Is it really worth it?

Well, the Olympics are over.  I love watching the Olympics! Every nite, I was glued to my tv to see what was happening (or should I say what had happened) and stared in awe at the amazing things those athletes did.  My particular favorite was the gymnastics, with track a close second.

Not being the sinewy athlete type, I was amazed watching those people flipping through the air and landing on a 4″ beam and swimming like rockets across a pool, with arms like tree trunks.

I also listened to them talk about their lives and how they’ve spent their whole lives “working for this moment”.  Olympic athletes spend so much of their lives focused on their sport, driven toward some distant goal.  We only see the very few who reach the top- the ones who get that golden prize. Even coming in 2nd is seen as “losing”.  Some of them are really devastated when all those years of sacrifice goes wasted and they only get the Silver Medal. I saw more than one burst into tears or bury their heads in shame when not getting that gold.  I do understand that frustration at working so hard and missing the mark by some tiny thing that went awry at the wrong moment.

But…what about all of that life that has been wasted in the meantime?  All those days and moments that they can’t get back while they drove themselves with unbending focus toward that one and only moment- a moment that for most never comes.  What about the sacrifices of their families – not just time, money, things they’ve gone without- but actual presence with each other.

There were so many stories of  athletes who had gone to live with other people for years so they could be near a coach or training facility.  And there was even a commercial that kept playing where athletes said things like “you know that bestseller, I’ve never read it” as she’s diving into the pool.  Yes, there are the Michael Phelpses and Gabby Douglases out there who live the dream and maybe reap some benefit, but what about all the others who never do? All the hundreds and thousands of those who dedicate so much time to 1 single thing and miss out on so much else.

Those who have lost someone, especially a child, know what a precious commodity those moments are.  You know that you can’t get them back. Of course, I don’t advocate that you hold anyone back from something they want to pursue.  I have always supported my kids to do whatever activities or interests they have had.  I strongly believe that everyone should be encouraged to pursue and develop their skills and talents and “follow their bliss” as the expression goes.

But I think that we have raised competition and achievement to be such lofty virtues that we rob people of the joys of just being alive and sharing that with each other.  We have forgotten that there doesn’t always have to be an end game, a goal, an achievement for something to be good and worthy. We all hear about kids who are pushed too much and in our current political climate, we are constantly reminded of our American ideal of work, work, work – that’s how you get ahead, how you get what you want in life.

But then time is gone, and we may be so sorry for all that we have missed.  So many of us grow older, regretting so much wasted time- rushing here and there, filling up every space with “doing”-  especially if something comes along and shatters our world and we face not being able to get back those precious moments. If we lose someone who is very young, we can wonder “what did we do with all that time? was it really worth all of those things we thought were so important, was it really worth that gold medal- or getting into that college or onto that team or all A’s on the report card or to be able to buy clothes from XYZ Store….”

If there is some silver lining anywhere in all of this grief stuff that I have experienced it is that I have learned that it is all a balancing act.  You need to continue to move forward and see a future and have something good to work toward but more importantly, you need every day, every minute, to look around you and enjoy who is there and what you see and hear. To me, that is what makes life worth living.

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A Question of Faith

I read an article today which brought me back to something I’ve been thinking about a lot particularly in relation to grief.  I know it can be a sensitive subject for many people as it has to do with religion and personal beliefs about God and what happens when we die.

People tend to have wide-ranging and often strongly held views on this which can greatly influence their experiences with death and grief.  For many, it can be very comforting to have a strong belief that the person who has died has passed on to a beautiful, safe place where there is no more pain or sorrow.  I personally believe this is true.  However, I have found that there are many different ways in how people view and describe this post death experience, including what it’s like, who goes where and the rules you need to follow to get there.

The reason I ponder this is twofold.  One is because I am bothered by the angry divisions that are being fostered in the name of religion in our country more strongly now than ever.  It seems that we continue to try to use it as a weapon to get people to behave in certain ways as opposed to the spiritual nurturing that it should be.

More importantly though, and in relation to the article that I read, are the difficulties that these ranging views and approaches can cause for those who are grieving as people try to comfort them. It can make it awkward or challenging to know how to approach someone if you aren’t sure of his or her beliefs.

I know that people are frustrated with political correctness but death is a time for sensitivity and putting your own views and needs aside no matter what.  If the phrase “it’s not about you” were ever appropriate, that is the time.  It’s so tempting to fall into the trap of saying the usual things when you see someone who is grieving- “He’s in a better place”, “There’s a reason for everything, only God can know”, etc.  Or we may feel we can ease someone’s pain if we remind him or her about God and religion.  This can be very tricky.  Unless you know the person very well and know how s/he feels, it is probably not the time to try to tell someone about faith and God and believing.

