A Transparent Truth

The more observant of my readers may have noticed that all of my recent posts (notice I didn’t use the words frequent or regular), recent being over the last year or so, have been either about grief, ranting, or something superficial.

The reason? Fear, mostly. Fear of what others may think of me, of how those who have known me as The Good Little Missionary Girl might regard me if I delve back into the topic of faith, or get as truly

First Deathiversary

Dear Mom,

I can hardly believe it’s been an entire year since I saw you last! True, so much has happened over the last 365 days, but they have sped by in a blur, it seems.

Shortly after your funeral, we went through everything in your house (a daunting task), decided what to keep, what to toss, what to give away, and eventually, within a few weeks, cleaned it all out. Saying good-bye to the last place I saw you alive was tough, especially since I did it alone one snowy afternoon.

I finally got my chance to nest, though finding myself so alone in the prospect made it a bittersweet experience. I am grateful to have inherited much of your household, including furniture, linens, plants, dishes, and even cleaning supplies – thanks!

Thanks to being the co-executor of your estate, I’ve learned a lot more about finances and “the system”. I’ve also assumed your role as Mark’s spokesperson, and I feel fully capable of doing “The Irate Sister” routine if I need to. He will hopefully finally have a home sometime this year, thanks to your tireless work, and the help of some other gems I don’t have to mention.

I’ve done lots of singing, with the help of the Noted! project and Cactus Jam, and now I have prospects with a new band, Fourth Avenue. Singing is definitely one of the things I was meant to do, as I’m sure you knew.

I’m also now the Dining Room Manager at the pub and the owner jokes (?) about selling it to me someday. Hmm.

Another thing that causes me to shake my head is the fact that I’ve been in the HC now for two and a half years! Me! Remember when I said I didn’t think I’d live in Canada ever again? Here I am eating my words. And as much as I think I’d enjoy living in a city where people are more style- and culture-conscious and it’s cool to be 27 and single, I am also enjoying getting to know my home county in a different way, and I’m not hoping to leave anytime soon.

Holidays are weird without you, Mom, though I have to say I enjoy having the option of using my own kitchen, my own house, to entertain my family. This Christmas, I couldn’t bear the thought that we might not have new books, so I used money that has been returned to you from taxes, etc. to buy new books for everyone. I was sure you wouldn’t mind. 🙂

Most recently, I did something you likely wouldn’t approve of, and, ironically, I did it in your memory! I got a tattoo on my left forearm:

I wanted to be able to see it every day, to see your initials, to remember your wisdom. I love that it’s got my handwriting and yours – it’s a precious possession, and I wear it with pride.

I have to end this letter, Mama, because three of my siblings, a very pregnant sister-in-law, and three neices and I are meeting for dinner tonight to remember you. We’re hoping to find at least a little bit of open water, whether on the lake or the river, to toss some fresh flowers in your memory, just as we did on the day of your funeral.

First, though, I want to share two poems I’ve been thinking a lot about today. First, in sadness for the days gone by and in recognition of the many times tears have sprung upon me suddenly:

Tears, Idle Tears

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more.

(Lord Alfred Tennyson)

And secondly, what I feel is my theme for this coming year, hope:


Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

(Emily Dickinson)

I love you forever, Mommy.


A Day in My Life, June 2008

I had a sudden desire today to chronicle and compare the different stages of my life, as I look back and notice that my life in June 2008 is remarkable different from that of June 2007, June 2006, June 2005, and so on.

I invite you to be a witness on this journey.

June 2008 finds me 27 years old, living in a two-bedroom second-floor apartment in the only apartment building in a tiny town in East Huron County called Brucefield. This town is known for it’s flashing light, yellow if you’re driving between Clinton and Exeter on Highway 4, or red if you’re coming from either Seaforth or Bayfield. There is one elementary school, one church, one drive-in restaurant, two mechanic shops, one Asian/Home Decor/B&B/Lunch Room location, and one fire station.

My apartment overlooks a cornfield, the view of which is mostly obstructed by a lovely birch tree. Said tree helps me feel more confident walking around in my apartment in less-than-decent clothing on summer nights. After all, who would be driving by slowly enough whose gaze could penetrate the birch branches in the split second I happen to be passing through my dining room, several feet from my beautiful picture window?

I enjoy living alone, though sometimes I do wish someone was there to care whether I came in or not, or to wonder where I was, or to motivate me to do dishes, finally! My neighbours are understanding and quiet, the area is safe, and I actually have a place to call home. MY home. I’ve immensely enjoyed painting and decorating my apartment, putting all of my good taste to good use in a place where I’m the boss, now and forever.

