We Need to Talk About This

robin williams

My social media sites became filled last evening with news about Robin Williams’ death.  Everyone was shocked, saddened, upset and devastated that this vivacious man who made it his job to make others laugh had taken his own life.

An online group I belong to started a thread about it.  As the conversation grew I woke to a post this morning from one of the members:

Maybe this thread can lead into a discussion…if more needs to be done to help those with mental illness, what do you think should be done?

The dialogue that opened had members having the courage to talk about events in their lives that were hard for them to discuss.  It humbled me to read them.

I had some thoughts of my own that I shared in response to this group member’s question.  What do you think should be done?  

We all have to start paying more attention to those close to us – and when I say ‘close’ to us I mean those we see A LOT. Those we work with, our immediate family whom we talk with or see several times a week, best friends, people who we are in organized extra-curricular events with. We have to pay attention. When we see a change, we have to start addressing it more. We have to stop assuming that ‘there is nothing wrong’, ‘it’s not my place’, or ‘she just has to get over herself’. I’m not saying to go around psychoanalyzing everyone. But when someone you have known for a while suddenly starts to display personality traits that are not consistent with who they typically are – pay attention. We all know drama queens, that’s not what I’m talking about either. We have to be willing to be honest whether someone likes/wants to hear what we have to say or not. We have to stop worrying about upsetting people. We have to get our heads of the sand and BE the support that people need because yes, it is our business, and if it’s not, then make it because too many people are dying or hurting others because we are turning our heads too scared to get involved.

There has to be more psychiatrists/psychologists, social workers, therapists brought into the medical system (at least here) and this has to be TOP priority for our schools. 2 and 3 year waiting lists for psych-ed testing for something as ‘simple as’ learning disabilities HAS TO CHANGE. Because guess what? Something ‘as simple as’ learning disabilities could someday lead to other issues and it can open the door (if not handled properly) for mental illnesses to fester (low self esteem, depression, etc etc).

Mental illness is still taboo in our culture and society. People still feel the need to hide away and suffer silently. Does a diabetic have to feel ashamed to ask for help? Why is it someone who has mental issues feels that way? Why are they made to feel ‘less’? Is it because we continue to turn our head the other way? We have to stop making this someone else’s problem and step up to the plate. We have to make this an everyday issue – not just an issue when tragedy strikes at a school or shopping mall and when ‘someone famous’ dies because they felt that’s the only choice they had.

It’s an invisible illness. You can’t see it. There is no wheelchair, there are no outward signs. It means we have to pay attention to people. We have to stop being so wrapped up in our own worlds to take the time to notice those around us. We have to slow down, we have to try to get back to a lifestyle that wasn’t so chaotic and technically motivated.

We have to re-engage and go back to interacting with people face-to-face. We have to be more empathetic and sympathetic and not be afraid of overstepping our bounds.

We’re all quick enough to have an opinion of what someone should have done after the fact; it’s time we put a brave face on and have the courage to share those opinions before hand next time.

In a statement released last night from Mr. William’s wife she stated that she didn’t want his death to be the focus of all this. I get that, I understand her need for saying that. But what is that doing? It is pushing mental illness under the rug yet again, it is saying ‘don’t talk about it’, it is casting a dark shadow of shame over what happened. This man, no matter how successful, rich, funny or well-loved that he was was not happy. He felt that the only way to handle was to not handle. For whatever reason he reached out in July and went back to rehab to seek help. What happened in the last few weeks to take him to the point of no return? Did she, as she stated in her release, not focus on the now? Did she assume that because he was Robin Williams he could just ‘get over it’?

And yes, I think if we stopped and thought about it, we all know someone who has been affected by mental illness, so why does this continue to go on?  Why is the stigma still there?  Why do people continue to feel they need to hide and face this alone?  Because of the way our society has evolved.  Our society can’t/won’t deal with us or accept us if we are less than the best, that’s why.

