Cause of Death

I recently received some sad news that a friend I hadn’t seen in a while had committed suicide by hanging himself. In shock, his stepson posted the news on Facebook, which was how I found out because unfortunately we hadn’t been in touch for over six months. Anyone who knew him well though was not surprised, as he had struggled with his demons for years.

Some people were shocked that the cause of death was publicly posted and that made me wonder about why we shy away from posting the cause of death in suicide situations.

If someone posted that a person had died and did not include the cause of death, many questions would be asked… why? how? If we don’t hesitate to say when someone dies as the result of a car accident, or passed away after succumbing to cancer, why do we hesitate to say the cause of death was suicide?

Causes of Death

We’d better get used to saying it – suicide rates have made it to the top ten causes of death.

Actually, suicide is the method of death, the cause of death is mental illness. Why are we afraid to say that? Diabetes is listed as a cause of death but few people die from diabetes directly – it’s from the effect of diabetes such as heart attack, kidney failure, etc.  My sister died from asphyxiation, caused by lung cancer. My friend died from suicide, caused by mental illness.

Listing suicide as the cause of death makes it sound as if there was nothing that could have been done to prevent it. If we can properly identify the cause of death as mental illness, maybe we, as a society, can start working on a treatment and prevention plan. Like we do for heart disease and cancer.

Some things don’t belong in a top ten list.

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Happy Dad’s Day

Today is Father’s Day and so I’d like to honour the memory of a very special man.

This is Me!

Wanted to quickly share somethings, so I guess this is a “quicky” post.

I did one of those stupid Facebook quizzes today – the kind of thing I tell everyone NOT to do because they’re just mining your friends and personal information. I was bored though. It resulted in a word cloud made up of my most often used words on Facebook. I have to admit, I think they got this right, because when I think of the things that matter most to me, this is it.

This is ME!

Don’t click it though, because it won’t take you anywhere. I hate those types of things. Except this one.

Where Did Everyone Go?

I think it started with Automated Teller Machines (ATM). TD Bank introduced us to the Green Machine and we fell in love. No longer did we have to wait in line to deposit our pay-cheques or withdraw money. Convenience was king. Soon all the other banks followed suit.

Then came the self-checkouts, also known as SACAT machines (semi-attended customer-activated terminals). They started popping up everywhere – Walmart, Home Depot, even our local libraries. They said it was for convenience. A lot of people hate the ones in the stores because they replace people’s jobs. I get it – we all need to save money and keep the cost of goods low, right? Besides they’re just minimum wage unimportant jobs, right?


Then McDonald’s, which is almost the last bastion of part-time jobs for students, put in self-service kiosks. No longer can we complain about order takers not being able to do the math and give us the right change, or forgetting to mention we don’t want pickles on our big Mac sandwich. Technology rules supreme and our orders are now perfect and everybody’s happy, right?

Have we been lulled into complacency? Into accepting a fairy tale ending to automation?

Let’s examine the dark side.

With every new technology comes an opportunity for less than honourable people to find a way to try new scams.

ATMs? We’ve all heard about the skimmers on a lot of the machines, just waiting for us to use them so they can steal our bank card information and ultimately our money.

Self-checkouts? Store thefts (aka shoplifting) have increased over 4% because of self-checkouts. According to Business Insider, it’s actually encouraging honest people to steal, sometimes intentionally (not scanning all items) or unintentionally (buying organic produce but entering the code for the non-organic one). They’re harder thefts to prosecute as well because it’s difficult to prove intent and customers can plead ignorance or blame it on an equipment malfunction. And, as fate would have it, thieves have found a way to put skimmers on the debit machines.

Here’s a funny story about the founder of self-checkouts, Howard Schneider, actually trying to buy some peppers using a self-checkout at Wal-Mart:

It’s hard for me to argue against the self-service kiosks at McDonald’s for a few reasons. First, it actually gets the order right. Second, because I’m forced to pay with my debit/credit card, I no longer have to worry about incorrect change or the pickles on my big Mac sandwich. Finally, it’s all irrelevant to me because I never go to McDonald’s. Not my circus, not my monkey, but gosh! what about those high school students and their part-time jobs?

