I interviewed my father days after we found out he was palliative. He had only a few weeks left to live, and this reality set us all into a bit of a tail spin. While we knew time was running out, we also felt it slow down, like watching a hummingbird mid-flight. The day before I sat down with him, he was in a time warp of his own. In a hurry to drive himself for a haircut he said he needed, and to put gas in their car so mom wouldn’t have to. The pain he’d been experiencing had begun affecting his clear-headedness and balance, and when he got out of the car after his “necessary” road trip, he ended up taking a nasty spill. He could not get himself up and to the front door, so he just sat on the steps leading up from the driveway for a while. Later that day the doctor would say it was probably a broken shoulder, and that little could be done aside from wearing a sling and giving him something for the pain. Little could be done…. This seeemd to be the key to our distorted sense of time and urgency. He knew that soon he would not be here. He knew he’d want a haircut, and that mom needed gas. He wanted to feel normal. He wanted to be productive. He wanted to “help” in some way. He wanted to do something other than sit around and think about dying. The day after the fall he accepted he could no longer drive, or go out on his own. He admitted he had been hasty and foolish. As I sat down across from him on the couch with my coffee asking if he was comfortable, or if he needed something else for the pain, he asked me to interview him. “You’ve never interviewed me”, he said. “You’ve interviewed mom and Granny Mary. I think you should interview me.” He was right. I’d done a few interviews about my grandmother’s life, my sisters’ adoptions, and my mom’s experience finding them, yet I had never really sat down with him. He directed me to where I might find a pen and paper, and I asked if I could record our conversation. He agreed, and I asked my mom to give us some time alone. I knew that with her there she would naturally want to chime in, and now that I knew we were doing this, I also knew I wanted it to just be his words I would scribe. I started with his favorite food, song and what he liked to do in his free time. I think I started slow as much for him as for me. I had this overwhelming urge to breakdown, while knowing in my heart that there would be time for that, and this time was about him sharing what he seemed to want to share. My father wasn’t someone who often wanted to talk, so this was big and worthy of my full attention. I also knew that for him to really open up I would need to guard my fear and hurt over his impending departure. So I put on my cheerful interviewer face, and with each question inched forward from the superficial to the profound. I won’t share it all here. It will have its own place in my writing. It’s own chapter. For now, I want to tell you about one sweet analogy he gave that day that has stayed with me for the almost 3 years since we said our final goodbye. An anology that I was reminded of in a dream the night before last. “It’s like a doorbell Shan”, he said. “A doorbell?”, I asked. I wasn’t sure if the pain had muddled his thoughts. We had just been talking about how we, as a family, had really come together since closing the circle and finding my sisters. Our connection had deepened. He went on, “Our family has always worked that way. When one person needs something, they just call and someone else will answer. When you need me, I will be there. Always. Just ring the doorbell and I will come”. Silence filled the space between us. We both let his promise, and what it really meant sink in.

Since his passing, I have listened to the audio of that interview many times. I have held the notes I took on his blue computer paper using his pen and wept. How far we’d come in closing the gap between us. How I would love to sit down with him today and ask him to tell me more. Just hearing his voice brings me right back. Every morning I sit with my coffee to journal beside his picture. Every morning, I say “Good morning Dad”. I have felt him with me in countless ways, and have on occasion seen him in my dreams. A couple of these dreams featured doorbells. The dreams always seem to come when I need them most. When I have been praying for some solution to a problem, or for strength to overcome something in my life. The night before last the dream was of me being awakened to the sound of a doorbell ringing. It was night and I was in the apartment that I grew up in. While I was frightened for a moment as to who could be ringing the doorbell in the middle of the night, when I looked down the long hallway to the door a sense of calm washed over me. I could see a glowing white light backlighting our front door. I knew in an instant it was him, realizing it was he who was answering my call; at the door when I needed him. As soon as this awareness flooded my heart I woke up, my face wet with tears.

To all of you reading this who have lost your fathers, may you feel them close today, remembering all the ways you showed up for each other. For me, for now, I am going to hang on to that dream, and that interview, knowing my dad always showed up when I needed him. Always. While I know he can no longer reach me in the same way, I also know that our souls are still connected, and that that connection cannot be severed. I will take comfort in knowing, that somehow, someway, his wisdom and grace continue to guide my head and my heart. Thank you Dad for always answering my call.


