Category Archives: inspirational

when I grow up

I strode with confidence toward my leg guy (prosthetist) and stopped in front of him to list my demands.

“I’d like a custom liner for my left leg to match the right one. Do you think I’d be eligible for new sockets because these sleeves keep sliding and the suction isn’t so great and I’d like to look into having fancy schmancy covers for my legs that have toes. Toes! My legs look like Grandma legs and I’m just over it. With the pantyhose and the lumpy ankles…”

I waved my hands around to make my point and I finished with a flourish, “Let’s look into this!” I offered a winning smile. The smile of my 8 year old that will get her way no matter what, this is not negotiable. And then I remembered I’m a grown-up. I pushed my shoulders back, “What do we need to do to make this happen?”

I didn’t plan on becoming an amputee. On my list of ‘things I want to be when I grow up’ under astronaut, nurse or teacher it didn’t say ‘person with missing limbs’. I remember being in awe of Terry Fox as a child. He was and is a national hero. In our schools, on TV, at home we honored this young man who ran across our country with his artificial leg to raise money for cancer research. He had guts, heart. As a seven year old I wondered if I could be like him – did I have guts like that?

Our schools do a Terry Fox run annually and last year I decided to join my daughter for the run, but we walked. As we did our laps around the field Annie informed her friend, who walked with us, “Do you know my mom’s an amputee? She has fake legs. Two of them!”

Her friend nodded and smiled.

Annie took a deep breath. I could see she was about to launch into how it all began. I whispered to her, “It’s okay. We don’t need to get into this now. Let’s keep walking.”

Do you know what’s weird about being an amputee? Almost everything. And, after a while, almost nothing.

Becoming an amputee was shocking, devastating. I woke up to a nightmare, to the message that my life would never be the same. “You’ve lost your right leg, Heidi. And it looks like you will lose your left leg, too.” Dreams of what I would be went up in smoke and I entered a new world of fittings, castings, new terminology and disability. I fought with my identity. Who am I haunted me with every careful step I took in my prosthetic legs.

And now, now I’ve been able to speak on behalf of the burn fund, on behalf of burn survivors to various groups and organizations, to stand in front of many people and say, you can do this. You can get to the other side. I get to share my story to further research and help raise money for people like me. Beyond that I get to live my life and it’s an ordinary one with extraordinary circumstances and moments. I could say to my seven year old self, “You have the guts.”

Thirty years later I walked around a field holding my daughter’s hand as we honored a national hero. And I’m grateful.

Swept up

In Midnight in Paris!

It’s about a youngish couple who travel to Paris for business and are forced to face the illusion that a life different from their own might be better. It’s a movie by Woody Allen starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams and it is a delight!

go where it’s warm

Grace is found under the surface, under the muck. It’s digging deeper, moving beyond and letting go. It is softness, kindness. And I think we should use it more.

We can lean on grace when we’re hurt. When it’s time to defend we can hold it up as a shield. We extend grace to those who need it, to say I see you and I’ll help. With grace we can say ‘no more’ or salvage something that has begun to unravel.

My early teen years were mostly mired in insecurity with moments of reprieve. You would be insecure too if you had the loser trifecta going on. Braces, too-big glasses and bad perm. I’m 37 and I know how to dress myself and I’ve lost the trifecta, but insecurity still flares up now and then. At thirteen I was lost in its shadow and when it shows up now it surprises me. I’m surprised that I can still want to duck and hide. Surprised that I still care that much.

I’ve learned to shrug my shoulders and say whatever. I’ve learned to say no and I can breezily say yes. I’ve learned how to spread my feelings out, explore them, and come away whole. I know when to lighten up.

But, insecurity happens. It doesn’t grab me by the throat – that would be too obvious. It’s sneaky, it creeps. It is a series of small things – a risk taken and worried it’s the wrong risk, a snarky word, an untrue friend. I’ve developed a tougher shell over the years and there are many things that hit and slide, and fewer things that land and stick. I spent a lot of time burying that painfully shy thirteen year old girl, the sensitive girl who broke easily. I’m not her today, but she’s underneath, and this is the time to use grace and say enough, be at peace.

