The Footsteps of My Past…

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It’s been 3 years since my last confession…. (Well… since I’ve posted to my blog in actuality, as blogging seems to be my confessional of choice).   Since that time I have lost and regained about 30 pounds and found myself caught in what can sometimes be described as the mundane everyday hamster wheel of life; though I feel it is more accurate a scenario portrayed within the spinning thoughts of my own mind.  I have looked at various ways to reacquaint myself with the old ‘me’, and in full disclosure I admit that some of the old me is best left to the past, though we are all a work in progress.   But, I would love nothing more than to once again walk in the shoes of the carefree and expressive ‘me’ of long ago.

A number of years ago, when I sat down to write my first blog pages, I also wrote a healing short story about a painful memory from my past, which still remains sight unseen to others.  A memory that had once upon a time been selectively shared with family and close friends; a net which became wider and wider and slowly captured a larger audience as my inability to stay quiet became inevitable.  My hurt and silence was like a kettle of water on a low boil that would eventually whistle loud enough for others to hear, and, if unacknowledged, it would spill over and blow.  This written account of events was not publicly declared, as it was pages from my life that also caused grief and probably some embarrassment from a tight lipped and relatively private extended family tribe.  It’s a story of inappropriateness pushed on a young girl who did not have the adult capabilities to fend off her perpetrator.  Granted these unwanted sexual overtures from this heinous monster (which is a more than fair and very accurate description) were not as severe as perhaps some other poor child’s accounts may have been in similar circumstances, but they were in the very bold truth… a fact;  Traumatic, Terrifying and Criminal.  And I am not trying to trivialize what happened, (to you, or in my own mind) but there are instances of abuse that can be far more graphic and horrific in nature.  These memories I have though, unfortunately belong to me, and have repeatedly traumatized me throughout different stages of my life.  And, at various points over the decades the realness of them comes back to haunt me at odd and unexplained moments, even within the waking hours.  Engulfing me in fits of anxiety, rapid heart beat and the ever present memory of feeling trapped as I did as a young girl; hiding in a bedroom alone in the darkened night during visits to the farm, shielded by a thin chenille coverlet, with the flecks of dust floating against the faint light from under the door and praying to a god I wasn’t sure existed, as my aunt peacefully slept in the room next to mine, utterly and totally oblivious to the monster she lay with.  Vivid memories are heartbreakingly recalled as I stifled my cries and begged with my heart that the stench of his vulgar whiskey breath and rough calloused hands would no longer come within my reach, and despairingly I remember the struggle(s) to push him off of me and his deep menacing and evil laugh when I was finally successful enough to do so.

Over the course of the years I tried different approaches to deal with my anger, hurt and bewilderment that someone could in fact inflict such undeniable psychological trauma to a child who carried only joy and innocence.   But to such beasts, that must be the mass appeal; a gift that can be stolen from their prey.  As an adult, I sought counseling after full blown panic attacks and agoraphobia and thought I had beaten the burden I carried.  Later, again, years down the road I worked with a life coach, after noticing the various ways I was self-sabotaging aspects of my life.  She encouraged me to write a letter to the molester, which I did.  (I very deliberately refrain from the term ‘my’, as it represents the bonded connection which he sought through his abuse, but was never entitled to.)  It was not a letter of forgiveness, because it is unforgivable.  It was a letter forcing him to acknowledge what he did, and to transfer the burden and shame where it rightfully belonged.  And, in the act of writing, the realization became clear that there was no one to blame BUT him.  That my aunt was most likely also abused in some way shape or form, and that there was a naivety of that era, where trust in others was very easily misplaced; his opportunites to abuse being a testament to that.  Though I admit, such realizations offer no comfort on the dark days when my heart feels heavy.  The option I weighed was to send or not send the letter, though I don’t believe I was ever really reluctant to do so, and therefore I recall very deliberately posting it in the mail, and the act of ‘letting it go’ in the hope of finally finding closure.  To this day, if it was read aloud to him as he lay ailing in his nursing home, I will never know.  I don’t know if it was found among his belongings after he finally died, because no one dares speak of it.  I don’t know what it feels like to be blood related to a monster; to be embarrassed of a father or grandfather who could inflict such deliberate and calculated abuse upon someone.  And for this and many other reasons, I give thanks that my own family taught me what real love means.  I know him only as a non-biological uncle that had a pattern of abuse throughout his own life, who inflicted vile and wretched hurt unto others in a variety of menacing and cruel ways during his lifetime; which still does not allow me to offer pity upon him.  It is continuing hurt though, that still lingers at times…. that it cannot be openly spoken of freely.  That the reason for my hate and disdain of him are not fully acknowledged by those who know it, but do not speak of it.  The reasonable part of my brain, tries desperately to convince myself that silence is instilled to spare my feelings, but in actuality it does the reverse.  Silence is painful for me.  It is silence that breeds shame, and the spoken truth the key to its release.  If his memory and name, (which I can barely stomach to utter aloud, and seethes out between clenched teeth) “John Tatarin”, remains untarnished, and the pain he inflicted remains unspoken, it does not accurately reflect history.

