Considering My Legacy At This Stage In My Life

At my last book club meeting, we discussed When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi. It’s the memoir of a resident doctor in his mid-30’s who explores the dance between medicine and philosophy against the backdrop of mortality and meaning. It was a book he started after his terminal diagnosis of lung cancer and finished shortly before he died. I enjoyed this thought-provoking, reflective piece of literature,  which was at times written at arms-length from the emotional baggage of impending death. It can be refreshing to talk about death that way – as in what can we learn from this thing we don’t know a whole lot about? While sitting in an intimate circle, the fireplace casting warmth, the 7 of us book club members spent a significant part of the evening on legacy.

I think about death and legacy a lot. I think this is largely because my mom passed away just before her 56th birthday. In fact, 9 years to this week, she was admitted to the hospital (for the second to last time). During our visit with her, my mom sat up in bed and told my brother and I she was sorry she wasn’t ‘leaving much’ for us. I’m sure we mumbled some reassuring words about how that wasn’t true but I honestly don’t remember the conversation going past that. Talking about her inevitable death made us uncomfortable even as the curtain of denial slowly slipped off the truth we needed to face.

What I would say to her now is that what she left us continues to show itself day after day, year after year. Her legacy lives on in the way I love my children, in the way our family continues to gather in good times and bad, in the way we support the hungry, in the way I dance around the kitchen. I see her in all those moments and more. While my memories of her come in snapshots and I now have to think really hard to remember her movements and the sound of her voice, what has never dulled are the intangible things.

Legacy and Writing

Legacy is also heavy on my mind because as a writer, I consider my work to be my literary footprint. The thing that will outlast me. Some people write their memoirs solely for that reason, and I encourage it in the classes I teach. Our articulated thoughts and ideas, and the way we affect one another, are all part of what we leave behind.

Thinking about our mortality is not morbid – it’s motivating. Admittedly, it’s not easy for most of us, but it truly can guide us to living our most meaningful lives. Throughout his book, Dr. Kalanithi shared how the decisions he made at each stage of his illness were all weighed against what was most meaningful to him at that time. Of course, he knew his life would be much shorter than what a healthy man his age could expect so there were probably a lot of things he threw out the window. When we don’t know how long we have to live, but can assume it’s a fair chunk of time, our options look different.

But maybe it’s not just about how long we have to live. Maybe it’s about how WIDE we want to. I’ve written before about wanting to live a wide life, not just a long one. These kinds of thoughts have always steered me toward a deeper satisfaction than anything I have ever chased mindlessly.

As a woman, a mother, entering her 40’s in just a few months, the lenses with which I see this world are changing a little. I’m excited by this shift. It’s helping me consider my legacy, define my values and fine-tune my goals. I’m embracing all of it and looking forward to the gems I will find along the way. Stick around – I’ll share more about my road to 40 as I tap my happy feet toward this new decade!

considering my legacy, my legacy, taslim jaffer writer,

What is something you hope will be part of the legacy you leave behind? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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A Date With My Dad

My dad will be coming over in a few hours, and when he does I’ll give him a hug and then each of my kids will follow suit to hug their Nana. If we get a chance to talk in the few minutes we’ll have before I leave to teach my writing class, it will be ‘instructions’ about the kids’ meal or what needs to happen for bedtime. Then I’ll be off, and when I get back my dad will likely have to jump in the car and make his 40 minute trek back home.

When we get together socially, it’s always a family gathering. Conversations take place in groups, and there’s a lot of focus on the kids.

And that’s how it is.

But it wasn’t always like that.

My dad was my very first best friend. Before I had my journal, before I met anybody else in the world with whom I would share the big and small things of my life, there was my dad. We were a carefree duo, the two of us, always finding time for a long conversation. Our shared interests gave us things to mull over. But then I grew up, life got ‘busier’, I got married, I became a mom, and we lost my mom after years of illness during which time there wasn’t the state of exhale that’s required for talking about abstract things.

When my mom died, we were flung into a new galaxy without gravity. She was the centre that anchored us, kept our feet on the ground, and when she was gone we each had our own grief to contend with in the ways we knew how. As more babies arrived and other major life changes happened, the duo we used to be seemed to be still sitting at a table in a long-ago kitchen surrounded by yellow walls and the sound of traffic from the open window above the sink.

