Surviving Love and Loss-part 2

 

WE FORGET SOMETIMES, BUT IT NEVER GOES AWAY

It seems I am still learning the ins and outs of blogging. My new IPHONE is great except I erased my calendar, so omitting a recipe is minor, But I do apolgize.

jim

 

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Serves 6 to 8

-A recipe from the creative minds of Chris and Wendy-

 

Ingredients:

  • 17 oz. potatoes, peeled and rough chopped
  • 1 lb. mushrooms, rough chopped (reserve 3-4 for garnish)
  • 2 celery stocks, rough chopped
  • 1 onion (small to medium), rough chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 litre mushroom broth
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 2 Tbsp. vegan margarine

Garnish

  • 3-4 mushrooms, thin sliced
  • Parsley, sprigs or minced
  • A small dollop of vegan margarine

 

Directions:

  1. Sauté chopped onion and celery with crushed garlic in margarine for 3-4 minutes or until onions appear translucent.
  2. Rough chop mushrooms and add to onions and celery. Sauté for 5 to 6 more minutes. Set aside.
  3. Place chopped potatoes and mushroom broth in a medium to large saucepan 4 litres? And allow to come to a boil.
  4. Add sautéed onions, celery and mushrooms to broth. Turn down heat and let simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are soft.
  5. Turn off heat and add almond milk.
  6. Place in blender and blend thoroughly.

 

Serving:

  1. Garnish with mushrooms and parsley.
  2. Serve with vegan cheese and bread.

 

Storage:

This soup will store for a week in the fridge. Reheat when you are ready.

 

 

Surviving Love and Loss

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I personally have a very poor sense of time and schedules. Chris was much better. I think she did research and discovered that there was an optimum time and day to publish the blog… something about connecting with your readership?

 

 

I’ve never been good with time.

Chris would ask me what time

            it was.

 

And if I said “about…”

She would want to know

            the exact time.

 

It made her feel secure

            knowing…

 

I’ve never been good with destinations.

Chris would want to know

            where we were going.

And if I said” this way or that…”

She would want to know

            the exact destination.

 

It made her feel secure

            knowing…

 

I’ve never been good with planning.

Chris like charts and lists and schedule.

 

It made her feel secure

            knowing…

 

And then one day

She discovered it didn’t matter

            how well you planned

Things had a way of changing.

 It made her feel insecure not knowing…

 

And then one day

She realized it didn’t matter

She accepted that.IMG_1175

And it made her feel secure again

 

 

 

 

Today as part of my preparation, I walked around Elk Lake outside Victoria with a friend. It is a beautiful trail in the forest. Shady paths with open views of the water. Runners, couples, mothers pushing prams, seniors and some fool with an 18lb pack wondering what the heck he had in mind when he said, “I am going to do this.”

I am excited and apprehensive and concerned about weight. I have been told that a lesson the Camino offers is the opportunity to discover how little we aIMG_1178 (1)ctually need in this life. What extra weight do we carry down our own personal “roads”? What can we leave behind? Perhaps it is time to let go of the extra cares and concerns?

So when a friend offered me a book to take, I cringed (it weighs over 350grams!).

Do I accept and accidentally leave it behind? Or do I soldier it through and carry the weight?

 

I opened The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief and read…

“It was through the dark waters of grief that I came to touch my unlived life… There is some strange intimacy between grief and aliveness, some sacred exchange between what seems unbearable and what is most exquisitely alive. Through this, I have come to a lasting faith in grief.”

Francis Weller

I knew that I would take this book with me and I would read from it every day. What else do we really need in life but the warm and comforting memory of a friend and fellow traveler?

I have no false expectations for my journey. I do not believe in fate, although I do believe in coincidence and synchronicity. I believe we are united and part of a greater whole.

Never one to take the “safe” path, I have always been a risk taker (perhaps impulsive), supported in my belief that everything would work out the way it was supposed to… Everything was at it should be. Why else would I be “here” if I hadn’t been where I had been? All is as it will be.

Life is full of possibilities and different story lines. We are creating our life every day. Some of our choices were not well thought out and we should have chosen otherwise… But we didn’t and we are here where we are because it is the absolutely “right” place to be. …and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

 

“We must learn the art and craft of grief, discover the profound ways it ripens and deepens us. While grief is an intense emotion, it is also a skill we develop through a prolonged walk with loss. Facing grief is hard work…. It takes outrageous loss.This precisely what we are being called to do.”

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Francis Weller

 

 

 

 

 

I could be repeating myself but this was one of Chris’ favourite recipes. So here for anyone who missed it the first (or second time?)

We must be willing to let go…

IMG_0758Ten years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and I was ready to die. I was bored, unhappy, unhealthy and disillusioned. Chris was determined to keep me alive. Perhaps out of love or fear of being alone?

We quit our jobs and moved to Salt Spring Island. We gave up security and possessions for a risk at a new life. We altered our diet and introduced wheatgrass to our daily routine. We cut out dairy (cheese was so hard for Chris to let go of). We walked more and talked to each other a lot more.

Chris was already exercising daily. I had quit exercising after herniating my disk as I prepared for my 25th marathon… when a runner can’t run… it’s like a heroin addict in withdrawal.

We started a small business because as workaholics we had to have something to do. I was reborn. Chris wasn’t convinced.

As our health seemed to take a turn for the better, we went even more radical in our vegan diet and moved to Raw. Chris was convinced that if I wasn’t going to intervene medically in my health then she was going to cure me with food and love. We believed that we were doing everything right and we were mostly happy. When Cancer manifested in Chis we were stunned. It wasn’t supposed to be her. It was supposed to be me.

