Book Review: Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Tuesday, 14 November 2017



Going to try something new here, folks: writing up little reviews of the books I read from here on out. I don't know why this text is different and little. I can't change it. Ha!

→Caveat: I don't usually tend to hate books, (and if I do I just stop reading them so I wouldn't review them anyways) so you won't see me ranting and railing on any here. I tend to read books as a spectator of sorts to the creative work the author has done; I try to be respectful of that. I don't consider myself an authority on literature, just a grateful consumer with an opinion. The opinions I do share are my own musings from who-I-am/where-I'm-at in my life...both of which are obviously constantly evolving. Take my thoughts for what they're worth to you. ←


QUALITY LATE NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY here. Also laundry.

BETTER THAN BEFORE by Gretchen Rubin


What it’s about:

Habits, and how to make them stick. Based on her research, she’s divided everyone into four main tendencies based on the way they respond to inner (ex. new year’s resolutions) and outer (ex. work deadlines) expectations. The four tendencies are:
Upholder (meets inner and outer expectations),
Obliger (meets outer expectations, but resists inner expectations),
Questioner (meets inner expectations but resists outer expectations),
and Rebel (resists both inner and outer expectations).

She then provides 21 strategies you can use to implement good habits and/or nix bad ones. Some of the strategies work better for certain tendencies than others, and she makes sure to mention which ones work especially well for specific tendencies. Side note: she actually has a new "handbook" out that further investigates the four tendencies…like that’s ALL the little book focuses on. I’m curious!

What I loved:

-I admittedly struggled a bit to get into the book as it felt very “surface-level” to me at first. She doesn’t delve into the psychology of why you are the way that you are (say that in your best drawling philosopher voice), which is the kind of stuff I usually love to get into. She would talk about a tendency and then leave me asking, “yeah, but why did they turn out that way? Upbringing? Nature? TELL ME MORE” (p.s. I’m a Questioner as far as her tendencies go so...). But once I let go of my need to go deeper, I actually ended up really appreciating that she drew that line in the sand: she was careful not to assign greater value to one tendency over another (because all have their strengths/weaknesses), dive into the out-of-her-depth background psychology, or draw overarching judgments on what was right/wrong (though there’s definitely a ‘tone’ when she discusses her low-carb diet, ha!). Overall, It’s a really practical guide to taking yourself as you are and working to establish better habits from exactly where you stand. I ended up loving that about it.

-I liked that it helped me understand my loved ones a little better (and cut them a little slack in certain instances)!

-I loved the strategies. Some of them are common sense, but it's awesome having them all in one group like this. I want a little shorthand list to refer to when I’m struggling to make a new habit stick! I feel like glancing through it could spark fresh inspiration for a new approach. I've used a few of them already with success.

-The portion on The Danger of the Finish Line (link to one of her blog posts on the same topic) really spoke to me, in particular! I struggle with this one all the time! I’ll set goals, reach them, and thennnnn….no long-term habits stick. Now I get why!

-I also enjoyed listening to her podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” during/after reading the book. The episodes shed extra light on the tendencies and the strategies; it’s uplifting and bite-sized (most episodes around 30mins). Also Gretchen and her sister Elizabeth are so funny and so gentle with one another; I love their chemistry! I also respected Gretchen Rubin more after listening; she knows her stuff.

What I didn’t love:

-Just the whole surface-level thing, initially. And also the plentiful talk about her low-carb diet, but I also get that her changing her diet also provided a lot of fabulous examples of implementing strategies for new habits so I wasn’t offended.

-I initially resisted the idea that people were either one thing or the other thing in her ‘getting to know yourself better’ section since it's basically categorizing yourself into one of two categories, but I tried to keep an open mind, rolled with it, and ended up having fun determining which category I fell into. For those who have read it and care I’m definitely a lark (vs. owl), abstainer (vs. moderator), under-buyer (vs. over-buyer), opener (vs. finisher), sprinter (vs. marathoner), and a simplicity-lover (vs. abundance-lover).

I’d Recommend This Book If:

You’re looking for a practical and transformative (but not profoundly soul-searching) book to boost your self-understanding and provide skills and strategies to establish better habits. Like I mentioned before, I’ve had success already with using her strategies on some stubborn habits of mine! It's a great handbook on its subject.

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Have you read this book yet? If you have, what did you think about it? Was it helpful to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts!



