at all times.

Has having a daughter(s) changed you? Can you share how?

Yes, I have had to look inside myself for better answers to this gift of life.

Gord & Jessica

Tell us one thing you want everyone to know about being a Father?

It is very rewarding when you see your children achieve something that they like.

What would you love your daughter to know about you?

I want my daughter to know that I always want the best for her.

Sometimes there are those not-so-perfect Fathering moments – what is one piece of advice you can give to help each other through these moments.

Don’t sweat the small stuff, things will always get better.

As a Father, what is your biggest worry?

My biggest worry is that my daughter won’t follow her dreams.

Can you share the best memory or moment that made you realize …I’m a father?

My best memory that made me realize I was a father was looking into her eyes the moment she was born.

What is the best or most useful piece of advice you can give a new Father of a daughter?

Even though you want to keep your daughter protected and close to you, you have to allow them the space and time to experience everything they want to in life.

James and Mei Mei

Michael and Candice Lee

Tell us one thing you want everyone to know about being a Father/Step-Father/Father-figure?

It’s very important to me as a stepfather that I always treat my stepchildren as well as I do my own.

Sometimes there are those not-so-perfect Fathering moments – what is one piece of advice you can give to help each other through those moments?

The best piece of advice I could give stepparents is to remember to be patient with their new family members.

As a Father, Step-Father, or Fatherly influence, what is your biggest worry?

I want ALL of my kids to be happy in life.

What is the best or most useful piece of advice you can give a new Father of a daughter?

Don’t be so overbearing with your children and stepchildren that you force them to run into someone else’s arms for love and comfort.

 

Murray

While many dads all over the country are looking forward to celebrating Father’s Day this weekend, for Murray, today will be yet another reminder of what he doesn’t have: time with his daughter. Murray’s daughter was about a year old when the relationship between him and his partner dissolved. They had had a good, happy relationship, but financial troubles and irreparable issues slowly eroded what once had been love. Murray came home one day to his things packed up in boxes, and he was asked to leave. He found shelter with his parents for some time but that wasn’t a long-term solution. Murray reached a low point and finally decided to move the Niagara Falls Men’s Shelter run by the YW.

“When I do see her, she is shy and timid, like you would be with a stranger.”

Since then, he has seen his daughter once. She is almost three now. He keeps toys for her in his tidy shelter unit, but he doubts that she will ever get to play with them. “When I do see her, she is shy and timid, like you would be with a stranger. She shouldn’t have that with her own father,” he says, angry, disappointed. Murray and his daughter’s mom turned their lives around when they found out they were having a child. “We got off the drugs; we got clean together – it woke me up. She was a blessing.”

Today, almost three years later, he feels like a babysitter who only gets to see his daughter on rare occasions. “She’s a good mom, and I realize I still have things in my life to clean up, but I just want to see my daughter. Even just for a couple of hours a week; that is all I am asking for.” Going through the court system is simply not an option for Murray at this point and by the time it will be, it might be too late. “A daughter or a son need their father as much as their mother.”

His biggest worry is that by not being around her, he can’t teach her the many things that he has learned.

Murray knows that he has made mistakes in his life. “I was young; I was stupid,” but he is doing everything he can to get back on his own two feet:  he is trying to find secure housing, he is trying to find a job – and try is all he can do. The same goes for his daughter. He will not stop fighting for her and he won’t stop trying to be the dad his daughter’s mother needs him to be in order to let him see his child. His biggest worry is that by not being around her he can’t teach her the many things that he has learned. Murray is homeless. He has fought the excruciating battle that is substance addiction but here he is: 27 years old, sober and determined to get his life back. There are lessons he has to pass on, values that go beyond materialism, things he believes in, beliefs that have helped him to keep going and to never give up.

When he talks about the few memories that he has been able to share wiMurrayth her, a big smile washes over his face. “On my mom’s street, there is an owl that sits on a fence and as soon as we turn onto the street, she says to me: let’s go, see the owl, daddy! It’s moments like that, just getting to spend time with her, just hearing her say daddy, that are my favourite memories.”

What’s Dad got to do with it?

Are Dads really all that important? Are they not just the ones who bring home the money so that Mom can do her job? This seems to still be a common stereotype in our society – bloggers Carli and Dana answered June’s Question Of The Month:

What’s Dad Got To Do With It?

Carli

This is a mentality that drives me a bit batty.

I’ve known men more eager to become a father than the woman is to become a mother.

