Giving Thanks

photoSome people say “Grace” at dinner and others don’t.  In our house, we try to have the kids review their day and give thanks for one thing.  That may sound sweet or adorable, but rarely is it peaceful or angelic.  Most times, it’s just frustrating.

The first fight is about who gets to go last.  Grace inevitably wants to be last so that she isn’t cut off by a sibling’s turn and can just keep right on talking.  James always says, “I’m grateful for all of you,” with little variation, which gets a resounding “BORING”.  Now it’s a contest to see who is going to say that first because the latest “rule” in the giving thanks exercise is that you can’t say what someone else has already said. Oh, yes, it gets better and better.

The next delightful thing that happens is an argument among the three boys to see which of them can outshine the other.  Ian is that much older and, frankly, quite the brownnoser. He’s perfected the art of  syrupy sweetness toward his mother, whereas the other two are just little boys.  Because of this, we’ve implemented another rule: We can’t just say what we are grateful for, but now have to say why, and they are starting to keep score.

Elena (3) always says the same thing: “I’m grateful that I cried in the China“(long story), unless it’s her turn to be last and then she says “I’m grateful that I’m last”.  Regardless of which answer she gives, there is always the chorus of  “Aaahh, come on Mummy, that doesn’t count. She always says the same thing,” which begins a discussion about what is age appropriate.

Grace has to be philosophical about each grateful thought expressed and then has to explain it to us all as it relates to her life.

Most days there is at least one argument, or more common, a fart joke thrown in to ensure any reverence I might have hoped for was thrown right out the window.   Kids end up rolling on the ground, laughing in hysterics (causing more flatulence and then more jokes). I can’t keep a straight face and so it spirals downwards and the whole point is moot.

So why do I persist?  Truth to tell, I’m not sure.

There is the odd time that something resembling a thoughtful discussion is had and I see a light bulb starting to glow. Other days I am just so grateful that they are laughing and loving each other that it doesn’t matter.

It’s hard with such diverse ages, but what I have noticed is that they are learning to respect each other’s ideas, especially when those ideas are less sophisticated than their own.  Eric is very good at expressing himself and it takes Patrick longer to formulate his thoughts. Grace always wants to talk and Elena tries to keep up.   But they are learning to stop talking (even Grace) and let someone else have the floor—not easy for small children, or some adults for that matter.

There are many challenges that come with a large family.  Each child gets less one on one time, the money must be spread more thinly, the demand on time in general is unbelievably difficult, and they need to help each other because we can’t be in all places at all times.

Ian leads by example and is teaching all the kids that family comes first, how to be a good person and a good son.  Eric helps Patrick with his French if I’m not home, Patrick reads to Grace and Elena and Grace teaches Elena how to colour, write and talk—endlessly. They understand intuitively that they can trust in the support of their siblings and they are learning to listen to each other’s needs.

I am so grateful for who they are all becoming, even if the lessons I want them to learn through our “being grateful” exercise are different than what one would expect.

If I could leave them with just one lesson in life, it would be that when tragedy strikes and we have no strength to stand on our own, it will be through the love of family and friends that joy will have a path to return to our hearts. This makes these life lessons worth every exasperating and frustrating moment.

Guess I just answered my own question about why I persist.

Posted in gratitude, Parenting | Tagged | 6 Comments

How can we help?

imagesIs there anyone who isn’t looking for answers to the tragic events in Newtown Connecticut?   …Anyone who hasn’t wondered what would possess someone to slash kindergarten-aged children in the ears and face with a knife in central China?  These types of incidents can make us crazy if we dwell on them too long. Certainly that’s the way I’ve been feeling.

No one can understand how the parents, families, teachers, first responders and many others are feeling and no one can take their pain away.  We cannot do that for them.  Sadly they have no choice but to move through their grief until they feel as though they can breathe again.  Love and support will be their greatest need.

It is a very helpless feeling—impotence at its most desperate level.

There will be those who find that action—any action—is the best way to cope.  Others may shut down, becoming completely paralyzed.  Some will try to capitalize on the tragedy, and still others will bask in their fifteen minutes of fame.

The media will do its best to satiate the almost incomprehensible thirst of our society to know all the gory details, allowing us to be front and centre, creating mass hysteria and perpetuating the vicious cycle of needing more and more sensationalism to feel anything at all.

Always my greatest fear is that this global awareness will only lead to similar incidents.  The more attention that is brought to something, the more energy it has and the more other disturbed individuals will be attracted to the infamy.

Again, the feeling of impotency is overwhelming.

