Publishing stories of fascinating Prairie People and Unsung Heroes

Welcome to the blog of Deana Driver - author, editor, and publisher of DriverWorks Ink, a book publishing company based in Saskatchewan. We publish stories of inspiring, fascinating Prairie people and unsung Canadian heroes - written by Prairie authors including Deana Driver. We also publish genres of healing and wellness, humour, children's fiction, and rural poetry. Visit our website to learn more about our books.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Not just a walk in the park - Protests, suicide awareness, grief, and hope

Over the last couple of weeks, I have taken several walks or bicycle rides in or near Wascana Park, the largest park in my city of Regina, Saskatchewan. The park usually provides me with comfort and a sense of awe over its beauty and tranquility, but the scenes on one day produced many other emotions including frustration, sadness, surprise, confusion, grief, and peacefulness.

I saw a teepee set up to protest the high rates of suicide in Saskatchewan, a group of anti-maskers holding placards, a garden of flowers, a memorial to a man who drowned in the lake, and the colourful signs of autumn.   

I visited the site where a teepee had been set up across from the provincial legislative building to protest government inaction on high suicide rates among Indigenous persons. I was in awe of the actions of 24-year-old M├ętis fiddler Tristen Durocher and a supporter, Chris Merasty, who walked 635 kilometres from Air Ronge to Regina to protest the Saskatchewan Party government's decision to vote down a suicide prevention bill put forward by an NDP MLA representing northern Saskatchewan. They began their Walking With Our Angels journey on July 2 and arrived in Regina July 31, where Durocher began a hunger strike and vowed to continue it until meaningful legislation was passed.

More than 40 photos were placed around the teepee when Durocher started his ceremonial fasting - closeups of individuals who had died by suicide. He had invited others to bring photos of their loved ones lost to suicide. There were almost 90 photos surrounding the teepee on September 12th. It was impossible to not be moved by the spectacle of the faces. So much unnecessary loss and pain. I looked at the faces from a distance and paid my respects silently, with a sad and frustrated heart, hoping for change soon.

On September 11, a judge had dismissed the provincial government's bid to remove Durocher from the park and allowed him to complete his ceremonial fast and vigil. That judge later visited Durocher at the site, as did numerous individuals from many walks of life, including some politicians and religious leaders. Many discussions were held.

The teepee is gone now, but Tristen's presence on the legislature grounds and his message reached many in this city, this province, and beyond. An online search of his name shows many, many stories of his protest and message. A recent tripartite letter of commitment is a hopeful sign.

As I made my way from the teepee area onto the sidewalk leading to the garden in front of the legislative building, I was taken aback to see a group of people holding signs against mandatory face masking. I was further surprised when one of the woman shouted at me, "We love you!" as I rode by with my face mask on.

I usually wear a mask when I leave my home now - because of my asthma and my desire to keep others safer from any virus or other germs I might unknowingly carry. For a split second, I thought about going back to the protesters to find out what they were thinking, but I decided against it. I was still overwhelmed in thinking about suicide and unnecessary loss of life. I doubted if anything I had to say would change the minds of these anti-maskers. I kept moving - to the garden to enjoy the flowers.

I began my bike ride around the lake and saw, on an area of grass across from the legislative building, a makeshift memorial to another young man who had died by suicide. Twenty-year-old Samwel Uko had drowned in the lake in May. Uko had sought care for mental health issues at a local hospital and had been turned away twice during this pandemic. 

The health authority later apologized for its actions. No one had been allowed to go into the hospital to support him or explain the need for his admission. This part of the sad story had hit me especially hard. As one who has made many trips to hospital either with loved ones or to seek treatment myself, I know the crucial role of loved ones as advocates and supports for the patient in health care settings. We have to do better than this.

The rest of my bike ride around and near the lake was thankfully uneventful, punctuated with stops to admire the lake and the changing colours of fall.

Autumn is a time for change on the Prairies. As we prepare for another winter, I hope and pray that we will be kinder, more compassionate and caring of our fellow humans.

Take care. Stay safe. Love one another.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Marking an anniversary you don’t want to remember

The last few weeks have been getting to me. Set aside the pandemic concerns about family and friends going back to school, the lack of sales and in-person promotion options for my books and publishing business, and the loss of ability to safely go out into the world and interact with others. Those are all real concerns for me, but the past few weeks have grated on me for another reason.

It’s been five years since my late husband, Al, became suddenly ill with Stage IV colon cancer. I have purposely chosen to not remember the date of his emergency surgery or what day he came home from the hospital. I have not kept track of which days he was readmitted with complications or what day it was that he went back in for the last time. I wrote those details down long ago, mostly for his healthcare providers, but the dates aren’t in my head and I prefer it that way. The timeframe lives in my body though.

Even before a Facebook “memory” popped up with a photo I took when he came home from the hospital after surgery, I was very aware of this time of year. As the five-year anniversaries of these important events come and go, I feel my soul start to hurt again.

