Monday, 11 June 2018

Catching up........

Wow.  No posts in 6 weeks.  No real reason.  No one reason. Just a jumble of stuff.  Kind of like this post will be.  A veritable jumble of jumping from one thing to another.  So much to say.  So hard to say it.

As always, it's the people in my life that matter most.  I am totally, amazingly blessed to have so many good, kind people in my life.  But I also realize there's a choice in there.  I choose to surround myself with those people.  People who care about other people.  People who are kind.  Who are wickedly funny.  Who care about what is happening in our world.  People who care.

So much has happened in the last 6 weeks.  One of my closest friends came to Paris for 6 weeks on sabbatical.  We spent some time in Nice together and then tried to see each other as often as possible during the time she had in Paris.  She is one of us ~ those souls who have Paris in their blood, in their head, in every fibre of their being.  Like me, a lot of that has to do with the people we know here, the social life we have here.   But it's also what the city gives to us, the beauty, the joie de vivre, the feeling that life is truly appreciated here.  She left on Sunday and I miss her already.  She knows she has a place to stay if she comes back before year end.
Giving free hugs in front of Notre Dame

reflective in Nice

Our next home in Nice

And I love her :)

Celebrating my birthday with my besties

My brother from another mother came to visit in May and stayed with me for a week ~ we talked and talked, celebrated our May birthdays, caught up, and were reminded of what is really important in life ~ having someone you can totally be yourself with, having someone who can make you laugh until you pee, having someone who loves you no matter how much you can get on their nerves sometimes. He has been there for me through the worst times in my life and celebrated with me through some of the best.  He is someone I trust unconditionally to always tell me the truth and pull no punches because I know he always has my happiness and best interest at heart.  I love him with all my heart and can't wait to see him again.

I got to live a dream of mine last weekend.  I was invited to participate in Diner en Blanc ~ it's a magical evening where everyone dresses in white and the secret location is revealed only an hour before the event.  The chosen location becomes the site of an amazing dinner party, complete with white linen, china, crystal and delicious food and wine.  This was the 30th anniversary of Diner en Blanc so it was opened up to international guests.  17,000 of us gathered on the esplanade in front of Les Invalides and shared a memorable evening, complete with a sparkling Eiffel Tower, a picture perfect sunset, live music, good friends, and a lust for life.

My Diner en Blanc outfit

My friend Joseph ~ he and his partner Richard were kind enough to invite me to this amazing event

Eiffel Tower as our backdrop

People go all out in their attire

Sun beginning to set 

It's a giant party

Perfect weather and a perfect sunset

The lights start to twinkle

The sun continues painting the sky

Enjoying with thousands of our dining companions

A dream come true

One of my favourite memories of the last few weeks was gathering in a spectacular apartment that a friend was petsitting in.  We were 6 women, all ages, all stages of life, single, divorced, married.  What we had in common was a willingness to live life, to enjoy the time we have, to experience the joy and sorrow and pain and happiness and kindness of life.  At one point, James Taylor's You've Got a Friend came on and we danced in the living room with the Eiffel Tower as our backdrop.  I'll remember that moment for the rest of my life ~ women from many parts of the world, with different stories and histories and futures, but connected by what we share ~ a lust for life, a willingness to keep going no matter what life has thrown at us, a camaraderie with each other, a  determination to not be victims, but to keep living life on our terms.

Life is truly what we make of it.  While I am living my life in Paris, Abby continues her fight. She continually reminds me that we have to make the best of the time we have here.  I try to live my life while honouring hers, the strength and courage she has.  She and my son are my personal heroes.  Whenever I feel down or sad or lonely, I look at their pictures and think of what they are going through and everything else pales in comparison.  Derek knows I am there for him and Abby unconditionally and would come home at a moment's notice if he asked me to.  Life is terribly unfair sometimes and all we can control is how we live it.  I am trying to live it in a way that reflects the gratitude I feel at all the blessings I have. 