How did we get to the point that we stopped taking time to appreciate the totally insignificant things in our life, or should I say the things in our life that we have made insignificant? We have to get back in touch with what’s important. A beautiful day, puffy clouds, a hummingbird fluttering overhead, a garden growing. Nature is an incredible miracle. Our world has so many undeniable miracles right at our fingertips that many times we choose to ignore because we are too busy, because we don’t take the time to see them. We need to retrain ourselves to appreciate the things in life that give us absolutely nothing but pleasure. We have to try to step back from getting ahead, and putting too much value on ‘success’.

Our kids have to learn how to be kids again – to play, to pretend, to imagine, to scrape their knees, to hurt, to be disappointed, and to yes, even fail. We have to stop handing everything to our kids just because. We have to stop enabling. We have to stop focusing on being the best, being #1, and settling for nothing less. We need to encourage our kids to be the best THEY CAN BE. There’s a difference there – a big difference. Someone is always going to be better – and that’s ok. Our kids don’t need to be going non-stop every day. We don’t have to have our kids involved in more activities than there are days of the week.  Our kids have to learn to be bored. They have to NOT have something to do all. the. time. They need down time to just be. They need to know that it’s ok to just flop on their bed in their room and look up to the ceiling and daydream or think. We don’t have to be continually doing something with/for them. We all want to give our kids the ‘best’, we all want to see them ‘succeed’, but what is the definition of those two words? My success is different than your success and the best for me may not even hold a candle to your idea of best. We have to redefine these terms and make the term applicable to the person, not try to turn the person into our definition of the term.

We have to get back to caring about people. We have to stop saying what someone ‘wants’ to hear and start saying what they ‘need’ to hear and not be afraid to hurt their feelings. And we have to be willing to listen when someone tells us what we need to hear, whether we want to hear it or not. I’m not saying to go out and tear someone apart just because. We can express opinions using tact not to belittle or chastise.

I’ll say it again because I feel it’s worth repeating…It’s way too easy to have all the answers after-the-fact. If we were all so well versed about it after-the-fact, we have to be willing to express those answers and opinions before the questions have to be asked.

Until next time…

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12 Years ~ Before and After

July 17, 2002.  I am 31 years old.  I have been married for almost 11 years and I have a 5 1/2 year old son.  Today life as I know it changes forever.  Right now, in this moment, I have no idea just how much my life is going to alter or that it will be for the better.  Right now I am too absorbed with grief, horror, shock and hurt to understand that what transpires over the course of this day will have such a profound affect on every breath that I take from here forward.  Right now I just have to get through this.

July 17, 2014.  I am 43 years old.  I have been married for almost 23 years and I have a 17 1/2 year old son and a 6 year old son.  Today’s life as I know it is nothing like what it was 12 years ago.  Right now, in this moment, life is better.  Right now I am filled with faith, determination, confidence and pride as I reflect upon what transpired over the course of this day and the weeks, months and years that followed July 17, 2002.

Sometimes I feel like there was a Tracey Before July 17, 2002 and a Tracey After July 17, 2002.  Two totally different people.  If you were to do a before and after picture, they’d appear similar.  I look pretty much the same except I’ve recently let my hair go au naturel (read: grey) and I now wear glasses all the time; not just at work.  The differences I refer to are not physical characteristics that can be seen.  It’s much more than that.  My whole life’s perception has done a complete role-reversal since that day.  The way I relate, react and respond to everything and everyone around me is much healthier (I think) than pre-2002.

You see, pre-2002 I was very much about “me”.  I was very much about “stuff”.  I was very preoccupied with what other people thought.  I was a people-pleaser whether pleasing the people was good for me or not, it didn’t matter.  I was absorbed with living my life through someone else’s eyes.  And if I wasn’t able to live my life that way I played the “Woe is Me” card and made life unbearable for anyone in earshot.

Mind you, it wasn’t quite as bad after Matthew was born.  I had to learn in a hurry that it wasn’t all about me and that I had to make decisions based on the best interest of my son.  I’m not going to lie, it was a hard pill to swallow.  Motherhood (or at least the beginning of it) was nothing like what I anticipated.  It was only through the love and extreme patience of my husband and my family that I was able to slowly transition into my role as a Mom.

Just as I was getting my feet under me (and yes, it did take almost 5 1/2 years), we decided to expand our family.  We were ready.  Matthew would be starting school and the timing felt right.

Our plans weren’t the plans.

