The photo is of my hand in my dad’s hand. I took it on Thursday, as I sat with him. Holding hands will always remind me of what he taught me – three squeezes for “I love you,” four squeezes for “I love you, too.”
I will write this up in different ways over time but for now I want to share that I spent a lot of time in the last week holding my dad’s hand.
We tried, for so long, to find our way to each other.
We did not always have an easy time of it.
There was distance that neither of us wanted and neither of us knew how to resolve. There was a lot of pain.
We spiraled in towards each other – a phone call, a dinner, a visit. And then we spun out again, distant, disconnected. Not able to find a way to feel close. I believe that we both wanted something different. I believe that my dad wanted the kind of closeness that I also wanted. We did the best that we could.
(My sister, who had her own hard path and deep valleys of disconnection with dad, keeps reminding me of this – We did the best we could. We all did the best that we could. It is enough. It was always enough. It will always be enough. We all did the best that we could. My sister is a miracle. I spent a lot of time over the last week holding hands with her, too.)
There were also so many cherished moments, both in my childhood and in the long apartness of adulthood.
There were so many gifts in the relationship. So many legacies that continue in me, in my life, in my values and my skills and the way I approach my work and the world. As I move through this process and write my way through my feelings, I hope that the stories of these gifts, legacies, values, and skills will be captured in shareable ways. I want to find a way to make these things visible, to give them names, to rescue them from memory and put them into narratives. I treasure them. I cherish these sparkling memories and gifts from my dad, and the distance we sometimes felt does not eclipse them.
There is never just one single true story. Not of a person, not of a place, not of a relationship.
I am thankful to my dear friend Patti who, echoing my sister’s wisdom, wrote to me and said, “I hope you find solace in knowing that for as long as I’ve known you, you’ve worked so hard at being in good relation with your dad. You carried some weight because of this and I’d like to gently suggest that you have been there for him and others in your family as part of your loving kindness, your gifts… Although our minds try to trick us that we might have done more or differently, you did everything the way it was supposed to have occurred.”
On November 14, my dad and his partner called to let us know that the doctor’s appointment had not gone as they had hoped. Just the week before, my dad had said he felt that the latest treatment was working. It was not. The doctor let them know that a likely timeline was 3 weeks to 3 months.
I was in Toronto when I got the call. I flew back as scheduled two days later, attended the Ally Toolkit Resource Fair on the Sunday, presented my Networks of Care presentation at a lunch and learn and again at the Ally Toolkit Conference on Monday. I was supposed to see him Tuesday, but the roads were terrible and I hadn’t got winters on my car, he told me to stay home, that we had time. I worked 13 hours on Wednesday. Writing this, I feel hot shame and regret settling behind my sternum. I wasted a whole week.
But we had been chatting daily over that time. I sent him pictures of art my littlest stepkid had made, and he asked if she would draw him a picture of an upside down Christmas tree (he has had upside down trees for years – they have more space for ornaments).
On Thursday, my nesting partner and littlest stepkid and I went over, and he snuggled with her and saw her art. Her picture is now framed and sitting by his tree, a 5-year-old’s rendition of an upside down Christmas tree, and presents, and ornaments, and stick figures, as he had requested. He and I chatted, and my sister came over, and it was good. It was hard to see how quickly things had changed, but it was good to see him.
I saw him almost every day after until his final moments at 4:40 am on November 30.
There are a lot of memories I want to capture from this week of time together, but right now, in this post, I just want to name and honour and make visible that in this week, we found our way to each other.
In this last week, he wanted Domini and me to be there.
He let us be there.
We orbited each other for so long, our trajectories never quite lining up to allow us to move together, to be in closeness, to be, as Patti insightfully named it, in right relation. But in this last week, we were there. We were there together with him and his partner. It took a long time, and it’s so hard that it only happened in this way at the very end, but our circuitous path lead us finally together.
This is the tribute my sister and I wrote for him and shared on Facebook.
