This is tough. I would really prefer NOT to write this…..this….essay?…..this blog entry? (though I’m not positive I’ll ever publish it)…..this journal entry? What is this anyway? It’s a jumble of words about and possibly to one of my fears.
My fears are legion. And after our last (weepingly intense on my part) coaching conversation Coach Jim suggested I write to the one I’m currently trying to avoid. The one I’m trying to ignore. The one I’m trying to stuff in a shoebox with all of the rest of my fears.
And right now I’d prefer to be doing just about ANYTHING rather than writing this. Anything to avoid thinking about it. Hey Mr. Spuds…let me cook dinner. Cough! (I never cook.) Scrub the toilets? Sure I’d love to! Debate my liberal views with the entire Republican Party? Sign me up! Be locked in a room full of “Answers in Genesis” devotees? Sounds like fun to me!
But avoiding this won’t help me grow. Hiding won’t help me stretch and move beyond where I am now. So let’s take the journey together. Let’s discover how many times I can circle around the issue before actually talking about or talking to my fear. (The over/under is 1,100 words. I’d recommend taking the over. )
So emotions in general give me fits. I’m not sure what they look like, how they act or what I’m supposed to do with them. (Evidently stuffing them in shoeboxes isn’t the answer. Who knew?!?) Fear specifically is……well…..frightening.
Sigh. This isn’t going to be easy.
I live in a mood of fear. Even when there is no rational reason to fear, it’s still where I “live.” It colors how I respond to things. It’s what’s behind many (or all?) of my reactions.
I do NOT like admitting this. It’s not pleasant to think or write about. It doesn’t sound “becoming.” It’s clearly not a positive thing. Yet it IS where I am. And I need to acknowledge that. I do acknowledge it. I need to come to terms with it. I don’t have to stay this way—I can choose to change it. And am working to change it. Yet I still want to deny it. Which isn’t helpful.
One step at a time Spudsie. One step at a time.
My mom called me this past weekend. Nothing unusual there. And she was updating me on all of the family news. (My parents and some of my other immediately family members live in a different state. So we typically communicate on the phone.) There was some good news—my dad’s job (which had been in jeopardy due to an ending contract) had been picked up by another company. He’s still gainfully employed. Yay! And there was some not-so-good news. My parents had to unexpectedly put one of their dogs to sleep. And they (and my young nieces who live close by) were saddened and upset by that. Another family member’s marriage is in serious trouble. And that has everyone upset as well.
The news that hurt the most was about my dad’s health. My dad was diagnosed with a disease when I was around 21-ish. Nothing life threatening—but it requires him to be on medication for the rest of his life. They started him on a drug to help control the disease. One of the possible side effects of this drug is kidney damage. (Yeah, I know. You can all see where this is headed—especially if you’ve read my gratitude journal page entries. Just bear with me.)
Fast forward to about 2 years ago. After some routine blood work we found out his kidneys weren’t fully functioning. They weren’t filtering all of the bad stuff out of his blood. So his doctors immediately had him stop the one medication and worked to find a new drug to help control his disease.
(Side note: The trial and error to find a combination of drugs to replace the one that caused the kidney damage was horrible. No hyperbole. It was horrible. They did eventually find a combination that seems to be working. But there was other damage done in the meantime. I wish medicine were more of a science than an art. But I digress.)
So, my dad’s on a new set of drugs. Disease is back under control. The docs feel good that they caught the damage to the kidneys in time and while it won’t reverse itself, they hope it will not worsen.
(Yeah. You see where this is headed don’t you?)
So Sunday my mom tells me his last set of tests were pretty bad. Bad enough that she (who is in the medical field) feels he’ll be on dialysis soon. Probably by the end of the year. (Assuming they can find a doctor who accepts the medical insurance issued by the company who picked up his contract. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.)
So my dad now has a life threatening side-effects from a drug that has helped control his disease for so many years.
So the fear I’m desperately trying to avoid is the fear of losing my dad. Which is made worse by the fact that I live in a mood of fear. And is multiplied by me trying to stuff all of my fears in to a tiny shoe box.
Hang on. I’ve gotta take a few minutes. I’m feeling sick to my stomach. I’ll be back.
(Elevator music plays softly in the background)
Okay. I’m back. I think I need to back up a little. Or take a different approach.
Back up? Different approach? Come on Spudsie….you haven’t even really started getting into anything yet. What on earth??
Yeah. Whatever. My blog. My rules. (Grin! Don’t forget I did advise you to take the over.)
Coach Jim assures me if I can learn to acknowledge, feel, relate to my emotions they won’t be as frightening. They won’t hang around forever. They’ll say their peace and then move along.