We expanded our family, of course, just not in the typical way.  I gave birth to our daughter whom we welcomed into our lives and sorrowfully handed her back to the stars all in mere moments.  The lessons she would teach would last far beyond her time here on Earth.

There was a purpose to the grief, horror, shock and hurt that absorbed me 12 years ago.  I could not let Emily’s life be in vain.  She had a message, her life had meaning.  It was up to me and to us as a family to understand what that meaning was and to keep her alive in our world the best way we could.  We would not be able to hold her, teach her or watch her grow but we could learn from her, love her and honour her.  That’s where the changes came for me.

I became much more honest with myself.  I redefined what was important in my life.  I determined that many of the issues consuming my world on July 16, 2002 were irrelevant in the big scheme of things.  My husband and I now shared a bond so far beyond our wedding vows that our relationship took on a entirely new meaning.  The stuff from yesterday was gone; it just didn’t matter any more.  Even though there was a birth and a death on that day, there was a rebirth of a family who embraced a horrific tragedy and took the first step towards rebuilding.

Was it easy? No, of course not.  Was it supposed to be easy?  Not a chance.  Nothing worth having is.  So how did it happen?  Why did we choose this change instead of losing ourselves in pity, remorse and sorrow?  Wouldn’t it have been just as easy to wallow and allow the world to smother us in sadness?  Sure, that would have been really easy but it wouldn’t have prepared us for the years filled with joy and sorrow that were yet to be lived.

In the last 12 years there have been quite a few major events that I’m sure I could not have handled the way I did if July 17, 2002 didn’t happen.  If Emily hadn’t been born my daughter, I don’t think I could have coped.

My best friend died in 2003, while I was holding her hand.  Before she closed her eyes for the last time she told me she was going to take care of my girl.  How selfless was that?  Two of the most important female role models in my world were now watching over me.  As with July 17, 2002 the next day of most significant importance to me was September 6, 2003.

Perhaps our girl knew that her big brother was going to need me to be on my game. Perhaps she knew that I had to have strength like I didn’t know I was capable of to stand by Matthew’s side when he needed me most.  Maybe she knew that the best thing she could do for me was hurt me.  The whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” thing?

Anyone who knows our family or who is a follower of my blog knows the road we have walked with Matthew since he started school.  It has been an ongoing journey of persistence, heartache, accomplishment, and the biggest test in tenacity that I have ever faced.  My boy needed me to be strong and my girl made me strong.  What a gift she gave me to be able to pass along to her brother.

My life did a complete 360° and started all over again.  It was about me alright, all about me being the type of mom Matthew needed to support him, to advocate for him and to teach the world that things weren’t always as they seemed.

Over the years there have been many tears and many accomplishments.  Now that Matthew is older he is learning to advocate for himself and he educates along the way whenever he can.  It makes my heart swell when I hear him explain how he talked himself out of a meltdown or managed to remove himself from a situation that he knew contained more triggers than he was prepared to deal with.  Our boy has made it to high school, is volunteering at a job that fulfills him greatly and is growing and maturing in leaps and bounds.

Are we out of the woods?  Well, if the answer to that is based on where we live I’d have to say no.  Hahahaha!  I am so NOT a comedian.  Matthew lives with autism spectrum disorder, a nonverbal learning disorder and ADHD.  We may all walk along nicely for a while but then we come to some rugged terrain and Matt needs a helping hand.  He’s been growing a lot which lets him maneuver the rough spots like the seasoned hiker he is.  He’s making his own pathways but he’s also smart enough to know that hikers shouldn’t go into the woods by themselves.  The best way to get through anything is by using the buddy system for support, for encouragement and for guidance.

We also use the buddy system much the same as Matthew.  Pre 2002 I’d probably think I was invincible but Miss Emily also taught me that I’m not.  Now I’m much more willing to accept that I am only who I am because of those I have around me.

The whole is more than the sum of its parts. ~Aristotle

This quote perfectly sums up what it has taken me more than 1400 words to say.  I am who I am because of those around me joining together.