As we both get older, I worry that those conversations with my dad may be just a thing of the past, unlikely to resurface, never to become a habit again. I think, how did we go from discussing world politics and social change at length to snippets about the kids and a few lines about work? When something great happens to me in my writing life, my dad is one of the first people I want to tell. But my work is more than just ‘this was just published’ or ‘I was recognized for this poem’…my work is a movement, and the roots of that movement lie in those conversations we had when I was a child, a teenager. And I want to tell him all of it. Why I write, what motivates me, why I entered that poem, why I chose the images I did. And I know there is more he would tell me, too.

I need more alone time with my dad.

So when I was invited to the local launch of the Harris 120 tea by Pink Chai Media and was told I could bring someone, I knew who I wanted to invite. Not only would my dad appreciate the food and the sitar/tabla concert, it would also be a chance to sit down with him over a cup of tea and chat.

 


During the evening, we got to try the goodies from the chai bar, including the tea of honour Harris 120, and were treated to live sitar and tabla music. And over a delicious, spicy meal we were able to take some time to talk. I got to tell him about why I write memoir, and a passion project I am working on. He shared some things that helped me understand a little more of our history in Africa.

It was a brief moment in time during which I was able to be ‘just me’ and he was able to be ‘just him’ and I do hope it’s followed up soon with another conversation over tea.

There is still so much to say.

It’s cliche and you’ve probably already heard it at least once this week, but life is short. Quiet the unnecessary noise, say ‘no’ to what doesn’t really matter, and make use of your precious time with the ones you truly want to be with.

I’m so grateful to my friends at Pink Chai Media for the invitation to try out the tea and bring a very special date. And thank you, Aziz Dhamani Photography, for the lovely photo of my dad and me that I could share here.

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

How Writing Heals

I think people shy away from the idea of writing being a healing tool because they believe it requires some sort of pre-existing experience in writing. It doesn’t, really. It’s a practice that you can develop.  (And grammar doesn’t count either so go ahead and sigh a big sigh). It’s like turning to yoga as a way of nourishing your body and soul; you don’t need experience to begin. You simply start taking classes and grow into it. You can do the same with writing. If you have a desire to examine your current circumstances, or your past, and if you want to find the courage to look forward, then expressive writing could be for you.

Right now, I’m typing away at my desk. Every so often a delicious breeze wafts in from the open window to my left. When it does, a little chime hanging in the doorway of my French doors rings its soft bells. This is a beautiful place to write. But I have also scribbled furiously on the floor in my closet at dawn so as not to wake my husband. And that’s the other wonderful thing about this therapeutic tool – you can pull it out at any time, any place. It’s there for you.

I recently wrote an article about this idea for Hello Creative Family. If you’d like to read about what I mean when I say writing is a healing tool, what it heals and how effective it is against illness, grief and loss, please hop over to the article and have a read.

From the fall, I’m dedicating more time to teaching because I strongly feel that sharing this gift with others is a purpose I need to fulfill. It’s actually beneficial for me too because I learn so much from everyone I try to ‘teach’ 🙂 Mostly I am filled with gratitude that writing came to me so early and easily, and it makes me want to show everyone else how powerful this kind of connection can be.

If you are local to Surrey, B.C. I’d love to see you in one of my classes at the South Surrey Arts Centre. These are classes for adults, 18+, and will be held at the Turnbull Gallery on Monday nights from 6:30-8:30 pm.

Writing For Self-Discovery

Join award-winning writer, Taslim Jaffer in this empowering workshop where you will take guided steps on a journey of self-discovery through writing exercises and discussion. Unearth lessons learned throughout your lifetime.  This course is perfect for writers of all levels, focusing on how to use writing as a tool for your own benefit.

Sept 12 – Oct 3 (4 sessions)

$75

Registration begins July 25, 2016

Writing For Legacy

What do you have to offer the world? Uncover and capture your life-gained wisdom, no matter what stage of life you are in. Through written exercises and discussion, award-winning writer, Taslim Jaffer will teach you how to write about your personal legacy. At the end of this course you will come away with several pieces of writing that can be the basis of a longer project.

