Archive for March, 2010

Death Is a New Day

Just a few months ago, I thought that dealing with my dad’s stroke recovery was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with. I was wrong. The death of my father trumps everything. Hands down.

I was closer to him than anyone in my entire life, so being stripped of the relationship, knowing that I couldn’t just call him up to talk, and realizing that I’d never see him in person again was overwhelming and devastating to say the least.

Even though it’s been nearly a month since his passing, I still haven’t gotten over it. And I never will to be honest.

But I’m trying to stay strong despite the fact that I feel as though my life has completely fallen apart. The future is full of more uncertainty than I ever thought was possible.

But this isn’t a complete sob story.

Despite the obvious emotional burden and tight time constraints, my mother, brother, and I persevered through hardship. We managed to plan a respectful funeral service and visitation that I truly believe would make my father proud. And he would be happy to see how hard we worked together as a family like never before to do the right thing.

You see, my father didn’t prepare his will before he passed away. It was tragic because he had been planning on making one and he was going to tell my mom everything she needed to know ‘just in case’ after he fully recovered from his stroke. My mom had even planned to retire this summer so they could spend more time together. Nobody thought that my dad wouldn’t be around.

When you don’t have a will, it makes it much harder when it comes to dealing with single bank accounts and other assets. My mother had to prove her relationship, and there were a lot of technicalities that created headaches. And along the way, we dealt with a lot of insensitive, idiotic assholes.

We had to do so much at a time when you just want to crawl under the covers, get drunk, and bawl your eyes out. And funeral costs are damn expensive even when you go for just the basics. It made me wonder what those who are really poor do when someone dies. I can’t even imagine. Luckily, while at first we couldn’t gain access to my dad’s single bank account, we could use his savings to pay for the funeral costs. That helped. And what also helped was that my dad had pre-paid for his cremation and chose the location in the cemetery.

Now, I’m not trying to hijack this blog and turn it into a blog about dealing with death. It will remain a feminist blog. But that also means sharing my experiences. Perhaps that will help others facing a similar situation. Writing about my dad and telling everyone how much I love(d) him helps me cope – it also helps me keep his memories alive. I never want to forget what an amazing relationship I had with him.

I’m going to share something really intimate with you all. It’s the eulogy I wrote for my father. First of all, there’s nothing I could ever write that would do him justice. He deserves so much more. Factor in how I had to write this in an hour and literally the day before the funeral visitation (because we were really that busy with preparations and running around to get everything done in time).

Obviously I wasn’t in the mood to write at all. Every time I put pen to paper, I thought, “I can’t do this.” But I kept picking up the pen I repeatedly put down. And the whole time, I was upset with how I only had such a short amount of time to write the single most important thing in my life. It wasn’t fair.

I also choked up a lot while reading it aloud at the funeral visitation. There were several times throughout the reading when I didn’t think I could continue. However, I didn’t want to bail out or give up. There are many things in life that you can back away from and be weak, but this wasn’t one of them. You get a single chance to do this, and you’ve got to do it right.

I forced myself to write and read the eulogy because I think he would’ve wanted me to do it, and it would’ve made him so happy. Plus, everyone deserves to know about him and how wonderful he was and how much he did for me and my family.

So here it is:

Anyone who knew my father well knew that he loved to talk – the cat never got his tongue and he usually had the last word. Just when you thought he was done talking, he’d jump to a new topic that would last another hour. I’d often have to cut him off because, like the Energizer Bunny, he could go on and on and on and on! And if he got on the topic of God or religion, well, you’d better get comfy.

I loved hearing the stories he shared about his childhood and his early working years when he was a waiter at various restaurants. And it made me laugh when he proudly told me about his appetite as a bachelor – milk by the carton and huge steaks.

But it was his stories of struggle and hardship that really touched my heart. At a very young age, my father had to make his way in the world practically by himself. He was in a new city with hardly any money in his pocket and with little to no parental guidance. Despite the obstacles, he not only coped, but thrived. He befriended many colourful characters, and, of course, met the most important woman in his life – my wonderful mother.

Although my dad loved to talk, he was a good listener, too. No matter how many times I came to him to complain about school or work or relationship problems, he would always be there to lend an ear and give useful advice.

In some ways, my father was your typical guy – he loved hockey games, poker, action movies, electronics, loud music, and vehicles. He even told me that while he could sleep soundly after watching a scary movie, a romantic movie would keep him up all night tossing and turning!

But in many ways, Peter Shaw wasn’t your ordinary garden variety. He wasn’t afraid to wear pink, once he let me put nail polish on his toenails, and he even let me give him a mud mask (which he enjoyed!). Yes, my dad had an impeccable sense of humour – he was always cracking jokes and seeing the light side of any situation.

My father was also very bright. When he was in rehab recovering from his second stroke, the therapist asked him to name all the animals he could think of as part of an exercise. Of course he mentioned lion, bear, and cat. But he also mentioned ocelot. The therapist didn’t know what an ocelot was prior to looking it up in the dictionary. (Even I didn’t.)

