Mom's lilacs

On long absences and navigating the grief landscape

Hello, it’s me, and I’m not sure how to do this anymore.

I won’t start with an apology this time.

There’s no way to put this delicately: life got really fucked up. And this might be a hard post for you to read.

Back in June, I started writing and rewriting a long blog post about this past year of coping with grief, loss, and the upheaval of the only life I’ve ever known. I was hoping to share this around the one year anniversary of Mom’s passing, and I knew it would be too hard to write all in one go. Then I aimed for the end of August, Mom’s 68th birthday. But now it’s September. 14 months. 

And I have very, very barely scratched the surface of this impossibly deep hole that is the rest of my life without Mom.

Throw in the most brutal winter of the century, a pandemic, a major career transition, a very sick father and brother, and wrapping up Mom’s affairs, and…blogging just fell to the wayside. Survival is a priority, as it is for many of us these days. 

There are really two separate blog posts I want to write: one about Mom, and her legacy; the other about how I can now draw a clear demarcation in the sand to mark the abrupt end of my old life, and the beginning of my new, unwanted life. The one where I feel like I’m just biding my time and every day is a race to the finish line because, truly, the only life I ever knew is long gone.

So anyway this blog post is about the latter.

Here are some insane ways in which grief has changed me over the past 14 months:

  • I busy myself to the point of exhaustion every day because I can’t stand to think about how horrible Mom’s death was and how I’m never going to see her again
  • I gained an astonishing amount of weight that will not come off
  • I never sleep
  • When I dream about Mom she is often sick and I’m angry at her for leaving me
  • Every fiber of my being knows when the 28th of each month is approaching, without fail
  • I have very little interest in anything at all and could literally not pinpoint a single passion of mine at the moment (except Newfoundland and Labrador)

All that is to say that I’m not unhappy in my life. I’m actually content with what my life is…does that make sense? Although I feel complacent most days I am also so hyperaware of all my blessings and privileges. I live harder and everything is more intense. I am surrounded by good people who love me and want to do things with me. Every minute is a gift. 

Recently, on the Chance Cove Coastal Trail, I stood at the edge of a cliff overlooking a surreal beach-and-island landscape. My hand went to my face to remove my sunglasses, but they weren’t there. Everything was so bright and vivid and magic, I literally thought I was looking at a landscape behind sunglasses. I was nearly knocked over by the beauty.

At a cabin rental in Swift Current, I sat quietly for hours watching the sun set behind the mountains. No cell phone, no connectivity, nothing. And a bloom of bright happiness burst from my chest because I could have sat there in stillness forever. 

Sometimes that Ray Bradbury quote echoes in my head on repeat, over and over:

Stuff your eyes with wonder. 

So for all the sadness and loss just knocking around in my heart, I still very much appreciate my life. How could I not, when she gave it to me? 

(It’s very clear to me that I need counselling, btw. And it’s pretty likely I have a touch of PTSD. I am still waiting for the magical moment in which I am brave enough to call someone to talk about it, but I cannot even think about what I’ve seen and encountered over the past three years, and so I am stalling. It’ll happen in due course.)

One of the hardest things I’ve had to reconcile in all of this is that I lost Mom at 33 years old. Literally half her age. I have a whole other lifetime without her in it. Literally, a whole other lifetime. When she was 33 years old, she was just giving birth to me and starting a new family. I can’t stand it. If by some miracle I do go on to marry and have children and start a family (which seems impossible now, because did I mention I’m 34 and not interested in anything?), the most important woman in my life will never meet the other important people in my life. How? How is that possible when I know people in their 60s who still have dinners with their parents?

Sometimes I can close my eyes and sit very still and imagine I’m wrapping my arms around her thin shoulders again, feeling the bumps of her spine against my fingertips, pressing her thin-haired head under my chin and squeezing her tight. And of course, she’d push me away laughing and say, “You’re smothering me in your boobs!” And we’d joke about it for weeks. As you do.

I try my best to reconcile my memories of Mom with her younger, healthier self. I spent an exorbitant amount of money digitalizing some old home VHS tapes, and am gobsmacked to find her in them full of life–healthy, young, plump, and joyous. In the studio, the man popped one VHS into a VCR to test it out, and suddenly the room filled with Mom’s pure laughter, and I couldn’t stop crying, tears streaming down my face in front of this stranger who never knew her, and yet I am barely capable of talking about my mother in front of my friends or family. It is all too much, even now, to write about it. 

Mom was afraid of death. When she was hospitalized for six months, I remember “praying” that she’d come home from it with even a year to live and live it to the fullest. And that’s exactly what she got, one year. A remarkably terrible year. “This is the greatest nightmare of my life,” she’d say, untangling herself from oxygen lines. Reaching for her puffer. Meticulously recording her medication. I’d help her apply the adhesive rings around her ileostomy and wondered how she could do any of this on her own. She had this whole damned life that she worked so hard for. Every time I return home to visit my father and brother I can feel her everywhere. In her lilac trees and the unpainted birdhouses and the little motherly knickknacks placed on windowsills around the house and it is too fucking much. There is nothing good in any of this, I’m sorry to say. 