David Maxwell loved books and travel and people. He loved justice and kindness and connection. He loved the precious life that he had co-created with his partner and his friends.
He lived in Nigeria, America, Canada, Croatia, and Costa Rica. And he lived in Italy, too. His favourite place in the world.
Wherever he went, he collected friends and he kept them, tucked away into his contact list, cherishing and reconnecting with them regularly. His Christmas Day and New Years phone calls to friends around the world, often starting in the early hours of the morning and going for hours and hours, were a feature of our childhood home and a tradition that continued long after we had all left that house, dispersed in four directions.
We will borrow his own turn of phrase and share that in the early morning of November 30 our dad stepped into Eternity. A long and difficult battle with cancer has come to a close. He knew that God was there with him, waiting for him. His faith was important to him, and he had an incredible ability to connect with people of many faiths.
Domini, Tiffany, and his partner Glenda were with him. His sister Ruth, who had been with us for most of the previous few days, arrived shortly after. He went with grace, surrounded by the kind of love that holds space for a whole person and for all the complexity of that person. It was deep and intentional love that surrounded him in his last days.
This experience has been incredibly challenging as we battled to process how quickly things changed. But it was also a beautiful and precious experience that we will be eternally grateful to have had with him.
We each knew him in different ways, we each have a different story of David Maxwell – not a coin with two sides and an edge, he was a TARDIS, bigger on the inside, full of rooms that few people had seen. He was a pop-up book, full of pages that became something totally new when you pulled the right tab or turned the wheel. He was an upside down Christmas tree, unexpected, decorated with unique and beloved ornaments – old ones and new ones, soft ones and hard ones, some that glitter brightly and some in the shadows.
He took that last step on his long journey while he was at home, his bed set up by the window and the view, as he had always wished.
We miss him.
We love him.
We turn the page into this new chapter, not ready. How could we ever be ready? But we are better prepared because of what he brought to our lives. His legacies in our lives will continue, will live through in our kids, in our own values of justice and kindness and connection, in our own love of books and travel and people. In our own complexity.
We know that Dad’s influence and connections stretch across decades and oceans alike, his chosen family and friends have lost a precious connection. We offer our love and support to all those who will be grieving alongside us. We would love to hear your stories of him, his life, and who he was in your life. We would love to know him better through you.
Among other books on the go, dad was most of the way through Lindsay Buroker’s Dragon Blood series and he was enjoying the books immensely. If you need a gift for a fantasy lover this coming season, consider one last recommendation from David Maxwell.
Originally posted on Facebook
I’m taking this week off, and then I’ll sit down and figure out how to move through this time.
I had an idea this morning of something I would like to do, a way of creating a project around this time, and when I expressed anxiety that I was doing this ‘wrong’ by thinking about projects, my beloved Nathan said, “You have literally always taken what you are working with and gifted community with the opportunity to connect directly and in parallel. It is one of your ways. One of the ways your light shines so people who have belongingness with you can find their way to you in the dark. I could not think of a more you way to grieve. And I could not think of a more honourable tribute to your relationship with your Dad.”
So, we’ll see what happens with that after this week of gentleness and space.
I know that this experience has been profound.
I know that it will change the trajectory of at least some of my work.
That it will change the trajectory of some of my own stories of myself, and of myself in relationship with my dad, and of my dad.
I know that I will find a way to bring this experience into my community work, and I am thankful that this community of support is here with me.
Edited to add: I did create the project I mentioned.
An Invitation to Celebrate has been completely updated to include an option to celebrate the life of a loved one.
The other day I responded to a post about politics and said:
I feel like the last couple years have really pushed me away from the faith I had in electoral politics, and there are times when I feel so much grief for losing that thread of hope. Most of the time I am thankful, because letting go of that opens up space to do other things and to imagine other ways of making change, but sometimes it does feel like a loss, and it is a feeling of grief.
Maybe there needs to be a little collective narrative projects for newly disillusioned folks to talk about this grief, which really doesn’t have a lot of space for expression.