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When my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, it was the first time in my life that I faced the fear of losing her. Rather I didn’t face it. I rarely spoke of my mom’s cancer, or all of the appointments I’d join her for, and tests leading up to surgery. There were people in my life that didn’t even know she was sick. On some level, my denial was so thick that it was like sometimes I didn’t either. I certainly wasn’t dealing with it the way I had with my dad. I dismissed the disconnection I feeling, telling myself that in her case there was a chance at a cure. A hope we’d not gotten with my dad. At the same time as all of this was going on, we found out my father-in-law needed quadruple bypass. I joined him for visits and tests too. Something I also didn’t really talk about. In conversation with a friend, I said I felt as though I was on auto-pilot. I couldn’t understand how with my dad there had been so many tears when he was diagnosed, and so much fear, yet with my mom there had been none. I wondered why? I felt so unlike myself. But as I went on about my wonderings, I started to cry… like really cry, like choke on my words cry. She listened, I talked, and when I’d let it all out, she gently offered this, « Shan it’s not that you aren’t afraid…. It’s that the fear is too hot to touch. It’s white-hot. ». She was right, and as soon as her words hit my ears they unleashed another realization : She could die. I could lose the woman who had been my unwavering, constant support. The person who seemed to understand me even when I could not. How blessed am I to know a bond so deep, and how very scary to think of losing it. A possibility not lost on my mother, because she could hear what was unspoken between us. She once said, « I need to know that whatever happens, you will be ok ». I lied. I reassured her, even though deep down I knew there was no way I’d be ok. In fact I was pretty sure that I would never be ok again. Yet I pushed on. I did life. I took care of my kids, made some pretty huge life decisions about work, showed up for those who needed me, went to appointments, and just avoided touching the white-hot truth for fear that it would incinerate me. I held it together through my father-law’s surgery and recovery. My husband and I spent our days at the hospital while he was in intensive care. Somehow being there for them soothed my other looming fears. I felt like I was doing something rather than just worrying. Maybe it offered me a temporary hall pass from the fear I had yet to face. I knew my mother’s surgery was just weeks away, and soon I could avoid it no more. The day of her surgery was the most scared I have ever been. Surgery went on longer than expected. Fear loomed larger as the minutes ticked by. I knew the risks. I’d sat through every meeting listening to the doctor list them off. When the surgical nurse finally called my cell phone to let us know that surgery was done, and that she was in recovery, I fell to knees, « She’s ok! She’s ok! I was so scared!», I sobbed. I spent that night sleeping on a cot in my mom’s room. Everyone said I should go home, but I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. She had never let me down. Never not been there for me. I had promised my father before he died that she would never be alone, and this was a promise I intended to keep. As the fear made its way out of my body like an electric shock, the peace felt in those first few days after surgery was like a heavy blanket settling my frenzied internal state. But I still wasn’t “ok”. I felt off. I told myself I should be happy, but soon found myself secretly crying every day. Questioning everything. Wondering what I would do now that I left my job. Feeling enormous pressure to make things happen. Worrying about everything in my life and feeling completely disconnected. I shut down. There were days in the month after mom’s surgery where I felt like I was losing my mind. I would think the scariest thoughts. Like now that we’d made it out of the fear I could dive deep into the dark. I imagined turning my life inside out. Something kept pulling at me to lean in hard to the parts of my life that had too once been white-hot truths. The fear of losing my mom seemed to activate all of my other fears. This was not the first time I had kept it all inside. This was not the first time I had locked away all of the pain in a box to which I held the key. This was also not the first time that I hit a wall as a result of trying to outrun the outrunable. Don’t complain. Don’t feel. Don’t be afraid. None of the things I told myself made me feel any better. It was deadening to tell myself not to feel what I was already feeling. Like I was leaving myself behind because I had told myself that somehow my feelings were inconvenient, and that feeling them was wrong. This broke my heart, and after it broke my heart, like any good break-up, it pissed me off. I was enraged. Initially directed at my circumstances, my relationships, and at pretty much anything outside of myself, soon I realized that I was most mad at ME. I had locked myself up. Throughout my life. Again and again. I didn’t let myself feel the feelings that were already there. I didn’t face my white-hot truths. Until one night I lay crying quietly in my room. It was dark, and the kids had been in bed for over an hour. I thought they were asleep, until Maya tiptoed into my room. She could not see that I was crying and I doubted that she’d heard me. She told me she’d been about to fall asleep when something inside of her told her to come and see me. To tell me that she would love me no matter what. Her message so serious, yet she did not seem upset or concerned. She’d shared like this with me before, and talked of getting messages that she knew she needed to deliver. I have known for some time that she feels things on a plane beyond even my own. I hugged her tight, and thanked her for her words. I told her, « Mama has been sad Maya. Maybe you noticed that, but I am very strong, and I will be ok. You don’t need to worry about me my love». As though I was stating the obvious, she said with calm conviction, “Oh mama, you are the strongest person I know. Something told me you needed to hear what I said, so I said it”. And there it was… a truth far greater than my fear. A reminder that I could feel what I needed to feel. I could say what needed saying. I could even turn my life inside out if that’s what I needed to do. A reminder that I would be ok no matter what. I realized in that moment that the white-hot truth could not burn me, but rather turns to ash with my touch. Lean in hard when it hurts. Feel everything you need to feel. Say it when it needs to be said. Only then will you realize you are fireproof.


