On Facebook, Losing Touch, and Grieving: Remembering Carole

On Tuesday morning, I did as I usually do: went to the bathroom, swallowed some Wellbutrin, and grabbed my phone to check my email and Facebook. I don’t expect to find anything earth shattering when doing either of these things. Mostly, my mailbox is filled with Gap discount codes, the latest issue of Lenny and reminders from my child’s school. Facebook is even less eventful–people sharing articles that rage against Donald Trump and parents worrying about over scheduling their kids while simultaneously complaining about the city’s swimming lesson registration system.  My Facebook page is pretty benign and for the most part, pretty boring, although there are lots of cute baby pictures at the moment. (Thanks M & T!)

Tuesday was different. As I was scrolling down, I saw the notice “C.H. was mentioned in a post.” Someone that I didn’t know, and who I wasn’t friends with (Facebook or otherwise) had written: You will be in our hearts forever Carole. You left us way too early. This made absolutely no sense to me. C.H. was around my age and had kids my age.

That’s actually how I met her: She was one of the first people I met at a mom’s group I went to for first time moms. Her daughter was about three weeks older than my son. I remember Carole as being kind, loving to laugh, and full of life. Could this be the same woman?

It was. Googling her name brought me to the page with her obituary. She was just shy of 43, had a seven year-old daughter and a six year-old son. Her daughter was in Grade 2, her son in Grade 1.  I hadn’t seen Carole in a few years–we had both moved out of the old neighbourhood where we had met, and life got busy. The last time I saw her was just before our kids started Kindergarten. We stayed in touch via Facebook through likes and comments, but I’m not sure I would have used the term “friends” to describe us, more like “good acquaintances.”

When I scrolled through Carole’s Facebook page looking for clues, I found none. She had kept her illness private, away from the public eye of Facebook. I reached out to another mutual friend who told me that Carole had been diagnosed with a tumour in the fall and that the doctors were confident following the removal of it. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to her liver and she went into palliative care at the beginning of February, but was able to return home for her last weeks.

This death has hit me really hard. I’ve been crying on and off for the past few days. Although we had drifted apart, I was still interested in Carole’s Facebook anecdotes about her son’s allergies and the pictures of the cakes she had made for her children’s birthdays. Facebook filled me in on Carole’s life when she was alive and this time it filled me in on Carole’s death.

I cried because in many ways it took Carole’s death to remind me that I am alive. I am alive with my children. She is not. And that’s a really hard thing to come to terms with, regardless of how close we had been.

Having children the same age is what makes it the hardest. I remember sitting beside Carole at the Mom’s Group, holding our brand new babies and learning how to keep them safe, when and how to feed them healthy foods, and how to deal with teething. I remember one time feeling extremely overwhelmed and discouraged. Carole was so reassuring that we could do this–be good mothers to our children.  And then immediately after, telling me that she was expecting again, wanting her children to be close in age. I was still struggling being a mom to one, and I admired her confidence and strength to do it all over again so soon. But Carole knew what she wanted and she was ready to love another.

Today I sat with my oldest, who brought me into Carole’s life and held him tightly when he asked me if I had been crying. Yes, I said. Because I love you so very much. I thought of Carole’s oldest child, who used to play with my oldest. Carole is no longer there to hold her or her brother tightly. Carole is not with her children that she loved so much.  And I am. And my tears return. And that’s okay. Strindberg wrote: Why do people cry when they’re sad?” I continued . . . “Well,” he said, “because sometimes you have to wash the windows of your eyes to see more clearly!”

I see clearly now how very fortunate I am to be alive.

P.S. Cancer sucks. If you feel so inclined, here’s a link to honour Carole: http://www.cancercare.mb.ca

March 19 Addendum: Today’s Facebook Memory from 5 years ago was a note from Carole saying: Hey thanks for the great visit yesterday! It was nice to catch up. C. spent most of the afternoon asking ” where MooMoos” aka Harris…. Bittersweet. They say only the good die young. In Carole’s case, this is 100% true.

Strindberg, A., & Carlson, H.G. (1983) Strindberg: Five Plays. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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Terry Fox: Second Grade Edition

Today was the Terry Fox Run at Harris’ school. This year marks the 35th year since Terry Fox first began his Marathon of Hope and Harris’ school was exceptionally lucky to have Terry’s brother Fred Fox as the guest speaker.

