Wednesday 1 December 2021

New Web Address

The Carol Matthews These Days website has been moved! You can find all my blog posts and news at the new address , plus some new content.

(as a result of this change, subscribers may receive multiple emails on the day it is launched – sorry for this annoyance)

Sunday 21 November 2021

Grief and Roses

I spent the past weekend participating in a three-day conference on grief and wellness offered by the Lumara Society ( There were keynote speeches, panels and over 50 workshops which included intelligent and inspiring perspectives on grief and loss. It was frequently noted by participants that love is the partner of grief, and there was an outpouring of love as people spoke of their grief, of whom and what they had loved and lost. At the end of the conference, I found myself thinking about the broader grief that many of us are experiencing these days -- a deep global grieving. Loss is always with us -- it's a lifelong condition. Judith Viorst who we mostly know for her witty essays about marriage and parenting (and we mostly know best her children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) was also a psychoanalyst who wrote a very thick book called "Necessary Losses" about all the losses we must experience through life -- loss of childhood, loss of dreams, loss of friends, loss of family, and she claims that losing is the price we pay for living -- and loving -- and that it is also the source of much of our growth and gain. That may be true of predictable and necessary losses. But these days we're grieving over the plight of our planet, the irreparable damage to the environment, the loss of hundreds of species, the loss of old growth forsts, the devastation of fires and floods. We feel grief about Covid and the intransigence of the anti-vaxxers, the confrontations between the RCMP and the protesters at the Fairy Creek and Wet'suwet'sen blockades. We mourn the disappearance of civil society, the widening inequities and increasing racism and violence. These losses do not seem to be necessary ones. Surely, they could have been avoided, could still be lessened. Grief therapists write about how much more difficult it is for people to accept preventable losses as opposed to predictable ones. So what can do? Well, of course, we have to keep doing whatever we can, even if people like Jonathan Franzen write persuasively about "The End of the End of the Earth." I believe there is still hope for us and we can learn to do things differently. I was heartened by an interview with Shannon Hayes, author of "Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles & Smart Living" in Saturday's Globe and Mail. Hayes talks about "a great reset" which could result in sustainable economic renewal. Her priorities are ecological sustainability, social justice, family and community, and she defines wealth as being able to go out for coffee in the woods every morning and have Sunday dinners with family. Those of us who are lucky enough to live in reasonable domfort have the opportunity to look closely at our priorities and values and to try to live accordingly and with gratitude. Right now I'm looking at the roses friends gave me for my birthday and I'm reading Rebecca Solnit's wonderful new book "Orwell's Roses," another birthday present. I hadn't known that Orwell combined his work as a prolific novelist essayist and socialist with a deep love of gardening, especially of roses. In 1940, he wrote, "Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening." If we're to pursue "a great reset" in order to lessen our grief and repair our losses, maybe we need to find balance in our activities to remind us of our priorities. Earlier tonight I went down to the park to watch the overflowing river rushing by, swiftly and noisily. And now I'm settling down for a few hours of books and roses. It helps.

Sunday 7 November 2021

Remembrance Day


The red and green and tinsel greed and glitter of the next big holiday are now appearing, without bothering to wait for the pumpkins and skeletons to be put away – and without pausing to allow some space for Remembrance Day. 

Some people referred to the year 2020 as “The Pause,” and I think it did us some good to pause for a while. Remembrance Day deserves its own pause, and not just for the two minutes of silence.

Last year at this time, I wrote a post about how different the observances were because of Covid. This year, many of us are participating in more activities, but I don’t expect there will be marches or large crowds milling around at public gatherings on November 11th. Still, a lot of people are wearing poppies and will participate in the two minutes of silence.

I'm glad. I believe it's important for us all to pay attention to the day and take some time to reflect and remember. I’m old enough that I still think of those two world wars in which several members of my family served and of the horrors they endured.

According to my weekend newspaper, this year is the hundredth anniversary of the poppy being a symbol for Remembrance Day. The poppy makes me think of how, in elementary school, we were made to memorize and recite On Flanders Fields. I remember feeling very moved by the poem and by the image of poppies blowing between the crosses  while the larks “still bravely singing. I was inspired by the lines To you from failing hands we throw the torch. Surely it was a call to action, I thought, although I had no idea what action I might take.

Years later, I was saddened to learn that Dr. John McCrae, the author of In Flanders Field, died of overwork and disease during the war. I find myself now, almost a century later,  thinking of the many thousands of courageous health care workers who have died around the world since the start of the pandemic. In Canada, almost 95,000 health care workers have been infected with Covid 19 and 43 have died as a result. Yet our health professionals continue bravely to risk their lives to care for the sick, many of whom are people who have chosen not to get vaccinated. The call to action now must be for all of us to do everything we can to curb the transmission of the virus, taking all the precautions we can and trying to encourage those around us to do the same.

When I think of the word “remembrance,” I always think of re-membering – putting things back together. There'll be a lot to for us put back together when the Covid crisis lessens and we move on to what people are calling “the new abnormal.”  One of the most difficult challengers will be in mending the rifts that have been created between vaxxers and anti-vaxxers. 