Even libraries have embraced self-checkouts, but in their situation, it really is about improving the customer experience and not about reducing staff or saving money – because they don’t really save money. To prevent the library’s collection materials from “walking” out the door, they use RFID (radio frequency identification). Now libraries are discussing opening staff-less branches, primarily to extend the number of hours they can afford to be open to the public.

Where will all this automation take us?

Many of us are doing most, if not all, of our banking online. Our pay-cheques are deposited automatically to our accounts, our bills are either set up to automatically be paid, or we go online and pay them. We move money around our accounts and send money wirelessly to our children for their allowances. We use online shopping sites and have our products delivered to our door, all paid for online. Yes, there are thieves hiding around every URL it seems, but we protect ourselves with complicated passwords, two-factor authentication, fingerprint identification, and bio-metric facial recognition. I only go into the bank to discuss or renew my mortgage, exchange currencies, or get a very rare bank draft when needed.

Now, Alterna Bank has announced that, as part of the digital banking revolution, they have launched Canada’s first and only end-to-end digital mortgage. It’s supposed to make it easier for us when seeking financing to purchase a new home. This new portal walks home buyers through pre-approval, decisioning, funding, even remote income verification. Supposedly it goes beyond basic credit scores and uses multiple data sources and advanced business intelligence to match up the right mortgage for each client. They’re calling it the “touch-less” experience for their consumers.

What’s missing from all of this is the human touch. The one-on-one, face-to-face experience. But is it even wanted? I want it. When supermarkets started switching to bag your own, I sought out stores that still bagged. I’m a busy person and though it sound trivial, I’m not an expert at bagging. I will gladly pay more for someone who knows how to optimize bag space and has the experience to understand what weight a bag can carry, or even how many bags I will need. It takes me 3 times as long to bag up a week’s groceries, and the entire time I feel guilty because I’m holding up other customers because my stuff is still on the belt. Let someone with experience do it please so I can be in and out as quickly as possible, so I get back to doing what I’m good at. Which is not bagging groceries; like these self-checkouts expect me to do.

Okay, that was a bit of a rant, but I feel much better now!

I don’t want a society where I don’t talk to anyone, where I don’t see anyone.  We all want and need that human interaction.  There seems to be a presumption that the answer to slow or poor customer service is to provide no customer service – automate everything. Is anyone researching the societal effects of an automated world? Not just the lack of part-time jobs for students (and often full-time workers) but also the psychological effects of not having the face-to-face interaction with another human being, which Psychology Today says reduces the risk of depression.

It’s predicted that by 2020 we’ll even have driverless cars, so our next Uber may not even have someone sitting behind the wheel.  Elon Musk, founder of the electric car (which I so badly want) and SpaceX has his own concerns about the future of AI.

I’ve embraced technology all of my life, but I think sometimes we need to stop for a bit and figure out the consequences of what we’re doing and where we’re going. Before we find ourselves in a place we never wanted to be.

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Life Memory Lane

Timeless Advice 

I recently turned 60, and it’s been a surreal experience. I tell myself that I’m not “really” 60, and then I look in the mirror and realize that yes, sadly I really am.

I thought I would commemorate this depressing occasion by sharing a story from my youth, that helped me to terms with growing older. You see, I had always been terrified to grow old and I actually never thought I would. I made a deal with myself to stop at 30. Life was very painful for me back then, and I was struggling to exist on a daily basis.

When I was 16, I read a newspaper article about a woman who was turning 100. I couldn’t imagine anyone living that long; why would anyone want to? Being the weird person I was, I looked her up in the phone book, found her address, and mailed her a letter, explaining my fears and asking to meet her. Imagine my surprise when I received a letter back, inviting me to tea. I donned my nicest clothes and went hoping to hear some wise advice about growing old without fear. The fact that she invited a complete stranger to her house, a street urchin no less, gives you an idea of the kind of person she was.

