Carrie Cotton

Just a Girl In The World Sharing The Ups and Downs of a Messy Life

wavesWatching the waves tonight at the beach was mesmerizing.

Strong. Powerful. Forcing their way onto the shoreline. Wave after wave.

Releasing it’s mighty strength, building up with a mighty roar, before crashing against the sand.

Powerful. Yet peaceful.

Alarming. Yet calming.

The sound draws you in. It comforts, but keeps you alert, wondering what danger might come next.

The water is amazing to me in that way. It can be so calm and relaxing one minute, and as blue as the sky, then dark and choppy and threatening.

To stand there, with the waves crashing in all around and the winds howling and strong – it’s a reminder of life. It’s a reminder you are just as strong.

Those storms can come out of nowhere.  The waves high.  They can knock you down. They can try to pull you under.  You can fight it, lose your balance, get pulled under.

Or you can stand in the midst, use the strength and power as your own, and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you and find peace in the midst of it.


I spend so much time staring at this picture.


On the day my world was rocked to the core, I find myself staring again.  29 years ago half my family was killed in a car accident.  29 years ago, and this date still has the ability to shake me.

29 years ago, a Saturday.  My mom, brother and sister went for dinner and a movie and never came back.

There were no goodbyes. In a matter of seconds.  They were forever gone.

I look at this picture, which was the last family picture we had.  The six of us together. I love it. I love that it reminds me of our childhood home. I love that my mom and dad are dressed up. Hair done.

It was a wedding. My brother was in it. We were all dressed up and ready to go.

What I love the most about this picture – I see my mom’s hand resting on my shoulder. I focus in on that because it reminds me that my mom was always there for me, always supporting me, and always loved me.

It’s a simple gesture.  But to me, all these years later, it has such a huge impact.

Her hand is on my shoulder.  Reassurance.  Safety.  Like a promise to always be there.

29 years later and I miss that reassurance. I miss that feeling of being looked after, taken care of, and yes, loved. But that pictures tells me, reminds me – it’s there.

I struggle with talking to her. I know other people who have lost loved ones, say they talk to them. I’m not sure why I can’t or don’t.

I don’t see signs and wonders.  But I believe I don’t need to SEE anything to know she is around. I believe she is part of who I am.  I believe she is in my laughter and joy.  I believe she is in everything I see and do.

I want to believe that I am the very best of my mother.  And I pray that my kids are as well.  And every so often, I see a bit of my brother and sister come out in my kids which makes me smile.

I try to talk about them all to my husband and kids. I try to share as much as I can remember about who they were, and what they liked to do.

29 years later. Hard to believe.

I’m so thankful I have this picture. This reminder of just how much my mother loved me.


It’s coming.

I can feel it in my soul.  I feel it everywhere.

That date on the calendar that I absolutely dread.

July 14th. It’s just a date. Nothing special, but to my family it’s the day everything changed.

Even if I don’t acknowledge it, my heart remembers. And it’s hard.

It’s the day my mother and brother died. It’s the day someone ran a stop sign and took half my family away.  The difference a second makes still boggles my mind.

My sister was on life support in hospital. She died two days later.

I never got to say goodbye.

An ordinary Saturday that turned into the worst Saturday of my life and I never got to say goodbye.

As the date closes in, the memories come back. There is something about this time of year that brings it back. Summertime. Long days. Vacation. Sunshine.  It’s odd.

I don’t dwell on what happened.  Time does heal.  You do learn to adjust to the new reality.  God has worked in my life in a very big way and I’m so thankful for the healing over the years. It’s not something I see as my identity anymore.  It doesn’t have the same power over me like it did.

But that date has a way of taking me back to the day it happened 29 years ago.  To the minutes leading up to finding out the worst.  To the 18-year-old girl in her room listening to Madonna on cassette, after setting the table for the dinner they had gone to pick up.  Stopping it halfway through a song, wondering what was taking so long.

Looking out the back window and seeing the flashing lights.

The phone rang. News was, our car was in an accident.

Seconds later, the sound of the police car racing into our gravel driveway. My dad running out of the house, and collapsing at the side of the car, before they took him away.

The waiting.  The hours and hours of waiting.

