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Posts Tagged ‘family’

My mother, Leona

Mom & me, summer 2012

Today is Leona’s birthday. She has Alzheimer’s Disease and has been living in a long-term care facility for awhile. Happy birthday Mom.

Photo-0009cropMy mother’s thing was walking. She walked everywhere. That love of recreation and movement is something I inherited from her. The picture of her in the woods is from a hike in 2009. She had gotten to the point where she wasn’t comfortable being around a crowd but out here in the woods she was filled with joy. Skipping, kicking leaves and smiling. At least until her feet started hurting. Her running shoes, she always had numerous pairs of white sneakers, were fine on pavement but not on a trail. We didn’t really do much together but that hike is a nice memory of our last outing.

When I saw her last summer I was startled by how pale she looked. She recognized me as someone she knew but not who I was. I reminded her that I’m her daughter and she asked questions. We sat outside and watched a new patient running back and forth with his daughter. He had been a marathon runner and still seemed to be full of energy. Most residents are much older and much further along in their deterioration.

It was the first time I had seen her since my father passed away the previous fall. At that time, when I told her he had died she seemed to have a moment of clarity. She understood that he wouldn’t be visiting her anymore and I could see the sadness in her eyes but rather than convey her feelings she quickly reverted to her old usual persona of pleasantness commenting that he had had a good life. Towards the end of the visit I sensed that she had forgotten who I was.

Leona was born in New Brunswick. For a few years, in her youth, she had been a teacher. This was before you needed a degree to teach. She had kept a few momentos from that time and showed them to me when I was a child. I don’t know much about her youth – she had skied to school in the winter, ridden on motorcycles and was devastated when a boyfriend decided to become a priest and thought of becoming a nun. She moved to Ontario in her early twenties and shared a flat with her best friend. This is where she met my father. They were next door neighbours.

Al & Leona, September 1959

Al & Leona, 1959

She had always liked going to the beach, this was a fairly regular summer weekend event, and she was an Elvis Presley fan. She wore jeans in the 60’s, one of only two moms I knew that did, told me I could be anything I wanted to be but she basically had traditional sexist values. She worked until she was about sixty, in a factory, and once she retired, now living in a smaller community, she took up lawn bowling, became the club’s treasurer, joined a senior’s group, befriended an older woman in the neighbourhood, started watching soap operas, went on bus trips to the casino and, of course, still went on her daily walks. Mom, I hope you get a chance to go on a walk today.

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Al & Leona, September 1959

Al & Leona,1959

My Google calendar pop-up notice reminded me that my father’s birthday is coming up next week. He passed away in October 2011 and I should probably fix that calendar alert. The same day my daughter sent me a scanned copy of my parents wedding photo, which I had gotten her to scan for me back then. So, I guess it’s time to write something about them, or at least I’ll start with my dad today.

My father, Al, would have been 82 next week. He enjoyed country & western music and Hank Williams was his favourite artist. He loved to belt out songs but wasn’t particularly gifted as a singer. He was also big on whistling. When I was a kid one of the neighbours called the police about the whistling saying it was noise pollution that interfered with his dental practice. Al didn’t give up whistling. In his retirement years, once arthritis had limited his mobility, he’d get on his scooter to go for a ride around the neighbourhood, whistling all the way.

DadAl  loved being outdoors. His passions were gardening and wildlife. Roses were his favourite flowering plant although he had many hollyhocks in later years. Fruit trees and berry bushes were also dear to him and he took some of these with him when he retired and moved from Toronto to Orangeville. He nursed injured birds. He’d come across them at work and bring them home. As someone who liked singing and whistling, he also gravitated towards bird calls. If a bird crowed, he crowed back. When he passed away we found a Hank Williams cd in the car player and a bag of bird seed in the backseat.

At one time we had a couple rabbits. Al brought a couple hares home that he had found at work. We ended up with many rabbits and hares. One morning, to my horror, I went out back and saw two of the rabbits and two of the hares hanging from the clothesline. I screamed and ran crying into the house that someone had murdered them. I was told teenagers must have snuck into the yard and did this horrible deed. A day or two later I came home for lunch and was apprehensive about the unfamiliar smell that was coming from the pot. My gut told me it was rabbit stew. I was mortified again. My father denied it. How could he dare cook them. At this point I surmised he was probably the killer.