Louise Tandy Murch was an amazing lady; she lived alone in a huge house that looked dated, as did she. Her face was etched with deep lines that reminded me of the Sahara desert.  She carried in a large silver platter that held a tea service and some scones that she had made herself. I offered to help her carry it, but she insisted she was fine. As we sat drinking tea and eating scones, she shared with me some information about her life. She did yoga every day, despite having pins in both her hips, and she was a pianist. Her husband had been an orchestra conductor and together they had traveled the world. He had died several years before but she said she didn’t have time to give up on life or get depressed (yes, we discussed depression) because she was just too busy. She was currently trading music lessons with a young man in return for free gardening work.

I told her that I liked to play guitar and sing sometimes, so she played the piano for me and invited me to sing. When I started singing, she punched me in the stomach (in the diaphragm) and told me that’s where it had to come from. By the way, that was NOT a gentle punch – it got my attention. She reached into her piano bench and took out a music book with country songs and gave it to me. She told me she didn’t enjoy playing country music but she thought my voice was perfect to sing country. I’m still not sure if that was a compliment or not. 

It was a very different type of afternoon, one that I have never forgotten. All these years later, I still have that music book, and I often remember this incredible lady and her timeless advice for living at all ages. Her secret for living so long was because she was simply too busy to die. I’m fairly sure her advice has had a lot to do with how I’ve lived my life – keeping busy (often too busy), staying involved, trusting others. In a moment of remembrance after my birthday, I decided to “google” her name and found out that the National Film Board has a short film about her life that was directed by Deepa Mehta in 1976. It also looks as if something was in the works in 2014 as well

I never knew I was in the presence of someone famous, I just knew I was getting some timeless advice about living and aging. Thank you Mrs. Murch, for the lesson and for the example.

By the way – if someone “googles” your name in the distant future, what do you think they’ll find? 

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For the Love of Books

I love books. All books. I hold them in the highest reverence. I love to hold them, smell them, read them, listen to them; I love hardcovers, paperbacks, audiobooks, and ebooks. I have collected leather bound books most of my adult life, especially the classic authors like Hans Christian Andersen, The Brothers Grimm, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Jack London, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells, and John Steinbeck; classic books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Atlas Shrugged, and Vanity Fair; and great philosophies like  Plato’s Republic, and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, and so many more! I’m reflecting on my books today because I’m purging. I’m about to have yet another birthday (will they never stop?) and I’ve decided to minimalize my life. It has to be done sooner or later because (a) I won’t live forever, and (b) I won’t live here forever and I’m tired of carting around boxes of books when I move. It’s nice to pass them on as well, for others to enjoy. Oh, there are some that I will keep – my collection of The Rise and Fall of Civilization by Edward Gibbons and a few first editions, among others.

Books saved my life. When I was first taken into care of the Children’s Aid Society in Toronto, I was given a shower, a new dress (blue and white and way too big), a bald doll (okay, she wasn’t bald, but plastic hair doesn’t count), and a book. The social worker gave me the book when she discovered I could read quite well. I had just turned six. I wish I still had that book. It was about two inches thick and full of magical tales. It slept with me at night; it comforted me when I was sad; it was my daily escape from my painful existence. I read it at night under my covers with a flashlight and when my foster mother took my flashlight away, I opened my curtains and read by moonlight on the nights when the moon was bright enough.  I carried it with me to the many doctors’ appointments and court appearances that eventually declared me a crown ward, when I become society’s child.

I’m sure that book fell apart eventually. I know it was replaced with many other wonderful books though. I remember a grade 5 teacher chastising me for not paying attention and discovering I had a book hidden under my desk. It was Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. She made me stay behind after class and asked me if I understood what I was reading. I did. And I must have been the only kid in my high school who not only loved William Shakespeare, but read all of his plays and even memorized the entire Merchant of Venice. And who could forget Sonnet 29:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

And as a young adult, goofing off with my foster cousin Christine Chartrand, each of us dramatically reciting Shakespeare until we collapsed with laughter.