A very good friend told me recently that when he looks at how I live my life, he feels like I am not a victim.  That I am living life in all its glory, on my terms and making the best of it.  That made me very happy because that's what I am trying to do. The past is the past.  I've let it go. I am living in the present and looking to the future. I am letting it be. :)

I also hope it gives hope to many people, that no matter what is happening around us, to the people we love, to ourselves, to our families ~ we still have a choice.  We can retreat, sit on a couch and cry, feel sorry for ourselves and give up ~ or we can rally, get out there and live, make the best of the short time we have been given,  be there for those we love, but also for ourselves.  Loving ourselves is the best way we have to love others.  If we can't love ourselves, we don't really have anything to give anyone else.  It's taken me a really long time to realize this, but it's how I'm going to try to live the rest of the time I've been given in this short life.  Love myself, love others, be kind, and do no harm.

And so Paris continues to heal me, to wrap me in her arms, to love me.  The time that I spend here, surrounded by friends, walking, drinking in the beauty, the history, the art, all of it contributes to the sheer joy that is who I am and who I strive to be.  I will leave you with a picture that made my heart sing the day I got it ~ on Mother's Day and my birthday.  It's of the 5 people on this earth that mean the most to me, that I would do anything for, that I live for and would die for.  My daughter sent me this photo, knowing what it would mean to me, despite our current differences.  It's a reminder that love always wins out, that kindness lives.  It's my inspiration to always Let It Be. 

Monday, 30 April 2018

I am woman, hear me roar.........

This post is brought to you by CRA, the Canada Revenue Agency.  Well, not really.  But I filed my taxes today. From Paris. I was dreading it because there have been overpayment and underpayment issues with my pay courtesy of the Phoenix pay system which pays most of Canada's civil servants.  That's a whole different post for another day.  But last year, my tax slip was incorrect and messed up my taxes.  I was worried about a repeat this year, and of having to deal with it while overseas.  I put off filing until today's deadline, April 30. But lo and behold, it went well.  I'm even getting a refund (which will probably get swallowed up by the incorrect amount I owe from last year).  But I don't care.  It's done and now I can get on with enjoying Paris without that uncertainty hanging over my head.

I did a little dance in my perfect little Paris apartment once I hit the File My Taxes button.  Relief flooded through me.  But also pride.  Confidence.  Contentment. Joy.  Wow, that's a lot of emotion for such a mundane act.  But it wasn't that act per se that spurred such emotion in me.  It was what that act signified.  That I'm a strong, independent, competent woman.  Capable of taking care of myself.  Of making my dream come true.  Of creating a whole new life in Paris for myself.

Filing my taxes was just the culmination of feelings that have been stirring within me for a few weeks.  I've slowly been realizing that I'm starting to let go of some of my fears since I got here.  Fear that I was selfish to come to Paris when people back home needed me.  Fear that I was the only one who could do everything, be everywhere, solve it all.  Fear of being judged.

A funny thing has happened in the last month or so.  I have never felt stronger, or more sure of myself than right now.  Coming to Paris for a year, all by myself, seems to have freed me from my anxieties. Don't get me wrong.  I still live in my head.  But that head doesn't seem to be scolding me as much anymore.  It's more soothing, more accepting of its owner.  Life hasn't changed.  Abby is still fighting for her life.  My son is still living an unimaginable day to day life.  I still miss my kids and grandkids terribly.  But I have also come to realize that it's ok for me to know all this and still live my life.  It's ok.  It's my life to live.  No one is judging.  And if they are, well, fuck them.  Not their life.  Mine.  MINE.

