Death and financial train wrecks – different types of devastation

While the post title sounds like related issues, in fact they are two separate soundtracks running through my thoughts the past few days. Nothing pretty to see here, so if you are looking for my usual glitter-bombing unicorn outlook, this may be the post to skip.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with my client who lost his 13-year-old son last week; the young man took his own life. While he is a client, most of my self-employment clients are people I consider friends as well, the business just another anecdotal box of experiences we happen to share. Understandably, he is completely broken, destroyed by what has happened. That little boy was the sun and moon and stars in his world, and now he’s gone. Interlaced with grief, though, is this intense, white-hot anger from the circumstances that may time will cool and bring peace. I am not an especially religious person; I offer no platitudes about better places and safe from harm. As a mother who has been through the grief that comes with the death of a beloved child, such statements tend to piss me off even as I know that my children are only on loan, they are meant to grow up and become independent beings well outside my scope of control and direction. But 12, 13 – it is way too soon. Please do not ever suggest to me it’s God’s will, or it’s part of a bigger plan, or they are happier in their place in Heaven. Fuck that shit. Our children – we are good parents; our children should be her on earth with us, getting awkward and hormonal, getting angry and screaming at us, assured in how little we know and growing up into people who again like and respect us for the mere mortals we are as they mature into adulthood and realized that their parents are imperfect, do not have all the answers, but try their best.

In a lot of real and direct experience ways, I am someone who understands. I listened and pretended not to notice when he cried. There are no words of comfort in these situations, and sometimes it is only human warmth that makes us feel less alone and lonely with our tragic losses. As I still think to this day, when there are no words, hugs speak volumes.

Into this profoundly emotional and poignant time with one slice of my life, comes all the bullshit and pettiness of small-ball problems. Comparatively speaking, anyway. There are no universal bandaids that remove physic pain and perceived injustice, and sometimes my patience with those who want to escalate petty grievances into something bigger, badder, much more complicated and time-consuming – let’s just say I’m short and dismissive. Every person I know who works or has any type of relationship with expectation of performance and results has similar stories of such disagreements and less motivated, less first-choice options for bosses, coworkers, worked hired out. So I know I am not the only manager at any level in the world having to deal with people and their problems. And I also know what is a Very Big Deal to them is smaller than small-ball to me. Most of the time, I try to deal with them professionally and compassionately, even while telling them to grow up and get real.

In other words, more drama in the office. And it is not that I don’t care – I care very much, particularly as it impacts perceptions about me and my performance of my job functions – but when you are dealing with a slice of pirated information (salaries) and without complete context, the leg you’re standing on is kind of weak and shaking. When it comes up, I will deal with it. Right now, my head is filled with thoughts of death.

And I hate it.

I hate that my client and friend is suffering so miserably. I hate that another dear friend is thousands of miles away and alone and facing a procedure on his brain. I don’t think it’s just me that gets nervous when people speak of brain surgery, and to not be able to be present and there at this time – it’s really, really hard. While telling myself thousands of times daily that it will be fine, he will be fine, I cannot get my mind to buy the reassurances. Sometimes being a “hope for the best, imagine the worst” version of Pollyanna does not work out all that well for me.

Truthfully, I cannot imagine my life without him somewhere in it. M is far more stoic than I am, thankfully, but even he has his reservations and concerns. It’s BRAIN surgery, and no matter how normal and routine it might be for the surgeon and the specialized team of doctors and nurses, this is someone we love and it is a world-class BIG DEAL to the rest of us sitting on the sidelines and metaphorically wringing our hands and trying not to be consumed with worry.

So yeah, head is kind of stuffed to overflowing out my ears with thoughts of death and what life is like imagining and trying to shut off the imaginings of life after the worst.

Ugh.

Another of my clients asked begged (his term, not mine) me to work with his niece on her finances. I thought it would be relatively straight-forward; after all, my client is very intelligent and sensible, his sister (the referral’s mother) seems the same in the times we have met. I figured at worse she would have student loan debt and need some help with her budgeting.

Oh my, I was so very wrong.

We met yesterday, and after 30 minutes of discussing the state of her life, I put away the green tea I was drinking and order the fully caffeinated, full-sugar version of a coffee-flavored milk drink to fortify myself. It is quite ugly.

