Category Archives: Debra Dolan

April 20 – Perfectly Imperfect

by Debra Dolan

For 18 years I have been in a relationship with Mike. Our anniversary is marked by spring and a natural renewal of what is possible after a long dark winter. In 2002, we were both wandering in the same west coast city and at the same expansive workplace, mending broken hearts. That April we came together as friends, sharing stories and emotions, over long walks and bottles of wine. We were both patient and kind, vowing to always be supportive. Ours was a slow blossoming romance yet, I am pleased to write, the fires continue to burn. There is no one that I would rather isolate myself in companionship during these precarious times of COVID-19 than my darling, Frizelli.

Although we have core compatibility, most markedly valuing leisure and solitude, we view the world related to politics, finances, art, décor and Netflix offerings mostly in singular ways. The ‘glue’ that keeps us together is love, pure and simple, as well as a shared respect not to turn the other into a female or male version of oneself. We both cringe each time we wear the same colour of socks or have matching coats. Complimentary is OK; identical is not.

During the entirety of our experience, we have maintained separate homes in different parts of our city; free to go back-and-forth. Additionally, prior to 2017, we had nothing intertwined – property, money, children – that would give us sober reflection after a terrible battle upon retreating to our distinct abodes to lick wounds. Now, there are grandchildren. While Mike was co-raising a daughter, I spent my time reading, writing, walking to my heart’s content, traveling. I did what I pleased. I knew not what I was missing; deep pure love for a child. During the past three years, Mabel, Henry, and Fletcher have often been “Pop’s” get-out-of-jail card. Other than a brief six-week period we have come together each day for the sheer joy of sharing life with one another.

We fight almost every day. This can often cause conflict among our family and friends as we face squarely our intrapersonal differences wherever we may be or with whom. Both Mike and I are fiercely independent, opinionated, self-regarding individuals, now in our sixties. We both exhibit many good character traits, too! He has never officially lived with anyone in his adulthood and I only did briefly in a short marriage in my late-twenties. We used to joke, “that we liked each other too much to get married,” and our mantra is, “we are two flawed individuals who won’t ever give up on one another.” Truer words never were spoken. So true, in fact, we even posted them on our joint 2018 holiday season greetings.

As we share space now, I recognize with gratitude that my fondest memories include Mike. It is getting harder to recognize a past without him in it. I love him more now than yesterday and I expect an even bigger love tomorrow and the day after that.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of the Story Circle Network since 2009.

July 2 – One Woman Remembering Another

by Debra Dolan

I am writing this on Canada Day delighted in knowing that my darling Michael’s mother’s remarkable life is honoured in our national newspaper.  There is a wonderful regular feature titled “Lives Lived” which “celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed”.  Margaret was a proud American-Canadian who was many things to many people.  I submitted an essay for consideration; therefore, my day, today is finding joy in remembering her loving presence in my life during the past 17 years.  

Margaret Leonebel (Chiefy) Jackson Frizell

Margaret spent her youth in the lush interior mountains of China, where her father worked. The Second World War forced her American family to return to Santa Barbara, Calif. It was here that she graduated from Mills College. Later she studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and travelled through Europe. While working as a French teacher at a children’s camp on Vancouver Island, she met Charles George (Chip) Frizell, the lodge’s dishwasher. Chip was a young, war-shattered man from the United Kingdom who had fought in the Battle of Britain and recited poetry from memory. They were a remarkable pair of beguiling individuals.

For more than 65 years they were a formidable team, building homes on Mayne Island, B.C., and in Point Roberts, Wash. They raised three sons, Michael, Paul, and Mark. Margaret was an untraditional homemaker, wife, and mother. She wore pants, smoked cigars, ignored housework and shared coffee with the mailman in broad daylight. And she created a home full of love and acceptance, providing a place for neighbourhood children to play and enjoy fresh baking. Later, it was bacon and eggs in the middle of the night for young men returning from parties drunk or stoned.

As her nickname suggests, Chiefy was indeed the boss. She never sweated the small stuff and picked her battles in a household of boys and men carefully; however, once she made a decision about what was important, she was a force to be reckoned with. Chiefy was a fierce defender of her sons, who she loved with every fibre of her being.

Chiefy had a wild and fascinating mind. She had an iron will and was connected to the strong values of her Catholic faith. In her presence, you felt special: She would tilt that head covered in cotton-candy-textured white hair and listen respectfully and intently. In the 1960s she wrote radio plays for the CBC and was a talented iconographer.

Margaret had a great fondness for cookbooks, which she read with the tenacity of novels, and amassed a large collection. Chiefy could be whimsical and silly; joyful and optimistic. She also demonstrated a tremendous fondness for martinis, butter, Hawaii and all things Parisian.