Lately, I’ve come across situations where many of us could benefit from a little grace. I wrote this post in response to a few tweets, conversations, blogs like Kvetch Mom’s post (a great post on when bitchiness is taken too far) and my own life stuff. After pouring out my heart or rambling (easily both) to my friend Karen the other day, she said, “Go where it’s warm.” All my freaking out and oh-so-many-feelings stopped. They screeched to a halt, actually. I whispered in awe, “I love it.” Because it is simple and good and right. Go where it’s warm.

Swept up


I have to give a huge thank you to Sheryl and North by Northwest for being so good to me! The interview that aired Sunday isn’t available – the neat and tidy 15 minute one, but the longer version is up. If you’re new here and wondering what I’m talking about this is the post that sums it up. Check out my interview with Sheryl where we talk story, writing, and that Mennonite energy!

new news!

I am going to be on the radio!! I will be featured on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) program North by Northwest with Sheryl MacKay.

Sheryl heard me speak on CBC’s Early Edition for the Angel Campaign in December, got in touch with me and asked me to be on her show. Of course I said yes! I’d be honored and I was. I geeked out just a little sitting in CBC’s waiting room and then in the booth with my headphones. I should have pulled out my phone to sneak a photo. Like most Canadians I didn’t want to impose, so I politely left my phone in my purse.

We were there to talk about my story. Sheryl had asked for the manuscript which I sent and then I harassed her with emails like, did you get it? It didn’t get lost out there somewhere, right? I had this vision of the file never reaching her and landing in some crazy person’s inbox who…I don’t know what they would do with it because, of course, this is illogical and would never happen. But, I’m slightly neurotic. And it’s my memoir, my almost-book.

We talked story for 40 minutes which will be edited to somewhere between 15 – 17 minutes. Sheryl is lovely, laid-back and easy to talk to – too easy. I could have freely over-shared, which wouldn’t have been good for anyone.  Like I could have told her about the time Scott’s co-workers overheard a very private conversation between me and Scott when Scott, unknowingly, hadn’t turned off his ‘on’ button while they were video-conferencing. My face still burns with humiliation. She made it that comfortable.

North by Northwest is a program that’s on every weekend featuring artists, musicians, writers and chefs sharing their passions and inspirations. And I had the incredible honor to be interviewed. The show will air this Sunday, January the 22nd, after the 8:30 am news. Here in Vancouver you can listen to it on 690 AM or 88.1 FM. You’ll be able to listen to it at their website and I’ll follow up with that information when I know more. You can follow me on Twitter (@heidicave) by just clicking at the top right corner of my blog where I will be sure to tweet more details. Or Facebook. I’ll post there too.

Here we are…the whole family this time.

before and after

I have always called myself an optimist with realistic expectations. What I’ve discovered though is that I’m sort-of a pessimist. (Putting the sort-of in front of it makes it easier to swallow.) In fact, Scott called me a fatalist the other day. Wha?? I was insulted. Me? A fatalist?

I’m practical. It’s the survivor in me. I know how to hunker down and weather the storms. What I’m not good at is the big picture, having vision for my life and dreaming. It’s a flaw I own. I hope for the best and am positive the worst will happen.

Sometimes it’s easier to dig your heels in, and grin and bear it than to leave the trenches and walk on.

I’ve come close to death and lost someone beloved and I never fully recovered. It’s been 13 years and I’m better, so much better, but my life can’t return to ‘before’. A line was crossed and I live in the after with a smattering of before. I mean, I knew bad things could happen, but I didn’t know. Not like this. You’re crushed and you want to recapture your heart. The way it was. You want to take life for granted again. And you can’t. You won’t.

