Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Grief," observed

Dh & I spent this morning at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I hadn't been there in at least five years, maybe 10 -- before the latest renovation/expansion -- and I don't know a whole lot about art -- but I enjoyed seeing old favourites (hello, Tom Thomson and Group of Seven!), special exhibits (Emily Carr, you were amazing) and new discoveries.

In the centre of one of the gallery rooms, with paintings crowding the walls, was a small bronze sculpture. I gave it a glance, and the title caught my eye. It was called "Grief" and I moved in for a closer look. "Look!" I hissed at dh. "It's called 'Grief.'

We both stared at it for a few moments.

It was a woman. Looking down at her (flat, non-pregnant) belly.

This link says it's from the National Gallery of Canada (which is in Ottawa), but we saw it at the AGO -- on loan, perhaps? The artist's name is Frances Loring.

I was taken aback to see it. 

But it was beautiful.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book: "Going Gray" by Anne Kreamer

"Going Gray" by Anne Kreamer has been in my to-read pile for some time now -- and after I wrote about my last visit to the hair salon (and after pointing others struggling with this question to this book), I decided it was time to actually get the thing read myself, lol.

Anne Kreamer was 49 years old and had regularly coloured her hair for years (at an estimated cumulative cost of $65,000)(!!! -- she DOES live in New York City...!) -- until she saw a photo of herself that led her to question that decision and contemplate the consequences of "going gray." (Hint: It's not just about the hair.)

The book had its beginnings in an article Kreamer wrote for More magazine -- and it does feel a bit padded at times. Kreamer seems determined to explore every angle she can find related to the decision to "go gray" -- to the point that I sometimes I had to scratch my head and say, "Seriously??" At any rate, she does do a thorough job.

She explores the history of hair colouring, how hair colouring products have been marketed through the years, and the pressures women face to maintain a youthful appearance. She looks at gray hair in Hollywood, in politics, in business and in other countries/cultures (particularly that bastion of fashion, France). Beyond interviewing women AND men (both famous and not) on their opinions about gray hair (can gray hair be sexy?) and their own decisions on the matter, she devised a survey to probe attitudes about age, beauty and gray hair, including photos of people with and without gray hair. With her husband's blessing (!), she ventured onto online dating sites, using photos of herself with and without gray hair, to see which profile generated the most interest. She even went barhopping, first in a wig and then in her gray hair, to see which version of herself attracted the most interest from men. (Sometimes, the results of these experiments were surprising.) She also visits an image consultant, and looks at how colouring your hair can be a slippery slope that leads to other anti-aging measures, such as botox and cosmetic surgery.

If you're wondering whether to "go gray" yourself, this book might give you some food for thought.

An update: I'll be heading home to see my parents shortly, but before I do, I'll be making my traditional pre-trip visit to the salon. ;)  I haven't made up my mind yet as to whether I'll be asking my hairdresser for a cut & colour/highlights, or just a trim -- but I'm leaning towards just the trim. And bracing myself for my mother's reaction, lol.

This was book #11 that I've read so far in 2015.

Monday, June 29, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Graduation blues

It's that time of year. School is out for the summer, pretty much everywhere now. Over the past few weeks, I've been seeing a steady stream of "last day" photos (when I was a kid, we had first day photos & that was it, but nevermind...), prom photos, year-end recital and sports banquet photos, junior kindergarten graduation photos, kindergarten graduation photos, sixth grade graduation photos, junior high graduation photos, high school graduation photos, university graduation photos (including my own nephew's).  Parents posting on Facebook with hashtags that say "soproud" and "growinguptoofast" with sad face emoticons.

Watching from the sidelines, those of us who have lost children, those of us who wanted to be parents but aren't, are watching with a mixture of pride (for the achievements of those kids we know & love), bemusement ("get a grip, mom & dad"), sadness, and yes, a little envy.