We knew she was dying. We knew the pain would get worse until it killed her. Her heart working to move her blood. Her lungs unable to move air. Her appetite waning. Her spirit strong but her mind clouded by opiates and pain-killers. Unable to sleep, unable to eat, unable to talk. Barely able to tolerate the pain, the fear, the deep sense of loss.

being willing

After Chris died, I would stand at our window looking out at the view of mountains and ocean and sunshine. The realization of being alone overwhelmed me, and tears poured down my cheeks constantly.

Alone

My heart has been ripped from my body

My soul is empty 

Alone

 Tears flow down my cheek

I miss you

We were not perfect

We fought we argued

We disagreed 

But we never gave up on each other

There were bad years and good years

But I cherish every moment

Every lesson I learned

Every memory 

 I miss the warmth of your body next to me

I miss the sound of your breathing

Your smell

Your voice

Your everpresent presence

I miss you

I miss our fights

I miss making up

I miss forgiving and moving on

Time will pass

But not the memory of you

I miss you

Chris wrote that with Cancer each one of us loses something. And some of us will never quite recover and lose the opportunity to share this journey of life. Losing Chris became a constant reminder of the temporary nature of life as I knew it in this form.

Chris is forever in my memories and always in my heart but I have stopped mourning her. The 49 Day Passing has come and gone. I gave Chris permission to go. We forgave each other for anything we may have done in anger or stupidity or inconsideration. We held each other. Expressed our love and said goodbye. We said the time to feel sorry for ourselves was over. We still cried. She told me to get on with my life, travel meet someone. She said I needed a bigger bed. I still cry.

Traveling was important to Chris and she asked that I place her ashes in a bottle and let her drift on the shifting tides.

On April 17th, off the coast of Spain I will cast her ashes into the Atlantic so she can float on the oceans that she wanted to sail.

I will continue on to walk the Way of St. James and continue to share travels of Rawsome On The Road.

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Some things I have learned or observed about the Camino:

1) Walking the Camino is not inexpensive

2) Most people walking the Camino are older – middle age

3) Most people don’t look exceptional fit.

4) More women than men

5) Everyone has or knows someone who has walked the Camino.

6) Most people are giddy with excitement.

I approach the coming year with anticipation. I will get older, certainly not wiser, I will see new places and meet new people. I will reinvent my life and discover who I am and who I am not. I will try to strengthen my friendships, love my children, be grateful for each day,  and appreciate every moment.

“Life is a road. Each day brings us an opportunity to make a new choice. I know, that each choice I made led me to exactly where I want to be. It couldn’t be any better than this. I’m grateful for each encounter, each relationship, each mistake, each shining star, each sunny day, each raindrop, each blustery moment. Whether it is ending a relationship, or going back to school, or taking up a hobby, or changing jobs, or deciding to exercise or diet, or to do nothing – anything is possible. And in the end, it won’t be wrong. Hindsight will give you some points of reference and reflection. But it is what it is. So live like your life is one giant choice – which in fact it is. You won’t regret it.”

* Chris Gay   May 24, 2015

Stay tuned. I am grateful for all of you.

 

 

 

Memories and New Beginnings

 
As April 11th approaches, I wait (as patiently as I am able). Each day brings new thoughts and old memories, friendly advice and suggestions, new memories and a little training.
 
I have just a few things to do- prepare for the bench memorial on Salt Spring Island (April 2nd), a couple of physio  treatments, packing/unpacking/repacking and getting rid of clutter and “stuff”.
 
One of the interesting things is the advice from people on how to approach the “Camino Walk”. Much of it is similar and familiar. “Be prepared, pack lightly, train and have a purpose.”
So…
I’m not sure who first mentioned the Camino de Santiago, an 800 Km walk across Spain for pilgrims looking to answer spiritual questions. Unfortunately the number of people seeking spiritual answers has risen to almost 200,000 pilgrims annually.
 
I am saying good-bye to Chris and sharing one last physical journey with her.
Ultimately we enter this world alone and we leave it alone. It is the in between times that matter most. We can do it alone or we can do it together. Doing this thing called life is definitely better when we do it together.
Chris once wrote, “Defensiveness is simply the ego getting in the way of letting go. In truth, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that if you have a partner in your life who treasures the cruises upon which you have the good fortune to sail together. We have no idea how many there are on this nautical journey. And if circumstances have left you without a life partner, then hold fast to your friends, your family, and most importantly yourself. Never have you found as good a friend as yourself.”

The goal is the same, whether we live alone or with a partner – live as if you have no idea how long your time on this earthly plane will last. Breathe in the salty air, take up a language or instrument, read a good mystery or novel, walk around the promenade deck, watch a movie under the stars, dance, and just maybe you will forget yourself for a moment and instead ‘be’ in the moment.”

 

10151768_10152300574552305_5925960610197766819_nTime To Travel

Travel in your mind.
Travel in your heart.
Travel virtually.
Pack a bag and travel out of your comfort zone.
Travel light.
Travel heavy.
It’s all an illusion.
Travel in time.
Redo those awkward moments.
Redo your life’s story.
Create a new ending.
Start at the beginning.
It’s a very good place to start.
Begin anew.
Cast a shadow and follow the sun.
Go by planes, trains, and automobiles.
Stick out your thumb or walk a mile in our shoes.
It’s all up to you.
We are an experiment of two.
Begin the countdown.
Two weeks and counting and we’re leaving on a jet plane.
Stay tuned.
To be continued  . . .

*Chris Gay-Dec 21 2013

Something I read somewhere about how people have used their own wounds to become “wounded healers” resonates with what Chris and I believed when we set off on this journey years ago. Instead of becoming bitter and passing their pain on to others, they’ve said, “This is where the pain stops and the love begins.”

They’ve become better able to offer understanding and compassion to others not in spite of their suffering but because of it. And so I think I have been given guidance in where I should be directing my energy.

