What Passes for Normal in Dreams

Cathryn Wellner & Theresa Healy, the HealWell Team

Cathryn Wellner & Theresa Healy, the HealWell Team

Sometimes I look back at my life and wince, but mostly I trace the meandering path with gratitude. I’ve carried a bag of troubles, as everyone does, but these days it seems light. When I open the bag, I see shiny baubles instead of lumps of coal. They have been transformed by time. I can pull them out and turn their many facets to the light.

M. Theresa Healy opens her bag of troubles in a new anthology of poems, What Passes for Normal in Dreams. And in spite of experiences that would make many crumble, she brings jewels out of that bag.

The story Theresa tells in the introduction has all the gritty, harsh reality of one of Roddy Doyle’s clear-eyed novels about the Ireland of his youth. But atop the bleak childhood lies a layer of rejection from a mother who saw her as the living reminder of a horror she wanted to forget.

Theresa still carries the deep wounding of the unloved child, but she transforms it in her work and life into the kind of empathy and passion that make her the best facilitator I’ve ever met. Her compassion is boundless. I’ve watched her come into a room full of people convinced they are wrestling with the most insurmountable problem in the history of humanity. They leave with a new, hope-filled vision.

Beneath the confidence, complete presence and availability lies the hurt child. In What Passes for Normal in Dreams, Theresa wraps that inner child with the kind of unconditional loving that allows her to hold onto the memories but release their poison barbs. She is willing to lay bare the rawness beneath the scars. Because of her courage, the aching souls who read her words will find acceptance and healing in these pages.

This is one of the rawest, most honest collections of poetry I’ve ever come across. Within it are anthems for all whose songs have been stolen. May they read these poems and sing again.

Theresa and I collaborated on a number of community development projects, most of them health related. We found such joy in working together we called ourselves the HealWell Team. So although it was difficult to choose only one of these gutsy poems to share with you here, I selected this one. In its lines you will recognize Theresa’s wide-open heart, mixed with a fierce passion for justice.

A Report for Health Canada

The faces are worn.
Life has etched many trails and tribulations into the daily round
And these worries and cares and pains
Too much and too many for each frail body
Have left their deep marks


All these ghosts which hold hard tight hands weaken and shift as we sit together

And new marks always ready to impose
News of a loss
A death by choice
Of one of their own
Leaves us all shaken and trembling inside
Who is next is the unspoken question

And, as I verge on tears in our circle
An urgent, “don’t cry, don’t cry”
From beside me
I turn, put my hand in his
Touch the side of his face with my other hand
“It’s okay” I say, “It’s okay to cry”

Knowing as soon as the words are out of my mouth
What a stupid thing to say
To someone who learnt early
To hide tears, disguise fear.
For whom words are not easy
Feelings even harder

And yet
There is so much more here
How do I share the courage
The laughter and humour
That can light up this room
The wisdom and learning that
Each one of these frail champions
Brave warriors, courageous spirits
Brings to the work of HIV education?

From jail cells and street corners
And the shadows of addiction
And the unrelenting pain of chronic diseases
And the visible shrinking from weight loss and hunger
And the chase to escape the overwhelming desperation of abuse
All these ghosts which hold hard tight hands
Weaken and shift as we sit together
The laughter heals
The plans for future promise change
The small funds that feed us all once a week
Making such small safe places for such giant changes

In honour of the Positive Prevention Warriors, February 2010

(I love Theresa’s note at the end of the poem: “My friend Paul tells me, if they did accept this as a report it would be the first honest and succinct report they would have ever received.”)

All profits from the sale of What Passes for Normal in Dreams will support New Hope and Positive Living North’s Prevention Warriors. Copies can be ordered directly from Theresa or $25 plus shipping. Send your name and address to mthealy at shaw.ca so she can let you know cost of shipping to your address (generally $2 in Canada).

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6 comments for “What Passes for Normal in Dreams

  1. Michelle
    December 1, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    What a powerful poem for a fight that is now so often swept under the carpet.

  2. December 4, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Exceptional work, Theresa. And thanks for sharing Cathryn. Life challenges all of us to go beyond pain, to realize we are more than physical works of art: we are also spiritual works of art. This essence is captured by Theresa’s journey, I sense, and yours, as well. Lovely post … it inspires all readers to look beyond the moment to the depth and glory that lies within. –Daisy

  3. December 6, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    The whole book is filled with heart-stopping moments and insights.

  4. December 6, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    The glory within – that is beautiful and perceptive, Daisy. I so appreciate your response. Theresa is one of those rare human beings who make people feel stronger when she walks in the room.

  5. Wendy
    December 29, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Powerful-thank you to the both of you.

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