Well, here is that little collective narrative project!
Over the next few weeks (until November 8), I’ll be collecting stories about our feelings about politics in 2019.
Submit your piece of poetry, art, or non-fiction by emailing me at email@example.com. Submissions will ideally not be more than 1000 words, but, as with all of these projects, I’m flexible.
If you are struggling with how to express your feelings or what to write, there are a few options. You can get in touch with me and we can have a chat that will hopefully help you clarify what you want to express, or you can use the following narrative questions to guide your writing:
When you think about the current state of electoral politics, what are the feelings that are evoked?
Are these feelings the same, similar, or not at all similar to feelings that you used to have about electoral politics?
If your feelings have changed, do you remember a specific experience or story that contributed to this change?
What do you miss about your earlier feelings, if there has been a change?
Do you have a sense of grief or disillusionment?
What are you grieving?
What feels like it is lost or more distant?
Do you have a sense of what you wish or hope that electoral politics could be like?
What does this hope say about what you value?
Where does this hope come from – are there particular political histories or thinkers who have inspired and nurtured this hope?
What do you hold onto when difficult feelings about politics arise for you? What, or who, keeps you going?
What are the actions that you are taking in your life that align with your hopes and values?
Have you ever had a moment of realizing the elected officials or the institutions of power were not responding in alignment with your values, and taking some kind of action? This action may be as small as reaching out to an LGBTQIA2+ friend when legislation threatens our safety, or it may be something like reading the 291 Calls to Justice in the MMIWG Final Report, or getting involved in community organizing and protests. People are never passive recipients of harm and trauma, and I would like to include stories of response in this zine!
My hope is that, regardless of the outcome of the Canadian federal election that is happening today, this zine will bring together stories of how we are continuing to do work in our communities, how we are continuing to hold onto our values despite our feelings of disillusionment and grief over the state of politics. I hope that it will bring our voices together, and give us a sense of how we can move forward together, organizing together, supporting each other, doing the work of responding to the problems in our lives regardless of the politicians who hold so much power (and the corporations who hold even more).
I’m looking forward to your contribution!
(Although this zine is inspired by the Canadian federal election, contributions are welcome from anyone. These feelings about politics span so many spaces.)
Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. This is a topic that impacts so many different people, including trans and non-binary folks who experience gender erasure and harm in both medical contexts and support spaces around this loss; Black, Indigenous, and brown people who experience racism in medical contexts and support spaces; disabled folks; neurodivergent and mad folks; so many people who go through this experience (which can take so many different forms, and can be felt in so many different ways) undersupported, underserved, dismissed.
The You Are Not Alone project was first conceived in 2017 as a response to loss resources that are highly gendered, and that implicitly assume their readers are straight, white, and cisgender. It was also created to try and provide something free and easily accessible.
This is the third edition of You Are Not Alone, and we hope to reissue this document yearly with more and better information and resources. In 2019, we have added Aditi Loveridge’s personal story, and expanded the section on handling racism in medical contexts with Aditi’s help. We have also expanded the resources section to include information about Aditi’s Calgary and online-based charity, the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Centre.
Although this resource attempts to be intentionally
inclusive and anti-oppressive, the two primary collaborators – Tiffany Sostar
and Flora – are both English-speaking white settler Canadians, with stable
housing and strong social supports. Our privilege means that we are missing nuance, and we do not see
what we’re not seeing. We are open to being corrected, and to hearing from
people who do not see themselves represented in this document. You can reach
Tiffany at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This document is designed to be a grief and loss
resource, and we have included abortion stories and resources. However, we
recognize that not every abortion is experienced as a loss or followed by
grief. (This is true for miscarriages, too!) We also recognize that it is
possible to feel grief without feeling regret, and this is true for any
pregnancy loss, whether it’s abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or adoption.
We are so thankful to the individuals who contributed to
this document. Our call for contributors was met with courage and generosity by
people who shared their stories despite the pain that telling the story brought
up for them.
