Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lies I Have Told

It’s been six weeks and two days. It feels like yesterday.

I have good days, when I remember he’s gone a mere five times that day. It’s when I smile at the happy memories of past shared jokes, his rich, sophisticated humour and telling me about his victories.

This is a bad day; a day when I wake up three times through the night in a panic, when I pretend I’m not home when someone calls, and feel guilty when my body says it needs feeding because I’m still alive. It’s a day when I find a joke or some relevant information I want to share with him, and remember that I can’t. It’s when I feel it’s all so unfair, and I want to punch walls and rail at the fates for making his life a living hell and then taking him away from me. It’s when I feel selfish.

My friends and acquaintances are relieved that I seem to have moved on from my son Chris’s death. Invitations to coffee and gatherings have resumed because I appear normal. I go shopping, do my chores and I’m seen around town, greeting others with a smile and have conversations about town events. They assume I would be happy to help with this or that charity, to serve on some board, and to generally resume as I did before. They think I’m over it, like I had a bad flu but now I'm all better.

I have been called courageous and strong. I’m neither. I did not choose this. Who would? But I learned from my son, who also had no choice about his tortuous disability but who was “accused” of being strong and courageous. He coped and adapted, as I must do now. He taught me how to maintain my outward sanity, and I will always be grateful to him for that.

I have been through death before. I know how it feels to the living. But the ones I experienced were of people who had a full life. But the death of a child, no matter how old they are, is the defining moment in any parent’s life and quite different from any other loss. It goes against all human expectation of the parents who expected to lead, not follow into death. There is no “getting over it”. You merely survive and bear the scars. They are deep, sometimes open and oozing. All you can do is throw a bandage over them, so they don’t show their ugliness. It’s too personal. After all, you created this life; they heard your heartbeat close up, lived as you lived, ate what you ate, until you finally brought them into the world, full of hope and joy. It is the most intimate relationship you will ever experience.

I was there when he first took a breath. I was there when he took his last. It shouldn’t have happened that way…he should have been the one urging me on my way, not the other way around. I feel robbed.

Some people may say inappropriate things. They don't mean to be thoughtless, like my husband's elderly catholic aunt who is a nun. You would think she would be more experienced in her profession, but then she's from the old school, where what she says is what has always been said. Still, while I can't help but feel a bit hurt, I also know she has a good heart and meant well.

People are afraid of mentioning his name, in fear that it will re-open these wounds. There is nothing to re-open; it’s always there. We merely learn to live with it. But it profoundly changes you.
A parent is deathly afraid of their child being forgotten, and that by not speaking of them, they will fade into insignificance. The kindest thing anyone can do is say their name, relive memories, cry or laugh with the parent. Yes, we will probably tear up, so be prepared for that. The tears are dual flavoured; sweet and sour. We want to taste them, we want to experience them, because it validates that lost child’s life. We don’t want to forget them. We don’t want them to fade to invisibility.

When someone asks me, “How many children do you have?” I still answer “Three boys”. Just because he’s not here in person, it doesn’t mean he has relinquished his role as my son.

Chris once asked me if I believed in reincarnation. I told him I wasn’t sure, but liked to believe we had several chances to get it right. That’s when he said, “Well, if it’s true, then I must have been a real asshole in my last life to have to live like this. I think I have some making up to do in this life, so I can have it better next time.” And he did his best, even with FOP hampering his every effort.

These are the things I want remembered, his remarkable humour and his rebellious life. If his name comes up in a conversation, we don’t have to avoid it. In the mentioning, he is acknowledged as a person who existed and still has value. That’s all any parent wants.
I lie every day. I lie to people who haven’t been through this; they wouldn’t understand that kind of grief. It never goes away; it merely becomes bearable. So when they ask, “How are you?” I answer “Fine.” I’ve carefully practiced my fake smile. They accept it, because they don’t understand. I will lie to good friends, because while they try to understand, they don’t need to hear about the tears every night, the pillow punching, the anger, the indescribable emptiness in my core. They don’t need to know about the panic attacks that wake me up and leave me choking with heartache, so I have to get up and walk it off before trying to sleep again.

My other sons are going through the grieving in their own way. If they need to talk, I’m here for them. I hope they know that. Siblings have their own memories. Their process with be different from ours and I need to respect that.

Don’t be afraid to talk to a grieving parent. You may not fully understand, but then I wouldn’t want you to. I don’t wish this on anyone. But I also know you empathize, and that’s enough. We just need to know you’ll remember our lost child, to acknowledge their existence, and that you’ll be there when that ugly scar callouses over. We still need our friends. We always will.

Night, Chris.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Figuratively "Into the Storm"

Been awhile, hasn’t it?

I’ve been working, and in trying to stay focused instead of working on three or four different projects at a time like I used to do, I’m focusing on this latest manuscript. Hence, I’m neglecting the blog.

But I’m excited about my latest work in progress. For some reason, when people hear “Canadian historical”, most groan, expecting the usual angst driven books that Canadians hail to the skies. I have always been a great fan of commercially popular books instead of the esoteric literature so much heralded in Canada.

I’m editing this one for about the third or fourth time. When I first wrote it, I intended it as a romance novel. However, when I read it over and did some additional research on the outbreak of WW1 and the impact it had on Alberta ranches and farmers, I found exciting and unexpected facts. It’s true what they say, that truth is stranger than fiction.

I’m now re-working it completely as historical literature, because this story is far too rich to be hindered by the romance formula. Yes, there may be a romantic interest (though that is not completely set yet and may change), but the unexpected turn in fortunes for the people of Western Canada take precedence over marketability, (sorry, future potential publishers). This is just a case of a story that needs to be told, since there is very little in the historical books and virtually nothing in fiction for this era.
Image that became, and continues to be, my inspiration for this novel.

Working title is “Into the Storm”, a tale based on fact a few months after the declaration and recruiting started for the army. A young woman is fighting to regain the farm her father almost lost through gambling and plain laziness, with the help of an elderly couple, refugee slaves from the Civil War via the Underground Railway fifty years previously. The newly married black couple were taken in by the young woman’s grandfather when they travelled west, after reaching Ontario, with a dream of having their own land, but instead stayed on at Spruce Haven farms. Now, fifty years later, they were old and unable to help young Cally Haven bring the failing horse breeding back to life. Cally is forced to seek help from a stranger who escaped the aggressive recruitment techniques of the local women, more patriotic than the soldiers themselves, how insisted all able bodied men join up, whether they wanted to or not.

Tom Booker is newly arrived from the south, formerly Calgary but spending the last few years working on a casual basis on various Montana cattle farms. Soft spoken, easy going, but always restless, he decided to take the non-paying job on Cally’s farm to escape being kidnapped into the army. Very soon, he realizes why Cally is failing; horses are quickly becoming a thing of the past, becoming more for recreation than work, and farming is being taken over by machines, replacing horse power. He tries to convince her than cattle farming is the ticket to prosperity, the army already putting out the call for more grains and meat stock to feed the fledging Canadian forces overseas and domestically.

Reluctantly, Cally agrees though inexperienced in cattle husbandry. Tom agrees to stick around long enough to help her set it up, and uses his former connections to get a start-up herd from his former, wealthy and powerful employer in the Calgary area. But now lies of the problem of getting them north with no capital advance to use the railway or other transportation. There is also the issue of no men of army recruiting age being left to help drive the cattle north back to Cally’s farm.

I won’t give any more away, but the solution is true to history as relayed to me by an old-timer I met, as well as quite unorthodox, and begins the epic adventure of one of the last historical, overland, large cattle drives during a harsh Alberta winter. It is exciting and thrilling, and I felt it even as I did the research for this. My problem lies in that there is a love story involved here, but I really don’t to do this as a romance. I don’t want the exciting and unusual aspects of this story edited out to follow the romance formula. So, I think I have made the decision to write this with a view towards literature with a romance element included.

**Note: I realize this write up is probably sloppy, but I wanted to muse aloud on this, since writing it down usually works to clear up confused thought, but I didn't bother to edit carefully, so forgive me. This entry is strictly self-indulgent.**

Now, on to the editing and re-writes, and excited to see how this goes.