The Hilliard’s (the ‘whole’) are more than Michael, Tracey, Matthew, Emily and Marcus (the sum of its parts).  While we all have our own positive attributes to contribute, by adding all of our strengths and weaknesses together we are able to culminate to a level so far beyond our individual selves.

I’ve known this.  It’s not a big revelation.  However I didn’t see it.  There’s the difference.  This is all part of my post July 17, 2002 growth and while I could continue to talk for days about what else my girl taught me and what she continues to teach me I’ll close off by wishing my Angel in the Stars a very Happy 12th Birthday.

My Emily Ann Rose will continue to be part of our ‘whole’ contributing in ways we have yet to see.

Until next time…


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100 Hours

This weekend marked a great milestone for Matthew.  He completed his 100th hour volunteering at The Wildlife Park.

He continues to enjoy his time there just as much as he was during my last post.  He’s getting more confident by the day and is learning more than we ever thought possible.  Mixing feed, welding, carpentry, landscaping, and cutting potatoes for french fries in the canteen are among some of the tasks he’s been introduced to over the last month.  So much more than ‘just’ being with the animals.

The management and staff continue to encourage and praise him, teach him and include him in all aspects of Park life.  He’s ‘one of the gang’ and is truly making a spot for himself.  They marvel at his commitment as it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed that there hasn’t been one weekend go by that he hasn’t been there at least one full day.  I don’t know if I’d have had that tenacity at his age.  Yes, granted, I worked but I wasn’t up EVERY day by 7:00.

Now that his academic year is coming to an end he plans to increase the days he’s out there.  Mike and I have no issue with that and are quite thrilled that he’ll have something to occupy his time through the summer.  We have, however, stipulated a maximum of 5 days/week.  He still needs his down time.  He still needs to be able to chill out and sleep in.  He needs to be able to enjoy his time at home with his gardens.

The skills and confidence he is gaining is second-to-none.  With no disrespect meant to teachers (or the school system), the experience Matthew is gaining here so far exceeds anything he could learn in a classroom.  He’s finally comfortable and confident with an activity, he’s learning vital life skills that certainly don’t come easily to those living with Asperger’s, he’s making friends, he’s part of a group of people who share common interests and he sees the difference his time there is making (a cut lawn, a built animal pen, a content animal, a clean barn, etc).

Something that may seem so trivial to many has changed Matthew’s world.  He has found his nitch.   He has found ‘his’ place.  We have always said he would, we just didn’t know where or when it would be and in our wildest dreams we could have never predicted the outcome.

Last summer saw a big change in our family during our move and this year I see just as big a change as Matt continues to surpass even his own expectations.

Until next time…

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Life is Good

“Life is good!”

Those three simple words will echo in my head (and heart) for a very long time.

As Matthew sat in the van yesterday after spending over 8 hours volunteering at Two Rivers Wildlife Park  he had a look of contentment that spoke volumes.  He is into his second month of volunteering at the park which is something he has wanted to do for years.  Now that we are living a little closer and he’s older we decided it would be a good chance for him to spread his wings (pardon the pun).  Even though it is still close to an hour’s drive round trip so far it’s been more than worth it for him, and for us.

Since we moved last July, Matt had his heart set on raising chickens.  We have the room, we do live in the country now, after all and he loves animals.  At first I was adamant that it wasn’t going to happen.  Ever.  Slowly I guess I backed down enough that we went from ‘not a chance’ to putting money aside for a chicken coop.

After his second or third day at the park he seemed somewhat bummed out once he got home.  He didn’t think he was going to be able to handle having the chickens.  One of his jobs that day required him to get right into the chicken coop and feed the birds.  The noise got the better of him.  He really wasn’t sure if he would be able to tolerate it all. the. time.

Matthew had a decision to make.  And like most things that we have our heart set on, when we realize the reality of some of the things we’d like to have, it’s hard having to be practical rather than go with what our heart wants.  Mike and I completely understood where he was coming from.  We told him that this was a decision that he had to make on his own.  Whatever his choice was, we’d support it.  We told him how proud we were of him for realizing that this may not be the best idea right now and reminded him that even if he chose not to go ahead with a chicken coop this year, that’s not to say that he couldn’t revisit the idea next year.  Perhaps the more time he spent at the park the more he would get used to the different noises and the high pitches.  He disappeared to be by himself for a while to think.  Within an hour he was back stating that he made his decision.  He was going to take the money put aside for the coop and use it on other projects in the yard for this year.  The chicken coop will wait.  We reiterated how proud we were of him and talked to him about how great it was that this volunteering position has taught him something very valuable already.  If he wasn’t there to see/hear the ways different animals go on, he could have invested all that time and money into something that he wouldn’t have gotten the enjoyment out of that he hoped.  Everything happens for a reason.  Damn cliches.

