30 years…

Grief is a journey we all face at some point in our lives. When you lose a loved one suddenly, whether through disease, an accident or by suicide, you don’t get to say goodbye. You find yourself navigating through uncharted territory, finding your place in the world without them and relying on loved ones left behind to guide you on your grief journey. After losing my father to suicide, I continue to work with loved ones and support groups to help manage triggers which can come to the surface often. I have learned how to cope as they arise. Writing this blog has been a way to get things out of my heart and head with the hope that it may connect others.

Recently, a work colleague lost her husband suddenly, his heart just stopped, and in an instant, she lost her best friend and partner. A cottage neighbour, whom we did not know well, died suddenly from cancer, a few short weeks after being diagnosed. She was in her fifties and too young to leave this earth so soon. For an empath like me, who feels these losses in my heart, my first instinct is to reach out and offer support, to give advice or guidance on how they can process their grief. Yet, I stop short because it’s their grief journey, not mine.

Now that I have lost a parent so suddenly, I find myself wanting to be there for people who have lost a loved one in this way. My life now seems to be cut in two – before Dad died and after Dad died and I’m not the same person I was before. No matter how long it’s been, that feeling of “I can’t believe they are gone” still comes up and the memories of what could have been still arise. There is a certain comfort in community and sharing your grief with others can help. However, your grief is representative of the relationship you had with your loved one and it may live on in a very different way. I have to respect that everyone’s grief journey is different.

Dad and I

As I find myself navigating the next half century of my life, I am also reflecting on other losses, in particular those of my father. Thirty years ago, in July 1991, Dad lost both of his only brothers, one younger and one older. They died 10 days apart, both by sudden, debilitating heart attacks – both in their 50’s. His youngest brother, the baby of the family, died first and he left a wife and two children, a girl and a boy, both young adults. His older brother, died 10 days later, leaving behind 4 children – 3 girls and a boy, also young adults. These men were my uncles and their children, my cousins. They were my fathers’ only brothers – and he lost them both at once.

We were all shocked, saddened and in disbelief over these losses and I grieved for our large family who lost brothers, fathers, husbands and sons. I am certain this gutted my father too, but as was the time, expressing your grief beyond the funeral was not the way. This more than likely triggered his grief from losing his mother, also in her 50’s, when I was just a baby. Stiff upper lip and carry-on seemed to be the mantra, likely a carry-over from their English heritage, where grief was private and quiet.

We attended their funerals, supported our family and then carried on and went back to our lives. I know my parents tried their best to be there for the family members left behind. Yet, as happens with families, things got busy, messy and our families drifted apart. Without our parents to coordinate us all, even with expectations to stay in touch, the cousins scattered. We all went on with building our lives. We kept the fond family memories in our hearts yet we rarely saw each other, save for weddings and funerals over the years, and in some cases, not at all.

My last conversation with my older uncle was at my younger uncle’s funeral and we talked about my dad and his younger brother who had just died. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I recall my uncle being wistful and sad and I remember giving him a hug. I had no idea this would be my last conversation with him. I can’t even imagine my father’s grief on losing his older brother as well, just 10 days later, but I’m certain he held it all in and guarded his own heart from pain and over time, learned to hide it.

My dad died by suicide in May 2016, two months shy of the 25th anniversary of his brothers’ death. Most of my cousins, many of whom I had not seen in years, came to his funeral. I was overwhelmed by their kindness and support. They warmed my heart with shared stories of my father’s impact and kindness over the years, much of which I didn’t know.

As time goes on, I feel guilt… for not being there for my cousins who lost their dads many years before. At just 25 years old, I certainly didn’t consider or try to understand their grief at losing a parent or figure out how to help. Grief was not something that was managed publicly nor did we have guideposts or support groups to help us sort through it.