Sitting at the table set for six. Playing solitaire.  Waiting.

Family members started to show up. My aunt, my great uncle, a cousin.

Then, THE phone call, from my dad.  “Mom is gone.  Mom died.  Kyle died.”

I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t think.  I didn’t know what to do.

I ran outside and stared at the sky. The stars. The moon.The emptiness.

My cousin had followed me out, and held me as I cried and cried.

It was too much. It was such a shock. It couldn’t be happening.

But the table was still set for dinner?  I couldn’t even begin to understand.  It didn’t make sense. This can’t be our reality.

We didn’t sleep that night. Nobody did. We stayed up and watched TV. Or pretended to, I guess. We played cards.  In a daze. Numb.

More people came to the house.

All a blur.

Shopping for something to wear to the funeral.  Picking out caskets and flowers.

All a blur.

Friends coming to console me.

All a blur.

Two days later – no sign of improvement for my sister. The decision was made to take her off life support.

I couldn’t breath.

The funeral was huge. Endless lines of people with apologies and sympathies expressed.  People from everywhere.  Endless lines of people. So many faces.  With that look I will never forget.  That look that reminded you of what was happening.  That look of incredible sadness.  That look you didn’t want to see when you were trying so hard to hold it all together.

And then it was over. People left.

We were alone in a house meant for six. Me, my dad and my brother.

All a blur.

It’s been 29 years.  My dad is remarried.  My brother and I have families of our own.

Life has been good to us. We are healthy and happy and love life.

But, when the calendar flips to THAT DAY – we remember. Every detail. Every sound.

As much as people might say “don’t dwell on that day”, it’s hard not to.

It was a day of extreme sadness.

It’s also a day that we remember.  We remember just how lucky we were to have been part of that family of six for as long as we were. We remember how much fun we had. We remember all that was good.  We remember just how many people were there for us in our time of need. Humbling.

I won’t stay broken and sad.  But I may just keep to myself for a bit.  I may just be a little more quiet and reserved.  I may just seem to not want to be around anyone.

I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want anyone making a big deal of it. I just want to be alone with my thoughts and memories.  Play Wind Beneath My Wings (a song that played at their memorial) and just acknowledge the day that changed our lives forever 29 years ago.

Grief is nothing to be ashamed of.  If you are missing someone, don’t ever let anyone tell you to “get over it” or to make you feel like missing them is wrong.  It isn’t.

My mom, brother and sister were my family. An important part of who I am.  And they always will be thought of that way, and I will forever miss them and everything that we missed since the day they left us.




I caught myself staring at my legs recently.  More accurately, the vericose veins that decorate them like a road map.

“Uggg.  I wish I could get rid of these. “  Then I remembered, my mom had them too. It’s a way of feeling connected in some strange way. I still wished they weren’t quite so visable.

These last few months have been a real struggle for me.  I’m not quite sure why.

Back in January I did something I’ve never done. I learned to dance.  I danced in front of a few hundred people, in the name of charity.  It pushed me through all sorts of emotions.  My confidence dropped.  I was forced to look at myself in the mirrors of the practice studio.  I felt defeated.  Not only did I not know how to dance, but I was dealing with feeling so uncomfortable in my skin. I didn’t like how I looked. And the more I hated on my reflection, the worse I felt in everything else I did.

It was a struggle, even if it was an amazing experience.  The night of the show I felt like Cinderella at the ball. Hair and makeup done. Not one, but two, beautiful dresses. Sparkly shoes. We almost won. The flowers, the compliments – the ATTENTION.  It was amazing.

When it was over, the adjustment back to real life was a bit tough.  The downward spiral continued.  I was losing myself.  I felt out of control.  Disappointed. Frustrated. Lacking in everything. Invisible. Forgotten.

I wanted to feel good about myself again, but felt so far away from that point.  Exercise didn’t seem to be working. It wasn’t enough.  Maybe it just wasn’t enough for me.  Maybe it wasn’t enough because I was searching for something I would never find.

Searching to be like someone else.  Searching for someone else’s results. Searching for someone else’s dream. Someone else’s goal.  Someone else’s life.

