Erin's Journals

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Just a thought… An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior. [Viktor Frankl]

I’m typing this, my screen dimmed, from my seat on a plane Wednesday night and we’re bound for home. Coat on for coziness, I have a little pile of pretzels in my lap and Rob’s patiently waiting for me to finish so we can watch When They See Us – the multiple Emmy-nominated miniseries about the Exonerated Five (formerly the Central Park Five). It’s the telling of a terrible chapter in NYC history: the story that could have had an even more tragic ending had Donald Trump gotten his way and the five innocent men had been executed.

I spent yesterday in a bit of an altered state juggling a combination of fatigue, deep satisfaction, sadness and a whole lot of gratitude. A large part of me didn’t want the trip to end: speech after speech, our message just kept getting easier to deliver, my heart opening a little wider each time to share everything that is inside.

I’m sorry that I won’t be talking about our lessons learned through the living and writing of Mourning Has Broken, as well as the indelible experiences that have come our way through meeting people in the aftermath of its publication.

But our new life’s road has more than one lane and it’s time to signal, check our mirrors one last time and veer into the slower one. I’ll get used to it in a few days (after we get through five different appointments back in Victoria today) but it’s not going to be easy.

Fortunately I have the support of a whole bunch of really good people in a group that meets daily at noon (plus a counsellor I’ll see this afternoon) who will help me to make the transition back to normal life – whatever that is.

I love to use the quote above from Dr. Viktor Frankl in my presentation. (You may recall I’ve mentioned his brilliant book, Man’s Search for Meaning in the past.) What’s normal about standing up and talking about the worst thing that can happen to a parent – always staying composed and delivering the message in a way that could, at times, be called funny (at least I hope so – I put plenty of laughs in there for a reason)? Nothing about it is normal, so why should my reaction be, right?

What I’ll miss are the stories: the people who stand up during Q & A afterwards and tell me their children’s names and how they’ve coped – or not coped – after losing them. The people who sat with us in a circle at Bereaved Families of Ontario last week in Oshawa and, one by one, told Rob and me who their child was and how they died, and when. The women and men who lined up after events for books, signatures and then hugs and photos. (I found it hard to smile for the camera when asked to pose with people who’d just told me of their loss; that’s a strange moment when you both just want to take in that connection….)

I’ve come away from this trip sure of a few things. Let me share them with you before I power down for the flight and, really, the winter (when it comes to work).

1. I miss being that Erin. The one who had the immense privilege of talking to people every day. I hear from people who miss the days of our radio show and I honestly tell them that I miss it, too. But there’s really no returning to the medium that I loved – only looking ahead. After all, as the saying goes, there’s a reason why the rear view mirror is smaller than the windshield. We have to keep our eyes on the road ahead. But yes, I miss radio. I miss laughing more with Mike, Ian, Gord and Steve before 5 am than most people do in a day. But I emphatically do NOT miss 5 am!

2. What comes from the heart, goes to the heart. A good friend at the time, Dr. Alvin Pettle, told me this decades ago and I think of it every day. Whether among a crowd of business leaders, bereaved parents or people who work in hospice and care for those who have lost or are in the process of losing loved ones, a message that comes from a place of compassion and experience, is welcomed by almost everyone. How lucky I am to be the one who gets to deliver it!

3. Toronto traffic (and that in Mississauga, Montreal, Ottawa and seemingly almost everywhere else our rental cars took us) is hopeless. Taking the UP Express from Union to Pearson on Tuesday to meet up with Rob, so we could have a few minutes to freshen up before the evening event at the Convention Centre in Mississauga, was the smartest decision of my trip. For $11 I sat on a comfortable train for 30 minutes and missed every slowdown, snarl and closed lane.

As we poked along in the car at 15 km/h on our way to the hotel from my airport pickup, I wondered: how do they do it? I asked myself how people – perhaps like you – survive the daily frustration, rudeness, tedium, and unbearable and apparent futility of sitting in their cars for hours on end to get to their job, rain or shine?

And then I remembered everyone on this trip and for the years before I announced I was leaving (three years ago today, as I recall) who thanked us for keeping them company on the drive. Again, how lucky I was to have a chance to do that! Thanks for the ride.

I could go on, but I’ll sign off for now. It’s been a pleasure to spend a bit of this (so far) smooth flight home with you. So thank YOU for keeping ME company. I’ll try not to think about the fact that I forgot to close the locks on our suitcases, so excited was I about getting to the desk and checking the luggage myself while Rob was taking back the rental car.

When I tweeted about it, several folks answered that they never lock their luggage (?!?) but I figure if anyone opens them they’ll just get a whole bunch of laundry that needs doing. And I don’t imagine I’ll notice anything missing until at least Friday, tomorrow, when we start thinking about unpacking.

I hope the forecast for a wintry Thursday morning didn’t come to fruition, but if it did, that enough people remembered how to drive safely. Of course, there will be those who don’t change their tires or prepare for the weather conditions that are inevitable at this time of year, making that aforementioned traffic even worse than usual.

Just turn on the radio and enjoy the ride, if you can. The weekend’s just around the bend and I’ll be back with you Monday.

Rob WhiteheadThursday, November 7, 2019