No Such Thing as Closure

I often wonder who the “expert” was who invented the concept of “closure”.  I’m sure whoever it was had never had a loss any greater than a toenail.

Of course, it sounds like a great concept, an end to our grief or loss, but the truth is, it’s a fallacy that sets people up for inevitable disappointment when they are unable to obtainable the elusive “closure” they are seeking.

That’s not to say that we will walk in deep grief for the rest of our lives, or that we can’t experience laughter and joy. In fact, it’s the opposite. However, expecting someone to close the door on a deep loss is cruel and insensitive.

Those who support capital punishment go so far as to promise that if it were reinstated, there would be closure for the families of the victims.  That’s a very seductive argument for those who are in these situations, but it’s unrealistic and something about which to be very cautious.

I admit that when David Bagshaw and another inmate were shot in prison for attempting to kill another prisoner, I was disappointed that it was the other male and not David who succumbed to his wounds.   We would never have to attend a parole hearing, never have to worry about when he gets out, never again hear about all the passes and other things about which we receive notification, but that wasn’t the case.  Would there be fewer reminders? Yes.  Might it prevent him from hurting someone else in the future? Perhaps—but would it have brought us closure? …Absolutely not.

But this isn’t meant to be a debate about the death penalty.

For me, closure around Stefanie’s death will only come once I die.  She is not something I can just put in a box on the shelf and scratch off my list of things now dealt with.  She is my child, my heart, my very breath and I need her to be alive in my life.  I wouldn’t grieve so acutely if I hadn’t loved her so intensely and for that I can only be grateful.

The dictionary describes closure as “the state of experiencing an emotional conclusion to a difficult life event”.

It’s how we deal with grief that will define our futures.  Searching and waiting endlessly for some fictitious finality can only leave us empty and missing whatever life we have left for ourselves.

When I remember Stefanie, I swell with love and pride because of who she was.  At the same time I feel a deep sadness for all that was to come that can no longer be.   There can never be any closure, nor would I want there to be, for the simple reason that my love for her will never die.

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The Four Agreements

Who of us wouldn’t want the freedom to be who we truly are without worrying about what other people think?

I just finished the book “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz and it is his opinion that if we follow these four agreements, we can indeed be much freer and therefore live a more joyful life.   Is there any one of us who hasn’t wished for this at some point in our lives?

The Four Agreements

Be impeccable with your word

By being impeccable with your word, Ruiz wants everyone to clearly understand how powerful our words are and how they can have a profound affect on others.   We must take much care to do no harm with the words we say and we do that by ensuring love and truth are behind each one.  Always speaking with integrity and saying only what we mean to say is paramount.  Ruiz demonstrates how gossiping is one of the most destructive forces that we create with our words and it should be avoided at all costs.  He also reminds us that we need to be kind to ourselves with our words and to refrain from using them against ourselves.  If we are clear and hold love in our minds when we speak, we are ensuring our words are always impeccable.

Don’t take anything personally

Ruiz reminds us that it is our responsibility not to take anything anyone else does personally.  What they do is a reflection of their own lives and their own reality.   Assigning meaning to what they say or do dismantles our own happiness and is not an accurate reflection of our own reality.   To avoid being a victim and second-guessing the meaning behind the action of others, it’s imperative not to take anything personally.  Knowing fully that we all do and say things that reflect our own lives can help us to remember that the actions of others are their reality and therefore nothing need be taken personally.

Don’t make assumptions

The agreement of not making assumptions refers to the importance of communicating clearly.  How many times do we take the facts of a situation and create a huge story behind them, full of assumptions and negative thoughts?  Ruiz reminds us that it is imperative to have the courage to ask questions if we need clarification.  As important as it is for us to ask honest questions, we also must communicate with others as clearly and forthright as possible, always remembering the first agreement of being impeccable with our word.   Ruiz states that with just this one agreement, a life can be transformed.

