“Don’t be so sensitive…”

I have found that life is full of ups and downs, tosses and turns. I have always been a person of “deep feelings”. “Don’t be so sensitive” they would say.  But being sensitive is what would make me be able to be good at my job I would say.  After all, I was working with people. People who needed to be listened to, people who were facing difficult circumstances, people who were searching for answers – pretty much like everyone at some point or other in their lives.

What’s wrong with being sensitive? Feeling things?  It can be such a roller coaster ride I know but even after all of these years, I have to believe it makes you a better person.  I have fought so hard against becoming one of those people who just turns off and gives up; becomes hardened to the disappointments and struggles of life.  I’ve seen the damage that can come from having the rug pulled out from under you or having expectations for a certain kind of life and not having it come to fruition.

And I’ve worked with many of the stereotypical callous public service worker, long removed emotionally from their job. While assisting a young woman desperately needing some help for her 3 young children, I sat across the desk from a man in a city welfare office feeling his venomous barbs spewing from his road weary soul after years of people just like her coming and going from his office. It’s hard not to give in and stay true to hope and good thoughts and feeling positive and “sensitive”.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “I just can’t do this anymore, I just don’t have it in me anymore”.  I just want to give up and say I’m done.  But then, there’s something in me that remembers those people I’ve seen, and those people I meet who seem so unhappy, so, well, dead inside, and I think, no- I don’t want to be like that.  I swore I would never be like that.  No matter what happens.

I can look around me and see beautiful things – I live in a beautiful place.  I force myself to look beyond the things in my house that need fixing and look at the green of the trees and feel the breeze on my face.  And I can stop and look at the faces of my 2 beautiful boys (not kids now really) and remember how incredibly lucky I am to have them and I can remind myself how the most important thing to me is that I am here for them as I know what it’s like to not have that.

I am reminded of the television show Monk, one of the few shows that we ever watched regularly.  He was a detective who had a severe problem with an Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder which also made him incredibly great at solving crimes.  His favorite response to people when they commented on his “issue” was that it was a “blessing and a curse”.  Sometimes, I feel that way.  I think being “sensitive” and feeling things so much can make me able to empathize with people really well and understand what they need.  At the same time, it can be so very exhausting to feel so much to the point of driving myself to the edge and back.

The one thing I know for sure is that I never want to become one of those people who just gives up and gives in, hardening myself; someone who stops “feeling”. Or even worse, only feels the bad things. I know I will and have changed.  I’m still adjusting to that…but for today I will keep on keeping on, soaking in all the feeling I can, emphasis on the good ones, and I hope you will too.

“Never give up, Never Surrender”    from the movie Galaxy Quest

Doubly Sad

 

Reading today about Mary Kennedy’s funeral reminds me about the doubled sadness of those who must deal with the grief of losing someone who takes his or her own life. So many questions and so much guilt heaped on top of an already excruciating pain. Maybe also still experiencing the stigma that our society puts on suicide- it’s selfish, cowardly, such a waste of life…

I believe that someone leaves this world on purpose for reasons that none of us can know and it helps no one to speculate or judge. I have felt pain that has brought me close enough to that place that I can know what that can feel like; despair so deep and dark that you feel like you can’t breathe.   A person who comes to that decision doesn’t do it callously or on a whim.

Who can know what happens in those final moments, when maybe she or he can’t turn back this time. The pain is too great, the hope of recovery is extinct, the perception of the burden she or he is on others is overwhelming, or maybe there is an organic physical or chemical reaction going on in the body so he or she doesn’t even know what they’re doing.

We like to think that things are simple, black and white, cut and dry. We want things to fit in neat boxes, to be easily explained and understood. Quick fixes, simple answers to problems, one nation all believing the same thing under God– easy. But it doesn’t work like that does it? Life is very complex. It’s not just one or two things that happen that cause someone to take his or her own life. It’s never that simple.

I feel great compassion for those whose grief comes from this kind of loss.  I also know how hard it is to feel like you just can’t “do it” anymore.  I wish I could tell them not to feel responsible, that it wasn’t their fault, that they did the best they could and their loved ones also did the best they could.  But they have to come to that in their own time, in their own way.We just need to make sure they still feel supported and not blamed for what happened.

I do hope that we can all be aware of how important it is to understand stress and depression and what they do to people.  People still tend to poo-poo these things or talk about them matter-of-factly but they are very serious.  With our overly busy, overly stimulating lives, depression is more common than ever. We overtax not only our bodies but our emotions and very souls.  Maybe if we are all watching a little more closely we will see when someone needs help before it gets too bad – it could just be the hope they need.

 

Information on Depression

Signs of Depression

Mother’s Day…

If you are a mother who has lost your child, I know that today is a very difficult day. I wish you all the best of memories to hopefully help to ease some of your pain. If you have other children, I hope that you can bathe in the joy of their love to help you through.

If you are someone who is feeling the loss of your mother, I also wish you the best of good memories to see you through this day.

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…

Doing What Needs to Be Done

Today I finally went for a walk.  This is something I have been telling myself I was going to do every day for I don’t want to tell you how long.  I used to walk all the time.  It was my preferred mode of exercise and I loved getting out and getting a chance to clear my head and just breathe.