I am thankful daily though, for the ears that listen when I need them to, for those who acknowledge the trauma it inflicted upon the child who felt scared and alone and unable to cope.  And from the memory I hold of the person who tried to protect me at the very beginning of the torment; my heart will forever be connected with theirs and full of gratitude and love which overflows from my soul.  In our own way, we must all learn the art of our own healing; how to continue to forge ahead with the memories and feelings from childhood, with the coping mechanisms we now have as adults.  And it’s a very fine balance; one that we must ‘train our brain’ to do.  We are no longer living in that moment in the past, but just remembering it;  though with the act of remembering we can inadvertently conjure up the feelings we had whilst of that  age, where time stands still.  Sometimes we lose our way, when we become enveloped in that feeling… but within ourselves we have the ability to find a way out of the hurt.  Through tragedy can come a deep understanding and protectiveness of others, which my soul carries – and it’s the side I often share with the world.   And, as I take this moment in time to once again heal my broken spirit, I look for ways I can reconnect with the joy I carry within, as I walk along my path ahead.

It is my hope that these written words do not cause hurt or angst to others, but that the sentiments shared find their way to help understand the healing process that can be associated with traumatic events; that PTSD can manifest itself at unexpected times, in unexpected ways and that support can vary between individuals.

This is only a small piece of the puzzle that makes me ‘me’… albeit the most challenging dimension, and my own story keeps unfolding, sometimes with different layers: hurt, grief, love, laughter, joy.  Thank you for walking with me a while, as I regained the courage to retrace the footsteps of my past…

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My father’s love lives on …

sherri with dad 1972 cropped and adjusted It’s crazy to think that 15 years ago today, the life of one of the most important people in my world, was suddenly over. Gone. Just like that.

I remember getting the call that he had almost died. I don’t remember the words, but I remember the fear. The tears. The anguish. And, that I was here. In Ottawa. Sitting in my little cubicle. Living my life, while my dad was fighting for his, and I didn’t even know it.

I look back on that time as though I was watching a movie in slow motion. I can hear the sob escape my lips, and see the desperation in my tears as deafening silence engulfs the office. Sixty people stop cold. No movement, no sound as the heavy hush falls. In my movie, I see my good friend rush over, grab my hands in hers, and my voice shakes as I tell her. Silence. Gripping fear. Real, desperate heartache. I hear my voice talking to the doctor, to see what shape he’s in now. And hear his deep soothing tone tell me “You’ll never regret coming, even if he was to get better”. breaking_hearts blog And… it is at that split second… that very specific moment in time, that I feel the ‘crunch’ of my heart cracking; it’s jagged tear echoing in my ears. I will never experience life the same. He won’t be getting better. This the beginning of the end. A piece of my heart will always be broken. Forever.

In a blur, I take the next flight home to Edmonton, where my best friend is waiting to take me to the hospital. I remember sitting outside in her car, sobbing. Again. Trying to muddle up the courage to see him. The hollow “click clack” of my shoes resonate against the linoleum floor of the empty corridor as I sneak into his room after visiting hours. I remember holding his hand in mine, the raised purplish veins under his skin, and the familiarity of his kind, gentle, warm touch. I can close my eyes still today, and see the same hazel eyes looking back at me, and hear him tell me “I almost didn’t make it today”. How the words hurt to hear, but the relief of being with him, even for a few minutes, hours or days were of comfort. He must’ve made a joke, because I remember smiling a real smile, not a sad smile. He had that way about him. That charm. That gentle soul. The one I still miss.