Nov 7 – Nov 28 (4 sessions)

$75

Registration begins July 25, 2016

You can also register by calling 604-501-5100. And of course, if you have any questions about the course content, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me. I will be sharing more details over the next couple weeks, so stay tuned!

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Are You Living The Width Of Your Life?

I had already planned to write this post before my dad called just now with some news. A distant relative was involved in a car accident last night and did not make it. So, now I’m writing this with an even deeper intention to get the message out.

I think when we are born we are given a certain number of years. That number is written somewhere in some celestial book right beside our name. And when that number is up we’re called Home.

Whether you believe that with me or not is not the point, because no matter which way it happens, the end of our life is inevitable. Whether our years are pre-determined or not, there is a certain length to our life here on Earth.

There is a certain length – but how wide does it go? This existence of ours…how stretchy is it? How much room do we have to discover and learn and experience? How much can we push against boundaries and comfort zones and other limitations?

I think that’s up to us as individuals.

What does it mean to you to live a ‘wide’ life?

To me, it means following my curiosities, reading about the things I want to know about, using my voice to speak up about the things that matter, stepping out of what feels safe and really connecting with people.

I’m growing a veggie garden and that is something I have wanted to do for over a decade. It’s stretched my mind and my soul. I touch dirt every day and it helps me remember I’m alive.

Every time I teach a poetry workshop at the drug treatment centre, I buy a pizza lunch for whoever is living/sitting/sleeping on the sidewalk outside the pizza place. But first, I bend down, I look in their eyes and I ask, “Are you hungry? Do you like pizza? What do you like on your pizza?” Those are some of the most meaningful conversations I have with strangers because what I’m really saying is, “I am with you.”

I write and speak about busting stereotypes in a time of fear. My voice is small but I am using it. I could very easily just have conversations in my head. But then, at the end of my length, how narrow will I have lived?

This is not as wide as I want to live, though. I want to rip the seams around me that hold me in and keep me safe, and have me following the rules I’ve internalized that I think will make me more loveable, more accepted. I don’t want to care about those things. Those things don’t give me room to breathe, to live.

I want to live a long life so I can spend as much time with my loved ones, especially my children, as possible. I want to live a wide life so my children never believe that another kind of life is an option.

In the spirit of life, I encourage you to write down what it means to you to live wide. What do you have to do, how do you have to think, where do you have to go, what do you have to say, what must you create…in order to have that brilliant life?

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

Why I’m Talking About Scleroderma

A few weeks after my mom lost her life to scleroderma in 2009, I was on my lunch break in Steveston, slurping a piping hot soup at Alegria Cafe. My return to work had been difficult; I welcomed the distraction and the normalcy of it, but was always on guard for the tears that came out of nowhere in the middle of a speech therapy session. That particular Friday, I was feeling a little more settled in my routine as I breathed in the aroma of the soups and paninis being enjoyed around me. I let my mind relax and my eyes wander.

I glanced over at the bulletin board on the wall opposite to where I sat and saw it there, in glaring letters, and my breath caught in my throat. ‘June is Scleroderma Awareness Month’, it announced. I finished my soup, slowly, avoiding the inevitable walk past the board on my way out when I’d feel compelled to stop and read. When I did, I read that there was some sort of event being held to raise funds and awareness for this auto-immune disease for which there is no known cause and no known cure.

It was the first time I’d been exposed to the word scleroderma since it claimed my mother’s life. And it was a punch in the gut.

It’s been 7 years since my mom died and although I’ve blogged about her condition since then (mostly on my old blog), I have never marked Scleroderma Awareness Month in any sort of way. Because I hate it. I hate this disease. It snuck in the back door of my family home when we weren’t looking and settled in my mom’s internal organs, leaving us to question for months what was wrong with her. Why couldn’t she breathe well? Why did she have these coughing fits? Why was she unable to keep down her food? It wasn’t until it presented itself on her skin in the form of discolouration and tightness that a doctor would request a skin biopsy and the diagnosis would be presented.

I remember every bit of this disease, even though I don’t want to.