Now, I know there are people who may need and want that.  What I am saying is that you have to really take your cues from the person who you are comforting, not from your beliefs and values.  I feel that is where the mistake occurs.  In our effort to say something, we often fall back on what we would want to hear, or at least think we would want to hear.

Remember that I said that I am a believer?  Well when my baby died, someone actually said to me “I guess God must have needed another angel”.  What?  Why would you think that, even if I believed that my baby was in heaven,  I would want to believe that God took her because he wanted another angel? Telling me that my baby was now an angel didn’t help when all I wanted was for her to be in my arms.

“It was God’s will” is another popular thing to say and I have no problem telling you that one is off of my list as well.  As I have grown and matured in my faith, I do not believe that God “wills” these things.

I have heard so many stories from people of things being said and done that were meant to comfort but made them feel worse- “he’s with God now” when the widow is crying in agony “but I want him here with me”.  Or someone insisting on a formal religious funeral ceremony when it wasn’t wanted by the deceased and everyone is upset and uncomfortable and great expense is incurred that no one can afford. Or there’s an implication that because a baby wasn’t baptised that there will be a “problem” – with what?- getting into Heaven? Really?

And what about those who are not religious or do not believe in God?  As the article I read addressed, there are a lot of people who do not associate dying with anything but the end of life and do not want to hear about God or angels or heaven or anything like that.  And I believe that they deserve and need the same respect and kindness and sensitivity as everyone else.

The thing is, we are a people of all different kinds of faiths and beliefs.  We all practice our faiths and express our spirituality differently. We are not all Christians and among those who are, there are many interpretations of exactly what being one means.  We do not all believe in God – that is just the way it is.  But we do all experience grief and what matters is how we respond to that in the persons that we encounter.

Everyone who is grieving needs quiet understanding, a shoulder to lean on, someone to help with the housework and the kids and the home maintenance, friends to get them out of the house, and a listening ear for months and years to come.  It doesn’t matter who they worship or if they worship at all- grief doesn’t care.  We all love and we all lose those we love and it hurts us all the same.

Read the full article here>  Grief Beyond Belief

The living room chair…

Today I was painfully reminded of the toll grief can take on someone in a world where you are supposed to be strong, trudging on like nothing happened with that “stiff upper lip” even though you’ve lost the love of your life.  What passed for support was food brought to the house and the usual sharing of stories of what happened, then invitations to dinner at siblings’ homes in months to follow and some consultation about financial matters but not too much mention about feelings and heartache.  Talking about those things just wouldn’t do any good, right?  How could that help?  It wouldn’t bring back her husband- it wouldn’t change anything- you just have to suck it up and deal with it.

Well, that person was my mother.  And here it is 35 years later and I see her still sitting in a chair in the living room in front of the tv, unhappy, negative, never having been able to make a meaningful and hope filled life for herself at somewhere in those years after my father died.

She was 48  when that happened- now she’s almost 84.  It’s not that she needed to find a new husband and go out and develop a career and do all kinds of crazy things but she should have been able to find some happiness, at least some relief, and them some joy in the future with her grandchildren.  I’m not going to say that it was all due to her not being supported to express her grief.  There were other issues too that influenced how she handled her loss as there are for each of us but the stifling of her emotions and containment of all the natural reactions that are part of grief truly took a second victim in my father’s death.   There were other victims too in my brother, sister and myself as we lived in the shadows.

Why our society had created this destructive environment, I don’t understand.  It is much better now in many ways but there is so much more that needs to be done.  There is still a great reluctance to allow people their grief past a certain time period. We become very uncomfortable when the subject of death comes up, especially if it’s with someone who is grieving. We still prefer to stick to specific rituals to address our losses, packaging it neatly and then hoping to just go back to life as usual.

I think that it falls to those of us who have experienced significant loss to help change this by being brave and talking about what we’ve been through and what we need and why it matters. In a strange way it’s our legacy; a memorial maybe to those we grieve.  In their names we can make it better for those who come after us so maybe their paths will be a bit easier.  I can tell you that from what I see here on the internet that my mother would definitely have benefitted from the support that I see here.

So when you write or talk about your loved one and your loss, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it may feel for you, believe that you are helping someone, somewhere.  Had it been there for my mom, maybe she wouldn’t still be sitting in that chair…

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