Dear Momma: Here’s what happened in 2018

Hi Momma.

I know we talk a lot, but I wanted to take some time to lay out everything that’s happened since the beginning of March. It’s been such a busy, heartbreaking, extraordinary time.

Most mornings I wake up and forget that you’re not here.

Sometimes you’ll have visited me in my dreams – your way of stopping by and saying hello. I get glimpses of your life in New York or you’ll tell me about the old classmates of yours that you’ve decided to haunt.

I see your smile and hear your laugh and I when I touch you, it’s real.

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Momma, I feel like I could pull you back into life.

Your magic, it burns brightly, everywhere.

You died on Thursday, March 8th. International Women’s Day.

I was holding your hand while Suzan Maclean held the other. I think that she, like me, doesn’t really believe in a world without you.

The day I flew back home, I took a lot of your clothes. I took your light blue jean jacket and your tight black pants. That striped heart sweater that you bought in Brooklyn and your gray crop-top turtleneck.

A few of your sweaters still smell like you. Sometimes I hold them and breathe deeply.

Because I wear your clothes every day, all of my friends are obsessed with your style.

Many of them also have your postcard pinned up in their offices. They tell me that you inspire them to take risks, to wear colour, to try something new.

Hearing this and writing this makes me cry.

In April I joined a gym to learn how to get strong. You would have laughed because when I went in for my assessment, I couldn’t even do one squat. But working slowly and intentionally with my trainer Jules I have developed a new-found respect and appreciation for my body.

And I am getting strong.

Last week I deadlifted ninety kilograms. That’s one hundred and ninety-eight pounds! I know you’re probably thinking, “I just got her to stop running marathons through the mountains, and now she’s doing this?”

But you know that it’s your spirit that drives me.

Thanks for that Momma.

I am sorry to say that I’m still not doing yoga but I do keep your beautiful bag in my office so that I see it every day. When I do start a regular practice, you will, of course, be the first to know.

I’ve started seeing a wonderful grief counsellor who has helped and continues to help me so much. I was seeing her every week and now go about once a month. I also have an amazing “grief community” here in New West, made up beautiful, strong and inspiring women.

You would love every one of them.

They are often who I call when I’m can’t drive because I’m crying too hard, or when I’m paralyzed by grief in some grocery breakfast aisle, or when just the thought of living in this world without you is too overwhelming for words.

Their love helps me.

So does that of my friends. And of Kate and Jessi. Marc.

They all hold me close when all of my pieces are breaking apart.

I cry almost every day.

I hope this doesn’t make you sad. Because I know that the only reason it hurts this much is because of the depth and the beauty of our love.

I think a lot about this when I run. There is a tree down at the river boardwalk here in New Westminster that I call “The Momma Tree”. It reminds me so much of you because of its vibrant colours and delicate leaves. Every time I run by it, I whisper a hello to you and high-five your branches.

Your magic, it burns brightly, everywhere.

This November I ran the Fall Classic 10k and placed ninth. It was one of the harder races I’ve run because I had just had gum surgery two weeks prior and couldn’t exercise at all in the lead up, because it might disturb my graft and slow my recovery.

Not to point fingers, but this gum recession is definitely genetic and it’s definitely from your side of the family.

At first I was so disappointed and I cried at the finish line. I’ve been chasing the elusive sub-40 time for so long and I felt so tired of trying and failing. But Marc held me and helped me.

I know you’ve always loved how delicate he is with me.

Here are some other things that have happened this year, so much with our strength and love:

  • In May, I attended my first New Westminster Community and Social Issues Council Committee meeting. That same month I also started working on my first municipal political campaign, helping my incredible friend Nadine Nakagawa get elected to city council.
  • In June, I presented at Pecha Kucha and spoke about you and grief and love and compassion. Marc and I celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary.
  • In July, I filmed my favourite story of the year at the Sharing Farm in Richmond. In total this year, I wrote over 70 stories for United Way and shot 15 videos.
  • In August, we welcomed beautiful Loic Stewart to the world, and I have loved every moment of being his aunty. I pour love into him. Just like you did with us.
  • In September, I joined the New Westminster Hospice Society’s board of directors. I was the first woman up Grouse Mountain for United Way’s Tech Grind, even though I couldn’t officially compete. (Yes Momma, I am that competitive.) I hosted a fun night of improv with a local feminist collective, MCed a wedding with twelve hours notice and managed to take another selfie with my mayor and council after presenting about United Way Day.
  • In October, I moderated the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce’s All Candidates Debate which was exhilarating and if there is just one thing I wish I could have had you there for, this was it. I started my Compassionate City Crew training with New West Hospice and hosted a very fun Halloween dinner party. You would have loved Marc’s and my costume – I was a lawyer and he was the devil, so we were The Devil’s Advocate.
  • In November, I took a stand against racism in my city, attended the annual civic dinner, completed my hospice training, moderated a panel on brand building and philanthropy, shared a story at The Flame about my absurd decision to get eyelash extensions and hiked around Whistler with Marc for our anniversary.
  • This month there are story performances and holiday get-togethers and both Kate and Jessi are making your gingerbread and I can’t stop crying whenever I sing along to the Barra MacNeils’ Christmas albums.

Just know that I think about you every day. I miss you every day. I see you in a soft rose gold sunset. In the wind that blows the hair from my face. In my dark roots that always grow in no matter how often I dye my hair blond.

You’re the blood in my veins, the green in my eyes. My smile. My laugh. My long legs and cold hands.

Momma, I carry you close.

And I will never stop missing you.

I wrote you this letter even though I know you know all of this.

Because you’re in the sky.

Sea. Land.

Air.

Mommm. Momma. Momma.

You and your magic are everywhere.

Farewell to Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is new Scotland.

It is my Scotland.

Nova Scotia is a dark and stormy coast that births brave and beautiful people who dance and sing and make music that is perfect and pure.

Halifax is that feeling in your heart. That ache and crest. That inconceivable rush when you kiss someone for the first time and everything is unfettered and flushed and on fire and you haven’t a breath in your body.

Halifax is wishing to live in that moment forever.

Halifax is the biggest sky you’ve ever seen. It’s a blue that burns.

Halifax is your neighbour practicing their bagpipes at 8 AM on a Saturday morning. It is a farmers market selling Annapolis Valley cider and hand-knit socks.

It’s riding your bike through The Commons, just before sunset, and marveling at a world bathed in a rose gold glow. For a moment, everything pauses. For a moment, the world collectively releases its breath.

Halifax is, for a moment, letting yourself go.

Halifax is walking along the waterfront, wind-battered and rattled, wondering what the winter will bring. It’s wondering how anyone could live through this.

Halifax is living through this.

Halifax is running and running and running and realizing that no matter how hard you try, you cannot outrun everything.

Halifax is letting your hair grow and your nails heal. It’s three months of restless sleep and restless nights and tears of such surprising heartbreak that, no matter what, you are never ready.

Halifax is getting caught off guard. It’s letting yourself get caught off guard.

Halifax is a city built on folklore and myth, sea shanties and Stan Rogers.

Its days are fueled by harbour hopping tourists and university students.

The Rotary. The Arm. The Waeg. The Coast.

It’s the ego of knowing that Nova Scotia is the best maritime province, but never saying that it’s the best maritime province.

It’s a night that stretches, wraps its arms snug around your shoulders, warming you with a laughter unlike one you’ve ever known.

It’s laughing until you cannot laugh. Doubled over by bad dates and mingled fates. Staring at the gallows of death and disease, and daring them to try.

It’s a love that transcends continents and causeways.

It’s a love that cascades.

Halifax is family, sitting in a kitchen and talking.

Halifax is sitting in a kitchen. The indefinable comfort of sitting in a kitchen.

Halifax is a barbecue where one person starts singing, and then everyone starts singing.

Halifax is just knowing all of the words.

It’s Sonny’s Dream.  And Gillis Mountain. And The Whistling Rover.

It’s unironically loving Rita MacNeil.

Halifax is a city that quietly swallows you whole.

Nova Scotia makes your blood run a little hotter. Gives your legs a new strength.