Someone once said to me you’ll never be okay unless you’re completely healed. I reject that statement. Life is defined differently for me now and, after much time and relentless surrendering, it is okay. I am okay. I’m well. While there are many of us who can’t return to innocence and see the world with a rosy glow, we can see the sweet through the bitter. We can appreciate that life is fragile and if we explore it we’ll find beauty.

I only have to look at a pitch black sky with stars drawn across it to know our world is a mysterious place, magical and perplexing. There are some questions I will never have answers to and the not knowing can be maddening, but I can rest in the mystery, in being small in a big world. Maybe I’m a pessimist or a fatalist. Who knows and who cares? I do know that I’m still learning, always learning. For those of you who are suffering and can’t believe this is your life, know you are not alone. Right now you’re in the trenches. And one day you’ll do more than survive. You’ll live.

Swept up


In Skydive Professional

Speaking of living…this is Scott’s passion. This is what makes him feel truly alive. I don’t claim to understand it, but I support it because I’m nice like that. Recently, he started up this blog on being a professional skydiver and there are some exciting things happening for him, including interviewing author and skydiver Dan Bronsky-Chenfeld.

known

I stood in the kitchen wondering if I should sweep the crummy, sticky floor or just lie down on the couch and call it a day. My kids whispered on the staircase after I had shooed them to the basement. Ben said, “I have to tell her.”

My six year old boy, hair disheveled and jeans slung low, shuffled over and planted his feet in front of me. “Mommy, I have to tell you something.”

“Okay, Ben. Lay it on me.” I expected a confession.

He took a deep breath and opened his mouth. “Mommy.” He couldn’t make eye contact and he appeared nervous, but Ben rarely looks me in the eye, so I let it go. And then I thought, is there a puddle of pee somewhere? Did he break my phone? No, not my phone.

“Mommy, you are my hero. You are brave and smart and you finished a whole book and that is hard work. I’m lucky you’re my mommy.”

He sped through his speech, threw his arms around me and hung from my neck. “You are my hero. I just had to tell you.”

“Benjamin,” I cried, “I’m the lucky one.”

He drew back and his eyes widened. My tears alarmed him. “They’re happy tears. You make me very happy. Thank you, thank you!” I smothered him with kisses. He dutifully let me kiss him, and as soon as he could, he made a break for it and ran to the basement.

One of the things I cherish most in this life is to be known. To have people in your life that just get you. You make sense even if you feel you don’t, and if you don’t make sense it’s not held against you. We’re not defensive. We’re not constantly explaining ourselves. I can let my guard down, I can settle into our relationship because I trust you. You know me and I know you. And in this knowing sometimes perfection happens.

It’s not that I’m a hero. I wasn’t waiting to hear those words. It’s that my little boy, who isn’t so little, more long and gangly, brought me perspective. It’s that he saw me for a few seconds, as his mom who cleans up after him and yells at him to pick up his Lego which has become a death trap to anyone that walks across our floor, and as a person. A person, a mother with feelings and goals and dreams.

We’re so busy and know so many people. At work, at school, at kids’ play dates and activities. We’re everything to everyone, so when you get to be just you and you are loved, regardless or ‘because of’, by those family members and best friends, it is gold.

Swept up

In you guys!! I was blown away and humbled by your kind words and encouragement after my last post (oh, the encouragement!!). I just want to say thank you for your being here and your belief. For taking me to a higher place.

This is how Benjamin looks most of the time: happy, even without the bubbles.

Again, photo taken by the fabulous Anastasia Chomlack

in faith and fancy

Melancholy. That’s how I began December. With melancholy and a whisper of Anne from Anne of Green Gables. With sighs and many words for introspection and flair for drama. I’ve been going for walks along the river and melancholia settles on my shoulders like the morning mist over the water…I’m not kidding. It’s enough to make you shiver or gag, right?  I’ve lost my ability, a honed skill really, to shop. The other day I picked up a pair of ridiculously cute shoes on sale (half price!) and my eyes glazed over as they dangled in front of me. I dropped the shoes in defeat, shuffled out of the store and mumbled a goodbye to the earnest salesgirl. I let down both of us that day. This could be a sign of the end of days, or I’m in trouble and I need to snap out of it.