Her end was sudden. After a full day, attending mass, lunch with Michael and enjoying a drive along the beach, Chiefy suffered a stroke and died a few days later. She is buried next to Chip, who died in 2014, in the Gardens of Gethsemane.

“We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and these details are worthy to be recorded.” – Natalie Goldberg

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.


June 12 – Talking Through the Night

By Debra Dolan

A soft beautiful breeze washed over me for eleven hours this week as I was visited by a beloved niece I had not seen in eight years. It was a last-minute sojourn as she made a stopover on the west coast en route to summer employment in Japan. Instantaneous, unconditional big-big love for this precious sweet human being so full of joy, contradiction, and sorrow. Tears and extended arms of happiness as we greeted one another. Such a special night sharing life’s present-day events; first, in the local neighbourhood pub as she nourished her body and, later, in the quiet intimacy of my home as we fed our souls, surrounded by flowers, books, and candles, sleepy by the late hour.

Our journeys since 2010 have had parallels and divergence; not surprising given the nearly 40 years apart in age. Lina was conceived while I traveled in my brother’s new homeland attending the Nagano Olympics and I last saw her when the Nishibori-Dolans were in town for the Vancouver Olympics. Now she attends university in eastern Canada with the same confidence and vitality I have always observed while I, after decades of employment and intense social interaction, feel displaced and exhausted coping with a prolonged head injury.

Spending time together was an enormous gift. Sharing our personal bliss and challenges was the best restorative antidote for the myriad of topics exposing raw emotions with a thunderous force. It was unbelievably refreshing and energizing to be in the company of someone bursting into adulthood so full of exuberance for the future while struggling to shed childhood angst, uncertainty, and unhappiness. A great honour was bestowed on this dear-old-aunt when she revealed the truth of her recent experiences with openness, insight and a longing to understand.  She exhibited a strength of character, complete with integrity and forthrightness, which is rare at any age. I am immensely proud of the woman she is becoming and I am enormously grateful I was in a position to offer her refuge, comfort, and a listening presence.

It was one of those treasured spontaneous opportunities to ‘pay forward’ the kindness, solace and care that so many have gifted yours truly. I eagerly await her return visit in August.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

November 10 – Exiting Employment

by Debra Dolan

Today is an anniversary date difficult to grasp. It was two years ago that I left the office saying, “See you on Thursday”, and have yet to return.  After struggling for several weeks on a reduced schedule I was placed on immediate full medical leave. With employment as a priority, after the accident, I realized that all I had been doing was recovering from one day in the office till the next. Pretending was exhausting and only exasperated symptoms.  Now after nearly forty years of always “effortlessly, it seemed” having a job, there does not feel like one is possible to return to.

Working has never been the centre of my life yet it has always been a very important aspect of it and I have poured energy, intelligence, candor, diligence and true self into diversified positions. Employment ensured purpose, routine, socialness and financial stability.

In the beginning, at home, I would gaze at all the busy people in my neighbourhood and among my cherished friendships with envy, desiring to join in again. I imagined that all I wanted was to be back where I used to be, but something in my head recently seems to have moved on a bit, a shift has occurred, and however much I am longing to feel my purpose and power again, it doesn’t feel possible returning to who I once was.  I recognize that I have been waiting for my blessed pre-injury life to return. Now I understand it is unlikely and to move forward, not look back, in a new direction.

A few months ago, the personal contents of my desk arrived in a cardboard box; plastic spoons and all. I was shocked with how sad and demoralized I felt as I opened it alone and how literal a co-worker had undertaken the task. It had, after all, been 17 months since I was last physically present at the office. As the pitiful domesticity of my working life was placed on a beloved farmhouse table I wondered who had been designated the task. Were they stricken and sympathetic or mildly gleeful? There was no note.

Reflecting upon those raw feelings, I recognized there was never an opportunity for business goodbyes and that upset me tremendously given how much I had enjoyed my position and colleagues.  Using the sorrowful unpacking emotion as a catalyst I found a larger cardboard box and with the same efficiency packed for donation all the business clothes I no longer identified with or had not worn for two winters.  I spread them all over the bed and the floor. Skirt suits and trouser suits, coats, shoes, bags, scarves and coats, and all, I am proud to write immaculately kept. There were no descending hems or missed buttons and all items were freshly washed or dry-cleaned waiting recovery. As I placed them into their new temporary home I felt elated knowing another woman will have the same sense of independence and confidence that I had experienced wearing them.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

July 7 – Post-Injury Recovery

by Debra Dolan

Never did I imagine this recovery journey would take this long or so much from me. Post-concussion syndrome feels like an immense case of jet-lag:  where your thoughts don’t always link immediately with your words and where your mind and body feel disconnected from one another and from all around you while you struggle with exhaustion. As time goes on, with little relief, this creates much irritability. Learning how to cope is a continual process and dealing with constant head pain is a full-time job.

