Finding Solace Over the Rainbow

Photo by Michael Carson

Photo by Michael Carson

I can’t imagine anything more painful than the death of a child.

I recently attended the funeral of a 30-year young man. I cried for Jason, for his Mom and Dad and for the possible loss I too could experience.

I know, even as time goes on, the grief that Jason’s parents feel will always be with them.  And although I don’t know them very well—Jason’s Dad worked with my husband– and I never met Jason, in some small way, their grief has become mine and it will always be with me too.

Perhaps that’s what funerals do. They bind you to those who are grieving and in making room for them, your heart grows bigger.

It would have been hard not to let in the pain of Jason’s parents.  They told stories about Jason that made everyone laugh and even, in this saddest of moments, their joy and amazement that they could have had such a son as Jason shone through. Thus we felt their loss.

We chuckled when we learned Jason jumped out of the school window to escape class.  And again, when Jason’s Dad told us about the time he locked himself in the school principal’s office, while simultaneously locking her out. It was only after 15 minutes of coaxing from his mother that Jason deigned to open the door.  I am still wondering what consequences he endured. He must have been a handful! Read More

Advertisements

Come home to mama now!

Martha Wainwright

Martha Wainwright

I just heard, for the first time, Canadian-American singer songwriter Martha Wainwright’s beautiful and haunting rendition of her mother Kate McGarrigle’s song “Proserpina” and was knocked off my feet.

Martha Wainwright’s soaring voice expresses the pain, desperation and yearning of parents whose adult child has disappeared from their lives. The song could be about a homeless child, a drug-addled child out on a binge, an estranged child or simply a child who has chosen to live in another country.

The chorus of the song goes like this:

Proserpina! Proserpina!
Come home to mama, come home to mama
Proserpina! Proserpina!
Come home to mother, come home to mama now.

Read More

Should governments and parents of hostages pay ransom to terrorist groups?

New YorkerWhile most of us sat numbly in our living rooms watching the news about the beheading of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, their parents and parents of three other adult children taken hostage by terrorist groups in Syria had been working behind the scenes to ensure the release of their children. They had limited support from the American government.

Only one, Theo Padnos, was saved. The other four, including James and Steven and Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller were killed.

The July issue of the New Yorker reports on this sad story.  The parents were brought together by media mogul David Bradley, who was committed to helping free the hostages, after he helped free one of his freelance writers who had been taken hostage in the middle east.  The American government had little involvement in solving that case and Bradley realized that the parents of these other five hostages would need help to obtain the freedom of their children. Bradley provided financial resources, contacts and skills.

Read More

Living with your in-laws: a growing trend

My Grandma or Mrs. Milligan to my Father

My Grandma or Mrs. Milligan to my Father

I grew up living with a grandmother in the house.

While it is not everyone’s idea of a good time to live with their parents or parents-in-law, it worked for my family.

My mom adored her quiet and undemanding mother. My father, who called her Mrs. Milligan all her life, took her in without complaint. Because of my father’s kindness to her mother, my mom called my dad “a prince among men” and had that nomer etched on his gravestone.  My father understood my grandmother’s situation because his own mother, my Nana, had similar limited means.  She lived with her daughter, my dad’s sister, and her husband.

Circumstances did not lead me to repeat that experience and I am not sure I would have been able to.  My mother and I would have been two clashing Alpha females and my mother-in-law was able to live on her own until she died.

But this generation is looking back in time for models for family living today. Young married couples are living with their parents and there are more multigenerational families than 30 years ago. The reasons vary–it could be to have help with the children, to afford a house or to offer help to an aging parent. But one thing is sure: it is a growing trend.

Read More

Omar Khadr: It’s our turn to step up to the plate

kort-nwe-logo-omar-15-22-271

Ever since Mother’s Day and with Father’s Day just around the corner, I can’t stop thinking about how Omar Khadr’s parents failed him, how the Canadian government failed him, how Dennis Edney stepped up to the plate and how the rest of us need to do the same.

I have a son about the same age and it pains me to think how he would withstand such an ordeal.

By now, most of us know the sad story of Omar Khadr.