Chris taught me that, “opening myself up to others is a gift and openly receiving the love of others is a gift to them. We all are worthy, we are all deserving, we all want to feel and be acknowledged in love. And the more we open ourselves to that love and share it, how those around us behave and act towards us shifts. Positive energy begets positive energy”.

A friend said that this is an opportunity (or challenge) to redefine myself. I know that the path ahead is clear and I am vulnerable to blisters and burns, lost articles and hopeless misadventures. But it is important to keep walking.

In Peace and healing, Buen Camino!

Jim

 

One of my favourite recipes-

The ‘shroom Burger

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“Shroom” Burger

Yields approx. Yield:  8 -10 burgers

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cup walnuts, soaked and dehydrated
  • 2 cup shredded zucchini.
  • 2 Tablespoon chickpea miso
  • 2 Tablespoon purified water
  • 1 ½ cup minced mushrooms
  • ¾ cup minced celery
  • ½ cup minced red onion
  • ¼ cup ground flax
  • 3 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 2 Tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sage
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ¼ – ½ teaspoon pepper

Directions:

  1. Process 1 cup of the walnuts with the “S” blade into fine meal and set aside.
  2. Use shredder blade on food processor to process zucchini.
  3. Add walnuts to zucchini and pulse to mix.  (Do not over process; the mixture should have a little texture.)
  4. Transfer to a large bowl.
  5. Mince the remaining walnuts by hand or coarsely grind them by pulsing them in the food processor.
  6. Place the miso and water in a small bowl and stir them together with a fork to form a loose paste.
  7. Add the miso paste and ALL OF THE REMAINING INGREDIENTS to the zucchini mixture and stir well.
  8. Form 3-4 small burger patties, each about 1/2 inch thick, using approximately 1/2 cup of the mixture per patty.
  9. Place the burgers on a dehydrator tray lined with a nonstick sheet and dehydrate them at 105 degrees for 4 hours.
  10. Flip the burgers over onto a mesh dehydrator tray and continue dehydrating for 2-8 hours longer, or until the outside is crusty and the inside is moist and chewy.

Note: Mushrooms, celery, onion can be prepared in the food processor. Pulse until they are broken down.

Store in an airtight container in the freezer or refrigerator.

Grief, Loss and New Beginnings

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“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”  ~Rumi

 

 

How do you mend a broken heart?  I wake up each morning knowing that the person who was my life isn’t in my life anymore. The days have turned into weeks and soon they will turn into months, and the pain seems to grow rather than lessen.

I look through old photos and read her journals and cards we wrote to each other. I hear her voice on the answering machine. I see her clothes in the closet. There are memories on every street I walk or path I take.

Does anyone really understands my loss or my pain? People tell me they do. They mean well.

Talking about Chris creates a wave of despair that slowly wells up in my chest and erupts into sobs and difficulty breathing. So my friends and family believe I don’t want to talk about her because it will only make me sad and cry. They want to protect me. I can only imagine the discomfort they feel around me as they avoid talking about Chris’ death.

I don’t believe that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to grieve. Grief is natural and we all grieve. We need to grieve. At times I want to withdraw from talking about her death – to just forget. And other times I want to talk to everyone. I want to hold on to her and keep her close.

The truth is, I never really want to stop talking about her, because I do not want to accept that she is gone. I am having trouble letting her go.

I have wonderful friends that sit with me, call me and accept my pain without judgment. And I realize that I am not alone in grief. I can see all the feelings that my children, Chris’ mother and her many friends and I share. They are normal reactions and we will move through this pain and eventually come out of it and begin to heal. But somedays that is impossible to see.

The “what if” game fills my mind like a broken record, repeating over and over, “how, why, and what if”. I want to change so many things, say so many things, take back so many words, change the day first heard the diagnosis, or find someone or something to blame. Then I can wake up and she will still be here.

Chris suggested that after she passed I should “get away” and do something for myself. We talked about the Camino Walk and I said that perhaps one day I would.  I would plan for it.

I am planning for Chris’ Goodbye and her memorial. I am planning on scattering her ashes around the globe. I believe that if I prepare I can begin to let go and begin to heal. I believe that if I keep busy I can “hold it together”. I am discovering that I fall apart often when I least expect it.

The training is “distracting”, helping to slow down my thoughts, connecting me to my breath and reminding me to breathe more deeply and slowly, and to feel more control over my emotions.

Each day as my walks get longer I can feel the release of sadness. I realize that moments spent in walking meditation bring stillness and allow my emotions to flow and to surface.

Affirmations of what I want in my life:

  • I only have to face one day at a time
  • I surrender to the emotions and loss
  • I am in control of creating the life I wish for, even if it means being alone.
  • I choose how I react to every situation.
  • I will start each day positively
  • I will forgive the cancer, for forgiveness is important in letting go and moving on.
  • I will forgive myself for all the guilt I feel for all the times I didn’t tell her I loved her or hold her.
  • I will free my life of anger and hurt, and allow love, peace, and hope to enter my heart.

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Each and every one of us will face the loss of someone we love. Allow yourself to be sad, but more importantly, allow yourself to be happy. This will be the gift you give to that someone you love and to those still in your life.

Recipes

Chris loved food with all the rich textures, tastes, aromas, and flavours that only whole, natural food can provide. She had an amazing and discerning sense of taste that could pick out the slightest nuance of sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and even the two disputed tastes- Umami and metallic.

Because she was such an “oral” person, the Mouth-feel of the food was very important to her. As the cancer grew, and as a direct result of the surgery, Chris had difficulty swallowing and was unable to focus on viscosity, temperature, burning, body, prickle, and touch. It was probably her greatest disappointment. This soup became her favourite as it gave her an opportunity to savour her food.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Serves 6 to 8 

-A recipe from the creative minds of Chris and Wendy-

Ingredients:

  • 17 oz. potatoes, peeled and rough chopped
  • 1 lb. mushrooms, rough chopped (reserve 3-4 for garnish)
  • 2 celery stocks, rough chopped
  • 1 onion (small to medium), rough chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 litre mushroom broth
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 2 Tbsp. vegan margarine

Garnish

  • 3-4 mushrooms, thin sliced
  • Parsley, sprigs or minced
  • A small dollop of vegan margarine

Directions:

  1. Sauté chopped onion and celery with crushed garlic in margarine for 3-4 minutes or until onions appear translucent.
  2. Rough chop mushrooms and add to onions and celery. Sauté for 5 to 6 more minutes. Set aside.
  3. Place chopped potatoes and mushroom broth in a medium to large saucepan 4 litres? And allow to come to a boil.
  4. Add sautéed onions, celery and mushrooms to broth. Turn down heat and let simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are soft.
  5. Turn off heat and add almond milk.
  6. Place in blender and blend thoroughly.

Serving:

  1. Garnish with mushrooms and parsley.
  2. Serve with vegan cheese and bread.

Storage:

This soup will store for a week in the fridge. Reheat when you are ready.

 

And so a new journey begins

Chris

Over the 45 years or so that the Buddha taught, the central and most important point of his message was one of discipline, compassion and mindfulness- all elements intended to help ease suffering.

This is difficult to write and difficult for you to read. Chris loved all of you dearly and deeply. You are getting this message because of her love for you. You have been friend, family, confidant, colleague, and cherished.

Chris passed on January 1st, 2016. It is important to her that she shares a few thoughts with you.

As the cancer grew and consumed Chris’ physical form, she worked diligently at meditation, positive thinking, love, compassion and caring for others. Her most important goal was for you to know that she is going to be OK and she wants you to be OK also.

She asked that you let her go and wish her well as she passed peacefully without suffering. She wanted you all to be happy, and continue to lead positive and helping lives.

Chris will be with us- a part of our lives forever. Who we are at this moment has been shaped by our relationship with each other. We are all who we are because of everyone who shares our lives and experiences.

I do know that loving Chris has shaped me. I am a far better person because of her and all she has given me. We know that love is beyond the mind, beyond reason. I do know that loving Chris made my life worthwhile.

 

To lead a better life I need my love to be here…

Here, making each day of the year

Changing my life with the wave of her hand

Nobody can deny that there’s something there

There, running my hands through her hair

Both of us thinking how good it can be

Someone is speaking but she doesn’t know he’s there

I want her everywhere and if she’s beside me

I know I need never care

But to love her is to need her everywhere

Knowing that love is to share

Each one believing that love never dies

Watching her eyes and hoping I’m always there

I want her everywhere and if she’s beside me

I know I need never care

But to love her is to need her everywhere

Knowing that love is to share

Each one believing that love never dies

Watching her eyes and hoping I’m always there

I will be there and everywhere

Here, there and everywhere

 

Sunday, February 14th – 1PM to 3PM – 548 Dallas Road

Many people were inspired, mentored, loved, appreciated by Chris and touched by her heartfelt writing.

There will be a gathering for anyone who wants to, as a part of a community, say goodbye and share their stories of Chris . Chris would like people to laugh and hug and dance and listen to music and eat food.

You are welcome to join us on Sunday, February 14th from 1 to 3 at 548 Dallas Road (between South Turner and Menzies). Weather permitting, we will take a “walk” across the street to the beach to scatter some of Chris’ ashes.

Come together not to grieve but to celebrate.

I would appreciate a reply if you are planning to attend. It will be casual and spontaneous. Chris hated surprise parties.

 

In gratitude and deep appreciation

 

 

 

The day after

We apologize for what may be shocking for many. We have shared already privately with many people. We appreciate reading notes from people but in all honesty, phone calls/walks/visits are exhausting at the moment. Chris has so many appointments coming up she just wants to focus on taking care of herself and healing. If you run into our family members, they would love your hugs and support. They have no answers and updates to offer.

Many people have asked what they can do for us. In all honesty, please Vote for our son JP Maurice And if you have it in your heart and wallet to donate to his charity – Creatively United for the Planet, that would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Musings by Chris Photos by Jim and Others

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Well the good news is, that it isn’t days or weeks. The surprising news is, that it may be a year. Months. Not the diagnosis we were expecting after a two-week cruise to Hawaii and the latest PET Scan. The oncologist delivering the news was noticeably shaken and emotional. “May I hug you? We’re not suppose to but I just feel I need to.” She held me tightly and I was appreciative of her compassion and remorse, that cancer can still shock and awe even the most seasoned oncologist.

Jim and I held each onto each other’s fading resolve like a sinking ship about to go down for the last count. We literally found ourselves gasping for air, wondering where 37 years disappeared and all our good intentions to say ‘I love you’ each morning and night.

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Today is a clean slate. We begin again, acutely aware of what attracted us to each other in the first place; the gifts of three brilliant children who love us and are fine rich humans in their own right; three adorably mischievous and energetic grandchildren; a brave and stalwart mother of 93. Our circle of friends, like our family, is small but potent and breathes fresh air into our lungs resuscitating us regularly. We couldn’t make it without them.

The fall rains are upon us; much appreciated after a summer drought. We can get stuck in the mud and wallow until my time is up or we can just live. There is nothing different today than yesterday (October 7th) when I found out I have Stage 4 cancer throughout my body. I have more information than I probably wanted to have, but at least I have a timeline – something most of us just guess at. This timeline is completely arbitrary anyway. I have a choice as to how it plays out. Today I’m choosing vigour and vitality and love and joy.