Maybe I’ve learned a thing or two after thirty years. But for now, when I share my condolences, I have made the step to move on from “sorry for your loss” to “we share your sadness and hold you in all your sorrow.” In the future, it is my hope I can also meet my loved ones and friends where they are in their grief. A well-known support team called “What’s your Grief” shared it best with guidance on how to support those who are grieving and I will use this as a guide. https://whatsyourgrief.com/meet-them-where-theyre-at-in-grief/

I know this is my grief journey and by writing about my dad and my uncles, I acknowledge their place in my life and in my heart and the cumulative loss we experienced when they died. I will remember them on my own terms. Perhaps when we are out of the pandemic, if it’s the right expression for them, the cousins will connect, raise a glass for the lost brothers, the lives they impacted and the extraordinary lives they lived in their time on this earth.

5 years….

Today marks 5 years, when on May 7, 2016, my dad died by suicide. I woke up this morning, for the first time in a while, wondering what his last moments were like. Did he wake up thinking this was it…? his last day on earth? Or was he in so much pain that all he could think about was how it would end? We’ll never know. 

As I reflect on the past 5 years, I am reminded that grief doesn’t end, it just changes. It can’t possibly be 5 years, because it truly does feel like yesterday. The memories of those days come flooding back. The loss of Dad and the nature of his death has had a profound impact on my family and I – we think of him daily and we miss him. We remain focused on the legacy of love that he left us.

Someone said that we weave our past into our future. We hold space for those we’ve lost, while we make space for those who are still with us, or who will come along down the line. We don’t shed the weight of our losses. We are suicide loss survivors and we are healing. We often spend our days dodging suicide triggers. We don’t shake them off and leave them behind us. Instead, we get stronger and we learn to carry them. We are all the better for it. The world is all the better for it. My father is not defined by his mental illness and the nature of his death. There are no easy answers and I owe it to him to look at the bigger picture of his life and his legacy. 

Please don’t think of me as brave and resilient as I share my grief and pain – I know of no other way. I am grateful for the kindness, generosity and caring of family, friends and strangers who share their support and give me the space to heal and to share this story and my journey of grief.  I recently came across a blogger, ironically named Deborah, who lost her father to suicide in 2015, a year before us. She shares her reflections and resources as she navigates this complex, traumatic grief journey and what she expresses aligns to exactly how I feel. She wrote a letter to her dad at the 6-year mark and it brought me to my knees – it expressed so much about how I feel and it’s worth a read. We are members of the same club, one we didn’t choose but that one has changed our path, forever. Yet we can take comfort finding ways to heal and survive this trauma.

https://reflectingoutloud.net/

I miss my father, the source of my convictions and my inspiration. He left us a lifetime of memories. By sharing his life lessons, he succeeded in instilling in me that same sense of commitment and need to be in service of others. He set high standards to strive for what you believe in, to never be afraid to ask or try something new, to love with purpose, to be kind and to make sure you enjoyed life along the way. It was because he wasn’t able to live that full life any longer that I have come to believe is why he decided to move on to another life – free of pain and free of the burdens he carried. Farewell, Papa. You did good. You did real good. We love you.

If you, or someone you know, are in crisis and considering suicide, don’t wait. Call someone who can help or 911. Resources are available here:

Grateful Joyous Moments – V.2020

As we come to the end of this eventful year of 2020, we’re all reflecting on how we dealt with our mutual circumstances as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I found myself reflecting on what I am grateful for as I attempt to find hope and joy in a year of tremendous impact and loss. I also revisited words I wrote and posted on Facebook in 2011 and then again in 2015, on what was known as the “Grateful Joyous Moments” series.

So much has happened since 2015. Despite the fact we are still in a pandemic, I believe I was able to experience many grateful joyous moments: including the promise of a sunrise; the ending of a perfect day as the sun left the sky in a blast of stunning colour; the stillness of a night-sky full of stars; the first snowfall; incredible cottage views all season long; that first morning coffee; that cocktail or glass of red shared over zoom; and most of all, the love and time with my family and friends. I’ve grieved as family and friends left us and experienced the joys of welcoming new little people to our world. I recognized my own vulnerabilities during this time in our lives and most importantly, reinforced my desire and need to be gentle on myself and be kind to others. 