We are also thankful to Andi Johnson and Randi van
Wiltenburg, both full-spectrum doulas in Calgary, Alberta, who contributed not
only their personal stories but also a wealth of knowledge and information.
Their professional contact information is listed in the resources section.
Parents we want to honour:
Those who have lost a child to miscarriage
Those who have lost a child to abortion
Those who have lost a child to stillbirth
Those who have lost a child after birth to medical illness
Those who have lost a child after birth to adoption
Those who have lost a child after birth to structural violence
People of any gender identity
People of any sexual orientation
People of any relationship status and structure
People of any race or culture
People of any state of mental or physical health
People of any religious belief
People of any socioeconomic status
This kind of work – creating resources that help serve the margins is exactly the goal of my Patreon, and it’s why I do what I do. I am thankful to be invited into this kind of work by people in the community who recognize a gap and want help filling it, which is what happened in 2017 when this resource was first created. I will continue to do this kind of work. If you would like to support me, you can find my Patreon here.
Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable.
This is an invitation to join me in writing 100 love letters to this world. An invitation to spend 100 intentional moments loving this world, and documenting this love. Finding 100 things to love in this world, or loving one thing in this world 100 times. Being present in this world, and seeing its complexities, holding space for what is terrible and for what is beautiful.
This world, which I propose we love with intention and with tangible actions, is full of grief and suffering and injustice, and many of us are resisting, responding. That core of recognizing and responding to injustice is central to this project.
Why speak of thriving and love when there are so many massive, urgent problems that need to be confronted? To write about the potential or trust and care, at this time in history, could seem like grasping optimistically at straws as the world burns. But durable bonds and new complicities are not a reprieve or an escape; they are the very means of undoing Empire.
Nick Montgomery and carla bergman, Joyful Militancy
Loving this world in a time of compounding crisis and active, necessary response can be challenging and it can feel counter-intuitive. But as I move through this difficult time in my own life, and as I witness community members similarly moving through fear, and grief, and anger, and despair… I find love and connection more and more critical.
Community care, connection, and the ability to recognize and express love; these are not just a reprieve or an escape, as Montgomery and bergman point out. They are the means by which we can respond to injustice.
And so, 100 love letters to this world.
To this world. And to those of us who are in this world, fighting for this world, fighting for each other within this world.
To all survivors today: your time is precious, your energy is precious, you are precious. Your love is precious, your relationships are precious. And I don’t mean precious like cute. I mean precious like invaluable like massive like power like transcendent.
The goal of this project is not to stifle resistance or to turn our focus away from injustice. But rather to find a way to be in relationship with this world – this world that we have, the physical world, the social world, the emotional world that we find ourselves in right now, unique to each of us – that allows for love and struggle. I am not looking for a quick fix or a cure for the problems that we are facing; the idea of a “cure” for trauma is fundamentally ableist, and I reject it.
The idea that survivorhood is a thing to “fix” or “cure,” to get over, and that the cure is not only possible and easy but the only desirable option, is as common as breath. It’s a concept that has deep roots in ableist ideas that when there’s something wrong, there’s either cured or broken and nothing in between, and certainly nothing valuable in inhabiting a bodymind that’s disabled in any way.”
Leah Lakshmi Piepza-Samarasinha, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice
We are facing climate crisis, and seeing the effects more and more clearly. Time is short. We are at, and passed, many critical tipping points.
We are also facing an emboldened and increasingly powerful right wing, fueled by capitalism, climate denial, white supremacy, and cis hetero patriarchy.
Within my own heart, and within my communities, there is despair, hopelessness, existential dread. How do we move forward? How do we continue breathing, living, loving, in this context? How do we stay connected when we are in such pain, and when we are anticipating so much more pain?