Our First Year of Homeschooling: A Summary.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017





Well, we officially have survived our first year of homeschooling! I mean, we’ll still be doing stuff through the summer (more on that in a minute), but as far as the typical school year goes, we’re calling it.

WE MADE IT. It's already two weeks into summer, but I wrote the bulk of this post at the end of June...it makes more sense if you read it like that. 

It’s been quite the year, I’ll tell you that. In fact, I’ll tell you aaaaalll of ‘that’ if you have the patience to get through this post. I’m going to lay it all out there and let you see the naked truth, from wrinkles to cellulite…metaphorically speaking, of course.

Spoiler: It’s been really good, and I want to continue. It’s just also been a STEEP learning curve, luckily one with a good payoff, though.

I was going to include a run-down of some basic homeschool philosophies so that my struggle to settle into    one was easier to understand…buuuuut it meant this post was, like, a novel. SO I deleted that part. You’re welcome, or I’m sorry, you pick.


Okay, SO. The beginning of the year began with me kind of giddy, kind of nervous. I was excited to put my ‘teacher muscles’ to good use as I made little lesson plans and critically researched homeschool curriculum materials out there and philosophies galore. I was adorable. I felt like Renae would probably do well with a more student-led approach, but feared that (if we gave our whole selves to it) she would not be prepared to re-enter grade three at regular public school if we decided not to continue homeschooling after this year. I wanted to make sure we stuck close to the same curriculum she’d be covering at school so that she was ready if that was the case. We decided to declare ourselves “aligned” (meaning you align with the regular provincial curriculum) instead of “traditional” (where you follow different curriculums or learn as interests arise…basically “choose your own adventure”).

With that decision made, I set out to create awesome lessons for her. But she resisted, LOTS. I know many of you have mentioned that particular risk as your concern for trying homeschooling...and let me tell you, it’s LEGIT. You literally CANNOT make a kid learn something who doesn’t want to learn it. They might memorize something under duress, but it won’t stick (example: cramming for every test I ever took in my first year of university). Even though I knew this, I thought if my lessons were awesome enough, exciting enough, jazzy enough, I could “trick” her into learning anyways (or at least spark her interest), even if she was feeling stubborn. But, NOPE.

I mean, I definitely tried to keep the pace of things easy and light, consistent with (what I thought was) a “school detox,” but she was mostly just grumpy about pretty much ALL of the things I wanted her to do. However, she was really passionate and engaged in the things that were her idea and that she was interested in. I let her do plenty of the latter, which included lots of art projects and creative play, lots of time spent outside, and audiobooks and my reading aloud to her, and trips to the zoo…and I felt good about all of those. They really were all excellent learning experiences, and she was definitely learning, even if I didn’t get to mark a cute worksheet.



But still, I pushed. I would tell myself to chill out, that she was learning just fine, but then would start to get worried about covering the material we were “supposed to.” I would start to get driven by the fears that I would get in trouble or something if she wasn’t learning the material from the provincial curriculum and, like the smell of skunk, she could sense it on me and was instantly turned off of whatever we were doing that I tried to introduce in this state of anxiety…no matter how well I masked it with my cheery teacher-voice or plastered-on smile. The smell of obligation to learn radiated from me anyways.

Around Christmas/January, I finally gave in. I just kept feeling more and more strongly that this way of doing things was NOT working for Renae. If I was being honest, I had been approaching education like a to-do list, checking off boxes to appease my own fears of “covering things,” (which, consequently, tends to be the way we can approach education in public school as well) instead of really letting the deep love we both had of learning to lead the way to truly educating ourselves. (And yes, I’m including myself because I don’t think I can be an effective mentor on educating and learning if I’m not passionate about pursuing my own education in my areas of interest).

I finally realized that we weren’t even really giving homeschool a real shot at being amazing unless I let go of meeting these expectations that I was imposing on our experience. If this was supposed to be a true “trial year” for homeschooling, then shouldn’t I be letting it be every bit as potentially cozy and carefree and fascinating as it could be?

