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    Humans of our HOME — my home apparel

    The loss of my Dad: the gift in the grief

    The loss of my Dad: the gift in the grief

    On February 22, it was my Dad's birthday. He would have been 71 years old. When he was in the last month of his life, he had a vision board in his hospital room with his goals on it. On his board he had written that he wanted to make it to his 65th birthday. Sadly, he passed away just 4 days before. My Dad had ALS, and we knew he was going to pass away, but his passing was still very traumatic for us all. He fought until his very last breath, as he was not ready to say good-bye, and we were not ready to let go either.

    I read recently that once people pass away we always speak about them in the best way: "They were incredible and amazing." It's as if we say anything negative, we are dishonouring them. I think about this often, because I did the same for my Dad. The truth was, my Dad was not always easy to live with. He had a troubling past and it came out in his temper and in his drinking. We had a very strained relationship, and at times, we would go months without speaking. My relationship with my Dad was always a major point of pain for me, and something I battled with for almost 15 years. 

    In 2009 I was living in Calgary, and I decided I was going to start writing to my Dad. We became pen pals, as it was easier for me to communicate with him this way. We wrote what was going on in our lives, but we also shared our feelings and the mutual pain we felt towards each other. It was during this time that I forgave him for the incredible amount of hurt that I had felt over the years. The anger and pain did not just disappear, but it was the beginning of us building a new relationship.

    In 2010, my Dad was told he had ALS. He explained to all of us what it entailed, but he also told us he could still live a long life. We researched and knew what was coming, but we were hopeful; especially because he still looked great. As he began to lose the ability to use his left arm, we were faced with the reality that he did in fact have ALS and that this was only going to get worse. Shortly after that, my husband, new baby, and I packed everything up and moved back to Nova Scotia.

    My Dad and Manny, my oldest son, in 2010

    Once we moved back home, we spent all the time we could with him. We had family meals, and weekend adventures. He played with his new grandson, and helped us in our new house on reno projects. Life seemed relatively normal, but his terminal disease loomed over us.

    As he completely lost use of his left arm, and then his right arm, I began to help him more in his daily tasks. I had my second son by this time, and so we spent almost everyday with my Dad. I would go to his house, help him with anything he needed and just visit. He was trying to make peace with his diagnosis and what came after he left this world, and we had many chats about this. 

    My Mom and Dad with our second son, Jonah in 2012

    My Dad was an incredible cook, and he had many recipes that I wanted to learn, so we began a legacy cooking project. My Dad couldn't use his arms anymore by this time, and wasn't walking well, so he would lay down in his bed and teach me how to bake bread or make his classic recipes. We called it Legacy Cooking. I still hold those recipes close to my heart, and for the first year after he passed away, I would bake bread constantly because it made me feel close to him.

    Dad and I legacy cooking his famous carrot cake

    During the last couple of years before he passed away, we became extremely close. We spent a lot of time talking about the past, about the future, and we shared our feelings. It was a healing time for both of us, and during his last few months I had never felt closer. 

    The last photo I had taken with my Dad, a few hours before he passed

    After my Dad had passed away, it took me several years to process his disease and his passing. I missed him dearly and wished we could have cooked together one last time, or asked him for his wise advice. Although I would have done anything for him to be back, in many ways I was thankful for the time we had been given. The couple of years we had together was such a gift. 

    Our last family Christmas together, in our family jammies, 2012

    I am not sure I would have moved home or spent so much time with him, if I didn't know he was dying. It's sad in many ways that that is the case, but it's true. ALS made me slow down and take the time to heal the wounds and just spend time with my Dad. It made me share parts of myself I never had, and tell him I love him several times a day. I have thought many, many times that his disease was a blessing and a curse. His terrible disease took him from me, but it also brought him home to me.

    My Dad, 2012

    Happy Birthday, Dad. I miss you and I love you. I hope you are spending your birthday dancing away.

    -Miriah

     

     

    New Family Discoveries

    New Family Discoveries

    When I was 8, my Dad pulled my siblings and I together and told us we had a half sister who was 14 and she was coming to live with us. As a young child, this was a shock, but also exciting. However, being so young, I didn't truly understand the story behind it all, and it took quite a bit of time for our family of 5 to process the fact that we were having a new family member move in. It was the beginning of my father sharing more about his past; which was both interesting and difficult. 