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On our cruise, we met this older couple originally from Glasgow with accents reminiscent of Jim’s deceased mother. They now live in North Vancouver, British Columbia. He was one of six sons of the miller in their small village outside of Glasgow. He went to war, lost a kidney, had an arduous journey to get to medical attention and once there it took another six months of recovery. When he came back home he was looking for a lass and eyed this bonny 16 year old and the rest is history. He celebrated his 85th birthday on board the ship and we keep stumbling into them as a reminder of privilege. What an honour it is to watch them walk hand and hand around the outer promenade deck, arms around each other as they take turns guiding each other up and down the stairs. They definitely have a comfortable two-step, a give and take, realizing their last waltz may arrive sooner rather than later.

One never knows when a wave may catch you off guard and you seek your reserve of life preservers. Ultimately we enter this world alone and we leave it alone. It is the in between times that matter most. We can do it alone or we can do it together. I’m finally learning that together is better. Defensiveness is simply the ego getting in the way of letting go. In truth, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that if you have a partner in your life treasure the cruises upon which you have the good fortune to sail together. We have no idea how many there are on this nautical journey. And if circumstances have left you without a life partner, then hold fast to your friends, your family, and most importantly yourself. Never have you found as good a friend as yourself.

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The goal is the same, whether we live alone or with a partner – live as if you have no idea how long your time on this earthly plane will last. Breathe in the salty air, take up a language or instrument, read a good mystery or novel, walk around the promenade deck, watch a movie under the stars, dance, and just maybe you will forget yourself for a moment and instead ‘be’ the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scars

Musings by Chris and Photos by  Chris, Kai, and Others

Scars. We all have them. They are reminders of times past – both good and not so good. They run the gamut of the medicine wheel – physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual. They hold us steadfast and true, or they break us in two, or they explode out of the confines of our heart, or they lock us forever in a place of isolation.

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Scars can be an impetus for change. Sometimes our scars require heroic efforts to become someone we never thought we would be. An individual we never considered being with a health opportunity that would forever remind us of our place within a limited vision of mortality. Causing us to become vocal champions for campaigns for the cure. Seeing us rowing in dragon boats, running cross finish lines, hobbling and stumbling around obstacle courses while donating for a cause. And yet other scars propel us through Olympian hoops of stamina while conquering medals on behalf of those of us unable to get off the couch as we cheer them on.

Some wear their scars proudly as a badge of courage. Others hide their scars with newly discovered fashion statements wishing the nightmare away. And some have internal scars contained within their physical form or hanging from a colostomy bag or feeding tube genteelly hidden beneath their clothing, shyly protecting a newly formed bandage for life. Scars can be so varied and monumental that we rarely pause long enough to imagine another perspective or alternative state of being, all the while being urged to focus on the abilities rather than the disabilities.

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And then there are those scars we think we have hidden deeply but escape from the corner of our eyes trickling down our cheeks as ever present reminders of circumstances and situations where pain doubled us back into ourselves. There is a shadow streaking cross our faces and a cloud that hovers above our hearts. Everyone knows and yet never reaches out and says, “I see you. I’m here for you.” For those who live their emotional scars incognito, such blatant disregard is both a relief and a regret. A relief because we don’t have to share what is too painful to admit and a regret because therein lies a lost opportunity to connect and feel an empathic touch or understanding glance upon our weathered brow.

Are scars just a manifestation of our ego and the strength or fragility of it? Regardless, scars become our identity.

“She’s a victim of a crime/accident/illness.”

The scar takes precedent over your personage and you run the risk of adopting the label and living it rather than your life. And just when you momentarily forget the scar, someone stares longer than necessary at you, and you begin again to be your scar rather than you.

“All that we are is a result of what we have thought. What we think we become.” ~ Buddha

Kim McCann, author of a recent Elephant Journal post suggests:

  • We are not our thoughts,
  • We can discipline and control our thoughts, and
  • By being mindful of our thoughts we have power—indeed we have the responsibility—to determine how to act, react, or behave in relation to them.

We can perseverate on our scars. We can imagine what others are thinking when they see our scars. We can obsess over the possible thoughts of others and believe that our scars are first and foremost on the minds of everyone.

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Or we can get a grip and realize each one of us is entirely preoccupied solely with ourselves. That’s it. In truth, we really aren’t that important. All our personal obsessions are just that – thoughts that perpetuate myths we’ve built up about ourselves allowing our ego to manifest a story that is only that and nothing more. We have developed our own personal narrative that, quite frankly, gets in the way of just living. It becomes a comfortable crutch from which to retreat and make excuses.

“I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering.” ~ Buddha

We really are much more than this form within which we find ourselves. It is our essence that either speaks to others, or not. What contains our spirit is just limited to this time and place and an inconvenient subtext to who we really are.

Continue to massage your scars, because we do need to feel as comfortable as possible with what we are left with. But also realize, that beyond this present moment, there will come a time when your scar is just a gateway to so many more teachings and acceptance of eternal joy and self-love.

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And as a wise shaman said this week, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” It goes a long way towards healing.

Recipes

Summer is the time for lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. Sometimes it is a wonderful treat to have some dips to enhance the natural flavours of your garden conquests. It also makes it easier for some people who are transitioning to a more live plant-based diet, to start off with dips that remind them of similar dips they may have had prior to consuming more live plant-based foods. These two are very simple and you can substitute different herbs or flavours such as cinnamon or cacao for the sweet version and curry and cumin or chili for the savory one. Have fun with these. But more importantly, eat your fruits and veggies.

Sweet Cashew Cream

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  • 1 cup raw cashews (or macadamia nuts) – soaked
  • 8 pitted Medjool dates – soaked
  • 1/4-1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Soak the cashews and dates for 30 minutes or more. Drain. Place in blender and add water and vanilla. Blend until smooth. Keep in refrigerator in a sealed container. Will last 3-5 days.