Another addition to my life is that of Trixie the Toyota, a pretty, dark-green 1997 4Runner who goes with me everywhere I go. She hauls the accoutrements of my life and hobbies without complaint. She has survived being rolled over in the ditch after skidding out on an icy country road, being hit-and-run by some unknown person, a not-so-successful attempt at backing up a trailer, and carrying some of my more treasured furniture.

Not so enjoyable are the bills that go with being established and mobile, namely cell phone, rent, insurance, hydro, phone/internet, groceries, gas, repairs, etc. I can’t say as I ever yearned for that part of nesting, but I take it in stride, usually. I’ll be much happier when I can finally get my tax returns done (for the past 2 years), pay off my credit card, and have money set aside for winter tires.

I have spent more than a year at the same job, as a server at The Brew’n Arms English pub and restaurant in Bayfield, Ontario. Earlier this year, I graduated to keyholder and Dining Room Manager, as well as Kitchen Painter and Orchid-Caretaker extraordinaire. My bosses are wonderful people who have become friends and family, as well as the most understanding and flexible supervisors anyone could ask for. They make me want to stay and do my best for them, for their business, for their town.

Last year at this time, I was also working as a drywaller, and, shocker! I don’t miss it a tiny bit. I do enjoy my refined house-painting skills, which I have recently put to good use in a “cottage” in Bayfield, and hope to expand as a second job. If you hear of someone looking to hire a house painter, give them my number!

I’m not attending church because I couldn’t handle the one I had called “home” for years. I’m generally fed up with the institution that is what church has become, with all its expectations and traditions and legalism. I would enjoy a faith-based community of believers that is honest and open, a group that can laugh and be reverent in an informal way. I really could expand this paragraph to a whole essay, but suffice it to say that I have not encountered such a community, but I still seek to hold onto my beliefs. I am discovering more of what life is like on “the other side” (outside the Christian bubble), and it’s very educational, despite occasionally dangerous.

If it were possible to live on coffee, I’d do it.

I’ve joined the wonderful realm of BlackBerry, as I once dreamed of doing. And I’m paying for it, too.

Writing is still my best communication method.

I rarely see earlier than 10 AM, or close my eyes earlier than 1 or 2 AM. I’d like to change that.

The music in my life has developed over the past year as well. I am the youngest voice of the all-female cover band, Cactus Jam, and I love it, despite playing mostly Legions. I was also privileged enough to be part of Noted!, a project sponsored by the United Way in my county, which is helping to boost the music careers of the 17 women chosen to participate. We got to record 14 tracks in a professional studio, and a great-sounding CD is the result. This past winter I also ventured out to sing a few times at Open Mic nights at a local pub, and have been the featured soloist at two church events.

This year finds me recently motherless, a drastic blight on anyone’s life, and definitely on mine. It has changed so many things and finally propelled me into nesting in the first place. It also made my brother and I guardians of our youngest brother and launched me further into the land of disabled children in Ontario. I now have a lawyer, communicate regularly with several case workers, get all kinds of official mail, and have to return junk mail still addressed to Mom.

June 2008 also finds me blonde, and with an even greater fashion sense. I love that about growing older! I predict I’ll still be stylish in my 80s. If I’m not, remind me of now.

I’ve discovered I love flowers and plants, doing the Toronto Saturday Star crossword, Pinot Grigio and Shiraz, premium beer, CBC Radio, brie on melba rounds with semi-dried tomatoes in duck confit, Dollarama’s plain candles, serving dessert, mom’s old couch and armchair (with my apartment’s decor built around them), C&E used furniture in Goderich, Americanos from The Bean, and living in Huron County!!! (Sorry, but that deserved more than three exclamation points)
Being Sarah Elizabeth takes different shapes all the time, and I’m enjoying the process. Here’s to another year!

P.S. I Love You

She’s all around me. Everywhere I look in my apartment, I see something that reminds me of her. The curtains she made hang on my big dining room window, the matching throw pillows on the couch that was hers, which sits behind the coffee table I bought her at Ikea, on which rests one of the sea grass baskets we bought together. She read most of the books on the shelf, I made the ottoman for her, the vase with lilacs on the coffee table was hers. Even the fact that I love flowers came from her.

I was shocked when she died because I wasn’t ready. Now I’m stunned that it’s been almost six months. Where could all that time have possibly gone? Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that we were in her hospital room, shaking her body, hoping it was all a terrible mistake? How could time have simply carried on as usual when we have been left motherless?