It forces you to stop. To stare at a sky, and feel the limitless of a place that is haunted and vaunted, and never unnecessarily so.

There is magic here.

Nova Scotia is new Scotland.

It is my Scotland.

And though I am far away, on the briny ocean tossed, I know she heaves a sigh and a wish for me.

She brought me to life

How do I write the world?

I am a woman of many words but in this, I am without.

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So I’ll tell you about crawling into her bed on early Sunday mornings and begging for stories about Antigonish and the always fabled east coast.

Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto.

Ottawa. Ottawa and the Minto hotel.

I needed to know these places. These homes that housed my momma, the indomitable supermomma, a women whom I loved more than anything and anyone in the entire world. So much so that I often wondered how – how could my little heart hold this much?

I craved her memories – needed to know, needed to see, needed to feel these things my momma had known, seen, felt – devoured every word, curled up perfectly, in a momma-sized crook, each piece of part of her life nourishing and sustaining, brightening the beat of my heart.

She brought me to life. She brought me to life.

I cannot find the words, because I am my mother. And she is me.

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I am the knowledge of a world and a love manifestly bigger than my own single self.

It echoes in the hollows of my bones.

Momma, momma, momma.

Donna Marie.

Vanessa Marie.

I feel her everywhere. I see her everywhere. She’s in my fingertips when I write. She’s in my laugh with friends. She in the tree dancing in the wind outside of my home.

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Tell me about Suzan.

Tell me about blueberry picking with Marilyn. Tell me about the dances and camping trips with the MacFarlanes. Tell me about the boys you liked and about the girlfriends you loved more.

Tell me. Tell me. Tell me.

I cannot wait to do this again

Today was a very good day.

I woke at 6 AM to the easy strains of my cellphone’s alarm and the cool darkness of an early east coast autumn.

Rufus and Simon – my mum’s two ragdoll cats – skittered into my room, eager to investigate my pre-dawn activities. Simon jumped on the bed and looked at me, his amber eyes still. Rufus mewled, rubbing his head against my leg.

I had laid out my race gear the night before – shirt, shorts, socks, bra, all stacked neatly on the chair in my bedroom.  As I crept downstairs, I was careful to avoid the creakiest stair. I made it to the spare bathroom on tiptoe, where I brushed my teeth and washed my face. The last thing I wanted to do was wake my mum as I prepared for the day.

I am particular about my pre-race routine.

Clothing, face, hair, coffee, food, water.

It doesn’t matter how far or important the race – I find great comfort in this ritual.

Together with my cousin David – who was also running the race – I ate a bagel with peanut butter and watched as the rising sun softly kissed our backyard trees, leaving their leaves aglow in a golden green.

When mum woke she joined us, and we sat and joked about all-natural nut butters.

Before we left, she took this great photo of Dave and I:

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As we drove out to the Musquodoboit Trailway, we listened to the CBC and shared with each other our favourite programs and hosts. We’re both big fans of As It Happens, This Is That, The Current and Day Six.

When we arrived, we picked up Dave’s race bib at the registration desk. Although the start line was splashed with sunshine, a tricky wind immediately cut through any lingering warmth we had carried with us from Dave’s truck.

For half an hour we joked and laughed and sipped water and used the porta-potties for the last time.

When the starting gun sounded, my feet were halfway numb.

I am always afraid of going out to fast. Time and again my need for speed has proven to be my Achilles’ heel, but today I decided to go for it.

And I’m glad that I did.

I ran a personal best of 41:03. I was the first woman and sixth overall.

I love running.

I love running purely and truly, and have written at length about this love.

But I also love to see others learn to love to run.

I love to see someone cross the finish line for the first time. See them marvel at their strength. Their resilience.

Revel in the depth of their heart.

In a brief moment, they are unrivaled amazement and awe.

Today was Dave’s first race, and he was extraordinary. When he first signed up he made a goal of finishing in less than one hour. He smashed that, completing the course in 58:18.

He told me prior to the start that he didn’t intend on doing any more races. This was pure bucket-list.

Less than one hour later?

I believe his words were something along the lines of, “I cannot wait to do that again.”

