in praise of thanksgiving

My Dearest Dylan,

Today is Thanksgiving, my first Thanksgiving, my first holiday for that matter, without us having one of our long chats on the telephone. It also marks just over two months for me trying to get used to my new world of not having you physically in it. I can’t even begin to describe what it is like, this living without you. To say that it is difficult is an understatement. It is painful and sad and empty and lonely and, oh, so very wrong.

However, lamenting your loss is not the reason for this letter. The reason for this letter, first and foremost, is to give thanks for the wonderful privilege and honour it was of being your momma for the twenty-eight years you were here with me on this earth. It truly was a blessing and the fact that I am grieving your loss so hard is a testament to the love and deep bond we shared.

The second reason for this letter is to give thanks for being able to celebrate you, dear sweet wonderful you, and ensure that your many beautiful gifts including your compassion, empathy, kindness, hearty laugh, terrific sense of humour, infectious smile, hard work ethic, and accepting ways continue to shine through and inspire others. I hope that I can live up to the task despite my encompassing grief as I want to ensure that your name is never forgotten. I also want to ensure that something positive comes from your death. It is my hope that, once I am stronger, I can fulfill my plan of bringing awareness to the seriousness of brain injuries especially those sustained in seemingly innocent falls. I truly believe that if we can save one life as well as stop one mother from experiencing this horrible grief by bringing awareness to this cause, then our purpose on this earth will be fulfilled.

My third reason for writing this letter is to thank you for sending the signs I requested not only today but on the other days as well so that I would know you were okay. Today I needed to know that you were happy with Mark’s and my choice of the beautiful young oak tree in front of our beloved cabin to spread some of your ashes around its base. We know how much the cabin and surrounding woods meant to you and we wanted to honour your memory the best way possible.

So, my dearest Dylan, thank you for soaring across the meadow as a blue heron, the third heron you’ve sent me since I’ve asked for signs since you died. The first was after we as a family sprinkled some of your ashes at your favourite woods; the second you sent the following week when I returned to visit you there. Thank you for sending the heron across Mark’s path on his way home from work that day when he was trying to decide if he should return to golfing or wait until next year to go back. I know you were telling him to continue on. Thank you for sending the heron to Alison and Nadine so that they knew you were with them as they embarked on their new journey in Toronto. Thank you for sending the heron to Emily to let her know how much you appreciated her helping me over the past two months (although, I’m sure she could have done without it/you ‘pooping’ in her flower bed). 

Emily’s blue heron
Thank you for bringing quiet to the woods this afternoon after we spread your ashes because up to that point, it had been terribly windy. The sun had also been in and out prior to that and afterwards it remained shining magnificently in the sky until dinner time. Sending the whiskey jack to settle in the majestic pine tree beside us so that it could distract us from our sadness by cheerfully chatting us up was an additional nice touch as was having it soar over the cabin to join its other mates. Their hallelujah chorus behind us in the bush in praise of thanksgiving was especially poignant.

When the large tree fell in the bush directly across the meadow, Mark and I were confused as to why you would choose to fell the tree then. We knew it had to be you because there was no wind at the time. It all made sense when we heard the ATV trying to make its way around our bush and, because the tree was blocking its way, it had to turn back and forgo its plan. Thank you for protecting us and keeping our sanctuary as peaceful and serene as we needed it to be today.

The irony of your choosing your winged friends to send me signs is not lost on me. You were well aware of how terrified I am of birds and bats and anything that flutters around me yet you chose to send those seven bats flying around inside our house over a period of seven weeks after you died. Was it some sort of mischievous payback? I know you sent them because I had teased you mercilessly after you moved out west about how the bats stopped visiting us because you were no longer there to leave the doors and windows open after dusk. As if I would ever forget you! Please, pretty please with sugar on top, stop sending the bats. I can deal with the birds from a distance but I cannot deal with the bats!!!!

As for sending your signs via winged creatures, it does make sense to me. You couldn’t sit still in life, so it makes sense that you cannot sit still in death. A bird is the perfect proxy for you because they can’t remain still either. Always flying, always soaring, only stopping long enough to eat, they exist the only way they know how — to keep going and deal with things as they come much like you did in real life.

Despite my appreciation of your signs and knowing that you were here with me spiritually on this Thanksgiving day, I am not going to pretend for one minute that it was easy. The build-up to the holiday and, in particular, the day itself has only magnified my grief and my sadness. The only thing the holiday itself seemed to accomplish was make me miss you more and provide a prelude to how difficult the Christmas holiday season is going to be. How I would give anything to hear your voice and your hearty laugh just one more time. How I would love to share with you my stories and hear yours in return. What I wouldn’t give to be able to tell you how much I love you and hear you say “I love you, too, Mom” back to me. What I wouldn’t do to be able to wish my grief away, will it away, pray it away but the reality of my situation is that none of these are possible. 

