My mom has been reading all about ambiguous grief, which is essentially grief over something other than death. This topic came up after I visited my eldest and discussed it with her. It was the first visit in two years.
(For the uninitiated: My oldest daughter is a mentally ill drug addict with a Traumatic Brain Injury, otherwise known as TBI.)
The thing is, every loss is a death in a sense, whether that is the death of an idea, a plan, a personality, a relationship, etc. Grief is grief. The difference, I guess, is that when someone DOESN’T die, we still can physically see them. We can interact with someone who resembles the person we love.
My daughter’s illness and addiction has changed her so much physically that I didn’t recognize her instantly. I would not have known her if I passed her by on the road, though I certainly would if I interacted. She still has her slightly-crossed eyes, her curly hair, her cheekbones. Her voice is harsher and hoarser from several years of smoking and drugs. Her mannerisms are both somehow slow but twitchy.
This may be a blessing, I suppose. It’s a lot easier to acknowledge a loss when the person no longer looks like the one we grieve. My little girl with “princess hair” doesn’t show up in front of me. Instead I get the zombie version: matted hair, bruised and bloody face, senseless muttering. I can mourn that little girl now because she’s not coming back, barring a true Biblical-grade resurrection.
Of course I say that now. I might feel differently tomorrow. Maybe it really is ambiguous.
Everyone knows the old saying about life giving you lemonade.
Sometimes life is just a bit too sour to swallow and there’s no sugar nor water around. I mean, I end up swallowing the lemon juice, but I make a pucker-face afterwards. But occasionally life is just too sour. It’s not a sour-patch kid which is at first naughty but then nice. It’s just bitter and mean, like I might be when I get old enough to use that as an excuse.
I’ve been thinking a lot about having adult children who are addicts. Most people who’ve loved a substance-abuser will tell you Rule One: Addicts LIE! It can be over the most bizarre topic in the world, it can make no sense whatsoever, and it may even contradict what was said five minutes ago, but the untruth will be told frequently. I used to call my addicts out which, honestly, just made them better liars. I then took a position of listening and not arguing.
Here’s the sour part though: I can’t do it anymore. I’m tired of being on the receiving end of this dishonesty. I’m sick of it. I miss my children and I envision their younger selves’ hopes and dreams and it wears me out. I used to try to figure out the “grain of truth” in the 5 lb. bag of story, but forget it. I’m not interested in shopping at the Little Shop of Hoaxes anymore.
I can’t give back my children, and I wouldn’t anyway, so it’s not like these are lemons I can just return to the store. I can’t make a refreshing drink when there’s no sweetness to be found in the situation. So what am I going to do with this unwanted citrus of circumstance?
I’m not going to pick up the lemons, that’s what. Yep, I chose them, put them in my cart, and brought them home. But you know what? I don’t HAVE to use the lemons at all! I can chuck them out into the woods and let nature take its course. It doesn’t mean I won’t be sad – clearly I got the fruit for a reason. However, I don’t have to settle for something that can make me sick – and make the others in my household sick.
Those lemons may yet grow into a beautiful tree that produces good fruit. I don’t have to give up hope. I just don’t have to keep holding onto something that stings.
You were small once, my oldest. When you came to me, your biggest fear seemed to be getting enough to eat. After numerous therapy sessions and calls to poison control and days/months/years of eating til you got sick, your PICA eventually got under control. Medication helped too, sometimes.
Now your body is big and you do “grownup” things that even grownups shouldn’t do, but your mind and heart are still so small. Your choices destroy everything and everyone in their path (even the people you thought you left far behind), but you’ll never understand because those parts of you aren’t going to grow up. You’re a child in a woman’s world and, despite what happened when you were little, you can’t heal our boo-boos with apologies and kisses.
The world in which you reside is a child’s world. While the rest of us see rapists and muggers, you see vampires and book-thieves. When we look dilapidated buildings, you behold the lair of the Baddie of the Week (dependent upon your choice of medication right then). While we worry about the health and education of your children, you’re concerned about what happened to the Daddy Longlegs you were going to gift your daughter for her birthday.
You are so small still, my oldest. I wish your life (not your years, but your lifestyle) had stayed that way, too.