I understand that sensation of time passing by way too quickly, a little. It doesn't seem that long ago that our nephew was an adorable, chubby, curly-headed toddler with a soother that seemed permanently stuck in his mouth. And now he's a towering six-feet-something tall, embarking on a new job and saving up to buy his girlfriend an engagement ring. Yikes!  (We weren't able to attend his convocation -- not enough tickets -- but we were still able to watch him cross the stage and receive his diploma via webcast. Three cheers for technology!!) 

But as another babyloss mom has said (in words to this effect), "I really wish people wouldn't say stuff like 'I wish they could just stay little forever.' Believe me, you really don't wish that. I will never see my son's first day of school, or last day or school, or graduation, or wedding.  I will never get to see him grow up. At all." 

This September, my daughter would have been entering her last year of high school. Turning 17 in November.

This time next year, I will be looking at my friends' & relatives' photos of their sons & daughters (at least five or six kids that I can think of, offhand, whose moms' pregnancies overlapped mine with Katie) attending prom, attending graduation, receiving awards, posing with proud parents & grandparents, discussing their plans for the future, talking about university and community college in the fall. 

There are many things about the bereaved parent experience that I've learned to grin & bear, to shrug off, that I've gotten used to, developed coping strategies to handle. Showers, birthday parties, first communions, weddings, Halloween, Christmas -- occasionally, I will have a difficult moment, but these things generally sting far less than they once did.

I don't think this is going to be one of those things.  

I am not looking forward to it.

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.         

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Inside Out," and learning to live with Sadness

Dh & I went to see the new Pixar movie, "Inside Out," this afternoon. (I ventured in to buy the tickets while dh parked the car. "Two tickets, please," I said to the young girl at the box office. "Is that two adults?" she said. "Ummm, yes," I muttered, extremely conscious that every other adult in line had at least one kid in tow.) 

Of course, as it turned out, this is one of those kids' movies that's really not for kids at all. (Bring Kleenex!)

As you may have heard by now, the movie is all about 11-year-old Riley, whose happy life with her parents is turned upside down when they move from Minnesota to San Francisco.  Most of the activity takes place inside of Riley's brain, where the control board is presided over by her emotions: Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness, and (especially) Joy (all brilliantly voiced).

This was a good movie (definitely a thumbs up -- dh loved it too) -- but it was also a tough movie for me personally to watch, for several reasons.

First, the scenes of little Riley frolicking with her parents were a painful reminder of everything I've missed out on over the past 17 years with our daughter.

Second, Riley's emotions as a little girl uprooted from her home and friends by her father's career move were all too familiar to me. My sister & I lived in 9 different houses in 5 towns in two provinces before we graduated from high school, moving around every 3-4 years because of our dad's job. The longest I ever lived anywhere, prior to marrying dh, was 6 years. The movie brought back a lot of memories, not all of them good.

Third, the movie was sometimes hard to watch because of the lessons it imparts about our emotions -- in particular, Joy and Sadness -- and the roles they play in our lives. Instead of asking Riley about how she's feeling about the move, Riley's mom reminds her daughter about the stress dad is under with his new job, and says "it would be a big help" if she could just keep smiling. Hmmm, why does this sound familiar? Joy (voice by Amy Poehler) frantically tries to keep Riley happy -- and keep Sadness away from the control board. Yet by the end of the movie (SPOILER ALERT!), it's Sadness who saves the day for Riley. Joy realizes that Sadness does have an important role to play in Riley's life, that sometimes we need Sadness, before Joy can return to our lives again. 

Dan Kois of Slate finds this message "revolutionary." Reading the Slate article (and I would recommend it), I was reminded of Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Bright-Sided," (which I reviewed here), and the constant pressure we feel in this society to remain relentlessly positive and upbeat in the face of all kinds of truly crappy situations -- cancer, death, stillbirth, infertility. Our grief and sadness make others uncomfortable. Like the character Joy, they whirl around, trying to distract us with upbeat chatter -- when often, what would really help us feel better is for someone to sit down beside us, put an arm around us and say, "hey, that's sad" while we cry -- as Sadness does in the movie.