Instead, I am going to do my very best to reconcile all of the upcoming ‘first’ celebratory holidays without you in my life with my grief. I will not deny my grief nor will I pretend it is not there. I will give my grief its time and its place and, as I promised you after you died, I will be both gentle with and take care of myself. I will also protect myself by doing what is right for me and by taking as much time as I need to grieve because one of the things I have realized today is that grief does not take a holiday. It knows no boundaries, it has no sense of time, and it deepens with every day that passes. I will learn to live with it and learn to live in my new world without you in it. I will learn that it will be okay to celebrate future holidays while remembering and honouring you during them. It is not going to be easy but I promise you here and now that I will handle it with as much dignity and grace as I can possibly muster.

And, so my sweet prince, thank you for today and for everything you have taught, given and sent me thus far (except for the bats; I CANNOT thank you for the bats). I hope your Thanksgiving was as peaceful and as joyous as you deserve and may the love from those of us here on earth have helped you soar higher than you ever could have imagined.

All my love,
Mom xoxo


how would you feel

Dylan used to tease me that the world could blow up and I would be the last to know. He wasn’t making fun of me for being oblivious to my surroundings, he was telling me in that mischievous way of his how I was always the last to know about what was going on in other people’s lives. He understood how much disdain I have for gossip and how I always try my best to avoid it. 

My disdain comes from having grown up in a small town where my family, particularly my father, was often the topic of malicious and hurtful gossip which would eventually make its way back to my mother and me. Rather than try to understand his mental illness challenges, paranoid schizophrenia to be exact, and his battles with alcoholism which so often accompanies mental illness, townsfolk chose to gossip behind his back instead. 

I remember distinctly one particular incident when my mother was so angered and incredibly hurt when the remark about how “Jimmy was the best dressed drunk in town” made its way back to her. It’s difficult for someone to ever get over comments like that and it’s even more difficult to trust anyone afterwards, especially since that wasn’t an isolated comment about him or about us either. Our dysfunctional family was perfect fodder for local gossipers whose perfect lives were, by far, more superior to ours. At least, that was what they tried to have us believe. 

I have also learned some hard lessons over the years about whom I could and could not trust, particularly after the dissolution of my first marriage. I was ostracized, talked about and received phone calls from people I barely knew who wanted to get the ‘scoop’ about what had happened. The whispers got so bad at one point that I would sneak into town after dark to do my banking in peace at the bank’s ATM. The gossip, rumours and innuendo were awful, demeaning and incredibly hurtful. 

These are just some of the reasons why I prefer to keep a low profile as well as only allow a trusted few into my world. Ignoring gossip helps keep my self-esteem intact and it also protects me from being dragged into any malicious gossip going around town. 

Or, so I thought. 

Imagine, if you will, receiving the worst telephone call of your life on a Sunday evening while you are vacationing at your favourite place on earth, your log cabin, informing you that your son has died. You are not given any details, other than he has died, because there aren’t any at that point. You can’t even see him because he has died three provinces away. All you know is that he is gone and that you will have to wait two agonizing days before the coroner’s and the police investigative reports are released. 

Yet, less that eighteen hours later, a visitor arrives at your home offering condolences and implying that your son has died by suicide. Adding to your already shocked state and overwhelming grief is the complete and total disbelief that people think they know the cause of your son’s death before you do. 

This is all true, by the way, for as tragic as it was for me and my family to receive such devastating news about Dylan, we had someone sitting at our dining room table the very next day basically telling us that Dylan had died by suicide. And, it didn’t just stop there. 

A few comments implying the same thing were made on Facebook. By the time I was made aware of them, the authors had mercifully deleted them. Later, it came to my attention that someone I thought I knew fairly well had begun spreading the rumour the next morning at one of our local post offices with such authority that people believed it had to be true, that Dylan had died by suicide. This, of course, spread like wildfire throughout the area. 

And, because Dylan was only twenty-eight years old at the time of his death, the assumptions were quickly and erroneously made that he could only have died by either suicide or drug overdose. That’s right, one of my extended family members was brazenly asked if Dylan was into drugs; surely, that could be the only explanation for his death.

I cannot even begin to describe the intense anger I had for these people talking about my baby like that. I remember rebuking with such anger to one person that I couldn’t believe the voice speaking was actually mine. “Why does it matter what happened?” I shot back. “It’s not going to change anything. It’s never going to bring him back. Leave him rest in peace.” Some people are just not happy unless they can tell the most tragic and dramatic version they can muster about someone else’s tragedy. 