When we were talking about Terry Fox and the Run at dinner last night Harris said that he really liked Terry Fox a lot because he was so brave to run across Canada even though he had cancer and a shark bit off his leg. I asked him if he had watched any videos about Terry Fox in class this year, and he replied no, that he had just remembered the facts from first grade. Aside from the shark attack, I’d say his retention was pretty good for a seven-year old. That speaks to the power of Terry Fox.

Harris in his custom made Marathon of Hope shirt.

Harris in his custom made Marathon of Hope shirt.

Then I asked Harris how much money he would like me to send along with him as a donation. I know his school was suggesting a donation of one dollar per student and I was curious as to what  Harris would say.  He was adamant that the donation should come from his piggy bank, and not from us. When I asked him why, he repeated that  he really liked Terry Fox because he was so brave and that he wanted to give all of the money that was in his piggy bank, which is a pretty decent amount. When I told him that Paul and I would match his donation because we also ‘really liked Terry Fox’, Harris said he wished he had more money to give.

I know Harris is a pretty great guy, but what is particularly interesting to me is that we basically let him do what he wants with his money–there are no rules regarding amounts to be saved or spent or given–and yet he chose to give so freely and generously. I’m really proud. I think sometimes we are so focused on who we want our kids to be that we forget to notice how awesome they already are! 

Terry Fox has always been one of my heroes, but I have to say that today I added another name to my list.

Note: I’ve already written once about Terry Fox and Harris, when he was in Kindergarten. If my original post isn’t suggested at the bottom of the page, (and you want to read it) just use the search function. Cheers!

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Love Wins!

I was wanting to write something eloquent and profound about yesterday’s landmark victory for the United States, but no words could even come close to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s final paragraph which reads:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.


Congratulations friends and neighbours! This is truly a time to celebrate!

I’m so proud and happy for my friends, family, and all others who will directly benefit from this ruling. And to all of us who have witnessed this historic moment, this shift from hope to reality, let this be a reminder that love truly does conquer all. Love wins.


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Are 140 Characters Enough? Social Media as Grief Counsellor

Robin Williams

Robin Williams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Robin Williams died yesterday. Without question it was an unexpected tragedy.

Each time a celebrity dies unexpectedly I am surprised. What surprised me again this time was the number of Facebook tributes with people sharing their personal memories of watching his films, or offering condolences to his wife and family, or just words directly to Mr. Williams. My twitter account is also overrun with tweets about Mr. Williams. What did people do in the days before they had to limit their grief to 140 characters? Why are we so drawn to making statements about tragedies (about celebrities and non-celebrities) on social media?

The news articles no longer run quotes from celebrities, they cite tweets.

Steve Martin’s tweet was exceptionally eloquent:

I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul.

It was both heartbreaking and moving. It was also 140 characters or less. 140 characters to sum up an Academy award winning actor’s life. Perhaps this is not wrong. It just is.

Ben Stiller found it difficult to limit himself to 140 characters:

A tweet cannot begin to describe the hugeness of Robin Williams heart and soul and talent. This is so sad.

And then he went on:

OK, I’ll try. I met him when I was 13 and a huge fan and he was so kind and I watched him be kind to every fan i ever saw him with…

And on . . . Ben Stiller tweeted five more times about Robin Williams. Why?

Why grieve so publicly? Through social media, Mr. Stiller and Mr. Martin are simultaneously sending out condolences to Mr. Williams’ friends and family, making a public statement for the media to print, and also reaching out to their fans. I wonder though: are Mr. Williams’ family and friends scrolling through their feeds searching for the hashtag #RobinWilliams? Are they missing some wonderful words about their husband, father, and friend due to social media? In Ben Stiller’s case, he could arguably send a handwritten card to Mr. Williams’ family with the same sentiments that he tweeted, especially if he couldn’t confine himself to 140 characters. And maybe he did. I’d like to think he did.

But what about the rest of us? What excuse do we have for drowning our sorrows on Facebook and Twitter, each one trying to be more eloquent or sentimental than the last? I am quite certain that Mr. Williams’ family is not reading the Facebook page or Twitter account of Anyone, Anywhere. So why do it? I’m not sure. The only reason I can come up with is that in a strange way, social media functions as a kind of grief counsellor for those people who aren’t personally connected to the star but who want to make their sorrow known. In sharing these memories, a person feels a connection–if not with the person directly, with others who share the same loss. It’s kind of like group therapy. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.

