A few nights ago, Jaime was flipping through the channels, as she often does. She came upon a movie, a good one that we had seen before and enjoyed, that had just started. We began watching it. After a bit, an emotional scene played. As it did, I suddenly, involuntarily, let out a loud sigh. She turned and looked at me. She knew.
“Are you ok?”
I nodded quickly.
I’ve had a lot of moments like this in the past six months. Too many and too often to count, really. Anything can trigger it. A movie, TV show, book, poem, song, picture. Something someone says. A place I drive by. It almost seems like I discover a new one every day.
A ladybug? Absolutely.
A coupon for a “Baconator?” You bet.
There are just so many memories.
When Ashleen died, my memory became a minefield. At first, it seemed as though my sweet memories had turned to poison; the sweeter the memory, the more I hurt. I’m so fortunate that I have Jaime. She supported me even as she mourned her loss along with me. Mairi was a huge comfort as well. I got a lot of love and support from family and friends. I talked with my therapist. I healed a little. The initial intensity of my feelings had subsided somewhat.
Still, it hurt so much, and I was so sad.
Part of me wished that I could just forget, so that the pain would go away. Another part worried that the pain would make me numb, or worse, callous.
What to do…
When I was growing up, one of the “lessons” that life taught me was that having feelings made me vulnerable. Virtually everyone I loved hurt me. I built walls to protect myself. I devoted myself to certain routines. I learned to hide. I became emotionally distant from my family. I was aloof. I didn’t love myself. I didn’t want to love anyone else.
Then came Ashleen. I loved her instantly, which was terrifying. I didn’t know what to do with that love. I wanted her to know me, to know that I was a good person and to be proud that she was my daughter. Loving her set me on a different path. It was a difficult path, but a good one. It led me to Jaime, the best and strongest person I have ever known.
Jaime could not, would not, accept me thinking less of myself. Jaime was (still is) an irresistible force. From her, I learned that life doesn’t change who we are. She taught me what love is. If it’s true that only love can break your heart, Jaime showed me that it’s worth the risk.
Ashleen was a beautiful person. I could spend a lot of words describing her and telling stories of her spirit, her wit, her generosity, her depth, her wonderful Ashleen-ness, and I’d only be scratching the surface. What I will say here and now is that Ashleen had a big heart. She had a lot of love, and she was courageous enough to feel her feelings, no matter how big. She was a joy to be around. I’m so lucky to have had the time I had with her. I would never give that up.
So, even though it hurt, I felt my feelings. I didn’t try to suppress or limit myself. Jaime and I talked and shared our feelings. A lot. My heart started opening up.
In March, Jaime and I were eating at Boston Pizza. We ordered a bunch of different appetizers. One of the dishes had green onions on top, which Jaime loves and I hate. Seeing them reminded me of a lovely day years ago. We were at Jaime’s grandfather’s place, out in his big, beautiful yard with the girls. There were chives growing there. The girls were eating them, having fun. Then Jaime says to them, “You know, dad hates the smell of onions. You girls should go over and give him a bunch of kisses.” So, they chased me all over the yard, laughing hysterically the whole time, until they caught me and smothered me with the smelliest, most disgustingly wonderful kisses. Sitting in the restaurant, remembering that day, gave me a little pang of sadness, but it also made me smile. Jaime and I talked about it and laughed.
That’s such a great memory. It hasn’t changed. I haven’t changed. Yes, I’ve experienced a painful loss. I’ve been deeply affected. My perspective has changed. But I’m still me.
I loved Ashleen so very much. There were times when I was hurt by that love. When she died, it hurt more than anything ever had. Still, I would rather have love in my life and feel pain than to not, and feel nothing.
I’m not sorry that I loved her.
Jaime and I have continued working through our feelings together. We’ve done things together to remember Ashleen. We’ve done our best to honour her memory, and we will do more.
We’ve also continued living and enjoying our lives. I believe that by doing so, we honour her as well. I don’t think Ashleen would be happy at the thought of us being miserable. The "moment" Jaime and I had when we were watching the movie the other day? It was a moment. It passed. We continued watching the movie. We enjoyed it.
Today, July 17, 2021, would have been Ashleen’s 27th birthday. In a year of painful firsts, it will be the first of her birthdays since she died. We will think of her and remember her. It’s also Jaime’s brother’s birthday, and we’re going to be spending part of the day with him. Mairi and her husband will be with us. It’s good that we can be together, and to celebrate something, too.
As with a lot of things, I’ve found that it’s important to achieve some kind of balance in dealing with my grief. I’ve had grief counselling, and I’ve examined loss from a clinical perspective as well as an emotional one. I’m learning to feel my feelings without being consumed by sadness, to appreciate my memories of Ashleen for what they are now. Recently, someone offered me condolences, and said, “I hope you find beauty in her memory.” Music is a big part of my life, as well as a connection between me and Jaime, as well as both girls. Great guitarists work to develop calluses so that they can make beautiful music. I will wring beauty, be it joy or sorrow, from my memories of Ashleen. It will be like music; sweet, sad, beautiful music.
Years ago, when Ashleen took voice lessons, she sang “Tiny Dancer” for her recital. She was a wonderful singer. It’s a great song. I think she would have loved this video; probably not the inclusion of Marilyn Manson, but she would have thought the snake was cool.
Jaime taught Ashleen to sing the chorus to this song, and she surprised me one day when I came home from work. I was impressed, and I loved it.
This sad, beautiful song by one of my favourite bands, was one of many I thought of in the immediate aftermath of Ashleen’s death. Elton John plays piano and sings on it.