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I sat down to write yesterday. I had been writing more in my journal in the last couple weeks, and reading more too. Steadily stacking gratitude day by day had me feeling less worried and more hopeful. Changing the lens made the picture seem brighter. I wanted to share what had me feeling better. I’d planned on describing some of the moments of synchronicity popping up everywhere in my life over the last month. Signs from the universe. Proof of God’s hand in my life, ushering me along, pointing the way. Examples of unrelated moments that felt deeply related. Like one of those pointillism pictures made up of tiny dots that together form a complete image, only it wasn’t a picture I was seeing as I connected the dots, it was a message. The same message said in different ways, “Make yourself strong”. Don’t focus on the problem. Focus on the solution. This lesson a familiar one. Often signs and messages we pick up feel that way- like a reminder of something we already know.  One such moment came as I watched an episode of Super Soul Sunday with Michael Bernard Beckwith, he talked about the questions we ask ourselves and the energy our questions carry.  He explained that low vibration questions lead to low vibration results. Examples include:  Why me? How did this happen? Will I ever stop struggling?  He suggested that instead we ask higher vibration questions like, “If this situation were to last forever, what quality must I cultivate that would give me peace of mind?” When I heard him say this time stood still. For a fraction of a second all of the unrelated but related moments made sense. Together they were telling me that I would need strength. I would need to make myself strong for everything to be ok. No matter what.  

Yesterday as I sat down to write this piece; an article on synchronicity, and the magic moments that exist, reminding us what we might already know but have forgotten, something else poured out of me…. Thick, dense, white-hot fear. A whole bucket load of it. I sat and wept and wrote. My typing so fast and so feverish, my breath matching its beat. When it was done I took one long deep breath, as though a weight had been lifted off my chest, “what the fuck just happened”, I said out loud. I’d been feeling better. I was less afraid. I was inspired to share my new insights. I heard the universe’s message. What was this sludge that I’d just vomited all over the page?  I can’t share this. Not now. This was not what I wanted to write about. “Oh yes but it was”, a voice in my head answered back so quickly that it shuts me up. This was not the voice that had been carrying on in my head. “What if…” I hover over the keys now as I contemplate finishing the sentence. I can’t…  I have to…  “What if she dies?”. I choke on the sob that escapes me. No, the voice I heard was not the voice of fear. This was love. All love. And she wasn’t done with me. Sometimes love is soft and sweet, but sometimes she is insistant and steady.  Sometimes she shuts you up with her truth.  She wanted me to know that I had misunderstood. “You are ALREADY strong.”  Ah…  I possess the quality, I just need to cultivate it. I am not weak. I had the strength within me all along. 

I didn’t write the piece I’d set out to write.  I wrote the piece that needed to be written; the one I needed to read. Tomorrow my mom goes in for surgery to remove two nodules from her lower left lung. Something I have avoided talking about with most people most of the time. Something I told myself I would only really write about once she was cancer-free. She is my everything. And maybe that sounds dramatic, and childish, but it doesn’t make it any less true. All of the love I give away she has poured into me. The fear of what might happen is thick, and dense and white-hot. I’d been sure I’d be burned if I let it escape, and worse yet, that my fear might magnify hers. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want any of it. What I hadn’t understood was that sharing it would lessen its grip over me. Fear only wins when we are alone with it. I am not alone. I am already strong. So is she. Letting all of this poison spill out of me didn’t free it, it freed me. 

Pray with me.  


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Fuck ALS

This year, after the 2nd Annual Deanapolooza, friends and readers asked if I would write another article like An Evening with a Soul, written last year after the event. I laughed, and shrugged it off. The truth was, I couldn’t. I write to work through, inspire, and uplift, and I just felt so incredibly sad… That evening, after the concert, my husband and I sat talking about the night, the people we saw, and our friend Dean. While Pete had seen him since, I had not since last summer. Like so many others in attendance, I was overcome when Dean took to the stage, joined by his brother PJ, and wife Paula to say their thank yous, and hand out door prizes. The air went out of me, and it seemed like a while before I took another breath. I turned to the friends I’d been standing with, who stood looking serious despite the humour Dean’s brother tried to inject into his monologue. Our eyes wet, as though there was a communal lump building in our collective throat. Don’t cry, I told myself in vain as the tears rolled down my cheeks. We watched as Paula folded her arms around Dean, their bond like a separate entity in the room. Whether for balance, or emotional support, the two stood intertwined. I knew that look, I thought to myself. While I don’t know ALS the way that Dean and Paula, and their loved ones know it, I do know that look… The way her eyes tracked him, and watched his every move, her protectiveness, and the warmth in every touch. Dean is not the only one affected by the disease. She suffers right along with him, the way we do when someone we love is affected. The way I did with Dad. The way we all did.

Following the concert I did not write as I had last year just 24hrs after attending. I told myself, they don’t need my sadness. What right do I have to feel sad anyway, when they have shown such courage. They just need people to be. Be normal. Be supportive. Be themselves.