Consumed. I’ve been consumed this past year with writing, revising, and making this book happen. Truthfully, I’m still consumed. Now I’m just consumed with waiting and insecurity. I’ve sent out material and I’m at the mercy of others. When asked about the book, I want to tell people there is progress, there is news! There has been some progress, a trickle of potential, but I’m still waiting. I should feel satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment at the writing of it all, the work of it all. But all I feel is what now, what’s next? While people start their new year off with fireworks and resolutions I start mine with emptiness, with need. (I told you I’m melancholy.)

I’m empty and rather than look at it as depressing I can look at this gaping hole as beginning anew. I get to build. I get to add. I get to fulfill need.

New year, new goals. I can’t bring myself to resolutions, but I thought I could pick a word for this year. Something to live up to or live by. A star to beckon me. While I like plans I don’t like to be too restricted or contained. And a plan for the entire year is too lofty and unattainable for me. I like options and I like to change my mind. So, a word.

Last year hinted at redemption. Maybe it will continue. Scott and I selling our house so fast and moving into something new, dredging up the past to write a memoir…maybe there will be more deliverance.  It could be a year for waiting. I want something more, though. I need a word with substance and traction. Something I can sink into.

Belief. Meaning: acceptance, assurance, conclusion, confidence, faith, and fancy. I’m a little in love with all of those words.

I’m going to believe in good. In good news. In the dream I had a few nights ago where I held my book in my hands. In not submitting to the inevitable – to the worst case scenario – to the pessimist. Belief in more for my family and me, in plans and dreams working out after all.

Swept up

This is my eight year old daughter, Annie. This is how I want my heart to be.

Photo taken by my friend, the lovely and gifted Anastasia Chomlack

my christmas past

Tinsel, wreaths, and garlands with red berries began to appear on doorways and walls. Themed trees representing the wards of the hospital decorated the lobbies and cafeteria. Little red fire trucks hung from the burns and plastics tree. There was a spring to people’s steps. Happy complaints of how there was never enough time were heard in the hallways. Christmas was near and people were excited.

I had been in the burn unit for nearly seven months and I hadn’t been home yet. I hadn’t been stable enough. There was talk of sending me home, back to Abbotsford, for Christmas.

Christmas Eve morning arrived and snow had fallen hard in the Lower Mainland. We can have entire winters where we might just get a dusting of snow before the rain washes it away. Snow tends to stay on the mountains where it belongs. But every other winter or so snow covers the mainland and we’ve never been very equipped for snow. We understand rain coming down so hard our windshield wipers can’t keep up, but snow dumbfounds us.

Morphine was measured and poured, a bed ordered for the basement of my parents’ home, where I’d be sleeping. Everything was being looked after in preparation for my return home, but somebody still needed to drive me there, now that a snowstorm had hit. The drive from Vancouver to Abbotsford was about an hour long.

Calls were made. Who could help? The staff had gone through so much to get me home. They were going to call until someone said yes.

A firefighter named Peter Hansen stepped up and promised to take me.

My memory of the journey was jerky, snapshots I could barely hang onto.

Many hands sliding me into the cab of the truck where somebody had the foresight to make me a bed.

Goodbyes and wishes of a Merry Christmas shouted.

Blankets pulled up to my chin. My heart racing with hope and impatience.

White swollen sky rolled by me as I lay in my makeshift bed. Snowflakes landed on the window, a blanket of stars.

I was going home.

Read about more of my story here.

Swept up

Remember radio? I’m going to be on it tomorrow! For the Angel Campaign at VGH. Listen for it on Thursday. I’ll be on at 7:40am on CBC Radio with Rick Cluff and share a little of my Christmas story past as written here and talk about the amazing VGH Burn Unit.

