The first anniversary of loss

It's been just over a year since I got the news that my mother-in-law was rushed to the hospital. A couple of days later, she was gone. Her death was eerily and disturbingly similar to my mom's. I hated that Matt had to live through such an experience all over again. He took my mom's death very hard because they had a really special relationship, but this was HIS mom and that makes it so much harder. 

Brandon's 2nd birthday - Grandma took some time to read to him before presents.

Brandon's 2nd birthday - Grandma took some time to read to him before presents.

There are two stories about Colleen that I think about most often. The first one happened back in 2002. On April 21, I had to go to the ER because I feared I was having a miscarriage. The doctor in the ER confirmed my suspicions, then sent us home. I didn't know what to do with myself, but I was most definitely not up for company. Matt called his parents and his dad jumped into action, ready to drive to Ottawa to be with us. I loved him for caring so much, but I begged Matt to call his dad and kindly ask him not to come. 

It turns out, Matt didn't have to ask.

Colleen, having given birth to a stillborn little girl, reminded Frank that they'd wanted to be alone. Perhaps other couples would have welcomed the company and the direct support. But Colleen seemed to know it wasn't the right time yet. Later on, when I was finally able to talk about it, I thanked her for her sensitivity and understanding. To this day, I am thankful for everything she did to support us during that time. Her compassion helped both of us grieve our loss. I'll never forget it.

I moment of silliness caught on camera. Frank and Colleen were married over 50 years. 

I moment of silliness caught on camera. Frank and Colleen were married over 50 years. 

The other story is one that amuses me as much today as it did two years ago, but it has a bit of background that isn't quite so amusing.

In early April 2013, Colleen collapsed and was taken to the hospital. The doctors spent nearly two weeks trying to figure out what was wrong with her. They were in a race, because she was in very bad shape. After Matt saw his mom the first time, he was convinced she wasn't going to make it. Within a few days, she was transferred to an Ottawa hospital because her local hospital felt she needed more than they could provide. Frank came to stay with us while the doctors worked to figure out what was wrong. I didn't go to the hospital myself until after we finally received the diagnosis. I wanted to let Frank and Matt have all the time they wanted with her.

On April 15th, while I was at a conference sitting next to one of my sisters-in-law, we got the news of the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Not long after, Shelly and I read the news that Colleen had Multiple Myeloma. 

Most likely, she'd had it for quite a while. She had lesions all over her bones, which caused her system to become overloaded with calcium, leading to kidney failure and the collapse that put her in the hospital. As the calcium was flushed out of her system, her kidney function improved and she felt more like herself. But the cancer had done a lot of damage. She had to have surgery to put a rod in one of her legs before she could go home. 

I don't know what he said, but it was pretty common for him to tease his mother. Matt took the payback well.

I don't know what he said, but it was pretty common for him to tease his mother. Matt took the payback well.

In all, Colleen was in the hospital for 6 weeks. I know many patients end up staying in much longer, but my mother-in-law was a true homebody. She loved nothing more than being at her house, cleaning, tending her garden, or going about town visiting with her group of friends that she'd known for decades. Being away from all of them for 6 weeks was difficult. She handled it extremely well, despite the anxiety she was experiencing from everything that was going on.

Toward the end of her stay in the hospital, and after they started her chemotherapy, Colleen was starting to eat and enjoy food. After the diagnosis, I went to the hospital to see Colleen three nights each week and we'd spend a couple of hours visiting. Matt went almost all of the nights I didn't go. During one of my visits with her, Colleen mentioned that she was really missing fresh fruit. So, when I came the next time, I stopped first at Farmboy - one of her favourite grocery stories - and discovered they had fresh sliced mangoes. Colleen loved mangoes - a lot. I grabbed some other fruit to go with it and surprised her right about when her dinner tray was delivered.

In the 16 years I knew Colleen, I don't think I ever saw her happier than when she took that first bite of mango. I don't think she ended up eating any of the dinner the hospital provided. She feasted on fresh fruit, constantly thanking me for such a small thing. We all knew that she'd be released soon at that point, but I made sure I brought her fruit with every trip I made. Bringing her all her favourites from St. Hubert's for lunch on the day she was being released was almost as satisfying. Especially seeing how much she enjoyed sending the hospital lunch tray back to the kitchen. :)

Colleen's illness brought us closer together. I've always appreciated her kindness and generosity, but I didn't always understand her as a person. After she got sick, it didn't matter anymore. I just wanted to be there for her. I think it was instinct and the fact that taking care of ill or elderly family members was a very big part of my years growing up. Though I didn't do nearly as much as I would have liked to do for her, I was happy to be able to be there for her and Frank every chance I got. 

I really believe that it's a privilege to be a part of someone exiting this life. We didn't know how long Colleen would live with her cancer. She was doing so well for so long that I honestly thought she had years before we'd have to say goodbye. Then the treatment regimen changed and she wasn't doing as well anymore. Cancer tends to suck like that. 

