Sunday, March 16, 2014


I'll be honest. I don't know how to approach this post. I don't know how to present my reflections in a wonderfully worded way. Hey, alliteration! Maybe this will be alright.

I want to talk about some of my reflections on my mom's passing. For some, they may be interested in hearing how I'm doing. For others, perhaps my weird understanding of things might be interesting. For others, perhaps they'll have a connection to my experience and find some comfort there. Perhaps this is ultimately for myself to remember my thoughts. This is not for everybody. If you don't want to read, you can excuse yourself. By simply clicking on the link to this post, I've already got my view stat up. Yep, I just cracked a joke about my petty nature.

I should start off by stating that I did not have the best relationship with my mom. I really struggled to connect with her on a significant level. Conversations were simply passing information back and forth like we presented each other with headlines from the newspapers of our lives without actually talking about the content of the articles. 

Even when it came to issues about faith, something important to both of us, our understanding and approach to faith were very different. When I hypothesized the idea that perhaps there is no real being commonly referred to as Satan, she responded the next day with every reference of Satan from the Bible. I sighed because I was aware that the name Satan was used. Even if I tried to engage in a conversation about it, she would just point to the word Satan written on the page.

She knew how everyone was connected through the family tree and genealogies. She pointed out that one of the girls on the Summer Ministry Tour team was actually my third cousin once removed. I had no idea. I didn't particularly care either. We would pass a random farmhouse in western Manitoba and tell me who lived there and how we were related. I would turn around and ask, "Could you tell me a story about them?" and she usually couldn't. We found different things interesting.

The idea of family was not that important to me because it seemed to be presented to me that how we were connected to others was more important than actually spending any time with them. We rarely saw the extended family for whatever reason and to me family seemed like an irrelevant concept. Unfortunately, that has stayed with me through these years and even now as I am married, I have a hard time not seeing family as obligation. That's probably going to make me a little unpopular. Admitting that the idea of family is not 100% necessary rarely goes well. I'll let it be an open end because that's not the point here.

When my mom died, it did not make me sad. My emotional reaction was more of mild surprise. The kind of surprise that sounds like, "Oh, today? I guess I'm going to Manitoba." I've never known my mom to be in good health. When the ambulance pulled up to my house 16 years ago, I was surprised that it was my 73 year old dad that they were there for and not my 51 year old mom.

Truth be told, my mom never did recover from my dad's death and the whole experience put a strain on our relationship. Dad was the diplomatic buffer that I didn't realize he was until he was not around for me to go to. If I something that was at all serious, I went to my dad. His passing left me to craft a kind of close relationship that my mom and I never had before then. Our disagreements would not go over well when I would try and make proposals to do something bringing in my history of compliance with laws of the land, my aversion to drugs and alcohol, my known associates to not be larcenous thugs and she would sometimes say 'no' with no rhyme or reason and make me sit at home and do nothing. If I would resist the request, the answer was a very frustrating and insulting, "You never listen to me." The grand generalizations did not sit well with my tendency to see a little more nuance in things. 

Of course, I should make a point to say, that this is from my perspective. Perhaps if you had a third party observing, I would come off as more of a jackass and she was the saintly mother. Who knows? What I do know, is that our own subjective perspectives on those late years of my high school led to an ongoing stain in the relationship that would follow us until the end.

I remember in one of my drama classes in college when we were looking at the Tennessee Williams play "The Glass Menagerie". It is a play about a fatherless family where the demanding mother tries to get her son to help find a man for his sister who was socially awkward. Everyone else in the class was speaking ill of the son in the play as a callous jerk who avoided his family and how could someone be like that to their family? I was the one dissenting voice that said, "I know exactly how comes to be. I am that son."

Mom would call me almost daily when I was at college and even as I was out of school living in Winnipeg. Our calls did not amount much more to: "How are you?" and "So-and-so was asking about you." Sometimes I would try to reach out and try to dig a little, but it wouldn't really go anywhere.

It wasn't until I watched an episode of "Six Feet Under" that my perspective changed a little bit and I grew more sympathetic to my mom (Stories have the most impact on me I've come to realize and maybe that's why I love them so). That's a show about a family who lost their father and now run the funeral home. The characters are a domineering and demanding mother who alienates her children and her three adult children who to varying degrees try to love their mother and run the business. One episode ended where despite how frustrating she acts towards her children, her loneliness is made apparent and you sympathize with her. She doesn't know how to be some other way.

I decided that I would try to be less annoyed in conversations with her and remember that she is who she is and is not trying to frustrate me.