Last year, this time, I prepared to say goodbye to my father. It will be a year this Friday that he’s gone. I miss him so much, and in the weeks leading up to Deenapolooza I’d been a quiet mess, trying not to let my grief show. After all, how long can a person go on being sad, and why was I feeling like I was losing him all over again as the first anniversary drew near? After the concert that night I thought about Dean. I thought about Dad too… Why is it that we grieve even before someone has gone? I remember going through this with dad, and someone close to me saying, love now, grieve later. That night when I got home, I thought about feeling alive, and how much I had to be grateful for, “STOP whining, and live your life!”, I scolded myself. I had been so down thinking about Dad, so sad for Dean and Paula. I have a life to live. I am here, and so is Dean. Don’t grieve him, I thought. Don’t be sad for him. He is with us, in the land of the living, where his wife can still wrap her arms around him, and his children can still kiss his sweet face. Don’t be sad for yourself either, you wake up each day and get to live and love another 24hrs. You get to see your babies grow, and seasons change. Dad would want me to see the incredible gift that that is. He would want me to feel what I feel while never losing sight of the silver lining around every cloud. “All we ever have is today”, he’d say. I imagine Dean and Paula also understand this better than anybody. And so, I sat with my conclusions, but thought best still not to write. “Write when you are moved to write”, a little voice in my head nudged.

On July 1st there was another 2nd annual: The West Island Pond Hockey Tournament. The event brought together 100 hockey players, all connected to Dean in some way. Hot shots, superstars, and men who played the game in their youth, laced them up to raise money for a cause that has rocked a community. Having grown up a rink rat, with hockey still a huge part of my life, there is something unique about this day, and this tournament. A success, not just because of the money raised, or the scholarship that has now been born out of the tournament. Nor can the day’s success be solely attributed to generous sponsors, or the countless dedicated volunteers that made the day run seamlessly. No, the shining star last year, and this year, is the heartbeat of the arena as it fills with players, volunteers, supporters, parents, grandparents, wives, sisters, brothers, cousins, and friends to play a game, cheer on the teams, have a bite, raise a glass, and share a laugh. Not because we are sad for Dean, Paula or their families. But because of them. Because life is worth raising a glass to, and because making time to catch up with old friends is everything. The highlight for me was watching all of the children laughing, and chasing each other around, looking up at their fathers, uncles and brothers towering over them in skates. It was seeing my 8 year old daughter sending papa a text after we got home to tell him how very proud she was of what he, and the team of organizers had accomplished. The success of the concert, and the tournament lies in our coming together, and feeling together. It lies in connection.

Last year Dean played in the tournament. He walked around, and said his hellos, thanking people for participating. This year he did not play, nor could he speak, but his presence rang out over the laughter and banter that filled the noisy arena. He is still here, living, breathing, smiling and thanking people with warm embraces, and that twinkle in his eye. This year his son dressed in his place, bursting with pride as he took to the ice with the big boys.

As I left the arena, tired kids in tow, Dean attempted to blow me a kiss, locking eyes, exchanging words without uttering a sound. His message heard, mine too I believe, “Good to see you old friend. Take good care”. I did not leave the WIPHT sad. I left with a full heart. I left telling myself that events like these are important. Not just because of the money they raise, but because they bring us together, reminding us that we are never truly alone.

In the two and a half years my father lived with cancer, I hated when well meaning people would tell me not to give up, or let my dad give up, as though our opponent, the big C, could be outfought or outsmarted if we played the game right. It bothered me because I thought, what a message to send to someone fighting for their life. What a thing to say to a person who knows better than anyone else how precious each moment is, and who despite his tenacity, and positive attitude continued to decline. My father did not lose his battle with cancer. He was not beaten down by a more powerful adversary. His spirit won. He was more of a champion in his final days than any famous boxing champ he’d long since admired. And so, I didn’t want to write some syropy, fight the good fight article. No one needs to tell a person in the fight to fight. The more I thought about this, the angrier I became. Sometimes all we can do is feel, and I felt I had something I wanted to say about what I was feeling, I just couldn’t find the words. That is, until I sat looking through pictures posted on the tournament’s Facebook page. One photograph, out of over 200 struck a deep chord with me. I had yet to write a single word, but looking at this picture of Dean, and his father in-law I knew. Turning to Pete, I said, “I’m gonna write an article, and I’m gonna use this picture.” He looked over at me, interested in which picture I was referring to. “I’m gonna call it Fuck ALS.” He nodded a heavy nod. “Perfect”, he said, emotion quietly washing over his strong face. No disease will ever win over your spirit Dean. No disease will ever be the victor over the bond you share with your wife, children, family, and friends. Nothing will ever win out over the love you give, and receive. While the disease may be everything, it is also nothing, just like my father was so much more than his cancer. You are so much more than a man affected by ALS. So here it is, an article inspired by an image that made me laugh out loud, and cry at the same time of two men flipping the bird. Fuck ALS. It does not hold a candle to you Dean Stock.