It is easier to scroll the newsfeed endlessly, to think about collapsing insect populations and melting glaciers and rolled back rights and ongoing colonial violence, to think about these things rather than engaging with them. To grieve in an abstract and disconnected way. It is harder, and I am less likely, to go outside, to attend a rally, to have coffee with a friend, to breathe the air that I still can breathe, to see the moon in the sky, to feel the ground under my feet, to hear water moving through rivers and streams and in raindrops.
Moving from the abstract to the material is difficult, because it means facing what is at stake. Feeling my own body on the line with this world.
Underpinning so much of the despair is the sense of impending and worsening scarcity. Many of us have been so deeply steeped in capitalism and capitalism’s story about humans as inherently greedy, as hoarders and accumulators, that it is hard for some of us, for me, to think about scarcity without wanting to retreat. To turn inward, to accept the neoliberal premise of individualization, to become ever more an island.
Disconnection is a coping strategy. There is value in disconnection, in avoidance, in the inward turn. There are times when it is just what we need in order to continue on. But for myself, and for some of my community members, there is a way in which disconnection has stopped being supportive of my life and has become too heavy. I want to change it.
When I notice how much easier it is to access feelings and stories that close off acts of living and resistance, that’s when I know I need to interrupt the disconnection and find a way back. That’s where I’m at now. And that’s why this project exists.
Whatever comes next will be hard, and it will leave most of us hurting. We can learn from disability justice work, from racial justice work, from queer and trans justice work, from all the community workers who have come before us into apocalyptic trauma and have found a way to stay connected. We can take their wisdom and ask: How will we love this world? How will we love ourselves in this world? How will we love each other in this world?
Those are the questions I hope to ask with this project. And I hope that by bringing our love to this world, we can start co-creating possible futures together, or even just co-creating the possibility of imagining a possible future.
Your love letters can be as elaborate or as simple as you’d like. A single word or a ten-page billet-doux. A photograph, a drawing, a poem, a deep inhale. A conversation with a friend about what there is to love in this world, a moment in the mirror, a short story, a long story, a postcard. Love letters can take so many forms, and all of them are welcome.
All that is required is that you do this intentionally, that you find some way to connect with love for this world.
And your love, just like your love letters, can take many forms. Love can coexist with despair. Love can fuel anger. Love and grief know each other well. This project is not a demand for “positivity.” It is, instead, an invitation to connection.
This project will run from the New Moon on June 3 2019, to the Full Moon on September 14 2019.
Following the project, I will be collecting the love letters into a zine.
You can participate on social media by tagging your posts #100loveletters. If you’d like to receive my love letters in your email, you can sign up for the 100 Love Letters to This World email list. I’ll be sending out my own love letters throughout the project, and also sending out any letters that you submit to be included. You can submit those letters by emailing them to me at email@example.com.
The other day, I made a really delicious salad for dinner, and as I sat there eating it, and enjoying it, and thinking about all of its components, I was, again, overcome with dread about the future of food security as climate change worsens.
This is a post about how fears about climate change are showing up in my life these days, and about how I hope to use narrative practices to respond to these fears in my own life and in the lives of community members who consult me. Many people in my communities, myself included, are experiencing a pervasive sense of hopelessness and powerlessness.
Narrative therapy suggests that we are never passive recipients of hardship or trauma. That people are always responding to the problems in their lives. I believe this is true, even when the response is not outwardly (or sometimes inwardly) visible. I want to find ways to speak about climate grief, climate fear, climate anger, in ways that honour our values, our skills, and our legacies of response. This post is one effort in this direction. I hope that there will be more. I hope that you will join me on the journey.
I think about climate change, and about how it will impact food security and the necessities of life, so often.
I think about the wealth gap that already exists and is worsening globally, and I think about how so many of my communities are already living with financial precarity. I think about what the salad I made should cost if we paid what we need to for carbon, and I think about how drastically my diet would need to change. I think about self-sustainability and I feel my aching body and I know that I will not be able to grow food to feed my family.
