Denis: Here’s to Your Bucket List

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When Denis* moved into the apartment next door about five years ago, the noise volume suddenly increased to intolerable decibels. After several confrontations, we managed to find ways to handle the situation more respectably. He stopped blasting music in the wee hours, and I bought a variety of white noise machines to mask sounds I didn’t want to hear.

Over the last couple of years, the situation improved. We exchanged pleasant smiles and hellos, and even danced together in the park one time when there was an outdoor concert. We weren’t exactly ‘friends’, but we made peace as neighbours.

Winters have generally been quieter. With our windows closed, the sounds didn’t come through as loudly. However, one recent warm, sunny day, I heard Denis out on his balcony, banging around furniture and flower pots with a friend. He was big on outdoor living and making full use of his larger-than-anyone-else’s balcony space. I thought, “oh dear, here we go again.”

Later that day, I went to pick up the mail. I returned to my apartment door the same time Denis arrived at his.

“How are you?” he asked.

I looked up to see him with a woman pushing him in a wheelchair. I walked over to him.

“Very well, thanks,” I said. “But you don’t look like you’re doing too well.” I figured maybe he broke an ankle or something, but as I got closer, I could see how skinny he’d become. He had a slight build to begin with; but he now appeared about 20 years older than when I last saw him.

“I have terminal lung cancer,” he said. “Haven’t you heard me coughing?”

Up until that day, I had only heard small nagging coughs through the wall. But earlier that day, there had been an extended, violent cough.

I told him that I was sorry to hear about this.

“It’s okay,” he said, almost cheerfully. “I’ve been having treatments. Now, I’m just working on my bucket list.”

This intrigued me and put a smile on my face. I asked him what’s on the bucket list. He fired off a whole bunch of things he wanted to do right here in the Okanagan.

“Lake cruise, ziplining, parasailing…” were on his bucket list. I smiled and encouraged him. I wished him well.

Over the next couple of days, I wondered what I could do to help Denis fulfill that bucket list. Could I physically help him do any of those things, being that he is now in a wheelchair? Maybe instead, I could bring him some take-out dinner or even a special coffee?

I work from home and spend all day at my computer, while he’d be just on the other side of the wall next to me. I found myself anxiously listening to any sound from him that I could cling to: I listened for every cough. In my mind, I said, “Denis, you can play your music as loud as you want, any time!” It put tremendous perspective on my petty intolerances from the past. I felt guilty for wishing he’d move… I certainly didn’t want it to be under these circumstances! I hoped he would get better. Oh, please stay!

And then, it was quiet. So quiet. For days. I rationalized that he was probably in hospital for treatment; maybe they had to keep him overnight.

Then, I saw a woman go into his apartment. I heard her on Denis’ balcony, shifting things. I heard her offering Denis’ plants to the neighbour on the other side. I tried to tell myself that maybe he’s just not able to care for the plants during our hot summers while he’s focussing on improving his health.

But I knew. And I was grateful work sent me away for a week while Denis’ apartment was being cleared.

For the couple of weeks since Denis’ passing, I’ve been in a weird headspace. There’s been some guilt that I didn’t connect with him more positively as a better neighbour. There’s gratitude that our final exchange was a hopeful, positive sharing of his dreams and joys in life. There’s a deep sadness that he went so very quickly.

Predominantly, there was a disturbing, relatable feeling. Here was a man of my generation, who (like me) came to live far away from his family and ‘normal’ life. There was this feeling — entirely my feeling — of his life being unfulfilled. There was that outstanding bucket list.

What’s my bucket list? What should I be doing with my life? Am I on the right path? Should I move? What do I need to change to ensure I live each moment to its fullest? Denis’ passing has stirred all of this up.

Anyone’s passing causes us to face our own mortality and begin a very deep reflection on our own life.

Today in Kelowna, there was a Walk of Memories event. It’s an annual ceremonial walk to support reflection on loss. I only learned of it, like, yesterday. Having lost many loved ones in recent years, I felt drawn to go.

There were several gestures to partake in which gave people an opportunity to honour loved ones. My favourite was the sailing flags you could write a personal message on.

“How many flags can I have?” I asked the volunteer. She said I could have as many as I wanted, so I asked for five, knowing that even so, I’d have to write a bunch of names on at least one of those flags.

When I picked up a pen to write, there was one name that came out on top. I couldn’t say why he’d trump my parents, or my childhood best friend; peers I shared health issues with who didn’t make it; or my colleagues that were tragic losses. Maybe because Denis was the freshest, and I’m still processing the loudness of the quiet next door.

It was Denis’ name that rang loudest through my pen. I wrote:

“Denis: Here’s to your bucket list! Play your music as loud as you like! 🙂 ”

It was then that I was told these flags would be raised onto a sailboat, and take a cruise along Okanagan Lake. I feel tremendous gratitude to have been able to give Denis this symbolic gesture akin to one of those items on his bucket list. It gives me a sense of peaceful closure.

2018.06.03 AnnieZalezsak-Kelowna Walk of Memories (33) WP

*Denis is pronounced Deh-nee’. He was French-Canadian, from Quebec.

Denis: Here’s to Your Bucket List © June 3, 2018 | Annie Zalezsak

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Triggered Clarity

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Someone said something at me. Not to me, not directly; but it was obvious it was intended for my ears.

It made me angry. It made me mistrust her. It even made me think I hate her and never want her in my presence again. A virtual stranger says a few words I take personally as a judgement of me, and it sets me into a complete tizzy. Which makes me call her names in my journal, and changes a big decision on a direction I was heading, turning me 180 degrees around.

At first, it seems like I’m giving away my power to this person.

I work through the emotions. They are all over the place.

But the more I write them down, I pare away at the truth.

