Sunday, June 26, 2011


A former palliative-care nurse chronicles the most common regrets expressed by her dying patients. I found this passage particularly interesting:
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
But it's not quite so easy as all that, is it? The rub is found in the first sentence: "Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others." But what kind of peace, exactly? What is the anti-peace we are afraid of? I have a theory. (I know you're not surprised to hear this.) If we express our anger, if we express our hurt to someone else, I think we run a very serious risk of having to hear their anger, and their pain, and all of the things that we did wrong. Pain and hurt are almost never a one-way street. What we really fear, then, is hearing that we are bad people. And if you have one person who is better at presenting this case than another, or you have a family system in which shame is liberally applied, then of course you'll strike the devil's bargain in which feelings are quieted in order to avoid what feels like a crushing judgment.

So it seems like a good time to remember the Wavy Gravy quote (which I encountered for the first time in Elizabeth Lesser's book Broken Open): "We're all bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride."

We all suck. And you know what? This is good news.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wrapping it up

We've been having conversations, my grandmother and I. Stuck in a body that continues to improve after her stroke, she very bluntly informed me that she was tired of living this way.

I don't blame her. I can't.

But I feel as though I've been given a gift in the regular moments of lucidity where her recognition of me is unmistakably clear. I cried openly on Saturday as she reached up and touched my face and observed, more to herself than to me, that I was her "beautiful, wonderful granddaughter." She paused for a moment as a look of sadness filled her face. "And I'll probably never ---" I cut her off.

"Oh yes, you will," I said. "You will see me again very soon."

"I will?" she asked.

"Yes, you will. You can get some rest now. I'll be back."

Every time I see her now, I get the impression that she is wrapping things up. She knew I went through a traumatic divorce two years ago, and last Saturday, she broached the subject. "Is it too much to ask about..." she trailed off. I told her she could ask me anything she wanted. She asked what my ex-husband was doing now.

I'm not one to sugarcoat things, even for my grandmother. "He married her," I said.

"How are you doing?"

I smiled.

"I'm great. I'm amazing. I have more than I could ever ask for and I'm happier than I've ever been. You don't have to worry about that." It was a relief to be able to say that truthfully. On reflection, I'm so grateful that her time of winding down didn't coincide with my dark time. I think it would have been difficult for her to let go with me in that place.

Last Saturday, she wanted to make sure I told my father she said hello. She made me promise three times. Once she was satisfied on that point, she referenced my partner, whom she likes very much. "So, do you think he's The One?"

"What do you mean? You got [my recently married sister and her husband] married off, and now you're after me, too? I don't know what The One means. I love him very much. He's kind, warm, loving, funny --"

"Stop right there," she said, afraid I would insert a "but".

T rolled his eyes and laughed when I told him of this conversation later. "You should've just told her 'yes' and been done with it," he said.

"Yeah, but that's not me. I'm all about the fine distinctions," I said.

He's probably right. Next time I go to see her I'll tell her he's The One. I'm never going to get her to understand my relationship with the concept of marriage, anyway. (First I would have to understand it.)

I don't know what she'll ask the next time we're together, but it'll probably be about my mother and my opinion of her happiness. My grandmother always had plenty of things to worry about, so getting things wrapped up for her is not going to be a small job. I wonder what it's like for a worrier like her, this process of getting comfortable with disengaging from the directions of our lives. Slowly, she's getting accustomed to the idea of delegating the management of the world to us.

I'll visit her again this week, and keep making the case that we're up to the task.