I remember the loss of function, the alienation, the depression, the clinging to faith. I remember the grief that started years before she died. I remember the moment she told me what the doctor said. I remember her fingers, her eyes, her feet, her shuffle. I remember her pain. I remember her hope. I remember the blood tests and lung tests. I remember telling her she would be a grandmother in the midst of all this. I remember becoming depressed myself and my mother, ravaged by this disease, would be comforting ME. Reminding ME that God is always with us. Reminding ME that there are people so much more worse off than she.

I remember her walking and then shuffling and then in a wheelchair. I remember her daily prayers, never missed. I remember her hugs, large and encompassing, then thin and bony and frail.

I remember learning that my mom’s form was really aggressive.

I remember being filled with rage.

And when she died, I only wanted to remember her, the way she was before. I didn’t want to talk about scleroderma. I didn’t want to acknowledge it with a fundraiser or by opening up to people about this awful disease.

Because I remember scleroderma, but I sure don’t want to remind it about me or anyone else I love. I guess I always thought if I just forgot it happened it would stay out of my life.

But the other day I read an article that someone tweeted out about her mother-in-law passing away after living with scleroderma for 25 years (yes, you can live with it for a long time) and it triggered something inside me. It made me realize that I can choose to ignore it, but not everyone can.

There are still people living with tissue tightness, digestive issues, respiratory issues, mobility issues. And often they live in a world in which nobody gets it. Nobody understands what they’re going through. The same can be said about cancer patients – however, everyone has heard of cancer. When you tell someone, “My mom has scleroderma” they will likely look at you blankly. Then you try to tell them all the details but…it’s not cancer, so it can’t be that bad.

But it is. Even the palliative care doctor told me so. “There are things worse than cancer,” he said quietly when I asked him in his office how long my mom had to live.

I’m not telling you this to feel sorry for me or my mom or the other warriors who live daily with this chronic condition. I’m suggesting you learn about it, because even though we were told it affects 1 in 100,000 people you may still come across someone who lives with it.

So, after 7 years I am acknowledging that June is Scleroderma Awareness Month. I am thinking of the families affected and sending love and prayers for quality of life.

The one thing scleroderma did not, and could not, take away from my mom was her faith in a Higher Power. That unshakeable faith that she passed down to me has been one of my greatest gifts.

I love you, Mom. I remember. You are never forgotten.

scleroderma, june is scleroderma awareness month, june, scleroderma awareness month, mom

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Remembering Mom With A Random Act Of Kindness

“Your mom’s birthday tomorrow…How are you doing?” My cousin, Zubeen, texted from Toronto last night.

I had just come home from my own birthday dinner with my 3 kids and my husband. May has always been a month of celebrations with myself, my brother and my mom having birthdays within a handful of days. Mom’s last birthday was in 2008; Life has only given me more and more love each year since then, but I always look back fondly on how we used to celebrate together. And of course, there’s always that heavy feeling in my chest when I remember how special she made us feel on our birthdays.

When a loved one passes away, it’s always nice when someone else talks about them, brings them up in conversation, shares a memory, recognizes a special day. They never truly vanish when we keep them alive like that. Stories are so important, not just to reminisce with those who knew our loved ones, but also to pass down to the next generation who may not have had a chance to witness someone’s character or personality.

My mom was a giver. I don’t know anyone who could dispute that. She gave and gave, and then she gave some more. One of the things she liked to do was pay for the parking for the person behind her at the doctor’s office. “You never know what kind of news they got from the doctor.” This is so true.

My cousin, Zubeen, suggested we remember Mom today by doing a random act of kindness for a stranger in her honour. Kindness is a ‘given’ every day, of course, but her suggestion actually made me feel excited about today. Setting an intention to make someone else’s day a little brighter is always uplifting, but doing it in someone’s memory is another way of saying, “My mom existed. She once lived here with me.”

Being 3 hours ahead, Zubeen beat me to it 😉 I got her text first thing this morning sharing what she did for a stranger. It was a fun way to start the day!

Would you join us? If not for my mom, then for someone else you wish was still here with you?

You can tell us in the comments how you chose to spread kindness today – you never know who you will inspire. Plus, did you know that ‘witnessing’ an act of good increases the serotonin in your body? That’s Nature’s anti-depressant. The whole thing is a win-win situation!