Al was born in Saskatchewan and this rural family included 18 other siblings. A few didn’t survive childhood. He was one of the younger kids. I thought the family had always been a farming family but at my father’s funeral my cousin, Myra, told me a different story. She heard this from her mother, who was twelve years my father’s senior. I’m not sure if it’s true or not but this is how it goes. … Back in the 1920s my grandfather had been a prosperous bootlegger. The family lived in a big Victorian house and life was pretty good. Then my grandfather got caught and spent some time in prison. The family lost everything and ended up on this 165-acre farm where my father was later born. Their Ukrainian heritage would have made life difficult in Canada at the time but I can’t help but wonder – what if they had been situated in Montreal instead of the prairies? They might have ended up being one of the country’s wealthiest families!

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CC manual project #10

Once I’ve finished reading a speech project I need to take stock before I can begin. Sometimes clarity comes quickly and I plunge in. I have my bearings and I can set my paddle in motion. Other times my idea list has to be set adrift and I recast my net in search new possibilities. If I’m not able to find my focus I flounder in the ocean of betwixt and between. I resurface, float for a while, get re-centred, dream, weave and begin again. During the crossing I picture how I’ll step onto dry land but I seldom arrive in time to rehearse it.

Like you, I embarked on this voyage with excitement and enthusiasm. The passage requires that we draw on our own resources but we do so in the presence of supportive companions and a well-charted map. I’ve gained a clearer understanding of the process and an appreciation for the courage and tenacity that we put into it. Personal development is a metamorphosis. We are in transit.

We experience many transitions during our lives. Sometimes we may know or sense that it’s coming. Life doesn’t feel right as it is. It’s time to move on. An event may trigger it. Other times it might take us by complete surprise. We lose our job. We lose a close friend or family member. We experience a debilitating accident. We find out we’re ill. Everyone here can relate. Right? We’ve all experienced transitions. It’s the process we undergo when we move from the end of one phase in our life to the beginning of the next phase. We can be in transit for half a year, a year, or several years. However long it takes to complete the transition. It may move us forward. It may not. We undergo contraction and expansion in transit.

Last winter I talked about how the parts of my life that gave me joy were threatened when I was hit by a van and my determination to recover. It was the catalyst that forced a transition. I knew I wasn’t living my dream. I knew I wanted to be doing something else. I needed to let go in order to move on. I started to prepare for my goodbye. This had a couple components. I wanted to get to a larger vision but had always failed to reach it. Leaving that part of my life meant I had to take care of a smaller dream first. It would test my strengths. It would help me rediscover who I am.

The smaller dream was my independent travel journey. It was an elephant in the larger, or next, dream. I had tried to address it with a couple of shorter trips but realized they were just preparation and I had to go on this journey to South America. It was the way I had to say goodbye. I pictured this trip, cleaned out the closet, equipped myself with what I needed, and put the plan into action.

The idea was that after my journey I’d return to Canada, pick up any job while I fleshed out the fuzziness in the next dream and start on it. But I ran into a couple of unanticipated problems.  I was in a small town unable to get any work there or within a couple hours distance and, I had walked into my parents’ transition.

My father was trying to hold onto the past. He knew my mother had changed but hadn’t really come to terms with it. She has Alzheimer’s Disease. He was trying to keep their home together but his health wasn’t great and this was a major strain. He was unable to let go. Where an accident had been the catalyst for my transition, I was now the shove in my father’s transition.

It’s difficult to push someone who is stubborn. You need to coax them. They have to be ready to accept change before they can move forward. I helped my father enter the between & betwixt stage. A transition takes time. It took me a few years to move from leaving my old self to realizing a new self.

My brother and sister-in-law helped him enter the next phase. He moved into a retirement lodge but held onto the house. He let go of the house when he came to terms with who he was now. He kept feeding the birds and, not really trusting the staff, he kept buying his own medications. He visited my mother a few times a week – she was now in a long term care facility – and he developed some very close friendships. He was happy in his new life.

My father completed the transition. My daughter has the strength, vision and plan to realize her gender transition. My father’s death sparked this transition for her. It also taught me to go back and revisit the areas where I get stuck. It renewed my energy to turn my fuzzy dream into a more manageable dream and work on a plan to realize it. I’ve wanted my own business for a long time. It’s difficult to move from almost four years of poverty to being self-employed but I’m creating a natural soap and body care line and a new me.