I don’t know why I wanted to write this. I look back on my blog entry from a year ago announcing Mom’s passing and I am stunned by my own naivety. To think I could find some beauty in all of that. Someone suggested that I wouldn’t remember anything around the first few weeks after she died, but I remember it all in acute detail. That freakishly hot summer day driving down the Bay d’Espoir Highway. Dad pulling over on the side of the road and calling my aunt and uncle to tell them to put away Mom’s oxygen concentrator. My head was foggy with three hours of sleep in just as many days. The house, unnaturally silent without the WHOOSH of the oxygen. Me cracking open a beer and drifting room to room, lost. Me undertaking the surreal task of picking out church hymns and a burial outfit (the blue long-sleeved proved better for hiding her IV-torn arms). 

In one of my Facebook grief groups, a woman expressed a similar sentiment about the bewilderment of a full life ahead without their loved one. Like we’re moving further away from them each passing day. Her therapist had told her, “What if you looked at it the other way: every second brings you closer to her?” and now I think about that every day. It is an immeasurable source of comfort, even if I am in no rush. I do not even know if I believe that I will see her again. I’d do anything to know. 

There has been no time to catch a breath. Dad was diagnosed with a very serious and incurable illness back in November and it’s been a constant battle since then to help him gain weight, maintain a new diet, coordinate with his specialist (in the middle of a fucking pandemic), and stay out of the hospital for as long as he can. Did I mention my brother is currently, as in today, having grand mal seizures? And how he ended up in the ICU a few months ago, in the same place where Mom died? I’m now the entire manager of Dad’s finances and bills and our property in the bay. I don’t mind doing it, my Dad is my favourite person on the planet, but I never realized how much Mom did. I’d do anything to acknowledge her now. I wish I could look her in the eyes and say, “Thank you for all you do.” Right up until the week she died. She ran that household, perfectly.

So here I am once again trying to pull everything together. And here I am, again, willing with all my heart for Dad to feel as best as he can.

All this is to say that blogging isn’t a priority right now, but I felt like I needed to wrap my head around why I’ve abandoned everything I’ve worked so hard to build. I am just trying to deal. Did that life even exist? Was I really gallivanting around Asia just a year ago? I’m incredibly blessed to have a great job, a warm circle of friends, and a tight-knit family to keep me together. There’s no need to worry about me. I will figure it out, as I always do. 

As my gears have shifted considerably and I’m no longer travelling (certainly, nobody is), I have scores of things I want to write about that aren’t long travel guides or search engine optimized content. I miss just blogging. It’s clear I’m never going to make money at this. I’m not sure that’s why I want to write, anyway. Can I tell you about my favourite indigenous TikTok stars? Can we connect on something? What about my hot take on season 2 of Dirty John? Can I tell you about my favourite new bra?

I don’t know what the future of Free Candie holds right now. It’s not the end. If you’re still here, thanks for that; this has been an exceedingly raw experience for me. I hope to breathe some life back into this thing. If there’s anything I’m consistently good at, it’s being hopeful. 

  • September 15 2020
    Jill Kozak

    Hi Candace,
    I can’t imagine the pain you’ve been going through the past year. It sounds excruciating on top of everything else our world has been dealt with. It’s difficult to imagine a life without mom. I myself fear that day.
    My mom lost her mother at 29. She doesn’t talk about how painful it was, but I have to imagine she felt many of the same things you describe.
    I know it sounds impossible, but this is making you stronger. Your mother would be so proud to learn of your resiliency and bravery in the face of the impossible.
    To quote Shawshank Redemption: Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

    • October 04 2020

      Thanks for taking the time to reply, Jill! <3 My aunt once told me it took her nearly 4 years to feel "normal" again after her mother (my mom's mother) passed away. It's crazy to me how much more I miss her as time goes on.

      • May 16 2021

        Hello Candice,
        I came across your post about Irish NL music today as I was looking for some guitar chords. Intrigued by your words, I looked at another article of yours, this one about the anniversary of your mother’s passing.

        I can relate.

        I lost my father when I was in my 30s, and he was in his 50s. That was 15 years ago, but feels like just last year in a way. Huge hole in one’s life. I have come to realize, there is just life before the loss and life after the loss. There is no actual getting over it. The year of 1sts sucks without this wonderful person who is no longer there. Picking up something to buy for them as if they are still here, for instance.

        Losses like this are tough, especially with other potential losses like you mention happening at the same time, I lost a relationship at the same time of my father’s loss.