I always carried a paperback book in my purse. One thing I truly appreciate about being a woman is I get to carry a purse which is the perfect hiding place for a pocket book. On the bus or subway, under my desk, or hiding in the bathroom at work, if I could steal a few minutes to take me away to distant lands, shower me with love and emotions, caress me with caring and compassion and fill my heart and soul with wonder and faith.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail spoke about the importance of libraries and started me thinking about my own relationship with libraries and led me to deciding to share that memory in this post.

I always appreciated libraries, since I lacked the funds to purchase the many books I devoured. I grew up in West Hill, Ontario, and walked 3 kilometers each way to a community branch of the Scarborough Public Library at Morningside and Lawrence. I knew the school librarians very well also. And as an adult in downtown Toronto (and later in North York), the library was always close. I could relax and read, do research, borrow music and movies; it was and is a very magical place.

I’ve been on the library board of Georgina Public Library for a few years (okay it’s more than a few but I won’t say how many), and I love the value that libraries give to our community and to our lives. I once heard the expression that the library is the hub of our community, and nothing could be more true than that. Libraries are the ultimate equalizers. No knowledge or technology is out of your reach if you have a library in your community. You can use the computers and even take computer courses, you can borrow books and movies, either in the library or online, you can join a book club, a writing group, a knitting group. The world is there for you and the door that opens it all is at your library.

I’m sad to see some of my books leave, but I’m sure they’ll have good homes. I did not throw them out. Most of them I sold or gave away (I only sold them because I knew only someone who truly wanted them would be willing to pay for them) and they’ll enjoy a new life, in a new home, enriching other minds. Besides, like children, they never really leave you; they’re always in your heart no matter where you are.

And they’re as close as your library. Go to the library, make new friends, create new memories, gain more knowledge, see the world. It’s waiting for you.

Separation Anxiety

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a coworker that has stuck in my mind ever since. It was about the difference between work friends and “real” friends. Her opinion was that work friends were temporary friends – when you changed jobs, any friendships made at your previous employment were dissolved. I found that perspective a little perplexing, maybe because I don’t categorize my friends or maybe because I don’t call just anybody my friend. Some are acquaintances; some are colleagues; and some truly are friends. True to her word though, as soon as she left the company we never spoke again. No emails returned, even Linked In requests were refused.

When you’ve worked at the same company for a few years, friendships do develop on many levels. It may be one or two people you have lunch with regularly, but sometimes relationships extend beyond the workplace. Being part of a social group at work, participating in golf events, dragon boat racing, major fundraising events, even corporate Toastmasters club meetings, often facilitates the development of friendships. As time goes by, if you haven’t met every member of their family, you’ve certainly heard enough about them to feel you know them as well.

Work friendships can be very beneficial. They can develop into trusted confidantes, an outlet for our frustrations, as well as an often well-needed perspective on situations.

When people move on though, things change, especially if it wasn’t their choice to move on. HR departments usually send out notices of organizational changes, along with dire warnings not to communicate any further with the person or discuss any matters that are confidential or proprietary. For many people, this is where the friendship dissolves.


Now imagine you’ve been part of a company for several years. You’ve helped it grow and transition from a small, family business, to a larger, international company. Then one day you leave. Maybe you’ve retired, maybe you’ve taken a different job, or maybe the company has restructured and your position become redundant. Whatever the reason, can you imagine how it will feel if the closest friends you’ve made in the company suddenly shunned you. It’s as if you’ve become a pariah – persona non grata. Dropped like a hot potato. What an awful experience that must be and what awful friends you must have. These must be the kind of friends my previous co-worker had experienced, and on which she formed her opinion and built her walls to protect herself from the sting of that type of rejection.