My rehab forces me to leave home every day and sometimes I dread the prospect of seeing someone I know and having to listen to more unsolicited advice or saying a polite, “Fine, thank you”, to the ubiquitous, “How are you?”.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy and planning to do anything in public. I return home depleted, often in tears. Although others try to be understanding, even patient, they don’t understand what is happening for me. How can I expect anyone to see it? When I look in the mirror I don’t see it either. Disabilities have usually been accepted by their visibility yet for those of us who experience an invisible one, we want you to know, “We are not crazy. We are not lazy. We are not avoiding work or social interactions. This is all we can do right now.”

I am trying to make peace with my limitations, maintain an optimistic outlook, and to understand my relationship with pain so I can stop reacting to it. Through self-inquiry and self-understanding, guided by a counselling psychologist, I am examining the unity of my body with my mind. While living with a much lower level capacity I am learning to pay attention to my personal beliefs and interactions with pain and illness so that I can function more fully.

At my core, I always knew a balanced life would serve me well and was never one to delay or to think about when I am retired, or when I have more time and money, I will do such-and-such or see this-and-that.  Make no mistake, I am absolutely saddened for the loss of what I can no longer do with friends, my love relationship, employment, and a vast array of social and intellectual interests, yet I do not sit alone with regret for what I have not done: my life is still tremendously blessed as I seek to understand its new direction.

One aspect of my pre-and post-injury life that has been consistent is my priority to write each day. The words used to come easier and the passages were longer yet I continue. A frustrating aspect is that my Internal life feels so rich with creativity and thought and the external physical reality is that it takes such effort and time to act upon it. A review of my writings, however, informs that there have been small incremental improvements to my quality of life and this gives me hope for the future.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

April 6 – Hidden Gems

by Debra Dolan

On a rainy winter afternoon, feeling particularly unenergetic and alone, I flicked the TV remote in search of company, discovering When Harry Met Sally was about to begin.   Even though I had viewed this movie gem many-many times I was about to experience valued insight.  A month previous I had received the huge collection of the writer’s work, compiled by her son Jacob after her death, The Most of Nora Ephron, as a birthday gift from Mike. He knew that Nora’s writing resonated with me; the brilliant takes on life with humor and raw emotional honesty intertwined.  Knowing that the screenplay had been included in the publication I convinced myself to read along with the actors on-screen.  After a significant amount of hunting on many shelves I found the hefty volume, opening its cover to the first page, and discovered the inscription.  It was from my lover; the man who rarely has purchased me a card in all our years together.

Suddenly, with every fibre of my being, I realized what an immature, unrealistic partner I had been for feeling utterly disappointed that he wouldn’t visit Hallmark and write sentiments of love at special occasions.  I had spent angst filled evenings with friends uttering my disbelief and sadness over this romantic condition that I had imposed onto our relationship.  “I don’t do cards on demand,” he would say.   I would sob.

That day I realized that love language comes in many forms and I had blinded myself by only accepting my contrasting desired expression.  Each partner needs to be able to comfortably share their feelings in their own authentic natural way for love not to be blocked.  Given I had always thought that there was simply nothing sexier, or more joyful, than reading with ‘your darling’ he had indeed been expressing love and friendship by honouring our shared experiences since 2002, with books.  As I moved through my apartment it was revealed each one had been intimately inscribed with a hand-written message that often was a narrative of their own.  I discovered, together sequentially, they are a love letter.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

January 23 – Joyful Misery

by Debra Dolan

spain-4After six years of dating we tested our emotional and physical strength when we embarked on an adventure in Northern Spain, walking from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela. We covered all 800 kilometres by foot, including hiking five mountain passes, carrying backpacks which held necessary items. Over 36 days the excursion would take us between six to nine hours daily dependent on the terrain, weather, the previous night’s sleep, and allowing time to explore quaint villages with magnificent churches along the way. After finding a bed for the night in one of the multitude of alberques (dormitories), and washing our clothes, we would nurse our tired and aching bodies by enjoying the fabulous Menu Del Dias. Any pilgrim on this roman road will tell you that those all-inclusive meals (bottle of wine, soup or salad, main course, desert) sustained you from one day to the next. The late afternoons and early evenings found you in the quiet solitude of your thoughts or journal writing, communicating by letter to friends back home, or in conversation with others from throughout the world. What we all shared during the siesta was utter exhaustion and sheer pain of middle-aged bodies undertaking such a journey. Lights out at 8 pm with anywhere from six to 140 people sleeping closely, dependent on the facility, where the symphony of coughing, snoring, farting, and stumbling about in the dark to find the toilets would commence.