His parents turned him into a child soldier, moved him to Afghanistan, where in 2002 at the age of 15, he threw a hand grenade during a firefight that possibly killed an American soldier. He was caught and sent to Guantanamo Bay, a detention camp in Cuba. He was imprisoned, isolated, starved, sleep-deprived, water boarded, threatened with rape and hung up by his arms by U.S. government agents.

In 2010, Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to war crimes, allowing him the possibility of being transferred to Canada where he would serve most of his eight year sentence.  He later said he pleaded guilty to get out of Guantanamo Bay. He was advised that if he did not plead guilty he could spend the rest of his life there.

In 2012, Omar Khadr returned to Canada. He was placed first in a maximum-security prison and then in a medium-security prison in 2014.  He was released on bail in May, 2015.

No-one could argue that Omar Khadr’s parents were fit to parent a young teenager. They and their terrorist associates used him as a spy and a translator and ultimately in armed conflict.

Given the lack of proper parental care, Ottawa should have stepped up to the plate. Read More

Is helping with your kids’ mortgage really helping your kids?

Even a small house can cost a fortune

Even a small house can cost a fortune

My general rule of thumb for parenting is to let children, be they five or 35, do as much as possible for themselves. It makes them feel strong and competent and that goes a long way to making them feel happy.

While many parents are quick to help their adult children buy a house, my husband and I have not helped finance our children’s mortgages.  I am happy with our arrangement as it leaves us with much less complicated relationships.

Our children don’t feel financially beholden to us and because we have no propriety interest in their property, we’re more likely to refrain from giving unwanted advice.  In addition, our children have no sense of entitlement to our other assets.  I have seen this happen when parents help with mortgages and understandably, the parents are resentful. Read More

I and thou–Martin Buber and the in-laws

A82J0378

For those of you who studied philosophy, you may be wondering how German philosopher Martin Buber could possibly relate to in-laws, and for those of you didn’t, stick with me.  It’s more interesting than you might think. But first I want to tell you three little stories. The names are changed but the stories are real.

Story One.  My friend Barbara revealed during a recent conversation that she prefers to keep her son-in-law emotionally at arm’s length.

“While I love my son-in-law, I never want to put my daughter in a position where she feels she could not leave her husband because of my husband’s and my attachment to him. I wouldn’t want her to feel that she is breaking up the entire family, ” she said.

Story Two.  My friend Jeff told me that he wanted to speak to his daughter about his son and his daughter’s brother, Jared.  Jeff is worried  because Jared is becoming attached to a religious sect that he (Jeff) doesn’t approve of. When I suggested that his daughter’s husband might have some insight into the situation, he responded that he was not comfortable with his son-in-law,  the situation did not involve him and that this was “a family matter.”

Story Three.  My friend Marie told me that she and her husband don’t want to get too close to their daughter’s new partner. They loved her former husband and were very hurt when the young couple broke up.  They don’t want to go through the pain of loosing another son-in-law.

While all these positions are understandable, in each case, the daughter or son-in-law is not equally valued and loved as those born into the family. The implication is that they are not fully part of the family and as a result have second class status. Read More

Stealing an adult child’s life: A sad arrangement

The Oscar winning movie “Still Alice” is disturbing on many fronts but what haunts me most is the possibility that Alice, a woman in in her early 50’s struggling with early onset Alzheimer’s, could steal her daughter’s youth.

Out of love and compassion, Alice’s younger daughter moves to New York from the west coast to look after her ailing mom, while the other members of the family move on with their lives, including Alice’s husband who decides to pursue his career in another city.

I had the same concern  after reading “They Left Us Everything”, a memoir by Plum Johnson about dismantling the family home after her mother’s death and through the process, coming to terms with her relationship with her mother.   Johnson looked after her parents from her early forties to her early sixties and she chronicles her growing resentment and anger during this period until her mother died at 93. Her mother, a cantankerous and self centered old soul, stole Johnson’s middle age.

What starts out as an act of love can turn into a test of endurance and I pray my children will be spared that fate. Read More

The bank of mom and dad: Financing your kids’ education

IMG_7961

It costs big bucks to provide your child with a university education. If you have more than one, it costs a small fortune. I know, as my husband and I helped our three children.

Apart from the noble goal of wanting them to value knowledge, we also wanted our kids to be able to look after themselves financially as adults; be debt free at the end of their first degree; and appreciate the cost of education. And not necessarily in that order.

So this is what we did. Read More