Finding Inspiration: One Woman’s Journey from the Mountains to her Husband’s Bedside

I am honored to have Kim Kircher here today. She is an incredible woman with an incredible story – one you have to know. Read this. Tell your friends. And then get her book. You’ll be inspired, I promise.

Our Cocoon

Most of the time we don’t need inspiring stories. We might hear about a car crash victim that survived or a cancer patient that beat the odds, and think to ourselves, “that’s nice.” But we don’t let ourselves go there. It’s easier to stay inside our cocoon of safety, pretending like nothing bad will ever happen to us.

But that’s not how it works.

When I first met my husband, I thought my life was finally getting better. Here was a man who loved the outdoors as much as I did, a man with lofty aspirations and a sense of adventure that rivaled my own. I work as a ski patroller at Crystal Mountain in the winter. It isn’t a high-paying job, but the view from my “office” is amazing. The year I met John, I was living in the back of my pickup truck, transitioning from my summer job leading kids in the backcountry to my winter work in the mountains. John is the owner and General Manager at Crystal, and when we started dating I couldn’t believe my luck.

No Longer a Fairy Tale

A few months before our first wedding anniversary, things changed. John had a rare liver disease and needed a liver transplant. Worse, he’d developed cancer in his bile ducts from the years of inflammation. The doctors could do chemo and radiation, but if the cancer spread outside the bile ducts, the transplant was off and he would die. It didn’t seem fair. John had kids and a new wife; I’d found the man of my dreams and was ready for the Happily Ever After part. I was quickly reminded this was real life, not a fairy tale.

Finding Strength

I found inspiration on the slopes. I had been through tough times before; I could get through this. As a ski patroller and EMT I use explosives to start avalanches and my first aid skills to save lives. I’ve been on scene of tragedies; I’ve narrowly escaped death myself. The trick was to break time down into smaller increments. I learned to get through the ordeal just fifteen minutes at a time.

When John was first diagnosed, and in tremendous pain in the hospital, he was put on a patient administered pain management system, in which he could push a button that delivered medication every fifteen minutes. At times, John claimed, it felt like an elephant was standing on his abdomen, the pain was so intense. During those moments, I helped him get through the next fifteen minutes until he could push the button again.

Once out of the hospital, when we returned to the ski area while he waited for a liver, I returned to my job, finding inspiration in the details. By not looking too far ahead, focusing instead on the task at hand, John and I endured a harrowing year of pancreatitis, a battle with a deadly infection, cancer treatment, and the long wait for a liver transplant.

The Next 15 Minutes

Now I find inspiration everywhere. Every one of us faces hardship; the trick is to learn from it and build your strength for the next battle. In my book, The Next 15 Minutes, I extract strength from the mountains and get through the ordeal by breaking it down into smaller increments.

I met Heidi at a writer’s conference this summer, and I was immediately intrigued by her story. Once you’ve felt death’s cold knock on the door, you are forever changed, and I could see Heidi and I had that in common.

In my case, I stood aside as my husband battled for his life while I searched for inspiration to get us through it. I wish I had met Heidi then; her courage and strength would have come in handy.

Thank you Heidi for having me here today. I’m honored.

In Kim Kircher’s memoir, The Next 15 Minutes: Strength from the top of the Mountain (Behler) her job as a ski patroller teaches her to slow down and deal with her husband’s in smaller increments. She has logged over 600 hours of explosives control, earning not only her avalanche blaster’s card, but also a heli-blaster endorsement, allowing her to fly over the slopes in a helicopter and drop bombs from the open cockpit, while uttering the fabulously thrilling words “bombs away” into the mic.  Her articles have appeared in Women’s Adventure, The Ski Journal and Ski Washington Magazine.  You can find out more about Kim at www.kimkircher.com. Her memoir is available everywhere.