Dreaming and grieving

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I never used to remember my dreams.

In the last few years, though, they have been more vivid, and more of them have stuck with me after I awake. Sometimes these dreams are a bizarre mash-up of things that I’m thinking about, and I don’t read too much into them. Others are about things that I fear and are a little too realistic, leaving me feeling tired and upset when I wake up. Thankfully these are relatively rare.

And occasionally I have dreams that are lovely at the time and heart-wrenching afterward, because they are about friends that I have lost from Sanctuary or The Dale. I’ll dream that these friends are alive and well, and I’m so happy to see them. Then I wake up and realize that they are still gone. These dreams are hard, but they also give me hope. They give me a glimpse of how wonderful it will be to see my friends in the Kingdom, when death is put to death once and for all.

The most vivid of these dreams occurred quite a while ago, but it frequently comes to mind, especially now that we at The Dale are in another season of grief.

In this dream I was standing in the parking lot at Sanctuary chatting with a group of people. Then Terra walked up, a woman around my age who died the day before my birthday, 4 years ago. In real life I had told her that I hoped to do outreach with her one day, knowing that she had been engaged in street outreach at one point.

In the dream she told us that there had been a mistake, and that it wasn’t her that had died that day. She had moved a few hours away, made a major life turn-around, and had been working at a community center. She looked SO healthy, and SO happy. She had just come back to Sanctuary to tell us that she was doing great.

The next thing I knew, there were a whole bunch of people in the parking lot who [we thought] had died… Iggy, Mark, Fred, Cliff. It was the most beautiful thing. Then we casually parted ways, knowing that we’d be seeing more of each other soon.

Waking up from that dream was the saddest thing. But like I said, it also gives me hope.

I’ve been thinking a lot about grieving, and how to do it well when there’s sometimes no time to breathe between deaths. I think that these dreams are a way that my subconscious is helping me to process the deaths of my friends, and are therefore a means of grace.

So, when these dreams come I will receive them as bitter sweet gifts; reminders to keep on grieving and hoping.

 

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John

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This week has been a tough one. Just days after having Nicole’s death confirmed, we learned that our friend John had also died.

John was a genuine kind of guy. A couple of years ago he was quite a constant presence at The Dale. He was going through a very difficult time, and would come into our Monday drop-in to talk things out. He was very open about the depth of his pain, and also about his appreciation of our community. He and his partner at the time were known to describe The Dale as a place to come and “get your calm on”. This made and makes me really happy.

Over the last few years John had been doing better, and we didn’t see him quite so much. When I did see him on the street he would always stop, ask how I was, beam his smile at me, and when we were parting ways he would almost always say, “take it eeeeeeasy.” He had a way of making me feel that taking it easy may actually be possible… If he could, then I could too.

I’m really going to miss seeing John around the neighbourhood. And I’m glad that he was able to get out to the east coast to be with his family before he passed away.

John, may you deeply enjoy taking it eeeeeeasy, from now on.

 

 

Nicole

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Nicole was special.

The first time I met her was at our Wednesday morning art and breakfast drop in a few years ago. She sat in the corner, quietly creating beautiful pen and marker drawings. She would eat breakfast, continue drawing, and then slip out. It took a number of weeks before we had a conversation, and even then it was short. It was soon obvious to me that Nicole was a woman of deep intelligence, courage, creativity, and carefully hidden pain.

Over the months Nicole gradually opened herself up, sharing some of that hidden pain with us. She also shared her art, her entrepreneurial dreams, and her incredible smile. Even when she was struggling mightily, she would look me in the eye and ask how I was doing.

Nicole and her partner came up to camp with The Dale last fall. They were newly dating, and it was very sweet to see them caring tenderly for one another. Nicole worked tirelessly on a big jigsaw puzzle and delighted in its completion, even though a few pieces were missing. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a beautiful result of a joyful communal effort.