Always do your best

There are many times that we do a mediocre job at something and then regret it later.  Our lives are busy and we rush through things thinking that “just enough” is sufficient.   Ruiz shows how doing our best will always help us to avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.  He also reminds us that our best is not always going to be the same.  There will be days when we are able to perform to a higher level than others, but that doesn’t matter.  As long as we are true to ourselves and can honestly say we did our best, then we can have no regrets.

The freedom that Ruiz writes about is one that has to do with the human spirit.  He says that none of us is free to be who we were meant to be because we spend all our time blaming others rather than living by the four agreements.

If we look at little children, one to three years of age, we see that they are free spirits—totally free. They do whatever they want and they are completely wild.  They smile, laugh, dance, explore the world and are totally uninhibited, only showing fear when they are hurt, hungry or their needs not met.  These kids don’t think about the past or the future; they are fully engaged in the present.   They express themselves for who they are, not based on what they assume others will think of them. They are unfailingly honest—until they learn to lie.  Children live and breathe “the four agreements” and are the happiest people on earth.

This is who we were all meant to be—full of joy and uninhibited bliss.  That doesn’t mean we want a bunch of wild adults running around, but finding a balance and following “the four agreements” can help us free our spirits and regain our childlike happiness.

Although I’m sure most people know these four agreements deep in their hearts and do their best to practice them, it never hurts to be reminded.

As Deepak Chopra put it, “The Four Agreements is a road map to enlightenment and freedom.”

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Feelings of Shame, Anger and Guilt

One of the first things I asked the Crown in charge of Stefanie’s case was, “Is there ANYTHING negative or embarrassing I need to know now about my daughter that could come out in the media?”

I was so terrified to ask that question because I was afraid of the answer.  Stefanie was a fantastic kid, but she was a teenaged girl and we all know that no teenager tells his or her parents everything.  As parents we are fully aware of this and manage to keep an eye on things without letting on—picking our battles so to speak—all the while praying that our children will make wise choices when we’re not around, even as we allow them to learn from their own mistakes, never dreaming of fatal consequences.

When a loved one dies, we’re left to pick up the pieces, and in hindsight, delve into the decisions that resulted in death. The facts we did not know come to light and leave us with so much anger we don’t know what to do with it. Along with this come all the futile “what ifs?” that torment us every waking hour.

I was very angry at Stefanie for many things, one of which was not telling us that David was trying to contact her again.  She didn’t answer his phone calls, but she knew it was him.  She knew we would follow through in getting a restraining order, and, perhaps, she didn’t want all the drama, thinking she could handle it herself—never truly fearing him.  We’ll never know, but for a long time I was livid.

I was also full of rage at myself for not paying more attention, for not questioning her more and for trusting that she would tell us if either he or Melissa did contact her.   He called her New Years Eve and the next day she was dead.   My rage was fueled by guilt, something that I’m fairly certain no one escapes after a loved one dies.

Along with my anger and guilt was a fear that there would be some shame attached to the circumstances of my daughter’s death or from kept secrets that would surface during the trial.

I was fortunate.  I knew pretty much all the “unpleasant” things in Stefanie’s life, and none of them would have ruined my life had they “come to light”, but the media is quick to label and judge and it was a big fear on my part.

Regardless of media involvement, as families of the deceased, we have to learn to live with whatever comes without shame, anger and guilt.

There are many techniques to help people get through this most difficult part, but a simple way is to find the silver lining in whatever way possible and generally this can be accomplished most easily through gratitude.

Shame, anger and guilt can keep us stuck in grief for years longer than necessary and, those of us left to carry on should not need to exist under this self-imposed sentence because of the decisions of others. Wasting the precious gift of life in this way is the only real shame.

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Paying it forward.

…Any one else feeling a bit overwhelmed by recent events? For those of us in Toronto and the surrounding area, the horrible shooting in Scarborough and the shooting in Colorado were both so unfathomable.