I should point out that my mom also was not nearly as extreme as the examples in the stories I just mentioned. There were similarities. My mom was sincere in her faith regardless of my dislike of her approach to it. It was due to her and dad that I went to church and through it all explored faith on my own. My mom was not domineering. She wanted the best for Darwin and I. It was just that she didn't know how to go about helping us do it. She was always supportive of my own life decisions.

The biggest lesson that I learned from her life is just how important it is to find a way to move on in a positive manner. My mom experienced difficulty in her relationship with her own mom. Her mom seemed to put far too many demands on her and had an unfair bias against her. (At least that's how it my mom explained it to me. I have no idea what grandma's perspective on it was. Wouldn't it be nice to know the other side of the story? That's why I want to remind myself and all of you reading this that this is a subjective perspective.) My mom felt she was a victim of her mom's actions. When my dad died, she wanted to find love with another person and could not get past dad's death. I haven't lost a spouse of my own, but I did lose dad at an early age and I try to not let that dictate what I do now.

The last thing I want to share in regards to this was when Darwin, Kyla and I were combing through mom's apartment looking for important paperwork that we would need to deal with all the legal stuff. We came across a binder that kept track of the people that she had helped with taxes. She used to work for H & R Block and after she continued to offer her services to those in Minnedosa and had done Darwin's and my own taxes. The binder started in 2007 and it had a sheet that had a table listed all of the people that were her customers for that year. It kept track of their names, numbers, addresses, etc. The sheet was hand made and carefully made. It was neat, clean, organized. And it had 20 names listed. With blank spaces for more customers. I didn't think much of it. I was looking for pertinent information that I would need for funeral arrangements and for estate management. Later in the binder, I found another sheet with a carefully made handcrafted table of her tax return customers. I noticed it was a couple of names shorter. I found 2009, 2010. Each made with the same perfect columns and rows. Each made with plenty of spaces in case of a growing customer base, but each year it retained fewer and fewer names. I found the 2011 table. Only 4 customers remained. My brother, myself and two others I didn't know. It was the first time in the whole process of Mom dying that I felt pain. Especially since I knew what to expect on the 2012 list.

The 2012 tax return customer list held only two names and the hope that 25 others would fill in the rest. It was brother's name and another person from Minnedosa. My name was not there. That's because she had messed up my taxes due to my moving around to other provinces and she didn't file it right. It wound up causing hassles and repayment to the government. I had trusted Mom to know all the dynamics of how to handle the nuances of tax returns, but she didn't. Perhaps it was because she had less and less practice over the years since leaving H & R so many years before alongside with the ever changing tax code.

Regardless, it bothered me that it she mishandled it and I decided it would just be easier for me to just figure it out on my own.

I had vacated my space on the tax return customer list. And it broke my heart in that moment sitting in the middle of her small apartment. It was the moment that encapsulated how our relationship was.

My mom was not (in my mind) a great mom with me. She wasn't horrible or in any way abusive. She just had characteristics that crawled under my skin and had issues that she did not deal with and it was alienating. However, on the other end, I did not know how to deal with her. Despite my own understanding that loving and caring for your family is important, I didn't know how to navigate an honest and loving relationship with her. In the end, if people would know what our relationship, it would look like I had removed my name from her list of people.

The truth is, I believe that death was a release for her. I have said before that she died when Dad did, it is just her physical body was still going. That's a little dramatic perhaps, but a little true.

Lydia Elizabeth Ferne Rae was a woman who did not want to be the harsh, demeaning mother hers was to her and never told me what I could not be. She wanted Darwin and I to do what we chose to do. That is a gift that some do not get. She spoke highly of us and hoped the best for us. She cared for us the best she could despite me.

What is the take away for you, the reader? I don't know. I suppose I encourage you to find ways to understand your own parents. Sympathize with them.

One idea that I've had comes from the Commandment from the Old Testament that says "Honour your father and your mother." The common understanding is that you should obey your parents. It does not say that though. People who get to the point that they rebel against their parents, they often simply avoid everything the parents hold dear. Especially if you come from a Bible-believing household where "Honour your father and your mother" is used as the argument to obey them. However, it may be reckless to toss everything. I think what "Honour your father and your mother" is touching on is that your remember them. Learn from them. Learn from the good, the bad. I believe that that is the best way to honour their legacy. Try and understand them. You have the advantage of knowing them better than most others. You do not get to see the good, the bad and ugly sides of a person like your parents and you would do well to learn from them regardless of whether they were close and loving or distant and apathetic or angry and violent.

I hope this post honours my mom in what I've learned from her, what I've learned about my own nature and perhaps insight for another.