It won't be easy. I'm frustrated by what seems to me astonishing egotism on the part of people who think they know more than the vast majority of scientists and health professionals world-wide, but I'm trying to feel compassion for them. I'm going to try to listen to the fears and anxieties they have. I know that the information sources they trust are not reliable and that they are victims of the conspiracy theories that spread so easily through social media. They won't be ready to change their minds, but we'll need to find ways of talking through the conflicts and finding some common ground.

There’s a lot of sadness in the world just now. I feel there’s a deep and widespread collective grief about the pandemic, climate change, violence, prejudice and huge inequities. Maybe talking about those things could be a starting point for some important conversations. Many therapists have written about the value of speaking about and sharing thoughts about our experiences with grief and loss.

I’m very honoured to be part of a national virtual conference about grief at which many professionals will bring varied perspectives and expertise to the discussion. You can read about it and, if you're interested, register online for sessions between November 19th to 21st at

We all experience loss at various times throughout our lives. It helps to talk about it. It helps to connect us with each other. It might help us open up our minds and our hearts. Let's hope so.

Sunday 24 October 2021

Thinking of Trees


Unlike many people these days, I write letters. Realmail! I’m a great supporter of Canada Post and, for the most part, I love getting mail.

But in the last two weeks I’ve received mail from nine very fine charitable organizations, several of whom I sometimes support financially. These included “free gifts” of three calendars, two cheap pens, a pair of gloves, three small note pads and several dozen return address stickers. The calendars are nice enough, but who needs a lot of calendars these days? I use my Iphone for a calendar and I know I will have gifts of two very beautiful calendars, one from a friend who is a brilliant photographer of birds and one from a friend who is a talented artist. These I will happily use and treasure, but I don’t need any more and I can’t think of anyone who might want one of these promotional calendars.

I don’t need these free gifts and I don’t like to have to discard them. I can't think of anyone who might want the gloves, the little notebooks or the trashy pens. And, even though I write many more letters than most people I know, I will never even begin to use the many dozens of return address stickers I’ve collected through the years.

I really would prefer that the charities to which I donate would spend their time and money on their important work and not on these outdated forms of promotion and fund-raising.

Sometimes I send a cheque along with a letter back to these organizations, telling them that I think their marketing people are advising them badly. But I prefer to donate to some of the excellent organizations that don’t choose to fundraise in this fashion, places like Eco-trust, Kids International and others.

We’re moving towards the season of loving and spending, which is why everyone is asking for donations right now. I probably won’t stop sending money to any of these organizations, but the ones I really admire are those that don’t send me junk I don’t want but instead simply send a short note or -- better yet -- an email message telling me what they’re doing and what they need.

I keep thinking about the trees that are being sacrificed to send out all this mail. We all need paper, but maybe we could save a few trees if we stopped printing and sending out junk mail.

Monday 11 October 2021



I didn’t get my blog written yesterday, because I was too busy celebrating thankfulness.

Last year we were a small bubble of a family in lockdown. We didn't know if and when there would be vaccines available. The numbers were alarming. This year, though the numbers are still of concern, we're back to small, traditional gatherings of double-vaxxed friends, Much to be thankful for, then and now. If there's one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic it's that we must enjoy and feel grateful for each day.

There's a great deal wrong with our beleaguered world, but today I've been appreciating many things – not just the abundance of the splendid Thanksgiving dinners, nor the beauty of the surprisingly sunny day, but the sheer miracle of being alive here at this moment.

Every day I feel grateful for my family, and I think of the long chain of ancestors that brought us here. I say blessings for my mother and father and for their mothers and fathers, and for all the great-grandparents I didn’t know.  I try to imagine sending blessings to all my ancestors, but my Google search says that I have 16 great grandparents, 128 great-great-great-great-great grandparents, which adds up to 254 ancestors. If I think about my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, that would total 4,096 which would add up to 8,190 ancestors. That’s based on an average of 25 years per generation. Some generations might be longer or shorter, And there would likely be some consanguinity, marriages between cousins, and so on, which would reduce the total number a bit.

I'd like to thank all these people without whom I would not be here, but it’s hard to imagine the lives of some 8,000 people, let alone how to thank them. And then I think about the fact that my daughter would not be here without my husband and all his ancestors which adds another 8,000. And my granddaughter would not be here without my son-in-law and all his ancestors, another 8,000. So it’s probably about 24,000 people whom I should thank, and that's only going back 250 years! There's hundreds of thousands of people lined up before that, but for the moment I'll stop at 10 greats.

I’m grateful to those 24,000 hardy people, all of whom survived their birth experience, probably lived through childhood illnesses, accidents, injuries, enduring wars and other hardships and had at least one sexual encounter that resulted in a pregnancy and a live birth. I don’t know much about their lives, but those facts are something to think about. And my husband and I, and my daughter and her husband, were also lucky enough to manage to survive all those pitfalls.