Many of the GJM’s I wrote still apply, even more so now. So, here is the 2015 and 2011 posts revisited…. and finally, posted on my blog. As we reflect on this year that was 2020, what are you grateful for? 

2015 Post – Grateful Joyous Moments – Redoux

“Don’t postpone Joy,” she said, and wished me a beautiful day. Words written 3 years ago by a kind, lovely, warm soul, Maureen, who I mentioned in this note below in 2011. Yesterday, August 19, 2015, her fight came to an end and she received her angel’s wings. She has finally found peace after years of fighting cancer and living the last 47 years on this earth to the fullest.  I am once again reminded of these grateful joyous moments and I have added a new one:

Grateful Joyous Moment #27 – As we share fond memories of our Mo and send her our love, thoughts and prayers, we’re reminded of her infectious laugh, her joy for life, her sense of fun and her wonderfully kind soul. Our good friend lived out her final days in peace, surrounded by love, family and friends in a beautiful hospice. Today we celebrate the happy times as the “Cala” girls and hold these moments close to our hearts. “It’s been a long time from where we began and I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.” Godspeed my friend. xo

2011 – Grateful Joyous Moments 

I am the lord of the dance, said he…

I reconnected with an old friend today. I worked with her many years ago. She is strong, independent, funny and full of Irish spirit.  I am so happy to have connected with her once again. Her positive attitude and demeanour are contagious. And I learned that she’s still fighting cancer that has plagued her many years and as a result, she has chosen to live every day of her life with gratefulness and courage.

And I told her that I had taken the same attitude about life recently. This past fall, after learning that my friend’s son, Keaton, was struggling in his final days with cancer, I gave myself a pledge to enjoy and chronicle one Grateful Joyous Moment, each and every day.

Besides re-connecting with my friend today, I had a dream this week, where I shared a huge, giant chocolate bar with Keaton. I don’t normally remember my dreams, or take much stock in them, but this dream stuck with me, simply because it made me happy.  And I couldn’t seem to get the song, Lord of the Dance, out of my head. Not only is it an old Irish song, but it was sung by a children’s choir as the processional song at Keaton’s funeral. 

I mentioned to her that I’ve been toying with a blog. Yet, even today, I still struggle with what I want to share and what purpose it will serve. For now, I’ll let my Facebook friends decide and I will start with some old material. So, here they are, Grateful Joyous Moments, all in one place. Maybe it’s the start of a blog, I don’t know yet. But for now, I remain, grateful.

Grateful Joyous Moment #26. Today, we will dress in our funky, fun clothes as we say goodbye and celebrate Keaton’s life. We will take comfort in the joy you gave us in your short time here, how you taught us to appreciate the little things in life, as you touched our hearts and gave us your love. We’ll watch for those rainbows and shooting stars you send our way, little man, and we’ll remember.

Grateful Joyous Moment#25: Outdoor delights. Discovering another park in a city I’ve lived in for almost 20 years at my very first Tread Powerfully offroad powerwalking class this morning. Kerncliff Park on Kerns Road. A wonderful, serene oasis of winding trails; tough, steep hills; short, wooden bridges over a small stream; tall trees and a magnificent view. Took my breath away. Literally and figuratively…

GJM#24(Quote): “I’ve learned, through all the ups and downs, that while gratefulness is not a panacea for everything that ails us, it does make life easier. That doesn’t mean I always walk around brimming with joy. But on the days I see the glass as half full, the people around me seem happier, and I’m happier and more pleasant to be around, too. And when I fall from grace, as we all do,”…I continue to be grateful.

Grateful Joyous Moment #23: The tree. When my teenager still looks in awe and wonder as she delights in the sights, memories, and the fresh fragrance of our Christmas tree, just decorated with love.

And they will continue…Grateful Joyous Moment #22a: The early winter sky late last night was clear, bright and chock full of stars. The air: crisp, cool and amazingly still. And I swear I saw a special shooting star blaze its trail across the sky. And it gave me an overwhelming sense of peace.