And this line of thought draws me into thinking about sustainability and self-sustainability. Self-sufficiency. Independence. I think that “self-sustainability,” expressed as individualism, is just another tentacle of violent neoliberalism and I reject it. Community care forever. But still. How? And so, bumping up against another problem (the influence of individualism on our dominant narratives), I encounter again The Dread.
I have nightmares about the next generation starving. My stepkids, my neiphlings, the children in my extended community, and in the vulnerable communities I witness from a distance.
Starvation is the most frequent recurring nightmare I have when it comes to climate change. It haunts me at least once a week.
It also makes me think about how environmental racism and environmental violence are not new; how Indigenous children and Black children have already been facing the kind of food scarcity that I have nightmares about. How the Black Panthers instituted school meal programs to try and address these issues long before climate change became such an urgent issue. But even though environmental racism and violence are not new, the people who have already been facing these harms will also mostly likely face the escalating harms more quickly and more directly. We can’t look at the past through idealistic lenses and pretend that children haven’t already been starving, but we also can’t use that as an excuse to ignore how much worse it will likely get.
Again, the dread.
But also threads of hope, and delight. The Black Panthers have descendants in Black Lives Matter, and food justice efforts exist in projects like Food Not Bombs, and in the Health At Every Size movement, and in Black urban growers (some of whom you can read about here) and Indigenous communities who understand how to care for the Earth in ways that capitalism and colonialism have tried (and failed) to erase.
I just bought adrienne maree brown’s new book, Pleasure Activism, and I am starting to read it. I think that pleasure is necessary, joy is necessary. How will we resist oppression and injustice, and respond to the challenges in front of us, without pleasure, without joy, without hope?
I want both: the fear that tells me what is at stake, and the hope that allows me to keep moving forward.
Right now I have a disproportionate amount of fear, and not a lot of hope.
There are reasons for this, and I refuse to disavow or invalidate my own fear and distress, or the fear and distress of my community members. But as much as I resist the pressure towards “positive thinking” that says feeling fear is the “real” problem, the fact is that I want pleasure and hope, too. I want joy. I want the full range of my emotions, and I want to be able to imagine a future for myself, for my communities, for the children coming after us. I want that for all of us.
Lately I have noticed my thoughts sliding sideways over into, “it would be good if I just died right now,” more often than I am happy about.
Last week I sent a message to Nathan Fawaz, one of my beloved humans, and said:
“Do you have a spoon for a big but short vent? I don’t need a solution but it is just sitting in my chest.
I just really struggle when I think about climate change. I don’t want to live through what is coming. I feel so hopeless and sometimes even suicidal. I won’t, because I think there is a role for people with my skill set in getting through what’s coming and I want to help, and I also think about the impact of that on my communities, but my desire to live does not coexist with my awareness of climate crisis. They do not overlap. When I think about climate change, my desire to live is gone.”
They replied, generously offering me the same kind of response that I would hope to offer someone who brought that vulnerability to me:
I am seeing such a strong value for supportive environments and our roles in cocreating them.
And such an affinity between environment and lifeforce/vitality.
Such a keen and important sensitivity.
I am sorry you are sad and that this is so hard.
I am sorry that there is so much detritus — both human and human-made.
I am sorry for all the disequilibrium.
Every word you wrote resonates so strongly.
They shared an idea that part of what is happening is akin to “ecoableism” – not being able to imagine any future without some expectation of wholeness or perfection on the part of the planet. An inability to see value or hope in an injured and ill planet. As people who are both in “painbodies,” we have faced this kind of ableism and have valuable insider knowledges into how to resist it. We have both felt the pressure of ableist narratives that frame bodies like ours (trans bodies, pain bodies, ill bodies) as less vital, less worthy. We have both resisting those narratives. We resist those narratives on behalf of our communities and other groups, too. (In fact, we talked about this in episode two of Nathan’s podcast, which you can listen to here.)