During this time of gradual surrender I was also reading (well, listening to) the book “Hold Onto Your Kids” by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate…as well as the book “For the Children’s Sake” by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay…as well as making a small investment in a homeschool workshop by a lady named Bonnie Landry. All of those things sealed the deal and seemed to be telling me the same things: my daughter was the most important, her unique skills and talents were her gifts and also the gateway to gaining the knowledge she needed to develop them (and holy, just respect that already!), and our relationship was more important than any arbitrary learning outcome. Keeping things simple and non-coercive was the key…and it was all going to be okay.

So I officially let go of my grip on very tidy and clear expectations, which was scary. It still is, actually. And I picked up my sweet girl, our relationship, and her unique talents and worked hard at helping her learn the skills to let them shine. I’m still figuring out how this works, but it feels SO much better…so much more like I’d hoped it would feel.


Our days look like a lot of different things: plenty of open-ended play where she often comes up with elaborate games of imagination with intricate story lines, lots of bike-riding, lots of building traps to try and catch the plentiful wildlife around where we live (as yet unsuccessful, haha), watching the birds outside lay their eggs in their nests and learning their names and how they’ll nurture those babies to adulthood, “saving the worms” after it rains, creating “secret hideouts,” organizing her siblings into putting on show after show (after show…) for us parents, doing art projects, learning different art techniques from YouTube videos (so long as mom isn’t the one to choose it…*eyeroll*), doing work around the house, helping in the kitchen, learning to cook recipes on her own, coming up with her own recipes, writing her own books and stories, visiting her older lady friends and bringing them treats she’s made, audiobooks in the car, educational DVD’s on long trips, quality educational iPad games, and read louds from beautiful books of literature in the evenings before bed, and SO many discussions about all the hows and whats and whys and I-wonders about allllll of those things and more.

The beauty is: there’s plenty of time leftover for chores and for organized afternoon activities like gymnastics, piano lessons, swimming lessons, and playdates with friends. One of my concerns with her being in school so much of the day was making sure she had plenty of free time after school to decompress, be creative, and just play…which meant I was hesitant to engage her in learning family chores in the evenings or enrolling her in MORE instructor-led classes after she’d been doing that for 7 hours already. It feels good to have time for ALL of the good stuff: learning from passionate instructors, learning family work and community service, and still having time for wide stretches of wildly imaginative open-ended play.

Oh, I still sneak things in as far as instruction and curriculum-covering goes, but it’s gently and without the stress I once felt. I have more faith that she’ll learn it when she’s ready. We like to do science experiments together, so I’ll choose ones generally along the lines of what her peers are probably doing in school, if she doesn’t have something she’s particularly eager to learn about. We read aloud throughout the day and in the evenings before bed (homeschool has no hours, haha) and I’ll make connections between the literature we’re reading and things we are doing throughout the day to encourage discussion. She loves to help me out, so I get her writing practice in by having her write out my shopping lists or meal plans while I dictate them to her, all while I verbally muse about interesting spellings of words we happen to be including in our lists. She is weirdly good at memorizing things so she’ll memorize poems here and there to perform for the family or for grandparents. We still do little formal math lessons and math games together almost daily, but I try not to push it if she’s having a moment about it…she will do three lessons on a good day and make up for the ones she’s missed eventually, so it’s not worth forcing her to do the work when she’s in a mood where she won’t retain it and will only resent the process. When she’s ready, she gobbles it up and we have a grand ol’ time together. I think she’ll be more receptive to my suggestions as our learning relationship heals…but for now, I tread lightly and respect her readiness and interests. And in all our time outside, I like to be there (or at least available), sincerely interested and involved in her discoveries and eagerly sharing what I may know about the things she’s found. I also like to take out books from the library on certain topics to spark interest…but don’t push it if it doesn’t “take.”

I save the “Too bad! We need to do hard things anyways!” lectures for character-building things like cleaning her room and contributing to the family through household chores. I think the lessons in perseverance will transfer. I’m also not convinced learning and school should ever feel like a chore, like it did for SO much of my education; wouldn’t it be great if it could always be a labour of love? Like you were always hungry for the work it took to learn deeply about something interesting to you? I don’t think that’s such a fantasy…I think it might be possible, if you weren’t forced to learn things you didn’t care about and regurgitate them mindlessly for tests…if subjects like math, science, and literature were always connected somehow to improving your understanding of something you were deeply passionate about. I feel like I could learn everything in the whole world if it were within the context of something that was meaningful for me…and I also had, ooooh, 65 extra hours in my day. Y’know, give or take.