For the last number of months Nicole and her partner have been homeless. This was a massive source of stress for Nicole. She had a number of treasured possessions that she asked us to keep safe for her, including a large, beautiful painting of Paris that she dreamed of hanging in her new place. She also asked me to keep a small vile of a loved one’s ashes safe for her, and I still have it in a special corner of my wallet.

Every death at The Dale makes me sad, but Nicole’s death also makes me angry. While there were a huge number of stressors in her life, homelessness did not need to be one of them. And from the outside looking in, it seemed that homelessness was the final straw for her. She had a huge network of people from various community organizations who loved her and were seeking out a safe place for her live. And the reality of the affordable housing situation in Toronto is such that she was left waiting and hoping for something that may not have materialized for another number of months. This is wrong. This city should not have homeless deaths. Full stop.

Nicole, you are very very missed and very very loved. Thank you for sharing your life with us. Know that we’ll keep advocating for a solution to the needless homelessness that you experienced. Rest well, friend.

Super not

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At The Dale we talk a lot about being a community where everyone is acknowledged as being a person with gifts to give as well as areas of struggle. When explaining this to people who are just learning about the Dale, we are very clear that this applies to those of us who hold positions of leadership. But if you hang out with us long enough, you’ll learn that the last statement goes without saying.

For example, I have a pretty bad memory. And the community knows it.

I like to blame it on the memorize-and-forget style of learning that I picked up during my undergrad degree (I’ve forgotten pretty much everything I ever knew about biology, chemistry and definitely physics). Or I blame it on genetics–a family trait that my Dad calls “benevolent amnesia”. But the fact remains, I often have the memory of a goldfish.

Folks in the community have adapted to my poor memory, and will call me up to remind me of things. Last summer I was sitting in a park in Nova Scotia when a community member called to remind me to cancel our Second Harvest delivery for the week. Another friend, for whom I run errands, put “memory enhancer” at the top of his shopping list. Concerned, I asked if he’s been forgetting things…and he said “no, that’s for you!” Ha.

This may seem like a silly example, but my inability to keep track of things without writing them down is, among my other areas of struggle, a very constant (and sometimes embarassing) reminder that I am anything but super human. I’m super NOT.  As a people-pleaser who always wants to do the right thing by everybody, it kind of kills me that I drop the ball regularly. And I love that my community and fellow staff members are patient with me, and help me out.

We all have gifts to give, and areas of struggle. Wait, did I already say that? 😉

The spice of life

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If variety is the spice of life, yesterday was a flavourful day!

We met in the morning to do some admin work at our new “office”, the kitchen of a baptist church in Chinatown that has graciously offered us space, access to wifi, and a coffee maker 🙂 We talked through some logistics, answered emails, and wrote letters to members of our support team.

Next on the docket was a recording session for “The Noisy Jesus Band”, a group of musicians from The Dale who help lead worship on Sundays. A generous friend of one of the community musicians has supplied some equipment that makes recording possible, and so The NJB got down to work!

After a quick lunch-on-the-go, Meagan, Erinn and I then journeyed to the apartment of a community member who struggles with hoarding. This friend had been talking about having us come to help clean for quite a while now, and this week took the vulnerable plunge to have us over. It was saddening to see the conditions in which our friend lives, but a privilege to be invited in. Our friend played upbeat music and told us stories while we began the process of cleaning up.

After saying goodbye to our friend, I popped by the community garden to do some weeding in The Dale’s plot. The dill, kale and parsley that we planted as seeds are sprouting up nicely, and our basil, tomato, rosemary, oregano and mint plants are doing well too. I connected with another gardener who was curious about who we are and what we do. I gave him our info, and he said he’ll considering joining us for a drop-in or church service with his daughter sometime soon.

On my way through one of the many Parkdale parkettes, I ran into Marlene, a dear community member who was going to feed the birds. She stopped for a little chat and a hug. Marlene makes my heart smile.