She is a college graduate with degrees in chemistry and literature. Her parents paid for college so no student loan debt. Her home was gifted to her from her grandmother along with just over 6 figures in cash. She is employed in the local hospital system, which brings to mind decent wage and benefits. The car she drove up in a later model Camray – nothing fancy or flashy. While she is telling me all this, I am listening and nodding and thinking she needs a financial planner more than she needs a budget coach.

Then she pulls out the sheaf of check stubs, bank statements, credit card bills. I am still thinking, okay, everyone gets into trouble with credit cards; it’s almost a right of passage. I can help her, I’m sure.

It is with the documents that the real story comes out and why her mother and uncle asked me to talk with her and see if I can help her out.

This girl is 29, working at a job that pays about $42K per year, because she only works part-time (20 hours per week) by choice. There is a maxed out line of credit on her paid-off home, she has less than $500 in the bank, and an astonishing amount of credit card debt racked up in just a few years. On top of which – before inheriting her home and money, she had declared bankruptcy because of other credit card debt accrued in college.

I asked her how all this debt came about and got some pretty vague answers about shopping and paying for a couple of fender benders to keep them off her insurance and travel and charitable giving. I asked what happened to her inheritance, and got similar responses, with the addition of … plastic surgery. Did I mention she is turning 30 in a couple of months?

Ugh. Financial train wreck? More like mushroom cloud of financial devastation.

While I suspected this was going to be a huge challenge, I valiantly tried to help her.

Does she have a budget? Yes, but she routinely runs out of money and has to use her credit cards. Okay, can she show me her budget. Well no, because she keeps it in her head. She does pay all her bills when she gets paid and lives on what’s leftover. Except with this much credit card debt, there is a whole lot more living going on than a single person should be doing.

Or so goes the judgmental budget coach in me.

I did not have time to crunch the numbers to even get a sense of where she was, so we set up another appointment for this weekend after I had a better chance to look through her stuff and figure out how truly bad things are for her. And after looking through all her stuff last night, it’s really bad.

Since I know quite a few people in her age bracket, I know it is not just an issue of financial literacy. Yet I cannot fathom how someone could go blow through a just over $100K in inheritance, take out (and then max out) a line of credit on a paid-off home, and run up enough credit card debt to owe just over $150K on a $42K per year salary. And yet, I have seen so much worse through the years.

I know and have heard all the arguments and sob stories about the evil banks and credit card companies taking advantage of the consumer. Bullshit. No one makes us take on debt, although I do know sometimes it’s an uncomfortable only option we have. My sympathy in this is primarily with her family, who – rightly – refuse to bail her out of this mess and merely try to find her resources to help resolve it.

The discord in this is that she is in such a deep, dark place of denial. The typical millennial mindset is stronger than average in this one (and I do apologize to all my very level-headed millennial friends who may be reading this vent).

Either way, she’s in a huge financial bind and it will get worse long before it gets better. I want nothing but success for her, but from conversations with her uncle and her mother, she is not listening to them and is unlikely to listen to me. However, I will do my best.

I think she sees herself as living a life of freedom, whereas I see a young woman anchored by debt and being smother by the increasing interest and monthly payments. She could sell her home – the only assets I see that she has – which would likely clear her debt. But I know already the idea will float like a lead balloon.

At a very minimum, she needs to request a full-time schedule and accept every single hour of overtime that is offered to make more cash. With some negotiation with her creditors we might be able to get her squeaking through each month and with a very strict beans-and-rice type budget.

Buuuuttttt – one of the first comments out of her mouth is that she is unwilling to work more hours. Her debt is a combination of shopping, world travel, philanthropy, and just plain deranged, out-of-control spending. Seriously, I cannot think of another way to describe it.

I cannot save anyone, except perhaps myself. For the sake of my client, I will do my best to create a realistic plan … that she’s unlikely to agree to much less follow through with. When I met her, before we began discussing her finances in detail, I thought she was smart, funny, interesting, and quite physically beautiful. We chatted briefly about fitness – she works with a trainer 3 times per week and does yoga religiously 4 or 5 times per week – and I briefly, VERY briefly, thought she should meet trainer J. Or one of the associates I work with.

No, oh no. I love and adore my trainer, I really NEED my trainer, and I simply cannot do such a horrible thing. And my associates, it’s important to me to maintain my professional relationships. My goodness – what if someone I happened to introduce her to actually likes her? No, just no.

I was actually relieved to find out she likes girls.