Now: naked truth. If you ask her, she’ll actually tell you that she doesn’t like homeschool. For one, she misses her friends; that part has been tough living out on the acreage. We hang out with family friends often, I think, but not often enough according to her. She also just loves organizing people. I don’t know how else to put it. So she loves making new friends and managing her old ones. She is good at bringing people together. She misses flexing those muscles.

But the real reason she’ll say she doesn’t like homeschool is mostly because she equates homeschool work with those times when “Mom made me sit down and do stuff I didn’t want to do, with threats of withholding the things I love until it was finished.” It’s understandable, really (sheepish mom face).  It’s also what makes discussing whether she wants to homeschool next year verrrry difficult because we’re interpreting the word “homeschool” differently.

She likes that we don’t do “too much homeschool anymore” (haha…) and that she gets to do lots of interesting things that she enjoys. What she doesn’t quite get yet, even though I’ve tried to explain, is that we totally are doing homeschool, just even better than before and learning even more than before. She just raises an eyebrow and pretends she gets it while skipping off to play “addition war” with her brother. It’s because of allll this that we aren’t really taking summer “off.” We’ll still have short little one-on-one learning times with Mom (with each of the kids) most days…even if it’s just a little reading practice, fun science experiment or math games together. We’ll just continue what we’re currently doing because it doesn’t feel burdensome or like we need a break from it yet; it’s low-key, fulfilling, and rejuvenating. And if it wasn’t, we would take the breaks where needed anyways, soooo…summer, here we come. Ha.

I think we will, in fact, wind up homeschooling again next year, if simply because I don’t want to lose our momentum now that we’ve finally found what works. We’ll be moving into a town in the Fall, a town with a vibrant and active homeschool community…which means more friends, and an easier time hanging out with them! (Renae cheers). My son would be joining us as well, and having them both learning together at home would be so fun I think. I also hear it’s easier with two because they get to do more things together. It will also facilitate a feeling of consistency when we move instead of taking them out of a classroom they’ve adjusted to in order to throw them into another one.

So we shall see. We’re taking this homeschooling thing one year at a time, and I firmly believe you can still go to public school and NOT be a drone about education with the right tools, so both home and public schooling avenues still have their appeal for different reasons.


If you finished this post, you deserve something rad. If you're feeling chatty, tell me how awesome your summer has been below! I love summer so much. Hearing about all the fun summer activities you all are up to is the BEST. 

I Used to Be Scared of Living in a Small Town.

Sunday, 7 May 2017







I think I'm a city girl, but I'm not sure anymore.

It's quiet here, on the acreage. I love it more than I ever imagined. I wish it was mine to keep, but even so; I revel, still, in the space around me that is mine-for-now. It's peaceful here, un-rushed and spread out. We can be loud and wild, or secluded and soft without irritating, or worrying, the neighbours. Our indoors and outdoors are homey and uninspected by anyone except the wildlife.

Yet there is home in the anonymity of the city, too. People need people and I see that in the crowds and the space-sharing, though everyone rushes about and pretends it isn't so. I like watching other humans being, imagining what their lives are like as I watch them walk down the sidewalks, hurry to their vehicles, mow their lawns. Even if they catch me being curious about them before I glance away, chances are pretty good they don't know who I am anyway; I won't earn a reputation. I even like that people don't care about the details of my life too much. I like that everyone has too many of their own details in this busy place to concern themselves with mine.

I used to be scared of small towns. Everyone knew each other, but didn't actually really know each other, too. I heard my relatives and their friends in small towns talk about fellow town members and their business, knowing things I only knew about my very closest friends, maybe. These people knew each other through their shared history, but not well enough to hug them in the pain of their divorce, of which everyone seemed to know every gruesome detail. It was startling to realize it was hypothetically possible for someone to know all my quiet, painful secrets like that...but not love me and know me well enough to hold me through them. I could not see how that could feel comfortable and safe at all.

I imagined myself in a small town. But in my daydreams, I couldn't keep my mystery and I didn't like it. In the big city, I could be a kind stranger in those few minutes in a grocery store line, disappearing into the parking lot with no other expectations. In a town where everyone remembers the time you lost your temper in public...could they be sure of your kindness? Or would they count it as feigned because, throughout the time they've known you, they have seen your unkindness, too? It scared me that I wouldn't be able to try on different personalities for size, just for fun, or that I couldn't wear my pyjamas and smeared makeup to Wal-Mart and not worry about seeing people I knew.