I had lunch with a dear friend today.  I told her how I was starting to realize that coming to Paris was the absolutely right thing for me to do. How I was starting to let go of the guilt, the sadness, the anger  and the regret.  How I was starting to embrace the joy that Paris and the people in my life bring me. It was one of those a-ha moments we keep hearing about.  I just feel so empowered and in control of me right now.  Like I can do anything.  Because guess what?  I can :)

I hope that this post is not coming out as bragging or that I am superior to anyone.  That's not my point at all.  My point is that we all have the potential to go through earth shattering changes, changes that make your heart break and your head explode with pain and despair, and come out ok on the other side.  Not just ok.  But absolutely rocking it.  This strength is within us.  Even in our darkest times, that strength is inside us.  We just have to believe in it.  To know that time truly does heal.  That you won't always feel like your insides have been torn to shreds. Believe me, I've been there.  Done that.  Got the damn t-shirt.  But now I have a new t-shirt.  One I made myself.  One that says I'm OK.  More than OK.  I'm living my life exactly how I want to.  For the first time in my life, I'm taking care of myself, I'm responsible only to myself, I'm doing exactly what I want, when I want and how I want.  The exhilaration of knowing all this is hard to explain.  I'm exactly where I need to be right now at this point in my life.  I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman (thanks, Helen Reddy).

Well, that is enough patting myself on the back for now.  I'll leave you with a few Paris images that have brought me joy over the last few weeks.  I'm just going to continue to Let It Be.............

my Paris bestie

yes, a little drunk, but oh, so happy

springtime in Paris

Who wouldn't want to have lunch here?

a ride in the country

More spring blossoms

Walking along the Seine

Parc Monceau

Auvers Church, made famous by Van Gogh

My favourite artist, who created beauty all through his tragic life

the blue sky of Paris as seen from my window 

Thursday, 12 April 2018

It's been a while..........

My followers (all 3 of them lol) have probably noticed I haven't posted a new blog entry in about 5 weeks.  It's not that I didn't have anything to say during that time.  Quite the opposite. It's that there was so much on my mind and so much of it was personal that I couldn't quite commit to writing it all down.

But if this blog is going to be a window into my personal journey, then I need to get past those feelings.  I need to be honest and open about what is going on in my life.  The truth is, the results of Abby's tests in early March were not what we were hoping for.  Her Neuroblastoma has recurred and it has spread. That news sent me into a tailspin.

First, there was devastation. For Abby.  Realizing that she has suffered through 14 months of horrible procedures without the desired result broke my heart.  She had responded so well to treatment over that time, and the interim scans showed that the cancer had greatly receded.  Our hope was so high that her pain and suffering had yielded a remission. But that isn't the case.  And that is so hard to accept.

There was devastation for my son. Knowing what he has gone through during this time.  What he has witnessed his baby girl go through. The personal sacrifices he has made to be next to her side. Knowing that the nightmare is not over.  As a mother, all you want to do is make things better for your kids.  Regardless of how old they are.  I wanted to take away his pain, his anguish, his worry for Abby's wellbeing. But I can't. All I can do is be there for him and love him and Abby unconditionally.

Which leads me to the guilt.  The guilt of being so far away when my son got this news.  Of not being there to hold him and hug him. Of not being there to take Abby in my arms and whisper to her how much I love her.  How dare I be in Paris while all this was going on?  How could I live with myself?  I offered to come home as soon as I heard the news. But my son, my selfless, strong and amazingly brave son told me to wait.  Told me I deserved to have this year, to live my dream. Told me to wait until we had more news.  To wait until there was a reason to come.  Can you imagine what kind of person this man is?  How much he loves me?  His love truly humbles me.  It is endemic of who he is.

The past 5 weeks have been spent trying to get past this guilt. Coming to understand that nothing would have been different if I had not come to Paris.  The medical results would have been the same. But it took a while.  I went through the motions of trying to get out and enjoy Paris, enjoy my friends,  enjoy the sights and sounds and tastes of this city that feeds my soul.  But my heart wasn't truly in it.  I tried to get through the time day by day, and the days weren't bad.  I have amazing friends who rallied around me and helped me through the sadness and guilt.  It's the nights that were really hard.  Those of you who have read this blog know that I can't shut my brain off.  And it usually goes to the worse places.  So the what ifs and whys haunted my sleep.  When I did manage sleep.  I spend many nights, tossing and turning, suffused with heartache, worried about what news I would wake up to in the morning.