It’s astonishing good fortune! A miracle!

But I can’t get my head around it, so I say a group thank-you to all my ancestors. Mostly I simply focus on the joys and good fortune of the present moment. A single flower. A sunny day. A colourful little squash.

I remember my mother quoting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and I think now of the words she so often recited:

Life is real!  Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal:

“Dust thou art, to dust returnest,”

Was not spoken of the soul…


Let us then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing

Learn to labour and to wait.


There’s much to be doing, and much for which to be thankful, as my father used to say every year on this holiday.

We’re fortunate.

Sunday 26 September 2021




Ecology is the name of this poem by PK Page:

If a boy

eats an apple

because a bee

collects nectar,

what happens

because a boy

eats an apple?

 Hmmm…. what indeed? Maybe the boy’s mother smiles with approval. Maybe the grower of the tree feels a sense of purpose. Maybe the core the boy throws away releases a seed that will grow into a new tree.

The ecological connections are many Some dictionaries define “ecology” as “a branch of science dealing with the relationship of living things to their environments." .Everything connects. That’s why parents are always advising their children to make good choices.

Because it matters. Every choice makes a difference. Why did we buy this versus that? Why did we choose to buy either? Why do we consume what we do? Where do we get our inforrmation? How does that affect our choices? What would PK say, if she were here.

I’ve been wondering about this:


If an anti-vaxxer chooses not to be vaccinated

because he doesn’t believe in science  

and he gets Covid, as does 

a homeless person who was unable

to find a place to quarantine

and so they both end up at the hospital,

what happens when doctors

are forced to make decisions

about who should be treated 

because the ICU beds are full of anti-vaxxers

who chose not to be vaccinated?

We all make some choices, but we don't all have the same access to health care and other resources.

If each person who has easy access to vaccines chooses to get vaccinated. and if people who test positive for Covid have places at which to quarantine, then those who are less privileged will have better access to medical care when they are sick.

 What you choose matters. 

Sometimes it’s a matter of life or death.





Sunday 12 September 2021

Friendship and Memory

I woke up this beautiful morning thinking of the words in Ecclesiastes 11:7

Truly the light is sweet and a pleasant thing it is for the eye to behold the sun.

These words set me off on a good track for the day. Lately, I’ve sometimes felt depressed and discouraged but, really, I should not. There are so many good things in my life. So many reasons to feel grateful. Simple pleasures. I have enough food, a warm home, good neighbours, running water, a roof over my head. These things are worth celebrating every day.

A friend of mine spoke to me about the deep satisfaction she feels after having had a leaky roof for some time to know that her roof is now solid and won’t let the rain in. The repair was coordinated by some of her dear friends, which was another reason for her to feel grateful. Friendship. 

Lately I too have had several occasions to deeply appreciate what it means to have good friends. Connections with friends are more important than ever these days and they often offer a different way of looking at things. A long-time friend of mine who is a frequent traveler keeps a lively blog of her various journeys, including reports of her many artistic pursuits, sewing, reading, fashionable outfits, knitting, gourmet cooking, domestic and family activities, and so forth. It’s an impressive read and worth checking out:

In a recent blog she wrote: We’re going back to Portugal! Grab your appetite and your curiosity, but you won’t need a passport or a suitcase, nor even a credit card. She’s still hoping to get to Portugal soon but, in the meantime, she’s used her blog to share photos and experiences of her past trips. She writes about the idiosyncrasies of some of the people and places she has encountered, the villages, the meals, the unforgettable sardines. It’s entertaining for readers to share those experiences and it must be wonderful for my friend to re-live her experiences at a time when she can’t travel. (Note In order to accompany her on her armchair trip to Portugal, you may have to scroll down to the bottom of the blog post and enter "More Armchair Travel" under the Search line.)

We can all enjoy travel without getting on a plane. Memories offer a kind of time travel and I find them heartening. As Penelope Lively wrote more than once, the past is real and the re-living of it can be important. Recently, someone on Twitter tweeted that his six-year-old daughter had asked, “What happens to time that has passed?” A good question, I thought. A physicist responded, proposing that it stays where it is, in space time, while we have moved past it. He compared this to walking down a road but being unable to go back to where we came from.

Even though we can't re-inhabit the past, there's a way in which we can re-live it and perhaps re-member it -- put it back together -- from a later perspective. That can be instructive and often healing.

Today, among the many things for which I'm grateful, I'm celebrating both memory and friendship. They often go together. Talking with long-time friends about the past is one of the pleasures of old age. And with our deepest friendships, absence never lessens the connection. When we meet again, it is as though time hasn't passed.

Not all memories are happy, but our friendships have the capacity to help us heal old wounds. And that makes me recall Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30:

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past.

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:

Then can I drown an eye, unus'd to flow,

For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,

And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,

And moan th' expense of many a vanish'd sight;

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,

And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er

The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,

Which I new pay as if not paid before.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

All losses are restor'd, and sorrows end.