I was scared of the Big Fish in the Small Pond, the people who everyone admired because they did admirable things, worthy of fanfare, of congratulations. It seemed like it gave them an uncanny power over the community. It worried me that this influence never seemed tempered by the reality of many people around you being able to do similar admirable things, with no one fussing over it, no one feeling submissive to their awe of you. It felt like the definitions of someone worth admiring were too narrow.

It scared me how new people could move in and feel like shiny new toys held at a distance. How they could try and attach themselves to neighbours who weren't sure how to start fresh, who were nervous about making room for people who didn't share their history and who smelled like change?

I saw these things clearly, I was sure of it, and they scared me. I never wanted to live in a small town, ever. Too close, too much knowing, too familiar with each other without being careful and tender with all the information. No, thanks.

But in my youth I missed things.

I mean, I saw the way things sometimes played out like people had never outgrown their high school drama, still juvenile in their grown-up wrinkles, beer guts, and mom bodies. But I missed the ones who had outgrown it and were brave enough to stay anyways. I also missed the ones who had left and seen the world, and come back. Both were the ones who knew the limitations of their small town, but endured the small things with grace and forgiveness, the way a wise grandma finally understands and appreciates the childishness of her grandchildren and loves them deeply...albeit sometimes with rolled eyes. These people lived bigger and deeper, lives full of meaning, happy with exactly who they were, unshackled from the expectations they had once endured, bit by bit. I can see them now.

I initially saw the ones who were afraid to leave and afraid of change and afraid of being someone different than who everyone expected them to be, but I only felt afraid and sorry for them. I didn't have the maturity to feel compassion and hope for them yet. Didn't I feel afraid of things, too, sometimes? Don't we all? Sure, I saw the ones who hated the smallness and felt trapped, but I didn't see the ones who had hated it and had the courage to change their story, either through getting up and leaving or simply changing their perspective. I didn't see the ones who were able to appreciate and experience the depth of history, of love, of human relationships that grow and change, the ones who knew the secret: that we all build our own small towns, no matter where we live.

Because that is what I have learned, finally: even when we live in a city with millions of people, even if we live in the middle of nowhere, we still build our own small towns. We build it with the friends we choose, the teachers and classmates and coworkers we don't, the family we belong to, the other communities of people we gather to us that may have nothing to do with proximity or city limits. The internet lets us build our small town with increasingly distant pieces of people, all added to our own small towns. We are not immune to the petty; we are not shut out from the ability to be known and loved completely.

We eventually see that in order to live a deeply fulfilling life, we cannot help but endure human relationships that change. We still must face our own history eventually so that we can take charge of our future; we will need to stand up to the people that don't seem to let us change. We still must learn to endure and resist the influence of the "Big Fish" and find our ability to go our own way despite what others think, even those who think they know us best and know what is best for us. We still must learn to have patience, grace, forgiveness, and even love for the people we cannot escape. We will need to recognize our own fears and challenge them in our own ways and in our own time. We may need to completely change everything around us and walk down strange streets and smell air foreign to our lungs for a fresh perspective, a new tenderness for where we came from. And we all must learn to appreciate what we have in our own hand-made village collage simply for what it is, with all its quirks and limitations, because it's ours: strangely, endearingly, our own.

I'm still a city girl, I think. I still like the mystery, the anonymity, people not paying attention to me. A childhood of moving frequently and lots of change has made that familiar and reassuring to me. But I'm also not afraid of living in a small town anymore. I am practicing being okay with all the things that scared me about living in a small town in the first place: being seen, being widely misunderstood, feeling limited and controlled, allowing myself to be held back by my own fears, being angry with people I also love dearly, feeling powerless, and being wise and compassionate when faced with small minds and loud opinions...even when it's my own, on occasion.

Because now I know that all of those things aren't limited to the boundaries of a small town at all. They're just easier to hide from, to run from, to ignore in a big city or in the middle of nowhere. And what's startled me most is that my fears about ending up in a small town were, perhaps, simply me fearing my own humanity all along. I feared being real and vulnerable for everyone to see and remember, being known by imperfect people and while we all struggle to love each other through our mistakes.