If I have someone I’ve been friends with for several years at work who is now in this situation, I absolutely will pick up the phone or send an email to ask how they’re doing. I will meet them again for lunch or dinner, and discuss what they’re up to these days, how they’re managing, how I miss them. I will NOT discuss confidential, proprietary company business. Boundaries need to be set and respected, but that doesn’t mean you can’t discuss personal events. You can and should reach out if you were any kind of friend. For many people, this can help smooth the transition. Changing jobs is a major life event and can be extremely stressful. If you’ve been good friends and shared confidences with someone, it’s actually insulting if you can’t or won’t do this. The friendship may eventually fade as time goes on and life paths evolve and change, but at least you were there to help with the transition.

As a friend.

“Things are never quite as scary when you have a friend.” 
– Calvin and Hobbes – 

Be Healthy… Stay Well


In this post, I’m going to share with you a story and tell you about a series of events to led me to discover a health professional who has helped me to find my way to a healthier self.

First the story.

A couple of years ago, I started experiencing some disturbing symptoms. My blood pressure would occasionally spike and my heart would start racing. A couple of people I work with have had heart attacks, and two actually passed away. Since I have a lot of problems with stress, (and people my age can start to have problems with hypertension), I went to see my family doctor. In his usual dismissive way, he simply said “It’s all in your head.”

I did a bit of research and came to the conclusion that I was probably having anxiety attacks. So I went back to my doctor and shared my suspicions with him. He agreed and said that was what he meant when he said it was “all in my head”. His solution was to take antidepressant medication. Really? They prescribe that shit for everything, don’t they?

I  believe in dealing with health problems in a more natural manner. If I need to change something in my life – diet, exercise, whatever – I’d like to try that first. So I decided it was time for me to give naturopathic / homeopathic medicine a try. And that’s how I met Ashleigh Higgins, ND.

What follows is an unsolicited recommendation. She doesn’t even know I’m writing this.

Right away I liked her. She has a warm, inviting personality, making it very easy to share my fear, doubts, insecurities, etc. In other words, I opened up! One of the biggest things that impressed me about Ashleigh was she didn’t try to sell me any supplements. She made recommendations, and told me I could find them at most health food stores, such as Nature’s Emporium in Newmarket.

Ashleigh suggested I try two things: a St. Francis herb called Strest and a homeopathic medicine called Calcarea Carbonica; both were inexpensive. We also talked about some digestive problems I have (IBS and diverticulitis) and she suggested I stay away from all dairy to see if that would help and she suggested I rub some warm castor oil on my stomach and relax and let it soak in.

Fast forward 6 months. I’m calm, not having major anxiety attacks, and able to control the minor ones. I’m sleeping very well, and able to plan and put things in perspective. I still have digestive issues, but I’ve seen some improvement and she’s made other suggestions for me to try. It’s a journey.

I have a different health philosophy now. If I break a bone or contract some terrible disease, I’ll see my family doctor, because traditional “healthcare” is really “sick care”. It’s reactive, not proactive. For almost everything else, I will seek the guidance and advice of a “wellness” professional like Ashleigh Higgins.


Ms. Higgins has an office in Keswick, Ontario, as well as in Cannington, Ontario. Here’s her website:

She can bill your insurance company directly and you can book appointments online. I’m so grateful I met her, and I highly recommend her. What do you have to lose? (except whatever is making you sick).

Life’s short – be healthy – stay well


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Who’s on Trial?

Is this abuse?

I’ve been following the Jian Ghomeshi trial and have an admission to make – when I listened to the evidence provided by his lawyer about the first two accusers, I thought “Who sends flirtatious emails to someone who has attacked them?” Immediately I doubted their credibility.

Then I thought more about it.

Isn’t that like asking an abused woman why she stays with her abuser? Let’s use Ray Rice as an example. The woman he beat very publicly has since married him. I don’t know why; I cannot fathom marrying someone who has hurt me for ANY reason. The fact that she married him though does not mean he did not beat her. Like millions of other people, I saw the video, it cannot be denied.