My final stop was the apartment of a community member who is currently in the ICU at St. Jo’s. This friend is the proud and loving owner of six cats and a dog, and a few of us at The Dale are taking turns caring for these critters. Yesterday was my turn. I’m sad for these little dudes, as they miss their mom, and grateful that we were able to gain access to her place in order to help care for them.

So yeah. That was our day. Just another day at The Dale.

I am grateful for the generosity of our many supporters, and the person who donated that recording equipment. I am grateful for the way our friends let us into the vulnerable spaces of their lives, and that we receive such care from the community at the same time. And I’m grateful for new growth sprouting from the good earth, and new connections that remind me of the that saying my dad instilled in me: “there’s no such thing as strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet!”

changes

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There’s been a lot going on lately, and lots of changes. Some of these changes have been really good, some have been really sad, and some have been hard, simply because change (even when it’s good) can be hard.

One of the very sad things is that Erinn’s dear mom, Elaine Grant, passed away on May 22nd. Elaine was wonderful, and was a hugely important part of Erinn’s life and the life of The Dale (she was a supporter in every sense of the word, and was prayed for every single Sunday by folks at our church service). Things were very hard for Elaine for many years, and she was still an incredibly grateful, generous and caring woman of faith. Her absence is keenly felt by Erinn, and the rest of her family and friends (of which there are many).

One of the good changes is that Meagan Gillard joined us on staff at The Dale on April 18! Meagan is wonderful- she’s calm under pressure, intuitive and efficient about things that need to be done, and keeps us laughing with her witty one-liners. While it’s a big adjustment for her, and for me and Erinn, we are glad that she’s part of our little team 🙂 I am especially grateful for the timing of Meagan’s arrival; her start date fell a month before Elaine’s death, which meant that she had a bit of time to get settled before becoming my right hand lady for a couple of weeks while Erinn was off. Meagan totally rose to the occasion, and I know those weeks were far more manageable because of her steady, kind presence.

Another of the changes is that we need to leave the space at 201 Cowan that we have been using for our Wednesday Art/breakfast drop in, and our church service on Sundays by July 1st. This space was probably the closest thing to a “home base” that the Dale has had over the last few years, so the loss of this space has been hard. However, we will still be meeting in the building on Sundays, in the main sanctuary rather than a classroom. And we are 90% sure that we’ve secured a space for our Wednesday drop in (stay tuned to find out where!). Two aspects of the Dale’s identity is that we’re nomadic, and that we roll with things. So, we’ll keep on rolling!

My thoughts on change are sort of summed up in one of my favourite Steve Bell songs (called Changes, appropriately).

Change is coming upon us

It keeps moving, moving around us

Got to keep dancing, knowing who loves us

Got to keep joy in our hearts

 

Amen.

peaks and valleys

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One of the great privileges of being in a community like The Dale is that we see each other at our best, as well as at our worst. I often reflect on this, especially when I interact with paramedics, police officers, and other professionals who mostly see my friends when they are in crisis. I am so thankful that I get to see (and be seen) on the peaks, and in the valleys.

I’m grateful that I get to go to the Art Gallery of Ontario with Chevy, as well as visit her in hospital.

I get to hear the deeply faith-filled and profound statements of “Matt” when he is sober… and the less coherent and sometimes inappropriate things he says when he is drunk.

I get to enjoy the cheeky humour and the genuine pastoral concern of “Donna” when she has been taking her medication, and I also bear witness to the paranoia and confusion that she experiences when she hasn’t been.

Similarly, my friends at The Dale see me nearly every day, and can tell when I’m not okay. They see me when I laugh, and when I cry; when I’m excited and when I’m angry.

I am so grateful for the peaks, and for the privilege of accompanying/being accompanied through the valleys.

When things work out

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I just got off the phone with a dear Dale friend, whose young son was recently discharged from Kingston General Hospital after a close shave with a serious illness.