So what can we do?  I suppose for those of you who live in the U.S., lobbying for gun control might be a good start, but that would require an inextinguishable fire burning in the pit of one’s stomach to fight for the long haul.  I suspect that only the families of those gunned down will have the energy to take on the NRA.

For the rest of us, is there anything we can do?  First, I would suggest prayer. I believe so strongly in the power of prayer, whether it’s to the Universe, Allah, Buddha, God, or the god of your understanding, sending love from our higher selves to those who need it, does help the healing begin.

Next, focus your thoughts on the helpers.  If you look around you, you’ll see them.  They are everywhere and will be the most incredible force for good to combat the grief and anguish that has enveloped the lives of so many.

Don’t make it about you.  I had to remind myself of this as I crumbled into a blubbering mess alone in my office Friday.  My memories, my pain—it’s all real, but this is, in no way, about me.

I think this is a good reminder to think about how we might help others who are grieving in our own lives. Sometimes when there is mass media attention, resources for those who need it are plentiful.  My girlfriend often comments on how lonely it must have been for those people who lost their loved ones through accidents or illness at the time of 9/11. Where were the resources for them?

Please download my booklet and share it.  It’s free and it was written so that we all might help others when they are suffering.   When we feel useless it can help to have a reminder of things we CAN do to support others.

If we turn off our televisions and refocus our energy on those around us, we can make a big difference, especially at this time of the year.

Peace to all of you.


Posted in Beginnings, Giving of yourself, The Media, When it's not your loved one | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Things we all say.

Ever seen something on the news and said “Man oh man, if I could get my hands on that guy, I’d…?” Did it make you feel better…give you a sense of control?  Did it, perhaps, make you feel less vulnerable?

I have heard these comments so many times, and most of the time I shrug it off, but sometimes, just once in a while, I want to truly challenge these remarks.

“Really?” I would say. “What would you do?”

If someone bullied your child, hurt your mother, broke into your home…if someone made you extremely angry for whatever reason, what could you do?

It feels so much better to think that we would take revenge and make the other person suffer more than we suffered, to be the boss in control of the situation!

Reality is so very different.  We don’t live in a society where we can just do whatever we want without consequences.  We can’t practise “an eye for an eye” and live happily ever after.

One of the hardest things for me has been watching James as I hear other men profess how they would take matters into their own hands and evoke their own justice. Somehow these statements imply that we (him), as victims of crimes, should have done something differently, that we should have sought out those who killed Stefanie and taken revenge, as if James wasn’t “man” enough to take matters into his own hands.

Of course, I know that most people only say these things to express their very human outrage and empathy with us as victims of such a senseless, brutal crime, and also because often in this country people feel our justice system is heavily weighted on the side of criminals.  Still, somehow our impotence becomes highlighted by these remarks and begs the question, “what would most of us do”?

First of all, no one knows what his or her reaction would be in the face of any situation. Taking the law into one’s own hands is one route to go, but what would be the consequences? There could be a temporary feeling of satisfaction that comes with revenge—inflicting severe pain on a deserving criminal—but what then? Would it really teach them a lesson so that they would never offend again? Would it change anything…magically restore a beloved life? Would we feel better about ourselves for having sunk to the same level of depravity and inhumanity as the one who hurt us?

I seriously doubt it. What I do know is that in our society, if we were to do anything like that, our own lives, already turned upside down, would be ruined.  I would have been mortified if anyone had harmed a hair on the heads of the two who killed Stefanie, especially if it had caused the legal case against them to be thrown out of court.  Every “t” had to be crossed and every “i” dotted exactly right, and thank God it was.

How much more difficult our lives would be now if one of us had wound up on trial for aggravated assault or even murder?  I imagine a life as a single parent, raising 5 children, already profoundly affected by violence. What a terribly personal way to learn that two wrongs never make a right, to say nothing of the lesson in morality we would have taught our children.

Reading this might make you wonder if something has happened recently to inspire this blog post, but that isn’t so.  I was simply thinking about all the different ways we re-victimize ourselves after a tragedy and this is just one more that we would do well to work through. No one needs to feel shame along with profound grief.

Posted in shame | 7 Comments

Positive Ticketing

Who among us enjoys being pulled over by a police officer? I certainly don’t, and I am one. For most of us, our interaction with the police is limited to receiving a ticket (or two) or perhaps being the victims of property crime. Though neither of these situations is positive, there are times when contact with the police can be much more negative, sad or even devastating. Although these events are rare, senseless acts of violence can hold an entire city hostage, especially when there appears to be no viable solution.