I know men who are raising multiple children, on their own. Their children have structure, rules, ups and downs, highs and lows, laughter, fights, make-ups, time-outs, family outings and most of all know just how much their dad loves them.

I know men who are just as involved in the parenting as their partner. They work with mom to work out the best schedule for their child, and stick to it. They listen to mom’s fears and share their own. They make up rules and back moms. They cut up meals into bite sized pieces, make bottles, stroke their babies head while nursing, read to, sing to, bathe and dress their children. They are present and omnipotent.

Fathers-Day-Photos (1)I know a man whose love for me was so great, it automatically extended to the child attached to me. He’s a man who would do anything possible to ensure our son has a wonderful life. A steady, sturdy, safe and comfortable life.

Yes, there are those fathers out there who don’t make their children a priority. Fathers who don’t offer that same kind of protection and love, structure and balance—or any at all. There are the fathers who hardly get involved in decisions, upbringing, rules and playtime. But there are mothers as well.

I choose to believe my husband is just as capable as I am when it comes to making decisions about children. Partly because of how offended I get when I’m made to believe I’m not capable of doing something and partly because I see examples of a fathers love for his children all around me. Men deserve to be treated equally and with the same equality that women are treated when it comes to child rearing.

Today’s women certainly wouldn’t settle for anything less, now would we?

 

Click here to read Dana’s take on our question of the month!

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! OR IS IT?

For most people Mother’s Day is a happy time to celebrate their mother.  The woman of many titles: mommy, mum, mother, friend. It’s a day to honour the woman who brought you into this world and raised you. It’s one day a year that’s set aside to show appreciation for the woman who willingly makes sacrifices for their family. It’s a day for mothers to relax and be spoiled by the people who love them the most. Children make cute cards and homemade crafts at school. Adult children form new traditions with their own family, while still paying homage to their beloved mother. There’s luncheons or dinners at restaurants with special gifts and sometimes even some delicious cake.

What if her love isn’t unconditional?

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But what if your mother isn’t the warm and fuzzy type? What if her love isn’t unconditional? What if you’ve tried your whole life to gain her acceptance and approval?  What if she hasn’t been there for you when you’ve needed her the most?  What happens when you are banished from her queendom any time you disagree with her? What if she gets angry because you don’t do things the way she does them? What if you can no longer tolerate or accept her hurtful comments and  negative behaviour? What if she isn’t like the mothers described in those sugary, flowery Hallmark cards? What if you can no longer bring yourself to try to please someone who refuses to be happy? What if the whole thing leaves you stressed out and overwhelmed? What happens when you can’t be a dancing monkey anymore? How long do you keep trying before you eventually give up?

For years I made a huge deal out of Mother’s Day because I truly love my mother and I wanted to make her happy. I would spend weeks shopping to find the perfect gift for her. I would plan a menu filled with her favourites. I would clean my house spotless and spend hours prepping and cooking food. I always bought an expensive, fancy cake to serve for dessert. I would spend the entire day focused on indulging and spoiling my mother and her husband. I would wait on her, seeing to her every need before she even expressed it.  When they eventually left I stayed up late, cleaning. My wonderful husband always helped me with the cleanup, but the whole thing left me feeling drained. After years of this routine, I started to feel resentful. Why did I think it was my job to provide the perfect day for my mother while essentially forfeiting my own Mother’s Day celebration? Why was I hardwired to believe that I was to always put my mother’s feelings and happiness ahead of my own?

I don’t need a card or a gift to validate their love for me.

Picking out an appropriate card for my mother is no easy task. Most cards are filled with positive sentiments about mom always being there for her children. The saccharine poetry is almost sickeningly sweet. I’m sure it’s because most mothers willingly make sacrifices for their family and deserve the accolades bestowed upon them. Most mothers would march through the gates of hell to protect them from anything bad. Most mothers give unconditional love to their children, even into their eventual adulthood. I am a mother and I can honestly say that there is nothing in this world that could ever come between me and my children. Even when we disagree or they’ve done something that upsets me, I know that we will work things out. I have raised my children to believe that they are fabulous, unique individuals who should chase their dreams and live their lives to the fullest. I have never made unreasonable demands of their time. I don’t expect them to check in with me everyday and give an in-depth accounting of the way they spend their time. I encourage them to pursue their interests and explore everything that life has to offer. I don’t expect them to shower me with lavish gifts or make a big production out of Mother’s Day. I don’t even expect them to buy me a card. I don’t need a card or a gift to validate their love for me. I simply try to enjoy every minute we get to spend together.

marilyn familyFrom left to right: my son Mark Anthony James, me, my amazing husband and best friend Mike, and my beautiful daughter Candice Lee.

