Feeling Love and Loss as I Remember the Fallen and My Own Letting Go Journey

Remembrance Day was Wednesday, November 11. I felt compelled to compose a post, but I didn’t know which direction to go and found myself going in circles. And then a serendipitous series of events occurred that ignited my passion and fueled my muse.

I re-read my Letting Go blog from 2016 as part of an editing process for my new author website. I felt grateful as I read about my struggles and realized how far I’ve come. I still have so much to learn, but I’m walking the path.

When Mister got home from work, I asked him to proofread my first draft. By his body language it was clear, I wasn’t hitting the ball out of the park. Not even close. But he reminded me, I’m the captain of my own ship. How fortunate, that I can choose to revise my goals and deadlines, as I’m the one who created them in the first place. I relaxed into this knowing. There was no need to rush. I bundled up my anxious thoughts and set them aside to sleep on it.

In the morning, I woke up to a message from a friend who had to cancel our FaceTime due to a client crisis. That spurred a conversation between Mister and I about the challenge of balancing “I’m here for you” and “I’m here for me.” We recalled times when we’d reacted to crisis emotionally, dropping everything to help, support and advise, only to have it blow up in our face. We agreed, it is a fine balance that shifts and changes with time and each situation.

After Mister left for work, I opened Face Book for my daily five-minute morning scroll. There was a notification from Not Your Average Operator for their next episode on Loss and Remembrance. I read through the blurb and at the bottom was a quote from a reading by the Reverend Kenneth Semon at Mike’s grandmother’s funeral that blew me away.

To let go does not mean to stop caring; it means I can’t do it for someone else. To let go is not to cut myself off; it is a realisation I can’t control another. To let go is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences. To let go is not to fix, but to be supportive. To let go is not to be in the middle arranging the outcomes, but to allow others to affect their destinies. To let go is not to be protective, it’s to permit another to face reality. To let go is not to criticize and regulate anybody, but to try and become what I dream I can be. To let go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future. To let go is to fear less and love more.” 

                                                                                                           -taken from NYAO

I set down my phone. I closed my eyes and let that sink in. My soul did a little jig. I was back in the flow and I knew what I wanted to say.

I haven’t served my country, nor do I have close family who did. I grew up in small Canadian prairie towns, privileged and oblivious to the ravages of war. I participated in school assemblies and wore poppies. My awareness of the sacrifices of war came from watching movies based on real life war horrors; idealized, romanticized or sensationalized by Hollywood.

Even though I don’t really get it, every Remembrance Day, I feel a crazy mixture of heavy emotion mixed with gratitude and appreciation for what men and women all over the world have given in the name of freedom. Their lives. 

Last Saturday, a group of people on our compound here in Riyadh put together a memorial service to honour the fallen. Paul McFadden, whom I know well, was one of the speakers, and his wife, Cherie, sang an adapted version of Hallelujah. As I watched the video, sipping my hot coffee in the comfort of our villa, tears began to form. In a flash, all the scenes of violence, pain and combat that I’ve watched on film collided. Real-life images of soldiers maimed in battle flooded over me. When Paul spoke of sacrifice, I felt it. My heart constricted as I sat in silence, connected in awareness to what strangers sacrificed in the pursuit of peace and justice. And I cried.

I remembered a conversation I had with Paul earlier this year. He spoke of how sacrifice is the means by which we can transform suffering. It occurred to me that men and women transform the suffering of war through their willing sacrifice of their lives towards something bigger than any one person, towards a higher purpose, a calling to serve humanity.

I’m not a soldier. I’m a lover, an author, an emotional creature. I don’t know about war and I don’t understand that kind of sacrifice, but I’ve loved and lost and I know what it means to let go of my own dreams to serve others. 

Today, I give thanks to the millions of people who have felt called to defend. I give thanks to the families left to mourn. I’m present to the sacrifices we all make, and to the love that gives us the strength to make them.

So yeah, I’m feeling love and loss as I remember the fallen and my own letting go journey.