It’s a pattern with me that I am just starting to break free from.

It’s taken a lot of years.  At least now I am becoming more aware of what I’m doing.

I remember starting high school, and wanting to look like a girl I loved watching on TV. Anybody remember Degrassi JR High? Yep. I had a picture. And I took that picture to the hair salon. I just KNEW that if I could look like her life would be different. Right? I could be one of the popular girls. I would fit in. I would be pretty.

A lot riding on one hair cut.

My hair cut was devastating. It was so awful. Seriously. So short. No style. Nothing like the picture. Nobody chooses this on purpose.

grade nine

What a way to start a brand new year of school. Not to mention we had just moved from the big city to the country, and I was already the one everybody picked on. Now they just had one more reason. Or so I imagined.  It took forever to grow that out.

As high school went on, I wanted curls like the other girls had but I was stuck with straight hair. I would spend so much time with the curling iron trying to get it to look like “them”. It never worked. It was always straight before I even got off the bus.

As I got older, I would compare myself to the women on the magazine cover. I followed the fad diets.  I analyzed relationships.  Always trying to be like someone else.  Thinking, if my relationship wasn’t like it said it should be, I was a failure. If only I could be like HER. If only.

I nearly cried as I sat in the hair dresser chair, hoping the next cut would help me look like someone else. Anyone else. Just not me. Always disappointing when I still had my same average face.

I made myself so unhappy in doing that. I just wish I’d realized it sooner. It would have saved me so much stress and frustration.

So today I am a work in progress. I still have my moments where I start to wish for something else. Someone’s hair, or lips, or perfect legs. Ones without the veins. (smile)

But I quickly remind myself that I am who I am.  Grey hair.  Belly.  Vericose veins.  I’m embracing the imperfection. The self perceived flaws.  I’m allowing myself the freedom to be me.  I’ve slowed down the search to be someone else and it feels so good.

I’m kinda excited about this new journey I am on. I’m excited to be excited again!  Excited to feel strong and determined and focused on just being ok with being me.

It’s a combination of things.  Embracing the flaws. Ignoring the negative talk in your mind. And doing things that make you smile and laugh and love life.

It’s a beautiful freedom I never expected and it feels so good!

pant suit




Fun fact about me. I don’t drive long distance. I don’t do road trips. The idea freaks me right out.

Not only does it create a fear of not knowing where I’m going and the risk of getting lost, but I fear the worst. I think about all kinds of bad situations.

It doesn’t take a great detective to figure out, it probably – NO – it has EVERYTHING to do with losing half my family in a car accident nearly thirty years ago.

Today is one of those days.  Road trip for a work meeting and I am beside myself in anxiety and fear. Thankfully I don’t have to drive. That would be terror inducing.

But I have to ride with a few other co-workers.

My mind knows it’s totally fine and people make the drive all the time.

But it’s the combination of not knowing the driver, how they drive and a bunch of wild hormones right now.

The more I think about it the more I worry which is never ever good.

I got ready for work this morning, and my mind was working overtime.  What if this was it? I think things like that. Because my family’s death was so unexpected.

What if the way I left my room, the mess of my scrapbook room/office – was it?

I look at things that way since my family died.  What is the last words I say to my husband and kids in the morning? Did I tell them I loved them? Was it positive?

Have I left anything unsaid or undone?  Yes.  Maybe that seems odd to you but it’s how I think when I know deep in my soul that every day could be a last day.

Hopefully, it’s not.

But it’s how I think.  A lot.

Praying extra hard right now for peace of mind and a safe trip.

I know, all of this might seem so silly to you. Just a glimpse.  When you survive a tragedy, it doesn’t ever really lose it’s grip on you.




I didn’t see my mom get old. She died at 41. She was still young.

It’s so weird to outlive your parent.

I am 47 now, so every year I celebrate a birthday, I think of my mom and how I’ve had so much more time on this planet.

But, I’ve had some issues lately with aging. I mean, I am seeing some serious wrinkles. In my neck, especially.  I notice it a lot in pictures. I zoom in and every single time think “how did this happen?” It makes me gasp.

