“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

Words of Wisdom

From a famous doctor…

“…Today is your day.

You’re off to Great Places!

You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

You’re on your own.  And you know what you know.

And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care.

About some you will say, “I don’t choose  to go there.”

With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,

you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

…NO!

That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.

You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping, once more you’ll ride high!

Ready for anything under the sky.

Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!

Oh, the places you’ll go!

There is fun to be done!

There are points to be scored.  There are games to be won.

And the magical things you can do with that ball

will make you the winning-est winner of all.

Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be,

with the whole world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t.

Because, sometimes, they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too.

Games you can’t win ’cause you’ll play against you.

All Alone!

Whether you like it or not,

Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance

you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.

There are some, down the road between hither and yon,

that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

But on you will go though the weather be foul.

On you will go though your enemies prowl.

On you will go though the Hakken-Kraks howl.

Onward up many a frightening creek,

though your arms may get sore

and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike.

And I know you’ll hike far

and face up to your problems whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,

as you already know.

You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember

that

Life’s a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

So…

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

you’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!”

In case you haven’t guessed yet, the Doctor is Dr. Seuss, a man who always seemed to be able to say the most profound and wonderful things in the most imaginative ways.  The book is “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” which was written in 1990 as a Commencement Speech.

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

Humbled once again…

Yes, once again I have been forced to face my own smallness and lack of real control in this life but it has not been a bad thing I have found.  It has made me slow down and view each day, each moment, each choice and really consider what matters to me and what I’ve been fretting about these past many months.

It has been very frustrating and depressing also but as things go in life (a lesson I have learned very well by now) you do have to just go with it and get from it what you can.  I say that now, in this moment, when I am feeling a little better, in a mood of reflection and can’t say that I have felt that right along.

Just to clarify, nothing major has happened. It’s just that I have been sick for the last 3 1/2 weeks with whatever viruses have been going around and it has been a big-time drag.  It is still not done with me and it has really put a serious crimp in my ability to accomplish anything.  It’s that kind of sick where you don’t even want to read a book or get dressed or anything.  You end up feeling like you are not even part of this planet anymore.

One of the things that seemed to happen a lot in the past as I have struggled  to wend my way through grief and create a new life for myself is that as soon as I would start something up and feel good about it, start getting some confidence like I was finally on my way to the “right thing”, something negative would happen like an illness or family problem or money crisis.  I would then feel shaken and take it as some sign that I had made the wrong decision or at least my newfound confidence would wane.

Although I have been reminded, again, that life is about ebb and flow and dealing with each day as it comes, I realize that I don’t feel that “why is this happening  to me” or “what am I doing wrong” feeling. I know now that response is just one of the natural outcomes that can occur with severe grief and trauma; that shaking of your faith in yourself and your trust in your own ability to make the right decisions.

I suspect that loss of self-confidence has a lot to do with the huge shock of fear of realizing how not in control we are of what happens in our lives- at least the important things anyway.  Nothing makes that more real than losing someone you love or some kind of painful major life change.

Coming to peace with that and figuring out how to live in that new reality is a trip for which few of us are prepared.  They don’t teach that subject in school and although prayer and religious faith can be comforting for some, it doesn’t usually give you the play-by-play to get through each difficult day. That is something that comes to each of us in our own way, through our own strength and by allowing those around us to help and support us in whatever ways we feel comfortable with.

It is not easy.  It is very much not easy. How long does it take? Well, I think anyone who’s been there will tell you that it takes a lifetime… but it does get easier.  Looking back now, that is the one thing that I would tell someone who is “new” on this path.

In the midst of all the haze and swirling thoughts and feelings that come and go, you have to start counting all of the small gains that you make and don’t set your sight on an “end game”, you know the “getting over it”.  That is never the goal because it doesn’t happen.  You can live again, smile again, laugh again, love again- it’s all just different than before. How can it not be?

It’s definitely taken me a long time to get to where I am and finally accept that I’m just not going to be the person I used to be, and it’s not just because I’m getting older!  So I will keep stepping forward each day, try not to be too hard on myself, and keep building that new life, with its new twists and turns.  I hope that you can find your strength, reach out for help if you can and will keep moving too.