-Musings is moving to my new author website, launching January 30, 2021-

Feeling Reflective about the Year 2016

 

The end of the year that many are calling disastrous has arrived. True, there were natural, political and religious disasters of one kind or another. There were a lot of celebrity deaths. Life is an ebb and flow of contrasts, and Nature, left to her own devices, gravitates to balance. So, rather than focus on negativity, I feel optimistic.  What happens isn’t what matters, but how we, as a human collective, respond.

 

 

 

Looking back on my own little microcosm, there is a similar theme. I experienced many challenges this year. I blogged about my difficulties with my letting go journey. I hinted at some of my health problems. But I am proud of myself for behaving with integrity and character, for the most part. After all, it’s relatively easy to be a good person when life is proceeding smoothly and people are good to us. Suffering, on the other hand, forces us to find our inner strength.

 

 

 

I have been blessed this past week with one of those rare epiphanies when apparent random and separate events collide to create deep understanding. I achieved success on my letting go journey when I wasn’t searching for answers. In fact, I had few expectations of my brief holiday in Bahrain, other than an opportunity for adventure, relaxation and rejuvenation.

 

 

 

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take you with me to the beginning, when Mister and I embarked on our road trip to Bahrain.

 

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As road trips go, I can’t honestly classify the drive from Riyadh to Bahrain as epic. I was excitedly anticipating what was to be my first drive through the desert and enthusiastically tucked my journal and pen in a handy spot to chronicle my observations. Heading east on a paved three lane highway, barreling along at the posted speed of 120 km/h, I asked if we had left the city of Riyadh to which Mr. Vocabulary replied, “the city limit is rather nebulous.”  We continued past miles and miles of sandy landscape, broken only by the frequent spotting of camels and sheep and oil refineries. I felt like a rebel in the rubble.

 

 

 

Mid-way, the beige sand morphed to a warm burnt orange hue with tufts of green here and there, but soon enough it was back to the endless sea of beige. The monotony of the landscape reminded me of drives across the Canadian prairies. We passed the odd car carcass, a solitary Caterpillar tractor and, strangely, an abandoned Ferris wheel. It was all rather uninspiring.

 

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Three and half hours later, we arrived at the Persian Gulf. I could smell the salty air before it came into view, and I found my heart skipping around in my ribcage with delight as my body absorbed the timeless peacefulness of the open air on the sea. I had an intuition that Bahrain was going to be an impacting experience and I wasn’t disappointed.

 

 

After forty five minutes of waiting in lines and going through tolls and customs booths, driving over the causeway, we arrived in beautiful Bahrain. One of the officials asked David if I was his only wife. He replied yes, to which the official answered, looking over at me, “She has a pretty face, one will do. Me, I have three wives. I sleep well on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.” I must admit it gave me pause to chuckle and I marveled at his cheekiness.

 

 

 

We got a little lost, but soon enough we were at our hotel, Le Meridian, with smiling, friendly porters offering to unload our luggage onto trolleys and park our car. I quickly stepped out of my abaya, tossing it with gleeful abandon onto the trolley and entered the hotel lobby with my Mister. The hotel was decked out in lavish Christmas decorations and the hotel receptionist, Martha, joyfully welcomed us. A feeling of freedom enveloped me and I couldn’t help but feel a wave of gratitude wash over me.

 

 

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Me & Mister by one of the Christmas Trees at Le Meridian

 

 

 

 

 

We made reservations for the hotel’s famous Friday brunch the next day. The experience impacted me on many levels. From the moment we entered the restaurant I felt like Cinderella, it was pure magic. The entryway served as the monument to all things sweet, baked and delicious. Chefs had prepared a sensational assortment of culinary decadence. There was Santa on his sleigh being pulled by cookie reindeer, cakes and puddings, gingerbread houses, an iced snowman and a Christmas tree with bon-bon ornaments. It was a chocolate lovers heaven with at least twenty different varieties of truffles, not to mention a chocolate fountain. My mouth was salivating already and our dining experience had not yet begun.

 

 

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Yes, the reindeer are cookies!