Grateful Joyous Moment #22: Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons. I did so this morning as I powerwalked with the TP team by the lake. The water: calm and reassuring. The company: supportive and comforting. The sunrise: colourful, remarkable and inspiring.

Grateful Joyous Moment #21: Enjoyed the little things today, including a private laugh I shared with my daughter. Because one day, I may look back and realize these were the big things.

Grateful Joyous Moment #20: Some days when there isn’t a song in my heart, I will sing anyway. Loud and clear and strong and full of faith. And I will choose hope.

Grateful Joyous Moment #19: Random Acts of Kindness. When I saw the shocked, delighted look on the face of the driver behind me after I paid for his coffee in the drive thru. And the smile I carried with me throughout the day as a result.

Grateful Joyous Moment #18. That I can turn up the volume on the stereo to a favourite song and dance joyously around the room as I sing at the top of my lungs. It’s a beautiful day!

 (reference to U2’s song Beautiful Day)

Grateful Joyous Moment #17: Goodbye kisses. Dropping your daughter off for an activity because she is now old enough to head into the venue herself. And stopping her just before she opens the car door to remind her you’d like a goodbye kiss. Even if she thinks it’s not cool, it means the world to her mom.

Greatful Joyous Moment #16: First snowfall. Starts late in the evening, big flakes falling silently & slowly as they hit the ground. In the morning, you peer out the window & are delighted to find a white blanket of snow covering the trees, the grass & your garden. Snow is still falling gently, slowly. You run outside, raise your head to catch that first flake on your tongue. Winter in Canada. Wouldn’t have it any other way. 

This one was written by my friend, KD. Well let me tell you about Grateful Joyous Moment #15. Your colleague gives you a box of hand me downs for your daughter. You bring the box home to open it and find that it is jam packed full of Lululemon, Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle and TNA clothes!!!!

Grateful Joyous Moment #14: Having dental work done and only being able to eat soft foods and liquids (this is not the joyous part… stay with me). And discovering a batch of mom’s homemade turkey soup in the freezer. Just enough to fit into a large mug. Goodness and love all rolled into one cup of soup.

Grateful Joyous Moment#13: Christmas traditions. Be it a yearly homemade calendar, a special photo album, Christmas jammies or slippers, or the big bright orange in the bottom of a stocking. The joy in the eyes of the recipient, and the comfort of the tradition itself is treasured most of all.

Grateful Joyous Moment #12: When, out of the blue, you hear from a treasured old friend, who brightens your day by calling just to say “hi, thought about you today” and you have this urge to pay it forward. So you call another friend, and so on and so on. And in doing so, you realize how lucky you are that you have so many wonderful people in your life.

Grateful Joyous Moment #11: The sweetness of that first clementine of the season. As soon as I peel its pebbled skin, tear each piece off section by section, and enjoy its juicy goodness, I am grateful that all the treats and traditions of Christmas are mine to enjoy and savour.

Grateful Joyous Moment#10: Healthy: Because I am in good health and can enjoy a leisurely 1k walk around the block. Safe: Because I can take that walk in the early pre-dawn darkness and feel utterly safe from harm. Lucky: Because I can return to my warm cosy home and enjoy a hearty breakfast with my child.

Grateful Joyous Moment#9: When out of blue on a Sunday afternoon, my daughter decides to bake homemade chocolate chip cookies. Thrilled that she wants to hone her baking skills and that shortly, I’ll be the recipient of her baking inspiration.

Grateful Joyous Moment#8: Naps. Whether they be 20 minute cat naps; deliciously decadent afternoon naps; nodding off in a chair in front of a crackling fire, wrapped in a cozy blanket as you attempt to read one more chapter of that treasured book on a cold snowy day nap; or a child’s car-ride nap, head bobbing along as you wonder how they can possibly sleep in that position. In any form, naps are highly underrated.. 