"Now my curtain has been drawn
And my heart can go
Where my heart does belong
I'm going home"
- "Reunion" from Collective Soul's self-titled album

Friday, March 07, 2014

Seasons Change and So Did I

Why not an update, hey? It's been a thing I've been avoiding because I don't really need another creative avenue to express myself. I've been doing stand up and that's been enough when most of my week is just standing behind a counter in a Costco just hoping I don't look like I hate being there.

Perhaps some of you may be thinking that I'm going to talk about my mother's passing here, but not now. It will need it's own post to reflect upon and it's my blog and I'll write what I want. Sorry, that got snippy for no reason.

Comedy has been getting better. I've been finding myself get more confident on stage and being able to delve into some personal stories and ideas. Even exploring aspects about faith and my weird experiences with sexuality growing up in the church which I never really thought I would. However, as much fun as it is to do a silly dinosaur, I've found the most rewarding thing is to share something personal. One of my strengths in comedy is finding a way to be vulnerable and yet at the same time be entertaining enough to share those vulnerable thoughts. It's been nice to have people say afterwards that they've never heard anything like that before or that they have had a similar experience and they felt a connection.

At this point, comedy continues to draw me forward and I have a couple of opportunities that I'm looking into that would be real exciting, but I'm not going to say here in case it doesn't work out. Before I started to focus on this, I told myself that I'd give myself 2 years to completely suck at it before I would reconsider and now that I'm at the year and a half mark, I don't completely suck at it. And that was from a comic that used to think there was no hope for me. So, I'll stick it out a little longer at least.

Marriage is obviously the other major change in my life and goes along. I will say it is a little more difficult to fully express myself about the matter because although I am okay with sharing my personal thoughts, experiences and struggles, I now have to be considerate of my wife's privacy. One thing that has struck me about the whole thing so far is how much of introvert and solitary person I was and am. With another person around most of the time, I find myself trying to carve out time to be completely separated, not because I do not enjoy my time with Kyla, but rather my mind cannot wander and think and explore when it is also subconsciously checking in on her when she is nearby.

On the flip side, spending time with her has made me be more silly. Sillier that I've ever really been. Making stupid faces at each other and playfully teasing each other. Stuff that would make anyone sick to actually witness and so we hide that it happens just like the Tanners hid Alf or like I hide the fact that I play way too much Candy Crush on Facebook.

By the way, let me apologize if updates of me playing that appeared on your newsfeed. I have no idea how Facebook works anymore as I found out when it leaked out before I intended that Kyla and I were in a car accident.

Which is another thing that happened on my birthday. Between figuring out the legal stuff with mom's death, figuring out how taxes change when you're married and experiencing how insurance claims work, I now feel like an adult. Being a cog in the wheel of bureaucracy with no end to the stupidity of paperwork and obligations until it squeezes the last bit of life out of your soul. You know, an adult.

Don't read into that. I'm being silly.

Something I've noticed after all these major changes that I've had in my life is that the ever present low level of depression that followed me still continues to linger regardless of the changes. I understand when they say it's not a thing you can just will away with a better attitude. It's like a lens that colours everything just a little greyer.

"Hey, wait. Aren't you the idiot that does the stupid dinosaur thing? You of all people shouldn't be mopey. Maybe ashamed. But not mopey!"

The challenge I've found throughout my whole experience is not being silly and pointing out stupidity. The challenge is finding the things that are not silly and then allowing yourself to earnestly enjoy those things. It is common to see when people are being funny, they are tearing down something or someone or some idea and that can be so much fun. However, if everything is ripped apart then what is left to enjoy? It's easy to point out the ridiculousness of things. Whatever it may be. However, the people that can expertly rip things apart also seem to be the most miserable.

The folks I appreciate the most are the ones that take the less easy route of being genuine and kind. I try to model myself after that. Telling comedians specifically which jokes I like or giving them words that build them up. It feels weird to do it. I'm analyzing myself as I do it and I'm afraid I look like I'm just trying to butter them up so I can get something out of them later or I feel a sense of vulnerability at the hand of people that could turn around and perfectly eviscerate me with their words.

Being in Edmonton and starting a new life here has been strange. I feel especially disconnected from my friends in Winnipeg and it feels like a different dimension going back there. Many of them have kids and have been married for a while and in the middle of careers and the last time we talked in depth has been years. It's not anybody's fault because it is just how life goes. It gets busy and time is rare commodity.

This post doesn't have the same element of some significant reflection as some of my other ones, but that's because this is just to be a form of personal update for those curious. I hope to share more when I have time. Which may be a while...

"No time for a summer friend
No time for the love you send
Seasons change and so did I
You need not wonder why
You need not wonder why
There's no time left for you
No time left for you."
- "No Time" from the The Guess Who album "American Woman"