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10 Minutes

I remember back in grad school when I’d have a ton of reading to do for a class, and I’d pick up a book at Chapters that I’d been eyeing for weeks. I’d take 10 minutes, read a page or two, then leave it to collect dust on my nightstand. For a while it would make me feel better, sitting there reminding me that I liked to read, escaping into a book, and feeding my soul. Slowly though, it would begin to look like clutter, as I realized I wasn’t going to make time to read for pleasure at all. How could I? I’d been avoiding tackling the pile of articles sitting on my desk, and so reading something just because I wanted to really was NOT an option. If you’re gonna read, read the work, I’d silently lecture myself. Don’t waste time reading something that doesn’t serve you. Ha! How crazy to see these words on the screen, slapping me hard in the face, as though I hadn’t written them myself. I’m the friggin How of Happy lady. I teach people how to put their joy first, making all the things that need doing more manageable, yet I couldn’t, and sometimes still can’t, see the point of doing something purely for pleasure, when there are other things that need doing. How can you forget what you already know? With me, it’s not so much forgetting, as it is selectively remembering. You see, there are two levels of avoidance. Procrastination is when we avoid the work, and replace it with something we’d rather do. The second, more destructive level, and one that I am intimately familiar with, is when we are truly stuck, and end up avoiding the work, AND the pleasure, depriving ourselves from feeling good, and blocking our innate ability to get unstuck.

A while back, I decided finally to write my story. Our story. The story that lives and breathes within me, and that has already been written in so many ways, needing only to be scribed. I began collecting pieces of data, and sorting through stuff that I had, that I knew I wanted to include in my book. I met with a mentor, a best selling author, turned friend, to discuss how she might help me on my book writing journey. For the first time, I publicly announced that I was going to write a book. It felt so good, real, and right. I believed that making my commitment known would be like putting it out there into the universe, activating the law of attraction, and lending energy to this deep wish I’d held onto for so long. Well, that’s not quite how it turned out.… It made my book homework, and my blog that dusty thing that sits on my nightstand. The result? I avoided both entirely.

This morning, in my stuckness, I opened a message from Carolyn, the mentor, turned friend. She was congratulating me on some recent press, speaking events, and workshops I’d done. I replied that yes, my “side-hustle” was picking up steam, but now the task was to figure how to make time for writing amidst the success. “You’ll know when the time is right, she replied, “It’s all unfolding exactly as it should. Could be you have other writing to do first to support the side hustle…” I didn’t understand right away what she meant. I launched into my grad school analogy of skipping blog writing out of guilt of not doing my book writing homework. She suggested I write it all down. My frustrations, how I was feeling, encouraging me to write for me. She challenged me to set a goal of just 10 minutes of writing a day, to get back into the flow, and to reconnect with my joy. “Find your WHY. The HOW will find you”, she said. She reminded me of my deep desire to connect, and how impactful some of my work had been, telling me I’d inspired her with my words! Her encouragement came at the perfect time, and felt like a great big hug.

So here I sit, writing this article, determined to give my mentor’s advise a try . I set the timer on my phone, committing to just 10 minutes. “Reconnect with your why Shannon”, I whispered to myself. The timer rings, and I keep writing, and writing… With every click of the keys, I come alive. I cannot avoid the things that make me happy, or only make space for them when all the other boxes are checked. In just 10 minutes I am reminded of all of this. Reminded that I write to feel good, and that when I feel bad, this is my answer. This is what makes me come alive.


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The last time I was here, we learned that you had cancer… We heard the doctor tell us how sorry she was. We understood that disease was running through you. The last time I was here, I held Marisol on my lap, just one year old. You were happy that she was here to lighten the mood, and to remind us of the good that was still there. You were grateful that I was here to hold mom’s hand, to help brace her for the news that would change our lives, and eventually take yours.

It’s three years ago that I sat in this same waiting room, and eight months since you had to go. I miss you dad, more than I ever knew I could. Filled with so much pain and love, at the same time. Makes me think of that conversation we had in palliative care, about a week before you passed away. A beautiful moment shared together just you and I. “I am both the happiest, and saddest I’ve ever been, at the same time” you said. You knew time was running out. The look we exchanged as your words floated there, lingering longer than words normally do; a look of complete understanding. A perfect connection between two hearts. Moments like that engraved in my heart. We were both so vulnerable, and so purely open to the gut-wrenching exchange we had in that moment. You’d been praying each night for just one more day. One more day, to make one more memory, and have one more conversation like the one we were having.

I am so thankful to have had almost two and a half years from your diagnosis. I am so thankful for our month in palliative care. I am so thankful for the opportunity to share every unspoken truth I ever wanted to share with you. What a gift. I miss you dad. More than I thought possible, and more than I let others see most of the time.

