i did not know when i started doing work in our infamous downtown eastside neighbourhood, that i wud actually befriend women there and love them as well. on the flip side of that, the beautiful thing i received from these women, the teaching, was how to love someone unconditionally and without resistance.
it was the extreme that i had to observe. these are the people that know they cud die tomorrow or today for that matter. they are living so far on the edge that there is no coming back to level ground for the most part, back to the normalcy of earth (whatever that is). their mortality is always in their face and they dont have a terminal illness to reflect on they have a terminal existence. and each day is now, and each moment is now. it is about surviving and escaping thru drugs. every dam day.
so when they see someone like me . . . i guess i have to describe how they wud see me. i walk in the hood. i am not a user, they know that. could i be a social worker or a nurse – possibly. i dont look like a narc. i look friendly. i look healthy. i look like i ‘get it’.
i am someone they can talk to, confide in. they feel they can trust me. they miss that becuz their families rarely are in the picture at this point. the friends that they have are fellow users and not too many can be trusted. plus they have all heard each others stories. they are all bad stories. and some of them opened their hearts to me. and i opened mine back.
i still think of shanon when i think about unconditional love from these women. her and angel and of course and always josey.
no matter how bleak and horrible a day shannon may have had, she always put a smile on my face and almost always left by saying ‘i love you kat’. always warmed my heart. and then there was angel, same thing, leaving me with those words, sometimes yelling them over her right shoulder as she marched down the street to her next conquest. even her sister will say that to me.
so many women living in the hood claimed their names were angel. i dont think i knew my friend angel’s real name till she died. and still i have hard time calling her anything different.
i remember sitting beside angel at the carnegie. she was selling crack. she saw me and waved me over and we sat on the stone window sill together. she was telling me about a guy stabbing her with a needle. she was livid. i told her she cud go get a shot right away (a shot i heard about at the clinic – if you have been infected by hiv, it can turn it around). she didnt say much after that becuz she knew she was already infected but i did not know till i saw her in st paul’s icu room.
anyhow, in between our chats, she wud call out to people passing by, ‘rock’, ‘crack’, and then back to me not missing a beat. and then she turned to me after her banter and looked into my eyes and said, ‘how are you doing?’ i dont think i was doing too well and it felt really sweet that she asked and i realized, people dont often ask.
angel was no angel on earth i must say, but she is now. i feel her smile. and i smile back. she was such a character.
i still smile too when i think of her thanking everyone for coming to ‘her’ movie when ‘junkie shadow’ opened at the blinding light theatre.
when i visit josey, it is rare that that is not our last words to each other. a hug and ‘i love you’.
so why does that not prevail in my other existence? outside of the hood? actually it does in part now because of learning this from these incredible women who i got this teaching from.
it took my mom to be on her deathbed to first tell me those words. i was surprised to get them because i was really not sure that she loved me. but maybe facing your own mortality helps people express their true feelings. and maybe that is why i needed to be in the hood. most of the people address that every day. they say exactly how they feel.
i did a lot of healing at the Sunshine Coast shack at first. but people kept dying.
i went to fire island, new york to deal with mom’s death. the island was so spectacular to watch sunsets. and every nite i wud go out and watch them from one side of the island then go to the other side of the island and see its perspective of the same sunset. the island was just a few blocks wide. very magical with a history of vikings and planes crashing into the sea around it and deer that you can pet and boardwalks that take you from one house to the next and no cars. it was a sweet place to recuperate. i wrote a piece called ‘sunset sonata’ for my mother while there.
i dont know if there is a good season to grieve. i do like being underwater when i am overwhelmed. as in swimming underwater. somehow that helps me. running helped. in the winter you are locked inside so that you really have to deal with your emotions and it seems to me less options for release.
do i have a recipe for grieving? no. but what i wud say to someone is allow your emotions to flow. dont be embarrassed by crying in front of others (a big one for me). allow friends to support you and comfort you if you are comfortable with that. try doing physical things to bring release like swimming running working out. and cry as much as you need to. and dont be surprised by the array of mixed emotions that come along with it like anger and guilt and sometimes even relief. and know that it will get easier with time tho it is a drag to hear that. and if you hear the person who has passed speaking to you, trust that that is their spirit and they are indeed trying to communicate with you. ask questions, listen to their answers. allow dreams to come to you from them. feel their love even after they have passed and continue to love them. they feel it.