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Before heading home to Halifax, we stopped at Martinique Beach.

Today, this stretch of the eastern shore seemed to burn extra bright.

A horizon of the sweetest blue, speckled with fat clouds. The brilliant sun.

White sand. Dunes that danced.

A fall air that burned our lungs and stung our cheeks.

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And in that moment, I forgot everything: I forgot uncertainty and fear. I forgot that life can be unfairly underpinned by sickness and a suffocating sense of helplessness.

I forgot distance and longing.

I felt the sun.

And I thought: I cannot wait to do this again.

Parting is such sweet sorrow

And thus, we have reached the end of our journey.

I, wrapped in blankets; my mother, asleep in the bed next to mine.

We are party animals, but only in the hours betwixt 7 AM and 9 PM.

Tonight, a large glass of red wine has left me slightly light headed and doubly giddy, but mostly content.

Copasetic.

The past ten days have been so filled with magic and adventure, with brilliance and awe. I am beyond stuffed with memories and am bursting with dreams.

We arrived in Stockholm yesterday morning.

After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, my mum and I spent the morning walking all around the city, beginning in the Norrmalm district, before moving on to Galma Stan.

We visited the parliament and the royal palace and the king’s garden esplanade. The Stockholm triathlon was taking place, and we had a chance to cheer on the athletes as they completed the running portion of their races.

I love being able to play bystander to athletic events: watching competitors is always so incredibly inspiring, and it reminds me about the amazing travel opportunities afforded to athletes who compete in different events around the globe.

I really need to start looking into the international half-marathon circuit, stat.

From the race we strolled along the many waterfronts, marvelling at all of the beautiful streets and outdoor restaurants.

Stockholm truly is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. I have such a hard time describing the effect it has on me and the way it makes my heart quiver and quake.

The sunlight on the Riddarfjorden is like a million tiny fireworks exploding in unison.

The apartments and hotels that border the waterways are all unique and breathtaking in their architecture and colour; they are small but timeless castles, cloaked in history. One might imagine that their inhabitants do not age, they only grow cleverer with each passing day.

The people are tall and beautiful.

The men have amazing beards. Then women have amazing hair.

Everyone rides bicycles in suits.

After eating lunch outside of the city library, we slowly strolled back to the hotel, and I purchased a dress and a skirt.

This morning, I woke early and strapped on my running shoes. The moment I caught my first glimpse of Stockholm’s waterfront, I knew that I would regret if I left never having had the chance to run throughout the city.

My route took me twelve kilometers, across the downtown core, along waterways, and through parks. The entire time I was out, I had to keep reminding myself that my life was real; that I was here in this glorious city, doing one of my most treasured loves.

I wish sometimes that I ran with a phone, even though I know I never will. I want those moments to exist exactly as they should: transient and fleeting, gone in a flash and yet exquisitely burned in my memory and heart.

Today my mum and I walked the entire length of Djurgarden, an amazing public garden the boasts canals, amusements parks, palace residences, sprawling greenspace, running trails, and much more. After walking for over four hours, we replenished our spirits and energy stores with cookies, cake, and tea.

Afterwards, I dropped my mother off at the hotel, and I continued on walking the length of the city.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the entire trip. All of the places we visited, all of the things that we did, all of the ideas we shared, all of the laughs we laughed, and most importantly all of the memories we made.

I thought about how we are made up of infinitesimal moments, seemingly too small to comprehend, and yet more powerful than we could ever know.

Life can seem arbitrary, or meaningless. I sometimes struggle with the systems and processes we have set up to govern society, and the enduring institutions that control those systems.

But to be so privileged to travel. To see the world. To open my heart to new places and people, to expand my mind and breathe new life into the spaces when existential cobwebs have grown sticky and dull.

What is such a life.

And to be able to do all of this with my mother – a woman of strength, intelligence, and bravery; who is a little bonkers, and a lot brilliant, and who says things like, “They must have a lot of big furniture here – like long beds and stuff. There’s definitely a demand for it” after seeing a particularly tall Swede walk by.

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I will never take this time for granted.

I am the luckiest girl in the world.