Lori Lavender Luz saw the movie recently with her kids, and had a similar observation about this key lesson:   
We in the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community have a tradition of abiding with someone who is enduring a loss or facing a fear. We don’t dismiss the emotions (“it’ll all be OK”) or tell someone to “get over it.” We don’t avoid tough emotions. We sit with a person while she feeeeeeels it. We walk alongside.

Have you seen the movie yet? (Don't forget the Kleenex!  lol)  

Monday, June 22, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Ghosts of Christmas past

This weekend -- after spending the past several weeks going through my book collection and hauling 25 liquor store cartons full to the Salvation Army to date -- I turned my attention to the smallest of our house's three bedrooms -- the one that was supposed to have been a nursery.

Among the junk & treasures in the closet, I found a stack of Christmas cards from 1998.  You know, the cards that were supposed to be brimming with messages of ecstatic congratulations about the baby girl that was supposed to have been born in November.  Of course, 1998 turned out to be probably the crappiest, most turbulent year of my life, made even more miserable by the death of my beloved grandfather in October. 

I hadn't looked at the cards in quite a while. I had only kept the ones that people had written personal messages in. I had sent my own cards extra-early that year with an explanatory letter to pre-empt any enquiries or congratulations about the baby, and thankfully, I didn't receive any of those. 

The vast majority of cards I received that year made absolutely no mention of the small pink elephant in the room in any way, shape or form.  (To be fair, some had, of course, already called or sent condolences back in August &/or again in October.)  Most of the cards containing messages simply relayed a few tidbits of family news and/or heartily wished us a merry Christmas (yeah, right) and happy 1999.

A few alluded in a general way to the sadness of the past year and wished better things for us in the new year:
  • From one of my oldest and dearest friends: "I'm so sorry for all the grief you have suffered in the past year. You have been in my prayers. I hope 1999 is a much better year for you!"
  • From a high school friend:  "Sorry that your year hasn't been the best and hope that '99 brings you everything you wish for."
  • From my sister's best friend since junior high days: "Although I know this time of year holds sorrowful memories, just remember what you did have and do have -- and remember how many people are thinking of you and wishing you well through the season and in 1999."
  • From my cousin's wife: "We know this has been a difficult year. Hope you find joy this season and the year to come. You both are always in our thoughts."
  • From an old friend (opening line of handwritten letter): "This is the toughest letter I've ever written -- I am so sorry. I can't even imagine what you've been through. You are in my thoughts." (Then she carries on blithely with news about her own family...!)
  • From Cousin/Neighbour's wife: "...We know what a difficult year you've had so we hope that the New Year will bring you many wonderful things." 
My great-aunt (my grandmother's sister -- whom I adored) mentioned the loss of my grandfather specifically, but was silent on the topic of the small pink elephant:
  • "Do hope you and family are able to remember all your past Christmases and the joy of them and of having your Grandfather so many years. Enjoy your togetherness, you are very blessed to have such a good family." 
In fact, the only person who directly mentioned our daughter was an old friend who rarely sends Christmas cards -- so I was doubly touched!: 
  • "I am so saddened to hear of the death of your daughter Katie. I cannot imagine how difficult this year has been for you. The two of you have been much in [husband] and my thoughts since I got your letter. I wish there were more we could do but we send our prayers and thoughts and wish you some peace this Christmas!" 
There were two other messages that I found deeply touching:
  • From my mother's cousin (who had recently lost his own young grandson):  "Remember the good times at Christmas so that peace and contentment may be with you. And know that others share your sorrow and would, if they could, take it from you." 
The message that got me most choked up was one from another of my mother's cousins -- one of my two godmothers. Its opening lines read:
  • "What a year you've had. You have a lot of courage and grace to get through everything the way you have. I'm proud of you!"
Thanks, Godmother. I was (and still am) kind of proud of me too.