The bottom line, at the end of a difficult day on a multitude of levels, what I find almost sadder than the real life agony is this silly, silly girl with the great big entitlement boulder resting on her shoulder.

Some things, some choices, some events are so far beyond my understanding. Where I can help, I try my best to do the right thing and provide what assistance I can. Sometimes it’s out of my realm of expertise, and the eventual outcome is in the hands of others far more skilled and more knowledgeable than me.

I have my hopes for the people in my life – I want what I want for them, whether it peace of mind or recovering their health. When someone new wanders into my midst, if I can help I will try. If they refuse help, I can and will step aside and let nature take its course.

Doesn’t mean I have to like it much, any of it. Sometimes I just wish people did not have to endure so much hardship, and sometimes I just wish people would be realistic and make better choices about their lives.

From nervously glad to horrifically sad in less than 12 hours

Yesterday one of my closest friends texted to tell me he was likely to be undergoing a surgical procedure to correct a brain injury. This has been an ongoing issue for several months, so it was big news that he was finally getting scheduled and ready for it. While happy and excited about it, I am equally terrified of the potential side effects, complications, unexpected consequences. I seem to have no healthy outlet to express that anxiety – after all, it was almost 9 when he texted to tell me and I could not go back to the gym for a third workout. So overnight I was plagued with nightmares and poor sleep and woke up with a blinding headache that pushed me to push back my exercise until after work. Not the end of the world, and I know I will be calmer about this whole process once I have more information, including specific date and time range for the procedure.

Open my email this morning and first thing I read is from one of my private clients – his 13 year old son has taken his own life. I do not have a way to react to that; in the moment of reading the words, having my mind process the meaning of the words, I find catching my breath impossible. Such situations, expressing sorrow is so very inadequate. Nothing I can do, nothing anyone can do. Something I understand all too well, life changes in a blink.

Both events have triggered strong emotions within me, and I find myself flailing around in search of safe harbor. POSITIVE safe harbor. Last thing I want or need is to be seeking out chocolate and soda and things that will make me ultimately feel worse. I ended up skipping out on my practice this morning because of aforementioned blinding headache and tentatively bailing on a Wednesday night thing of practice with a tribe member and friend. But I may change my mind as the day progresses. Or I may go to yoga with one of my friends here in the office.

Choices, healthier choices, are obvious and available to me. I could go to the gym tonight in my crappy mood and mini band walk and do enough lunges and squats to burn myself out and kick-start the endorphin production. I could blog here and at my health and fitness site more. I could turn even infinitely more selfish and ignore the long list of to-do projects at home and read more. Or I could even get more assertive about clearing out that list of to-do projects.

Before all this, I had a post brewing about K and her career stuff. We have become close, K and I, and she confides and bounces ideas with me all the time. I love that. As much as she is enjoying her present job, she has now been there more than 1.5 years and has yet to have the performance review/salary adjustment that was promised year when here hiring supervisor left and she took on that role and responsibility. First it was to be at the beginning of 2017, but it’s now been 3 months and not a word has been said. The job has expanded considerably and has far more responsibility, yet her present supervisor and his boss really have no clear idea of all she does. While compiling that list and preparing to ask for a meeting, she had been doing research for other available opportunities and essentially hit the motherlode.

While not actually serious in her search, she did apply for a couple of other jobs that are similar to her present role and a good match for her experience. For one she was asked for compensation guidelines, and I said to offer a range that was at least 10% more than what she is presently making. The range presented started at $10K more than her present salary and he immediately invited her for an interview. Score! Except she’s not sure she wants to commute to their offices (across town from where they live and through downtown) and she is not 100% sure about the job. But it would be good experience to interview and learn about another industry. Then there is a second job for one of the larger and better employers here in town, applied for on Sunday, contacted for an information pre-screening interview by phone yesterday (passed with flying colors) and now going for the first face-to-face interview today. This job starts at $15K more per year than she is making now, has a better insurance/benefit package, and is less than 10 minutes from home (versus her 30 minute commute now). These are very happy events.

For me as well, while not looking I also acquired another new self-employment client. It is a small job, probably less than 10 hours per month, but potential for more work exists in the future as they grow. It’s interesting project work, though, so in truth I might have gone for a lower hourly rate just to get the work. Thankfully he didn’t even blink at my hourly rates, which is partly due to the glowing referral from an existing client. I am delighted with that.

