Month: April 2019

Death in the age of Internet Friends

Prologue from Teva Harrison’s memoir In-Between Days

Yesterday I found out that Teva Harrison died. This wasn’t a surprise really, I knew she had been feeling unwell for months even though the last time we actually “talked” (and by this I mean chatted via Instagram messages) was shortly before my surgery last August. Her presence on social media had become very limited due to the fact that she spent a lot of time fighting her disease but also because she spent a lot of time living her life. She had wonderful friends and a wonderful husband and a smile that would make everyone stop and take notice of her. Everyone agrees that there was something magical about Teva. She wrote an article about her ability to find four leaf clovers. She says it isn’t magic but I’m not sure any of us believe her.

I cried when I found out. It was right before the bedtime train started. We were trying to get Oonagh to brush her teeth and get ready for bed and a message from a friend told me she had died because I hadn’t been on social media all afternoon having taken Moira to a play and trying to live my life in real time. Then I sucked back my tears and read three chapters of Sophie Mouse and sang Oonagh a song and tucked her into bed and then went and watched the second half of Thor Ragnarok with Fionnuala and Mister. I worked on the current sock I am knitting. I braided the girls hair before they went to bed. At some point during all that I read about Teva’s death and posted about it on Facebook because I didn’t know what else to do with my sadness and I felt like I needed to say something. Did I need to say anything? Not really I guess but that is how I process things. I write them out. I wanted everyone to know that another light had gone out from the world.

The funny thing about my knowing Teva is that I was already following her on Twitter before I really knew who she was, before I knew anything about metastatic breast cancer – before I knew that it was slowly destroying my bones. I was following her husband too because of his charming David Leonard Weather Service posts (#dlws). I didn’t even know they were connected in any way. This is the thing about the Canadian literary scene: it is very small and one connection leads to another. Even for someone like me, who isn’t really part of the scene, who thinks of herself more on the peripherals of the scene. I have, over the course of the last 20 years of blogging, made a number of friends who either were already authors or have gone on to be authors. I feel more like a Canadian literary cheerleader than a card-carrying member. So I knew about Teva. I knew about David. But I did not know about their great love until I was diagnosed and someone pointed me towards Teva’s cartoons in the Walrus. And then we talked and become friends but I always feel the need to say “Internet friends” because really, that isn’t the same kind of friendship as someone who lives close by and you talk to all the time. It’s just someone you wish you could have a closer friendship with.

Last summer I took a social media break for a couple weeks. I can’t remember when this was exactly but it was before my surgery. When I came back my online friend, the poet Anya Krugovoy Silver had died and I had missed it. And by missing the initial announcement I felt like I had let her down. I had never met Anya but we had chatted over the years about mothering through this disease and how it has effected our lives. Both Anya and Teva were some of the first people to reach out to me when I was diagnosed and I will be forever grateful for the lifelines they provided.

When Anya died I couldn’t even talk about it. I felt guilty for taking a break from the internet and for not knowing that her health had taken a serious turn. The result is now I’m afraid to take a break even though a lot of the women who were my initial lifelines in the early days of this diagnosis are gone. Another thing the three of us had in common were supportive and caring husbands that we were all very much in love with (and, I hate to say it, but this seems to be rare with women who have late stage cancer). If you ever followed AnyaSilverPoet on Instagram you would know that her husband Andrew still updates her page. He will break your heart daily with his grief over the loss of his wife but in a culture where we are generally so afraid of death and dying it is really a beautiful thing to witness. For those of us who “knew” Anya it is a gift.

Both women taught me that no matter what you just keep going. You can rage about your disease in poetry, or in essays, or on your blog, but that is just a fraction of your time. It’s the day-to-day life that needs to be lived that makes being here so worth while. It’s those wonderful husbands that you aren’t ready to leave yet, it’s the children who need stories before bed and their hair braided, it’s those books that you haven’t read, or the places you haven’t visited that make it so imperative to keep on getting out of bed in the morning – even on the days you might not feel strong enough to do so.

Still, I feel like every time one of these women die we have all been cheated some how. After I posted about Teva’s death on Facebook and Instagram yesterday people kept saying “I’m sorry for your loss,” but I didn’t really know Teva, just like I didn’t really know Anya, although I treasured each and every interaction and online conversation I had with them. The truth is it isn’t just my loss – it’s all of our loss. When a light like theirs goes out in the world there is no getting it back.

Cartoon excerpt from Teva’s memoir In-Between Days

It’s not every day your young lady turns eleven

Birthday eclair for breakfast

Moira turned 11 on Monday. This makes a full 11 years of motherhood.

My girl is ridiculously sweet, sarcastic, funny and fiercely loyal to her friends – but can also be very caustic towards her sisters. She holds herself to a very high standard and has a hard time when other people don’t hold themselves to that same standard. People often comment about how much she is like me but, honestly, I think she is so much better and smarter than I was as a child. (And definitely better looking than I was in the fifth grade.)