Here’s a couple of pics that he’s sent to me while he been working.  The peacock all in his glory and 2 day old baby goats born this week.

Matt peacockIMG-20140517-00170

He’s been paired with a few different people since he began his journey out there; none of whom he knew previously.  He’s been 100% on his own with it, too.  Mike and I told him at the beginning that this was something he was doing on his own if he wanted it.  We’d take him and pick him up but we weren’t staying.  He was ok with that.  The people he’s been working with have been great, he has quickly fit in to the group and is learning (and teaching) a lot.

From feeding alpha male wolves to making a bed for a barn cat to raking leaves around the administration building he’s been getting his hands into a lot of different aspects of life at the park.  He tells me that come summer vacation he is going to be “handling the barns”.

Do you remeber how you first felt when you realized there was something you were ‘good‘ at?  That feeling of belonging and accomplishment and desire to learn everything you can about it?  That’s where Matthew is now.

He’s not a sports guy, he’s not really ‘into’ anything that he could be a part of in the past.  I was sad for him for a long time because it was just him and his love of nature.  Now I see a difference.  He is finally able to have something to call his own and share it with people that are like minded.

He told me yesterday that one of the guys is impressed with him because he doesn’t complain about anything.  (Oh, really???  This is Matthew we’re talking about, right??…oopps, did I say that out loud?) He’ll do anything he’s asked to do and things that he’s not asked to do.  I told him that was a sign of a good worker and the more he was able to do that the more he would show the people there how passionate he is about the hours he spends there.  “I know Mom, ya know, I’d even shovel horse poop with a smile on my face.  I hope I can get a REAL job there someday.”

I hope he can, too.  Yes, he’s only 17 and yes he still has a lot of growing up to do in many ways but one thing I know about my boy is his love of animals and nature is never going to go away.  If anything it will continue and expand to more opportunities, more life lessons and the ability to share his passion with so many more people.

When Mike dropped him off this morning before 9AM Matt told him, “If you don’t hear otherwise have Mom pick me up for 6:00 so I can stay for the final feeding.”  You got it bud, you got it.

Until next time…

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My Mom

I was my Mom’s first child. Arriving 6 weeks premature at only a little over 4lbs I decided to start off her journey early.  Right from the get-go I gave her much more than she bargained for.  I was a jaundiced, colicky baby who ended up being hospitalized after crying none stop for weeks.  During those early days of motherhood, my Mom walked the floors with me for hours on end, got little-to no sleep and tried everything in her power to settle me.  What a hard start my Mom had.  Thankfully, after I got all settled she tells me life was a whole lot better and she was able to start enjoying being my Mom.  Then I started talking.  My grandfather always said I started talking when I was a year old and I haven’t shut up since.  Another comment was that I was vaccinated with a gramophone needle…lol.

I started school early (at 4) and I graduated from university late (at 34).  My Mom stood by my side attending banquets, band concerts, Sea Cadet Annual Inspections, winter carnival variety shows, school and university plays, debates and parades.

My Mom was my rock during elementary and junior high school.  Back in those days I was picked on endlessly.  I would arrive home from school crying more days than not.  She comforted me and tried her best to make the hurt go away.  She would keep telling me that one day it would all be better.  She was right.

I gave my Mom a run for her money during my teen years.  I got my love for debating by practicing with her I think.  We argued many more times than I care to remember as a teenager.  I just didn’t know when enough was enough. I think some days I argued with her just for the sake of arguing.  I cried tears and I caused tears.  She kept telling me that one day it would all be better.  She was right.