        We all have to find our way through this life, and unfortunately some of us have to deal with the loss of a parent early in life. I have accepted that, with my father, I had the gift of time with a wonderful person who is no longer here. I have also found that, for me, I needed to embrace those who were still there and actually cared about me, those who would be there in the future when they arrived in my life and, as I can tell you do so well, enjoy the gift of the beauty in what’s around us presently. Despite the mess life throws at us and will at times continue to do so, I know my dad and perhaps your mom would have stern words for us spending too much time dealing with their loss, at least to the point it would be interfering with us carrying on and being happy years later. I expect you have already began to find your way back and I wish you the best in your journey through this type of life changing loss.

        I am no one to be offering advise, but if I could now look back at me 15 years ago and could give a younger me some advise, it would be to:
        Cherish the past, relish the adventure that lies ahead, and most of all ‘live in the moment’.

        Best wishes on you getting back to being you.


  • September 16 2020

    Hi Candace,

    I’m still here. I’m here if you want to talk, about Berlin, or whatever else.
    I’m also at a juncture in my life and im just going with the flow, feeling adrift on this journey called life.

    Take care,

    • October 04 2020

      You’re so kind Barbara, thank you! I hope you’re hanging in there too

  • September 16 2020
    Melissa Burke

    I’m still here. And I will be, for whatever turns Free Candie takes.

    • October 04 2020

      All the love to you!

  • September 17 2020
    Maureen Pollard

    I’m so very sorry for your loss. Adjusting to the world without your mom’s physical presence must feel impossible, especially as you are working so hard to care for your dad and brother. Survival mode can be a surreal experience, especially when it goes on and on. Just take it one breath at a time and know that you are doing the best you can in such difficult, tragic circumstances. Be gentle with yourself and trust yourself. You are strong and wise, even when you are wrestling with such pain.

    • October 04 2020

      Thank you Maureen, that’s such wise advice – sounds like it’s coming from someone who’s been through it too.

  • September 17 2020

    Me too, same as Melissa. Longtime reader happy to follow wherever your words go.
    Caroline Eubanks recently posted…Limiting Plastics and Packaging at Home

    • October 04 2020

      Thank you Caroline! <3

  • September 17 2020

    Candice, I can’t even imagine what you’ve been going through. I know the pandemic has been hard on a lot of us. While I can’t say I’ve gone through all the shit you’ve had to go through over the past 14 months I can say my priorities and focus has changed. Traveling and writing just don’t seem as important to me as they did before, not that I wouldn’t love to take a trip at some point, but I don’t feel anxious about not traveling. I certainly don’t feel the need to blog just to put out content (and my blog posts have become less travel focused, but I’m okay with that). Be gentle with yourself and take whatever time you need when you need it. Write about the things you want to write about when you feel like writing about them. Whenever you have a post I’ll be reading it. Hope things start getting better for you.

    • October 04 2020

      Thanks so much, Alouise! I appreciate that. Funny how quickly our priorities can shift, right? Although I must say, I’m daydreaming about a time when I can get on a plane again, haha.

  • September 18 2020

    Thank you for your exceptional take on grief and the traumatic experiences that can be associated with caring for ill parents. I imagine this post will resonate with so many people who are caring for their parents and unable or unwilling to openly express the pain that responsibility can bring. I look forward to hearing more about that post-traumatic process of resiliency and rebuilding.

    • October 04 2020

      Thanks so much Chandra, for being such an eager listener! Over a few glasses of red wine and a lot of snacks, haha.

  • September 24 2020

    This was so heartbreaking to read. Thank you so much for sharing. I hope it brought you some peace to get it down on paper and know that you are receiving so much love from your readers around the world! Your blog will always be a source of inspiration and joy to me, whenever and however much you feel like writing. You inspired me to start my own blog (although I haven’t felt much like writing lately either, and I think that’s okay) and I still hold out hope that one day you will visit me on Vancouver Island! Take care of yourself. One day at a time. xoxo

    • October 04 2020

      I will HAPPILY come visit someday! Haha. Thank you so much for your incredibly kind words. They made me smile today!

  • October 11 2020

    Sending you lots of love Candice. I love that Bradbury quote. Keep on surviving. x

  • October 12 2020

    I’m thinking about you. This sounds tough as hell and I’m really sorry for all you’ve been through. Crossing my fingers and toes for your dad and brothers health as well. I have been following your blog for *years*, and will read whatever you write, whenever the time is right.

  • November 16 2020

    Hi Candie, I’m sorry to hear what you are going through. I’ve been right where you are. When I was 13, I lost my father to asbestos-related lung cancer. Then at age 29, four years ago, my mother was rushed to the hospital and told she had weeks to live because of “undiagnosed metastasized breast cancer.” I live in Canada, she was in the UK, so I caught a plane that week, ended up losing my job as a result, and then my mother – weeks before Christmas. Life is filled with curveballs for us all, but it does get better. You will find the light again just as I eventually did. Keep on keeping on. xx

  • January 20 2021

    Thank you so much for sharing! I’m so very sorry for your loss. All my love for you.

  • January 25 2021

    Your post brought me to tears. I’ve been a long-time reader–you have a really beautiful and honest way of writing that I’ve always appreciated. Thinking of you and your family.

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