Grateful Joyous Moment #7: That unspoken moment when the person you are with makes you laugh at something outrageously funny. You can’t even look at each other without cracking up laughing. It brings tears to your eyes and your stomach hurts from laughing so hard. And each time you remember it, a smile crosses your lips.

Grateful Joyous Moment #6: Chocolate. In any form. Whether it be that small square you let sit on your tongue as it melts. The chocolate martini with the hershey kiss at the bottom of the glass waiting to be devoured as you slowly sip the cool, refreshing chocolately drink. Or that first bite of a warm brownie fresh out of the oven. You get the idea. Pure. Joy.

Grateful Joyous Moment#5: When you’re driving alone in your car and a favourite rock tune comes on. You know the one. With the guitar riff, drum solo and words to live by. And you crank it up, sing at the top of your lungs and give a big smile and wave to the dude who pulls up beside you at the stop light.

Grateful Joyous Moment #4: When your baby (now a teenager) who has been gone for a week, comes up to you and says “I really missed you mommy”. Me too love, me too.

Grateful Joyous Moment #3: Sitting for a moment, lost in thought, stressing about the day ahead, and suddenly staring into the face of your furry dog, who sets his face upon your lap and gives you a look of utter happiness, unconditional love and devotion.

Grateful Joyous Moment #2 – Waking up early, when all is quiet and those in my world are still fast asleep, and peering out the window just in time to view a magnificent sunrise of muted lavenders, blues and oranges and for a brief moment, bliss.

Grateful Joyous Moment #1 – Warming my hands as I sip a hot mug of freshly roasted fair trade coffee, after a brisk walk on this crisp foggy, fall day, made from coffee beans delivered in person from Hornby Island, BC.

Pivot….really!!??!! The same, but different. My AFP Congress experience.

Last we left this story, in January 2019, I wrote about the role of pivoting and why it was so important to my career change. I shared my very first blog post and applied current state to my experience with kick boxing, where being able to pivot and not get punched was even more important. Proof of this post can be found here: https://taximom03.wordpress.com/2019/01/30/pivot-pivot-pivot/

Now, along with uncertain, unprecedented, social distancing, lockdown, speaking moistly and trying times, the word pivot has become one of the words we will forever associate with the COVID-19 pandemic. None of us could have predicted what 2020 would be like and what we’re still living with now. I had no idea that a word I used to describe my story in 2019 would become an overused buzz word in 2020. I’d like to reconsider using the urban dictionary version, also popularized by a meme from the tv show Friends, in reference to moving, defined as “the precise way to bring a couch up a flight of stairs.”

As I embark on the next phase of my career journey into the fundraising world, it all feels the same, but different and we do indeed need to pivot. Amy Davies, in her book, A Spark in the Dark, reminds us that we are all in a reorg world. She wonders “how do you build a rewarding and meaningful career in an ever-changing landscape?” I doubt when she wrote this book, she was thinking the ever changing landscape would be a pandemic! Yet her lessons apply and I know many are updating their plan and career path as they deal with the changes this pandemic has brought. Everyone is dealing with something and doing their best as we rise to defeat this pandemic, despite the real fact this will have an effect on how we work and live for many years to come.

Personally, admittedly, like everyone at the moment, my mental health has taken a toll and it is strange times indeed.

I signed up to attend my 3rd AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) Toronto Congress, held on Nov 23-25, 2020. In deciding to attend a fundraising industry virtual conference, I challenged myself to step out of my pandemic funk and take a more deliberate approach. Cringe if you will, but I pivoted, for just a moment. Appropriately called #NotCongress – AFP Congress was billed as something new, different and evolving! I signed up right away during the “early-bird” registration and despite being overwhelmed with all things virtual, I was excited to attend again and I was confident the AFP could pull it off.

As many of my friends, family and colleagues have been doing, I have attended my share of virtual events this year. I have lost count of the number of virtual events I signed up for and attended, or those I didn’t attend, with well-intentioned plans of “watching the recording” later, which I rarely did. At one point, I stopped signing up and attending events because I was clearly “zoom-fatigued” – a self-diagnosis, but one that seems to be common during these times of pandemic life.