It is hard to judge the person you were as a child. Recently I have been back in touch with people from elementary school (I am in the process of planning a reunion) and they have said they remember me as being “kind and funny”. I think that this could be the best compliment I could ever receive and I desperately hope it is true. I worry, I guess, that maybe there were times when I wasn’t as kind as I could have been and I feel like I have spent a lot of my adult years making up for this.

Every birthday the girls go through is bittersweet because I often wonder if it will be the last one I will be around for. I am, of course, ecstatic to be here but the lingering fear always hovers on the edges on the good days, and sits right on my (fragile) chest on the bad ones. Moira was seven when I was diagnosed and to still be here to see her turn 11 is pretty miraculous.

Eleven is such a great age. Sure, the hormones are kicking in and we have fully entered the tween years but the conversations are getting better (and she has always been a great conversationalist), the ability to do more activities together is increasing, and there is such joy in glimpsing the person she may become as an adult. I used to think that I had to leave all sorts of mementos behind for my girls when I died but having this extra time with them has made me realize that puts a sort of pressure on them (and me) they aren’t going to need when they grow up. Not everything from mummy needs to be infused with sentimental value that they feel compelled to cart around for the rest of their lives. I had once thought about writing a journal to each of them with my thoughts but that was a lot of work and what do they need something like that for? Instead I try and do things with them and give them memories – even if, in the future, those memories are vague and hazy – of being loved. My legacy to them will be that I was funny and kind and loved them fiercely. That we celebrated every birthday with the quiet honour it deserved because I was just so grateful to be their mother for whatever amount of time I am given.

These are the things I hope they remember.

Last night at a Wordfest event with our friend Jocelyn, drinking iced tea out of a wine glass and being both grown-up and not (sometimes the iced tea was drank through a licorice straw).

The view from here

I’m trying not to let my current state prevent me from getting writing done so right now laying in bed with the laptop on my lap. It isn’t comfortable but it isn’t as painful as sitting upright either and right now avoiding pain is what I am all about.

Yesterday I took a minor fall down the stairs which banged me up but, at the time, didn’t seem to cause any real damage. Except as the day went on an area of my ribs started to ache and by this morning it was full-blown pain. The chances that I cracked it are pretty good – after all, I have been know to crack ribs in my sleep just by laying on my side for too long. This is the thing with bone metastasis. It’s always there and always reminding me that it is there. Even when I’m feeling good and am considered stable my rib bones (where the cancer is) are still weak. I’ve spent the morning debating calling the oncologist but the last time this happened they told me to go to my family doctor to get a requisition for an x-ray and then I had to get the x-ray done and then the x-ray didn’t show anything because minor cracks and fractures don’t show up even though they hurt like hell. It showed up a month later though when I got my bone scan and the evidence of a recent fracture that was currently healing was right there. Honestly, just thinking about all those steps has me exhausted and I have to get out of this bed in 10 minutes to make lunch for my kids. There is nothing they can do for broken ribs anyway although at this point I would take any painkillers they offered because I don’t have any. Truthfully, the first couple days after a rib fracture I need the good drugs but I never have any on hand. This is something I’m going to have to fix at my next oncology appointment.

Anyway, I went into April feeling excited and focused (after weeks of the stomach flu going around the house). I have some pretty intense physio therapy exercises I am doing to try and fight the complications I have been having from my mastectomy last August and those are painful but at least they are helping me work towards a goal. With the rib pain I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself. I know it will pass but you know that feeling when the universe feels like it is conspiring against you? Yeah. I’ve got that feeling. But right now I’m trying to organize a reunion for my elementary school and I can do a lot of that laying down. Planning an Harry Potter-theme 11th birthday party that is being held in two weeks (and I haven’t started planning yet) is going to be more difficult.

Also, whenever I am bed-ridden my children freak out because they remember what it was like when I couldn’t get out of bed at all and then the mommy guilt takes over. (Another thing pain does is make one grumpy and, in my case, slow and stupid. It has taken me most of the day to get this blog post out there – my children have long since gone back to school from lunch and I wrongly posted this earlier and it didn’t show up and it took me a while to figure out what I had done wrong.)

Art by Elisabeth Alba on the Everyday Witch Tarot deck by Deborah Blake.

In less than a month I’m traveling east to go on a road trip with my sister Amandato Salem, Massachusetts. We are both really excited about this and get to bond over our love of all things witchy and historical. We have rented an AirBnB for five nights and then don’t have anything planned for after that which is taking me WAY out of my comfort zone (I’ve had all our summer vacation and activities planned and booked since early January) but my sister is more adventurous than I am so I’m relying on her to figure things out. (It’s not like I need *everything* planned. I just like to know where I am sleeping and that I will be able to make food instead of eating out a lot.) We also hope to stop in Concord, MA to visit the home of Louisa May Alcott.

Anyone else been to Salem (and area)? We are open to suggestions for things that might not be listed in the touristy guidebooks.