Tag Archives: grief

Dreaming and grieving


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.




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 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.

In the end, in the end, in the end


Things continue to be pretty heavy at The Dale. Two dear friends are still in hospital, and may not come out. Another community member who it seemed was just beginning to trust us, and was only a year older than me, passed away last week. As a community, and as individuals, we are sad, and tired.

This morning I was with one of our friends in the hospital, just before he was transferred to a different, further away, hospital. I read him a psalm, and reminded him that he is God’s beloved. He replied, “I know. I’m his creation. I’m his son!” This friend has seen more than his fair share of struggles (and showed me some of his scars today that prove it… not that I had any doubt), and yet he holds onto his true identity as a beloved child of God.

Later in the day I was at the Thrift Store, for our coffee and hang-out time. We are often visited on Tuesdays by a small friend and his babysitter, and their presence is always a blessing. This little guy has a very kind and, I think, pastoral heart. Before he left today, he went around and gave each person in the circle a big hug. I can’t even tell you how beautiful it was. This child knows that he is loved, and out of that love flows love for others.

The other friend who is hospitalized is on life support, so I haven’t been able to talk to him in two and a half weeks. But he has many sayings that have been running through my head over these past weeks. One of them, that he used in the way that I use “anyways” or “in any case”, is “in the end, in the end, in the end.” I’ve been thinking about that, and holding onto the hope that it points me towards. In the end, all will be made right. We are beloved children of God, and in the end we will no longer experience loss, fear, illness, confusion and pain. In the end, in the end, in the end.

And in the meantime, we need to keep remembering our identity, know that we are loved, and love each other with that love.

Hope in the heaviness


If you read Erinn’s blog, you’ll know that this has been a heavy week, and it feels like it might get heavier.

Last Wednesday there were two memorials in a row for folks from the Sanctuary community (one of whom also came to The Dale), followed by the death of another Sanctuary member a few days later. I didn’t know any of these three men well, but I know people who did know them well, and am sad for everyone involved. Erinn and I were able to attend one of the two memorials, where we were reminded that there is nothing fair about the way life unfolds, but that if the Beatitudes are true, the most broken WILL be the most blessed in the end. This doesn’t seem to do a whole lot for us or our friends in the present, as we bear witness to the struggles, illnesses, overdoses, accidents, and premature deaths. But if we don’t have this hope, we don’t have much.

I’ve been trying to hold onto this hope, as two beloved Dale folks have been hospitalized in the last week and a half with life threatening situations. Rumours were flying around this morning that one of them had been taken off life support, which is untrue. But the knowledge that this is a real possibility in the coming days or weeks is scary and sad.

Last week I also had difficult encounters with a Sanctuary friend, then a Dale friend a few hours later, while running errands downtown. I left both encounters genuinely and sadly wondering if my presence had had a net positive, neutral or negative impact on my friends. I was reminded of the fact that sometimes there is very little I can do for my friends in the moment, and that my best efforts may backfire. I was reminded that I don’t have all the answers, and I never will.

And yet, I/we hold onto the hope of the Beatitudes, the resurrection, and the coming kingdom.

In the meantime we’ve been given little gifts, like a beautiful, full-sky rainbow during street outreach at the end of the double-memorial day. And wonderful words of encouragement from various folks in the community who remind us that the presence of this little group of strugglers is important and good. And the chance to celebrate my dad’s birthday, with a beautiful bike ride along the water. So in the midst of the heaviness, there are reasons for hope and gratitude.

Choosing hope


Today was tough. There were lots of things about our Monday meal drop in that were totally lovely- fun jamming sessions, an unforeseen and generous donation of clothing, lots of coffee and muffins, good chats, warm hugs, delicious potatoes, veggies, chicken and fruit salad, cohesive teamwork (and a couple of dance parties) in the kitchen, and interpersonal harmony more or less throughout the 5 hours we were together.

And there were lots of difficult things going on within us and our community. Things that don’t have easy answers, seem to be getting worse not better, and leave us feeling deeply sad and at a bit of a loss. I sat for quite a while hearing from a community member who really isn’t doing well. We came up with a few potential next steps, but the reality is that this friend is struggling deeply. Near the end of our conversation, my friend asked me, “Do you think things will ever get better?”, and all I could say was “… I have hope for you.”

Honestly, I have no idea if my friend will experience a huge transformation, or even a series of small ones. But I am choosing to hold onto hope; for this friend, and for all of us. I have hope that things can get better, and that one day things – ALL things- will be made ultimately right. This is the hope of resurrection, of which we’re reminded every Easter.

One of my favourite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, put it very well: “I believe in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus the Christ, and the resurrection of the body of all creatures great and small, not the literal resurrection of this tired body, this broken self, but the body as it was meant to be, the fragmented self made new; so that at the end of time all Creation will be One. Well: maybe I don’t exactly believe it, but I know it, and knowing is what matters.”

A beloved one of the gang


The other week I was at a Coffee House at Sanctuary, and Dan (the emcee and one of the original members of Sanctuary) was introducing Greg Paul (the founder and pastor of Sanctuary). He said something like, “and now introducing our beloved… well… our beloved… one of the gang!” My friend Anne, who is married to Dan, leaned over to me and said “If that’s how I’m referred to at my funeral, that would be pretty cool.” I feel exactly the same way. Whether it be at Sanctuary, The Dale, my family, a circle of friends, I just want to be a beloved one of the gang.