I was also involved in producing three virtual events this year! All three were delivered to large audiences, with multiple speakers, engaged stakeholders and high expectations from attendees. My “clipboard Deb” event mindset kicked-in and I was truly building the plane while flying it. I learned what it took to run a successful virtual event reliant not just on people and processes, but on technology and the internet! Having been behind the scenes for these events and knowing the next level team effort required to pull them off, I decided that I would be respectful of my fellow AFP colleagues. I would show up and be engaged and attentive. They were working hard to curate an event with top quality content showcasing the work of industry colleagues and I owed it to them and myself to show up.

In 2018, I attended my very first Congress as a new fundraiser. Pre-conference prep for an in-person event involved determining accommodations, transportation, what to wear as well as planning the sessions I would attend. This time, I had 2 years of fundraising experience behind me, with lots to learn and a new lens and perspective. (Spoiler alert – I will be starting a new fundraising role in December – more to come). I had no commute and no wardrobe decisions to make. The #NotCongress team made my pre-planning easy and shipped a fantastic virtual swag bag to my home which included useful swag and an event notebook – a handy tool to help me plan my day and choose my sessions. I blocked my calendar and told family in my household that I was “attending an event” and that I would be in my home office for most of the 3 days. I connected with other colleagues and friends in the sector to find out who would be there.

AFP rose to the task of creating an inspiring digital event in the era of “this is how we’ve always done it!” and it was a resounding success! This year, we’ve been asked to confront our privilege, acknowledge our differences and collective experiences. AFP succeeded in helping 1,400 fundraisers from across Canada find our truth and they did so in a way that was just right.

This event was incredible! Well organized, filled with thought provoking sessions, main plenary “breaks”, and a few fun events including a cooking class, bingo and trivia. There were speed networking opportunities in breakout rooms where we were mentored and advised by the AFP Toronto Executive. There were chances to network and laugh and chat. The speakers were authentic and genuine and I was once again inspired by their sessions. I had virtual breakfast and coffee with a few fundraising friends, often “sat” with them as we participated in the same session by engaging on social media. I networked with new people via the attendee section of the platform. Many of the presenters used the chat feature to engage participants and I often found I was in the same session as friends. All virtual, of course. During every session I was in awe of the dedication, wisdom and passion of these fellow fundraisers.

The event started with a fantastic open plenary and we were challenged to consider our own unconscious bias, the power of change and to create human connection. During a session about death, grief and legacy giving, I had a good cry when I was gently reminded why I joined this sector in the first place. I was in awe as the Women of Fundraising shared their truth in an authentic and transparent discussion. I considered my own truth and challenged my inherent biases in the world of inclusivity. On the last day, I attended back-to-back sessions delivered by two of my favourite fundraisers and heard final words in the form of poetry in the closing plenary. There were prizes for engagement and though I didn’t win a prize, I was proud to place in the top 5.

I left the event energized and hopeful for the future of our profession because of the support and help I received from our community of fundraisers. I am thankful for the dedication of the AFP team, the speakers, and most of all to the AFP Toronto chapter for their bravery in deciding to go forward with this event. I am grateful for the wonderful friends and mentors I have met in the sector and for the ones I met this week.

If you’ve attended a virtual conference recently, you’ll know that feeling you get when you realize it’s over and instead of hugging your friends, you’re alone in your home office as you click “leave meeting.” I don’t like that feeling but it will have to do for now because I am excited about the growth and learning I experienced. I didn’t get to hug my friends, raise a glass, or break bread this year, and hope that we all get to see each in person next year. Either way, I will continue to use the word pivot in my vernacular. I remain energized about the possibilities ahead and will share news soon about where I’m landing next …watch this space for more about my journey.