There was also another theory making its rounds those first few days after news of his death had broken, that Dylan must have died from complications from his diabetes or ‘the beetus’ as he called it. He had been living with diabetes since he was fifteen years old. He was proactive about his care and followed an incredibly healthy diet and exercise regimen to boot. Surely, he couldn’t he have died from that?

I get it. We are all social beasts by nature and we want, often need, to know what happened to someone so vibrant and meaningful in our lives. The shock over someone dying at a such young age lends itself to theories about what could have happened. I’ve done it myself; we all have. However, my issue is with the people who state with such authority that something is indeed fact, without proof of any kind, that they are willing to tarnish another person’s reputation or even their own before all the facts are known. 

Dylan did not die by suicide. He did not die from a drug overdose. He did not die from complications associated with his juvenile diabetes. As was ruled by the coroner and the police investigators, he died from an intracerebral hemorrhage, a brain bleed, sustained after falling down a flight of stairs and fracturing his skull. It kills me to be so blunt about what happened but this is one momma bear who is damn well going to state the facts about what truly happened rather than have her son’s legacy tarnished by gossip and unsubstantiated facts. 

I also hope, by being so blatantly honest about my experience, that it will give some people pause before gossiping and spreading non-truths about another human being’s tragedy, misfortune, or situation. Trust me, the consequences of that gossip extends far deeper than the gossiper(s) could ever imagine.

This is what grief looks like:

It is raw. It is ugly. It is anguished. It is never ending. You cannot breathe. You are sick to your stomach. It feels as though your very heart has been ripped out of your chest and was shredded on the way out.  And, then, someone pours salt into your gaping, open, torturous wound by spreading horrible rumours about your deceased son. 

This is what gossip does. This is not something you want to be a part of. This is not something you should ever add to because gossiping in its very form is destructive, unjust, life-altering, and devastatingly hurtful. It also further perpetuates the culture of gossip by saying it’s okay to spread false truths. It damages not only the reputation of the person being talked about but it damages the reputation of the gossiper him/herself. It ends up saying more, in the long run, about the gossipers because they are basically telling others that they will accept anything that is told to them at face value, that they are not only untrustworthy but also destructive human beings, and that they have little or no regard for the truth. Gossipers need to ask themselves before spreading rumours, “How would I feel if this was happening to me?”

They also need to ask themselves what purpose their spreading untruthful stories about others in their community serves. Does it make them feel better about themselves for appearing to be the first to know something even if it’s not true? Does it make them feel authoritative? Do they think they are untouchable, invincible because we all know karma (what goes around, comes around) can be a real ‘b’ with an itch when it comes back on us? Is the risk really worth it?

Whether we like it or not, the reality is that people gossip. The flip side of this is that we also have the choice of whether or not we participate in it. Many of us are born in communities that gossip and are blissfully unaware of the consequences of gossiping but that doesn’t mean we can’t break the cycle. We each have within us the choice of saying ‘no’ to gossip and then walking away from it. We need to start listening more to our inner voices about what is right and what is wrong. Heck, how about truly living our lives according to the golden rule, do unto others …. 

Rather than gossiping, why not take that time and use it to help others in need or who are experiencing tragedy by offering comfort, volunteering time, helping with meal preparation or housework, run interference for a family overwhelmed by tragedy, sending a card, an email, a message on Facebook, anything that will have a positive impact on someone going through one of the worst experiences of their lives. Try educating yourself about various issues affecting your community, your own family, your life, and the world. Learn about mental illness, suicide prevention, drug and alcohol addiction, various chronic health conditions, poverty, animal abuse, the possibilities are endless really, and then use that information to affect positive change in your community. Make sure your legacy is one of good rather than opposite. 

Perhaps we can all take a lesson from Dylan’s playbook. He lived his life simply, unencumbered by material things, was quick to lend a helping hand without ever expecting a thing in return, never took advantage of any situation or person down on his/her luck, and the only news he shared was good news such as who was getting married, going to have a baby, got a job promotion etc. He was able to step back and look at things from another person’s perspective. He understood that life isn’t always fair but that it didn’t give him the right to trash somebody who was going through a hard time. Instead, he used his kind and huge heart to empathize with others. He made sure no one was ever overlooked or left out of any function. He was generous to a fault. 

I like to think that the apple didn’t fall from the family tree and that Dylan didn’t engage in gossip because we chose to break the cycle along the way. His brothers, Ryan and Liam, are the exact same way. They can’t be bothered with gossip either. I am incredibly proud of each of them for standing up for what they believe in and walking away from something that they don’t. Experiencing it first hand taught us many valuable lessons about how devastating its consequences can be. If Dylan isn’t the epitome of what leaving a good legacy is like, then I don’t know what is. 