When I was young, I saw all the characters in a small town, the parts they played. But I missed all the humans, the humanity, all magnified and caricatured on their small patch of earth. I know now that no matter where we live, we are all a familiar character in a small town to someone.

A Farewell to Winter

Thursday, 30 March 2017




It must have been a long winter.

I realized the other day, sun warm on my face and breeze whispering of change, that I felt genuinely surprised at the thought of Spring creeping in. It actually caught me off-guard that it will eventually arrive...just like literally every single year before this one. I shook my head and marvelled at both my surprise (because Winter had me under its very long, very cold spell this time, apparently) and at the simple, reliable miracle of the seasons changing.

I made an effort to settle deep into the dark and cold months this year. I was reminded by people wiser than me that the seasons have purpose in their rhythm...that they help us slow down, rev up, dig in, and then rest again. I felt the wisdom in her phrase, "Winter is for stories."

So I tried to let our busy-ness melt away as we cozied up around books and fires in our fireplace, calmed our schedule so hunkering and huddling could happen at will. We had dance parties and movie nights to warm up the walls of the house that kept out the cold. We made snow suits and toques so casually and temptingly available that kids couldn't resist their daily morning tumble through the powdery snow. Even on the crispy-cold days, the days that freeze your snot at first sniff, they needed to check their frozen puddles to see how the ice had changed overnight. I let more meats and creamy things feel at home in our dinners, made bread, and soothed any pouty feelings about the frigid temperatures with human stories on the pages of books and in the hum of audiobooks and podcasts.

I bought spinach the past couple weeks on grocery trips, intentionally and with great meaning and flourish. And strawberries. Because spinach and strawberries and asparagus mean Spring. I mean, I bought spinach in the dead of winter sometimes, too, but it wasn't the same. I'm eating SPRING spinach now. And it tastes like life. Like new grass (literally...) and baby animals and newness. Never mind, actually. Even metaphorically, spinach should never taste like baby animals. Even SPRING spinach. Ahem, moving on.

So I'm ready, is what I mean. Winter might not be prepared to fade out quite yet because it's Canada after all...but we are in a good place, he and I, and I'm ready for a surprisingly fond farewell.

Until the squash and kale feel new again, Winter; I say good-bye.

(This is your cue to leave, now. XOXO)


7 Ways to Help Someone Who is Grieving

Wednesday, 15 February 2017



This is the fifth (and final) post in a series this past week in honour of the three year anniversary of my sister Jocelyn's death. I'll share writing from a variety of places (old blog posts from here, from other personal blogs, writing never shared), but all things that I've written about her death and my grieving. While not the most cheerful stuff to read about, my writing about losing her has been pivotal in my healing process. Thanks for allowing me to share with you this week!

This post is one of the most popular on my blog, so may be familiar to many of you here. I've updated it a bit for clarity now that it's been a few years.

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Note: we deal with loss in as many different ways as there are people...so these are just 7 things that I, personally, found particularly helpful and worth mentioning.

ALSO... please don't feel like this is a mandatory list of must-do's either! This is simply a list to refer to if you are desperate to help and need ideas.


7 Ways to Help Someone Who is Grieving

1) Reach out. Just do it.
   Whether there's awkwardness between you, it's been a while, or you think you have nothing to say, just reach out anyways.  I was so touched when people I hadn't heard from in forever cared enough to reach out to me with a simple "I'm so sorry to hear" or "thinking about you." Tragedies have a way of making all the distances between hearts disappear.

2) You don't need to make them feel better.
   This one is tricky to explain out-loud, so bear with me.
   There is nothing that you can say that will make them feel better right now. Nothing. What they are going through is just 100% crappy and that is it. The end. It is just hard and it hurts, regardless of anythinganythinganything. Reminding them of their beliefs in an after-life, saying someone is in a better place, telling them anything that starts with "at least...", or anything else that is intended to lessen the pain is off-limits. For now, at first. Let them take the lead on seeing whatever silver lining they can, when they're ready...and, even then, maybe just listen and nod.
   People are so good and caring and kind...and it's only natural to want to cheer someone up! One of the (many!) things that surprised me about experiencing the loss of a loved one was how little I wanted people to make me feel better...like, not at all. When you try, you run the risk of trivializing their pain, and coming across like you're trying to make it not-such-a-big-deal...even though that is not your intention at all, I know. 
With all that said, however, the effort to be kind was always appreciated, on some level...so (as a disclaimer) don't feel so stressed about saying the "right" thing, that you end up saying/doing nothing at all.