So I didn't write.  I couldn't write.  But slowly, softly, through many texts and FaceTime sessions with my son, seeing that Abby was still happy and giggly, learning that she is responding well to her current chemo treatment, knowing that Derek is receiving support from family while I'm away, I began to let go of my guilt.  It's still there, of course.  I wouldn't be a mom if it wasn't :). But it's not as debilitating as it first was.  Derek knows he only has to say the word and I will be on the first plane home.  So I will continue to love and support him and Abby but I will also continue my journey of self discovery and self love.  I've accepted that it's ok to do both.  If anyone judges me for this decision, that is their issue.  The only person whose opinion matters regarding this decision has reassured me that he knows I love him and Abby with all my heart. He is teaching me compassion and kindness and strength and courage.

As spring is springing in Paris, so is my healing.  I'm slowly coming back to myself.  A very good friend recently gave me a book called Braving the Wilderness, by BrenĂ© Brown.  I don't usually read self-help books. But for some reason, I read this one and it struck a huge chord with me.  About a week ago, I was reading in the gardens of the Palais Royale.  I came to a passage in the book that brought me to tears of self-realization. I felt the anger and regret and pain of the last 4 years leave my body.  I just felt total peace.  I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds of the water of the fountain, a fork scraping a bowl as the woman next to me ate her al fresco lunch, the happy screams of children running and playing, the laughter of teenagers being loud and cocky as teenagers often do.  I felt the sun on my face and peace and joy in my heart.  I felt alive and so grateful to be sitting here, by myself, strong and independent and content.  I felt as free as the swallows flying above me, flitting from tree to tree, the magnolias just starting to bloom.  That freedom led me to write to someone in my past, to let them know that I am happy and  I hope they are happy as well.  That we all do the best we can in the moment.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to try and figure out why I am so happy in Paris.  Why do I feel like a different person here? A person I like very much.  I love my family and my life back home.  So why am I so drawn to this city?  Why does my soul yearn to be here?

I had an aha moment a few days ago ~ I realized one of the reasons I love Paris so much and why I feel so happy and content and at home is because of the life I've created for myself here.  Me. I did that. All by myself.  The people I have in my life here in Paris are MY friends, they are in MY life because of me ~ not because I am someone's wife, mother, daughter, sister or colleague.  They are in my life because of me.  They like me because of me.  They belong to me (in the sense that their loyalty is to me, not because of my connection to anyone else).  In four years, I have managed to forge intense personal connections with a group of people who now mean the world to me.  People I met just before or after my separation. People who just know me as Johanne.  People who accepted me for who I was, not because or in spite of my past.  These people are such a huge reason why I need to return to Paris over and over again.  Their love and acceptance has been such a huge part of my recovery and my ability to love myself and live my dreams.

So the journey continues.  Paris is starting to wake up from the dark, cold winter months and so am I. I continue to spend my days walking and exploring, eating and drinking and talking and laughing with friends.  I continue to make this city my own.  I am looking forward to good friends coming to visit me next month and making more memories.  I hope some of my family will come to see me later this year so I can show them the place I am calling home this year.  I will continue to Let It Be......

my angel Abby

the view from my apartment window last night :)

Sunday, 4 March 2018


Just because I've taken a time out from my day to day life to come live in Paris for a year, time marches on for everyone else. Family and friends are still going to work. They are still planning vacations. Seb and Charlie are still going to school.playing with their friends, playing Minecraft and PlayStation.  People are still coping with the daily trails and tribulations that make up our days.  They are also still enjoying the daily gifts that give us pleasure ~ they are savouring delicious meals with friends, reading a good book, watching their kids play, going to  concerts and movies, catching up on the latest must see series on Netflix ~ all the mundane stuff that gets us from day to day as time marches on. So as my life continues in Paris, so does everyone else's life continue where they are.

And Abby is still fighting cancer.

