Everything changed after bacterial meningitis.
You know the things you learn in Grade 5 that you can't live without? Food, shelter, all of that? I learned that I need my bicycle and I need to ride for miles every day. I need yoga and meditation. I need to walk. I need time every day to reflect.
When you're on television and then suddenly you're not, people very quickly forget about you. They stop coming up to you in the grocery store. It happens very fast. Faster than you'd think.
What I missed about going to work every day was telling stories. I have a need to tell stories.
Intention is important. You make choices every day.
My father always said he was raised 'without a father'. My father was raised by a single mother, but he never described it that way, and for the longest time we never thought of it that way. He framed it as being raised without a father.
Spend some time in Sardinia and Corsica and you realize they have life figured out. It's the community. People are close. They walk everywhere. They swim in the ocean all the time. They have siestas. They spend all their time outside. Their skin gets leathered but no one thinks twice about it. Plus, all the wine and tomatoes.
I love being places where you don't speak the language and you just get by. You can just be in a place and experience it in a really genuine way.
My earliest memory of my mother is that she was always working even though she was always home. There was so much cooking, dishes, laundry. I remember the double clothesline, and the smell of laundry, even in the winter. The clothes would come in and they would be frozen. My mother thought the dryer was the most useless appliance in the world. That and the dishwasher. When you're cooking three meals a day for nine kids, it's faster to do them by hand.
The smell of bread, my mother deep in flour and kneading, always kneading in the baby's bathtub. She would make 10 loaves to last the whole week in one day. Dishes three times a day. Constant cooking. She was always so calm.
I came from a family of nine kids. So most of my earliest memories are of my siblings.
Nothing was a problem for my mother.
My father taught us how to ride a bike, how to get outside, how to sail. He was just giving my mother a break when he took us out, but we didn't know that's what he was doing.
My mother has Alzheimer's. She teaches me something every day. There's a grace to Alzheimer's. It puts the person who has it in the moment and it forces the person with them to be in the moment. It's awful but in a way it's freeing. About being able to just have the conversation that needs to be had at that time, even if it doesn't make any sense to you. The best thing you can do for someone with Alzheimer's is to stop asking them so many questions and just let them be. And music. Any time we play my mother Cape Breton music she is transported.
It's funny that I don't frame it as the day I almost died. I call it the day of bacterial meningitis. I felt like something was protecting me, making decisions for me. [Old] Colleen would have rummaged through the medicine cabinet, found a Gravol, and gone to sleep. That would have been fatal. Something else – a protector – was looking over me that day.
I'm working to be more in tune with my intuition.
I decided to approach having bacterial meningitis almost like a curling game. In the same way, it was out of my control. You stay in the moment.
I miss competing at the highest level. I tried seniors curling last year. I decided I was just going to have fun with it, but I found I couldn't do that. I'd be trying to enjoy it and not care whether I made a shot or not or whether we won or lost, but inside I'd be ripping my hair out. I have a need to take it seriously. This year I'm doing it again, but I've prepared and practiced, and I'm really doing it.
There were times when I felt like my drive and passion was a curse. But I realize it's the greatest gift.
Sometimes watching my kids play their sports [Zach, hockey and Luke, tennis] was gut-wrenching. I never put pressure on them to win. I told them they were good, and that other kids were good too. Sometimes they'd win and sometimes they'd lose, and both those things were okay. It sunk in.
Hockey is a team sport. You win and lose as a team. Tennis is a cruel game. You're alone out there.
We solved our own problems. We figured things out. Now, with helicopter parents, kids don't get a chance to figure things out for themselves. I tried to raise my kids the way I was raised, but it's different when there's only two compared to nine.
Passing wisdom down to my kids was so important and they absorbed it and now they give it back to me.
When Zach was in Grade 9 he made a list of inspirational quotes and a CD of motivational songs for a Christmas gift and I still have it. [Reads part of the list.] It goes on forever. I almost want to cry. I don't read this often enough. He actually did it on a typewriter. Can you imagine? A typewriter!
He used to end every conversation by saying: Victory belongs to the most persevering. We did that for the longest time.
Born to Run and Thunder Road are good anthems for curling and for life.
– As told to Shawna Richer