 For a society to work well police officers need the trust and cooperation of the local citizens, which is as much a police responsibility as it is the citizenry.  But those barriers are very hard to break down, especially in communities that have lost faith in the police or when the residents have come from a country where there never was any trust to begin with.

 Inspector Dave Saunders of the Toronto Police Service has come up with a plan to give out “positive tickets” as a way of recognizing the public for good behaviour.

 As reported on FLOW radio and in the Metro News, here’s what Inspector Saunders has to say about the program called POSITIVE TICKETING – TAKING A STAND AGAINST VIOLENCE

 I am the Inspector of 42 Division Toronto Police in Scarborough, and I have been a police officer for 32 years. At 42 Division we take pride in working with the community to create safer environments to reside, work, play and attend school. Unfortunately a relatively small number of criminals involved in the drug and gun trades prey on our neighbourhoods. Their presence in our neighbourhoods make residents fearful to come forward to police as complainants, witnesses and victims of crime. In my experience the best way for communities to reduce gang dominance in their lives is to start working more closely with the police, social agencies and community leaders. Young people are particularly at risk of becoming involved in violence in Scarborough.  I see small positive gestures as making a profound impact on children and youth in communities at risk of violence.  I propose a “positive ticketing” program by frontline police officers. This would involve officers giving out coupons, gift cards, etc., to young people who interact with police in positive settings. As simple as this sounds, this idea could have a very positive impact.

  Aviva Insurance has an annual one million dollar community fund that is divided up among applicants. Inspector Saunders has made such an application as a way of funding the “positive ticketing” initiative.

 If this seems like something you would like to see in our city, or as an example to emulate in other cities (if you don’t live in Toronto), please take 30 seconds and vote for our initiative. 

 Follow this link:  and click on VOTE located just under the title “POSITIVE TICKETING – TAKING A STAND AGAINST VIOLENCE”.  Unfortunately, one needs to “sign in” to vote—easy enough if you have a Face Book account but otherwise, you’ll need to create an account. This only takes a few minutes. Just follow the instructions.

 Rarely will I ask for support in this way as this is not the focus of this blog. I am cognizant of my recent plea for support over the NBC fiasco—and your response was truly overwhelming—but I think this has great merit for the public.  Not only as an officer, but also as the victim of crime, I believe this program could make a difference, and anything that makes life better for people is worth mentioning.  I’m hoping you’ll all feel the same way. 

 As always, with gratitude,


Posted in Positive thoughts, The Law | 6 Comments

Stop Others From Bringing You Down

Ever heard of “mirror neurons”? These little gremlins have been discovered by neuroscientists over the past decade and are proof that our brains are wired to relate to other people. Through every interaction with someone else, a neural bridge is formed that fires in and out of sync with the people around us.

In Marci Shimoff’s book “Happy For No Reason”, she explains that whenever we observe someone else performing an action, these neurons “mirror” that action inside our brains as though we were performing it ourselves.

Take, for example, what happens when we see someone else yawn. Often we yawn, too, even though we aren’t tired.  Or perhaps you’re like me and find yourself mimicking someone’s body language or speech rhythm. I do this to the point of embarrassment sometimes.    Even more significant is the fact that these neurons have been linked to our ability to empathize with the emotions of others, and this is where things get sticky.

There is, of course, a positive side, when the laughter of another is infectious or the smile of a baby lights up a room or even the joy someone is experiencing warms our souls.  …But what about the negative aspect of this?

There was a point in my life when circumstances dictated that I spend time with someone who was constantly beating the drum of negativity.  I would get to work each day and wonder why I was drained of all energy and motivation, and didn’t really understand why it took hours to get back to my usual happy self.

According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, emotions spread from person to person, much like a cold, and I was “catching” those emotions.

So what can we do when we can’t avoid situations where the environment is negative?  You might work in an office environment where gossip and a victim mentality rule the workplace, or perhaps your spouse works in that environment and then brings it home.  How can we protect ourselves and not allow those cheeky “mirror neurons” to do their work?

The obvious would be to just avoid situations and people who bring us down, but that’s not always possible.   I think that the best way is to “tune them out”.   First, build up positive interactions or “immunity” in the office or at home before being bombarded by negativity.

Then, once we’re aware of how we can be affected by others, make a conscious decision not to mimic them…easier said than done, but extremely rewarding.

The icing on the cake, of course, is to remain so positive so that our negative companions begin to mimic us! This does not always work, but when it does, we find our little mirror neurons have changed the whole atmosphere at work or in the home or wherever we may be. At the very least we will have succeeded in not allowing another’s negative neurons to bring us down.