The soul, I’ve been told, remembers. The body – made mostly of water – remembers. There’s nothing I can do to stop that pain from flowing through my being and shaking me to my deepest core.

The memories of those moments and events have not come in a visual way, except for that one Facebook photo, which I subsequently hid and will someday delete when I have the emotional energy needed to look at all those photos again. The memories have arrived as more of a feeling that silently crept up on me. A tingling sensation on my nerve endings. A trepidation in my heart. An unexplained unsettled feeling.

Such is the ebb and flow of grief. Even when you are doing well in your life and having mostly good moments and good days, the body remembers and reminds you of the past. You feel in your soul the time of year when a certain event changed your life forever.

It took me a few days to come to terms with these deep-seated feelings.

“Five years,” I kept hearing in my brain. “Five years.”

I tried to ignore it. It would not be quashed.

It rose up like an anniversary that could not pass without some recognition of its significance. So here I am, acknowledging it.

I have survived five years since Al’s emergency surgery. I survived the unexpected worsening of his condition. I survived the unreal, frightening, sad, and peaceful moments of being with him in the hospice. I survived losing him.

For some reason or reasons, I’m still here. He is not, but I am.

It’s surreal and strange. There are times when I can’t believe it, yet I know it’s true.

Five years.

I look around and I’m alone. How did this happen?

But then again, there are many things I’ve done in my life that I can’t believe happened – most of them good and some not as wonderful. This too shall pass. Not the awareness of the finality of it, but the moment of grief. The sadness of recognizing he is gone will go away, but it will come back. Such is grief over the death of one you loved so much.

My head has always known that he is gone. As time goes on, my heart is doing a better job of getting on the same page as my head.

It’s been almost five years since cancer sucked much of the laughter and joy out of my life. That joy was wrapped in the form of a tall, strong, jovial man who is no longer with us. It’s been a heart-wrenching, horrible, complicated, lonely journey for the most part, but I know I've made it through the worst of it.

I knew I’d figure out how to be okay. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.

I am grateful to family, friends, and bereavement counselling sessions for helping me make it this far. I have read book after book. I’ve journalled and cried and exercised and napped. I have talked and talked and talked with anyone who would listen, even after many of them stopped wanting to hear it. I have stared at the television for hours on end, looking for a respite from my agony, from the thoughts in my head, the hole in my heart, and the fears and emotions bubbling to the surface.

Taking one step at a time, with my own inner demons and thoughts, I’ve made it this far. And I plan to keep going.

Losing him became my measurement for today. What's happening at this moment, and how does it compare to that loss? So far, nothing has come close to that devastation, for which I am grateful.

When Al became ill, he chose to fight. We had been together for four decades. There was no question that we would fight his cancer together. We followed doctors’ orders and lived in the moment as much as we could. We chose to not live in fear. It was the best way to live. It is the best way to live.

We dealt with what was in front of us – the things we could control – and we let go of the rest. It is easier to do that when a life-changing situation hits you in the face and you have to set aside much of your daily routine to focus on the moment. "Living in the moment" doesn’t have the same immediacy when things are going along smoothly, but it is important. Crucial, really.

We laughed. We loved. We hugged and enjoyed each other’s presence. Al told stories and teased us all until the illness robbed him of energy and life. I recorded some of his best stories and the conversations he had with visitors at the hospital so I could look back at those videos someday and smile. That someday is not here yet.

Five years is too soon for me to watch videos of what I've lost. I've managed to listen to a voice recording from 2012 during which I rolled my eyes at his strange sense of humour. When I hear that recording now, it makes me laugh. Sometimes when it pops up in my music feed on my phone, though, it hurts and the tears come. My loss is still profound, affecting most of the moments of every day, but I am okay.

I have carried on and added to my life after loss with some new friends, new social activities, a foray into the dating world (the jury is still out on that front), and a better grasp on what I am willing to accept and dismiss in this precious life of mine.

It’s one of the many lessons I learned from Al’s death. I not only need to set better boundaries for my own well-being, I need to be okay with the disappointment of others when I stick to my boundaries. I need to look after my own physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional health. I need to seek out the things that make me happy and spend my time with the people who bring joy to my life – from a safe physical distance or in other ways that I can manage during a moment.

It’s been five years, but sometimes it still feels like yesterday.

The bigger anniversary – five years since his death – is coming yet. But I think I’ll be okay with it.

I’ve learned that the anticipation leading up to a birthday, anniversary, or other major event connected to a deceased loved one is often worse than the actual day of the event itself. By talking about this anniversary, even in its loosest form without specific dates, I have taken away some of its power over my body. Maybe my soul can release more of that pain and bring forth more of the happy memories. For there is "a boatload" of them, as Al would say. A big, happy boatload of memories and stories. It's my job to keep those alive in my soul.