I’m still having a hard time believing that. Oh I believe Jim. It’s just that hasn’t been my experience with strong negative emotions to date. And I’m sure Jim would gently remind me that’s because I’ve been too busy stuffing them in a shoebox instead of listening to them. They keep oozing out a little bit at a time and I frantically race to get them back in the shoebox before they overpower me. If you put enough pressure on anything you can flatten it until it’s almost nothing.
Almost nothing. But it’s still there. The emotions are still waiting to be acknowledged. To be heard. To speak their peace.
I don’t like loss.
Okay Spudsie……that’s not unusual. No one likes loss. Except perhaps the San Francisco 49’ers who lose so often they MUST enjoy it…..oh wait. There I go again. Using humor as a defense….sigh.
I don’t like loss. I don’t deal with it well. I don’t grieve well. I typically don’t grieve publically at all.
The first death I remember experiencing (after I understood what death meant) was my grandmother. I was in Jr. High School. I wasn’t overly close to any of my grandparents because my family had moved 18 hours away from them when I was in elementary school. But I still loved her. I still had really good memories of spending time at her house and playing on her typewriter. (Hmmmmm….I had forgotten that…a precursor perhaps to the tool that writing has become for me now??)
She and my grandfather had divorced years before she died. When she was on her deathbed my father traveled back home to be at her side. My mom stayed with us kids. Shortly after my dad called to tell us grandma had passed away my mom had to leave the house to run some errands to get us ready to travel 18 hours to the funeral. I don’t remember how I felt. I think it didn’t really seem real yet, but I was sad.
The phone rang and I answered it. (Being the oldest child I’m sure I raced to the phone without giving my younger siblings a chance to beat me to it!) It was my grandfather. He knew that his ex-wife was near the end of her life and was trying to find someone who could give him an update. So he asked me, “How’s your Grandma?” or “What’s the latest on your Grandma?”
I don’t ever want to feel like that again. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even really think about or identify feelings about (even at a Jr. High level) her death. And now I had to verbalize to someone else I loved that she had died. I felt so inadequate. What words could possibly be appropriate? Even at that young age I knew I couldn’t just blurt it out. I felt the need to soften it somehow. I couldn’t say “your ex-wife who you stayed married to for so long has just died.” I couldn’t say “your ex-wife who you raised children with and played with the grandkids with and clearly loved has just died.” I couldn’t say….well to be honest I couldn’t say anything.
As an adult I know the best response you can give is a gentle, yet quick one. “I’m so sorry. She passed away.” And then take the conversation from their depending on the other person’s reaction. But as a child? No one had prepared me for this. No one taught me how to deal with death. No one taught me how to talk about it. No one modeled grieving for me.
So I sat incoherent on the phone. It seemed like an eternity.
Fortunately my grandfather understood my awkwardness and what it meant. He asked, “Did she pass away.” I think I eeked out a “yes” but I don’t really remember. Nor do I remember the rest of the conversation. He was very kind and loving and probably asked me to have my mom call him when she got back home.
Can I just tell you how much that sucked? All these years later and I’m still in tears thinking about it.
As I said, no one taught me how to grieve. In all fairness I don’t know that any child is taught how to grieve. And there isn’t one “right” way to grieve. Everyone grieves differently. I understand that. But I’d learned early on that emotions were something that were embarrassing. Were something to be hidden (or shoved in a shoebox). And when you dared to show emotions and combined that with showing vulnerability…well…that was an emotionally fatal combination. Because then your emotions were quite often turned into weapons and used against you.
So with that as a background, I had no idea how to grieve my loss. Had no idea what to do. Didn’t understand what I was feeling and didn’t feel safe trying to understand my feelings or talk to anyone about them.
Did I mention it was horrible?
So as we sat in the funeral service as a family I couldn’t stop the tears. They just came. And no one comforted me. My dad was far too gone into his own grief to be aware of mine. Other family members were comforting my younger siblings. And I sat there. Crying. Having no idea how to ask for comfort. Only knowing that I craved it more than anything. But was afraid to ask for it. From anyone.
We had attended church in the same building the Sunday before the funeral service. The teacher of the Jr. High class had offered condolences to me in Sunday school. For some reason he was up on “stage” during the funeral service. He may have lead songs or read scripture or something. I don’t remember.
What I do remember is that at one point during the service when I was nearly shaking trying to keep the tears and sobs to a minimum he made eye contact with me. And offered a look of comfort. Don’t ask me what a look of comfort is. I only know it when I see it. I can’t describe it. It was the one bright memory in the entire service. The one person out of the entire building who thought of me.
Or so it seemed at the time.
I’m pretty positive my parents did try to offer comfort at some point. I know they must have been concerned. But I didn’t feel any of it at the time. I know they were tied up in their own grief. But come one! I was just a kid! What about little Spudsie. Little crying, heartbroken Spudsie?