Colleen raised an amazing youngest son that I have had the pleasure of spending the last 17 years with and she passed on her love of vacuuming to him, which I'll be forever grateful for. Before she spoke to or met me, she was cautioning Matt to be careful - after all, he met me online and I might be an ax murderer. :) It didn't take her long to change her mind and welcome me to the family.

It's amazing how fast a year can go when it feels like time should slow down or stop after such a monumental loss. 

The day of Colleen's funeral, one of her friends mentioned she looked forward to reading what I would write about Colleen. It's taken me a year to find the words, so I hope I've lived up to her expectations.

The real scoop behind my recent life changes

Lara and I broke up. Split up. Parted ways. Took different paths. Ended our business relationship.

I suppose one could use any of these phrases to describe me leaving Wellman Wilson recently, but the one that is most accurate is that we ended our business relationship. I'm kind of amused by people who've asked what "really" happened. Maybe it would help to know what Lara had to say about it

Here's the thing: the real scoop? It's nothing all that interesting. At least, there's nothing overly dramatic about it. The truth is that I love Lara. She's been an amazing friend to me since that fateful day we started chatting on Twitter back in 2010. Sometimes you meet someone that you connect with and it's easy. You don't have to put a lot of effort into building the relationship. That's what it's always been like for me with Lara. 

Earlier today, I was thinking about this post and all the things I wanted to say about working with Lara, which was a great experience in many, many ways. In the weeks since I left Wellman Wilson, I have lost an enormous weight that I didn't even know was there. As much as I miss working with Lara - and, believe me, I miss her a lot - the flood of ideas and energy and love for the things I'm doing right now just confirm the absolute rightness of the decision I made.

The decision we made. Because I didn't do this alone.

You see, having a friend like Lara means that I have someone who senses when things aren't right. It means she wants what's best for me. Lara knew long before I did that I wasn't thriving as a business owner. She saw the toll it took on me before I was brave enough to acknowledge it to myself. She showed incredible patience, understanding, and caring for me. 

When I finally realized that running a business wasn't what I wanted, I planned to give it a few weeks to think about things and see how I felt after a short period of time. I didn't tell Lara where my head was at, but she knew it was time. It wasn't a new discussion for us, but we'd finally reached the point that we both knew that the right decision and the best decision was also going to be very hard.

I have an enormous amount of respect for Lara, and I know the feeling is mutual. We wouldn't have ever worked together if we didn't have at least that going for us.

Earlier today, a mutual friend of ours posted about her own struggles with being an entrepreneur. Lara saw it before me and made sure I knew about her post, because she knew I could relate. Marisa managed to articulate very effectively how I've been feeling. The move I've made to doing occasional freelance work while I continue on in my full-time job has been the best possible thing I could have done for myself.

As I said to Lara after I read Marisa's words, "I feel fortunate to have a friend who can see that in me and understands. I'll never regret making the attempt. I learned so much and really enjoyed so many things about it. Just because it wasn't the best thing for me doesn't mean it was bad."

Lara and I both have so much to look forward to. How exciting is that?

Awareness, acceptance and fundraising for #autism

There was a blip of excitement last week when Willie Geist and Uzo Aduba were challenged during a fundraiser for autism. Meredith Viera then repeated the gimmick on her show with Geist and tagged Matt Lauer and Kathie Lee Gifford to go next. It didn't take long to see the string of articles asking if (or prematurely predicting that) the #TwizzlerChallenge was going to be the new #ALSIceBucketChallenge.

One would assume that this would be the tipping point of what many are calling "the new ice bucket challenge". But I have my doubts. For one, it's just not a challenge that will easily catch on given the slightly more intimate nature compared to the ice bucket challenge. There's also the little catch of having a big brand name attached, which some people are going to balk at because there may be suspicion that it's a marketing ploy. Not to mention that many autistics who avoid gluten won't eat Twizzlers. (The challenge is distinctly flawed when the people supposedly benefiting cannot participate.)

As a parent of an autistic child, I don't see the #TwizzlerChallenge as a tool for awareness. There's already a lot of awareness about autism, which includes many misconceptions as well. So, when I read this post by Amethyst Schaber, it really resonated with me, even though it isn't specifically about the #TwizzlerChallenge. This quote nails it for me:

What these non-autistic led awareness campaigns tend to impart to the average non-autistic person is that autism is as a vague, scary childhood “disease” (that alone is misinformation enough to harm the autistic community) that is rapidly becoming an “epidemic” and for which parents are desperately seeking a cure. They learn that having an autistic child is very hard on parents, and that autistic people lead sad lives with little to no value, and that any disability or difference is something that needs to be totally eradicated through the application of medicine.

I feel that autism acceptance— the respect, the equal rights and opportunities, and the societal inclusion of autistic people— is a goal that would actually change society for the better and help to make better lives for autistic people and our families.
— Amethyst Schaber

Here's the thing I struggle with:

Because I live day-to-day with the unique challenges of my autistic son, this "awareness" campaign doesn't speak to me. It's a gimmick that may raise funds, or generate viral videos of people doing silly things. But in no way does it tell the world what it's like to be autistic or educate people on how to work with and relate to people who are autistic. That, to me, is true awareness.