Posted in Positive thoughts | Tagged , | 4 Comments

When Words Hurt

When Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi, was growing up in South Africa in the 1940’s, he experienced extreme racism and violence.  He was beaten up by white kids because he was black and by black kids because he was brown and closer to white than black.

Because of his own violent reaction to this treatment, his parents sent him to India at thirteen years of age to live with his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi.   He spent eighteen months in India and readily admits to being too immature to appreciate all that his grandfather had to offer. Yet, he has followed in his footsteps as the Founder and President of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-violence.

One of the main things he was taught during that period in India was that all of us need to recognize and then acknowledge the violence within ourselves. To assume that unless we are fighting, killing or participating in war, we are not violent individuals, is a mistake that prevents us from making necessary changes.

Mahatma Gandhi’s way of showing this to his grandson was by encouraging him to make a graph of sorts on the wall of his room.   They analyzed each day’s activities and made note of everything he experienced, read about, saw or did to others. These were then put under the headings of “physical” or “passive”.  The latter applied to hurts that were more emotional than physical, something Gandhi considered much more insidious than physical violence.  Passive violence almost always creates anger in the victim who ultimately responds violently.  Because of this, Gandhi voraciously stressed the need for non-violence in communications.

“Unless we become what we wish to see in the world, no change will ever take place,” Gandhi said, because “we are all, unfortunately, waiting for the other person to change first.”

In the forward of the book “Non-violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg, Arun Gandhi states, “Nonviolence means allowing the positive within you to emerge.  Be dominated by love, respect, understanding, appreciation, compassion and concern for others rather than the self-centered attitudes that dominate our thinking”… “If we change ourselves we can change the world, and changing ourselves begins with changing our language and methods of communication.”

Having heard of another young person committing suicide recently, due to the cruel words of others, my heart aches, and I am reminded of these teachings by such wise men.

Yes, children are egocentric and say terrible things, but as the adults in their lives, we need to lead by example and take Gandhi’s words to heart and change ourselves so that we might see change in others.

Try by simply noticing each time you say or think something hurtful toward someone else or yourself, and without judgment, release that thought and reach for a more positive one.   The more we do this, the less we’ll need to, and the better example we’ll set for those who are watching us when we’re not even aware.

Posted in Giving of yourself | 2 Comments

For Something a Little Lighter

One of my former classmates has embarked on an amazing adventure with a buddy of his cycling from Canada to Mexico along the west coast.

He has begun blogging about his adventures as he reconnects with his bicycle seat and all the other challenges and rewards he encounters.

Dave is a retired Navy SEAL, a Grief Recovery Specialist and is currently developing a program for law enforcement and military personnel to help them deal with the after effects of war and urban violence.   Dave’s journey of recovery from grief began after the loss of some of his teammates and wanting to do something BIG to help others – and he will!

His journey is one of self-discovery and the resiliency of the human spirit, not only his own, but also of those he meets along the way, where generosity and warmth are the rule rather than the exception.

Dave is an excellent writer and a very funny man.  Check out his blog and see why it’s always good to camp when it’s still light out to avoid waking up and discovering that you’ve laid your head under a firing range.

These and more adventures can be found at:

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Stop “shoulding” on yourself!

After over a month of fighting with NBC, and “winning”, the wind has left my sails and I’m exhausted.  I keep thinking, “I SHOULD do A” or “I SHOULD be doing B”, and of course, feeling guilty about it.

The instructor and founder of the Grief Coach Academy, Aurora Winter, where I’m now enrolled in the Mastery program, often says, “Stop “shoulding” on yourself”.  Say it quickly enough and you’ll know exactly what she means.

It’s rather futile, this “shoulding” on ourselves, and I would have to agree with her when she says that we would all be better off if the word “should” was removed from the English language.

We have other words that wouldn’t make us feel so badly.  “Could” is an excellent substitute because it doesn’t evoke such feelings of guilt, and enables us to make a decision.  Either I will, or I won’t, but without the guilt.

When we are experiencing any major loss in life, be it a death, a divorce, a missed promotion, or having to give up hope for a different tomorrow, there is always far too much “shoulding” going on.

As a parent, when a child dies, we tend to own it, and although I think that’s universal with any death due to the finality of it, it’s the responsibility of all parents to protect their children. Therefore the guilt is more pronounced.  I managed to feel guilty about pretty much everything, going back as far as university and beyond.  Each decision that caused a change in my life eventually led to her death, which seemed quite rational at the time.