Ahhh…but Spudsie is strong. She doesn’t show emotion. And when she does she gets it back under control quickly. We never worry about Spudsie.
Damnit! I wanted someone to worry about me. I wanted someone to explain what I was feeling, what I was going through. Tell me I’m normal. Tell me this will pass. Something.
I comforted myself with the one comforting look from an almost total stranger. God does send us angels when we need them, doesn’t he? I don’t know the man’s name and have no way of finding out. I’m sure no one else in the family paid any attention. But on that day he was God’s presence here on earth for me. And I’m so thankful he was there.
Okay. So I’ve established my “early” history with grief. Let’s not talk about the basket case I turned into in high school when I witnessed the space shuttle Challenger explode– in person. I’ll write about that at some other point.
Thankfully the only family members I’ve lost to date are my grandparents. I’m not sure I could have handled losing anyone else—close friend or family member. Grief is still a foreign emotion to me. I don’t understand it.
Back to my coaching conversation with Jim.
He helped me think and talk through the “emotional stew” I was living in after talking with my mom and finding out the news about my dad’s kidneys. One of the strongest emotions I was feeling was fear. The fear of losing my dad. And (as I’ve said) Jim encouraged me to deal with this specific fear. To spend some time with it. To talk to it. To listen to it.
That’s easy (well…maybe easier LOL!) for Jim to say. He’s an amazing listener! Me? Not so good. So I’ve been trying to listen to the fear of losing my dad. Instead the fear of grief seems to be shouting over top of it and all other fears.
So that’s the fear I’m choosing to listen to. Or better yet, that’s the fear that choosing to speak to me. I’m certain there is some element of fear of losing my dad in my emotional stew. But it seems to have stepped aside for my fear of grief. For my fear of feeling pain. Of feeling loss. And fear of not being comforted.
How odd is it that I have fear towards another emotion? I didn’t even realize that was possible.
But by sitting here and writing about it—poof!—out it jumps. Waving it’s arms and jumping up and down. “Quit stuffing me in this @!&#@&*@ shoebox!”
(Evidently my fear isn’t the most well-mannered emotion in the group!)
(I’m constantly being astonished when the simple act of writing changes the way I’m feeling. Changes my emotional state. It’s never done this before. It calms me. It helps me see things more clearly. How amazing!)
I feel as though from Sunday through now I had a nagging sense of fear about something nebulous. I wasn’t sure what I was afraid of. Didn’t know what as “out to get me.”
And now it seems nothing is “out to get me.”
I don’t want my father to have health problems. I would much prefer his kidneys work just fine without help! I don’t want to lose my father, I don’t want him to die. I would strongly prefer for him to stay alive and kicking at least until I can learn how to talk with my emotions, so that when I do lose him I’ll be better equipped to deal with it and even possibly help out the rest of the family. I’d prefer that he never die—that no one ever dies. But that’s not reality. That’s not the way it works.
So here’s the comfort I’m giving to myself. If anything does happen to my dad I’m strong enough — and have enough good, caring people in my life to help me cope with and guide me though my emotional stew—I’m strong enough to not collapse under the grief. I’m strong enough to face the grief. To acknowledge it. To work with it and through it. To continue. And to grow stronger still and learn from it.
I don’t need to be afraid of grief. Granted, I still don’t really know how to move through and with it. But I’m (at this exact moment in time anyway) not living in fear of it.
I understand where the fear came from. And I’m not entirely certain it’s completely gone—it’s a pretty large topic. However it is manageable. It’s more fear of grief in the “respect” sense than fear of grief in the “terror” sense.
So, to my fear of grief I say, “Hello. There’s no need to shout. I’m listening to you and paying attention to you. I know you’ve been around for decades and are really tired of living in the shoebox. I apologize for ignoring you for so long. Can we come to an understanding? I commit to you that I will do my utmost to NOT put you back in the shoebox. I appreciate what you’ve said so far. And want to keep listening to you. You can’t run my life for me—that doesn’t help either of us. Instead I’ll let you roam around as you please and will listen next time you have something to say. I won’t ignore you. If I ever try to stuff you in the shoebox again I understand you’ll shout and wail and become scary loud again. But unless I do that, I anticipate our conversations will be based in calm patience with each other. Stretch your legs a little. If you’ve got more to say, we’ll talk. If you feel the need to move along, that’s okay too.”
Will the calm feeling I have now stay with me? I suspect it will only as long as I keep taking fears (and other emotions) out of that shoebox. Otherwise the next fear or emotion in line will grow as loud as the fear of grief that I just liberated.
Wow. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. I hope I’m strong enough.
Hmmm…..is that another fear trying to fight its way out of the box? Maybe this is enough for one night. This is tough stuff.