    My Dad was American and was born in 1948 into a military, Catholic family. He spent most of his life living in Charleston, South Carolina. When the Vietnam War began drafting soldiers, it was believed in his family that you went to war and fought for your country. My flat footed father was taught to walk with an arch, and then he enlisted. He was just over 18 years old and was shipped off with many soldiers to San Fransisco to await transport to Vietnam. It was during this time that my Father discovered another belief system: maybe war wasn't the answer. The anti-Vietnam protest movement resonated with him, and he joined in with the others at Berkley. 

    My Dad, 18 years old

    He rebelled from the War, which labelled him a Draft Dodger. This resulted in jail, where my Father continued to protest through words, and through a hunger strike. Towards the end of his hunger strike, he was admitted to a local hospital, where he connected with a priest from a local church. It was through their relationship and an underground movement that my Dad was brought to the Canadian border with a group others and fled into Canada.

    Yes, my Dad has quite the story...

    All of this was shared with us, once we learned about our half sister, Kyla. My Dad met Kyla's mom a couple of years after he came to Canada. They never married, but they did live together and they had Kyla, but separated before she was even born. My Dad didn't really have a relationship with Kyla's mom, until Kyla reached out and wanted to reconnect. Kyla came to Nova Scotia and lived with us for around 6 months, but she had her own Mom and family in BC and decided to return home.


    My Dad, age 26

    Around 3 weeks ago, I received a message from a stranger on FaceBook, who had a photo of my Dad, knew quite a bit about his draft dodging past, and stated that we were siblings. She told me that my Dad and her Mom had a short relationship shortly after he came to Canada and in 1970 she was born (he would have been 22 at the time). This was an incredible shock! Erzhi, my new half sister had finally done DNA testing and through Ancestry.Com had found my sister and I, and was looking to find my Dad. 

    We are all still trying to process this information, and make sense of it all, but it's has been pretty incredible. It inspired Kyla and I to reconnect after 25 years of not seeing each other, and not speaking much. We have plans to meet up with Erzhi in person in the near future, which will be pretty amazing. 


    Kyla and I, January 2019

    I am still trying to understand all of this, and wish so badly I could talk to my Dad about it all. I know family can be messy, complicated, and troubling; but it is also so beautiful. I have experienced so much loss in my life, but now I have two half siblings reaching out a hand, and I am ready to grab ahold and hold on tight.

    My Dad and I, 2009

    You never know how much your life with change one day, and that is all part of the journey and makes each of our stories so unique.

    I am looking forward to this new chapter, and this new definition of my word "home", with two reconnected half siblings.

    Much love,

    Miriah

    Holiday Traditions at my HOME.

    Holiday Traditions at my HOME.

    Christmas for me is always bitter sweet. I do always find this time of year tough, because I miss my brother dearly, and he passed away only a month before Christmas. He always made the best homemade gifts, and I miss them so much. My Dad also passed away in the winter, and he LOVED Christmas. He loved the holiday lights, the music, the food, and he went shopping crazy. He embodied the Christmas spirit, and as a result, the holiday was always big in our home. There was only the five us around, as our family all lived far away, so Christmas was the time we were together. For the past few weeks I have thought about my Dad a million times, as I know how much he loved this holiday and how much he would love seeing the kids on Christmas morning. Through all the ups and downs of life, our own Christmas traditions have kept us all going through this tough time of year, and it's these traditions that I look forward to every year.

    My brother and Dad, 2003

    The main tradition that embodies Christmas for my family is our family jammies. Each year, my Mom chooses a fabric and sews us all matching pjs. She has been doing this over 20 years! We all get to open them on Christmas Eve and then stay in them until Boxing Day. We all can't wait to open them every year, and we could give up every present, but never the jammies. Mom now makes them for our partners, the grandchildren and even bandanas for the family pets. It really is the focus of our Christmas.