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

Small Things

Every morning I have to take my 2 little dogs out for their morning constitutional and for some reason, they like to wander around in the woods behind our house to do so.  They have plenty of space near the house but that isn’t as intriguing I guess as all of the smells and possible pee and po… well, you know, spots that only the woods offer.

I actually don’t mind it because it gives me a chance to take a soul refreshing moment, a moment when I stop and just look and listen and feel the peace of what’s around me.  Sometimes I don’t even breathe for a moment so I can really feel it.

Some days the sun is streaming in through the trees and fills me warmth and a quiet energy.  Other days, it’s damp and misty and calming like a blanket wrapping around me.  In the midst of all the turmoil of day-to-day living and the burden on my spirit over all of these past years of grief and loss, it is that small moment that gives me that joy and peace that cannot be gotten from any thing or person; the peace that is not “of this world”.

This morning as I was drinking this in again, I realized that it was the small things like this that have helped me to survive and keep moving  forward through all the pain and confusion of grief.  Life was incredibly overwhelming so much of the time, so intense, yet had to be lived.

Through it all, I still believed that life is a gift so finding a way to see that there is still a beauty and a purpose to being here wasn’t easy.  I remember that I found it some days in just putting everything aside and listening to my kids tell jokes and laughing, staring into my little chihuahua’s eyes and seeing the innocence and gentleness of life, sitting on my couch savoring and actually tasting the good English tea that I love to drink which usually goes cold before I get halfway through, knitting instead of cleaning, or going to visit my sister and sitting in her living room chatting with my nieces and nephews, listening and really getting to know them.

When you are hurting, it’s the small things that get you through.  It’s a cliché, I know, but if you “stop and smell the roses” when you are in pain, give yourself that small moment to just be in the moment, it may give you the soul refresher you need to get on for another day.  I hope so.

“I’m mad as hell…”

I’m probably dating myself here but this is from the movie Network. When the aging news anchor finds out he is being let go for a younger, sassier version he shares his frustration with the viewing public, ending with the final burst of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”  He then instructs everyone in tv land to open their windows and shout it out into the world, which being a movie, lots of people proceed to do.

Imagine how freeing that might feel.  Anger is one of the “stages” in Kubler-Ross’ list of 5 that are commonly talked about and although there has been a great deal of change in view toward this stage theory, most people will still experience several of those emotions.  I think that anger is one of the most challenging for people.  Nice people don’t get angry.  You definitely don’t express it if you do feel it.  You are supposed to push it away, smile, forgive everyone.  I was brought up that it’s not “ladylike” to get mad and behave in an “impolite” manner i.e. “angry”.

But how can you not feel angry when your child or partner or best friend or other significant person was taken from you and you are left behind to try to figure out what to do?  Maybe you’re angry at the medical community who couldn’t figure out how to cure that kind of cancer or at the driver of that car who didn’t see the red light or that thing they call SIDS that took your baby away in the middle of the nite.

And then there are those unspeakable angers.  If you are a person of faith, you may find yourself wanting to scream and yell at God.  I mean, if God is so loving, how could He do this to me?  Why?  What did I do to deserve this?  I’ve tried to be good.  I’ve always tried to do the right thing-play by all the rules.  For many, this can be a very difficult and shattering experience.  If not handled well, some people may turn from their faith altogether.

The other even more disturbing anger for many is the shock of feeling angry at the person who died.  Guilt and self-recrimination can only confuse an already overwhelming situation.  Many spouses feel angry at being left with all the burdens of home, children, bills.  Parents may be angry at children who died because of irresponsible behavior like drunk driving or taking drugs.  And then there’s just being angry at them in general for leaving you and making you go through all this pain.  You may think it’s irrational but you feel it just the same.

And that is the key.  You feel it.   It is just part of the normal grief process that our psychological system has designed to help us work through this loss experience.  It is normal.  How it will show up and its intensity is different for each of us and is influenced by many things like the nature of your relationship with the person, the circumstances of the death, any experiences you had with death as a child, religious and cultural beliefs, etc.

The most important thing is that you allow yourself to feel what you feel, even the anger.  Express it in some way even if it’s only in private.  You don’t have to yell and scream either- there are lots of different ways.  Just acknowledging it and knowing that it’s ok is a good place to start.

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