As a young girl I always dreamed of being a wife and a mother.  I would ask Mom “Am I going to get married someday?”  Over the years I had a few boyfriends and I always wondered if this was “the one”.  I dreamed of a wedding and always loved looking at Mom and Dad’s wedding photos.  I wanted to be a pretty bride just like Mom.  She kept telling me that one day would be the day.  She was right.

My Mom didn’t work outside the home, my Mom didn’t drive, my Mom didn’t get out a whole lot to do things she liked.  Our home was always the most immaculate home on the block.  I didn’t know what dust was until I moved out – haha.  Our meals were always on the table when Dad got home, our clothes were always perfectly laundered, our toys were always in their place.  My Mom’s home was her pride.  The skills she taught me were so much more than cooking and cleaning, it went far deeper than that.  She taught me respect and pride for my home.  No matter what 4 walls we lived in, it was our home and my mother made sure that we were safe, comfortable and that our home was organized, clutter-free and full functioning.  I will never be the domestic engineer that she is and I tend to get off track sometimes, but when I go on a mission and put my mind to it I can hold my own – even with working outside the home 40+ hours/week.  She kept telling me I could do anything I put my mind to.  She was right.

Then one day, finally, this thing we call life came full circle.  I was going to be a Mom.  And who better to have by my side as that happened than my Mom and my Mom-in-Law.  Yes, there they both were, along with Mikey, right there in the delivery room as Matthew was born.  I think the Dr. knew better than to mess with a Mom (soon to be grandmother) as he didn’t say a word as they sat in the corner waiting to see their child’s child come into the world.

I soon realized that I didn’t have a clue about being a Mom.  I loved Matthew beyond words but it certainly wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  I was sad, I was tired, I was cranky and I wasn’t sure I liked having someone so helpless being totally dependent on me. Thankfully we lived in the basement apartment of Mom and Dad’s home at the time and my Mom was by my side helping me get over the blues I was feeling.  She taught me the smallest things like bathing him to the big things like time managing.  I couldn’t imagine for a second how she did it with me.  Matthew wasn’t cranky or colicky and I was ready to cry at the drop of a hat.  She kept telling me that one day it would be better.  She was right.

Now many years have gone by and my children are growing.  I’m thankful that my Mom was right so often.  (Was she ever wrong???)  There were times I was sure she didn’t know anything at all.  As I reflect back on our journey and see how far we’ve come I realize that while I may not be a domestic engineer, I am my mother in so many ways.  While the thought of that might have scared me a lifetime ago, today I can think of no one I’d rather take after.   I am so glad and honored to be just like my Mom.

She kept telling me that I could do anything I put my mind to.  I work hard every day to show her she was right.

Until next time…

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Bitter Sweet Day


A Bitter Sweet Day, reposted

Originally posted on An Angel's Island:

I have heard stories the last few days focusing around Mom’s who are no longer with us.

My heart goes out to my friends and family members today who are spending their first Mother’s Day without their Mom.  Please take comfort in your memories and remember the love you shared with your Mom.  And to all who spend today with their memories of Mom, no matter how many years she has been gone, I think of you today, as well.

To those Mom’s who have lost a child this last year.  I understand your pain.  It is like no other.  Sometimes, there are no words to adequately express your loss.

And to those Mom’s who are celebrating for the first time this year or for the first time with a new child.  Happy Mother’s Day.  May you be blessed to enjoy many more.

We all have a commonality of being…

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What’s a “Mom”?


Reposted for Mother’s Day

Originally posted on An Angel's Island:

How do you define a Mom?  What does the term mean to you?

I’m a Mom.  What does it mean to me?  Have I ever sat down and thought about what being called Mom really means?  I don’t think so.  Maybe I’ll ponder it here if you’ll allow.

Mother, Mom, Ma, Mommy, Mum, Ma-Ma, and many other terms can define the same person.

For me, being called Mom means that I am fortunate enough to be raising children.  To have an integral part in someone else’s upbringing and nurturing.   Being a Mom means that I have the ability to make a difference.  My life, my days are no longer my own.  I have someone to answer to, to be accountable to.  It’s a 2-way street.  It’s give and take; as with any relationship.  The bond between mother and child is one-of-a-kind.  Should I want my children to be…

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