spain-6Anyone who says the Camino is easy is either deceiving themselves or delusional. It is one tough pilgrimage and best described as “joyful misery”; each-and-every day there was something glorious (interacting with fellow travellers, the remarkable landscape, warm and gracious people, architectural splendors, tracing the steps of history) and each-and-every day there was something miserable that provided reason to give up (bed bugs, cold showers, missing route signs, blisters, heat exhaustion, inflamed tendons). Luckily Mike and I were never experiencing the challenging difficult times at the same moment so that we could support one another. We also learned very quickly to forgive one another for what was said in pain and kiss goodnight.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

August 22 – Beginnings

by Debra Dolan

Twenty nine years ago today I married. It was the beginning of a dream I thought I wanted; such a man was interested in me. For all accounts and first impressions–handsome, successful, fun, charming . . . I was swept off my feet. Never knowing what that was or meant until he smiled at me in that beer line-up–the fundraiser for Meares Island. I remember looking behind me as I could not believe it had been intended to land on my insecure lonely soul. What was that expression made famous years later?–“He had me at hello.” Well, Glen always had me with that smile.

Twenty nine years ago today I married in a beautiful garden that my young love had nurtured for many years. We had our ceremony and reception in his mothers’ back yard filled with plant material that my landscaper fiance had rescued since his youth from abandoned properties or turn-of-the-century homes about to be abolished. Apples fell from the trees, birds sang freely & naturally and bees buzzed in harmony to the harpist as we shared our vows. It was our legal formal beginning. Never had I felt more beautiful or energized. It was glorious and etched in my mind forever as clearly as if it took place this week; remaining a favorite day of my life.

Twenty nine years ago today I married. It was the beginning of disappointment, betrayal, financial ruin and emotional pain that took me years to recover from.  The heart broke wide open when the public declaration of 1987 soon became a public humiliation by 1992. As I did not rush for premature closure on reflection that time was also the catalyst for real change in my life and for that I am enormously thankful. I had lost the desire of knowing what I really wanted in this world and in my life. I discovered that a vast treasure chest was offered to me in unexpected ways that did not include being Mrs. Minaker. I continue to discover myself independent of the approval or permission of a masculine influence.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

April 27 – Mindless Retreat

by Debra Dolan

Sitting at the back of the bus reading The World Has Changed: Conversations with Alice Walker, little did I know that my mine was about to in significant ways.  I saw nothing and it all happened so quickly. Passengers informed after impact that my head hit hard against the exit barrier as the driver stopped suddenly to avert collision with a truck.

It is so difficult to explain “foggy brain” and the feeling of “not being right”. It all started so slowly; the erosion piece-by-piece of a simple and uncomplicated life filled with interesting activities and people, Saturday morning breakfasts on “the drive” with friends, volunteering as Strata Council President, walking 185 stairs from the street entrance to the office doors upon arrival, noon hour jaunts in a vibrant downtown core, participating with my writing group and book club, attending weekly Weight Watchers meetings, date nights with my darling, and a dedicated 90 minute morning practice of reading and sharing thoughts in a trusted journal.

One by one, each week, something left my life until I realized that all my personal time was spent recovering from one day in the office till the next. Evenings and weekends were spent in seclusion due to the challenges of noise, irritability, crowds and light. I struggled to hide my diminished abilities and raw emotions. Once I could no longer work I had to surrender fully to acknowledging the situation. Acceptance took much longer. Today is the day I transition from sick leave to long-term disability benefits.

As I continue to recover from post-concussion syndrome and whiplash injuries, I find myself remaining on a retreat in my own home and neighbourhood. Unlike the many I have participated in where you search for mindfulness, and think of the present in appreciation, this one finds me journeying into mindlessness where it is best to remain empty-headed so not to provoke yet another headache.

Resting the brain in order for it to restore and heal is an extremely task. I am encouraged to be in nature, meditate, take long hot baths, sit quiet in soft light while doing home-rehab program, all with the intention to gradually return cognitive, physical and social activities into routine. There is little joy as pain dominates. Concussions and their consequences are nasty business.

It is very difficult to have so much time and not the energy, focus or ability to engage in life’s many offerings. I am learning once again that life is full of messy circumstances which encourage patience and understanding from us and others. In my personal haven I complete a ritual of silence, stillness and rehabilitation aimed at reconnecting to wellness. One of the most frustrating elements of concussion recovery is how fast the days pass when you do nothing and have nothing to show for them. As the days drift you can’t help but feel adrift. I feel worn out by living with an intense tension of not knowing when my beloved life will come back.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. A member of SCN since 2009.