I realize that this is happening, because a choice I made to go down a certain road, no longer feels like it’s in my best interest.

In my mind, it seemed like a good idea, and for months I’ve been planning for this. But right here and now, it feels all wrong, and this woman showed up to scream it in my face. Indirectly, so I’d take issue, and uncover the real, less magnificent (but ultimately more important) choice for the next step in my life.

Sometimes, clarity is triggered in an unpleasant way. The important thing is listening and being willing to change plans according to what feels right and empowering.

Triggered Clarity © January 1, 2018 | Annie Zalezsak

Women’s March

Kelowna, BC, Canada was one of the cities that participated in rallying to support the Women’s March on Washington, DC on Saturday, January 21, 2017.

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I am so grateful to live in a conscious, caring, aware community that exercises our freedom to voice thoughts, ideas and concerns, safely in public.

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I have a lot of respect and gratitude for the willingness of Beth Farrell and Alison Moore to take the lead on this event, and for organizing it so well. It’s the movers and shakers like you that make it easy for the rest of us to just show up.

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Thank you to all the speakers who shared their words of inspiration, their personal experiences and insights, to make us all understand better, and feel more connected in a purposeful way.

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(See many more photos in my Women’s March album on Facebook.)

I appreciate the thought-provoking and eloquent words shared today. I’m still processing my personal ‘calls to action’. In this photo below, I think Alison captures what many of us felt: freedom to proudly and safely express who we are, what we think, and how we’d like to change the world.

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Women’s March © January 21, 2017 | Annie Zalezsak

#womensmarch, #whyimarch

Love Our Mother Earth

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Our Mother Earth cradles us,
upholds life,
provides our every need.
Her boundless love
contains us,
sustains us,
despite our growing greed.

Like rebellious children
her boundaries we test;
yet by her unconditional love
and providence, we are blessed.

Please stop poking and prodding her.
Give back her dignity.
Surrender to HER rights.
Let her rest.
Let her heal.
Let her BE.

Love Our Mother Earth © November 26, 2016 | Annie Zalezsak
(Inspired by the Pray for Standing Rock worldwide synchronized events, specifically the meditation held at the Pandosy Peace Centre in Kelowna.)

Will the Real Me Please Stand Up

Over three years ago, I had the most astounding experience of my life.

Facing my own mortality, I knew that if I could tell just one story, this was the book I had to write. I self-published We Are One Blood: Honouring the Body’s Right to Heal Itself.

And then, I went back to my day job.

Last week, I saw Anita Moorjani, author of Dying to Be Me,  give a talk in Kelowna, BC. In her book, she details her healing from stage four cancer following an extraordinary near death experience.

I related to Anita’s description of the aftermath. How does one go back to ‘normal life’ after such an experience? She, too, had fears of judgment and while she wanted to share her magnificent story of the truths she’d experienced firsthand, she was a bit shy about revealing her full identity. No one wants to be mocked, called ‘delirious’, or disappoint people in respected circles.

She laughs about it now, as she stands on the stage in utter, admirable confidence, firmly voicing what she knows for a fact, because she lived it.

Anita isn’t out to convince anyone, and neither am I. But people are clearly curious, and comforted to learn about what lies beyond death.

During my near death experience, the veil to the spirit world was lifted. Communication with the other side became easier for me. Facilitating conversations with spirit for others came naturally. I felt completely and utterly called to help people in this way.

While physically and emotionally recovering (and in need of rent money), I focused my energy on my reliable profession, an arena that requires certain boundaries that don’t include woo-woo.

Anita’s recent talk has given me fresh courage to come out of that professionally-suppressed closet, and proclaim “I see dead people”.

I’m now peeling off those thin layers of fear that have accrued over the last three years. Dear public, I am ready.

Thank you, Anita Moorjani, for demonstrating your courage, expressing your voice, and reminding me why it’s so vital I stand up now and present the real me to this world.

2016.04.24 Anita Moorjani & Annie Zalezsak at Kelowna Community Theatre

Will the Real Me Please Stand Up © April 29, 2016 | Annie Zalezsak

Beliefs and Behaviour

Sometimes, I don’t know what I believe until I have to voice it.

But louder than my voice, are my actions. Before I am even consciously aware of what I believe deep down, the obvious is stated in my day-to-day behaviours. Observers may see more clearly, what I barely acknowledge in myself.

Beliefs are often unconscious. I’m especially disconnected from beliefs underlying my worst habits. I succumb to unpredictable behaviours that contradict my conscious intentions.

Identifying and changing my core beliefs (in order to change my outcomes) seems like a lot of hard, deep-digging work.

So, for now, if I catch myself sabotaging:

  • I accept it, forgive myself, and move on;
  • I’m honest with myself about the benefits I got from this; and
  • I reflect on what I can do better next time.

Beliefs shift slowly. Human behaviour takes time to evolve.

Patience.

Beliefs and Behaviour © November 18, 2015 | Annie Zalezsak

Right Place, Wrong Time

Peace fpr Paris Nov 13, 2015My mother told me she missed a train during World War II in Europe. That train was bombed.

On November 13, 2015, my friend Cherie Hanson was visiting Paris. Virtually next door, explosions and gunshots killed over a hundred people.

Aberfan. London bombings. Twin Towers. School shootings. Wars. Freak accidents. Epidemics.

So many people in the wrong place at the wrong time; and so many people in the right place at the wrong time.

When something tragic happens and we’re in the ‘right place’ – safe – our physical or emotional proximity to the situation may determine its impact on us. It can affect us deeply even if the event didn’t happen directly to us.

Such events change the direction of lives. It can alter personalities. It can shift belief systems.

When the world’s populace takes notice, it is an opportunity to transform the consciousness of the human race.

Right Place, Wrong Time © November 15, 2015 | Annie Zalezsak