Accidentally

My dad left only about two hours ago, and already I have realized that I accidentally left my handicapped parking placard in his vehicle.  I suppose this is one accident less than the two from his visit just weeks before, when he accidentally took my spare keys and accidentally left his air mattress and pump.  Regardless, it seems there is always something left or taken without us having meant for it to be so.

 

While he was here I accidentally got him a parking ticket.  I meant to move the car from one street to another, since one is free at night and another is permitted parking only at night.  I was late in my duty and saw the ticket writer moving along the street as I went out to move the car. Too late. The ticket was already written and he wouldn’t take it back and offer a warning instead.

 

A few hours later we were off to lunch in the backseat of the vehicle of my friend and his husband.  It was snowing out, and we were all pleased that the “snow” function on the new Range Rover worked exceptionally and kept us from sliding into the intersection where the road was slick from precipitation.  Unfortunately, the vehicle behind us was not a Range Rover with a snow function to choose, and we were struck from behind. Nobody was hurt, thankfully. (Though I have had a headache since and am inclined to claim that being jostled has thrown my vertebrae off center–but know that my physical therapist can just push those babies back into place next session and likely fix the problem, so I’m not ready to file an injury suit just yet.)  But it took some time to exchange information, and our friends needed to go to the police station after lunch and file reports for the collision, and will need to take the car in for repair.

 

Accidents happen often.  

 

And not just the collision kind, but the kind where you aren’t paying attention to your things or your words or your actions with enough focus to make certain that you aren’t saying or doing something that is potentially harmful.

 

My dad and I also discussed, at length, the type of accident where people’s words are accidentally stupid or hurtful.  Because people don’t seem to pay close enough attention to their surroundings to understand that they are leaving something out.  And generally the thing left out is compassion for a person’s situation–empathy.

 

There are so many statements that have come across our paths that are unintentionally hurtful.  

 

I understand how you feel.  You must be lonely. When are you going to find a new partner?  You should [insert obvious medical advice we have already tried].  Your partner/parent/child is in a better place. You’re young, so you you’ll find someone new.  

 

All of these things are meant to be kind, but they accidentally cause even more wounds.  They aren’t helpful. And what would be helpful is simply to not try to identify or give advice, but to say that you don’t understand, but that you are ready and able to listen, to perform household tasks, and to help in practical ways that give a person time to rest, heal, and grieve in the ways they need to do so.  

 

As a chronically ill individual, I have a whole set of ways that people accidentally offend, atop the normal process of grief and singleness.  I have people who tell me to get well soon–which I won’t. I have the constant onslaught of home remedies and stories of “my [loosely connected acquaintance or distant relative] who did thing X and was healed of their illness, which are unsolicited and annoying, because I have a team of 13 specialists who oversee my care and some raw honey is not going to be the thing that all of them missed as a magic cure.  The other night my cousin said, “If they keep looking around the doctors are going to find things wrong.” Later my dad laughed at me as I recounted that statement and how badly I wanted to reply that medicine doesn’t work that way, and I am not a used car. Things must actually be wrong for them to diagnose me with an illness. They don’t make up illnesses so they can bill you for a new pancreas! It was another accidentally, really weirdly, delivered comment that made me feel like my situation isn’t one that others take seriously or treat with validity and respect.  

 

I am not saying at all that my cousin, or others, don’t take me seriously or treat me as valid and respected.  Quite the contrary! But somehow, when it comes to these statements, their care for me and their understanding of and care for my situation don’t align.  They accidentally get it wrong.

 

So, how do we change that?

 

I wish I had a clearer answer.  Because I can shout empathy, listening, and validation from the rooftops all day long, and people will say, “I’m a great listener and your feelings are totally valid.”  But the disconnect remains. I think there is a big difference between hearing what a person says and feeling what a person says.

 

My dad is of the mind that until you go through grief of this depth, you can’t understand and will continue to view things in a way that is incomplete–and, therefore, will continue to say the wrong things.  

