Just a thought… A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for. [John A. Shedd]
Ah, a new season. And what a summer it was! I can’t say that, when it began, I ever envisioned spending nearly seven weeks of it trying to work through a whole lot of things I had pounded down and embedded in wet cement, but that’s how it went. And, boy, am I glad – and grateful – I did!
I was planning to tell you today about two movies I saw this past weekend: Ad Astra and Downton Abbey. I’ll save that for Thursday.
Today, I am moved to say this: Margaret Trudeau rocks. I was sent a review yesterday of her one woman show “A Certain Woman of an Age” (a play on the term “woman of a certain age” which, of course, she definitely is) which was staged as part of JFL42 in Toronto.
I saw an early version of her presentation at the Registered Practical Nurses’ Association of Ontario annual gathering in Ottawa two years ago, which I emceed, and was blown away. In fact, I refer to it in Mourning Has Broken, as she is a high-profile bereaved mother – among many other things. I wrote a journal about it and I’ve copied it below today’s entry, if you care to read it. As it happens, this year I’ll be the keynote speaker myself at that same RPNAO event to be held in London, Ontario on October 3. A nice full-circle moment, if you will.
An advocate for mental health, Ms Trudeau is frank and vulnerable and it’s the latter quality that scares me so much in this age of online vitriol. I can only hope that she never EVER reads the “comments” on any articles about her talk, which is delivered as a speech from a podium.
I was struck by the honesty and deep humanity that Ms Trudeau shared in her struggles and triumphs (“bad choices make for good stories” was one line I recalled and loved). I hope that in this age of hating – literally hating – someone who does not share your political beliefs, she is spared the pain of reading the barbs of people who choose to post with cowardice and anonymity, and who only aim to cause pain.
I understand from a Toronto Star write-up that her presentation does not include mention of her most prominent son’s vastly embarrassing revelations of late, since it wasn’t part of what was deemed a “script.” I would have been tempted to lean into that a little if I was her, although I can understand fully her fear that any words she said, even in jest, might end up on late night TV or in the mouths of her son’s political opponents.
You can think what you want of a woman we’ve known – or thought we knew – almost our entire lives here in Canada. But all I see is an awful lot of courage. Courage to take on the haters and the cowards simply by standing up and telling her story. Courage to share her own struggles with mental illness and experiences being an inmate of what she calls “the crown jewel in the federal penitentiary system” (24 Sussex Drive).
At 71, she could stay at home in Montreal and revel in the quiet pleasures of being a mother and grandmother, as well as best-selling author. Instead, she is, to paraphrase Brené Brown’s take on a Teddy Roosevelt quote, daring greatly: she puts herself in the arena, covered in mud and blood, and makes her mistakes with more bravery than any who sling barbs and criticize her from the safety of the viewing stands. And that, to me, is real courage.
Have a gentle day and I’ll be back with you Thursday – from Brad Pitt’s future in space to Downton Abbey’s royal grace – two movies that couldn’t have been more different.
In the meantime, here’s that journal from two years ago:
A number of things strike you when you are in a room listening to Margaret Trudeau speaking.
First, it’s that she’s been a figure in your life for as long as you can remember. From the young Flower Power bride of a charismatic politician to the wild child partying with the Rolling Stones and dancing with abandon at Studio 54, to a woman who seemed to publicly battle demons of mental illness, lose herself to grief following the death of one of her sons and then emerge as a spokesperson for mental health.
In the course of an hour, she spoke of all of those things.
But the other thing that strikes you is how she speaks: like someone who has just run into the house to tell you of the most marvelous rainbow or a tornado on the horizon. She almost bounces in her red pumps, her curls tossing as she gesticulates and laughs, her voice modulating from excitement to sadness with a force that takes her listeners on the roller coaster with her.
I felt exhausted when the hour was done, as though we’d been running hand in hand on a train platform, passing each car that represented another element in an extraordinarily public and equally sad life.
Her time in our lives began when she was a teen on a family trip at a Club Med; whilst awaiting a chance to flirt with the young, handsome French Canadian staffer on the beach, she met up with an older gentleman who, she says, began grilling her about Plato of all things!
When she returned to her parents’ side, her mother told her that the man she’d been killing time with was the leader of the Liberal party of Canada. Ho-hum, thought Margaret, and as her politician parents socialized with this lawyer from Montreal, she continued to prance around in her bikini, somewhat oblivious to his attentions.
Some time later, back in Canada, her mother told Margaret that Mr. Trudeau had asked for a date; it turns out that Pierre Trudeau told a confidant that “…if ever I marry, it will be that woman.” And so began an unconventional marriage: at one time the unhappy bride told her husband that he could see other people but, she exclaimed, “I didn’t mean Barbra Streisand!”
We all laughed when she continued as an aside, “I told her that she actually won,” referring to the fact that it was Barbra, not Margaret, who “got away.” In another humorous moment, Margaret refers to 24 Sussex Drive as the “crown jewel in the federal penitentiary system.”
Mrs. Trudeau’s story is honest and open: she speaks of deep depression, of being bipolar, being misdiagnosed and being deprived of proper conventional mental health treatment because of her last name.
Her own mother eschewed psychiatric analysis for her daughter, saying she just needed sleep and the company of friends. A time spent locked away in a hospital was disastrous when the levels of lithium in her body, which were not being properly monitored, threatened to seriously damage her liver. Her life was imperiled more than once.
In all, Margaret Trudeau lived a difficult life in secret – and not-so-secret (although she says of her time with the Rolling Stones, that she was a goody-goody and people like to imagine things as far worse than they were) – and seemed to have found happiness, balance and a healthy stability in her life with a second husband and more children.
And then she lost her and Pierre’s 23-year-old son Michel in an avalanche in BC in 1998. This horrific tragedy took her to her knees – literally and figuratively – and for six months she was unable to get up off the floor even, her doctors believe, trying to die by not eating or drinking water (just as Pierre had done in the last days of his battle with prostate cancer, going out on his own terms).
She found a will to live, was saved and now plays her most important public role yet: proof that one can, with proper treatment and medication, triumph over the stigma and shame that has for so long been associated with mental illness.
She spoke not of politics nor of her son, the Prime Minister (except to point out that Pierre had won a majority when she campaigned with him – but not as big as Justin’s), and that was all right. We weren’t there to hear anything more than her own story, which you can read about in her four books, the most recent of which is Time of Your Life: Choosing a Vibrant, Joyful Future published by HarperCollins.
The lineup to speak to Mrs. Trudeau after her speech was a long one and she agreed to meet with every single person, regardless of whether they purchased one of her books.
I came away from her speech, given at the Registered Practical Nurses’ Association of Ontario’s 2017 gala in Ottawa, exhausted, humbled and awakened; I know that I have got to find someone to talk to about the stress and the grief that are so much of our waking lives, Rob’s and mine. She reminded me of the power of taking action, even when you think there’s no more help to be had, that you’re just going to have to “live with it” and that, as always, there is tremendous strength in vulnerability.
Thank you, Margaret, for sharing yourself and for speaking in such a manner that held us all completely in the palm of your hand. You may never know how many people have been touched and changed by your message and it’s one that should be spread as widely and loudly as can be. #sicknotweak
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