And true awareness leads to real acceptance.

He was so excited to go to school dressed up in his green shirt. :)

He was so excited to go to school dressed up in his green shirt. :)

Funds are great. (Trust me, if you want to eat Twizzlers with someone and write a cheque to your favourite local - please support the local charities - autism charity, by all means don't let my views stop you from doing so. We/they need the support.) My dear friend, Suzanne Jacobson, is doing phenomenal work in Ottawa with QuickStart Autism. If she starts seeing an uptick in donations, it means that families with children who are very young can get into the KickStart program so they're identified as early as possible. Early identification allows children to receive interventions at the age when it is most critical for overall development. How amazing is that? Don't you want to donate now?

In less time than it would take me to do the #TwizzlerChallenge or #LightItUpBlue, I've helped every person who reads this post learn about a great cause that can truly help children and their families. I could write another post about all the amazing progress my son has made since his diagnosis because he started therapy right away. I can tell you how our lives have changed. I can tell you how much easier it is for my son to cope with things that used to overwhelm him. But I'll save that for another day. 

For now, I'll just say that if you want to have the kind of awareness that leads to acceptance, have an open, honest conversation with someone who is autistic or the people who live, work, and play with them every day. Get to know them. 

Only then will you experience true awareness.

Why I should go invest in a helmet

When I was 12, I got braces and wore them for almost 3 years. They came off a few weeks into my sophomore year of high school (10th grade). I have always been glad I had braces to straighten my teeth and get rid of the gaps, though I haven't always loved the shape of my teeth and how they look in pictures. 

As a typical pre-teen/teen, I had to be reminded regularly to brush my teeth. My dad often told me that he wasn't spending all that money (thousands of dollars) for me to let my teeth rot out of my mouth and need dentures. Fortunately, I developed the habit and I've taken good care of my teeth since - other than the whole not going to the dentist thing. (I finally went last fall, for anyone who is wondering.)

As of last Friday morning (July 11), my dental avoidance is officially over. 

One of several #WWCRoadTrip selfies Lara and I took on our way to the MomBiz Mastermind retreat. Note the lovely straight teeth that I took for granted.

One of several #WWCRoadTrip selfies Lara and I took on our way to the MomBiz Mastermind retreat. Note the lovely straight teeth that I took for granted.

I took a trip with Lara down to a business retreat in Mississauga for the weekend. We drove down on Thursday, had dinner with the group, then everyone spent a few hours hanging out  and having drinks. I was pretty dehydrated from being careful not to drink too much (and need too many stops on the trip) and, of course, drinking alcohol can cause dehydration as well. When I went to bed, I was fine but woke up not feeling great. 

Without going into all the gory details, I managed to smash my face against something and nearly knock my front teeth out of my mouth. I had to wake poor Lara up to take me to the ER where I was thoroughly checked (and poked and prodded), but pronounced perfectly healthy. Before they let me go I was given firm instructions to make my way to the dentist to have my teeth looked at. 

I had given Lara the green light to head back to the retreat because there was no sense in both of us being there. When I saw how close the dentist they referred me to was, I decided to walk. I wasn't in pain (the nurses couldn't believe I turned down pain meds) and I was feeling absolutely fine. Even my horrible dental anxiety wasn't cropping up. However, the dentist I went to first found me an oral surgeon who could work on my mouth instead since I told her about my anxieties. She was lovely and didn't charge me an arm and a leg even though she took x-rays - it was good that I had a positive experience because that helped me keep any anxiety in check.

Post oral surgery - much, MUCH better than after the accident (I did not take pictures of that), but I miss my pre-accident teeth a lot. Those aren't braces - it's wire and glue holding my teeth in place. Nice, eh? 

Post oral surgery - much, MUCH better than after the accident (I did not take pictures of that), but I miss my pre-accident teeth a lot. Those aren't braces - it's wire and glue holding my teeth in place. Nice, eh? 

The oral surgeon they found was right back across the street by the ER, so I walked back over and found yet another lovely group of people intent on helping me. The surgeon was so kind and compassionate - especially when I told him that my dehydrated state was going to make it extremely difficult for them to get an IV in me (it took seven tries at the hospital). He agreed that I have crappy veins and did the procedure with just a pill sedative and local anesthetic. 

This was huge for me. I did really well, stayed calm and got through it without the anxiety getting the better of me. I can honestly say that the staff being so wonderful was a huge factor in my ability to cope so well. 

The surgeon was able to do the procedure in a way that will (hopefully) save my teeth, though I also have a huge chip in one of my front teeth. I've also continued to have no pain. 

I don't know if my teeth are definitely okay yet - that will take a while. But I feel really good about how I dealt with a situation that could have caused me a great deal of anxiety. I stood up for myself when I needed to in the ER and I made it through a crazy day with a lot of help from my friends. I have such wonderful friends and this weekend was a good reminder of how very blessed I am to have so many wonderful people in my life.

Dad, I'm so sorry all those years of braces got messed up. The bright side is that it could have been worse and, of course, you aren't having to pay for me to fix it all over again. :)