Everyone who knows me knows that my granddaughter was diagnosed with stage 4, high risk Neuroblastoma in November 2016.  She has endured very aggressive treatment for the last 14 months.  Chemo. Surgery. Stem cel transplant. Radiation. Immunotherapy. Countless procedures that no parent should ever have to witness their child suffer through.

But here's the thing ~ as the adults fret, and worry, and cry and hope and pray ~ this little angel just keeps living her life. She watches Barney and she holds on to her WhoWho (who has accompanied her every single minute of every single procedure every single time), she laughs, she smiles, she sleeps and I hope she dreams.  I hope she dreams of the times when it doesn't hurt, of those days when there are no pokes and prods and people with masks surrounding her.  She is my hero.  She reminds me that no matter how bad things are, you get up and you carry on.  She gives me strength and courage and grace.

I'm not sure why I'm writing about Abby today.  Well, part of me does. Tomorrow, she goes back to CHEO (Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario) for the week.  She finished her last treatments in early January.  Now come the scans and bone marrow tests and MRIs to tell us if the torture she has endured for 14 months did its job.  It's hard to explain how I'm feeling right now.  Part of me can't wait to hear the results.  And part of me wishes time would stop right now.  It's so scary to wait for news that will decide a little child's life. Not being home makes it worse.  There's guilt that I'm not there for my son and for Abby. Derek knows I am thinking about them both every minute of the day, but I feel like I should be there.  Logically, I know that nothing will change if I get on a plane and fly home.  It won't change or influence the test results.  But I wish I could just hold Abby in my arms and  whisper how much I love her.  So I am getting Derek to do that for me every day.

Ah, Derek ~ my son has been so amazingly brave and strong for his daughter during this ordeal.  He has been by her side constantly and has seen and heard and experienced stuff no parent should ever see or hear or experience.  He has endured personal hardship in addition to Abby's cancer that would have brought most people to their knees.  And yet he keeps going.  His love and devotion to his daughter know absolutely no bounds.  He has given up so much to be able to be Abby's comfort, her rock, the face she sees when she wakes up in the middle of the night or the arms who hold her while she suffers through yet another poke or prod.  My fears about this week and the results they might bring include what will happen to Derek.  I can't imagine what is going through his mind the last few days and how he will manage in the coming week.  I wish I could take all his pain and worry and anguish away.  I wish I could give him back this time with Abby, pain and cancer free, where he could just enjoy time with his little baby girl like any dad and daughter should be able to enjoy.  I can't do that either.  All I can do is hold them both in my thoughts and hope that science and medicine did their job.

On that note, I also have to give thanks to our Canadian single payer health care system.  As horrific as the past 15 months has been, the one thing we never had to worry about was how we were going to pay for Abby's care and treatment. I'm not going to use this to preach or attack other medical systems.  I will simply say I am eternally grateful for the excellent and compassionate care that Abby received from her nurses, her oncology team, the volunteers who gave Derek some much needed breaks, the people at Ronald McDonald house, Graham, who co-ordinated her treatments and appointments, the Lamplighters who helped out with an iPad so Abby could watch her beloved Barney, and so many other people who were part of Abby's journey.  Abby's long road has been shared with so many talented, dedicated, kind and compassionate people.  I have always believed that whatever the situation, no matter how  bad it is, there is always something to be grateful for.  I am truly grateful that Abby was born in Canada, where we have access to quality first rate heath care, and for the people who have worked tirelessly to help heal her.

So this week, we will hopefully get some answers.  I never ask for much but today, I will ask  whoever reads this blog to think of Abby and her family and to send good thoughts to the universe on this little girl's behalf.

Abby and her proud new daddy

Mrs Claus and her granddaughter

A dad and his girl

always holding on to WhoWho

Peek a boo :)

Abby's 2nd birthday :)

This face!

happy grandma

this girl is styling!

another medical procedure, another WhoWho moment

cuddling Abby a few days before I left for Paris

My 3 loves ~ Charlie, Seb and Abby