Onion Dip

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  • 1 cup raw cashews (or macadamia nuts) – soaked
  • 1/4-1/2 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder (can use freshly chopped – up to ¼ cup)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dill (can use freshly chopped – up to ¼ cup)

Soak the cashews for 30 minutes or more. Drain. Place in blender and add water and apple cider vinegar and onion powder and salt. Blend until smooth. Then add dill and blend lightly until mixed in. Keep in refrigerator in a sealed container. Will last 3-5 days.

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving

Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim

Survival. We all have our own ways of making it through each day. I looked over my balcony and watched an elderly woman walking on the sidewalk below, laboriously pushing her walker. Her gait faltered in a pre-meditated sort of way. Her left hip rose up awkwardly wrenching a painful stilted thrust to each step forward. But there was a determination and commitment to this evening ritual. Make it around the block. That was her survival mechanism for seeing it through another day. We each have our own way.

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The day my radiation finished it was overcast – I think the first overcast day in six weeks of radiation. It actually rained in the afternoon. It was the first day throughout my entire treatment protocol I didn’t go for a walk. The ending of radiation was somewhat anti-climatic. It’s not like they leave you feeling great. In fact, it was the beginning of what was to be many more very painful uncomfortable days.

It was the next day that it hit – I have my whole life ahead of me! As long as I was in the cycle of treatment, I felt prognoses and diagnoses and stats weighing on me. My oncologist basically told me to throw it all out the window. I will be checked on rigorously for the next four years and everyone will have eyes on me. Other than that – go live. Then the post-radiation side effects really hit.

As I proceeded through two weeks post-radiation, the side effects became worse. I really didn’t believe the technicians when they told me that would happen. I was sure they were mistaken and because I’m just so darn healthy (funny, coming from someone diagnosed with cancer 6 months ago) that I would breeze through the next two weeks. Think again. Luckily I had a champion on my side – a former wheatgrass client who was diagnosed with throat cancer, possibly seven years ago. He knew what I was up against and he commiserated with me regularly and cheered me on.

“There is nothing like this, but it changes you, and lets you know where the filament of the light bulb that is you, is.”

Then there was my cousin, who every week, made sure to message me and let me know how much I was loved.

“You amaze me and inspire me always! – Much Love!”

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Fellow cancer crusaders and survivors shared stories and tips and support (Aloe Vera was one of the more useful tips). They are a sorority of sisters, primarily, who have been vigilant survival stewards, rallying around my scars, and treatment options, and side effects, and offering testimonials from the ‘other side’ of recovery. Faith became my mantra.

My dear, dear life partner was there through it all. The other evening during dinner, he noticed not sensing any pain emanating from me, for the first time in weeks. When he awoke the next day, he announced he was taking it easy – the first time in six months he was giving himself permission to focus on himself. My heart broke, to think it has all been about me. It is time, dear heart, for you alone.

And family. They were by my side when they were able. My birthday seemed to bring out the hankies. I made it through to see another year but at what cost? How can something so joyful be clouded with such heartbreak and sorrow? I sensed a release of sorts. Perhaps now we can get on with what this new life shall be.

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I have had a core of angels throughout this journey who always took the time to message me, email me, phone me, visit me, respond to my Facebook and blog posts, and let me know I was doing great. On the hardest days post-radiation (and they were the worst days of this entire process, worse than the surgery and six weeks of radiation) I looked to those comments for encouragement. It is very easy to lose sight of why you decided to do this, what you had hoped to gain from this, and what the long-term outcomes may be.

And then, while swamped in my radiation brain fog, I started to look up stats on the Internet:

It is estimated that in 2015:

  • 4,400 Canadians will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer.
  • 1,200 Canadians will die from oral cavity cancer.
  • 2,900 men will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer and 810 will die from it.
  • 1,450 women will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer and 390 will die from it.

Quick Facts:

  • In Canada, oral cancer is the 13th most common cancer (of the 23 reported cancers).
  • In 2009, the number of new cases and death due to oral cancer is predicted to be almost three times higher than that of cervical cancer and almost double the rates of liver cancer. Oral cancers are also predicted to have higher numbers of new cases and deaths in 2009 than stomach, brain and ovary cancers.
  • And then, while swamped in my radiation brain fog, I started to look up stats on the Internet:

    It is estimated that in 2015:

    • 4,400 Canadians will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer.
    • 1,200 Canadians will die from oral cavity cancer.
    • 2,900 men will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer and 810 will die from it.
    • 1,450 women will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer and 390 will die from it.

    Quick Facts:

    • In Canada, oral cancer is the 13th most common cancer (of the 23 reported cancers).

    The five-year survival rate for oral cancer is 63 percent compared to the survival rates of cervical cancer (75 percent), melanoma cancers (89 percent), and prostate cancer (95 percent).

  • In 2009, it is estimated that there will be 3,400 new cases of oral cancer and that 1,150 people will die from oral cancer. Men will account for over half of these new cases.
  • The incidence of oral cancer is much lower than other cancers.
    It is true that oral cancer new cases and deaths are relatively low in number compared to prostate, breast, and colorectal cancer, but are almost three times higher than for cervical cancer and almost double than liver cancer.
  • People over the age of 40 have a higher risk of developing oral cancer. Oral cancer can occur at any age, but the incidence increases sharply over 40. Individuals that are over the age of 60 have the highest incidence of oral cancer.

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Okay. So that is why I did what I did. Now, how does one move forward from a life-altering treatment plan? How does one survive?

Katya Mycyk, breast cancer alternative treatment pioneer, recently posted a survivor’s guide to spontaneous remission.

I was most interested in some of the characteristics associated with remission and survival that cancer survivors are reporting.

