What’s in a decade?

I thought I’d sit down and take stock since, after all, just about every social media feed has been telling me to do so for the past couple of weeks.

I clicked open my Pictures file and scrolled down to 2010. I then opened up my journal and wrote Last Decade at the top of the page and 2010 in the margin. I began viewing the photos and writing down the highlights of each year: trips, graduations, sports events, publications, relatives…

Once I’d finished, I mulled over the list. Wow! I realized that the past decade was rich in learning and insights, mainly around three themes.

#1. The Value of Life

In 2016, my husband Vincent went into the hospital for a day operation. The doctors wanted to do an angioplasty (insert stents into the arteries). When Vincent was wheeled back to his room, he said, “They have to keep me at the hospital. I’m going to have an operation this week”.  Less than three days later, he had multiple by-pass surgery. While he was in the ICU, I realized that life is as close as a heartbeat away. One millisecond it is there; the next it may not.

We both came away with a different point of view on life, and a new drive to make every moment count.

#2. The Value of Family

The same year, in 2016, I had the wonderful privilege of meeting biological relatives on my father’s side in England in 2016 (I was unable to meet my father since he had already passed away when I found him). It was amazing to feel the connection that we had even though I hadn’t been brought up with them. It was palpable. My husband and sons couldn’t deny the metaphysical link that they saw especially between my aunt and cousins.

A year later, in July of 2017, since my biological mother had moved back to Montreal, she accepted to meet me for the first time ever. During the three days we spent together, we went out for coffee, went shopping and talked about so many things. It was precious – doubly- so since I lost her to cancer less than two months later.

That was painful because I had just found her. But I take comfort in the fact that I was able to meet a number of other biological relatives on her side of the family that still live in Montreal.  

Hers wasn’t the only death I experienced this past decade. I lost two brother-in-laws and an uncle, too. Death separates us from family members we love, but life continues and gives us the wonderful opportunity to keep strengthening the bonds with those we still have.

#3. The Value of Breathing

This has undoubtedly been the decade that I learned the importance of breathing. Through learning and practicing mindfulness, meditation and Bodyflow (a combination of TaiChi, Pilates and yoga), I have experienced the amazing the healing and restorative benefits of breathing deeply: heightened awareness, more powerful stress management skills and greater emotional balance.  

Learning to breathe changes everything! The more I learned about it from books, practice and courses I took during my certificate in Developmental Psychology, the clearer I became on who I was and what I wanted. I retired from teaching in the school system and embarked on a career change process (which was ironic since I only just officially earned my teaching permit in 2011, after over 20 years in and out of various teaching capacities.) I just didn’t want to work in an environment whose values didn’t match my own.

I am now trained in mindfulness meditation and coaching so that I can help others develop their own mindfulness lifestyle and experience the benefits.

In conclusion, my backward look leaves me with the insight that it isn’t the trips, nor the professional, personal or academic achievements that give me the greatest buzz. It’s being able to look forward to celebrating 30 years of marriage with my husband Vincent in three weeks, seeing my sons Nick and Olivier develop and thrive in their personal and professional lives, and helping others live mentally healthier and happier over the next ten years.

What about you: what are your greatest take-aways from the past decade? And what are you looking forward to in the new decade? Drop a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

Cheers, and keep learning!  

Claire xx

[Photo Credit: Nacho Juarez/Pexels]

Here’s to 2019!

In one word, how would you describe your Christmas vacation?

I gave each of my adult business English students a pale blue hashtag-imprinted post-it. The students kind of gave me a funny look, then took out their pens and began to write.

When they were done, I asked them to stick them on the conference room whiteboard.

“What should I write?”, I asked, thinking aloud.  

“Wonderful!”, someone quipped.

“Not so sure…”, I responded, then thought for a moment. “Sure, it was wonderful”. I repeated the word as wonder – full for extra emphasis.

“Teaching moment!”, I realized. I can teach them about the many meanings of the word ‘wonder’. I laughed. It was wonder-full. Full of wonder. Wonder can mean awe, surprise, to be stunned, to be amazed, to be impressed by something bigger than self.

I then asked the group to choose one of the papers and interview the person who wrote it.

Once we had reviewed open and closed question formation with past tense verbs, we began.

My turn. “So, why was your Christmas vacation wonderful?”, the student asked.

I explained. It had been a wonder-full period.

My brother-in-law passed away suddenly on December 31 from cancer. Shock. Disbelief. Anger at apparent medical error. Pleasure and pride to hear of how his colleagues had honoured him at work by wearing bowties, in his own signature style.

“How is that wonder-full?”, you may ask. Three ways. Three words: life, language, learning.  

Life. It’s precious, out of our control. You never know how long you have.

Language. The Saturday before passing away, Ben, my brother-in-law was looking through the photos of the trip to Switzerland he and my sister had taken last summer. My sister later shared some of the comments he had made about the trip. Those words became extra meaningful, and valuable, personal memories. Words are powerful.

Learning. I spent the first week of 2019 at my sister’s place. I realized firsthand how important it is to have records up-to-date, in order and accessible to get the legal and financial paperwork underway. I saw the cards and flowers and meals caring neighbours and friends dropped off, sent and had delivered. I witnessed my sister’s reaction to sympathetic calls and texts. I was floored. It was a sobering, yet essential, learning experience.

Throughout the year to come, we’ll all have our share of life, language and learning To what extent we make 2019 wonder-full, will be up to us.

To varying degrees, our language class ended with us all reflecting on the following three questions:

  • What can we do here and now to make the best of the life I have?
  • What can I say today to those around me to encourage and help them?
  • What can I learn today from what I am experiencing?

Whatever the following months hold, have a wonder-full 2019!

Any comments or ideas? Just drop a note below. I’d love to hear from you! – Claire