I cherish the times we spend on the phone, laughing and catching up. I know that their time is valuable and they are busy adults trying to get through this thing called life. I know without a doubt that they love me and they know that I would lay down my life for them. I don’t expect them to compete with one another to impress me. I never want them to feel obligated to roll out the red carpet and make a big production for any reason. I am secure in knowing that I did the best job I could as a mother by listening to them and making myself available to them. I am content in knowing that our relationship is based on mutual respect, acceptance, and kindness. I never want them to feel bad about themselves by expecting them to live up to some pre-conceived notion of what I think they should be or do with their life. I want them to feel free to pursue everything their heart desires. I want them to know that as long as I am alive I will always be a listening ear and that they can unburden themselves without fear of consequence. I will never judge them harshly or view them with black-and-white thinking. I accept our differences and enjoy being included in their adventures. I am open to seeing things through their eyes and trying new things. I never want to impose my opinions or ways of doing things onto them. I never want them to question my love, affection and admiration for them. I will never pigeon-hole them by inflicting my ideas on them. I will never ask them to give up their identity to be what I would like them to be. I will never burden them with expectations of conformity or tradition. I respect their right to live their life however they see fit. I don’t want them to exist to merely be extensions of me. I want them to thrive in their own individuality and be confident enough to try new things. I never want them to define their lives by my standards or ideas. I just want them to be happy!

I will not be part of an imaginary competition between me and my siblings in a bid to win my mother’s love and acceptance.

So, this year I have decided to celebrate Mother’s Day on my own terms. I won’t be buying cards that don’t honestly reflect a very damaged and unhealthy relationship that has permeated my whole life. I won’t dismiss my own accomplishments and put my own needs at the bottom of the list any longer. I refuse to continue to engage in self-deprecating actions in the hopes that this year will be different. I will not be part of an imaginary competition between me and my siblings in a bid to win my mother’s love and acceptance. Instead, I will continue to commit myself to positive healthy relationships with people who also value the concepts of individualism and respect. I will continue to dedicate my life to being a better person and helping others. I will work even harder to be the best mother I can be to my children. I will willingly help my children and grandchildren in every way that I can to make their journey through life a little easier. I will be a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear without harsh judgments and unreasonable demands.

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Memories of Christmas in Palliative Care

As I write this, I look around and see that the Christmas season is in full swing. Christmas has exploded everywhere. Everywhere you look Christmas decorations are on display and all of the shops are competing for your Christmas dollars. The media is working overtime trying to convince you of all the things that you just can’t live without this year.The perfect gift for the perfect Christmas is achievable, according to all the retail outlets. That’s the message that bombards us from everywhere for so many weeks. It’s no wonder that Christmas can be so overwhelming and stressful. Continue reading

Starting a New Holiday Tradition

There is just something magical about this time of year. For most people, holidays are
wonderful! Whether you’re a teenager still benefiting from the joys of opening presents, a young adult just starting out on your own, a young family creating new memories, or a group that has been celebrating your same favourite traditions year after year. One thing that stands important for folks around the holidays is that very thing: tradition.

When I did a bit of research on holiday
traditions, one event was missing from many lists: volunteering. And I don’t call it “helping the needy” or use that language for a reason. Not only does using phrasing like “the poor” or “the unfortunate” lump a whole population of people together – who are each unique individuals with hopes and dreams and stories – it also creates the illusion that “these people” are somehow essentially different from “us.” They’re not. Continue reading

Letters to Santa-They Want What?

METhey’re heeeeeeere! The lists that so many parents face with equal parts interest and dread. The letters to Santa. As my seven-year-old son sat down to compose his this year, I watched him struggle with what to write. First, he couldn’t think of anything to ask for and then, after a little consideration, he just started listing things from a toy catalogue that had come in the mail.

That’s when I stepped in.

We had a chat about not abusing the privilege, and to perhaps just ask Santa to surprise him. But I realized the problem really lay with me. I have become so accustomed to doing what is considered traditional, that I never even considered telling him to not bother writing one. Why is that exactly? Why, when so many in this world can’t afford to buy their children the basics, never mind random material junk, do we, as a society, feel the need to perpetuate this ceremony? Continue reading