I watched as other people in my family did the same things to themselves, including my mother, Stefanie’s dad, James, Ian…all of us thinking that we “should” have done things differently—all that wasted energy and self-loathing for nothing.  Not one of us was responsible.

So much of what we struggle with around grief is guilt: We should not have held a grudge; we should have tried harder; we should not have said hurtful things etc… Because we can’t change the past, we struggle to get past those feelings and become trapped in grief.

One of the first ways of moving forward is by simply being aware of how many times in a day we say, either aloud or to others, “I should” or “I should or should not have”.  Just even noticing that we’re doing it to ourselves is a huge step forward.

Missing our loved ones, missing an opportunity or a chance at something we truly want, makes us sad, and these things are completely normal and acceptable.  But beating ourselves up and putting ourselves down over it, is not healthy, acceptable or productive

We make so many decisions a day that, inevitably, we’re going to get some wrong and that’s okay.

I’ve read that it takes one month to form a new habit, so start by noticing when you use that word “should”, and without further judgment, let it go and replace it with “could”.

Once we feel better about ourselves in the present, then we can start to work on the more difficult and complicated “should haves” from the past.

One step at a time!

Posted in Guilt, Positive thoughts | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Thank you from my family to yours.

It would be impossible for me to thank everyone individually who supported us in our efforts to stop the NBC production of Stefanie’s story.

I am so relieved and filled with pride at the end result, with so many small voices uniting as one.

I’m sure I’ll never know all that you have done, but be sure that I am more grateful than words could ever properly express.

For those of you who asked me to call you, I will do my best to contact you shortly.

For the many news agencies who asked for interviews and understood our reasons for not participating, I honour your integrity.

I would now ask that the message of victory spread as quickly as our request for help so that Mr. Egenel Pierre of NBC stops receiving emails.

I would like to share a quote by Louise Hay that seems particularly fitting at the moment.

With our deepest gratitude,

Patricia and James

Deep at the center of my being there is an infinite well of gratitude. I now allow this gratitude to fill my heart, my body, my mind, my consciousness, my very being. This gratitude radiates out from me in all directions, touching everything in my world, and returns to me as more to be grateful for. The more gratitude I feel, the more I am aware that the supply is endless.”


 — Louise Hay


Posted in gratitude, Relieving stress, The Media | Tagged , | 6 Comments


I need your help—please! We want to stop a TV show that NBC Universal is trying to make about Stefanie’s story, and I’m hoping that if no one cooperates, they will decide to cancel.

NBC Universal will be producing a new TV reality show called “Teen Killers”, or something to that effect.  They have chosen to profile Stefanie’s story and have refused to cancel even after I begged them to respect our wishes.

My feelings are that it cheapens her life and all she suffered, for ratings and profit.  The re-enactment of her death, should any of her siblings see it, now or in re-runs, would be more than upsetting.

Canal D in Quebec, produced something similar that aired Sept 7th of this year. They have just sent me a copy in the mail, which I received yesterday.   None of the people interviewed asked us how we would feel if they participated and I can only thank God that it has a limited viewership in Quebec and is in the French language. I hope that none of our children ever see it. It will haunt my nightmares for some time.

I implore each and every one of you to pass the word around so that NBC is unable to find anyone else willing to participate, leaving the network no choice but to cancel.

If NBC was willing to do a special on the good that has come out of such inexplicable evil, to highlight the many acts of kindness and support of loved ones, friends and even total strangers, if they would spotlight the amazing people Ian and his younger siblings have become as a result of this tragedy, and if they would focus on how it is possible for those who have been devastated by such a loss and survived, to reach out to others who are suffering with the assurance that one day, they, too, will find happiness again, then I would support them whole-heartedly. Sadly, the sensational draws the viewers, and this is NOT their focus.

I am sorry to ask, again, for your support, but this is truly very important to us.

Yours in gratitude,



If you want to help, please write to the producer who has refused to cancel the show.
Egenel Pierre
NBC Universal–E! Network
Associate Producer

If that is too much to ask, I have posted a message on the NBC facebook page asking them to stop the production of Stefanie’s story. If there is anyone out there who feels comfortable, perhaps “liking” my post or adding a comment or two, couldn’t hurt.

I want to thank everyone for their support. I don’t want this sent to any news media (i.e. Toronto Star) yet. The idea is to minimize the media – although I know eventually I may have to resort to that – but rather by simply and quietly not participating in the production, they will move to another story where the family wants to participate.
Thanks again,


Posted in Beginnings | 65 Comments