I recognize how little room I have for complaint in my life. M remains the imperfect guy who is just about the perfect partner for me. I have jobs I truly enjoy and the husband with enough going on in his own life to allow me a lot of room and freedom to pursue my jobs and healthy lifestyle that benefits both of us. Both my kids are living independent lives and blazing their own paths through adulthood.

For every old friend I have had abandon our long friendship in light of my lifestyle changes I seem to have acquired one or more new ones that are more like-minded, encouraging, supportive. Relationships are like living organisms that are left to grown and change organically as time passes. As I have come to understand more fully and continue to learn to management my expectations, I am far happier and more secure in the progression of my days. So when the truly bad days do hit – like today – I am not flailing around grasping at anything that will somehow comfort or make the awful fade even a little bit. Not precisely sure what I am going to do, but I have an associate standing outside my doorway prodding me to join them for a healthy lunch and walk around the block.

As far as choices for coping go, that’s a good place to start.

 

Grief and boundaries

Fridays are becoming free-for-alls for me here on the blog. Of course, it sort of fits with my no-theme theme and methodology of blogging. Today is inspired by both by current events in my life and things I have crossed paths with while wandering around and reading random stuff.

My friend J has been quite ill for the last month. Seems like he is rallying and turning the corner toward his eventual full recovery. I say that because he is back to making morbid jokes that alternately make me laugh, want to cry from the visions it creates, or want to slug him for scaring me by getting so very sick.

Mostly I choose laughter, and I recognize it is tinged with relief that my friend is still here and able to make me laugh.

Over the course of this week and the one prior has been a lot of thought about loss, grief, mourning, sadness. I know what all that feels like, having been through it with those I love and unfortunately more than once. It’s almost a selfish thing, to mourn. This is not to be confused with the current connotation that being selfish is a terrible personality trait. Personally, I am starting to truly believe that too much of anything, including selflessness, becomes something twisted and negative.

When B died at age 12, her youth was a component of the sadness surrounding her passing. She was too young to even know what a bucket list is, much less have one to complete. When my friend Jamie died last year, he was older, in faltering health, and had lived a long and productive life. His bucket list had been retired or mostly retired by the time he died.

I use these examples from my own life because they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. I am still sad when I think about them. But it’s a selfish sort of sadness. Jamie was such a guiding force in my life that helped me unpack and sort through my stuff and grow up in work so I could be more effective managing marriage, motherhood, work, life. I miss our conversations, just sitting around talking about everything and nothing in particular. He was a source of joy and laughter and happiness for me, and from that perspective, how could I not be a little sad to have lost it? How could I not miss it?

With my daughter, it is different yet the same. When her siblings married this year, I was saddened by the shadow of her I saw in these happy events. Just like every holiday, every family gathering no matter how trivial in the last 20 years I have at least a few seconds pass through my mind that someone is missing from our table, that there is an empty chair. Anymore it’s a brief span of time that now makes me smile wistfully with my sad. If only. She was loved so much in her short life and still missed 20 years after leaving this life.

My sadness has nothing to do with unfinished business or wishing to change something about these relationships. It’s just the selfish desire of a mother and a friend left behind. I’m glad I still think of them, glad I have good memories to enjoy, and just a tinge of wistful that we are not creating new memories or they are not an active presence in whatever is going on in my life in the moment.

These are examples of what I consider grief and it does not play for me as it is portrayed in mainstream media. I cried buckets of tears and felt my heart break with both these losses. At the same time, I am a practical soul who understands my own heart and (mostly) mind. I knew the sadness would pass and made no apologies for being happy. There was never a time when my life so dark and so dreary all the joy and color was completely sucked out of it. In my experience there seems to be an unspoken expectation that we all grieve and mourn in the same way, or at least we should express our sorrows in a similar way, as if there is a standard to which we may be measured in how feeling or unfeeling we are in our periods of sadness. That I tend to be on the less expressive side of that equation tends to wig people out. My mother was an excellent example. A few weeks after B died, she told me I never loved my daughter, that she raised her, that she loved her more. I had to walk away from that. There are no winners in contests of who hurts more when suffering a tragic loss.

