Writing through it all

I really try to believe in the saying that the universe (or God, depending on your belief system) only gives you as many challenges as you can handle. In Christianity, the story of Job is often used to illustrate this point. I am not a religious person, but this story of God testing the faith of one of his most faithful still resonates.

On a daily basis I find my faith tested, be it my faith in myself or the rest of humanity; faith that life has meaning; or that the world we live in is essentially a decent place. Generally, though – like most people – I’m pretty optimistic, resilient, and do believe that life is not out to get me.

Over the past few years, however, a few events have really rocked this faith and it has taken a lot to get back to my centre. One was my grandmother’s death from an asbestos-caused lung cancer in 2003. She went from a feisty and perfectly healthy 80-year-old woman to a weak shell of her former self in a matter of weeks. Then there was my mother’s diagnosis of an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2006: not only was I scared that I might lose her, but I realized that this was now an ongoing part of my reality – when I turn 30 I need to start getting mammograms because my risk is substantially higher. Grad school rocked my faith in my own abilities as a writer, researcher, and thinker. Even this latest move to Wyoming has caused more than its fair share of instability and frustration.

It’s amazing how much tougher we are than we think, though. With time, and maybe a little therapy, most of us do return to our ‘normal’ selves. I certainly have not come away unscathed from my experiences, but I definitely feel more compassionate, wiser, and more grateful for the life that I have.

My therapy has been my writing. Mostly it happens in journals, letters, emails, and now on this blog. It has also happened in poems, stories, articles, and soon hopefully in books. I channelled my grandmother’s life and death into several pieces, including a children’s book. Some of my struggles with my mother’s illness have made their way into a novel I started in Vancouver and plan to return to soon. Even my non-fiction works are touched by these experiences. This current book on Laurentian Air Services is in many ways a tribute to my wonderful grandfather – a pilot – who passed away a few years ago.

The universe has sent another major challenge my way: my young, vibrant mother-in-law, Dawn, has just been diagnosed with bile duct cancer, something that usually affects men in their 70s. It just seems so unfair and so strange, and has been a terrible blow to Doug and I. In true universe fashion, the timing has also just been rotten. I am thousands of miles away in Wyoming and Doug is now in Scotland for training for three months. We were able to go back for a week-long visit to Ottawa for an early Christmas, because we likely won’t be back for December 25th.

It was one of those wonderful, bittersweet visits. I think we often take for granted the moments with our loved ones – we think they will be around forever and rush through things. I know I am particularly guilty of having wandering-mind syndrome, and am often already thinking about the next activity before the one at hand is done.

Last week I tried so hard to bring my attention back to the present: to feel every hug, to taste every bit of food, and to enjoy every moment. Now that I’m back in Wyoming, it’s hard for my mind not to wander to Ottawa or Scotland. But, with the realization that our days on this planet are numbered – and we don’t often know that number – I am going to try my very best to focus on the book. Not only is it important to me that I keep my promises to myself, my publisher, and all the people who have been involved in the project so far, but more than anything I get the chance to honour the lives of so many men and women in this book. We only truly die when we are forgotten.

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