Today I’m here with mom. She’s ok dad. But you know that already. I know you are here with her. I know you are with me too. Despite this deep knowing, and how close you still feel, you also feel so far away. Your diagnosis, disease and departure transformed me, as hard things do. More than anything, I now fully understand how one can be happy and sad simultaneously. I’m leaning into that dad. I recognize the light within the darkness. It’s there, it’s always there. I’m making space for the joy that lives alongside the grief. I am learning to treat my sadness with the same respect; to welcome it in the same way, because I will always choose remembering you, and missing you over letting these vivid memories go. So I will make room for the pain, and the happiness that live together within me. I understand completely that when I resist the hard parts, and gulp down that lump in my throat, that I make it harder than it needs to be.

The last time I was here I put on a brave face. I stood by you, and fought back tears. Today I let them flow. They are tears of gratitude, for the news mom heard today is good. It too has the power to transform me, as good things also do. I am breathing into the lump in my throat. I am making room for the joy and the sadness at the same time. At the same time…



Filed under connection, family, grief, happiness, life lessons, Uncategorized, Vulnerability

It was you. 

Four years ago today you came along. We’d waited, and prayed for you for a long time. We’d lost and cried three times over before things finally stuck. It had been a complicated 9 months with weekly appointments, and special medication to keep mama from contracting. Those first 20 weeks were ripe with worry. Would we lose you too? Was there something wrong with mama? Could we have another baby? That day you met us, every question was answered. All of the sadness, and disappointment, worry and strain vanished like a fog lifting in the morning sun. It was you. We were waiting for you. I had no time to prepare or worry in the minutes before your birth. We’d worn out our worry stores in the years and months leading up to your arrival. A labor that started at 5:57am ended with one push at 7:55am just 5 minutes after we left our car running, doors open, in front of the emergency entrance at the wrong  

 hospital with no time to make it downtown. No scrubs, or introductions, you came into the room as the nurses peeled off my winter coat. Your father white, and weeping could have used the same shot they gave me for shock. You were here. You, who we weren’t sure we’d ever meet. You who’d bring such gratitude for the way things turned out, and who would continue to teach me daily about being thankful for every twist and turn on the road we travel together. Every test, procedure, and minute I’d spent feeling oh so broken gone. It didn’t matter anymore. We’d been waiting for you. We don’t always know why things go as they do, why life throws us the curve balls it does, or why struggle may be part of the path, but when we hang on, and keep the faith, somehow everything works itself out. This was never more true than with you. I love you my sweet love. Thank you for taking your time to come to us, and for then being in such a hurry to join our family. In your words this morning, “Of course I came fast mama. I wanted to meet you.” I wanted to meet you too my love, and I’m so glad I did.  


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I am learning how to lean into tension, breathing into any areas of tightness that I might feel. I am pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, while respecting what my body is telling me. I am gaining flexibility, while letting go of rigidity. I am learning to set an intention for the day’s practice, lending my attention to something I want to work through, draw to me, or simply something I want to gift to myself. I am closing each practice returning to that same intention. I am learning that yoga makes me happy. Happy in the purest way, that is independent from anyone or anything, and unreliant on external circumstances. I float out of each class, no matter how I felt walking in. Stilling my mind, by focusing on my breath, I am steadily gaining strength, and grace as I flow through the postures. I am learning that something quite remarkable happens when I quiet my mind, yet continue to move my body. It is the closest to God I feel without sitting in a pew. For me, it is prayer with movement. When I practice yoga I am my best self. I am enough, perfectly imperfect, joyful, and whole.

Last class my teacher Rozel talked about taking our practice “off the mat”, transferring the principles that we learn in our yoga practice, and applying them in our daily lives. This lesson, like others I’ve learned from her, resonated deeply with me. Simple and true, this is my answer to a life spent chasing the why of my unhappiness instead of focusing on the how of feeling better.   This lesson is implicit in every talk I give, and all of the work that I do with individuals and their families. It is the fabric of my coaching work, and heartbeat of every article I write. If we can learn to lean into the tension, breathing into any areas in our lives where we experience tightness. If we can push ourselves outside of our comfort zones, while listening for cues when we’ve gone too far. If we can gain flexibility, and let go of the rigidity that creeps in when anxiety, and fear take over, and we scramble to control the uncontrollable. If we can start each day with an intention, and close it the same way. If we can still our minds, while continuing to move ahead. If we can feel as close to God as I do in my practice in the ordinary moments that make up our lives. If we can bring the peace that we find in our happy place with us when we leave it… What an inspired life this would be!! This is the HOW OF HAPPY. This is what it means to take it off the mat.

*I invite you to follow me on instagram and twitter @whatconnects_us.

Join me in inspiring others to take it off the mat. Post a quote, or a picture that expresses your how of happy, and be sure to use the hashtags #howofhappy, and #offthemat so that we can all follow along!

My contribution- My latest vision board. Filled to the brim with what brings me joy.






