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West Coast Living in Ahousaht, BC

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Being the Forgotten One

When someone suffers from an addiction, the focus is on them. As it should be. We have services, counselors,  and treatment for the one with the addiction. But what is there to support their partner? The husband or wife, who is left alone while their partner is admitted to hospital. Who stays home while their partner goes away for weeks or months for a treatment program.

Who looks after the Forgotten One while all the services revolve around the other?

I was the Forgotten One this summer. My parents did what they could from 4 hours away. I scrambled to find a counselor I connected with in our remote area. I was lucky a friend had already planned a trip to see me that coincided with Lennie’s first week away. She kept me out of the depths of loneliness.

There seem to be few resources, online, books, or otherwise for the ones left behind. How do you handle yourself when your partner goes to treatment? What can you do to improve yourself when your partner goes to treatment? Will your partner still need you when they come back from treatment? The longer he was away the more insecure I began to feel. Had he grown so much that I was going to be left behind when he returned? Would he be the same person? Would he see me in the same light? Would I still be good enough?

I had nothing to fear. But there were no resources to tell me that. I couldn’t find any writing from someone who has been there before. Forgotten.

The best resource I could find was the book “Trauma Stewardship” by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, which certainly applied to us and the secondary trauma I was inferring from Lennie’s. But it did not address how to be alone. How to wait. How to be ready for his return.

I’ve now gone through this process once. I have been home (with daily visits) for two hospital stays while he got the help he needed from medical professionals. I ran our business, worked part time and ran the household, caring for all our animals for 5 weeks on my own. Where is the support?

I am not just talking “official” support structures. Though they are lacking. But in a way, the community doesn’t realize this is a need. That frozen dinners would have been THE most amazing gift. I subsisted on a diet of Kraft Dinner and jarred fish for a majority of the time he was gone.  Checking in, going for coffee, following through with “We should hang out this week”. I looked forward to those gatherings and sighed when they didn’t materialize.

Maybe I should have done more. Been more forward. Asked for help. But until the day Lennie returned I didn’t even realize HOW close I was to not keeping everything together. I knew the loneliness was hard on me as I went through my routines, but I never realized HOW hard.

What can we, the community, do to support the Forgotten Ones when their partners go to treatment? How can we further open doors for people who don’t realize they could use a little assistance? How can we make this a less taboo subject?

It starts with conversations. Small ones. Large ones. Between friends, community, family, the organizations who are there to provide social support. I think this is a need that needs to be recognized and acknowledged, even if it is relatively minor in the scheme of things. But by supporting the ones at home, they will be better prepared to support their partner when they return.