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here      

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Remember how far you have come

Got this from Julian Lennon's Facebook page.
I think he got it from Iman's (the fashion model, aka Mrs. David Bowie). :)

Monday, June 15, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Love & Mercy

Dh & I went to see "Love & Mercy" yesterday afternoon, about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. There are two actors playing the role:  Paul Dano as Brian in the 1960s, and John Cusack in the 1980s. I am generally a big fan of John Cusack, but I didn't quite see him as Brian Wilson here -- he doesn't look much like the man (although he does a good job with his speech patterns & mannerisms) and it was hard to forget that I was watching John Cusack. Paul Dano, though, was excellent, and it was quite amazing to watch him as Brian -- especially to see him at work in the studio, creating "Pet Sounds," which is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time today (even if, as the movie reminds us, it was less than a hit at the time of its release).

I left the theatre with Beach Boys songs playing on a continuous loop in my head. (There are worse things...!)  I grew up on the Canadian Prairies, about as far from the ocean as you can get, and while I don't remember being really aware of the Beach Boys until I was almost a teenager, I spent my childhood Saturday afternoons at the theatre, watching Beach Party and Gidget movies -- so the California/surfing sound was part of my personal life soundtrack. My first clear memory of their music was hearing "Surfin' Safari" and "All Summer Long" on the soundtrack of the 1973 movie "American Graffiti" -- which was set in the summer of 1962 and ignited a revival of interest in early rock & roll music. I always loved this exchange in the movie:  

[John turns off the radio]
Carol (played by a very young Mackenzie Phillips):   Why did you do that?
John Milner (Paul LeMat): I don't like that surfin' shit. Rock and roll's been going down hill ever since Buddy Holly died.
Carol: Don't you think the Beach Boys are boss?
John: You would, you grungy little twirp.
Carol: Grungy? You big weenie! If I had a boyfriend, he'd pound you.
John: Yeah, sure.

I spent the summer of 1981 living in a basement apartment with my sister, back in the town where our family had lived, 1974-80.  Our parents had moved, but we were able to find summer jobs and this apartment in familiar surroundings. I wound up spending a lot of time that summer with a girl I'd known only slightly in high school. Her dad had a gorgeous new, shiny yellow Camaro, which he let her drive, and we would cruise up and down the main street of our town, drawing appreciative glances from the guys (for the car, if not for what was inside, lol).  I have since lost touch with her, but I still think of her every time I hear "Fun, Fun, Fun" ("Well, she's got her daddy's car and she cruises to the hamburger stand now... and she'll have fun, fun, fun till her daddy takes the T-bird away...").  

The next summer (1982), I actually saw the Beach Boys in concert. The warm-up act was a rising star just on the verge of hitting the big time, a young homegrown talent named Bryan Adams. (Dh actually saw him several months earlier, before we started going out together, playing at a bar near the university we attended.) I met dh in the fall of 1981 and we started going out in January 1982, but he had gone home for the summer. He had applied to business school and hoped to return in the fall -- alas, he didn't get in, and our summer apart turned into a three-year long distance romance before we both finished school and finally got married in the summer of 1985. (And this was long before the Internet -- or cheap long distance, for that matter.)

Perhaps it was because the Beach Boys were coming to town, but I heard a lot of "Wouldn't it Be Nice?" on the radio that summer, and it always made me think of dh -- and still reminds me of that time in our lives, whenever I hear it now:

Wouldn't it be nice if we were older
Then we wouldn't have to wait so long
And wouldn't it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong

You know its gonna make it that much better
When we can say goodnight and stay together

Wouldn't it be nice if we could wake up
In the morning when the day is new
And after having spent the day together
Hold each other close the whole night through

Happy times together we've been spending
I wish that every kiss was neverending
Wouldn't it be nice

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true
Baby then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do
We could be married
And then we'd be happy

Wouldn't it be nice

You know it seems the more we talk about it
It only makes it worse to live without it
But lets talk about it
Wouldn't it be nice

Good night my baby
Sleep tight my baby

Do you have a favourite Beach Boys song?

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.