Want to read more? Learn about my career journey from the corporate to nonprofit/charity sector here:
CERIC Careering Magazine
https://ceric.ca/2019/05/client-side-its-a-small-world-after-all-reflections-on-a-career-coaching-journey/

AFP Toronto Blog

Pivot, pivot, pivot!

I can hear the words of my fitness trainer now, loud and clear, as I learned the kick-boxing moves in my weekly fitness class. Pivot, pivot, pivot! Words that resonate more now than they did in late 2012 when I was in the midst of learning the moves. Pivoting in the context of kick-boxing was the hardest lesson to learn.  It meant:

  • paying attention to and trusting the voice of your instructor
  • attempting to move your feet the right way when she called out instructions
  • keeping your hands in position, while held tightly in boxing gloves
  • not crashing into your fellow kickboxing friends

Yet, somehow I mastered it without falling down. Though kickboxing is now a distant memory due to injury, the lessons and the skills have not been forgotten. 

And so, as I post this first ever blog entry, I find myself pivoting once again. Last fall, I left my extensive, successful 30-year career in corporate sales behind to begin a new journey in the not for profit sector, specifically in a fundraising role. I am pursuing a new career that more closely aligns to my values of moral fulfillment, honesty and integrity. The search has been ongoing and I’m close to finding the right fit. I’ve chronicled the start of that journey on LinkedIn – a post that went slightly viral and reaffirmed that I am in the right place. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/disrupting-philanthropytrust-process-debra-thompson/

So, why start a blog now? Well, it’s been something I have dreamed about, on paper, for years. I’ve had the name picked out, have posted some “test” content on Facebook and have listened to friends and family suggestions that I start a blog. When I wrote my fathers’ eulogy in May 2016, following his death by suicide, I thought long and hard again about the blog. But, life got in the way and my grief was too raw to write anything other than the musings of a grieving daughter. (pausing to give you a moment to breathe after the gasp I am sure you just made if you didn’t already know how my father died.)

So, here is the first post of TaxiMom, Life in the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane. More about why I chose this title, much to my daughter’s dismay, will come in a future post which will include photos and more about me.

What pushed me to write this blog today? I have 3 reasons….

  • I have a bit of time on my hands while I find the right job
  • I am learning more about the nuances of fundraising in my job search
  • Today, January 30, 2019 is “Bell Let’s Talk” day 

This will be the 3rdJanuary without my dad and hence the 3rdtime I’ve heard and internalized why we need to listen and talk more about mental health and remove the stigma. For the last 2 years, I’ve joined the masses and posted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and texted to my heart’s content to raise money and support Bell’s quest for mental health awareness. I’m sure I was a big contributor to the over $93 million raised since 2010. I did this again today. 

I have also been volunteering with a suicide survivor-loss support group, called Heartache to Hope (H2H), discovered shortly after my father’s death, via an article in the local Burlington Post. For the record, there are few support groups of this nature who address the traumatic nature of suicide grief and it’s a very different kind of grief in many ways. In summer of 2016, I got in touch with the Executive Director and joined their “open” support group – held on the 4thMonday of every month, which involved opening up to other survivors of suicide loss, some new like me, others whose loss had happened years before. In late 2017, I wholeheartedly cracked open my grief by signing for a 12 week “closed” support group with H2H. Each week, eight of us survivors, (members of a club we didn’t want to belong to or didn’t choose to join), shared our mutual grief and challenges as we learned ways to cope with the traumatic loss of our loved ones by suicide. In November 2018, I met more members of this club as I participated on a panel with a group of suicide loss survivors in recognition of International Survivors of Suicide loss day. Recently, I have been working with the Executive Director and uncovering opportunities to raise funds for this great organization and the work they do to support those who are grieving. I am considering a peer to peer support role as well. Interaction with this group has required the delicate elements of pivoting. More on how they have helped me in future blog posts. 

Combined with my networking activities around finding a career in fundraising, I have learned about how organizations use funds collected from donors, about donor fatigue and most recently about donor love. So, I took time to check out the Bell Let’s Talk website, which is chock-full of local mental health initiatives they have funded. Many small and medium sized organizations across Canada are benefiting from the Bell Community Fund. It provides grants in the range of $5,000 to $25,000 to projects that improve access to mental health care, supports and services for people in Canada.