As the days passed, and we were all around him, I felt the warmth of his love mixed with the fear of losing him. Of never being able to see him again. To ask his sage advice, to sit with him in silence and watch the squirrels on our deck, to lay beside him, match his breathing and hear the ticking of his mechanical mitral heart valve pumping the blood in and out, or to hear the unexplainable joy in the sound of his laughter and telling of witty jokes.

dad alesiaThe day he died, my sister and I were trying to coax him into eating his lunch. My niece was just a baby (the apple of his eye), and my sister and I were both on the verge of bursting into tears, because it was just too hard. It was – too hard. It was hard for each of us, in the same ways, yet differently.  But mostly… it would’ve been the hardest on him;  in ways I can’t even begin to comprehend… or face.  My mom and brother were talking to the doctor… my sister had taken my niece to the lounge… and I sat with him, and tried to convince him to eat something. I heard the rasping of his shallow breathing, saw the very distant far away look in his flecked hazel/brown eyes, and knew something was… wrong. I remember desperately trying to press the nurse’s call button – and choking out a plea for help – and then running down the hall as fast as I could to find a nurse. I could feel the pounding in my chest, the panic and the feeling of wanting to scream as loud as I could; but not being able to.

By the time I had found everyone, he was with my brother and had taken his last breath. And … I had missed my chance to say goodbye … to hold his hand and reassure him so he wouldn’t be afraid and to tell him how much I loved and admired him. In my heart, I knew that he knew all the love we each carried for him, but… my heart’s regret is that I didn’t just stop and hold him… that I ran to find help… and that for a fraction of a second he may have been alone.

On the way to his funeral, we were all sitting in the car, and I can’t remember which one of us said it, but it was his classic line. “I’m okay… you okay?”… And I remember looking at my mom, and I think that was the first time we were all able to smile. And it was because we felt him with us. That he would always be with us, in the big and small ways. And that in moments such as this, we were reassured that he would always be a part of us.dad alesia and me

It took at least 6 months of deep hearted sobs every day, which tapered to every few days, then weekly, monthly and now, fifteen years later, in moments when I least expect it. The tears will trickle, and I can feel the ache of that hairline fracture that remains in my heart.

In our culture, we celebrate the lives of the people who have passed. At a young age, I was introduced to open casket funerals. I was five when my dad’s dad passed away, and I was scared to view his body at the funeral. My dad gently took me by the hand, and reassured me that everything was going to be okay. He led me past the pews, up the long red carpeted aisle to the coffin, where we stood in front of my grandpa’s body. My dad reached out and touched his hand, and took my hand to do the same. Nothing happened, and I remember distinctly that any fear I had , dissipated. We had annual gravesite visits at Provody; where baskets of food and Ukrainian bread lit with candles are laid on the graves, and they are blessed. The baskets are then given out, in memory of our loved ones, and the lives of those who passed are celebrated. As a young child, I knew that death was a part of life. And to this day, it brings me comfort knowing that each and every day my father’s life is celebrated in everything we do.

dad in boat croppedThe crack in my heart is still there, but it is healed by his memory; filled with joy from the time I spend with my family, and blessed with the love I see in my son’s smile when he laughs and expresses himself in ways that remind me of my dad, even though he passed before Mouks was born. It makes me think that my dad lives in more than just my memory, that he really is a part of each of us.

My dad worked hard, laughed heartily, enjoyed life, and loved deeply. He lived his life with integrity, joy, humour, trust, kindness, generousity, optimism and enthusiasm. It is my wish that I can live my life with the same abandonment. That any obstacles I am faced with, I can rise above them, and see the hope for tomorrow, the beauty in the moment I am in, and appreciation for the life I have been given. And to know, that no matter what, we’ll all be okay.