Last week Sanctuary lost a deeply beloved one of the gang. Greg “Iggy” Spoon passed away last Tuesday, totally surrounded by family and friends. It was one of the hugest and least deserved honours of my life to have been there in that room, as he left us to join his Creator. I still find it pretty hard to believe that he’s gone, even though I witnessed his departure.

Iggy was most definitely “one of the gang” at Sanctuary. He had been part of the community for a good 12-15 years before I showed up almost 5 years ago. He was an incredible artist, a kind and very loyal friend, an asker of the toughest questions; a hurting and beautiful soul. I hadn’t spent nearly as much time with him over the past couple of years as I did when I was at Wycliffe and interning at Sanctuary, but he still greeted me with warmth, asked how I was doing, and made me feel like a beloved one of the gang. What an incredible gift.

His absence is felt keenly by many, many people, and will continue to be felt. If you could, please join me in praying for good and healthy grieving to happen in the Sanctuary community, his family, and the other circles to which he belonged.



[Greg Paul and Iggy. A beloved two of the gang.]

Another brutiful year


It’s a new year. Christmas has come and gone again. A friend from my Sanctuary community, Maggie Paul, shared a new word with me just before Christmas that I found/find incredibly helpful when thinking about Christmas, the new year, and life in general: brutiful. This word is originally from a blog called Momastery [http://momastery.com/blog/2010/10/04/brutiful-2/]

The word brutiful reminds us that many things are simultaneously brutal and beautiful. This is similar to the idea I was trying to get at in my last post, when I talked about grief and grace living side by side.

I found Christmas Eve at the Dale to be brutiful. Brutal that so many of our friends were already in hibernation mode, hunkering down and attempting to ignore the holidays altogether. Brutal that the festive season brought up so much past hurt and current pain for so many of us. And beautiful that a group of us came together to enjoy a warm, yummy breakfast and a gingerbread house that we had created a couple of weeks before. Beautiful that two 12 year old “elves” (Erinn’s daughter and her friend) handed out gift bags to the folks who had gathered. Beautiful that the number of bags was exactly the same as the number of people.

Once I started thinking in “brutiful terms”, I saw this paradox everywhere.

A friend called me throughout the holidays to update me on his efforts to secure a room in a rooming house for another friend in the community. Brutal that a small, windowless room without kitchen facilities is currently the only feasible option for this friend. But beautiful that members of the community are looking out for one another, and allowing me the honour of being kept in the loop.

A friend fell off the wagon after being sober for over a month. He came to talk to us because people told him we were worried about him. We chatted for a while, and it was brutal to see him intoxicated when I knew how desperately he wanted to not be. But then he got quiet, looked me straight in the eyes and whispered, “Jesus loves you. He really does, you know.” Beautiful.

So here we are in 2015, a year that we know for sure will be brutiful. Brutal isn’t nearly a strong enough word to describe today’s shootings in Paris. And yet we know that, somehow, beauty will keep surprising us throughout the year. We may need to train our eyes to see it, but it will be there. By the grace of God, beauty remains.

Lord give us the wisdom, courage and grace we will need in this brutiful year ahead.


Thomas and Meredith


Today marks 15 years since my cousins, Thomas (11) and Meredith (8), died in a car accident. They and their parents were on their way to my family’s home for an early Christmas dinner.

Every December 11th since then I marvel that another year has gone by, and often wonder what they would be up to if they were still living. They were great kids- spunky, smart and kind- and I know they would have grown up to be bright, compassionate and hilarious adults. I grieve the fact that our time together was short; that I, my sister and the rest of our cousins don’t get to have them as friends.

My aunt and uncle are living testimonies to the grace of God in the face of tragedy. Their story is full of answered prayers, the hand of God being extended through his people, peace that surpasses understanding, and of course a lot of struggle and pain. As a family, we experienced God’s presence in very beautiful ways in the hours, days, weeks, months and years following the deaths of Thomas and Meredith.

I want to acknowledge this anniversary, as well as the grief and grace that accompany it. The death of two kids is a terrible thing, no matter what. Much grace, mercy, and good followed their deaths. These things are both true.

Advent helps me to make a bit of sense of this- we acknowledge that all is not right in the world. We ache for healing and hope. We also celebrate with joy that Jesus did come, and will come again. Grief and grace live side by side, and will do so until he comes back. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.


Despite what you can see


If you read Erinn’s blog (erinnoxford.wordpress.com), you’ll know that this was a bit of a rough week for us at The Dale, and it seems to have been a particularly tough one for other communities and individuals too. Lots of inner pain and tensions bubbling over, turning into outward conflicts. Many factors and influences contributing to acts of defensiveness and sometimes violence. I attended a memorial for a friend from Sanctuary who died way too young, and heard stories about his hilarious sense of humour and also his woundedness. It was one of those weeks when you wonder how there can be SO much pain in the world, and why the Kingdom hasn’t come yet.

It’s weeks like these when I’m especially grateful for the music of Josh Garrels. Many of his songs have provided me (and many others) with encouragement at critical moments, and this week I’ve been listening to “Beyond the Blue”… a lot. One verse in particular has spoken volumes to me:

So lift your voice just one more time
If there’s any hope may it be a sign
That everything was made to shine
Despite what you can see
So take this bread and drink this wine
And hide your spirit within the vine
Where all things will work by a good design
For those who will believe

I don’t have a whole lot to add, except to ask for prayer (if you’re the praying type), for our community at the Dale as we continue to process and navigate the difficulties that arose this week. And also for the other communities and individuals who are struggling. And I offer up my prayer for you, dear reader, that you too will believe that everything was made to shine despite what you can see.