Sunday, August 1, 2010

America's Got Talent

I continue this blog for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is a way for me to grapple with and come to terms with my feelings. Sometimes I'm not clear about what I feel and setting out my quandries here, is a way to gain perspective. Secondly, this blog allows me to obtain the feedback of others and to interact with other interesting, intelligent people. There is a lot to be said for that. Maybe the most important reason for blogging is the hope that in my doing so, I increase or broaden the perspectives of others, be they widowed or not. This blog has kind of moved beyond the topic of grief to encompass adversity in general. I hope that in sharing my feelings, a greater understanding of what it is like to live under trying circumstances is reached. And one of my main goals is to illustrate the life of a person affected by multiple losses since that is not often discussed. Maybe in trying to deal with my life, I'll end up helping others in some, small way.

I've been giving a great deal of thought to the issue of unfairness of late. No doubt triggered by being around all the families at the baseball fields. We live in a town of higher than average income. For instance, I know of no one who has "lost" their home and had to move to an apartment. I know one family that has struggled to hang on to their home with the mortgage crisis with Countrywide and two who sold their mini mansions to move to smaller homes. So I do struggle with this issue because along with feeling alone and isolated because of widowhood and not having much of a support network, I also feel the stigma of being the only one to have lost my home. Now of course I know there have to be some folks in my community who have indeed lost their homes. But when you don't know of any, that is not much help or consolation.

I asked my girlfriend about all of this as it has been troubling me so. She agreed that the parents and families she knows have been pretty much spared hardship from the recession, etc. She attributes it to the fact that the circles we are involved with, or our kids are involved with, are simply made up of higher income people who can afford travel baseball. We're not around struggling people, therefore, we don't know of anyone dealing with severe crisis. And while I do know that people don't air their dirty laundry, it is not the same for a married mom of two to be caring for aging parents when she has a husband to lean on and rely on vs. my situation when I was involved in the same activity as a widowed mom of two young sons.

Part of my frustration could be labeled the "America's Got Talent" syndrome. I've never seen the show before this year - I guess last summer I was too busy packing up the house for our move. But the boys and I have watched it when we haven't been at baseball games. The whole concept of the show has really been bothering me. If you haven't seen it, it it a huge nationwide talent show in which adults and kids can pretty much compete with whatever talent they have. So you have singers, dancers and fire blazing magicians competing alongside others hand whistling and playing the harmonica. There are five year olds and 75 year olds! It is kind of a crazy, hodge podge mess!

What bothers me is that I don't think you can fairly judge apples to oranges. I want all the singers to be in their own competition and then even separated by those who compose their own songs vs. those who sing Fleetwood Mac. I want a junior vs. adult competition. I want the dancers to all perform in a sole dance show. How can you fairly compare a harmonica player with a hand whistler? Before this show I didn't even know hand whistling existed! Maybe the point is that you just can't compare such diverse people, talents, ages and acts. In the end, popularity and the performers who fit into the mainstream will be the ones who come out ahead.

Anyway, back to my own musing. I really get that EVERYONE our there is dealing with their own troubles. But what I struggle with is that all troubles are not created equal. Just as all talent isn't either. There are greater losses than others and some of us have had to face more than our share. That is my point. I won't dwell on it. But I did want to try and clarify my view on this topic.

So in the end what does this all mean for me? I guess I just want a bit of compassion expressed to those of us facing a significant amount of adversity. For others not to immediately jump in and chime "But everyone has problems." And I suppose I'm still trying to come up with helpful solutions to my own situation. How can those of us really struggling have an easier time of it? Where can we turn for more support? How can we learn to balance our problems with hope? For those of us with multiple losses, we're already tired and bogged down from having had to face numerous struggles. So it is a double whammy of dealing with loss and stress such as moving from a home, while facing adversity such as financial hardship. A mixture of grief, stress and anxiety all in one! No wonder the young woman who left home at 16 and was in foster care moved on in the AGT competition. Her story touched at the heartstrings of America even if she sang slightly offtune.