     Family Christmas 2014

    My sister lives in the States, and we all FaceTime and open them together, as the big reveal is one of the main parts. This year my Mom will be with us on Christmas and having her there to open them, does always make it extra special. My Dad's last Christmas, when he was in the hospital, my Mom still made sure we all had them. 


    Christmas 2013

    When Lucas passed away, Mom shared that making the family jammies might be too difficult, and we understood, but we were all heart broken inside. No jammies? would it even be Christmas? It was like facing another loss, and a grief set in. What would we do without the family pyjamas? She knew in her own heart, that we needed those pjs to get through the holidays. We needed to feel like a family when everything else had shattered. So, she made it all happen and on Christmas Eve, we all opened our pjs, and things felt "ok" for even the briefest moment.

    Although she spends weeks preparing and sewing, and we all LOVE the jammies, the family pjs, are so much more than flannel. They are comfort, tradition, and family. They are created with love, and have become the soul of Christmas for us. As life has changed, and Christmas looks different now, what has remained constant and beautiful, is the family jammie tradition.


    Christmas 2017

    She has expressed over the years, "maybe this will be the last year," but we all know in our heart of hearts, it's not. It just wouldn't Christmas without them, and our children can't wait for them too. This beautiful tradition of family jammies has become the glue through everything, and every time I put them on, I feel like everything is going to be alright.

    I love hearing about your own traditions! Comment below and share.

    Merry Christmas, everyone!

    -Miriah

    Why Homelessness?: My Story

    Why Homelessness?: My Story

    I often get asked, why I feel so passionate about ending homelessness. I always answer that I am passionate about this fixable problem, but have never publicly shared where it all started. I attend national conferences on ending homelessness, follow podcasts, listen to experts, and support the homeless anyway I can in my community, but I have never shared my deep down, true, "why." Today, I am here to share my story.

    CAEH conference- hamilton

    National Conference on Ending Homelessness, Hamilton 2018

    People ask if I have ever experienced homelessness, and the answer is, no. I have been very blessed to always have had a warm place to put my head that I can call my own. I have been surrounded by loving family and friends, and there has never been a point in my life that I haven't felt safe or unsure where I would rest my head that night. However, I have watched first hand how homelessness can quickly become a reality.

    This story begins on October 7, 1985, when the most beautiful baby boy was born. In a home with 2 daughters, this blue eyed, baby boy was a happy surprise. My gorgeous brother, Lucas Harrison Austin was the missing piece to complete our family, and now, as my Dad wrote in a poem, "we numbered five."

    Lucas Austin

    Lucas, age 1.

     Lucas was born with very serious health conditions, but he fought through it,  and survived life threatening surgeries before the age of 1. He was a fighter, and a tough little cookie, but life dealt him a tough hand from the moment he was born. As a family we were forced to ask: "why? why him?" but he made it through and continued to grow healthy,  go to school, graduate high school, have deep friendships, experience love, and travel the world. 

    Lucas age 25, India.

    On the outside, Lucas had it all. He had incredible friends, was extremely smart, a deep critical thinker, well travelled, exceptional at any chosen hobby, and very handsome. He was kind and charismatic. He walked into a room and everyone turned. He was deeply sensitive and his language was love. He was on the Dean's list at Dalhousie Architecture school, and he was on his way to becoming an architect! Lucas was the "whole package". He was a good brother, a loving son, and a passionate uncle. 

    Lucas, age 28

    Lucas' interior, sadly, did not match his exterior. Although never diagnosed, we believe Lucas was depressed, anxious, and suffered deeply from mental illness. He showed symptoms of poor mental well-being through his adult life, but it was so difficult to identify clearly because of his charming personality, deep intelligence and engaged social life. But, I knew something wasn't right, and pushed too hard at times for answers. 

    I believe Lucas always had poor coping strategies, and maybe this came from a mixture of being the baby boy who almost died at birth, and was overly protected. Maybe is was part of his own personality at birth; maybe the bullying he received as a child left deep scars. Maybe the death of our father in 2013 was more painful than he led us to believe. Maybe, it was a combination of everything. But, Lucas had a deep hole inside and started to fill that sadness with drugs. First it was pretty harmless drugs, then party drugs, and then they became highly addictive drugs.