What I do know is how heartbreaking loss is and how much more devastating it is when gossip rears its ugly head in its aftermath. If baring my soul helps just one mother from experincing this anguish only because it made another person think before he/she spoke an untruth, then it will have been worth taking one for the team. 

Help me spread the word. 

i choose gratitude and joy

My dearest Dylan,

I cannot believe that one month has passed since I first heard the words, “Dylan’s gone”. These are words no mother should ever have to hear, words which have changed my life forever. They echo continuously in my mind while I am awake and even while I am asleep. I know this because no matter what time I awaken, there is always a sadness within my heart. Sometimes I cannot fall asleep because of the echo. Sometimes it is faint, sometimes it is booming, sometimes it rips through me like a bullet through my heart. 

Time has not stood still since you died. As much as I have tried, I cannot reconcile the fact that the rest of the world has kept turning while mine stopped on its axis. One minute you were here, the next you were gone. It is not the way it was supposed to be; it is not the natural order of things. What I wouldn’t give to trade places with you so that you could go on being you, dear sweet wonderful you, with your entire life ahead of you. 

This first month without you has been devastatingly awful. At first, I walked around in a fog of disbelief. Then, I ran on pure adrenaline planning your celebration of life events. Now, I am beyond exhausted. I am not surprised by my weariness, however. One can only push themselves for so long and be under so much stress and heartache before hitting the brick wall, a brick wall I have crashed into with such brute force that it feels as though every bone in my body has splintered into a million pieces, much like my heart.

I still find it hard to breathe. It always feels like there is a weight on my chest holding me down, preventing me from breathing normally. If by chance, the weight is lifted, then the caged animal within my chest claws incessantly trying to get out. The evenings are the hardest. I can keep myself occupied enough throughout the day but, at the same time each evening, around 6 p.m., anxiety sets in, smothering and crippling me. Sometimes I try going to bed earlier than usual in the hopes that sleep comes and carries my anxiety away. Other times, I try staying up so late that the only thing I can do is fall fitfully into sleep. Neither has worked so far.

I have also noticed that my life’s timeline has been divided in half. I now speak in terms of ‘before Dylan died’ and ‘after Dylan died’. I hate myself for it but I find it can’t be helped because that is the reality of my life now, the reality of the new me I must get used to. Every moment and experience before you died has that much more significance while every moment and experience after you died seems inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. 

My grief is always with me. It never lets up for a moment; it never lessens. And, because my love for you will never die, it will be with me for the rest of my life for the pangs of grief know no time limit, no boundaries, no mercy. It permeates my entire body because it equals the depth of my love for you. And, how could it not? I loved you with all my heart and all my soul for twenty-eight wonderful but terribly short years. 

Yet, despite the fact that I still cannot get my head around the fact that you have died, I decided right after hearing those terrible words, “Dylan’s gone”, that I was not going to waste precious time and energy trying to make sense of it all. Instead, I decided that I was going to get up every day, wash my face, get dressed, and carry on. I decided that I was going to face this challenge of living without you by remembering all the beautiful memories I have of you. I decided that I was going to find gratitude in each and every day come hell or high water because there was no way I was going to allow your death to break me. Simply, I decided to choose joy over bitterness. These are all daunting tasks which I have found not only difficult but exhausting to do, but, in order to survive this unfathomable tragedy, I know I must.

So, you see, Dylan, there is joy in the abyss. It is harder to find these days but it is there. There is joy in my memories of you, in your sweet smile, your hearty laugh, your mischievous grin and in your ability to tease the ever living daylights out of me. It is your kindness, your strength, your terrific sense of humour, your determination, your accomplishments, and in your hard work ethic. It is in the love you had for your family and in the love we have for each other. It is in the kindness of friends and in the strength of community who surrounded us in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy and lifted us up when we all we wanted to do was sink into the ground.

There is joy to be found in the outpouring of condolences and tributes to you on Facebook, all testaments to your strength and character. It is in the many visits, cards, texts, emails and phone calls I have received over the course of these past four weeks. When I am at my lowest, I re-read all these messages for they have become the life preserver which keeps me from being pulled under the current of grief that wants nothing more than to drown me in a river of anger and bitterness.

July 30th was the worst day of my life. Now, August 30th, I understand that a date doesn’t have to define you or define me. It doesn’t mean that I have to give up or stop living. It means that I have to adjust to my new life, my new me. So, in your name, Dylan James Bradley, I choose to be joyous and celebratory. In your memory, I choose to carry on, one moment at time for now, with as much dignity and grace as I can possibly muster. And, with the utmost respect I have for you, I choose to treat myself with kindness and take as much time as I need to grieve before heading out into my new world without you. This much, I promise you, for you would expect nothing less of me.

And, for that, I will be eternally grateful.

All my love,
Mom xoxox

Dylan and Me _ LOVE







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