My dad may not have gone to university, but he was a lifelong student who enjoyed learning new things every day. And he taught me everything he knew about love and forgiveness, faith and strength, courage and perseverance.

But of all the lessons my father taught me, there’s one that stands out and that I feel is appropriate during a time like this. He always told me that when you’re at your lowest, you should be at your strongest.

Even during the last months of his life, my dad remained a fighter. Let us all celebrate his vibrant life, see him as an inspiration, and try to be strong in the face of this great loss.

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Floss a Backbone, Gargle with Feminist Mouthwash & Don’t Just Brush off Gender Inequality

Of the many university courses I took years ago, my psychology of women class is one of the handful that really stood out. It wasn’t just about memorizing facts and studying to get good marks on exams. After hearing what the professor had to say in lectures and after reading my textbook, I found myself getting worked up over things I once blindly accepted.

Like much of the general public, I had thought that feminism was a bad word. The stereotype of a butch man-hating woman who was hairy, pushy, and obnoxious had sadly been held by me, my friends, parents, and co-workers. We had succumb to the media’s depiction of feminism.

Being a feminist didn’t seem positive at all. Who were these women? What kind of chip did they have on their shoulder that they felt the need to fight all the time? And anyone who called herself a feminist was bound to be ridiculed and challenged (much like labeling yourself a vegetarian, as I discussed in a previous blog post). Why stigmatize yourself?

Then I learned that feminism wasn’t always about putting women ahead for the sake of being women – it was about making a positive difference in the world for women, yes, but also for men. It was about taking women seriously as intellectual individuals and not just as sex symbols. It was about standing up for women to earn equal pay in the workforce. It was about smashing the glass ceiling so society could enjoy some fresh air.

The English author, literary critic, journalist, and travel writer, Cicely Isabel Fairfield (aka Rebecca West) was quoted as saying, “I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.”

Yet somehow feminism’s name got tainted in black tar. It became the butt of many sitcom jokes. In fact, feminism got such a bad rap that even women came to associate it with all things negative.

One day I wanted to do an informal experiment to see just how skewed people’s understanding of feminism really was. I asked a bunch of people in my classes (who weren’t in my psychology of women class), “Are you a feminist?” To my surprise (and disappointment), every single person I asked (female or male) had a strong, adverse reaction to the question. They all immediately exclaimed, “No!” A few made looks of disgust as though I had insulted them.

My next question: “Do you believe that women who have the same expertise, education, and experience as men should get paid less for doing the same job?” All of them said no and that they should earn the same amount because that’s what was fair.

When I told them that their answer was feminist, I think it threw them for a loop. They clearly didn’t want to be labeled as a feminist, but they held feminist beliefs. It was obvious now that the problem with feminism wasn’t that people didn’t believe in its tenets, rather its skewed definition.

My theory for why feminism got such a harsh reputation: people were intimidated by the thought of women challenging the status quo, asking for more (which actually was just what they deserved), becoming independent, and working their way up to attain positions of power.

The established patriarchy was under attack! How could they lessen the blow and discount the protests from this growing movement? Ridicule it – make cheap shots at it every chance you get. Turn it into a caricature. And it worked. Even women with university education were refusing to call themselves feminists!

Let’s spread the word – feminism isn’t a bad word. It’s empowering, hopeful, and our future. Get rid of ill-conceived stereotypes that prevent us (women and men) from moving forward.

Anyone can be a feminist. Even men. (Being a feminist doesn’t mean you’re feminine.) You can come from any walk of life. You can be feisty, introverted, pretty, ugly, young, or old. Feminism doesn’t discriminate. People against feminism discriminate.

But you have to remember that feminists are human, too. Some are hypocrites. They’re not perfect. Being a feminist doesn’t mean that you’ll always do or say the right thing when it comes down to the wire. Being a feminist doesn’t make you a good person. Being a feminist makes you want to strive to be a better person. Whether or not you reach your goal is another story.

Are you ready to hop on board?

Ellen DeGeneres: “Instead of Showing Your Boobs, Show People Your Brain.”

This video’s from 2009, but it’s new to me – just saw it last month. It’s a clip of Ellen DeGeneres giving a commencement speech at Tulane University.

She’s smart, witty, and down-to-earth in this video, and her speech is uplifting and funny while still driving home important messages to the new graduates (but really to all of us).

And how true it is when she says, “Instead of showing your boobs, show people your brain.” Women, we need to remember this. When you respect yourself, you set an example for other women to follow suit and respect themselves, too. Let’s hope this catches on!

Thought I’d share it with you because:

  • Laughter makes any day better
  • Ellen’s courage to overcome struggle is inspiring
  • She’s a good example of a modern feminist
  • I’m too lazy right now to write a long essay-style post

Enjoy!

Shooting Blanks: Even Feminists Get Tired. Surprise, Surprise!

I’m tired – it’s amazing how just living life can wear someone down. One second you’re laughing and thinking that everything’s perfect and the next, you have to force a smile so people will think you’re okay and normal. (Most people can’t handle true emotional venting – they want masks.)