I don’t feel old. I don’t feel like those wrinkles belong to me.  But there they are.  My hands, I see age.  Not enough moisturizer to cover that up. And now, I’ve got my grey hair showing through. And I’m trying to decide if I want to keep it. Or hide it.  What would you do?

I have coloured my hair since I discovered Sun In in grade eight.  Anybody else remember that nasty stuff? Ha.  You were only to supposed to use a few sprays of it. To enhance that “been in the sun glow”.  How many of us used bottles of it? Damaging out hair in the process.  Yep, it’s a bit of an addiction.

Change your hair colour/ style – change your personality. Or at least how you FEEL about yourself.

The desire to change my personality, by changing my hair colour has been there a long time. I’ve always loved how a hair colour change can instantly improve your mood.  It can make you feel like a different person. One simple change of hair cut/ colour/ style and you’re walking taller, feeling more confident and happy. New hair. New person.

But every so often, when I see the grey roots come through, I wonder if this time I just let nature take over and just let it happen.  Embrace the grey.  Just like the wrinkles in my neck. Ha. But there’s a feeling when the greys show up.  I start to feel a little bit older. So I’ve always ended up going back to the colour. To stop time? To stop the aging process? Am I trying to fight who I am?  Afraid of getting older?

It’s strange to look in the mirror and notice the changes in your body.  I don’t FEEL older.

Time goes by so quickly.

I’ve become so aware of it these last few years. I’m trying so hard not to let a day go by without doing something I love.  I’m done wasting my days waiting for something to happen. Waiting for Friday, the weekend, summer vacation, Christmas – so many people spend so much time waiting, and they are missing the moment they are in.

My mom didn’t live past 41. I know that the years she had were full. I know that she embraced life to the full.  But she was cheated of the second half. I refuse to waste a day on silly stuff.

I know I’m getting older and it’s showing.  But I am grateful.  For the grey hair and the wrinkles and age spots on my hands.  I am so grateful.

So maybe this time, I’ll hold out on the box colour.  I’ll allow the grey to take over.  As Rob Thomas sings “I’m not afraid of growing older. It’s one less day from dying young.

And honestly, I’ve earned those greys. Every single one of them.

Rob Thomas Dying Young


Let me tell you right off the bat – I love my kids. More than words can express. I love my kids. I love their uniqueness. I love their quirks.

What I don’t love is the stuff they don’t prepare you for.  I don’t love the struggles. The battles. The head to head competition.

My youngest signed up to play soccer.  Meaning – we the parents, paid a LOT of money to sign her up for soccer.  She had been hounding us for a while, so we gave in and got her signed up. Thinking it was a good thing. She would finally be doing something that didn’t involve a tablet or technology. My husband was thrilled that one of his daughters was finally going to get involved in the world of sports.

Four games into the season and last night she refused to go. We could have forced her to go. I guess? Is there a “right” answer here?  Make her go. Force her to play. After all “we paid a lot of money”.   Enforce the “it’s a commitment and you can’t let your team down”. Yes, we played that card too. Aside from tie her up and drag her there, what is a parent to do? Take away the phone? Make the one thing she wanted to do for FUN become a punishment of sorts?

Let me tell you, it’s super easy for others to judge and say “I would do this” but it’s just not that easy. I’m not sure parenting always has a one true, 100% correct answer, and that in itself is a bit overwhelming at times.

You feel helpless sometimes as a parent over the smallest of things. You feel so alone. And sometimes, in the smallest of situations, you wish someone would swoop in and save the day.  Why can’t there be easy answers? Where is the guide for parents to follow? Why DON’T they come with instructions?

This morning her class was off for a school trip. A friend of hers picked her up for the early morning departure. I stood at the door, sad that I wasn’t needed. I wasn’t “wanted”.

That was my conversation. My thought process. “Oh my God. She doesn’t even want me to drop her off.”

You want to teach your kids everything. You want to be their cheerleader and motivator. You want them to be good human beings.

But then it feels like in a moment, they turn on YOU.  The ONE person in their corner.

The most rewarding job in the world is not without struggle and judgement and fear and frustration. None of us are doing it right all the time.  We have to love on our kids fiercely and keep on doing the best we can.

Nobody ever said it would be easy.




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