And I suppose this extreme disconnect between my parents and me explains why I rarely think about them, feel as if a stranger had died and left me with a house full of crap that had to be dealt with. Understand this is not me wishing them to be dead or gone from my life; for the most part, I had as little contact as possible with my parents during my adult life. I am glad my kids had opportunity to know their grandparents, and for them, there are fond memories of my dad (he died when they were in grade school) and a more mixed bag of memories for my mom (she died 3 years ago). Depression, learned helplessness, active dependence are not traits I shared with my mom, and I instilled in both my kids a sense of independence and desire to take care of themselves that she never completely understood. It made her final years, particularly the last 6 months, hard on all of us.

I do not mourn their loss or grieve their absence from my life. They would have had to have played a more active role in my life to warrant such feelings of affection and loss, and both were emotionally absent while being present in my growing up years or even my adult years. Sadly, there is nothing unique about our dysfunctional relationship. Alcoholism and depression at work. Intellectually understanding what who they were as people and what ailments they suffered from does nothing to soften my indifference toward them as an adult. Perhaps I am selfish and entitled for feeling as if I deserved a little better parenting than what I received.

Thinking about my folks brings me to the boundaries part of today’s think-fest.

Growing up in an alcoholic home, I developed all the ticks and twists of your average codependent. I have great capacity to be a major-league control freak and exhibit extraordinary controlling behavior. In addition to that, I was victimized sexually by a really twisted man. Mental and emotional assistance for my issues did not arrive until adulthood, and even then, it was a push-pull, 1 step forward, 2 steps back process. So believe me, I know a bit about boundaries – establishing them and enforcing them.

My unwillingness to talk about my past nearly cost me my present marriage. While I had been seeing a therapist off and on for most of our relationship, I generally refused to talk about our sessions and discussions. Dealing with my crap impacted our marriage, although M brought his own suitcase full of insecurity and stuff as well. Dealing with our own crap separately while trying to be married was a traditional recipe for unhappiness. By the time we got to the boiling point, I was so angry and so unhappy I was ready to file for divorce. We separated. We went into individual and couples therapy to work on our own stuff and our couples stuff and came out so much better on the other side.

Boundaries were a big part of that work.

M is like a dog with a bone when he wants information about something he senses is important somehow. I am very disinclined to volunteer information under threat or in the midst of being interrogated. A boundary we pounded out in therapy is that if I am not willing or able to talk about something, he backs off. No badgering. No bullying. No emotional blackmail. For me, if he asks me something I cannot or will not talk about, I have to state that I am unwilling or unable to talk about it at that time. If necessary, we will go back to therapy to pound it out. It has been years since we even approached that point. But in the early days, it was good to have a get out of jail free card when things got hard. If I was resistant to sharing something or if he was badgering me, we could each drag the other my ass back to therapy to figure out a way out of this.

It made me stop threatening him with divorce every time he pushed too far. Once I got calmed down enough to trust him to not push that way, he got assurances that I was not a flight risk and it greatly reduced his anxiety and desperation. We needed help working at establishing and enforcing healthy boundaries, and we are now involved in a happy marriage.

But my reason for thinking about boundaries today is conversations with friends and recent roamings around blogville.

I don’t know how people do these things, when there has been betrayal and egregious breaches of trust. For me, I am a compartmentalizer. I tend to put emotions of various stripes into boxes until I can cope with them. When it comes to thoughts, I do my best to sort them out, stay rational, triage and stay focused on what seems like highest priorities.

Still, I feel as if I have lived a mostly charmed life. As a parent, my kids were normal, easy-to-raise kids. They are both adults now, and we have close relationships. It’s something I value and protect. Work and career track has not been supremely exciting and fast-tracked stellar, but it has been a steady climb and allowed me to provide for my kids as a single parent even before M came into our lives. I am a good and responsible friend, also relationships I value. Unfortunately not all friends reciprocate affection and trust in the same ways. It’s a balance that does not always work.

Boundaries with friends have been an ongoing challenge with me. In the last year, long friendships have become strained, challenged, ended. Or they have grown closer, deeper, more connected. The common denominator, the catalyst for change, has been a friendship dynamic adjustment where I am no longer completely satisfied with “because it’s always been this way.” As I have grown and changed and faced and overcome challenges, enjoyed successes in other aspects of my life, the trickle down has been to some of the longest relationships of my life.

My friend J, the younger brother I never had (and quite possibly never, ever wanted) has always been a close friend, but in the last 18 months, 2 years he’s grown exponentially more important to me and my nearest and dearest. At first it was partly his alarm at my paying money to work with a gym trainer – he became guard dog protective and suspicious about everything trainer J was trying to teach me at first – and now it’s another activity and understanding we have in common. I have learned so much and am continuing to learn with trainer J, from friend J, and on my own in the gym on my own practice.