  1. A change from dependency to autonomy combined with activities, attitudes, and behaviors that promote increased autonomy, awareness of themselves, others, and their environment, love, joy, playfulness, satisfaction, laughter, and humor.
  2. Facing the crisis, the despair, the sadness, and the pain and discovering they have the power to find a new way of life that is fulfilling and meaningful.
  3. Taking control of their lives, (personal, professional, emotional, spiritual, and medical) and living each day fully combined with a willingness to evaluate their beliefs and attitudes and change old beliefs and attitudes that are no longer appropriate or adequate.
  4. Becoming comfortable with and expressing and accepting both their positive and negative emotions/feelings, their needs, wants, and desires (physical, emotional, spiritual); the ability to say “No” when it is necessary for their well being.
  5. Having at least one strong loving relationship—a strong connection to another person, an activity, an organization(s), changing the quality of their interpersonal relationships with spouses, friends, family, neighbors, doctors, nurses, etc. in a positive way, and motivation to help others.
  6. Working in partnership with their physicians and participating in decisions related to their health and wellbeing.
  7. Finding meaning in the experience of cancer, finding reasons to live, accepting the diagnosis but not the prognosis, seeing the disease as a challenge, belief in a positive outcome, and having a renewed desire, will and commitment to life.
  8. Choosing activities and practices that promote increased awareness and reduce stress (imagery, stress reduction, yoga, etc.); showing renewed spiritual awareness (Soul) that often results in a spiritual practice (prayer, meditation, religious affiliation, connection to nature, etc.).

The list sounds like a formula for life, regardless if you are a survivor of a life altering dis-ease or not.

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The summer lazily summons me to sit out on the balcony, watch the cruise ships, bask in the stunning vistas and ocean breezes, marvel and fret over no rain on Canada’s traditionally ‘wet coast’, and slowly and methodically let go of my patient mentality. This week I will finally leave my Victoria cocoon and venture back onto Salt Spring Island for our youngest grandson’s 6th birthday. It’s time. All sorts of ‘what if’ scripts keep playing in my head, but as I embrace the remission list of affirmations, I know that before I can truly establish myself as a survivor, I need to tackle my stumbling block – #1. The other seven I have a sense of and I’m exploring, but I have protected myself from others during radiation. Time to break away from my daily rituals and live on ‘Salt Spring time’ for a few hours. Okay – baby steps.

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When you strive to live in the moment, the moment sometimes becomes one moment too many. I’m realizing that I’m becoming acquainted with a whole new me. I’m dressing slightly differently – I really have a 1950s aging movie star thing going on, and young people who are into vintage clothes seem to appreciate my style. I speak differently yet again (with the swelling and inflammation caused by radiation) and my swollen neck and scars will always be there to some degree. Who am I without all the treatments and appointments and drama and trauma? That’s what I’m about to discover.

I’m a survivor. And I’m a new version of my former self. They often speak of people with brain injuries never quite being who they were before. When I look in the mirror, I’m not quite who I was before. Perhaps what’s most elemental in surviving such a radical transformation is realizing, in each moment, we are merely who we are and that is the discovery most precious in our ability to survive.

Thank you everyone for holding my hand, guiding my illusory walker around the metaphorical block, and helping me make it through each and every day. This has been a road trip to remember. And as survival tip #5 suggests, we survive best when we have a strong connection to others. There are so many of you that have been here for me in ways I would never have been able to predict. The abundance in my life overwhelms me with joy and appreciation and love. To all of you who have hitched a ride with me during this adventure, I am deeply moved, appreciative, and forever grateful for your support and love.

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I’m not sure where Rawsome on the Road will take us next. That’s part of what I’m here to discover. And as in all things that we have posted on this blog, you will be the first to read all about it. Until, forever filled with gratitude, Chris and Jim.

Saying good-bye to fear

Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim 

I don’t think I’m consumed with death as a concept at the moment, but it definitely sits in my frontal lobe more than it use to. You can’t avoid death. It’s going to happen one day. I would love to think I would live until 92 years of age. My mother actually turns 93 in September. She is the longest living person on her side of the family tree. Quite an accomplishment for a woman who lived through the depression, had her share of operations and diagnoses, who has lived longer as a single woman than a married woman, manages her finances and her health impeccably, and continues to live independently and drive her own car!

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I can’t boast any of those stats but I do feel I can accept whatever each day brings me. Have I assumed the mindset of one who is nearing her life’s end? Or am I finally settling with what is? All we have is each moment. If you live moment by moment, I’m learning there is nothing to fear.

“The one who fears something the most is the one who has it most activated in their vibration. And so, it is logical that they would experience It.” – Abraham

Fear is an ever-present dilemma in our daily lives. If I miss the bus will I be late for work? If I have another donut will I gain weight? Does anyone really like me? What if I can’t pay the rent for this month? Are our oceans radioactive on the West Coast? What happens if California no longer produces organic produce due to the drought? I’m not sure I can feed my family for the rest of the week, what am I going to do? My mother has breast cancer, does that mean I will? Who’s going to take care of my family if I pass?

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Fear goes from what may be seemingly innocuous to serious life altering outcomes. And then there is just the plain old fear of what happens when we die. And that is where I went to in my memory bank.

As a fourth-year student in Early Childhood Education, I had my final practicum at Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto as a recreational therapist on the dialysis ward. I don’t believe they are called that anymore. In fact, at one point they were called child life specialists and who knows if they still exist as a line item in hospital programming budgets any longer. However, when I was in the throes of my practicum, I was there to spend time with children, to bring in activities for them to do, to create a fun, stimulating environment, and to just be with them. A child life practitioner would also bring in activities that may assist the child to deal with some of the emotional aspects of their illness or diagnosis and possibly prepare them through play for upcoming surgery and treatments. I didn’t have a particularly skilled supervisor role model to follow and was completely unprepared for the emotions that confronted me on my last visit to this young boy’s bedside.