To move from where we are to where we what to be is a process. We need to understand our strengths and which may need further development. We need to understand our weaknesses and take care that they don’t undermine our efforts. We need to consider our other resources and where we might need help.

We will be in transit many times over our lives. We need to say goodbye and mourn our old self, figure out who we are, start becoming that person and, become our new self. Each transition requires a dream. Change requires courage, confidence, curiosity, commitment and control. Strengths that each of you have.  … Mr. Toastmaster.

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My daughter is a thoughtful and talented person who is doing the right thing by transitioning and being true to herself. It’s been a month since she came out as a transgender woman and she has received support from friends, family, clients and strangers. Thank you.

daryl profileShe is a photographer and wants to help increase awareness and acceptance of transgender people. She has started a crowdfunding campaign, The Transgender Experience, a project that will explore what it means to “pass” in society.

I’m reading The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille, and a quote in the book comes to mind, “Nature loves diversity; society hates it.” For as long as people have existed, transgender people have existed. Trans people are a minority and not well understood. This has often resulted in prejudice and violence. It is absurd that we would hate or hurt people simply because they are different. Gender variance is part of our human fabric and we need to learn about and accept other people. A trans person could be your child, sibling, parent, grandparent, friend, neighbour, colleague, etc. Learn, accept, become an ally.

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CC manual Speech 9: Persuade with Power

Why you should support Bill C-279

The person I have thought of as my son for the past 32 years recently came out as a transgender woman and my daughter’s happiness fills me with warmth, joy and pride. If you’re like me, you have your own gender identity, you accept and care deeply about the significant people in your life and, you believe in equal human rights.

Madame Toastmaster and fellow Toastmasters tonight I want to increase your awareness of trans people and I want you to show your support for their human rights by writing to your MP and letting them know you support Bill C-279. The Gender Identity bill was introduced by MP Randall Garrison and its purpose is to provide equal human rights protections for trans people in Canada. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is currently reviewing the bill. If it’s adopted, the phrases “gender identity” and “gender expression” will be added to the classes offered protections from discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

Education is a key to accepting diversity. I’m still learning but I want to provide a brief overview of gender, transgender and transphobia. Gender is a complex cultural construct and refers to attitudes, feelings and behaviours associated with a person’s sex. Gender exists along a continuum and we may identify as male, female, both, or neither. Gender identity is our innermost sense of self. Sex is our anatomy. If you are a cisgender person your gender identity matches your anatomical sex; that’s not the case for a transgender person.

It’s not known for sure how many trans people there are but researchers estimate that one out of every 300-1,000 people are born feeling that their sex and gender are different. Ignorance and misconceptions about others often results in social and systemic discrimination. Prejudice and fear, transphobia, can manifest itself in violence, harassment and discrimination. Transgender people, like cisgender people, are human beings and trans rights are human rights.

Transgender people experience gender dysphoria. Some try to live according to their physical sex and construct a persona, a mask, to match their body. Living a lie can take a tremendous emotional toll. Expressing one’s true sense of self alleviates the dysphoria but for some the dysphoria is so severe that they need to medically alter their bodies to align with their gender identity.

Back to Bill C-279. Last week the Standing Committee heard arguments against the bill from the group Real Women. They testified that if the bill passes sexual deviants will be able to access women’s washrooms. This is fear mongering. A trans woman’s identity is female and SHE should be able to access a woman’s bathroom, just like any other woman. It’s a matter of equality, respect and dignity.

A large study in the UK documented the experiences of trans people and it included difficulties with accessing a washroom at work. Imagine being told you can’t use the washroom. Imagine being discriminated against when trying to access services, or housing, or employment. Trans rights are human rights.

Real Women also testified that transgender people should receive compassionate counselling and not receive special treatment. Some trans people have severe gender dysphoria, a medical condition, and current science believes the way to treat it is to alter the body to match the brain. We treat cancer, heart disease, and other conditions medically.

My daughter has spent most of her life trying to deny who she is. The older she gets the more severe the dysphoria. Seeing a counsellor and participating in a gender journeys support group has helped her see that she’s not alone. Try to imagine what it’s like to live in a body that you don’t identity with. Try to live out your life in a society where who you really are is rendered invisible.

Now, it’s your turn. All trans people are human beings and deserve equality, dignity and respect. They face many social, economic and institutional barriers. Education and legal protections break down those barriers. Let your MP know that transgender rights are human rights by expressing your support for Bill C-279. … Madame Toastmaster.

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