I just feel that Robin Williams deserves more than 140 characters or a Share button. But maybe more words are not necessary.

Peace be with you Mr. Williams. The world mourns your loss.

If you would like to contact me about this post or about anything else you’ve read please email me at: judyamy74@gmail.com or tweet me @JudyAmy74

A Hero of True Courage: Terry Fox

English: Photo of Terry Fox, Canadian cancer f...

English: Photo of Terry Fox, Canadian cancer fund-raiser, during his 1980 “Marathon of Hope” fund-raising run across Canada. Photo taken July 12, 1980 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by Jeremy Gilbert with his Praktika SLR 35 mm camera on Bloor Street East, near entrance to Castle Frank subway station, looking south-east towards Castle Frank Road as Fox heads west along Bloor Street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today was the Terry Fox Run at my son’s school. He has just started Kindergarten this year so his first introduction to Terry Fox was through a video and a run around the schoolyard. When he came home from school, I asked him what he had learned about Terry Fox. His answer made me smile: Terry Fox got his leg cut off because he had alimony and he didn’t like that. Harris then explained to me that alimony was a type of cancer. For the life of me, I cannot figure out what word was used on the video that sounded like alimony.

When I went to tuck Harris in to bed, he had tears in his eyes. When I quizzed him on what was the matter he responded that he “missed Terry Fox.” We had a long conversation about cancer, and although I did my best not to cry, I cried too. My dad, Harris’ grandfather, died of cancer when I was a teenager. Our beloved dog succumbed this summer to the disease. A good friend of mine from University lost her young son who was Harris’ age to cancer not long ago. How could I reassure my son that everything would be okay when deep inside I was full of fears and questions? There’s no easy answer, and I didn’t have an easy answer for Harris either. I was reminded of Terry Fox’s own words: That’s the thing about cancer. I’m not the only one. It happens all the time to people. I decided to focus my discussion with Harris on the basics–I didn’t shy away when he asked what kind of cancer each person had, I offered to bring him to the grave site where my father is buried, I reiterated how brave Terry Fox had been when faced with adversity and that because of him more money than ever is being raised for cancer research.

After Harris went to bed, I got out a couple of my books on Terry Fox and did some more research. I read Terry’s words which reassured me that perhaps I had taken the right tactic with Harris: I broke it down. Get that mile down, get to that sign, get past the corner and around that bend. I didn’t have to answer all of Harris’ questions at once. I just needed to focus on his needs in that moment.

I was in Grade 1 when Terry Fox died. I remember having a special assembly in school about it and not really comprehending the significance. I wasn’t sure if it was a person who had died or a fox. I did know that somehow it was an important moment in time. I just didn’t realize how big that moment was or for how many people. I think Canada’s Prime Minister at the time, Pierre Elliott Trudeau said it best when he addressed the House of Commons: It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life and in the mourning of his death … We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

It’s been over 30 years since Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope, and each fall when I see the schoolchildren running by I can’t help but think of all the promise and hope that Terry Fox gave not only to Canada, but to the world. I am glad that Harris will continue to learn about Terry Fox each year and I hope that, like his mother, his understanding and appreciation of this Canadian hero will evolve and deepen over time.

If you’d like to read more about Terry Fox, I highly recommend the following, especially Douglas Coupland’s book:

Coupland, Douglas. Terry. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2005. Print.




A Hero of True Courage

Dr. Henry Morgentaler died yesterday at age 90. He was the Canadian doctor who helped change abortion laws in Canada. I won’t go into too much detail about Dr. Morgentaler other than to say that  in my opinion he was a hero of true courage. If you’d like to read more about Dr. Morgentaler, I have included some links at the bottom of this post.

My great grandmother died attempting to give herself an abortion. My grandmother and great aunt came home from school at lunchtime to find the door to their house locked. When they got their father from his workshop, he went in to the house, returned to tell the girls; “Your mother is very sick. Go to the neighbours and get some brandy.” During this time, he retrieved my great grandmother from the bathroom and placed her gently into their bed. As well as my great grandfather, my great grandmother left behind two young daughters and a son.

I often wonder if this defining moment in my grandmother’s life transformed the type of person and specifically type of mother she would become.

I am thankful for Dr. Morgentaler’s belief that women should have the power to make responsible decisions and fought to give them the choice that my great grandmother never had.


Further Reading: