Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Wish

I watched the movie Courageous this afternoon.  It was a funny, sad, touching, and inspirational story that made me laugh as well as cry.  It left me wanting to be not only a better parent but a better person. Although its message was aimed specifically at fathers, I believe it applies to all parents.  As I watched the movie I couldn't help but think about Trey and the fact that he no longer has his father here.  I know he was 25 when Eddie died, and that's older than some children are when they lose a parent, but I don't think we're ever ready no matter how old we are and certainly not in the way Trey lost his.  We look to our parents for guidance, love, and acceptance.  We rely on them for support and encouragement.  They are supposed to be there for us, protect us, answer our questions, and make everything alright.  They're supposed to take care of us when we're sick, comfort us when we're hurt, and listen to our problems.  They're not supposed to be the cause of our pain.   

Most of the blogs that I've written have focused on how Eddie's death affected me and how I handled it.  I haven't written much about how it affected Trey, and I haven't written anything about how he has handled it.  As I've said before, I read every book I could find on suicide, met regularly with a preacher, went for professional counseling, and even saw a psychiatrist.  I encouraged Trey to talk to someone, to get whatever help he needed, but I never pressured him to do these things.  I know everyone deals with things differently, and I wanted him to handle the situation however he felt was best.  But I also know that as a survivor it is a constant fight to put the pieces of our lives back together and to reestablish who we are.  I hope that in his own way Trey has been able to do this.  He seems to be very happy with his life right now ... he has a beautiful daughter, a good job, a house, and a steady girlfriend.

I'm sure that like me, Trey isn't "over" what happened - we may never be.  In his book Suicide and Its Aftermath: Understanding and Counseling the Survivors Dr. Edward Dunne writes "Suicide destroys the original fabric of the family, forcing a reintegration of the survivors. The pace at which individual family members are ready and able to do this will vary."  As he moves on with his life, I hope Trey is able to remember the good times with his father.  I want him to realize that despite the circumstances he learned lessons from Eddie, both good and bad.  I hope he finds positive meaning in the relationship they shared and that he carries that with him throughout his life.

"I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow and each road leads you where you want to go. And if you're faced with the choice and you have to choose, I hope you choose the one that means the most to you. And if one door opens to another door closed I hope you keep on walkin' til you find the window ... I hope you never look back but you never forget all the ones who love you and the place you left. I hope you always forgive and you never regret and you help somebody every chance you get. Oh you'd find God's grace in every mistake and always give more than you take ... My wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to. Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small, you never need to carry more than you can hold. And while you're out there gettin where you're gettin to I hope you know somebody loves you and wants the same things too. Yeah this is my wish ..."

My Wish by Rascal Flatts

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Need for Control

My family and close friends love to tease me about having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  I'll admit that I do have some of the behaviors associated with OCD:  spending a lot of time washing or cleaning, ordering or arranging things "just so," feeling that everything must be lined up "just right".  Yes, my shoes are arranged by color in boxes on shelves in my closet.  My clothes are grouped by short sleeved shirts, long sleeved shirts, pants, sweaters, and dresses.  The pictures on my refrigerator are in magnetic pockets lined up evenly across both doors.  The cans and boxes in my cabinet are lined up by height with the labels facing forward.  I constantly straighten pictures on the wall and move things an inch this way or that on shelves and tables.  Before I leave my classroom each day I put everything on my desk in neat stacks and straighten all of the student desks and chairs back into rows.  I have what some might consider an unnatural need to control everything around me.  (Now that I've written it down - maybe I'm worse than I thought!)

I wasn't always this extreme with my need to control everything though.  It started during the last few years of my marriage and intensified following Eddie's death.  After several years of living with Eddie's drinking, I had to accept that I didn't have any control over what he was doing.  Eventually I reached a point where I didn't feel like I had control over much of anything in my life, so I found something I could control - the order of "stuff" around me.  When I got upset with Eddie or was worried about him or wondering where he was, I would clean, straighten, or rearrange things around the house to occupy and calm myself.  After his suicide, which was another thing I had to accept that I didn't have any control over, I found myself becoming more "obsessed" with keeping the things around me in order.  The events of my life over the past years have been so chaotic, I 've had to restore order in whatever ways I can find.  As a result, I have a need to "fix" things now - to have everything correct or perfect in order to feel comfortable, safe, and in control of my life.

My need for order and perfection may make some people uncomfortable, and if it does I apologize, but it has helped me to relieve some of the frustration at being powerless over the events in my life.  I will never "get over" everything that has happened, but I am getting through it.  Maybe my need to be in total control will lessen with time.  Maybe I will eventually be able to relax and let go.  But for now the order I've restored to my life is making it possible for me to move forward.  Maybe a little OCD isn't such a bad thing after all.    

"The closest to being in control we will ever be is in that moment that we realize we're not."  Brian Kessler

"Control is never achieved when sought after directly.  It is the surprising outcome of letting go."  James Arthur Ray

Friday, February 3, 2012

Learning to Live Again: The Healing Power of Friendship and Laughter

During the first year following Eddie's death, I struggled to find ways to enjoy myself or things to be happy about.  There were times when I laughed briefly or felt a little happiness for short periods, but nothing that lasted.  I was surviving but not really living.  Things took a definite turn for the better however one weekend in June 2010.  That was when I made a big step on my road to recovery by taking a trip with three of my good friends, Janie, Peggy, and Susie.  Janie had bid on and won a discount package to a resort in Panama City.  I was reluctant when she first asked me to go because it meant leaving on Father's Day, and I wasn't sure about not being with Trey that day.  When I told him about it, though, he insisted that he would be okay and I should go, so I finally agreed.

Janie and Susie rode together and left Sunday morning.  I waited until Peggy got out of church and rode with her so she wouldn't have to make the trip alone.  Normally when I go to the beach, I'm on a mission to get there as quickly as possible.  I only stop when absolutely necessary and have occasionally made the trip without stopping at all.  It never occurred to me that anyone did it any differently ... until I rode with Peggy.   We made frequent stops along the way - stops to get something to drink, then stops to go "potty" because we had stopped to get something to drink.  We also took the "scenic" route to Panama City - I saw small, out-of-the-way places in Florida that I never even knew existed.  This included an outlet mall where we stopped to shop for tennis shoes and to browse in a paper store for things we didn't need but that might be on sale.  I have to admit that after about five hours I began to wonder if we were really going to the beach!  I really enjoyed the time with Peggy though and wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.  We did a lot of talking and even more laughing which I soon realized was going to be the norm for the next couple of days.

When we got close to Panama City we called Janie and Susie to let them know we were almost there.  They were shopping and asked if we wanted them to pick up anything for us.  I told them I would like a bottle of White Zinfindel wine if they didn't mind getting it.  They stayed on the phone while they walked around the store looking for it.  After a few minutes they told us they were looking at some wine that said White Zinfindel on the bottle but they didn't think that could be what I wanted because it was pink!  Needless to say that brought quite a bit of laughter from both Peggy and me, and we didn't let them live it down anytime soon.  We hadn't even arrived at the resort and I had already laughed more that day than I had laughed in an entire year.  I decided agreeing to this trip had definitely been the right decision. 

The talking, fun, and laughter continued throughout the trip.  It didn't matter where we were - in the room, by the pool, in the car, at a restaurant - we constantly found something to laugh about.  On our second day, Susie and I took a ferry to Shell Island while Janie and Peggy went shopping.  We looked like the typical tourists lugging our chairs, beach bags, and coolers across the bridge to the beach side of the island.  We set up right on the edge of the water, sat in our chairs, talked, ate, drank, read, and relaxed.  We totally lost track of time.  After a while Susie and I both looked around and realized we were the only ones on the beach.  Everyone who had ridden over on the ferry with us was gone!  There was a second of panic thinking we might actually be stranded before we saw the next load of people from the boat coming across the bridge.  Of course Janie and Peggy got a big kick out of that story when we got back to the hotel. 

That night after dinner I decided to take a walk down the pier.  No one else really wanted to go, so I went by myself.  By this point doing things alone definitely didn't bother me, but (thankfully) my friends cared about my safety.  Before I left they made sure I had my cell phone with me and made me promise to get back to the hotel before it got dark.  Of course I didn't get back "on time" and as soon as it started to get dark my phone rang - it was Janie, standing on the balcony of our room, checking to make sure I was alright.  If it had been my mother checking on me I probably would have been aggravated, but because it was a friend it was somehow okay.

I took my share of "ribbing" on the trip, especially from Susie.  I've never been one who was able to get ready quickly and Susie enjoyed making an issue of this.  She teased me every time we had to get ready to go somewhere.  She claimed she could shower, dry her hair, iron her clothes, and get dressed before I ever got out of the shower.  I had to agree that I would stop getting ready when everyone else was finished, even it meant I only had make-up on half of my face!  I told them if it didn't bother them it wouldn't bother me (yeah - right).

The trip was over way too quickly.  For the first time in over a year I had genuinely relaxed and enjoyed myself.  If I had a "bucket list" I could have easily marked off one thing - to laugh until I cry.  I learned something very important during those three days and nights ... I didn't just want to survive, I wanted to live again.  Thank you Janie, Peggy, and Susie - I love you!

"Heart Gifts" by Helen Steiner Rice
It's not the things that can be bought
That are life's richest treasures,
It's just the little "heart gifts"
That money cannot measure.
A cheerful smile, a friendly word,
A sympathetic nod,
Are priceless little treasures
From the storehouse of our God.
They are the things that can't be bought
With silver or with gold,
For thoughtfulness and kindness
And love are never sold.
They are the priceless things in life
For which no one can pay,
And the giver finds rich recompense
In giving them away.