Human consciousness. It is our gift and our curse. It is as mercurial as the mood of whomever created it in the first place. Our chosen god/goddess/genius/magician. I envision them sitting in a stratosphere barcalounger deciding which of their wardrobe to luxuriate in and which to purposefully toss onto the hallway of our earthly existence. We try to catch what is thrown onto our heads, messing up our hair, blinding us temporarily, the clean and the dirty. We spend our lives endeavouring, trying on the haute couture of pride and ego, the silk of love, the debonaire tuxedo of triumph, the red cape of rage. We stitch up the parts that tear us apart. Some of us iron and fold neatly into our thoughts while for others, one thread may get caught on a passing doorway, tearing all that was True into a loose pile of False. Fraying slow and steady, top to bottom and at worst, left naked and confused not knowing how they came undone. To perceive and feel, to not perceive and feel, upside down and backwards. It is both a heaven and a hell and only ours to be understood. We all do our best, pulling our arms from the woolly sleeves of convention, tearing the buttons off our shirts all to relieve the itch of soulful connectivity. We dust each other off. We spit out the cotton from our mouths and thank one another. We are each others saviours and loves. In devotion and in love, we mend and repair.
(I took 900 photos of Ginny in two minutes and drove her nuts), below photos from Ginny with permission.
People say to me, “Ginny, how do you do it?” And I think, “I’m not that special. I do it because I have to.”
GINNY DENNEHY passed me on her balcony overlooking the sprawling greens of Nicklaus North Golf Course, the back yard of her home in Whistler. Her shadow blocked the first of spring sun, the kind that teases every Whistlerite into shorts and then sends leftovers belches of alpine wind and spring flu. She threw a book on my lap that creaked with a stiff spine and new-book-smell.
“The books just arrived last week!” She chirped and then turned on her heels back through the porch to instruct a visiting electrician where to go next, answer a phone that had just rung twenty times and turn on the stove to make us some tea. One of the things I quickly learned about Ginny: Ginny is busy and busy is Ginny.
Choosing Hope looked up at me from my lap. Colorful letters superimposed on a 1980’s vintage shot of her two children’s faces laughing around the C and E, kinda like the glimpses you might catch mid swing-set session. It lets the reader know her children once laughed together too. A lot. Like all children do. And don’t you ever forget it.
The laughter stopped for Ginny. Not once but twice…and for a long time. Like any mother who has lost not one, but both children a few years apart. It is a pain that words can’t possibly type their way around. But Ginny, like Ginny does, decided she had a story to tell. And she did. Choosing Hope is not only what she encourages from all readers but in the legacy of her two children, Ginny and her husband Choose Hope every morning they wake up. One foot in front of the other, some days full sprint and if we were to add it all up, a quantum leap. She, my friends, is fuckin’ hero if I ever met one.
Twelve years ago her and her husband Kerry lost their son Kelty at the age of 17. In her book she talks about Kelty as a typical boy teasing girls, ambitious, into hockey, rap and breakdancing. The first red flag occurred during a cruise where he exhibited sudden anxiety and told his parents he wanted to throw himself off the ship. They spent time talking with him and calming him down, where he later described to his father the first clutches of his depression, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. This thing just grabbed me.” He continued on after this trip, undulating between a typical teenager and then in sudden tears, overwhelmed in a deluge of confusion despite the love that surrounded him. He committed suicide in their home, purposefully perching a picture of his family within his eye view. It was in the hospital room, after losing him, that Ginny and Kerry decided a foundation needed to be set up in honour of their son’s arduous journey – not letting his death mark his end. Ginny described to me that they of course didn’t know which way was up in that moment or in the immediate weeks following but decided to hand out Kelty’s suicide note to everyone who attended his service, as an act of honour and education. Ginny described that although it was very personal, it was their way of being open about the insidious disease of depression which is so often swept under the carpet and stigmatized by society. She shares it in her book and in homage to helping others, so I thought I’d share it here too:
“Don’t worry; I will be watching you from the heavens above. Heaven is a better place than earth. I love you Mom, Dad, Rye and family and friends. No research will understand the depression. The depression was in my mind. Peace and love you all. God Bless. Kelty.”
So. Ginny and Kerry did it. They started the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation for Mental Illness and Suicide Prevention.
She figured even if they only raised $10,000 they would help someone. Well, that $10,000 has turned itself into almost five million and counting twelve years later, allotting money towards B.C Children’s Hospital, depression research, a resource centre and to be completed in the fall of 2013 – Lion’s Gate Hospital Kelty Dennehy Resource Centre.