I have heard countless opinions on what “they” should do about all the underlying problems of both incidents.  As Canadians, it’s very easy to sit in judgment of the gun culture of the United States, until we have a senseless shooting of our own. Then when it’s time to look in the mirror, everyone has an opinion and looks for somewhere to place the blame, expecting “them” to fix it.

Personally, I don’t feel there’s much I can do as an individual.  I’m not “them” and I can’t see myself convincing an entire country to kick the gun habit, nor moving my family into social housing and expecting James to be the surrogate father to countless fatherless souls.  It’s not going to happen and I’m fairly certain the majority of people feel the same way.  So what’s left?

For what it’s worth, here’s what I believe, take it or leave it.

The only people we have any control over is ourselves.

Now here comes the “woo hooey” stuff (as my navy seal buddy calls it).

Everything on this earth, right down to the molecular level is vibrating.  A simple example is how every sound we hear is just a different vibration.  We are like giant magnets and we attract to ourselves that which has a matching vibration.

Every time we do something good, a random act of kindness, speak a kind word, give a shoulder to cry on or lend a helping hand, we are planting seeds.   Regardless of where we do this, they spread.  Some fly great distances and then can grow roots in another community, another city, another country.   “Paying it forward” is exactly right, to spread kindness, knowing that it will grow.  Some times, the ground is too hard, too dry or too burnt and it seems like nothing good could ever grow but if we’re persistent, it always does.

When we think of others first, we feel good about ourselves and so does the other person.  They feel valued because someone has taken the time to really see them and understand their needs.   The better people feel about themselves, the higher their emotional vibration.   Then once their vibrations rise, they begin to find themselves surrounded by more positive people—like attracting like, so to speak.

Conversely, we all know people who are addicted to drama.  No matter what they do, it’s always one crisis after another happening to them.  Their moods are constantly negative and they aren’t much fun to be around.  Hence the expression… “s**t magnet”.   This is a negative example of like attracting like and one that I think most people can relate to a lot more easily.

However, if we create a world of positive energy, of a higher vibration, then it can grow, spread and eventually get to those who need it most.

Some of us learned this at church, temple, synagogue, mosque or whatever name is given to our place of worship.  Others have learned it through studying “The Law of Attraction” and some, a combination of both.  Regardless, it doesn’t matter what name we give it, it’s the extension of “the golden rule” which is to treat others as we would like to be treated.

Until someone comes up with a concrete way that I can directly help fix the problems found in social housing or rid the world of guns, this is the best way I know to effect change and help others a little at a time

Imagine if everyone lived this way.  Would we still have all these problems?

Click here for a link to “21 pictures that will restore you faith in humanity” posted on “Facebook” this morning by my amazing girlfriend, Debra Morrison.   See if you don’t feel better after you watch it and, maybe, just a little inspired to do the same thing.

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Dealing with Problems

All of us have problems.  Some big and some small but none of us can escape that fact and we spend a lot of energy trying to become problem-free.

According to a parable of the Buddha, we each have eighty-three problems.  No matter what we do, we will always have eighty-three problems.  If we manage to remove one of these problems, another one will take its place.  In other words, as long as we’re alive, we’ll always have problems.

The most interesting part in this parable, per Buddha, is that we also have an eighty-fourth problem – the problem of wanting to rid ourselves of our problems.  But although the Buddha teaches that we can’t be free of the eighty-three, the eighty-fourth problem is the one we can deal with.

If we can accept that we have eighty-three regardless, then trying to force them out of our lives is precisely the wrong approach for anyone who wants to live a peaceful life.  In forcing against them, we feel frustration and desperation, the antitheses of peaceful.

Whether it is true or not, the lesson in the parable is noteworthy.

Problems can be suffocating.  We become frustrated and try to run from them and therefore from our lives.  We become desperate because we’re trying to push our problems away rather than accepting that we have to face them eventually.

It takes more energy and causes more heartbreak to fight against them than to accept that they exist and will always exist.  But once we get to that point, it becomes easier to shift how we perceive our problems.