 

~~~~

 

Disclaimer: I did have some people who made a world of difference for me this summer. This isn’t to discredit them or any of the things they did to look out for me. Some people out there have more support. Others have less. I want this post to inspire conversations about when else we can do and what other ways we can step up to the plate to look out for the Forgotten Ones in our communities.

 

xoxoxo

I love you all.

~Marcie

 

 

 

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Small Town Trauma

Tofino has had it’s share of trauma in the past years. It is something that I believe small town communities handle better than cities, yet it affects small towns more, when tragedy does strike.

The trauma of what Tofino has gone through is still very raw. I don’t want to touch on personal details, but rather how the community pulled together and how disjointed many of us felt as we put on our brave faces to serve the tourists as they continued their vacations, oblivious to the heartache we were all feeling.

Being at work is hard when you are experiencing a personal tragedy. Normal people would take the day off. Yet how does an entire town shut down in the peak of tourist season when that tragedy affects everyone? You don’t. You wear a mask. You feign joy to keep vacationers happy and fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day, a wreck of jumbled emotions. On your days off and before and after shifts, you help where you can. You search, you bake and cook, you make donations. You do what you can to ease your guilt of not being there, while working shifts you can’t get out of.

Or perhaps your way of helping is to cover someone’s shift who is closer to the tragedy. You are helping. No matter how much you want to be on the front lines and assist. You are still helping.

Small towns pull together in tragedy so well BECAUSE everyone is so close. When the Coast Guard and RCMP and SAR all know the families involved, they go all out, as they always do, but with extra heart. The pain is their own too. The community steps up. Dinners are prepared for those on the front lines. Extra hugs are given in the aisles of the Co-Op Grocery. We hold each other up.

This summer in Clayoquot Sound has been especially hard. The Ocean who provides for us has taken far too many. Media articles don’t begin to touch on the real stories. I can’t in writing either. It is for those who are Present to know. Those who come to understand this place and what she demands.

Moving forward, we continue to support each other. A cup of coffee. A smile. A lunch date. Culture. Grief begins to be put into words  – A strength I admire beyond anything else. Our healing journeys advance at different rates and we recognize that within each other. We check in with each other. A touch on the shoulder says more than words can ever express.

Coastal small town life is a realm of its own, and one I will never take for granted.

Ahousaht in Bloom

Last fall I received a Neighbourhood Small Grant for a flower planting project in the village of Ahousaht. This spring, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, the organization who awarded the grants in our region, was given a grant of their own to film the results of the grants within our area. I was asked to attend the film premiere and possibly speak about our project in Ahousaht.

Ahousaht is a small village. Our population sits around 1000 people. There is no road access as we are on a small island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s about a 35 minute boat ride from Tofino, on a good day. Weather systems regularly impact our travel and shut down boats. There are no grocery stores, though some essentials are stocked across the harbour at the “general store” and fuel dock. Few shop there regularly though.

We have enough of a youth population to have our own schools – Both an Elementary and High School. Most teachers are from other areas and stay for 2 or 3 years. The high turnover creates an inconsistent environment for students. However, we have several teachers that have stayed for years now, and are beginning to have more locally trained and certified teachers available!

A doctor visits the village 4 days a week and health nurses about 3 days of the week. Any medical emergencies or appointments outside of the doctor’s regular hours requires travel to Tofino or a larger city. In some severe weather, our water taxis are unable to make emergency trips and at times the Coast Guard has come in to transport patients to the hospital.

Everything takes just a little more effort in Ahousaht.

In general, that’s ok. It’s part of the vibe that goes with this location. But there’s one area where I can’t accept a delay in help, transportation hang-ups and lack of service – Mental Health supports. I can’t accept that we only have a counsellor available once a week, and a clinical psychologist once a month (I might be wrong, this is just what I understand at this time). I despise the fact that there are no formal after hour supports for mental health crisis. Not everyone has a landline to call a crisis support hotline. None of this is Ahousaht’s fault though. These services are government funded and are limited based on remoteness and population size. Remote, Indigenous populations tend to be more vulnerable to mental health issues, however, and the services are needed more than ever in these distant areas.

Recently we had a series of meetings with various officials and it sounds like we may be getting an increase in services. It’s nowhere near enough, but at least people are listening. In the future, perhaps more local residents can be trained and employed in these fields within our community.

But, back to the flowers….

I wanted a way to help. To improve mental health without getting wrapped up in the politics of available services. Flowers have been shown to improve mental health and the simple act of gardening does as well. I wanted to encourage people to garden in their own backyards and provide some colour in a public space that the community would see on a regular basis. I received permission to plant daffodil and crocus bulbs in a grassy area between the school gym and the road. It’s a high traffic area that will expose the flowers to many community members.

The key to dealing with a lack of mental health services is to not need them in the first place. That means we need to deal with prevention rather than responding as crisis’ arrive. Gardening is just one way to help prevent mental health crisis and it is by no means a cure-all. But it helps. Seeing the smiling faces of children working with their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, I knew a small difference had been made. And when spring arrived and those same families were planting flowers in their yard, I knew an even bigger change had been made. Each year it will multiply and grow, like the bulbs we planted along the road.

My goal is to get all of Ahousaht in Bloom. I started a Facebook page to arrange workshops, share educational information and inspire others to garden. I hope to create a flower planter next grant season near the community hall or Administration building. It saddens me that you can’t see a single flower from these areas. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were always flowers in view, no matter where you were? 17426327_1814144082172130_1733531300813175870_n

Community Christmas Spirit

Every year in Ahousaht, a different family hosts the community Christmas Dinner. This year was us! The new hosts announce themselves a year ahead of time, so our announcement was made in 2015. It is an interesting process to host a party here. The responsibility does not fall to just one person, but in some ways it still does. Donations are given and written down, scratched off, changed and altered. In the end, it all comes together.

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Lennie and I funded most of the dinner and did the majority of the purchasing of food and supplies -The rest of the family really came together to help with the cooking and preparation in the days ahead of the event. Cedar roses were woven for decorations, Napkins and cutlery were wrapped, Tables were set and most importantly, turkeys were cooked! Community members donated their ovens and time to cook for our meal.

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It is interesting how little Christmas spirit, I personally, felt throughout the course of the event. But I think it’s because I let the stress get to me. Instead of relaxing and letting the evening take on a life of its own, I stressed about things I could not control and worried about little details that no one but myself would notice. I relaxed when the dancing began. It was fun and lighthearted and I got to see Lennie dance, which was a real treat.

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By the end of the night, my feet were so sore I couldn’t walk home. It was great to kick back with a cup of tea and chat with our guests from Tofino that came over to Flores Island to celebrate with us. We slept well and were up again early the next morning. I had to head down to the hall to complete the rest of the cleaning, and thankfully I was joined by another woman (As I didn’t actually know where anything went!).

Now we begin saving to do it all over again for our wedding celebration – July 2017!

Neddy’s Grill Opens in Ahousaht!

Today was the grand opening of Neddy’s Grill – A new restaurant based out of a food truck in Ahousaht with a ton of history behind it’s name and location.

Those who were at the opening ceremony were able to meet Neddy herself, meet the cooks and their families, and hear about the man who volunteered to fight in WWII and who was given the land the grill now sits on, as thanks.

It was a special day! The grill gave out free hotdogs and chumas (NuuChahNulth word for dessert/sweet treat) and there was lots of laughter! I am really looking forward to heading back for some popcorn shrimp and zucchini sticks!

We don’t have many restaurant options in Ahousaht. There’s no Boston Pizza or McDonalsds, no Earl’s or Milestone’s…. Just some home based restaurants and take-outs. Between all the options, most hours and food groups are covered – Pizza, hotwings, burgers, poutine and chumas. Neddy’s Grill is bringing an expanded menu, free delivery (Not always available when you do order food here), and is adding many more employment opportunities to our small community. I look forward to continuing to support ALL our local vendors!

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