Who’s on trial?

So, if I use that same logic and reasoning, does the fact that Lucy DeCoutere sent emails, even flirtatious ones, to Ghomeshi afterwards mean that he didn’t abuse her? One of them, sent just a few hours later, expressed a desire to have sex with him and his lawyer Marie Henein said those dispatches prove the attack never happened. The former Trailer Park actress (turned armed forces captain) claims that she was trying to “normalize” the situation. I can understand this. Did Lucy DeCoutere think that his rage was caused because they DIDN’T have sex? I think as women, we are conditioned to be people pleasers and when unpleasant things happen – whether it’s the break up of a relationship, abuse, infidelity, whatever, many of us automatically start doubting ourselves. What did we do to cause this? What did we do to set him off? Maybe I just need to try harder, be better, be careful.  Only once we are away from the situation, in distance or in time, does the fog lift and we start to see it for what it was – abuse.

The fact that a woman would remain in contact with someone who hurt them speaks more about our lack of self-worth than it does about absolving the abuser of his (or her) actions.

Abuse comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s someone who puts you down, constantly criticizing you for your looks, your weight, your cooking, your cleaning skills. Someone who makes you feel like you’re not good enough in some way. Sometimes it’s someone who takes advantage of you, cleans out your bank account, steals money from your purse. Sometimes it’s someone who lacks the ability to be supportive or empathetic. Sometimes it’s someone who manipulates you to doing things during sex that you’re really not comfortable with – I think almost every woman has heard the line “but if you loved me…”. Sometimes it’s someone who hurts you physically.

Is this abuse?

Abuse takes many forms.

I remember when I was younger and just starting to work, not only was I subjected to what I now consider to be abuse on a couple of occasions, but I continued to work in those situations. I would face these people every day and act as if nothing had happened. I thought maybe I was giving off the wrong signals. I was trying to “normalize” the situation.

Where have we heard that phrase before?

There were enough women who came forward with allegations about Jian Ghomeshi, women with no previous connection to each other, each telling a similar story, enough to make me remember the phrase – where there’s enough smoke, there’s gonna be a fire. Ghomeshi admitted he liked rough sex and he claimed it was consensual. All of these women say they never gave consent. He showed the CBC photos of a woman he’d had “rough sex” with, complete with bruises and broken ribs. Can anyone really consent to that kind of abuse? Do any of the accusers have a history of liking rough sex? Sometimes it wasn’t even sex – Lucy Decoutere did not have sex with him. So what does that make it? Come on… connect the dots.

Let’s remember who’s on trial here.


#ghomeshi #cdnjustice #ibelievelucy #IStandWithLucy #truthmatters #rapeculture #cdnjustice

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Ok, let’s talk: A response to the Bell Let’s Talk campaign

Today is Bell’s Let’s Talk Day. I agree, but there’s more to talk about than Bell would like to admit.

This is my first time actually re-posting another blog post, but what it says is so important. You need to read it.

Vision Passion Action

This post was written by Danielle Landry. She teaches Mad People’s History as part-time instructor with the School of Disability Studies.

A drawing of a road side stand with the words "psychiatric help 5 cents" on top. Inside the stand there is a person with a blue text box. The bottom of the stand reads "The corporation is in"Ok, let’s talk.

Let’s talk about how those two new workplace scenario commercials only reinforce the idea that it’s unsafe to talk about mental health to your boss or co-workers, instead of establishing that employers in Ontario actually have a duty to accommodate disabled workers, including those with psychiatric disabilities.

Let’s stop positioning disabled people as charity cases through a-nickel-for-every-text campaigns.

Let’s talk about the erosion of our social systems through corporate greed.

Let’s ask why Bell hasn’t instituted any programs to support its low-income customers, such as if they need a reprieve from paying their bills during a hospital stay.

Let’s talk about why it’s not okay that we have to rely on corporate sponsorship to sustain our mental health system. Let’s ask if corporate influence serves to…

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