It’s seems to me that the only clear way to peace is to take our problems and be nourished by them.  They can be opportunities for growth and enrichment.

Since Stefanie’s death I have constantly been nourished and fulfilled.  It doesn’t “solve” the problem – that would be impossible – but within my heart, joy surrounds sadness, and that joy nourishes my life.

Steve Hagen, in his book “Meditation Now or Never” writes “It’s within our own hearts and minds where our problems are created.  And it’s within our own hearts and minds that we can find freedom”.

I have found freedom from the strangle hold of grief, can you from your problems?

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Happy Father’s Day

As James prepares to leave 52 Division for his new promotion to Staff Sergeant, at 54 Division, he has been thinking about what he wants to leave with his co-workers.

Every place he has ever worked, at least in a supervisory capacity (I don’t know what he was like before that) he first takes great care to observe the work performance and personal interactions of his shift and slowly forms a plan to improve the working conditions and morale of those for whom he is responsible.  When he was asked by Command to return to 52 division to take over for Sgt. Ryan Russell, who was killed in the line of duty, he was, of course, honoured to have been asked, but torn because the plan for his team at the ETF (Emergency Task Force—SWAT—for my American friends) wasn’t fully implemented and he felt as though he was abandoning them.   But, he was committed to supporting the shift at 52 Division after such a tragedy—a gift he, unfortunately, had already mastered and given to us at home.

As with most work places, some have more challenges than others and I’m always in awe of his insightfulness and ability to read what’s underlying in situations that aren’t obvious. He’s careful not to judge, but to see the big picture.   He is a champion for the underdog and goes to bat for the weaker officers. He mentors them to be the best they can be, even when others have given up and jumped on the “negative” wagon.   This isn’t to say that he won’t hold people accountable. That’s not the case at all, but when he does, he is kind and quite brilliant in the way he turns it into a training opportunity, never belittling or being disrespectful and never damaging the self-esteem of the other.   He seems to know instinctively how to uplift others.  All of these things he does with a quiet confidence that is so becoming of a supervisor any where, not just in policing.

This isn’t meant to be a “love-in” for James Hung, but because the date is coming up shortly he has asked my opinion and it has given us a chance to have some great conversations over the past few days.

The bottom line for James is that there is far too much negativity and not enough camaraderie.  Many times, people are labeled or categorized, perhaps with good reason at first, but, without support, they can spend the rest of their careers trying to prove themselves.   Once a label has been affixed, it isolates an individual so that he or she feels ostracized from the group. Very few people are courageous enough to look for the good and point it out to others in an attempt to improve the work environment for everyone.   Without this, morale declines and negativity breeds contempt.  This is not unique to policing of course, but add shift work and dangerous situations and it’s clear that policing has more than it’s share of negative influences—all the more reason why we shouldn’t do it to ourselves.  In my opinion, this is where James excels.

These conversations have reaffirmed our conviction to remind each other if either of us is focusing on the bad in others.  The easiest way we’ve found to do this is look for something in that person that we can appreciate—no matter how difficult it may be to find—and focus on that.  I promise that it works.  And once we change our focus, what begins to happen is, the negative behaviour improves and it becomes easier to see only the good.  Perhaps, most importantly, when we do this, we feel better about ourselves.

I’m not sure what James will say—he is a man of very few words—but whatever it is, it will be with the highest intention to keep his platoon motivated, even after he leaves.

 

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What brings you comfort?

I seem to be hooked on “ted.com”, an internet site where fascinating people give short speeches about topics they consider to be important messages to share with the rest of us.  Most of these speakers are far more intellectual than I’ll ever be, and for that reason, I’m even more interested.

The most recent speech I listened to was by Jill Bolte Taylor.   Now Ms. Taylor is a neuroscientist, fantastically brilliant, and equally passionate about the topic in her speech.   I have since learned that Taylor was on Oprah and maybe most of you know who she is, but because I never watched Oprah, her story was new to me.