  1. I read this post earlier and had to think about it for awhile before commenting. After some pondering, I guess the only thing I can say is that I don't really regard grief, suffering, unfairness, or what have you, in a way that differentiates between types or levels. I have a close friend whose lungs are all but destroyed from a horrible genetic lung disorder. The drugs he takes have now destroyed most of the bones in his body. He has artificial hips, which occasionally pop out of their sockets and leave him lying in agony, helpless on the ground until an ambulance can get him to an ER. The lung drug is barely working anymore. He lives in the U.S. and is in the hole so much for health costs that he'll never get out. He grieves for his health and I feel so much empathy for him. On the other hand... he knew both my husband and me quite well. He has known me since before my dad got cancer. He watched me care for my dad for a year through horrible kidney cancer. He watched me struggle to keep my dad's business going - working in my dad's shop running drill presses and metal fabricating equipment, taking no pay for 3 years to support my dad and then my widowed mom so that she wouldn't be in dire financial straits. Then he watched me have surgery for what was turning into cancer - then my recovery over a summer after which my husband was diagnosed with cancer. He watched as I struggled to care for my husband while trying to get my own health back. He watched me try to figure out how to deal with my finances and decide to get rid of the farm before I ended up broke, and he has watched me struggled onwards through grief and now working on a cheap old falling down house with no plumbing. He feels bad because he thinks I've been through far too much over the past ten years. I would have a hard time classifying our respective griefs or in figuring out who has had the more crazy or horrible time of it. My own grief is not over all the horrible things that have happened over the past ten years, but really, mainly, I just feel so sad for my husband who worked so hard all his life and then got *ripped off* by dying the same summer he was scheduled to retire. I don't really care much about myself, or grieve for going on alone. Yeah, it sucks, but really, the rage and sadness I feel is for my husband and not for myself. One way or another, I'm sure I'll be okay. But I feel sadness for people around me who have different forms of grief - over the loss of their health, their inability to get even a decent job, their caring for elderly parents, their loss of a spouse or a child, their loneliness. I've never thought of them as being different in any way. However, I may think differently than others. It will be interesting to hear other points of view on this topic.

  2. Bev - I posted about this because I wanted to hear from others and what they think and feel. I would say you have had a tough time of it and I admire your resilience and your ability to see outside yourself and toward others. I wish I were at your level of emotional maturity and empathy. I appreciate your outlook of viewing all forms of grief as one with no differentiation. I will contemplate your situation and view point and see where it takes me. Comments like yours end up being so poignant and result in taking me to places I need to go.

  3. I'm curious as to what you think is your "share."

    How do you define a "share" of grief or loss or disappointment or struggling or pain. And then is there also a "share" of the good stuff? Happiness, contentment, love, friendship?

    I'm not so sure there is such a thing as a "share." I think life is what you make of all the obstacles and opportunites and pain and joy and loss and happiness that are a part of your years.

    You can choose to let what you feel is more than your share of grief and suffering define your life by what you no longer have. And you can be envious and irritated by others who you feel haven't had their fair "share" of suffering or upheaval.

    Or you can look at everything you've overcome and hold your head high and count yourself as a survivor. Someone who has gained empathy and compassion and a real appreciation for simple joys. And you can choose to be grateful for what you did have. And for what you still have.

    And before you think that I'm just spouting random thoughts you should maybe know that I have lost five people I loved in the past 18 months - two were elderly relatives and not unexpected, one was from that horrible monster we know as cancer, one was totally unexpected - an abdominal aortic aneurysm, and one was due to a horrific farm accident in which I was one of the people who found him and pulled him free from underneath the tractor. So I do know something about grief and loss. And also about being angry at the unfairness of life.