Other old friends cheer for me, share my successes, commiserate with me on my shortfalls. It’s been more than a year. I no longer get terribly upset and frustrated about my lack of mainstream and traditionally measured progress. I can do my List of the day today and again tomorrow. I can do a pilates class on Sunday. I am trying (and mostly succeeding) in doing more yoga, just to try and get some flex into my body. And I am working on an interim fuck moderation methodology with my eating.

These are good things.

Unfortunately, as I and others on similar journeys have experienced, not everyone in our lives is as supportive and kind about our quest to change our habits and our lives. As I have grown stronger in my ability to kindly and firmly set and enforce acceptable behavior towards me, conflicts have arisen. Mostly they are handled in positive ways. Some, not so much. Disappointing.

But while I have some sadness and some grief associated with those losses, sometimes even friendships run their course and have an expiration date. At the same time, I am the better, stronger version of myself. I can let them go without rancor or even real distress. I can let them go with my thanks for many years and happy memories, but I can also feel that putting my needs and my desires and enforcing my own boundaries to protect myself and my objectives in life is not just important but critical to thriving. Once upon a time I would have judged myself harshly, felt selfish and self-centered for taking care of me. That time is long past.

Maybe greater maturity is knowing when to hold em, when to fold em, when to walk away, when to run. Or maybe I am just in the better, healthier place.

And that, dear friends, is a Very Good Thing for me.

 

Loss

After Tuesday’s post went up, I got an email from an old friend about it. We met years and years ago in my first child abuse victim support group and became friends after a fashion, or as friendly as two people with similar, horrible histories can become when that is the primary thing you have in common. Then, as is now, our lives and journeys through the days were very different. At that time I was newly married (to my first husband), physically healthy if a hot mess emotionally, and she was alone and struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD (although it was not labeled as such back then).

Life continued for both of us, and for the 6 months or so I was involved in that group we went out for a soda (for me) and a drink (for her) after each weekly meeting. It was unbearable lying to my husband about my activities, but the idea of telling him was far, far worse. I quit the group when the pressure to open up and come clean became too much; I was not ready then, and it would be almost 20 more years and a different man, different marriage before I was prepared to talk about it with anyone outside of therapy.

But my friend stayed in touch with me, calling periodically to see how I was faring. Ours became a 2-woman support group off and on through the years, and although she lives less than 10 minutes from where I reside right now, it’s been more than 15 years since we have gotten together for a coffee or soda. We kept in touch by email mostly, with the occasional phone call thrown in. It was not a close friendship by any stretch, but there was mutual respect despite the many differences in our lives, lifestyles, and personalities. In my own way I loved her like family, yet the secrets that connected us also kept us at a very long arms length.

Today I learned she passed away last night. A drug overdose.

It’s odd and surreal – I just exchanged emails with her on Tuesday. I suppose I was not close enough of a friend to tell she was using again, although in my heart I would not judge her. Our journeys and choices through life were different, and mine of life with M, kids, friends, work was almost as unbearable to her as the idea of being alone, living on the edge, drinking, drugging, somehow getting by with minimal human contact is to me. Tuesday night she told me I was brave, to be so blithe and cavalier and open about my life and times and history in the blog. She characterized me as courageous to boldly forge relationships and to care for and about others in such a public fashion. I replied that bravery and courage had little to do with it when you are simply someone who tries to blend with the herd and stay invisible in the world where those you love and come to love dwell. She sent me a smile in return and that was that.

I have to leave for training in a few minutes and step back into my choice of life. In the end, I hope she has found that elusive peace. She was not the easiest person to get to know, much less like or love, but she mattered to me. The part of me that let go a long time ago will continue to miss her.

Rest in peace, Carina Leigh.

dealing with “the best”

“Things work out for the best.” “Making the best of a bad/sad situation.” “I wish you the best.”

These are common phrases. I have, and will continue, to use them myself. Because I believe it, I believe things tend to work out for the best and that it is possible to make the best of a bad/sad situation.

This does not mean I have to like it. In the moment or for a long while after the moment.