We cannot deny that we are causing harm and destruction to the Earth through our actions, that we are making a painbody for the Earth, but maybe we can find ways forward from within the crip and disability communities. What becomes possible if we could, as Nathan suggests, “think about my painbody. Your painbody. And all the painbodied people I know. The shimmering that is there. The incandescent connections. The community. The care. The skills that are exclusive to us.”
What becomes possible if we imagine ourselves in relationship with this struggling and suffering and overheating planet, as collaborators as well as defenders and protectors and destroyers. What if we imagine that there is something unique that we can offer, some gift of care or presence.
What if we imagine the unique insider knowledges that each marginalized community brings; the knowledges of persistence, resistance, healing, nurturing, tending, defending, adapting, restoring, remembering?
I am still figuring out what to do with this conversation and with these feelings. I suspect that in practice, this will mean that I keep tending my house plants and thinking about climate change. I’ll keep reading and talking about it. I’ll keep reaching for hope. And now, with this new language, I’ll start watching for where my insider knowledges into ableism might offer me new paths forward, new life-affirming and life-sustaining choices.
Imagining myself into a story of relationship with this planet, even this planet in a new painbody of our thoughtless design, feels hopeful in a way I had not previously had access to. Maybe it will also feel hopeful for you.
I also wanted to share some narrative questions that you can answer on your own. These are some of the questions I might ask someone who is consulting me for narrative therapy and expressing the kinds of experiences and feelings I’ve been describing here.
What is it about this situation that is causing you so much distress? Is there something that you hold to be precious or sacred that is at stake?
How did you learn to cherish whatever it is that is at stake?
What is your relationship with this cherished idea, location, person, or planet? What is one story that comes to your mind when you think about your relationship?
Have you ever felt hopelessness or distress like this before? How did you get through that time?
Is there a legacy of responding to hardships like the one you’re in right now, that you can join? Have other people also felt what you are feeling, or something like it?
Do you have friends or family members or role models who know what you are experiencing, and may be experiencing similar?
What is it that keeps you in this situation? What are you holding onto, what are you valuing, that has prevented you from ‘checking out’?
Is there anyone in your life who knows how much you are struggling with this? Do you think it makes a difference to this person that you continue to resist the problem?
What does your distress say about what you cherish or consider valuable?
I ask myself these questions, and they are not easy to answer.
But I also know that I have strong values of justice and access and collective action. I know that these values can sustain me. And I know that you, too, have strong values and that connecting to these values is possible.
And I know that we can choose to welcome our despair as much as we welcome our actions of resistance and resilience. We can bring curiosity to The Dread, and ask what matters, what’s at stake, and remind ourselves of why we care so deeply. We can honour the depth of our fear and our grief and our anger.
Our despair is as valid as our resistance and resilience. The two can coexist.
We are multi-storied people, with many equally true and sometimes contradictory stories. And this is a multi-storied time. There is no need to flatten it down to a single narrative. Hope and fear. Pleasure and despair.
Image description: A screenshot of the front cover of the PDF. Orange text reads “GETTING THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS: PLANNING, COPING, RECOVERING, AND GRIEF” Smaller text reads “An updated-for-2018 version of the document generated following the December 2017 Possibilities Calgary Bi+ Discussion Group. This document is meant to extend the conversations that we have at Possibilities, and also to invite further conversation. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, or would like to add to this discussion.” There is a decorative red line down the right side of the image.
“What Holidays Are We Talking About?
All of them!
This conversation happened around the Winter Holidays – that stretch of time that includes Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Yule, Midwinter, Christmas, New Year’s, and Chinese New Year. But these strategies, suggestions, and situations are relevant to any holiday that includes social pressure to perform joyfulness, to spend time with extended social networks, and to perform a certain type of gender, orientation, or other identity. These pressures can be exacerbated by trauma, grief, or identity shifts. Other holidays that can be challenging in this way are birthdays, Valentine’s Day, the Spring Holidays, and any personally meaningful anniversary.
When and Why We Need Holiday Care
There can be shame attached to needing care around the holidays. It can be particularly difficult to manage the work of care networks around the holidays, when everyone seems over-extended and when there is significant pressure to look after ourselves so that our “issues” don’t “burden” the people around us. Inviting community care can be difficult. It can be difficult to ask for help, and to look for collaborative responses to challenging situations. The holidays are “supposed” to be cheerful times, where we connect with our families and communities, give and receive gifts and support, remind ourselves of the goodness of humanity, feel loved and loving.
There is so much pressure to conform to these ideas of appropriate holiday cheer, and although we might understand that the holidays can be challenging, it’s often difficult to extend compassion to ourselves when we are struggling. It’s sometimes hard to ask other people to understand when we’re struggling, because they may be invested in having a “good holiday” that doesn’t have space for our struggle.
Depression spikes at the holidays, and we do not have robust “practices of anti-depression” (to borrow a term from Daria Kutuzova, whose work is linked in the resources section). These practices include things like mindfulness, self-care and community care, compassion, creating and encouraging unique outcomes (meaning, outcomes that counter our internal expectation of despair and the external expectation of a certain performance of joy – unique outcomes are outcomes that allow us strong, hopeful, and resilient stories without denying our struggle, pain, trauma, and fear). Other practices of anti-depression include creating inclusive spaces and a sense of belonging, and encouraging pleasure, fun, hope, anticipation, and resilience without pasting on a smile that hides our true feelings. This path is much more complicated and challenging, but also much more rewarding.
When and Why We Need Holiday Care. 3
Planning for Holiday Care. 6
Coping Strategies. 8
If Your Family Invalidates Your Identity. 9
If You Can Get Away. 10
If You Can’t Get Away. 10
If You Start to Dissociate. 10
If You Feel Suicidal. 11
Recovery Strategies 13
If You’re Grieving. 14
Exercises and Printables. 18
The Reflection of the Year (exercise used with permission from Daria Kutuzova). 18
Documents of Authority. 18
Ally-Gathering Scripts and Card. 20
Letters of Support for the Trans Community. 22
Letter from Rosie. 22
Letter from Freya. 23
Collective Letter from the Possibilities Community, written at the November 20, 2018 Trans Day of Remembrance and Resilience event. 24
The monthly Possibilities discussions are full of rich insights, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration from within our bisexual, pansexual, asexual, trans-inclusive community.
One of my goals is to create resources that grow out of these generous and creative conversations, so that the work we do in those moments can extend out to join larger conversations about queerness and community care, collaboration, and collective action. One reason for this is because when we are struggling, we have valuable insider knowledge that can help other people who are also struggling – it’s not true that the only people with answers are the “experts” or the ones who have it all figured out. To the contrary – it is often those of us who are actively grappling with an issue who have more direct insight and knowledge to share. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for experts or guides, but part of what I hope to accomplish with my work is consistently and intentionally centering the voices of marginalized individuals and communities, and creating resources that honour hard-won knowledge and skills.
In an effort to share these moments of community-generated wisdom from the Possibilities discussions, I’ll be creating a resource most months that documents and shares our collective insights. Anonymity, or naming, is at each participant’s discretion, and at the beginning of the discussion we talk about why I’m taking notes, what I’m planning to do with them, and how people can access the document before it goes public. Any participants who want to look over the document before it’s made public have that opportunity, and there’s a second check-in at the end of the discussion to make sure everyone is aware of what might be shared and has a chance to opt in or out. Confidentiality within supportive community spaces is so critical, and these documents will not contain identifying details (unless participants want to be named or identified).
This document is meant to extend the conversation and also to invite further conversation. Please email me at email@example.com if you have any questions, or would like to add to this discussion.
This document was created following our December 19, 2017 meeting, and has been updated in December 2018 to include some expansion, some new language, and, most notable, the Letters of Support for the Trans Community project. It is meant to be a resource for the queer community that validates the challenges of holiday care as a queer person. There are a ton of coping strategies, resources, validations, and suggestions in here, and I hope they can help you.