I’ll call him Tim, though I really don’t recall his name. It was what he said, how he looked at me, and his abject fear that will stick with me forever. Tim didn’t want me to leave his room. He kept holding my hand with such trepidation in his eyes I felt like he was seeing through me to another dimension I couldn’t grasp. He was sure he was going to die. And he openly admitted to being afraid. As a completely unprepared frightened 20-something, I assured him that wasn’t going to happen. He was all right. That was not what he needed to hear. He needed to hear that he could let go of his fear; that I would stay with him until I could get one of his family members in the room with him. I needed to remain close and let him share what he was feeling and more importantly, seeing. I felt he was seeing something that was reaching out for him, but as a small child he wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do – to go without the consent of his family.

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Tim was seeking permission to go, as well as asking to be reassured it was going to be okay once he left. All I could manage was to try and hide my fear from him, my fear of death, and my complete lack of skills to handle such loss and sadness from someone so young experiencing something this monumental on his own. I perceived it as tragic at that time in my life, when in fact it should have been viewed as an opportunity and a peaceful moment of moving on.

What I believe the ‘Tims’ of the world do for us is to open up our hearts and give us a glimpse into the evolution of life. Sometimes it goes on for decades, as in my mother’s case. For others, it may be a brief decade or less. But the process is the same. We come into this world in some way – some briefly for only a breath and some don’t even manage that first breath of oxygen. For them there is too much plenty and purpose to what they have experienced in utero. Their time is done. For those who choose to creep and crawl and walk and run and crawl and creep through life, we all take similar steps. What Tim reminded me of, is that there is a way to let go that can be gentler and kinder and softer.

Victoria Karuna Scott creator of Infinitely Possible Human Beings writes about her experience with death and her work at hospice:

“It’s so often an unconscious thing that we do, trying to help & make better & somehow free others from not having to feel any pain. But that’s not what life is about. It’s not that we have to experience pain to feel peace but we do have to allow others to feel what it is they need to feel. “– Victoria Karuna Scott

Fear was definitely what Tim needed to feel and work through and be guided to a quieter gentler place within his soul. I was not his angel that day. I failed him miserably. I’m hoping an angel did wrap his/her wings around him. I hope his family clustered near and cried and hugged and breathed his last breath along side him as they held his hands. The next morning I went to Tim’s room, he was not there. He had passed in the night. I had no closure and I definitely continued to carry fear with me for many, many long years, especially around death.

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After my operation, fear left me. I was so occupied with fear prior to my operation; it consumed me and left me with residual doubts. And then I woke up and felt and counted the scars and stitches and staples and the stiffness and numbness in my neck and tongue and ears and shoulders, and the tubes in my throat and mouth and arm and realized I was alive. I had a beautiful loving man holding my hand through all of this with tears in his eyes and so much adoration, my heart glowed and light projected around Jim and me. And it was then I knew I had nothing to fear. Whatever will be, will be. Que Sera, Sera – thank you Doris Day.

So why is fear so darn important to me of late and why do I feel we live best without it? Because I’ve seen Both Sides Now. (Thanks Judy Collins).

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There definitely is a musical theme to this post.

There are benefits to fear as outlined in the article The Benefits of Fear.

We need to know when fear is alerting us to something we should be cautious or careful around. But to let it consume us allows fear to get the better of us, thus clouding our perceptions of reality.

And then I found this article from Huffington Post – Why Should Anyone Be Afraid Of Dying?

Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D. wrote about the aging boomers and all the ‘death is okay’ books that are out there. So he decided to interview elders/seniors and noticed a substantial relaxing with the notion of death and the alleviation of fear. One of the seniors he interviewed, said the following:

“But about dying, I’m not one bit afraid. Well, if you stop to think about it, it’s a natural thing. Everything dies. Whether we come back or not or what happens there, I don’t know. But it’s like my husband used to say whenever we did discuss it: “If you go to heaven, how wonderful. But if you go to sleep, what’s wrong with that?”

I really try to get eight hours of sleep a night since having radiation. Sleep feels so good. It is a time my mouth doesn’t hurt and my neck can move and I speak so clearly in my dreams and give speeches and laugh out loud without any modesty around my scars and deformities.

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On my first day home from hospital, as I stepped into our new apartment, Jim led me to our bedroom and how he had set up the Buddha on the dresser next to our loving Buddha painting (We are forever grateful for you Carole Leslie) and I fell in love with the sanctuary he had created for us. And then I saw the brand new (thoughtful) foam wedge he had bought me so I could sleep upright. Something I did for at least the first month. I choked my breath down with painless tears as I realized, my life would never be the same. We all have something we have to repair, heal, deal with, live with, be consumed with, and just wish we didn’t have to be with. But that’s life.

“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.” -Robert Fulghum

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Jim and I went climbing/crawling along the rugged, uneven, bumpy, rocky, jagged, craggy Dallas Road beachfront. I was sure I must have some muscle memory left from when we use to climb there on Sundays with our young children. But the bent, stooped, cautious senior I was did not match my upright sure-footed and confident younger self. Jim’s hand was always there to guide me as he carefully marked areas where the best foot placement was. We were a fine pair, out there in the sunlight with my Greta Garbo look in a large sunhat and sunglasses and scarf to protect my radiated body from the gorgeous sunlit blue sky.

We remarked later how fortunate it was we could be doing this on a Monday afternoon. How blessed to have the agility and wherewithal to get out there and move and soak in the ocean breezes and aromas. How extravagant to gently and selectively pick wild roses to sniff along our walks. How generous our earth is that we can be offered such stunning vistas and solitude and peace.

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Yes, there is a lot to fear but that’s not my game plan anymore. I will accept visitations from time to time but it is no longer a permanent houseguest. I value happiness and joy and love and forgiveness and acceptance and trust and faith over fear. And with all of that backing me, I know there is nothing to fear, ever again.