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Here and Now

I hadn’t been to a class since dad entered palliative care back in June. After he passed, I let go of yoga, pushed back at writing, and withdrew from the world for a while. I didn’t feel like doing much of anything, so I gave myself time. Time to grieve. Time to disconnect. I figured I was being kind to myself, and gentle with my broken heart. Basically, I let myself off the hook. Initially this felt like the right thing to do. An act of care, I told myself. No doing anything I didn’t want to do. For a while it felt good to let go. A short while… While my instinct has always been to disconnect when I feel bad, I’ve learned in recent years that this only magnifies the darkness, and the feelings of separation associated with it. I always feel worse when I hide. In the last few months, more than ever before in my life, I have realized two truths: That it will always be up to me. Up to me to do the things that I know make me feel better, OR don’t, and choose to move in the other direction. Which brings me to the second thing that I’ve learned in the 4 months since my dad passed away: Sometimes I choose to be unhappy. This realization is a tough pill to swallow. I was choosing (daily) to stay unhappy. Now I know, there will be some of you reading this thinking, my God Shannon of course you were unhappy.  You need to give yourself time. Yes I did need to, and I still do, and I probably always will. But in letting myself off the hook, I also let go of joy. I can’t do that. I can’t do that because I care too much about my life. I care too much about my marriage, and my relationships to disengage. I can’t do that because I have two little people that look to me every day to see how freely they get to be joyful. They have felt the sting of my grief. They have seen the depths of my sorrow. Whether I smiled, or I cried, children see through the crap we tell ourselves, and the walls we build around our pain. Not only was my choice to disconnect hurting me, but it also distanced me from the people that mattered most. Sadness infects, and divides unless you allow yourself to be joined. While I took comfort in leaning on my siblings, husband, friends and loved ones, and in sharing my heartache with my mom, my children were a different story. It was ok that they saw me grieve. It was ok that they shared their sadness too. But I did not want them joining me in letting go of joy. I wanted, and needed them to just be, free from whatever I might be feeling.

A few weeks ago I went back to yoga for the first time in 4 months. I started meditating again, and began mapping out next steps. Steps in the direction of reigniting my joy. Steps towards happy. I am not sure I can properly convey here what a difference these intentional commitments have made, but I will say that now more than ever, I recognize the power of choice. I fought back tears at the end of that first day back. Like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, newly oiled, I could move again. My body freed from the rigidity that had encased me, my heart restarted by the deep breaths I’d consciously breathed in. I felt as though I’d forgotten to breathe, really breathe, since that day in July when he took his last breath.  I hadn’t wanted to sit in the present moment. I had not been willing, or ready to anchor myself in the here and now. Yes I needed time. Yes I needed to give myself permission to pull away, but what I understood at the end of class that day, was that re-engaging in my life was the only way to truly save it.

My teacher talked about the importance of grounding in yoga. When we root, planting ourselves firmly in the moment, connecting with the earth, we are somehow afforded more flexibility, and greater reach. “We root, so that we can rise”, she said, a lump rising in my throat, as the beauty and applicability of her comment sunk in. I’d prayed for some comfort, and searched for relief, but I was only moving away from the answer that God had put at my feet. I’d been reliving July, and June, and every day leading backwards to that date in March of 2013, when the word cancer became a part of our vernacular. The answer that would ease my suffering did not reside in the past, nor did it belong to the future.   The peace that I’d yearned for, that I’d seen in my father’s eyes before they closed for the last time, is experienced only when we can let the past fall away, and the future wait for us. Sweet comfort found only when we are rooted in the here and now.



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All of Us

I used to love rummaging through my mother’s picture drawer. I’d ask her to tell me about the people in the photographs, and when they were taken. There were black and whites, pictures of relatives I’d never met, as well as ones I loved dearly, mixed with photographs of my brothers and I at different ages. As I grew up, I’d notice family portraits lining the walls of other people’s homes, different sized picture albums on bookshelves, and framed memories on mantles. I wondered why my mother had hers hidden in a drawer, and why there was not a single family photo of all of us adorning our walls?

I grew up one of three children, or so I thought until an impromptu conversation that changed everything… Just 14 at the time, my mother and I were sitting in my room, talking about life, and love and tough choices. A girl at school had become pregnant. I said that she must be terrified, and feel so alone… We talked about the decision she now faced of what to do about a pregnancy, and a baby she was not ready for. As I spoke, my mother began to cry, as though a damn had broken, she could not compose herself. I pushed, and prodded as to what I had said to upset her? But before she could answer, I could see the truth in her eyes. She tearfully revealed a nearly 30 year-old secret, shared only with a handful of people. Pregnant at 16, she’d given birth to a baby girl, my sister, who she’d given up for adoption early into her little life. Her story cloaked in shame, the details spilled out between sobs. She went on to tell me that she’d become pregnant again at 19, with another daughter, and that she too, had been given up… Too much to process, I sat there, shell-shocked, weepy, and trying to console this broken lump of a person sitting across from me on my bed. I cannot remember how I felt in that moment. I was too preoccupied with my mother, who had gone to pieces before my eyes. In a flash, her grief infected me, no room for my pain, as the questions flooded in like the waves of a tsunami. How could I reconcile this new information with my then, current reality? How could this woman, my mother, who I knew and loved, be the same person, as that girl, who made those decisions? It wasn’t that I was judging her, or that this revelation made me love her any less. It was just that she’d been abruptly knocked off the pedestal she’d sat on my whole life.