Somehow I got out of the habit and it became a chore.  I used to look forward to it; now it was just one more thing to do.  It’s funny how something that is so enjoyable and freeing one minute can feel so heavy and demanding the next.

If you are grieving, you probably know how that feels.  Even simple things can seem like complicated tasks.  Small problems become huge mountains.  As life keeps moving on all around you, you just want everything and everybody to slow down and give you a break.  Finding ways to keep up while keeping sane may feel almost impossible.  I know there were times I wasn’t so sure that I wasn’t losing my mind, running from home to job to kid stuff to other family things to home etc.

As hard as it may be to do, it’s critical that you allow yourself whatever time you need to get done what has to get done and let go of the rest.  The key is, you really have to be the one to be willing to let things go.  Maybe the house isn’t so clean or the lawn isn’t perfect or you don’t get to the gym as often or…. you fill it in.  I’m not talking about just not adding things to your “to do” list now but about taking stuff off the one you already have.  Ask for help, get off of committees, say no- all those things everyone always says to do but no one ever does.  If there was ever a time to do them, it’s now.

And just to be clear, I’m not just talking about in the first few months after you have lost someone.  That will probably happen naturally as you’re too upset or exhausted and people don’t really expect otherwise.  You need to continue to give yourself that “break” long after so you have the time and space you will need for your grief as time moves on.  You may be surprised at how quickly people will start expecting you to be back at it and you will need to set your own boundaries about what you will and won’t do.  Grieving takes a good amount of physical and emotional energy no matter how strong you are.  Give yourself the gift of time to make it a bit easier.  Remember, this is your life and your loss- you get to decide how you will handle it.

Looking “Out There”…

As I am sitting here drinking my morning tea, I am distracted by this show on the TV, the Nate Berkus Show.  It’s one of those morning shows where the host shows you how to decorate your home, cook the perfect meal, dress in style, do charitable works- the typical American morning show.

I don’t usually watch these things.  It’s on because my son, who of course has left the room, put the TV on and it landed on this channel.  I just haven’t bothered to turn it off.  Although I do find some parts interesting, especially the cooking, I am usually reminded by how obsessed we can get with “things”; how we are constantly looking for something “out there” that will make our lives better, more beautiful, happier because what we have already is not enough.  And how sad that is as any of us who has lost someone dear knows.

How many times do people look back after someone dies and wish they had spent less time working and more time talking and laughing with him or her?  And all the fretting and stress we cause ourselves about not being able to provide all these “things” for our loved ones, feeling like we are not striving hard enough or don’t care enough if we don’t.

In my worst of times, I have had to take time off from working so our income has been diminished and our home has been in disrepair. I allowed myself to fall victim to this sense of embarrassment, not wanting to let people see us not at our best, lest they think poorly of me.  I know all of the clichés that my true friends wouldn’t care but…I would not have thought that I would have let myself give in to this.  But grief attacks your self-confidence and can make you behave in ways you would not have thought possible.  At the very time I needed to invite people in, I shut people out.  In this case, due to my physical surroundings and succumbing to the societal pressures around me.

So forget the clichés and take it from the heart that people who love you don’t care if your house is a mess- they will help you clean it.  They don’t care if you look like a model- they will take you for a haircut.  They don’t care if you cook them dinner- they will cook for you.  Don’t be distracted by what you see on TV or in the magazines about who you are supposed to be.  Just be.

Frustration

I went to visit a friend the other day who has suffered a different but very significant kind of loss.  Last April she miraculously survived what is commonly referred to as the “flesh-eating bacteria” illness.  If you haven’t heard of it, it is a powerful bacteria that seems to come out of nowhere and very rapidly attacks the body, destroying muscles and organs, often claiming the lives of its victims within a few days.

My friend was a healthy, vibrant mother of three with a thriving home business one day and a month later woke up to find herself wheelchair bound and still struggling to survive.  You see, although she made it through the initial phase of the illness, it left her hands and lower legs needing to be amputated in order for her to live as they had “died”.  She made the choice to do that so she could stay and still be a mom to her kids.

I tell you this because I see her now struggle with grief.  It comes from a different source but I recognize so much that same sense of losing the life you once knew, not ever being the person you used to be as everything has changed.  I don’t presume to know what she is going through as obviously, it is a completely unique experience.

But the common thread that ran through our conversation was the frustration she feels with having to go through all of this sadness and grief over losing who she once was.  She just wants it to be over with.  How often have we all felt that way?  How I wished that I could have told her the magic date that she would feel ok again; that it would be “x” number of days till she would feel like jumping back into work.  She wants so badly to wake up each day with a sense of purpose.  And all I could do was to empathize with her and reassure her that the day would come.

So, I did my best to encourage her, as I do you, and to share that as icky as it feels, I have learned that the only way to the other side- to that better day, is through…you have to feel it all and let it out.  Don’t hold back, don’t shove it down deep and keep that stiff upper lip- it will only prolong the inevitable.    As for my friend, I will keep visiting her and we’ll keep talking.

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