    Here are two quotes that have helped me during those times when I feel like I've endured more than my "share":

    "Be kind - everyone is fighting their own personal battles." - author unknown

    "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." - A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh)


  4. Jen - You raise some very relevant observations based on your experiences. I would like to be at the point where I can stop comparing myself to others and to hold my head high for what I've endured. But I'm not there yet. Unfortunately, we're all different with varying personalities, backgrounds, upbringings and so on. All of that plays into how we hadle and react to our life experiences. So I'm not sure what the answer is for me. Maybe I'll have to go back into therapy to deal with this issue. In the meantime, you have given me some goals to aspire to.

  5. Life is not a competition. I'm not out to prove that I have it worse off than anybody else. Or that they have it better than me.

    Some days, my life sucks. Other days, their life sucks. I could list off my losses, my challenges, and my hardships to prove to you that I have not had it easy either. I feel like that would be pointless though because either 1. it will be pointed out that I must have resiliency that others do not possess or 2. I do not have it half as bad as others because of a, b, and c. I enjoy talking to others ... not just idle chit-chat, but really "talking." More often than not, I learn that what's on the inside is very different than what's on the outside. No one has a perfect life. Even those that are seemingly happily married, seemingly financially secure, seemingly outwardly cheerful. What "seems" is not always what "is."

    I am reminded of the comparison of sudden death grief versus expected death grief. Is one better? Is one worse? Of course not. They are both horrible, each with their own set of nuances. While there are some similarities, there are also some differences. Comparing who has it better and who has it worse serves no purpose.

    I refuse to be a victim to my circumstances. And I refuse to let my children think of themselves as victims either. Bad things happen to good people (just like good things happen to bad people). Just because some bad things have happened to me, I refuse to let them define me or ruin my life. Oh sure, I may wallow in self pity for a bit and feel bad for a time (rightfully so), I just can't let that keep me from ever being happy again. There is so much good in life. I work hard on finding it.

    Life doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful. May you too find the beautiful parts of life again, because as we all know, it can all be over in the blink of an eye.

  6. Jen
    They are very thoughtful comments.
    When people try to talk to me about what is 'fair', I cut them off straight away and tell them that I do not waste my energy thinking about what is fair, and whether or not life has treated me fairly.
    WitM: You cannot compare people's tragedies, that in itself is not fair, I wonder what purpose you think is served by comparing suffering?
    I feel strongly that the peace you are looking for is within you, therapy would be useful in gaining a more balanced perspective, it has certainly helped me.

  7. I agree that we don't always get our fair share of bad things or good things. Trying to one-up everybody isn't productive. I know you've had a lot of bad things happen and the worst is they happened all at once. You haven't had time to get over one tragedy before, wham! you have another. If you're like me, I bet some of what gets you so down isn't just grief; it's fear. I think the most important thing you said in reply to a comment was that maybe you should get back in therapy. I hope you will. It's done me a world of good and has helped me find my way through loss.

  8. thelmaz
    You have reminded me of a saying one of my friends told me once that stuck with me "there are two reactions: fear and love", and I often have to ask myself which one I am honouring.
    I relate so much to this blog because my life has been full of anxiety (fear), and I am trying to understand that holding the future lightly is an act of love which turns away fear.
    I see my son (who is suffering 2nd stage cancer) face life with hope, love and courage. He has everything to be angry about, but he trusts all will be well. I get strength from that faith, yes all is as it should be.

  9. Anonymous - I wish I could harness some of your strength in your ability to not view life as a competition. But I think in general, that our overall lives are rated that way in general in our society and so I transfer that mindset over to comparing my life with others. I know it is a futile exercise but I am trying to be kind and gentle on myself because it is where I'm at and for those of us struggling with grief, it all is so painful and hard. All of us have to deal with our own personal hurtful demons and this is a big one for me.

    You raise good insight into life not having to be perfect to be beautiful and I've been struggling with that too. More food for thought.

    Thelma - Thank you for commenting. I agree with you that some of this may be from the fact that too much happened too soon in my life over the past years. And that has had an impact on how I've viewed life and have grieved. And I agree with both you and Julie that fear is probably the key here. I have focused on grief but think I need to explore fear. As scary as this prospect is to me, I think facing the fear might hold the key to turning my life in a new direction from here.