Regardless, Taylor suffered a stroke, and over four hours, witnessed the changes in her mind/body, and then spent the next eight years working toward full recovery.  The fact that she fought back and managed an amazing recovery was miracle enough, but it was actually something else in her speech that brings me comfort.

Just as an aside, if you’ve ever suffered from an acute migraine headache—not one that lasts for days, but rather one that’s preceded by an aura—you might also find her experience interesting because some of it is very similar to a migraine aura and subsequent pain. But I digress.

Taylor gives a very brief explanation of how the two sides of the brain function.  Among other things, the left is our internal voice, reminding us to pick up groceries, keep an appointment at a certain hour etc… Here is what forms our individuality, as in “I am”.  The right side is what connects us to each other.   We are, as she explains, made up of energy, as is everything else, and our right brain is connected to that.

When Taylor lost the ability to use the left side of her brain, due to a blood clot the size of a golf ball pressing on her left hemisphere, she was instantly connected with only the right side.   All the internal chatter was gone. She was in complete silence.  She was unable to discern where her body began and the rest of her surroundings started because she saw only energy.  She was expansive and enormous and in a place where everyone and everything was connected, utter euphoria – as in, “we are”.

It was this that brought me comfort.

Meditation, if any one has tried it, is extremely difficult – at least for me.  Trying to quiet my mind is like asking for a modern miracle, and trust me when I say I’ve tried.  But those who can quiet their minds and access the right hemispheres of their brains profess to have found nirvana, as Ms. Taylor did. There is an inner knowing, a deep peace, a connection to all that is, all that has gone before and all that is to come—proof that we are all one.

I’m not exactly sure why this brings me such comfort.   Probably it’s because it affirms my belief system. Learning from others, who to me are brilliant, rational, intelligent people—not just “nut jobs” in other words—lends credence to my hope for the future.

I hope that, as humans, we can all learn to access that side of ourselves, that which is so much greater than our individualism, and move forward knowing we are so much greater than our bodies.

I encourage you all to watch the speech by Jill Bolte Taylor and see if it brings you some comfort too.

Here is the link: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

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Happy Birthday Stef.

Today I watched a three minute talk on TED by a women, Stacey Kramer, that was very fitting for this weekend.  On Sunday, Stefanie would have turned nineteen.

As usual, it’s, quite frankly, a crappy time when all the “if onlys” start playing in my head, and the reasons they can never happen creep into my nightmares and day light hours as well.    I’m not complaining; it’s just a fact.

During her three minute speech (and I encourage you all to watch it) Ms. Kramer talks about a gift, one that brought her all the best life has to offer but almost cost her, her life.   She refers to being loved like never before, being overwhelming by adoration and admiration, enjoying a more united family, recalibrating what’s important in life, redefining her sense of spirituality and faith, meeting new people, being challenged, inspired, motivated and humbled.

Part of me wants to scream, “That’s easy for you to say. You survived and you’re beautiful and healthy. Big bloody deal!” Still, her message is not lost on me, and I know, of course, that her experience is a huge deal and only my sense of “what’s fair” is what wants to kick and scream.

As I reflect back, save for a few of her examples, I can appreciate similar gifts I have received, albeit unwontedly, in the aftermath of Stefanie’s death.

On Sunday, my family will gather at my sister’s home and enjoy each other’s company and they will envelop me in their arms (literally and figuratively) in support as they have done during every step of this journey.

I have been blessed to be on the receiving end of adoration and admiration, not always warranted, but always an honour I am grateful to receive.

Without a doubt I have a healthy sense of what’s important and hope I am creating a full life for all of us.   I have been inspired and motivated to rise to this challenge and humbled by the amazing people I have met along the way.

Honouring Stefanie’s memory is my measure and my guide.  Do I miss her more than life itself and feel deeply sad? Of course I do.  Would I trade all of the above to have her back? In a heartbeat.