 

I’m not of that mind.  I’m not of that mind because I know people who suffer physical pain and still don’t have empathy for my physical pain.  And I’m not of that mind because I have a few friends who are deeply aware of what I am feeling, even when I am doing what I believe is a good job at hiding my true feelings–they see through my act.  I’m not of that mind because people who have suffered similar experiences to mine can shut down in ways that I cannot, and can ignore the past in ways that I cannot, leaving no room for empathy, even though they know exactly how it feels to experience that pain.  

 

Instead, I think that we all have the capacity for empathy, but very few of us have the strength of will and the courage to open ourselves in that manner.  Because doing so means deliberately seeking to feel the pain of others. It means to share in their sorrows–not just on some surface level where you offer the accidentally insensitive platitudes, but truly feeling that sorrow.  And why in the world would we want to add sorrow to our lives??!!

 

But the thing that is important about sharing in sorrows is that you also get to share in joys.  When you share in the sorrows in deep and meaningful ways, you also share in joys in deep and meaningful ways.  So, letting in the suffering means letting in the celebration. Letting in some darkness means flooding the space with light!  Who would want to miss out on that??!!

 

The people who see me in my darkest moments also are invited to share in my brightest and most glorious moments.  And those are really fabulous! I pour so much love into the people who love me truly that it is almost ridiculous.  I’ve probably loved some people so well that it has frightened them away, because they were not accustomed to such unfettered, unconditional love and it felt awkward or foreign.  But those people also dealt with me in the depths of my despair, which was extremely difficult, I know. And the reward isn’t likely to be equal to the expense, but that is just the way that life works out, I think.  

 

The risk in life is often greater than the reward.  But that does not mean that it isn’t worth it. That doesn’t mean the experiences and the people and the adventures are not worth it.  Because the idea that we shouldn’t move forward unless the reward is greater than the risk is one that was manufactured by the modern man, not one that has always been a part of humanity.  It is an accident of our economy that we weigh the risks and decide that the safe bet is to not open up. We keep closed our bank accounts, our doors, and our hearts because the risk seems to outweigh the reward.  But in doing so, we have made a grave error. Because life happens in the accidents, more often than not. We cannot plan for every outcome. We cannot keep “safe” by keeping distant. And keeping ourselves closed off from everything and everyone just makes us more susceptible to being left alone in our tragedies, should they arrive accidentally.  

 

We need to open up and find that empathy and feel for others and with others.  We need to share sorrows and joys. We need to stop weighing what we think will be the consequences and throw the risk/benefit analysis out the fucking window.  Life isn’t a series of rewards assessments. Life is often a challenge. But it is often an adventure!

 

So go out there and make your accidents be ones that aren’t based on selfish, closed-hearted living that causes offense to those who are suffering.  Make your accidents be the kind that are derived from throwing caution to the wind and running headlong into feelings and actions that let you know the deep lows and the exhilarating highs that life has to offer us as human beings.  Because that is amazing and wonderful, and, I believe, what we were designed to experience.

 

Use that empathy.  Feel deeply. And experience a full life.

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Dead Leg

Sometimes, when I am explaining my symptoms to a new doctor or physical therapist, I use this expression of “dead leg”.  It isn’t the pins and needles feeling that we commonly associate with numbness.  It is more of a lack of a sensation than a sensation.  It is like that portion of my body is just there, but not feeling anything.

Dead.

And last night I was thinking to myself that my whole self has recently turned into dead leg.  Not feeling, not sensing, not knowing—not present.

Just dead.

The events leading up to “dead self”, interestingly, include death.  And there is this tendency among people in general, and people who know me tangentially, in particular, to assume that the dead self is the denial stage of this thing we call grief.  But an awareness inside of me is confident denial is not the issue.  Something else is the issue.  Numb is the issue.

I’ve questioned whether the dead self is actually depression.  But I am not acting depressed—not isolating or becoming unproductive or changing my eating habits or stopping activity that I enjoy.  All of these are familiar.  None of these are currently happening in significant ways.