 

 

 

 

 

The smiling waiter with his elf hat perched merrily on his head led us past the live entertainment and seated us at our table with aplomb, plucking my napkin up and placing it politely across my lap. We were brought still water and ordered a glass of champagne.  As I clinked flutes with my Mister I felt more gratitude and tears filled me eyes. Composing myself, I ventured amongst the vast array of food stations, hand in hand with Mr. Charming.

 

 

 

For our first course, several delicious cheeses made their way to our shared plate, including a strong and savoury blue that packed a punch, made even more delectable with the addition of a tart cranberry jam. We also waxed eloquently over the piquant and buttery French cheese, of which variety I have now forgotten. My senses of sight, smell and taste were tantalized, but something much deeper occurred for me as I felt the gift of being in connection with my husband amid the Christmas spirit all around us, surrounded by people of all cultures and religions, gathered together. In that moment, my heart-felt light and a world where peace is king and people respect one another felt possible. I wasn’t the only one with such a vision, as the following video testifies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a short rest and engaging conversation we moved on from champagne to red wine and decided to serve up our second course. We started at the carving station where the chef sliced us thick slices of roast turkey and Wagyu beef. In the line we made eye contact and smiled in greeting to a lady ahead of us who ended up visiting our table later on, a delightful woman named Sophie originally from Germany. We dished up small portions of savoury zucchini, parsnips and potatoes that were spicy and crisp on the outside while an observant server kept discreetly filling up our wine glasses.

 

 

 

Before heading for dessert, Santa Claus arrived. It was quite a hoot, as his black hair peeked out from his thin white wig and obviously fake beard all askew. No one was bothered, least of all the children, who all clamoured about him excitedly and posed with their parents for photos to mark the occasion. Everyone was festive and it touched my heart when a Muslim woman I passed by on my way to the dessert station smiled broadly at me.

 

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Our third and final course was dessert. I did over-indulge (yes, Carol, your Oink was appropriate!) tasting at least six varieties of creamy, velvety, smooth and luscious truffles. Three hours later, stuffed, (not quite like a pig) our experience was complete and we left to explore the shops in the attached City Centre mall.

 

 

 

Skipping ahead, my next impactful experience was our tour of the Al-Fateh Grand Mosque. My good friend Carol, and her husband Raimo, had invited us to join them. Neither Mister nor I had ever stepped foot in a mosque before, and we weren’t certain what to expect. I pulled my scarf discreetly over my blonde hair and lifted my long abaya as we ascended the steps to the entrance. We were ushered into a reception area and asked our nationalities and then asked to wait for our guide outside the shoe cubicle area.

 

 

 

Within minutes our guide, an Imam born in Kenya before settling in Bahrain, joined us. He was a gentle man, the kind of spiritual person for whom all of Life’s questions and answers are simple, for they are placed at the foot of God. For him, his faith was easy and pure and the path to salvation was available to everyone, including us. We merely had to make an oath that there is only one God and that Mohammed was the true and final prophet. Carol and I peppered him with questions about the role of women, about the five daily prayers, and about fasting over Ramadan. He urged us to set our minds and accept the way to a prosperous and happy life. He tried his best to convert us to Islam, but there was no judgement or condemnation expressed, only a sincere desire to provide us with an opportunity for salvation.

 

 

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Me & Carol in the mosque

 

 

 

 

 

The mosque itself was a beautiful structure, designed in an intricate geometric configuration of shapes that exuded a peaceful quality. The walls were covered in a special local stone tile that kept them cool in the hot weather. The ceilings were so high they seemed to stretch to the very heavens themselves. The door to the main prayer area for men, which we were not permitted to enter, was a tall, ornate structure, the handle at the height of my head and almost the same circumference.

 

 

 

Our guide led us up the winding staircase to the gallery viewing area and place where women can pray. We engaged in further discussion about the origins of Islam and Christianity and he shared how both religions had as their common ancestor Abraham, from Israel. Somehow the story had me feeling the unity of humanity, not the division, and I was moved.

 

 

 

We walked around the balcony ledge, carved of ornate dark wood, and peered above at the stained glass windows and elaborate chandelier of imported lamps. The call to prayer began and we took it as our time to depart. We thanked the Imam for his time, David taking his hand in his as a sign of appreciation, and I motioned to do the same before realizing with embarrassment the inappropriateness of my action. I felt flustered and perhaps even a little angry for the first time since arriving in Bahrain with the restrictions of being a woman in patriarchal Muslim society. 