Since B died in 1998, March has been a strange month for me. At first it was just depressing and sad all the way through. I would look forward to the calendar change so my eyes would not linger on the dates anymore with this impending sense of dread. These days, I notice it more in my impatience with the whining all around me. Whereas normally I try to be positive and philosophical about it – I have no idea what is truly going on in anyone else’s life and there may be good reason for their whining and complaining about the silliest things – for at least the last week, 10 days I feel impatient and inwardly rolling my eyes at the ridiculous things people say to me or that I read online. Not a good time for me to be talking to anyone or commenting. I have nothing constructive to say; the snark is locked, loaded, and ready to fire.

Several of my friends contacted me yesterday via email or phone to just check in. It’s not that they have not talked to me so much as I have been unusually quiet and reserved when we have chatted. One in particular is in the midst of chemotherapy and depends on me for realistic perspective when she is dark and gloomy and miserable in the aftermath of her sessions. When she called Sunday I was practically comatose during our conversation, and my vague explanations of fatigue, job burnout, the lack of rain were not convincing. They she noticed the dates. Lightbulb moment.

I admit it snuck up on me this year, the lingering grief funk. Between work and the improvements here at the house, I have been immersed and consumed with normal, day-to-day life stuff. Yet I was growing more impatient and pumping up the volume to drown out the sighs and complaints about lesser significance issues that normally would barely ripple in my mind’s pond. The last couple of weeks, each and every one of those little things would start a wave of irritation that would continue to fester and grow until it was the size of a oceanic tsunami.

I count my blessings and recognize how fortunate I am in life. I think of those I love and am grateful that our little nuclear family of four has expanded to include A and K, that C and G have found someone who makes them happy and their worlds a better place. I express my gratitude for all I have, for the BEST life and that it continues to improve and evolve and expand. Hurts inflicted have mostly healed, enough to not impair me most of the time yet leave me with enough empathy to try and offer comfort and support to others in pain. I am primarily a happy and contented person.

Yet through it all I have this blotchy blechy feeling about who is missing from our table. When I think of where I was and what my life was like on this day in 1998, it is hard to recognize myself in those memories. I was someone who had not yet experienced loss. I am always honest about it, that if must go through it, ours was a great example of the best experience possible under such impossible, heart-breaking circumstances.

But as I said, I don’t have to like it. I do have to accept it. There is nothing I could have done to change the outcome, and at the time we made the best of a sad situation. But I still don’t like it.

More loss, more grief, and the happily ever after

My full-time local boss’ mother passed away on Thanksgiving. She had been ill the past few months, in the hospital from time to time. Her health seemed to be stablize, so they came west for the winter as they typically do. A few weeks ago she fell again and was hospitalized while the boss was visiting and conducting business near there. The prognosis this time did not appear good, and she slipped away on Thanksgiving, her husband and children at her bedside. It is sad.

The boss says his parents had been married 64 years in January. His father is in frailer health as well and speaks of his remaining time and his readiness to join his wife and continue their happily ever after. This is upsetting to the boss, of course, having just had to say final goodbyes to his mother. But at the same time, I am charmed and comforted by the idea of them being together in the hereafter. My own parents were married 47 years when my dad passed, and my mother lasted another 12 years after that. In my lifetime they never seemed openly affectionate or loving toward one another, it was more like two people who had lived together long enough for it to be habit. It’s different with my boss’ folks. I have met them on a few occasions in the years I have been part of this firm, and they always seemed like this charming older couple who still sparked off and were attentive to and in tune with one another.

I hope the boss’ dad is around awhile longer, if only to give his children and grandchildren opportunity to grieve their mother/grandmother before he leaves to join her. But I will not be surprised if he too slips away soon.

My part-time job #2 boss lost his father on Monday. Massive heart attack. His dad held on long enough for him to fly home and spend a few minutes saying goodbye. This boss is having a much, much harder time. We do not see each other a lot, maybe once or twice ever quarter, but we email and/or speak via phone several times each week. I know him well enough from our interactions over the last year to know he loves his parents very much. Their love story ended 20+ years ago in divorce. His father never remarried, and his mother was widowed a few years ago when second husband died of cancer. I assisted her with arrangements to get home (they are originally from Australia) and she told me it feels as if she has been widowed a second time. So sad.