3) Validate
   So maybe you can't make them feel better, but you can validate how they must be feeling right now. Defend and protect their right to be in agony, and let them know that however they're feeling is okay. Do give your condolences, tell them how you can't imagine how hard this must be, let them know you're thinking of them...anything, really, that will let them know that yes, this is awful, and you love them.

4) Give Specific Help
   ...instead of offering the too-general "if there's anything I can do...."  (which we are ALL guilty of!) If you really want to help somehow, just do something. Don't necessarily rely on the person grieving to tell you what they need because 1) It's hard to even fathom exactly what you need when everything aches...and 2) When you experience a great loss, ALL of the normal things like eating, showering, parenting are overwhelmingly difficult and exhausting! It's really the little, day-to-day things that help the most. Take them a meal. Mow their lawn. Steal their kids for a couple hours. Bring them a movie you know they'd like. Give them a bath bomb and tea. Send them a gift card for some guilt-free retail therapy...or a restaurant so they don't have to make food themselves. Go clean their bathroom, or send a cleaning service over. Bring them a bag of groceries. Drop a favourite chocolate bar in their mailbox. Anything is something.

5) Keep Reaching Out...But With No Expectations
   Send them a note that doesn't necessitate a reply. Stop by with a treat, but don't expect them to visit and chat like usual. Keep sending love out even if it seems there is nothing coming back for a while. Invite them for a walk, for dinner, for hot chocolate...but understand if they decline. And keep inviting them anyways, no pressure. They need the reassurances that they have all the space they need, but they are also not forgotten.

6) Support Healthy Mourning
   Grief and mourning are different, I've learned. Grief is your ailment, mourning is how you deal with it or "let it out." Mourning is essential to learning to live with grief in a healthy way, to healing. Allow and encourage the person grieving to talk about it, cry about it, just sit with the pain, feel it. Support things like music, writing, creative projects, running, tributes in honour of the person lost, goals made in the wake of new realizations, etc....anything that allows the person to "let it out" in a healthy way and/or acknowledge the person who's loss they are mourning. 
   I know some of us are uncomfortable when people cry in front of us...feeling like we've ruined everything, that it's an intensely meaningful moment we are unprepared for, or (because we asked them about it) it's our fault they're sad...but chances are that they've cried so much already, it's not weird to them anymore (you know, like how when you have a baby, you get over the embarrassment of people looking between your legs real fast? Like that.). So you don't need to feel weird either. Just let them get a few tears out, without making it into a big deal, or trying to fix it, or feeling stressed like this means you are the only person they can trust now, or ever. Just be there and let them feel what they're feeling.
   It's also okay if they are okay. Losing someone is difficult, but some are just better equipped to handle the fallout. And that is okay.

7) Be patient
   Grief and mourning are not just emotional burdens; they actually have mental and physical symptoms/side effects as well, like fatigue, short-term memory issues, attention and focus difficulties, etc. They are processing something HUGE, and that takes a lot of physical resources and energy. 
   Most people are resilient and get through the worst of it okay, so take heart. However, some spiral into longer-term issues like depression and anxiety (especially if the loss is not dealt with in healthy ways or bottled up)..and even something called "complicated grief" which may require professional counselling to get through. Grief never goes away, though the waves do become less intense over time. You just learn how to live with it...and it takes longer for some than others. Let your person have their time. 


Dear Jocelyn (6 Months Later)

Friday, 10 February 2017


This is the fourth post in a series this week in honour of the three year anniversary of my sister Jocelyn's death. I'll share writing from a variety of places (old blog posts from here, from other personal blogs, writing never shared), but all things that I've written about her death and my grieving. While not the most cheerful stuff to read about, my writing about losing her has been pivotal in my healing process. Thanks for allowing me to share with you this week!

This post was originally posted here, on this blog, a while back. In the 6 months following Jocelyn's death, every member of my immediate family had something in their life explode...all seemingly unrelated to her death, though I'm sure each of them probably came to a head because of our collective emotional fragility...just to give you some context.

Other posts in this series:

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Hi, sweet sissy.