So, maybe there is a sixth stage of grief?

Maybe dead self is a thing that psychologists have missed in their explanation of the psyche after a loss.  Or maybe they confused depression and dead self, because they hadn’t experienced depression before they experienced loss, so they couldn’t notice the subtle differences.  I am in the privileged position of knowing depression well, so I feel the difference.

When people ask how I am doing, I don’t know how to answer.  I usually respond with a “pretty well” or “I’m fine” or a “good, all things considered”.  In truth, I have no answer.  And none of the answers I provide are lies, per se, but they are not actually getting to the heart of the matter either.  But the heart of the matter is deadness—the deadness inside of me, and the dead body of my mother encased in her vault under the ground.

And there isn’t a way to explain those things.

There isn’t a way to express the hurt and the longing and the confusion and the devastation and the loss and the struggle and the peace and all else.  And because it cannot be expressed it is held somewhere within, and that place where it is held becomes stagnant and then hardens and then stops feeling.  And that isn’t the same as depression.  It is a thing even more difficult to grasp or to understand or to cope with than depression.  Because it is death.  It is a little death inside of you.  The death of hopes and dreams and promises.  The death of loves and disappointments and arguments and laughing fits.  The death of relating and the death of understanding and the death of miscommunicating and the death of trying to fix the things that we never quite got worked out between us.

It isn’t just the death of my mom.

It is the death of a piece of me.

There is a dead space in my life and in my spirit and in my heart.  A space that will never again be connected.  Without words to express it adequately, we say things like “there is a whole in my heart” or “I am heartbroken”.  But that isn’t the fullness of it.  That space dies.  That connection dies.  And the dead space rests there within you.  Or, maybe in my case, overwhelms you.

There aren’t words deep or grand or expansive enough to describe.

Just dead.  That is all I can think or say.  Dead.

We cling to memories of the connection.  We try to keep that place alive in this way.  And that is good.  That helps.  But the acceptance part of grief isn’t really accepting that the person whom we loved so dearly is dead, but accepting that dead space in our heart as our new normal—as the way we now have to navigate the world, with a little bit of death in our heart.

That doesn’t have to keep us from living beautiful lives.  But it does make us live that beautiful life just a bit differently, always with a taste of loss.

So, maybe the dead self that I feel is just the deepest expression of that loss.  And maybe it will pass as I begin to accept new baselines of feeling.  But, for the moment, I still feel disconnected.

And some of that disconnect, I know, is because the world goes on around me, unaware of the earth shattering experience that I am dealing with.  People eat and drink and laugh and work and walk and talk, as though the seismic shift in the universe is only known by me.  Because it is my shift, and not theirs.  My loss doesn’t move them.  It doesn’t concern them.  It doesn’t matter to them.  They can say, “I’m sorry for your loss” as I pass through their space, but few of them are actually affected by my loss.  They keep on living and I wait for the end of the dying.

And waiting is all I can do.  Waiting for the acceptance of this new way of navigating the world, and hoping that I learn well how to walk and talk and eat and drink and laugh and work in this new way—that the dead space doesn’t grow and cover over the rest of my heart, impeding my ability to have a normal and a beautiful life beyond this event.

But I have a good therapist and a new psychiatrist and a bottle of antidepressant medication already in play.  And I know that the process of grieving takes time.  And I know that acceptance is the end goal.  So, I believe that I will reach that goal…eventually.

And I know that I have adapted to the challenge of living with the dead leg, so I am certain that I can also adapt to living with the piece of dead heart. We all have to at some point.  As long as there has been life, there has been death.  And I don’t think that will change anytime soon.  But survival depends upon adaptability.  And I have proven myself capable of adapting time and again.  So I shall survive this as well.

But for now, I’m attempting to live with dead self, and to nurture said self with compassion and space and time to do what dead self needs to do.  Once that stage is over, another will take its place, and so will another, and then another.  And on we go, living the best way we can, until our own death (may it be far from this time and come as a grace, not a tragedy).