One of the “Game of Thrones” episodes and/or “A Song of Ice and Fire” characters has a religious mantra of “The night is dark and full of terrors.” My soul is feeling lately that this applies to the world itself. From a pandemic to economic and political unrest, everywhere I turn is something new and horrible. The Midwest and the South devastated by weather, the West on fire (again), and everything is in constant flux. It’s one thing to have a personal roller-coaster, but another to have a national one!
So what’s a person to do? When everything is out of control, how do I plan or accomplish anything? Where do I put myself besides in my bed, depressed?
In the above, I addressed the what, where, when, and how, but I did not ask who and why. That’s because they are the answer to the rest.
I have seen a million ads with “in these trying times…” “this unprecedented situation…” and, of course, “we’re all in this together.” And we are, even if it makes me think of this:
We as humanity keep fighting amongst ourselves, never recognizing the commonalities and only focusing on the differences. But for once, JUST ONCE, we all have something in common. This pasty white, English-speaking, American woman is experiencing the same pandemic as a beautifully dark-skinned, Hausa-speaking boy in Niger. Should we ever meet, we would have that shared experience.
One day, people will probably ask about each other’s 2020, the same way my parents’ generation can discuss where they were when Kennedy was shot, or my generation about the explosion of the Challenger, or pretty much everyone over 19 about 9/11. The world will have this moment to recollect, to share, from which to build relationships. It’s odd but tragedies and sorrows tend to unite us more as humankind than any other experience.
As I write, my friend is desperately trying to travel here to see her dying mom, who is on a ventilator and whose condition is “incompatible with life.” My husband lost his mom last year, so his first instinct is “How can we help?” He identifies with this situation. He shares this experience and, somehow, helping bear someone else’s burden just a little bit eases his burden slightly as well.
THIS is the “why” we get up every day and keep pushing through. We are made for community, for sharing life together in small and in big ways. The how, what, where, and when are dictated by the needs of the community (including ourselves) around us, so there’s no one-fits-all-size answers. The “why” is “for each other.”
Yes, the world is dark and full of terrors. Let’s hold hands and fight through them together.
I last wrote that I could never find my tribe, my community, my figurative ohana. It seemed that no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t seem to find those “bff’s forever!” that people post selfies with on Facebook. Heck, I couldn’t even find someone to go to a movie with!
I ended up working somewhere and got to talking to someone else who worked there, and I realized we were both a little weird. We ended up going to a live show full of geekdom (Mystery Science Theater 3000 geekdom) and had a great time! I also reconnected with an online friend of many years who lives not far from me. We started having get-togethers at my house and even celebrated Towel Day together one year. This led to me befriending other friends at other jobs and it’s great – age and gender aren’t an issue either.
Oh, my house! That’s right! I put myself out there on the dating market and blatantly listed my nerdy habits and likes. I required anyone who date me be into gaming RPG’s so I think that helped a lot. Ended up marrying a guy with whom I have shared so many wonderful memories with. It is NOT a perfect marriage and he is NOT a perfect man, but he does like to go to Cons and Renaissance Festivals and all other manner of quirky things. The photos in this blog entry are some of the tables at our wedding, decorated by friends.
Speaking of Cons, this is where I’ve found lots of my community. I’ll admit that it took a few years. When I started volunteering to work the cons, I found small groups of people with whom I started to relate. Eventually I found my volunteer niche and made at least one person I would consider a true friend. We pray for each other and we share life via text and Facebook message during most of the year.
And being embraced by a community has allowed me to finally learn how to embrace others into my own community. This is where I finally figured out how to reach out and care for people just as I have been cared for. Most of the women I work with are moms struggling to find the balance between marriage, job, kids – some are single. This is the other part of my neighborhood: people who have needs I can help with.
That’s the missing link for me. A community isn’t just a group of people we hang out with and who support us. Sometimes I need to support them, too! It is in the support that we grow together. It is in the shared experiences that we build relationships. I can’t expect to become someone’s bestie if that’s my goal: It’s too superficial. Real relationships, real communities are built by doing life together – the good, the bad, the easy and the difficult.
If anyone finds this blog and is lonely, please go volunteer somehow and somewhere. It won’t take too long before someone notices you’re always there and would miss you if you weren’t. Eventually that turns into more. Eventually, that may even turn into your ohana.
