Learning to Live With Grace

02/18/2013 12:55 EST | Updated 04/20/2013 05:12 EDT
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NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 13: A discarded rose bud is viewed in the street in the floral district on February 13, 2013 in New York City. With Valentines Day tomorrow, the district is experiencing a rush of floral buyers and sellers to service customers on the national day of romance. Along with Mother's Day, Valentine's Day is one of the busiest days of the year for florists and flower growers. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


I often get asked about the meaning of my various tattoos. Just this week, one of my yoga teachers pointed out that the marking on my neck is one of his favourite words. Mine too.

The last time I saw my father alive and alert was on April 23, 2011. My family had gathered at my sister's place for Easter brunch, and I arrived with wine in hand, and fear in my heart. At that point, I can admit that I was not visiting my parents as often as I should have been. Dad's ALS (Lou Gherig's Disease) was progressing quite rapidly, and I was in a massive state of denial. In my mind we would have him for at least another year. My work schedule was going to allow me to spend the two months leading up to the following Christmas living at home, getting in some real quality time. As much as I had convinced myself that dad was not going to leave us anytime soon, I was also completely terrified. Each time I visited, it was such a shock to see how much his appearance and demeanor had changed since the last time, how much weight he had lost, how much more distant and worried that look in his eyes was becoming.

Yes indeed, Easter 2011 was a reality check. I was totally floored while watching my pops, his usually strong and athletic legs, now so skinny, push his walker around the house, a goofy smile on his unknowing face. It was after only about three hours, that I decided I needed to get out of there. I was panicking. So I hopped on a bus back to the city.

I left, and felt terrible. My family was upset. I knew I should have been spending as much time as possible with dad, as that time was so, so precious. But it was only once I left that I finally began to really know. And knowing was the scariest part. It was one of the hardest days I ever had in dealing with dad's diagnosis...

The definition of the word "grace" is as follows:

1. Elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action.

2. A pleasing or attractive quality or endowment.

3. Favour or good will.

4. Mercy; clemency; pardon: an act of grace

5. The influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them.

I like the last two. However, if we were to refer to definition number one, on that day, I did not act with much grace at all. No, I acted in quite the opposite, stumbling away from the challenge that was my family's reality, running from my fear, and then allowing the guilt to torment me wholly. And I couldn't go on like that anymore, I needed change.

It was on the bus ride back into the city, in between tears, that I decided what my newest tattoo was to be. I committed to living a deeper, more intensely graceful life, one filled with love, personal growth, and honest forgiveness. I have, in my time here on earth, experienced some real mercy from the universe, and it was the strength of spirit that allowed me to survive my darkest of days. So to sum up my new motto for living, the very next day I made it permanent with that one simple word. Close to my mind, close to my heart, and close to my soul. No more excuses, right?

Two weeks later, I left the province on a cross-Canada tour with the TV show that I was working with at the time. I was gone for almost four weeks, arriving back in Ontario that same week dad was admitted to hospital with the bought of pneumonia that would eventually take his life. As circumstances mercifully allowed, I was able to make the trip to home and be by dad's bedside until the end. I was blessed to be able to say my goodbyes in person, even if he wasn't awake to hear me. He did manage to open his eyes and see all of his girls surrounding him with love just as he took his last few breaths, and then he was gone. Mom says she is pretty sure he waiting for me to arrive before he let go.

Thank God I made it to the hospital. And thank God I was there for Easter brunch.