But because that isn’t possible, I have to appreciate what I do have and what gifts I have been given as a result of her death.

I echo what Stacey Kramer said at the end of her talk when she said, “So the next time you’re faced with something unexpected, unwanted and uncertain, consider, that it might just be a gift.”

 

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Adversity and Challenges

This last week has held many challenges, reminding me that life can be darn hard work some times, and it’s up to us to pull ourselves up by our boot straps and find ways to carry on.  Ultimately, we are responsible for our own well-being.  Some times, though, that seems an insurmountable task.

Grief isn’t solely about death.  There are forty different categories of loss that are part of grief, including divorce, a missed promotion, an absentee father etc…  But the bottom line is the same for all—wishing things could be different than they are.

But do we not learn something from every negative experience? As we pull ourselves out of the abyss and make our way again, always trudging forward, do we not become slightly better human beings?

I’ll use, as an example, my first marriage.  As with most divorces, it was an unhappy and stressful time, full of self-doubt and guilt.  I, like most parents, worried about the children and how they would be affected.  But, through lessons I learned (and I’m positive my “was-band” would agree for him as well) I grew exponentially and was determined, if ever I remarried, that I would focus more on some things and less on others.  This, of course, is how I seem to learn best—by making mistakes.

However, it’s a bit of a personal victory and similar to those many of us have all the time.  We need to be proud of who we are and how we’ve grown as individuals.

When we acknowledge the good that has come out of life’s challenges and realize our amazing ability to pick ourselves up and grow within ourselves, we can access great pride and joy.

I have been so impressed by those of you who read this blog and have shared both publicly and privately your own challenges and triumphs.   As we remember these things, we can rightly be impressed with ourselves—privately, of course, humility is such an attractive quality.  Every time we overcome some obstacle or adversity, our confidence grows, propelling us on to greater heights.

Try this exercise.  Wait for a time when you don’t believe you will ever see the light of day again and write down the outcome. Did you experience any personal growth as a result? If the answer is “yes”,  pat yourself on the back, write down how this has made you feel, and keep it somewhere so that the next time you are anxious or afraid, it’s there in black and white to remind you of your own inner strength.

Be proud of who you are and don’t fret about any possible bumps in the road. Your future self will only continue to grow.

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Tori Stafford

In her article of May 11th, about the Tori Stafford verdict, Christie Blatchford writes: “To borrow from the imitable Canadian lyricist and singer Leonard Cohen, it may have been a cold and broken Hallelujah, but it was a Hallelujah nonetheless”.

Could anything be more apt?

For those of you not in Canada, a beautiful little 8 year old girl named Victoria (Tori) Stafford was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered.  The jury came back with a guilty verdict last night on all counts.

As James and I watched the news when the verdict was being handed down, neither of us had any doubts that the jury would convict.   But we have a pretty good idea what’s awaiting those family members this morning.

The jubilation for winning the biggest fight of their lives will be over, and there will be nothingness, at least for awhile.  After weeks of adrenalin and high emotion, the let down afterwards, where the realization that you really didn’t win anything begins to sink in.  That low is so much more pronounced than all the other lows and one is left as if drifting in space, without direction or a reason to live.

A trial give us that reason, something to fight for, it’s own energy to help one out of bed in the morning.  The city is alive in this collective fight and the support is phenomenal.  Very soon though, most, and rightly so, will return to their normal lives leaving the family to find a way to rebuild.

Now is the time that Tori’s family needs the most amount of support.  They will need help to properly absorb the horrors they faced in the courtroom, the images that will haunt them for the rest of their lives, the guilt, the anxiety and the depth of their loss.

The sentencing hearing is on Tuesday, and I wish them some comfort finally being able to speak, but it is all coming to an end, an end without Victoria.

There is hope, of course, surely they’ll find a way to carry on.  There are thousands of us who have been there and come out the other end to smile again, but today, not to mention tomorrow (Mother’s Day) and the next few will be some of the most difficult.

My heart is with them this morning.

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