“Above all, be at ease, be as natural and spacious as possible. Slip quietly out of the noose of your habitual anxious self, release all grasping, and relax into your true nature. Think of your ordinary emotional, thought ridden-self as a block of ice or slab of butter left out in the sun. If you are feeling hard and cold, let this aggression melt away in the sunlight of your meditation. Let peace work on you and enable you to gather your scattered mind into the mindfulness of Calm Abiding, and awaken in you the awareness and insight of Clear Seeing. And you will find all your negativity disarmed, your aggression dissolved, and your confusion evaporating slowly like mist into the vast and stainless sky of your absolute nature”. – Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying.
I sat in a coffee shop after meeting Ginny on a rainy summer day in Whistler. Page 85 of Choosing Hope looked up at me, the title “Riley” quietly clearing her throat waiting to be read. Plain and simple. It was like knowing the tale of the Titanic, watching the movie and then childishly hoping for a new ending to be written. I sighed in a way that made the person next to me shift and look up. Although I didn’t know her very well, I have two older sisters and felt how her world must have tipped upside down.
In 2009, I found out that she had died in an email when I was housesitting/teaching for a month at my friends home in Portugal. I sat alone in the house that October night, three cats and Pomeranian stared back at me. I figured I should let someone know in North America that I had arrived. I checked my email and had received one from Kristin, fellow friend and teacher of Riley. The wind picked up and one of the cats knocked over my glass of water. It was as if the elements around me knew what I was about to read. I opened it, held my breath and looked away as we humans have a tendency of doing when horrible things happen. Riley’s heart couldn’t handle medication she was given for her shoulder that had separated twice while traveling in Thailand. She died in her hotel room due to a heart attack. I gasped again and swore at the Pomeranian that licked my ankle. One of the lawn chairs blew over. I swear I could hear tiny pieces of hearts break over the Atlantic. The dark reeds of grass and olive tree branches cracked in the wind. They tried their best to catch them.
A mother and father just lost both their children. I recall thinking. I also recall rattling off a whole lotta expletives, hoping somehow my cursing was kicking whoever was listening in the gut that night. Whatever God there is, straight in the gut. How dare he.
Riley. I didn’t know her very well, other than that sweet quiet blonde in the far right corner of most yoga classes. She was a part of a yoga training conducted later in the spring of 2009, studying under the wing of my fellow friend and co-teacher Kristin Campbell. I was invited to their graduation party, ironically on the same breezy balcony at Ginny’s house. I didn’t know Ginny at the time, in fact, I didn’t even chat with her that night. I recall watching Riley sit on the couch quietly amongst the high pitch laughter and raucous of everyone else. I asked her what she was looking at and she explained to me that the window she was staring at perfectly framed the mountains and how it sometimes made her feel like she was on a boat. Except the way she explained it was way more confusing. I laughed then she laughed. It was a quirky exchange because I think she was either a) drunk from a shared bottle of wine that has most dehydrated students one-glass looped or b) had post-training exhaustion that commonly shows up a week after doing a month-straight of yoga in the form of slurred sentences and a profound desire to stare for long periods of time. I couldn’t tell. Either way it made me like her even more.
A few weeks later Riley asked if she could chat with me about my experiences in Thailand. She was heading there for more training and knew I studied there with my first teacher. We chatted at the studio on the small awkward bench in the lobby. Our small studio teaches up to forty bodies but only has enough room to seat four. She seemed to be in love with yoga. Welcome to the club. I tried to convince her to do training with my first teacher Paul but she seemed set on her choice.
“We are flippin’ busy.”
Ginny uses the word flippin a lot.
She was flippin busy as her and Kerry were training for a cross-Canada bike tour that began mid May. It’s called Enough is Enough. Damn straight it is. They thought they might step away from the foundation after Riley passed but with time and space, realized how much more important their work has become. And it’s work. Full-time. They have a team. PR people. A committee. A board. There’s a village behind Ginny and Kerry’s full-steam ahead mission. Community rallies are happening in some of the towns they are cycling through. They have a team in a RV trailing behind them. They have sponsors. They have media. Seriously full time work.
“I wrote the book in legacy of our children. I want to remind people that there is hope. No matter how low you think you are, there is help and if you can just stay positive, there is a way out.”
During one of my evening hang-outs once with Ginny, I was feeling messed up about something in my own life as we all do from time to time. After hugging her goodbye, I literally got in my car, turned on the ignition and said to myself, “If Ginny can do it, so can I.”
I hope Ginny knows that we know her and Kerry’s work to be a bitter sweet one.
How it isn’t a role that anyone would ever wish for.
I hope she knows that we know that no matter how big the mountain of thank you’s and lives they have helped save, no matter how much money they raise, it won’t bring their children back.
We all know this.
And none of us really know what to say.
Except Thank You.
If you or anyone you love is suffering from depression or need help, check out what Ginny and Kerry have created: