Notice the Sunshine

A little over three weeks ago, a friend died of a rare form of cervical cancer at the age of 31.  I wrote about her briefly here and her own blog, Potato 2 Paleo, is an archive of beautiful and inspirational writing on health and death. 

If you're sitting in worry right at this moment, right now, just hold on a gosh darn second and notice the sunshine.

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How to Be a Meritocracy: Lessons From My Father

On May 22, my father raised his glass at a dinner table filled with 22 members of his family, my husband and my in-laws and congratulated me for completing medical school. 

"This is a great accomplishment.  But for me , the reason it really matters is because it means that we - all of us - can do anything.  We are good enough and capable enough."

My father grew up the youngest boy of eight children in the west end of Toronto in the 60s.  His father was a trucker and his mother was a home-maker and door-to-door saleswoman of Fullerbrush and all sorts of other goods.  They were raised on farms in early 1900s rural Ontario and rural Manitoba, respectively.  Their lives were difficult and complicated.  My grandfather struggled with alcoholism.  My father was told all of the time that he should take the less advanced classes at school and that his family was not a very smart one.  When they built a vocational school in his neighbourhood, the teachers told he and his siblings that they should attend.  

My father ended up attending college for a few semesters.  He did well but needed to support himself so he went out west to Edmonton in his early 20s to work with his elder brother.  

My father always knew that if he was to get by, it would be through sheer grit because he didn't believe himself to be particularly smart.  So when his daughter became a doctor, it was not confirmation of his identity - it was a challenge to it.  One he happily accepted. 

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Warning: How to Get Punched in the Face by a Smoker

My cousin recently texted to let me know that she managed to quit smoking with the help of her family doctor and vareniciline (Champix).  She's in her late 20s and has a rheumatalogical condition that is made worse by smoking.  Things I did not say to her:

  • It's about time!
  • Be careful! Temptation is around every corner!
  • You've already done so much damage!
  • Why even other, this isn't doing to last.

What I did say to her:

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7 Wishes for Not Yet Children

Dear future kiddo-o-mine, 

You're not conceived yet, and there isn't even a guarantee that you'll ever exist but I've known in my body since I turned 26 that I'd take care of some child someday.  The details aside, I wanted to think through what it would mean to parent a human on planet Earth.  Do not mistake this for hubris, I have no idea what I am doing but I have some ideas. 

The world you're coming into is brightly unstable, swollen with experience and emotion.  The little corner of it that you will live in is among the safest and richest of them all.  I hope that you see the other corners and learn how your brothers and sisters live so that you're aware of your own durability and resilience, and can support theirs.  I hope that you can see, truly see, others through difference, share with them, learn from them and eventually make it so that there is no "them" and only "us." 

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How To Be A Good Friend in Grief: Allies in Comfort & Silence

"I just want someone to say, 'that's so shitty' and be beside me and that's all," said my cousin, in a big globby, snotty tear session, a few months after her father died of cancer. 

She taught me, in that moment, how to be around pain.  Just give all your comfort, put your own business aside, and call a spade a spade: losing your father to alcohol-related cancer in your mid-20s is spectacularly shitty.

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8 Ways to Avoid Getting Your Mother a Crappy Gift on Mother's Day

Treating my mother to something is a privilege of adulthood for me.  When I lived in Kabul, I spent my deeply necessary vacation supplement on a trip for her to Greece and I met her there.  Now that my budget is smaller, I love to sew her things.  Whatever you feel about these made-up holidays, I hope this eclectic list of things helps you to honour your mother on May 10.

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