 

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My journey continued when we chose to go and see the movie Passengers. I was excited by the opportunity as there are no movie theatres in Riyadh. Even the message of the movie, which was about letting go of how we expect our lives to unfold to accept what manifests, seemed so appropriate. I could almost feel God whispering me to make the most of each and every moment.

 

 

 

Last, but not least, was our romantic Christmas Eve Dinner at the Cut restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. Mister and I walked into an elegantly decorated hostess station and were shown to the elevator before being led to our intimate booth. Our seats boasted spectacular views of the bay through floor to ceiling windows and the red and white lights of Bahrain’s National Day twinkled in the moonlight. A duo of talented musicians provided us with the atmosphere, the young woman’s sultry voice reminding me of Dido, the man strumming proficiently on his guitar.

 

 

 

The waiter brought us two menus, one a la carte, the other the chef’s prix fixe with wine pairings. The four-course set menu was tantalizing, but I wasn’t sure if my food allergies could be accommodated. To my delight, our smiling server returned and assured me the chef was more than happy to make whatever revisions necessary for me to enjoy his creations.

 

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Mister & Me @ Cut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The presentation did not disappoint. The first course was prosecco with smoked salmon. Crispy on the outside, buttery and flaky inside, it was melt in your mouth delicious. Pasta was served next, and the chef wowed me with a serving of gluten-free spinach fettucine in butter with fresh parmesan, paired with a luscious glass of Chateau de Neuf. The main was the feature and the filet mignon was a perfect cut, perfectly cooked and infused with complex but complementary flavours of earthy mushrooms, savoury mustard sauce and crispy onions. The pairing was a peppery shiraz blend that was our favourite wine selection of the evening. The finale was as impressive, with the chef preparing me from scratch a gluten free yule log of cake and cream that looked equally divine to David’s traditional fare. In addition, was an apple poached tart with two quenelles, one vanilla bean ice cream and one mascarpone cheese. Dessert was paired with a silky port that was not too sweet, pleasing even our picky palates. Yes, it was over the top and we both felt full of food and gratitude when we climbed into our taxi three hours later.

 

That night we were treated to a FaceTime conversation with our daughter and grandson. We were thrilled especially because our FaceTime has not been working since arriving back in Riyadh after Haj. It was so touching to see his cute little face, full of excitement with the magic that Santa Claus was coming to town. In the morning, we enjoyed more connection with my Mom and brother and then with our youngest daughter. I realized how far I’d come on my letting go journey, from last year when my heart was grieving our separation from family so heavily. I still missed them, but I was grateful that I had a family I loved so much to miss. I was grateful for all the Christmas celebrations I shared with them in the past. And I was present to the gift of this Christmas with my Mister in Bahrain.

 

 

 

The myriad of experiences I had in Bahrain combined to create feelings of such deep love, peace and joy. I left feeling full of hope for the future, enthusiastic to discover what new adventures were in store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling reflective about 2016 and wishing everyone a Happy New Year

 

“Feeling Challenged on my Letting Go Journey”

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I’ve been on a journey of learning how to let go for a long time now. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that letting go is my life lesson. It has shown up in so many different places, it’s hard to account for them all and difficult to identify when it began.

One thing I know for sure is that this lesson surfaces for me whenever I face a new health challenge. When I was diagnosed with Diabetes I had to let go of my ideas on eating and being a free spirit, unrestrained by routines. Eating regular meals and planning became an important part of my management. I had to let go of my discomfort with needles and embrace having to inject myself daily. It hasn’t been a linear learning curve. I’ve had to make many adjustments along the way, continuously letting go of regimens that are no longer effective and developing new strategies to manage my blood sugars. I’m still working at it, doing my best.

