I haven’t posted anything in the last few weeks, and this blog is going to be a somewhat disjointed explanation of why. Two pretty difficult things have happened recently, and writing this is part of me decoupling from the alluring idea that wishful thinking, constant vigilance and pointless anxiety can in any way control the bad things that happen in our own lives and those of the people we love.
First, a couple of weeks ago on a quite ordinary Saturday morning, Kevin, the charming, warm-hearted, funny and kind man my youngest daughter has loved and lived with for seven years died. The pain of any death, expected or not, is hard to bear. In the case of sudden death, the grief is accompanied by the twin assaults of incomprehension and denial. How could this be happening? He just texted me a few days ago. This isn’t real. But, of course, it is.
My husband and I left for New Jersey, where our daughter Brenna lives, within the hour. Once there, we struggled to find ways to make the unbearable bearable for her. It was tremendously hard to leave her a week later, but as much as she had needed us to be there, now she needed us to go.
As parents, we have an irrevocable instinct to care for our children, even as we want them to grow into people who can take care of themselves. It was somewhat amazing, and infinitely comforting, to witness the degree to which our daughter is able to draw from a well of inner strength to cope with her sorrow. The courage and grace with which she is facing her loss helped us to find the courage to let her be.
The other, equally comforting thing that sent us on our way was the knowledge that she is surrounded by friends ready to help in any way they can. Everyone was very kind, but one friend in particular, Janet, embodied the meaning of the word friendship. On that terrible first day when we were hours and hours away, and Brenna was alone, Janet showed up. She was there that day, and every day after. She cried with Brenna, and laughed with her and did her laundry and cooked meals, and most importantly of all, she was present. And she has been present for Brenna in some way through all the days since. Everybody needs a friend like Janet, though not everyone is blessed to have one. I am so glad our daughter is.
We thought we were through with sudden trauma as we traveled back to Michigan. Kevin’s death had been a major, devastating failure in my carefully orchestrated plan to protect everyone I know. But I was ready to resume control. Until I realized that the bothersome blind spot in my peripheral vision that I first noticed the day of the funeral was not going away, and was, in fact, becoming worse.
We then entered the next phase of forced loss of control. Upon arriving home after a 12-hour drive, we started on another odyssey. This one led us through a tour of several emergency rooms that culminated in surgery for a partially detached retina. Post-surgery care then required me to spend the next seven days in a face-down position for 50 minutes of every hour. Thus allowing plenty of time to reflect on the illusion of control in our lives. This week I received the OK to cut way back on the down time – an hour upright, then an hour face down. Which seems like quite a luxury now. Next week I’ll be able to remain upright all the time. My vision is still blurry, but the prognosis is reasonably good.
The point of this post is to reiterate for myself, and possibly others, something that I have a hard time keeping hold of. It’s not possible to control anything in life, except our own responses to what life throws at us. Everything is transitory. Life can change in an instant, without regard to our plans or desires. The only thing I can even try to control (and once a control freak, always a control freak) is my ability to accept that truth. To work on letting go of the little worries, petty irritations, small resentments and futile attempts to organize the world to my liking that power much of my day.
I can be truly present. I can strive to be the kind of friend that I want to be. I can try to internalize the five rules of happiness:
- Don’t Hate
- Don’t Worry
- Give More
- Expect Less
- Live Simply
Right now, my external hourly alarm is ringing, telling me it’s time to assume the position for another hour. Three weeks ago, this routine would have seemed like torture. Today it seems like freedom. Nothing stays the same,