M feels badly for me, being buffeted on all sides by loss. He grieves for his father and finally understands that the angry surges from things over which he/we have no control and cannot change are turning our home toxic for me. It has been raining a lot this weekend and now this week, so the longer runs/walks that burn off a lot of that energy are almost impossible. Yet there he was, suiting up in his his rain gear this morning and determined to get out and do at least 10 miles. I expect he will come home a cold, muddy mess but in a much better, clearer frame of mind. I hope, anyway. I love the guy; I want him to be okay and not angry, broody, upset to the point of stomachaches. Grief, I understand, accept, and can readily cope with; it’s the anger that kills.

My own frame of mind is bouncing back. We are getting into the holiday spirit, assembling our tree and getting the new baubles sorted out and ready to hang. Tonight we will probably be working on the tree and then placing the wrapped presents underneath. The next two weekends are busy with holiday social events, then it’s C’s birthday, and finally Christmas. This month will pass quickly, so I getting my head and priorities straight so I can enjoy the moments.

I wish I had known you better

My older sister and only sibling would be 57 today. She died from cancer or its complications almost 10 years ago.

She was estranged from my mom and I for a few years before death, so by the time she reached out again it was because the breast cancer discovered (during the estrangement years) had spread to her bones. It was stage 4 and there wer few treatments left for her to explore. I was glad she reached out, but at the same time deeply saddened by the circumstances. I thought it might offer an opportunity to make our peace, know each other a little better in whatever time was left, and other than that initial phone call, I never heard from her again. I sent money, I left messages each month for the next 4, and none of my calls were ever acknowledged, my modest attempts to ease her final days with money unacknowledged. The only way I was sure she was getting my notes and checks was by her cashing them each month.

What I remember most about my sister in my childhood was our fights. While all siblings argue and fight, my earliest memories are of our screaming matching and the physical hair-pulling slap-fests that would periodically break out. It is with deep sorrow and shame that I remember defacing her high school year book – at 10 I was a mess – and I suppose I cannot really blame her for not liking me more during much of our youth. Our interests were different, we were very different in our outlooks and the ways our parents saw us, raised us. It was unfortunate.

As adults we both made mistakes in our personal lives, were stubborn in letting go of past hurts, slights, and disses. She had moved out of state when I was 15, and her subsequent trips home were like restarting the dysfunctional family dynamic all over again, like a broken record. My mother would be overjoyed she was coming home for a visit, favorite child and all, and then spend they would spend the duration of the visit arguing and fighting with each other, coming together as a united front in being critical of me. Once I left home I rarely visited when my sister was in town; once she and my mom would start their critisims or arguing with each other I left and refused to return. It was easier and harder when we both had children. GL was jealous that my kids were so much closer to my parents, and my parents were accustomed to having more control and say in behavioral standards while the kids were in their care. My sister, on the other hand, would have no one else disciplining or even correcting her boys, no matter how poorly they behaved.

When she died I did not attend her funeral, a slight for which my mother never really forgave me. In truth it was that while she was my sister by blood, she was a stranger to me. I barely knew her or her young adult children, and while I was sad she had died I was not grieving or even deeply upset. Our disconnect had grown so great that I rarely thought of her when I thought about my family, but by that time the same was true of my own mother. It is sort of jarring and in stark contrast to the relationships I have now with my own little family and extended family of close friends. Those who have known me since grade school are not at all surprised, but newer friends have asked me about the deep rift in my family of origin. It’s complicated, I always say, and it is that and so much more. I suppose they loved me in their own ways, only in a manner I could never completely understand, much less feel.

I always find myself thinking of her on her birthday, trying to remember good things about our growing up years and beyond. The struggle is not so much good times are overwhelmed by bad so much as I simply do not have many family memories, period. For good and valid reasons much of my childhood remains a blur, and what I have recalled I wish I could forget every time it crosses my mind.

I have to believe she is in a far better, happier place. She suffered in life, through poor choices and difficult circumstances. We are all products of our upbringing and environment, and what I know of her adult life could fit into a few sad paragraphs. As fortunate and as blessed as I am right now, I attribute a lot of that to hard work and being honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses. I also never discount the kindness of friends and the strength and decency of my husband.

For my sister, I never wished her bad luck or had lingering ill will towards her. Mostly I wish we had been able to find more common ground or ways to bridge the big gaping chasm of our childhoods and become something akin to friends, if not better sisters. Now she is gone, another opportunity lost. While I gave up guilt and regret about family matters I could not change a long time ago, I still feel a twinge on her birthday and wish we had both tried a little harder.

Happy birthday, GL. I wish I had known you better.