I’m not trying to start a big debate about fundraising in my first blog post but have to address the elephant in the room. Over time, Bell has been criticized in the media and according to one article I read, “in an era of donor fatigue and one-hit wonder online campaigns, BCE Inc.’s annual corporate social responsibility effort continues to succeed despite criticism from skeptics who dislike attaching mental health fundraising to advertising for a multi-billion-dollar company.” (Emily Jackson, Financial Post, Feb 2, 2018) https://business.financialpost.com/telecom/how-bell-lets-talk-became-a-triple-win-for-bce-consumers-and-the-mental-health-cause

I think what Bell is doing is commendable and has succeeded in raising awareness for mental health and the importance of changing the view. I feel optimistic.

In my father’s case, it pains me to think of his journey and how these funds might have benefited his own mental health. Yet, I can’t beat myself up about thinking if he’d had these services, he’d still be with us. As I take specific actions to pursue a career in the not for profit industry and learn more about what fundraising means, where the money really goes and who is doing good work, Bell Let’s Talk day has become more bittersweet. It makes me angry and reminds me that my dad is gone and we still have work to do. I miss him every day. 

While the stigma surrounding mental health is slowly lifting and awareness has increased, more action is needed. Actions by our gov’t and non-profits to provide funding and support for those with mental health issues – to get them the right help they need, how they need it and when they need it. 

My dad was 76 years old when he died, so on the bubble of being elderly. He retired at age 50 and was happily retired, enjoying life with my mom by his side. His demeanour changed slowly in the last 4 years of his life and he became depressed and despondent. I stepped in to become his advocate and yet we stumbled along through the system. His family doctor tried to help. He had several stays in the psychiatric ward of a brand-new hospital and each time we admitted him he was treated like a new patient, reassessed, re-evaluated and sent home with a new cocktail of meds from a new doctor. We had some help via a Geriatric Psychiatry program through St Joe’s but about a month before he died, they closed his case. He was a private man with a sense of pride and didn’t want psychiatrists coming to his house nor did he want to “talk” about what he was experiencing. He was mortified when the young caseworker suggested a meeting at the local Tim Hortons to get him out of the house: “what will people say if they see me having coffee with a young woman, someone who is not my wife?”

It appeared that the different health systems he was involved with did not talk to each other. I was often frustrated trying to get them to share information and collaborate. They could not seem to get him the right help he needed and it felt like they just gave up on him. There is just not enough help for people like my dad who didn’t want to burden his family or talk because the demons in his head were shouting louder than he could manage. I think he would be upset with me that I’m sharing his story, yet I do so because it needs to be said. Despite the trauma our family experienced as a result of his death, I bounce between relief that he is at peace and wonder if I will someday experience the same debilitating bout with mental illness. I can only hope there will be help when and if I need it. 

My long answer on this subject and the real pivot is that more needs to be done and whether we like it or not, the funding and visibility is going to come from large organizations like Bell who rally to a cause and allow us to open up and tell our story. Today, I attended an inspiring, enlightening session delivered by Dan Pallotta, the author of “Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential,” where he talked of charity overhead, the need to realign fundraising as a way to build civic engagement and the need to transform the way the donating public thinks about charity and change. #BellLetsTalk has served to unite community and country together for a cause. Mental illness affects 1 in 5 Canadians and it’s time to give it the focus it deserves. This includes programs that meet the specific needs of patients, as well as overall advocacy and support for the families and friends who suffer as well as more social workers, psychiatrists, mental health practitioners, hospitals and care workers who can help. 

I’ll be advocating as best I can to keep this topic front and centre. I’ll continue to pivot. This pivot will be the hardest one of all for me. It’s a new direction. I am still figuring out which way to turn and I will more than likely crash into something or someone. Be patient with me and stay tuned….