Mostly I’m appalled at the thought that I didn’t love her well, not nearly well enough. That’s a fact, don’t try to comfort me out of it. I didn’t. You thought I’d have regrets, and I do. I don’t think I could’ve done anything about them, then, even knowing it might come to this. I didn’t value her enough, didn’t see enough of who she really was, who others saw, the ones who tell me over and over again what an amazing woman she was. Even strangers do that, when they find out I’m the oldest of that family.

I’m six months too late, Mom, and I’m sorry.

P.S. I Love You.

How to Force a Reno

Today was a great day. Even though it started early (I had to be somewhere by 9:00 am), I loved that I had a reason to get up. The day continued to be great, even though I did a few hours of dirty work (pulling old nails out of two-by-fours at a kitchen renovation project), enhanced by some scrumptious raspberry turnovers and delectable coffee (thanks to the newly re-opened Art See Cafe on Main Street in Bayfield for the complimentary coffee on this, their first day of business!). Even when I pinched my left index finger between a crowbar and a plank, it continued to be a good day.

My day got better when I (finally) had the chance to stop at the shops in the little town that I drive through on my way home to Brucefield. I am usually either in a rush or driving passing at midnight, so I’ve never been able to check them out. Until today. One of them was great! An interior decorating shop, it was full of furniture, antiques, candles, wall-hangings, drapes, centerpieces, and much more. And a new friend, Debbie, who I now feel like I’ve known for a while.

It didn’t take long for me to share the pertinent details of my small-town Huron County life with Debbie and her elderly parents, and soon she started apologizing for her almost-baldness, citing chemotherapy as its cause. I started asking her questions, and was delighted to discover that my new friend is a breast cancer survivor! I shook her hand and explained my interest.

A couple hours later, after lunch and a shower (and an episode of The Office), I returned to Debbie’s store, this time with paraphernalia from my apartment in tow, to seek her help picking paint and drapery colours. Together we picked out a lovely deep blue-grey called Distant Thunder for my bathroom.

Skipping forward a few more hours, I spent the evening singing with the Noted! ladies, practicing our group songs for the CD Launch next week (if you don’t have your tickets yet or your CDs pre-ordered, what the heck are you waiting for?!). Gosh-darn it, we are talented!

Finally arriving home, I made use of both arms and toted my purse, papers, a shopping bag, my new gallon of paint, a jug of laundry soap, the items I took to help decide on a paint colour, and a McFlurry all up to my second floor apartment in one fell swoop.

All was well, til I set the can of paint down at the top of the stairs and started fishing for my keys. I somehow knocked the can over, and it started a fateful course down the carpeted stairs. Who knew the lids to paint cans would fall off of their own accord? Not I! Granted, it had some helpful momentum. Nervously, I turned around. And started to swear. My lovely Distant Thunder was all down the stairs, pooled on the floor at the bottom, flung onto the walls, and even splotched onto the ceiling of the entryway.
(Insert more swearing here)


The hideous evidence:

Paint can covered in paint
This can was brand new 30 minutes ago…


A wiped-up puddle of blue-grey paint
What was left after scooping up the majority of the paint puddle


Carpeted stairs dripped with paint
The view from the bottom


Paint drips on a wall
Water birds on a wall?
Paint smeared above a door
A little here and a little there…
Paint down carpeted steps
After cleaning up… luckily no one cares about this carpet!

The Grief Train Marches On

I’ve often had very vivid REM dreams that stick with me all day. Sometimes I wonder whether they are meant to remind me of something, or to reflect something that I don’t realize I truly feel. This morning is the second time since my mom died that those dreams were dedicated to her.

She was alive, but dying, and we knew it. She was weak and losing weight, but not enough for one of us to carry her by ourselves. She was happy even though she must have been in pain. There were so many people around, that knew her but didn’t necessarily know us. Still, we all formed a family there, circling in her orbit.

I wanted to get her outside, so that her feet could touch grass and she could soak up the sunshine, but I couldn’t carry her by myself. My sister helped me. We then tried to hold her up but neither one of us could do it alone. My sister tried to carry Mom on her back, but she was still solid enough to weigh my sister down, bent almost to the ground! That was funny.

Then, in the way dreams go, I found myself tightly hugging an opaque jar. I kept peeking in, to make sure its contents were alright. Mom had transitioned from a bed to a jar, and I had to keep her safe. All that was left was a beating heart, immersed in some kind of liquid, in a pretty jar. As long as it was still beating, I had to keep it company, hold it, protect it, keep it warm.

I woke up before her heart stopped beating…