It's been 6 months since you died. 6 months! I wish we could sit in Mom's living room to stay up late and talk about that. As in, what is it even like, dying? How are things on the other side? Does it feel like 6 months over there? Now that your life on earth is done, did you have any premonitions that your life would be short? Hindsight, they say, right? I can't wait to talk to you again.

Have you been watching us a lot? Or is there lots to do over there? Are you busy and happy and peaceful? Because that's how I imagine you. But I also imagine that there might be a part of you worrying about us, just because you're...well, you, still. Ha.



So...I know there's been lots of really hard things you've had to watch happen with our family lately. It feels like your death was the first of many really heavy dominoes that starting crashing through all these dreams and expectations our family has held with almost cavalier confidence. Can you even believe some of the things that have happened!? And how they ALL had to happen within the same six months?? JEEPERS, right!? Well, maybe you're not as bewildered as I am about the timing. Maybe you've been let in on the secret, a little bit, about some of the ultimate purposes and reasons behind the rapid-fire catastrophes that have left us crawling through the ruins and sifting through the ashes, trying to figure out what's left of Life-As-We-Expected-It...and Who-We-Thought-We-Were...and, most importantly, What-We-Thought-We-Could-Endure. That last one has been the most surprising of them all so far.

We may be crawling, stumbling, sitting there catatonically shocked...or just laying there breathing, afraid to move lest we reopen a tender, slow-healing wound...but I want you to know, sister friend, that we still are holding on, so tightly, to each other. Sometimes it hurts because we feel your absence sharply when we're huddling so close. But in those moments where it feels like it would just be easier to run away, and push away, and avoid...there is this exquisite truth that we are learning to embrace, a little at a time: that we cannot experience great joy without first experiencing great pain: how would we recognize it, appreciate it, otherwise? I can confidently say that I'm pretty sure we're good now, on the pain front, that we've had quite enough and are ready to just focus on the joy part, ONLY. 

I wish it was actually up to me.


My relationship with God has been unusually complicated these past 6 months. I haven't known what to make of it, so I've just tried to let it be, whatever that means. However, deep down in the rare, invincible parts of my heart I know Heavenly Father has a plan for you, for me, for our family. When I am being honest, and very untheatrical, I realize that I trust Him; He has this remarkable, unknowable way of weaving threads of joy and peace through times like these. I keep trying to remember to look for those sparkling flecks of hope. Sometimes I find them, sometimes I'm too dark to see anything except fog. But through it all, I ultimately feel His patience with me; I don't feel He is displeased with my finite mortal perspective, even when I'm having a temper tantrum about things not going the way I think they should; I just feel His perfect understanding and acceptance of my current state...and my potential. When I was learning to drive a car, my instructor was going through strategies to remember in crisis situations: "when you're hyrdroplaning, just take your foot off the gas...when you've lost control on the ice, just look where you want to go and your car will follow." That's the only message I've felt coming through this last little while of losing traction, spinning and sliding: wherever you are at...it's okay, you are loved.  Just look where you want to go, the rest will follow.

If there's any one resounding lesson that I've learned so far, even if it's just from your example alone, Jake, it's to be gentle with people...to just love them. You were so good at that down here. Now, with every face I look into, I can't help but wonder if their sister died, too. I wonder if they are feeling crumbly today. I wonder what hard things they have endured, are enduring, and whether they are finding the tiny flecks of hope. It makes me want to be a bright spot for someone, anyone, everyone. Because everyone battling their way through something that is their own brand of difficult...and trying to figure it out loudly, silently, or a little of both. This new depth of sheer feeling for everyone I see often has me feeling raw and straight-up staggered...but hopeful. At least there's that.

I miss you...so, so much. I want to shrug my shoulders with you about parenting, and pool our memories to try and figure out how mom and dad did it so successfully. I want to complain a little (with love, of course) about our sweetly stubborn husbands. I want to roll my eyes at your effusive, over-the-top praise and affection, and snort at your unbelievable ability to pull a pun right out of thin air. I want to have that singing group us sisters were going to have, and watch you have a near panic-attack about children running around near water without life-jackets on ("You're so safety-conscious..."). There are so many people who will never see how alike we occasionally look.

I'm not sure why we are all simply shards and pieces right now, but I've got to believe that it's because there's something new to be built here, out of all of this. We will be okay. Stay close, sis. We need all the help we can get.

Love you more than chocolate,
Your Favourite Oldest Sister.