That’s my response to  most things these days – when everyone asks how I’m doing, when people ask how life is going, when other people invite me to join them in their plans.

“I’m okay.” “Things are okay.” “Sure… okay (followed by a heavy sigh).”
It’s all… okay.

Every day is different. I can’t tell you how I’m going to feel in 5 minutes, an hour, tomorrow or next week until we get to that point. I can’t promise that I won’t cry or forget anything, or that I’ll be keen to dress up and go out for a night of fun.

Because for the most part, I’m okay… until it all comes rushing back: when that vivid memory of me holding my Dad’s chilling hand, minutes after he took his last breath takes over my brain. I remember I can’t pick up the phone and hear my Dad’s reaction to the ridiculous life I sometimes live.

The reality of his death sinks in again, and in an instant – I’m barely okay at best.

Grief is a puzzling process.

There are no rules to grieving. People keep reminding me that there’s no right or wrong way to manage it or maneuver through it; you get to do it all on your own, as you please.

But that’s the blessing, and the curse. For me, I feel like I’m constantly searching for a stretch of feeling ‘normal’, but my mood is hardly consistent. For the last 3 weeks, I’ve perpetually made plans only to cancel them hours before they happen.  The idea of socializing with old friends and new faces seems exciting in fleeting moments, but usually transitions into a sense of exhaustion as I contemplate the idea of spending time with people and making small talk. I’m stuck on a rollercoaster of ever-changing emotions, perpetually moving through moments of sadness, anger, misery, emptiness, heartbreak, and contentment.

To quote someone else: “Grief makes us crazy.”

I want to go on and live my life, while simultaneously sitting in a pool of my own tears. I want everyone to leave me alone, but I don’t want them to leave. It’s been 4 weeks, and yet I can’t tell whether it feels like just yesterday or an eternity since he passed away – the reality is so fresh and raw and it doesn’t make sense.

How is it possible that just a couple of months ago, my Dad was sitting on the phone with me complaining of being ‘just tired’? And then weeks later, he died of a furiously spreading cancer? It’s not fair, and I want to stomp my feet and demand answers… but nothing.

The only thing I really want is to pick up the phone and hear his voice again. I want to fly home and smell the stale scent of his familiar sweater, to hear him snoring in front of the TV, to see the spaces between his wispy white hair on his head. I want to listen to him chuckle at my silly remarks, to watch the smile light up on his face when I tell him something charming, and just hear him call me Miss Pennifer — one more time.

But I’m asking for the impossible, and so there’s no fix for my pain. I’m destined to suffer indefinitely – which isn’t an easy reality to accept.

My heart is both empty and heavy all at once. I’m systematically programmed to live in auto-pilot mode, coasting through the motions of a set routine most days. I put on a brave face and fake my way through my workout, my job, and even at the grocery store.

In between it all, there are good days. There are days when my laughter is genuine, the smile and the joy I feel are real. I can make it through some days, only crying for a few moments or only feeling sadness for a short span of time. But there’s also bad days, and awful days – where I can’t concentrate on anything beyond the fact that my Dad is no long a physical human being. I cry endlessly, I feel lifeless myself and comprehending anything past my sadness is unimaginable.

Death. It’s an inevitable part of life, and yet something we can never properly prepare for. Looking back, I don’t know that I could have ever readied myself for this pain… and so, I’m doing the best I can.

I sit at home and stare into the sky – wondering where he is and what he’d be doing right now if he was here. I wear his glasses and try to imagine the world through his eyes, sift through old emails from him, and think back to all my favourite quirks about who he was and how he inspired me to be me.

Life isn’t easy right now, but admittedly – it’s not awful aside from the significant loss I’m experiencing.

So uh, yeah. I guess you could say I’m okay.


Dear Old Dad

I don’t have any memories of my Dad without grey hair.

He’s 47 years my senior, and to be quite honest – I’ve always considered him to be an “old man”. And for as long as I can remember, he’s been a stay-at-home Dad. He’s always been there when I needed someone; actually, when anyone needed someone.

Dad was the reason I made it to school safely, up until about grade 5 when I decided I was old enough to cross the street by myself and count on the company of my friends to ensure I got to school on time. Although I wasn’t the biggest fan of his peanut butter + butter sandwiches put together on squishy, whole wheat bread and the more brown than yellow banana he would pack for my lunches, Dad woke up every morning and made sure I didn’t starve through the day for all of elementary school. When I was sick – he’d come pick me up. When I forgot my homework, my gym clothes, etc. – he would make his way to the school as quickly as possible, with “Casper” the family dog in tow. When it was time to go home, he was standing outside the school doors waiting for me… and we’d walk home sharing stories about our day.

When I needed him, he was there. But it wasn’t always just for me.

Dad was sometimes at school as often as I was. He’d volunteer to supervise class field trips – and made sure to always engage with fellow classmates about the best parts of the trip. When we visited old mines, the planetarium, and the local heritage village – he’d immerse himself with fascination and get just as excited as all the kids about new information to learn. When my friends and I were simply stuck in class on a regular school day, Dad would volunteer his time to stop by for a few hours and help struggling kids improve their reading skills. And if there was ever a moment when he wanted to help out and wasn’t balancing on a pint-sized chair while helping students who were fighting their way through their required reading, you’d likely find him in the computer room tinkering away and teaching others how to use them efficiently.

Mr. Thomson (or Mr. T to some people) has always been one to offer a helping hand, but more importantly – a bit of encouragement. He’s always there for assistance or advice, but he’ll never take the load off your shoulders or give you the answers. He’s the type of guy to teach you a lesson, to help you learn, to make sure you get something out of the experience – rather than giving you an easy way out.

Actually, it’s always been about the experience with Dad. Playing outside or playing with manually propelled toys always trumped slouching on the sofa watching any TV show. Reading a book always beat out spending hours getting sucked into a video game – unless you were playing Zelda, and you let Dad play just as much or more than you got to play yourself. He taught me the importance of appreciating a simpler life, not getting wrapped up in the idea of “keeping up with the Jones'”, and living a life without worrying about judgement from others.

Because – and it’s really sunk in more as an adult than ever before – none of that stuff matters.

To Dad, having the latest, greatest, whatever was cool – wasn’t important. He knew that it was absolutely possible to smile, laugh, and enjoy yourself with crayons, a piece of paper, a pencil, and whatever other knick-knacks you could find lying around the house to incorporate into some sort of make-believe adventure; there wasn’t a need for luxurious things that cost more money than our family could afford. Dad taught me that having fancy, expensive clothing or something new on a regular basis didn’t define, change, or impact who I was as a person. And although I didn’t believe him for the longest time, he would always imply that my life and who I really was in it was perfect, without bells and whistles to dress it up.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Dad – it’s that you don’t need more than a shirt, a pair of pants, an extra pair of underwear, a good book, and staples like milk, cheese, a loaf of bread and deli meat in your fridge to get by for a lot of your days.

Life truly can be just that simple, really. He’s living proof.

My father has been a significant influence to who I am today. Over the last 30 years, we’ve drifted back and forth, bumped heads, and misunderstood each other on so many occasions, but he’s definitely impacted the way I see the world and how I’ve chosen to be.

Though he may not know it, he helped fuel my passion for writing. He’s the reason I’ve fallen in love with the smell of books and why I wish I read more often than I do. My confidence to face the public with no makeup, my attempts to be frugal, my willingness to be kind and help others as much as I can is all because of my Dad – and everything he taught me. I spend my life trying not to worry about things, because Dad’s never been the type to do so. I try not to over complicate things (although I’m not very good at it) because… Dad wouldn’t do that either. And I try to learn as much as I can, because that’s what Dad likes to do.

There’s been many moments when I’ve debated which parent I’m more familiar to, but the truth really is that I’m a solid half from both of them. And while it’s without a doubt that I’m my mum’s little girl, but there’s no question that I’m Dad’s baby girl too – his lil’ Miss Pennifer for always, no matter how old I am.

I can honestly look in the mirror and see who I am, because of who my father is.

He’s the man with the grey hair and the big heart, who’s taught me to enjoy life in such simplicity. He’s always home, and always there when I need him.

And that’s exactly why I love him, and am so happy to call him my Dad.

Cuba, Page 5

Travelling is such a special experience; especially when you’re disconnected from internet and cellphone reception and you’re able to detach from the global drama that usually infiltrates your life.

When you’re in a different country and submerged into exotic culture, you’d be a fool to not completely engage in the moments unfolding right in front of you and all around you.

This is especially so in Cuba.

For most of the day, rainbows of Chevrolet Impalas, old Ford convertibles and pickup trucks, Buicks, Renaults, and the tiniest Fiats from the 1950’s roll down busy streets and crowded alleyways. Some people might consider missing mirrors and door handles, patches of rust and clunky demeanour as  a reason to send these cars to the junkyard , but once you’re exposed to the nostalgia carried in the tattered leather seats and chipped interiors, you realize that the flaws are reasons to keep these vintage vehicles around. Over the years, these cars have built up character on their travels, and approximately 70 years later, they’re just craving some well-deserved TLC.

From the minute I sink my butt into an ancient bucket seat, it feels like time actually rewinds multiple decades. With my shades on and a camera around my neck, I lean through the rolled down window, watching as we pass all sorts of dining tables set up on outdoor patios and under windowless hut-like structures. As we make our way down the street, I notice groups of tourists merrily strolling down the sidewalk or gathered around tables loaded with green, glass bottles of Crystal beer. While the tourists laugh and travel in herds, the locals stroll at a slightly slower pace and watch as the eyes of everyone from another country and continent light up in awe of new culture, while smiling and excitedly commenting about the colours, smells, and sights of Cuba around them.

And that’s one of the best things about Cuba – it’s a country that truly thrives on visitors from all over the world, so you’re bound to meet someone from somewhere else and make new friends you might never forget. You’ll meet them while waiting for another daiquiri at one of the most crowded establishments. Or maybe you’ll be the only two tables in one of the mostly highly recommended restaurants, and share delicious conversations about love, spirituality, and life. It’s not uncommon to bump into other tourists at your casa, along the street, in the local market buying souvenirs. You’ll definitely find new friends along the beach, basking under a palm tree or wading together in crisp, cool water while the sun sets. And maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll find someone at the local bar who’s game for an adventure.

After 8 days of dodging slick puddles and watching my step through the streets of Havana and Trinidad, I finally settled down poolside with herds of other tourists at one of Varadero’s many all-inclusive resorts. I can’t tell you that there’s much to look forward to in terms of excellence, but you’re welcome to as many free-pour beverages as you want while you bask in the sunshine by the pool, and there’s really not much to complain about beyond that.

The last day of our trip before we had to pack up and find our way back to the airport just happened to be my birthday and I spent the day with sand, sunshine and decent amounts of rum. As the night began to fall,  I celebrated with a cruise in a retro convertible alongside a handsome new friend. There more mojitos, the cheesiest and somehow most romantic kiss to the tune of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” and a dip in the ocean…  appropriately “dressed” in my birthday suit. As my birthday transitioned into the next day, I continued to kick off a new decade of my life with good conversation and a Cuban cigar, while the sun rose in front of us.

Travelling – it’s the best way to meet some of the world’s most interesting people and put an exotic twist on life’s simplest pleasures. On top of that, it’s an opportunity to evolve, grow, and return home as a slightly better version of yourself.

And if you’re looking for somewhere with flare, and opportunity for a good story, Cuba is definitely a destination that won’t disappoint.