Things are not okay. And no matter how much booze you guzzle or how much you copiously smoke some herb, you can’t drown out the noise because it only gets louder that way.

Feminists get exhausted. We put up a good fight, but we need to rest, and the sword needs rinsing. And sometimes we’ll complain about how uncomfortable it is to sleep in our armour.

Despite Hollywood depictions of hardcore feminists who are always strong and confrontational, the real world is a different animal – it has rabies. Once bitten. Twice shy. Start foaming.

It’s important as a feminist to choose your battles wisely so that maybe you’ll have enough strength left to win the war.

I really dislike it when some people overtly test your feminist beliefs by purposely uttering misogynist bullshit just so they can elicit a strong reaction from you. It almost seems like a waste of time trying to educate someone who’ll only continue to ridicule you for petty reasons.

Standing up is great, but you have to realize when you’re facing the barrel of a gun. Is what you’re saying falling on deaf ears? If so, you need to explore various ways of getting your message across – maybe action would drive home the point.

Feminists must also learn to become better listeners. We can proclaim who we are, what we stand for, and why society must change, but if we don’t show respect and hear other people out (even when their opinions differ greatly from ours), nobody will take us seriously. And nobody will respect us. Plus how can you grow if you never challenge and/or update your own beliefs?

So I’ve been depressed for months. And the recent death of my father has really hit me hard. I’ve tried many different avenues to improve my mental state – some put me in positions where I compromised my integrity and others literally put me in compromising positions.

But I’m a believer that things will eventually look up. And I am looking up.

Still gonna glock it like it’s hot.

R.I.P. Peter Shaw (1939-2010)

I still can’t believe my father passed away on March 2nd. Every morning, I wake up thinking that maybe it was all a terrible dream – it can’t be real. But it is real. It was so sudden, and came with little warning.

He had been recovering from a moderate stroke, but in the end, it wasn’t the stroke that did him in – he had an abdominal aneurysm. A blood vessel’s lining was thinning and burst. My father was internally bleeding to death. Thinking about my father suffering so much is unbearable for me. But at the same time, it shows you how strong he was.

The surgeon said that most people who have aneurysms like my dad don’t even make it to the hospital alive even if they call the ambulance immediately! But, of course, my dad was a fighter ’til the very end – he lasted about 8 hours. He’s so incredible, and even though he’s ‘gone’, he’s still teaching me new things.

New Things My Father Taught Me

Souls Really Do Exist

He was a really religious man who took great pride in being a Catholic. On many occasions he’d talk to me about faith and God. And I remember him telling me that the body is just on loan from God – it’s like a shell we borrow and we have to take good care of it because it’s not really ours.

I believed what my father said, but it was only when I saw my father’s body in the emergency-room operating table and then again at the funeral-home visitation that it really hit me. It’s hard to describe, but even though I was looking at my father, it wasn’t my father. Something was off.

I realized that my father was right when he said that the soul leaves the body when you pass away.

The body is nothing more than a shell. The soul is what gives a person that spark and personality. And then it made me think about how when we look at each other, it’s not actually the physical appearance we see. I mean, yeah, we notice a person’s build and hair colour, but when they’re gone, even those don’t look quite the same anymore.

When we look at one another, I now believe we see the soul. We just don’t realize it until the soul leaves.

Scientists and religious scholars may have struggled for centuries to prove that a soul exists. Naysayers can argue otherwise, but because of my experience, I will always know in my heart that souls really do exist. And it’s a comforting thought.

When Someone Dies, You Don’t Actually Lose Them

It’s become pretty common to say, “Sorry for your loss” to express your sincere condolences to the devastated family. I never gave it more thought until recently.

I realized that I didn’t actually lose my father. I found him. Where? I found him at the place where he’s always been – my heart. And there he will always be.

In an upcoming blog post, I’m going to share the eulogy I wrote (and read at the funeral-home visitation). It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write because nothing I said could ever do him justice. But I did it because he would’ve wanted me to. I’ll be sharing it because I’m proud to be Peter Shaw’s daughter and because everyone deserves to get a glimpse into this wonderful man I was blessed to call my father.

Later, I also want to share my experience when I saw my father’s urn placed in the niche at the cemetery and also all the headache regarding the myriad of legal matters you confront when a person passes away.

Please continue to say prayers for my father and my family. We need help to be strong.

I Love You, Daddy.

My father passed away on Tuesday March 2, 2010 at 12:16 am.

(He was recovering from his stroke, as you’ll remember me telling you in this post and in the bottom part of this post.)

I’ve been worn really thin planning the funeral and visitation with my mom and brother. I was extremely close to my dad, so although I’m trying to remain strong, it’s a huge cross for me to bear.

Since Tuesday, we’ve had to go through a lot and are really busy. I had some blog posts time-stamped to go live in the next few days, but decided to put them on standby for now. Just want you all to know that I’ll resume blogging again as soon as I can because after this sudden tragedy, I have lots to share.

I ask that you please say a prayer for my father and my family (whether or not you’re religious). It would mean so much to us. Thank you.

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