Eerily, my mother’s unplanned disclosure was not unique. In a drunken confession, her own “mummy”, Mrs. Cook, revealed that she was not her mother, but rather her grandmother, and that the woman she’d thought was her sister, was actually her birth mother. My grandmother, Mary, had been forced to give up my mother after giving birth to her at age 16. Mrs. Cook had insisted she’d raise my mother as her own. A lie Mrs. Cook stuck to until my mother was just 9 years old. And so my mother knew firsthand the impact of accidentally saddling someone with the truth. A burden she’s regretted passing on to me since that fateful day in my room.

After my eldest sister was born, my mother and baby returned to Mary’s apartment, where she’d hidden out when she could no longer conceal her pregnancy. Soon the reality of having no means, and no plan set in. My father, in and out of trouble, and dealing with his own crises at home, offered no reassurance that they could make things work. He did not want his parents’ life: One of eight, poor, living with an alcoholic, and abusive father. And so, a decision was made, though, according to my mother, it never really felt like one. A little over a week after bringing home her first-born, a social worker came, and took her baby girl away. As my mother tells this story, even now, she’d insist that she has no regrets, and that she hadn’t spent every day after that feeling depressed and broken. I couldn’t believe her. I didn’t want to. There’d been some kind of compartmentalizing of events, a splitting off enabling her to move on. How else could I make sense of what I now knew? How do you let go of your children? How do you move on? These questions burned a hole in my chest when I held my own babies for the first time…

When my mother became pregnant again at 19, she would not bring the baby home, or have my father meet his daughter. She’d say, that somehow, she didn’t feel she deserved to keep her, nor would it be fair to her first-born because of the decision she’d since made. All of this, sat tucked away on the highest shelf in my mother’s mind until that day in my room when it all came crashing down.

Just two years after my second sister was born, my parents found out they were expecting for a third time. Now 21 and 23 years old, they decided they would marry. They rarely ever talked about what had happened. They kept their secret, moving ahead, as though somehow re-writing history. P.J became first-born, Tim middle-child, and I, the baby of the family, their only daughter.

It has taken me years to understand where my mother ends, and I begin. The longing she’d fought hard to disown, and sadness she’d buried deep, bled into me. I needed to disentangle myself from decisions made long before I was born. All of this had left me insecure about the one attachment I’d never questioned. After all, it could have been me she’d let go… After keeping the secret for over two decades, at 37, I went to my mother and resigned, relinquishing my secret-keeping position. Worn and bruised from the isolation, and weight of concealing a secret of this magnitude, I’d had enough. I’d never asked for this burden, instead it had been accidentally gifted to me. Time finally, to give it back to its original owners.

Shortly after that conversation, my parents told my brothers the truth… It was not easy. Both Tim and P.J reacted emotionally to the news, and to the fact that I had known for so long. Why me? Why had they not been trusted? They too were flooded with questions, and had to consolidate this new information with everything they’d known to be true before.

Then followed another brave step- to look for my sisters. First we found Linda, first-born, living just a short drive away, and looking so much like my mother. She embraced us right from the start. A fact that baffled us. I can remember how nervous I was to meet her, and how incredibly surreal it felt to experience such familiarity with a complete stranger. Looking into her eyes, I was looking into the eyes of my mother. The way she talked and moved, and even how her hand felt in mine… We cried, and laughed, and talked about things so tender and heart wrenching. My parents sat in their truth, and owned their story for the first time. But there was still a missing face in our family album…

Kathryn, second born, had not registered to be found, and so we were told it could take years to reconnect with her. My father’s colon cancer diagnosis two years ago, shortly after finding Linda, changed all of this. Within a month, they’d located Kathryn, living in B.C. She planned a trip to Montreal, just weeks after speaking to my parents by phone for the first time. Meeting her was equally surreal. She reminded me immediately of my father’s mother, and of my godmother, my dad’s youngest sister. She has my father’s eyes, and so much of my mother’s heart. Finally it was as though a piece of me had been restored. The circle, left open for nearly 50 years, now closed.

My parents believed that the truth would undo them; that they would be judged, even left, unworthy of the love they’d known under false pretenses. They never anticipated that this love could deepen, and expand as the weight of the secret lifted, or the repair that would come with reunion. For me, the secret, and keeping it, drove a quest for truth and connection that has shaped every aspect of my life. I am thankful to have had the courage to inspire my parents to face their truth, and break the cycle of secrecy. Ours is a story of love, and forgiveness, penned in gratitude for all that it has taught me. I cannot recall a single family photo in my mother’s picture drawer… This one, of all of us, hangs in a proper frame on the wall.


*My father read this piece before he passed away.  He knew I would one day share it.  He was so grateful to have found his girls, and to have been surrounded by all of us in the last weeks of his life.


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