Hope your day is full of love and joy, and celebration!

taslim jaffer, let me out creative birthdaymom

 

Why You Should Think About Your Legacy Today

The word legacy scares the crap out of people. Why? Because it’s a reminder that they’re going to die. Here’s the thing: they are. You are. I am. We are.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, you may wonder if I am an extremely morbid person for talking about things like legacy and death. No, I don’t think I am. I think I’m motivated by my mortality and I’d like to spark that light in you, too.

Because what I’d hate is for you to find yourself on Death’s door, wondering what kind of difference you made to this world and questioning the way you spent your life. I think it’s much more productive to ask yourself those questions and know the answers while you are still alive.

[Tweet “Legacy is not about death. It’s about how you live.”]

I also consider myself lucky that Death touched me early. It was brutal to lose my grandfather, grandmother, uncles and mom and of course, I’d do anything to have them back here with me and our family. But I learned very quickly that life is precious and fleeting; I’ve chosen to look at that lesson as a gift.

I think we should each reflect on where we are in our lives, and where we’d like to go, and most importantly, who we’d like to be, on a regular basis. Not just in the wake of a loved one’s death. Not just at the end of a calendar year. Today is as good a day as any. Try to make decisions based on who it is you’d like to be. How would the best version of yourself go forth today?

Not saying you have to be perfect. If you yell at your kids or feed them fast food or ignore someone’s call because you’re not in the mood to chat, you’re fine. You’re trying to be the best person you can be, not the best android. And people are multi-dimensional and flawed and really cool beings. While we’re here as people let’s enjoy the gamut of that. But let’s also capitalize on the time we’ve been given, however long that is, to create something wonderful that will benefit other people, whether that’s a thriving home, a compassionate community, an enterprise that serves, or something else that calls to you.

It comes down to a choice: you can either be mortified by or motivated by your mortality. I think we can do great things when we are motivated.

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

 

 

 

A Tribute To Dr. Mubina Jiwa #100HappyDaysMJ

On a Friday morning in October, I woke up with a strange feeling. The presence of my cousin, Shaireen, who had passed away when we were 26, hung over me like a shawl. It felt as though she was physically close to me, just behind my shoulder and I was flooded with memories of us as innocent kids playing at school or having lunch at her grandmother’s house. I carried on my typical morning activities with this awareness of Shaireen’s presence, though it faded the more involved I became in my day.

And then I got a call from my good friend, Salma. She was devastated at the news that her dear friend in Toronto had taken a turn for the worse in her battle against cancer and was not expected to live much longer. With my heart heavy, I listened to Salma describe this beautiful soul: the contributions she made to naturopathy, her joy in being a mom, the kind of friend she was to so many people. As Salma spoke, pieces of a puzzle began falling into place. I asked her for her friend’s name and when she said, “Mubina Jiwa” I muttered, “Oh my God.”

Mubina and Shaireen were also cousins but on another side of the family from me. So I knew Mubina through this connection. I also knew Mubina was exactly my age and my last memory of her was when I bumped into her in Hawaii one New Year’s Eve. I can still see her dancing and laughing in my mind as I type this. It’s how so many people remember her.

Because, unfortunately, Mubina passed away just days after Salma called me. She left behind a little girl, loving husband and her parents. But she also left behind much more.

I encourage you to read Salma and Rahima‘s posts to see how her legacy will remain in her friends and family, her patients and the faithful followers of her appearances on the Marilyn Denis show.

Salma and Rahima have decided to honour Mubina by sharing #100HappyDaysMJ on their social media feeds (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) because this is something Mubina herself completed while she was battling ovarian cancer. Each day Mubina found something that brought her joy and shared it with the world. We can choose to do that, too, for the next 100 days, to honour Mubina, and to remember those who left us who want us to see the beautiful parts of our day. This will officially start tomorrow (December 1, 2015). If you knew Mubina, you can include pictures of things that remind you of her and make you smile.

I’ll be joining the girls and everyone else taking part by posting pictures to my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #100HappyDaysMJ. I’ll be looking for everyone else’s posts too. Because happiness is shared and inspired and given and received. It’s part of the legacy we leave behind.

RIP Mubina and give our cousin, Shaireen, a big hug from me!

taslim jaffer, let me out creative