The solution to alone-ness is not more solitude, but companionship and community. – Robert Fulghum
Several years ago, I was part of a study group in the Porterbrook Learning Network. While aiming to enrich Christian faith, the books (and group) often discussed the nature of community. This has led me on a quest of sorts to understand where and who my tribe is and how I might truly dig in to it.
I have to be honest: I always figured my community was a local thing. Y’know, the world we learned about from Mr. Rogers: the fireman, the policewoman, the postal worker, the grocery store clerk – these are the people in my neighborhood! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2bbnlZwlGQ)
Later, my disenfranchised self figured I was never going to be part of my community. I was fat, asthmatic, wore an eyepatch and glasses, and had a bowl cut as a kid. I was super weird, obnoxious and disgusting as a teenager. I managed to have one or two friends but never truly belonged anywhere.
In my late teens and early 20’s, I joined the new frontiers available online. I recall “the internet” becoming a thing that suddenly linked all the BBS’s I dialed into each night. And then there was Prodigy and America Online, which eventually gave way to various forums, which eventually gave way to social media. I made some very good friends online, some of whom I am privileged to still know (and see) twenty-plus years later.
But still…where was local community? We lived fairly rural so we didn’t have a neighborhood, per se. I tried desperately to fit in with the homeschooling moms and the church moms. Again, I made some friendships which continue but I couldn’t find my tribe. Where were they?
I later moved to a very small-town (blinking light) area where I never did make much headway into assimilation though I desperately tried. I was always going to be “outsider” to them even after eight years! I did befriend one lady who herself had no community but that was a terrible experience for reasons that would take days to explain. And I found a very sweet friend who became like an aunt or grandmother to my children, and we sobbed when years of hard living finally exacted their toll: her life.
So where exactly was my tribe? Well. That’s an interesting question…
My parents have told the tale several times of getting onto a train at the amusement park with us when we were young. They thought it was a casual train ride and found out -too late- that it was a roller-coaster or a thrill ride! This may be why I avoid coasters more often than not. I can’t imagine getting onto a nice, gentle ride only to find out it’s got loops or drops.
Some people manage to avoid the craziness in their life’s ride. Even though things don’t always go as predicted, the twists and turns aren’t too heavy, the drops aren’t too deep and the hills aren’t too steep. Some folks simply have fairly easy sailing instead of a nutty flume ride.
But sometimes…sometimes the ride turns from cutesy-wutesy to scary (not scary-wary). The adorable moments in the Hundred Acre Wood give way to the unexpected nightmare of Tigger’s Abyss. And suddenly our idea of our sure foundation doesn’t seem so very sure.
I won’t say that my Weehaw life is always fun. I can’t tell someone who’s mistakenly just boarded the mine train that it’s all going to be OK. I can tell them that they are going to find moments where it’s not insane. They’ll find those times in valleys, those times of straight, flat rest. They will learn that the foundation really IS sure, it’s just a lot further down than they thought. And yeah, there may be some tough times, but there will be times where they learn to laugh at themselves for ever wanting a different ride.
Welcome to the Weehaw world, folks. Strap in and enjoy the ride.
One of the biggest obstacles Weehawers face is that of communication. I’m a firm believer that if people would simply share that their lives aren’t perfect, others would maybe stop stressing over their own flaws. That said, I’m never sure how much information to share.
When someone asks, “How are you doing?” do I respond with, “Kinda crappy. My drug-addicted, mentally-ill kid hasn’t made contact in a while. My second-oldest is growing a tumor in her uterus the size of a Beluga whale. As for the rest of them…” I have done that before, only to watch the sudden face-melting and fidgeting.
If someone asks, “How are you doing?” I usually answer, “tired. and you?” That seems to be the best way to go for two reasons. One: It’s honest but not over-informative. Two: It places the responsibility of getting deeper on the other person. I realize that could lead to awkwardness on their part, but hopefully my honesty has allowed them a moment to realize that I am being real and they are allowed to be real as well.
Still, this area of my life brings me such anxiety. Am I being a Debbie Downer? Am I “keeping it real?” Am I an attention-addict? I don’t know what the answer is. I just know it’s another unpredictable part of this crazy life.