This friend came to The Dale three Mondays ago in great distress. He had been in hospital himself for a number of months, and when he was discharged he discovered that his room had been rented out. The letters to his landlord explaining his absence had been returned, and his belongings were gone. He was left homeless, with nothing to call his own.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then received a phone call informing him that his son was in the ICU in Kingston. When he arrived at The Dale our friend hadn’t eaten or slept, and felt that he was about to have a break down. He had walked well over an hour on a bad knee to get to us, because he thought we might be able to offer some hope and help.

After hearing him out, we were able to secure a train ticket to Kingston for the next morning, along with a grocery card to tide him over. Thanks to the generosity of some friends from Kingston, he was able to get a cab from the train station to the hospital and back again. He spent the whole afternoon with his son, and returned to Toronto late in the evening.

Our friend called us the next day to let us know that he had made it back safely, and to express his gratitude. And very recently, as I’ve already said, he called to let us know that his son has been released from Kingston General, and will be okay. Our friend said that he’s been able to sleep these last couple of weeks, having seen his boy with his own eyes.

While our friend is still meeting with a housing worker to secure a permanent place to live, he is hopeful and highly motivated to find a space where he can have his son come to visit. I hope and pray that a space like this will become available for him soon. In the meantime, I am SO grateful that we were able to get him to Kingston; that this piece of the puzzle actually came together. And I’m grateful for our network of supporters that helped this to happen.

A Bookend kind of weekend

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This past weekend I did a lot of baking.

I baked cookies for a reception held after the funeral of our dear friend Mark Roberts on Saturday afternoon. And then I baked cupcakes for a baby shower held on Sunday afternoon for a dear friend from high school who is pregnant with her first child.

Two desserts, two very different occasions.

Although, as I reflect on the weekend, I’m realizing that these events were similar in some beautiful ways. While I felt like I had a bit of emotional whiplash by Sunday night, I’m now also very aware that saying goodbye to Mark and welcoming Hannah’s new baby were both amazing celebrations/affirmations of life.

We said goodbye to a friend who we remember as being very full of life. Mark was boisterous. When he was in the room, you knew it. And Mark was genuine. Whatever he was feeling and experiencing, he was honest about it. If he was feeling silly, he cackled and pretended to be Golem with a slightly Spanish accent. If he was was feeling worn down by the realities of poverty, he told us so. If he was feeling proud of his cats, he showed us pictures and waxed eloquently about their cuteness.

And Mark was generous. He would come into our Thrift Store drop-in to say hello, then go to the food bank. When he returned he would distribute a good percentage of his gleanings with the group, and was genuinely pleased to see granola bars, cake mixes, taco kits (you name it!) go to a good home.

I really miss my pal Mark, and I’m very grateful that so many of his friends and family members were able to come and celebrate his life on Saturday.

Then on Sunday, I was able to join in the joyful anticipation of a new life about to be introduced to the outside world! We wrote down our hopes and dreams for this baby girl, and gave gifts to her mom. We affirmed the goodness of the life of this new person (as painful as her arrival will be for Hannah), just as I had participated in the affirmation of the goodness of Mark’s life (as difficult as it was, in many ways, and as sad as its ending is for us).

Bookends, marked by celebration, pain… and desserts.

Resurrection hope

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Back in December, Erinn and I heard through the grapevine that a dear Dale friend had passed away. We sought out confirmation, but neither the hospital, the police, nor the coroner’s office had any news for us.

So we held onto hope that we would see him around the neighbourhood…but the days turned into weeks, which turned into months. Erinn and I both wrote blogs about him, in attempts to process our sadness that he seemed to be gone.We were contemplating holding a memorial, but didn’t feel right about that since we didn’t actually know if he had died.

And then, through the persistence of another dear friend, we discovered that he was alive, and safe!! Erinn and I went to see him yesterday, and it was like seeing someone who had been raised from the grave. While he isn’t well physically, he is living, sober, and still very much his hilarious, grumpy self. It was SUCH a joy to see him, and I can’t wait to go see him again.

As Easter nears, I am so grateful for this reminder that resurrection hope is real. While this friend will eventually pass away, along with the rest of us, death does not have the final word. Hope will not disappoint us.