     
    Lucas, age 28, one of the last photos of him

    Within 8 months of Lucas using drugs to numb his pain, he had lost everything. He was kicked out of his apartment, his friends no longer trusted him, he was asked to leave architecture school, and his family was frustrated and exhausted. We were spending our weeks answering desperate calls from friends and from Lucas who was spinning out of control. We were in out of hospitals, calling help lines, and pleading for help from anyone who could give it. We were calling the police begging them to arrest him just to get him to stop using. We called doctors trying to get him committed to the mental health ward. We were breaking down doors and fighting drugs out of his hands. 

    The saddest part was, we knew Lucas didn't want to use drugs. He wanted the life he dreamt for himself. We knew he was trying to get clean, but the addiction held too deep of a grip. At one point, he even checked himself into the mental heath hospital and spent 2 weeks there. However, his anxiety grew out of control, and he felt so unloved inside, that he felt he had no other choice other than to numb his pain.

    One night in a parking lot after he relapsed, and I was so angry, he told me that he knew what we was doing. He knew he could die. He knew he was hurting us. He just couldn't handle the deep, dark pain, and he needed to black out so he didn't feel it anymore. There in that car that night, I saw my infant brother once again, fighting an unfair fight, but this time he was losing the battle. My Mom, sister, his girlfriend, and I collectively tried to fight for him with every fibre in our bodies, but we just couldn't win. 

    This is the last photo I had taken with Lucas, 2 months before he passed away.

    On November 15, 2014, after being missing for 2 days, I received the worst phone call of my life. I was driving to an event, and my husband asked me to come home. But I could tell by the quiver in his voice, that it was the phone called I feared I would receive, but never actually believed I would... he had relapsed one last fatal time. I turned around, made it to my Mom's and looked at the woman who had just lost her son to an unfair battle. We picked up my sister a day later from the airport and saw a sadness that I knew mirrored my own. A loss so profound had struck our family and not one of us knew how we would continue. What would life look like without the blue eyed boy who challenged our own world views? Who would make the thoughtful, creative gifts every year at Christmas? Who would smile at us and melt our hearts? 

    The family that numbered 5, now numbered 3. The Austin family: 2012

    My sister, mom and I are all mothers and we needed to pick up the pieces and navigate through the grief. We all decided we weren't going to lose our own battle and we were going to fight. We had to make a different choice, and that choice needed to be living a fulfilled life. For the past 4 years, we have all been balancing joy and tremendous grief at the same time. Deep sadness knocks us down when we least expect it and punches us where it hurts the most. Some days are almost unbearable, and debilitating. But other days are happy, amazing, and beautiful. These happy days exist because we were so lucky to have Lucas in our lives for 29 incredible years. 

    Lucas never lived on the street, because my Mother took him in, one last time. But, I witnessed for the first time, how someone so quickly can lose everything and become homeless. I realized that everyone has a story and is fighting an invisible battle we know nothing about. I discovered that there was so much pain in this world, and it is our job to spread love and help those hurting. I decided in my grief to follow the lesson Lucas was always teaching us, to "lead with our hearts." 

    In 2015, I started My Home Apparel, a business built on sharing stories, helping those who need it most, and spreading kindness.  After experiencing everything Lucas went through, I began looking at people on the streets, experiencing homeless very different. I discovered they too have a story, that needs to be heard and a kind hand extended to them.

    I feel I found my purpose, which is to be an entrepreneur that is dedicated to making an impact.  Lucas showed me that life is so precious, that we can't waste a second, to live this life with compassion, and let our hearts be our compass. Lucas gave me these tremendous gifts.

    I know Lucas would be proud of my Mom, sister and I for living out our happiness and chasing joy. I know he is with me everyday and cheering me on when things get tough. I know he is encouraging me to share my story, and help share the stories of those who can't. I know he is reaching out, and making this world a better place by sending messages of love and kindness. I know he is telling us all to hug our friends and family, and embrace strangers. He is continuing to lead us through this amazing journey, as only Lucas could. 

    May you all lead with your heart,

    Miriah
    CEO/Founder
    My Home Apparel

    This blog post is written in memory of Lucas Harrison Austin.