“I’m okay…..you okay?” Johnny Huculak

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Friday(s)

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I have always wished that every day could feel like Friday.  AhhhhhFridays.  A day, where you wake up with optimism; a keen new perspective on the day ahead and inner reflection on the week that is ending.  I’m deep like that.  Friday’s fly by quickly (making the rest of the week seem even longer!), people aren’t as serious (they’re sometimes even dog-gone pleasant!), and you know with a degree of certainty that you won’t have to hit the dreaded ‘snooze’ button five times on Saturday morning.  Oh, glorious Saturday!  You carry a sense of anticipation throughout the day for the never-ending possibility of what Friday night’s activities may entail; where you can do as little or as much as you would like.  Well, I can; everyone else must adhere to my delegated task list!

Mouks loves Friday’s because school’s out for the weekend, and it’s ‘Pizza Day’, where he can gorge himself with his favourite food.   (Because, seriously, what 10-year-old boy does not love a little ‘ZZA?!)   He is excited for a full night of hangin’ out, and staying up late – and he literally radiates with anticipation for his first buddy to arrive for what will be an ENTIRE marathon weekend of Lego and Wii.  Whereas I am carefully devising my ‘mental preparedness plan’, which includes when, where and how long, to nap.

When I asked the Big D, why Friday is his favourite day he replied with his usual philosophical wisdom (and witty chuckle; the one where he laughs at his own joke before he tells it),  “‘Cause it’s Friday”.  Ahhh yes…. profound.  What’s not to love?! 

Friday’s are Hopeful.  Optimistic.  Joyful.  And now, every day is Friday, in Smackiland.Friday for Blog

Exactly 363 days after our beloved Snor’eo passed away, many months of mourning and oceans full of tears later, we welcomed a new pooch in the ville to share all of our pent up puppy love with.  No shortage of a supply in our abode!

And, very fittingly, her name, is FRIDAY. (T.G.I.F!)

And now, every day, we are greeted as though we are the most awesome’est pack in the whole animal kingdom, with full body tail wags and slobbery kisses.

Friday’s Favourite Pastimes:  Hunting for duck stuffies, snorking the stuffing out of ducks stuffies, chewing rawhides (and duck stuffies), tearing apart boxes (ohhhh, and did I mention, duck stuffies?), begging for food, running, playing, hugging, sleeping, cuddling.  (And hogging the bed).

Date of Birth:  Some time mid-July 2012.  Six months and still growing.

Breed:  Catahoula / Mountain Cur Mix.  (Yup…. Gotta love ‘google’; apparently, the Catahoula Leopard Dog is the official dog for the State of Louisiana!)  – We lovingly call her our little Catahooligan! 

Place of Birth: Ashland, Kentucky (American born; Just like the Big D!)

Originally Rescued by:  AARF, Ashland Animal Rescue Fund in Kentucky
Ottawa Rescue AgencyCatahoula Rescue Inc. (Ontario) Ottawa

Heartfelt thanks and gratitude to:Friday, blog puppy pic

  • Those who first rescued this sweet little ‘pupper-do’.
  • Those who pulled her from the shelter and saw her potential.
  • Those who housed her, fed her, cared for her and gave her medical attention before she even made the trek to the Great White North.
  • Those who transported her and nurtured her during what was surely a very long journey.
  • Those who pulled the strings behind the scenes in Canada to bring her here knowing that eventually she would find her ‘pack’, and for continuing to  save the lives of countless other furry friends.  Gloria Baggs, the rumours are true; you are amazing!
  • Those who donated funds, food, supplies, time, effort into helping our little Friday, and all of her puppy pals.
  • Those who adopted from a rescue agency opening up a space for her to be saved.
  • Those who foster these sweet dogs with comfort, understanding and unconditional love, until they find their new families.  Trish McQuhae you TOTALLY rock!  And Diesel, you giant great dane puddy-tat, we have photo evidence of some Friday cuddles!
  • To all those countless others who understand that a rescued dog may actually be the one rescuing you.
  • And to our beloved dog Oreo… thank you for opening our hearts to how truly amazing life can be, when a ‘pupper-do’ becomes part of your family.