When I experienced depression for the first time I had to let go of a definition of myself that didn’t allow me to accept what I was feeling. I had a concept of myself as a positive, optimistic and happy person and that just didn’t seem to fit with what I was feeling. On that journey of letting go I came to understand that there are different experiences of depression. What I suffered from was situational in nature, not chronic. When I identified the triggers and dealt with them I no longer suffered from depression. The in-depth story of that journey is the theme of the novel I am currently writing, Darkness to Dawn.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease, but it was the almost two years before my diagnosis when I had no idea what was wrong with me that was the most challenging. I was told I might have Lupus, among other auto-immune diseases. I struggled with the pain and the worry of not knowing. I had to let go of an image of myself as strong and vital. At one point I could barely walk up the stairs I was so weak, let alone practice yoga or work-out at the gym. I had to quit my teaching position because I couldn’t manage the demanding work load. I couldn’t even keep my arm raised long enough to write on the whiteboard. I let go of the mainstream approaches to curing Lyme’s and embraced a naturopathic/homeopathic/western medicine integrated approach that was completely off the grid and totally individualized and now, two years later, I am cured.

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During one of my periods of feeling challenged my oldest daughter bought me a copy of Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. Reading that book helped me to recognize the value in letting go of all of my limiting ideas about how and who I should be. Pema wrote that when you feel fear you should feel lucky, for it is an opportunity to grow. Furthermore, she postulated that you need to let go of your old identities in order to become someone new. It comforts me to meditate on this wisdom and recognize how illness brings up our ultimate fear of death. I believe that working through fear with grace, resilience and faith is key to achieving happiness.

All of these health challenges had something else in common. They pushed me to let go of all limiting ideologies. In order to achieve wellness, I had to be open to all points of view, including sometimes conflicting western and eastern approaches to well-being. Self-help books provided some insights, but it in the end, I had to create my own individual path. I had to trust my intuition and recognize that I know myself best. I had to take the time to be silent, so that I could hear the whisperings of my heart.

Becoming a parent has been another facet of my letting go journey. I discovered I was pregnant with my first child when I was still a child myself. I was sixteen in fact, and unmarried. I had to let go of my idea of what it meant to be a single teenage mom, because quite frankly most of the role models and societal views were limiting and negative. I had to let go of the discouraging associations and learn how to create an image of myself in that role that was strong, resourceful and capable.

That journey began with yet another letting go. I had wanted to pursue a career in journalism. Trying to support a child on your own with the unpredictable pay and hours of a beginning journalist seemed unrealistic to me. So, I chose to go to university to become a teacher, knowing that I loved education, loved working with children, and that the work hours would support me in raising my little girl. It was a perfect choice and I cherished being a teacher for many years.

My father’s death in 2000 was another pivotal moment in my letting go journey. Losing him was like losing a reflection of myself where the image projected was perfect. My father and I shared such an incredible bond that it took me seven years of grieving my loss to truly accept his death and move on. Letting go of his physical presence and learning to connect with his spirit took time, patience, and determination on my part, but it happened. I recently finished writing a novel based on my relationship with my dad titled My Father’s Hands and I’m looking for an agent to represent me.

As each of my children have made the transition to adulthood, my letting go journey has been challenged yet again. When they have made decisions as adults that I don’t agree with, I have had to accept their choices. It is no longer appropriate for me to tell them how to live nor advise them, without their requesting my advice. I have had to summon all of my strength to have the courage to allow them to live their own life journey, even when I’ve been scared of the possible outcomes. The truth is, there are no guarantees in life.

Which brings me to the current situation that is having me feeling challenged on my letting go journey. I have someone in my life whom I love dearly who is struggling with mental health. I feel that from my position of relative objectivity, experience and wisdom, I have the opportunity to make a difference. I feel like if my advice could be listened to and followed, there would be a greater chance of success in managing the illness effectively. I have felt a need to have control, fooling myself into believing that I have the power to keep her safe. I have felt so scared of losing her that I have allowed myself to forget my letting go lesson. I have come to understand, from a place deep in my soul, that her journey is hers to live. It isn’t my cupboard. I need to find the strength and courage to allow her the opportunity to discover her own self. I need to have faith. I need to remember that the only thing I really have to give is love. Loving her is easy.

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So yeah, I am feeling challenged. I’m also feeling the power of hope, prayer, faith and love.