Lunch with the Dead

I haven't had it in me to write for a long time. I've wanted to but I keep getting writer's block. I know it's deeper than that though. The Universe doesn't want me to put too much on my already full plate. She wants me to take care of myself, and I always do my best to listen when She talks!

However, today I am feeling inspired. Today, I did something that I have been wanting to do for a while, but the weather was never perfect, or my mood was out of whack, or I was scared of being judged.

I had lunch with my Brother.

Well, it wasn't just me and it wasn't just my brother. My husband (who doesn't ask questions anymore, and supports me always) was with me. We picked up burgers and fries, drove to the cemetery, and plopped ourselves in the grass between my mom's and my brother's gravestones. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, and it was calm. We talked about life. We talked about death. I shared stories of my family. My brother didn't interrupt me with random stories about people I have never heard of. It was the quietest he's ever been. Then, we walked across the grass to say 'hi' to my great-grandparents, my beloved Papa, and my uncle. Once we were finished, we walked to the car where I was overcome with an urge. I requested the car keys.

Did we go home? Heck no. I got in the driver's seat and drove all around the northeast part of Edmonton, showing my husband the places I lived when I was a little girl. I didn't even know where I was driving, except that the first place I remember living was nearby. It turns out that my memory is REALLY good. With a quick text message to a family member, we found it, and I hadn't been too far off. When I saw it, I felt like I was instantly shot back in time to when I was three years old.

I could see images of my brother selling cigarettes out of his bedroom window, the entrepreneur that he was. I could see him walking me across the field to the playground with the curly white tube slide. I could still smell the grape bubblegum that got caught in my hair during nap time when I didn't obey my mom's orders to throw it in the garbage (she thought I did, but I actually stuck it to the nightstand; I was sneaky). I could see my mom's smile as I stood on her bed and sang 'I'm a Little Tea Pot" to her, even though I am sure she was exhausted. I could feel the fur and warmth of the small kittens that were born in that townhouse, sleeping with their mama in a suitcase that we had filled with towels. I remember it all so clearly.

We drove past the apartment building where my great-aunt Ellen lived, my Nana's sister. I remember going to visit her and her husband there. I can still smell the scent of freshly cleaned carpets in the elevator going up to her suite. She was the best baker and the kindest soul.

We drove past the old IGA (which is now Giant Tiger) where my mom and I grocery shopped. I once stole one hard candy out of the bulk bin there and felt supremely guilty, even though I was so little. In the same parking lot was the pharmacy where I won my first and only coloring contest, and probably only because the pharmacist really liked my Papa. Everyone liked Papa. He was perfect.

We drove to the bowling alley where my mom used to take me as a little girl. It's now a car wash. Across from that building is a strip mall. In that strip mall is the daycare I so fondly remember. I spent five days a week in that daycare and I remember loving it, as well as the owners, Betty and Joe. I can still see my Nana coming to pick me up after work. I was always so excited to see her.

We drove past the school that I attended in Kindergarten. I remember that my classroom had a loft FULL of cool play areas. There was a couch up there that we were allowed to go lay down on if we were sick. I faked being sick one day so that I could go hang out up there. I got caught.

Down the road, we drove to the first house that my brother and his wife had purchased together. It's also the house that I moved into after our mom died, and it's the house that my nephew came home to when he was born. I experienced some of my most difficult emotions there, trying to navigate my new life with no parents. I also got to experience the pure joy of rushing home after school to cuddle my nephew. As a baby, he helped me to heal after losing my mom, and now, at almost 16 years old he is helping me to heal after losing my brother, his dad.

A 30-second drive from that house is the apartment building where my entire family lived for a short period. I lived on the main floor with Mom, her partner, and my brother. There were only two bedrooms so I shared with my Mom. That must have been brutal for her. My brother’s bed in his room was on the same wall as my bed in my room. When he wasn’t out partying at night, we would knock on the wall to each other and try to make patterns. Most teenage brothers wouldn’t want anything to do with their little sisters, but not him. I was his pride and joy.

Our patio opened up to a large green space where the landlords would let me run through the sprinklers in the summertime. My Nana and Papa lived on the third floor directly above us. Papa would sit on the balcony and watch me as I played. Then he would lower down a treat to me in an ice cream pail that he had tied a rope to.

I had sleepovers at Nana and Papa’s every Friday night. I’d pack my little bag and up the elevator, I would go. I had my own room there with a double bed, so it was very luxurious. On Saturday mornings I would sneak out of my bed and crawl into their bed for a cuddle. Papa would whisper “okay, let’s not wake up Nana, the sleeping bear”. Meanwhile, she was awake and would say “I hear you two”. We would giggle and giggle. Then I would get out of bed to go turn on Papa’s coffee pot. I’d retrieve the Edmonton Journal for him from under the door, and then I would return to the bedroom to tell Papa it was time to wake up. He never hesitated. He would get dressed and come out to have his coffee. Nana followed shortly after. Then, Papa and I would make Sunny Boy porridge together. He had a little stool for me that I stood on and it was my job to stir it. We would laugh and laugh when the porridge would begin to ‘fluff’. I had never known as much happiness as I did at Nana and Papa’s.

My aunt and uncle lived on the second floor, on the other side of the building. I also had sleepovers there but usually on Saturday nights. I would pack my same little bag and head to the second floor. I loved staying with them. We always watched the best shows and they always had the best treats. I remember endless supplies of chocolate milk, which wasn’t something that mom could afford. Auntie and Uncle would take me to the mall or to McDonald’s play place, or to the farmers’ market. We would go swimming and do all sorts of fun things that aunts and uncles do with their nieces.

Living in that apartment building was such a simple time in my life, full of happy memories, although there were really difficult ones as well, to be shared at another time.

Today, I took a drive down memory lane. It started with having a meal at the resting place of the people who built me. For so long, it was me, Mom, and Brother. Now, it's just me. I know that they aren't actually there. I have full faith that their spirits are wherever I am, though that knowledge doesn't make me miss them less. It just makes me feel supported by them 100% of the time. Even on hard days, I can feel their strength and love guiding me forward.

Every now and then, we need to go back to help us remember. Some might call it living in the past. I prefer to call it 'examining the past'. We cannot simply forget where we came from. Our pasts have brought us to the present. They have taught us some of our most valuable lessons about life, love, and heartache. Today, my soul required that reminder.

Though you might think it's weird, I ate my lunch at a cemetery today. I'm glad that I did.

To all my family members who are laid to rest: your souls are always with me. I receive your love, guidance, and strength daily. Keep on sending it, and I will keep on accepting it.

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