ben and friday blog polaroid

Doggy Days…

Once upon a time there was a beautiful hound dog named Oreo, that snored her way into our hearts. (a.k.a Roar’eo, Snor’eo, Big O).  When the Big D and I got our first apartment (after a brief stint in his bachelor pad;  yup, those were close quarters;  we MUST’VE been in love!), we saw an ad in the community paper for some puppies that had been abandoned in a knapsack on the side of a road; 2 had suffocated, but 10 survived.  (Yeah… I know… it breaks my heart, disturbs me, and makes me so sad and mad all at the same time.  We said all the same bad words, so don’t hold back on my account)!  Anger aside, we opted for a visit, and there was one itty bitty black and white pooch left, named Oreo, who was about 8 weeks old.  We went to see her, she sniffed us, gave us slobbery kisses and showed off by  ‘peeing on the potty paper’.  It was love…. we brought her home the day after Valentine’s 1997.  She immediately made herself at home, flopped down on a floor cushion and proceeded to saw some serious Z’s.  Even though she was only the size of a football, her snores echoed throughout the apartment (and down the block).

We took Snor’eo everywhere.  One year we packed up my little red Festiva (ya-ya-ya-ya!!!) and drove to PEI for a bit of October car camping.  Okay… so we didn’t put a lot of forethought into how cold it would ACTUALLY  be and “yowza!” it was c-h-i-l-l-y!  In our little 3 man tent, Snor’eo kept us warm and she loved to chew on freshly cut firewood and hang out by the campfire in the hopes that a few dropped marshmallows would roll her way.   We explored the island and had a great trip.

Confederation Bridge

I remember being terrified to drive over that crazy long Confederation bridge that connects PEI to New Brunswick.  So, there I sat, petrified, as the Big D calmly maneuvered the car onto the bridge for the trek back home…. and then, as the car was gently rocking back and forth in the wind, I noticed it.

It was quite faint at first, actually.  I gave the air a quick ‘sniff’, and then it increased in pungency, creeping its way from the back seat, engulfing the car with its wicked stench.  It was the overpowering smell of terror that had escaped from Snor’eo’s bottom side.   She must’ve ‘passed wind’ in fear, and the stench was even more ferocious than her bark!  So, in true smacki fashion I made up a wee song to ease her nerves and mine, which I sang until we reached the other side safely…

“Your bum’s as big as PEI… as PEI… as PEI”
“Your bum’s as big as PEI.. and it smells like ocean fish!”

Some days, like today, I get very melancholy, especially when I remember her fondly in her heyday. It’s been just over nine months, since she passed on to the big doggy bone heaven in the sky, and not a day goes by in our house that we don’t miss that big ball of burly love.

She died the week before Christmas, 2011;  just shy of fifteen years old. It shook us all, even though we knew the days we had with her were getting shorter.  On that fateful Saturday, she faithfully followed the Big D into work, hoping to get her share of pepperoni from the pizzeria next door, and maybe some extra crust, as she did on most days.  It was there, later that morning, that she had her last bite of roasted chicken, and took her final breath in the Big D’s arms.

We all miss her.  Mouks had a really hard time, especially for the first few months.  He was nine at the time, and would lay in bed on many nights, write her name in the air, and cry;  deep hearted sobs of loss in the darkness, over the dog he loved so much.  It is one thing to lose your beloved pet, and to have to cope with that loss.  It is another, to see your child in despair, as he mourns the loss of his cherished pooch, and to watch him struggle to try and comprehend what happens when one dies.

I remember crying (well, more like bawling, with gushing tears and wet boogers) to the Big D one night and saying that I didn’t want to get another dog (EVER), because I didn’t want to feel this overwhelming sense of loss again.  But now, 9 months later, I feel differently.  A void is still left in our little family from the place she held in our lives.  We all know that big ball of love can never really be replaced, but we are getting closer to the stage where we can imagine another exuberant hound dog becoming part of our clan.   NOT, that I’ve been scouring through all the Ottawa rescue sites on a frequent basis, searching for the right ronker to live with us in Smackiland, or anything like that….   But, secretly, in my heart, I know that Roar’eo would like us to save another furry soul and open our hearts to loving another pooch one day.