Wednesday, August 4, 2010

To Those Living in the Light

I continue to reflect on the fact that I have been comparing myself and my life to that of others, who have it seemingly better. I read that we tend to do this when our lives are in the pits and I would agree with that - when times are especially challenging and hope is at a minimum, fear rampant. I've tried to take all the recent comments received and think on them with positive intent. But I continue to believe that life situations, problems and so on can be rated. I guess I am curious as to why when we live in a society that consantly "rates" events and things, that it is somehow so awful to compare yourself with others who have led less complicated and sorrowful lives. We rate and classify our driving insurance premiums, our weight, our blood pressure, heath, credit ratings, grades in school, academic as well as sporting ability, and looks., etc. Many of these "ratings" are beyond our control. So are some of the things that happen to us and befall our lives like the big "D."

And there are differences in situations and levels of grief. I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing to admit this. It is an observation, not a contest. An observation that yes, we look at the death of someone who dies at age 90 having lived a very full life differently from that of a person of 25 who dies. Death is crummy either way but I feel safe to say that it is significantly more sad for the 25 year old and their family.

Many of you wrote that comparisons serve no real purpose. In thinking about that I would say that one of the purposes they do serve is to hurt the person making the comparisons. The flash of envy I feel for the baseball mom pulling up in her Lexus doesn't pain her, but it does send a stab of hurt into me. I have determined that maybe some of the reasons I constantly set out my list of woes is to reassure myself that it isn't and hasn't been all my fault. My comparisons are in a lopsided way a kind of last ditch effort to make myself feel less to blame for what I've had to experience if that makes any sense. It makes me feel less of a failure and that I am a "bad" person deserving of having a husband who died and another who cruelly left me. Maybe pointing my finger at someone more fortunate serves some sort of survival purpose for me because I do believe that we engage in behaviors that at their core serve some value even if it may not seem that way to others.

Anger, resentment, frustration and even rage are all normal reactions to life stressors and grief. My problem is that I currently lack the skills to transfer those powerful emotions into something more constructive and healing. I can't just snap my fingers and stop feeling envy. I can be conscious of it when I feel that way and try to divert my focus elsewhere when it happens but it just doesn't happen immediately. The grief self-help books out there all acknowledge the reality of our emotions but I have not found any with step-by-step suggestions on how to "work on" these issues when they loom up out of control. And in this case, are my feelings really that abhorrent or deviant when the entire situation is taken into consideration? For a rough period of time when finances were stretched to the limit and I was in the constant company of the "Baseball Moms," I indulged in some comparisons and self-pity. I didn't neglect my sons, I was out there cheering the team and doing my best to stumble forward. I didn't yell at anyone or emit insults. I quitely obeserved, obsessed and was sad. Now the tide will slowly turn and I'll try to grapple with this issue to be able to more constructively move on.

What is ending up bothering me the most now that all the dust is settling, is that those of us truly suffering with a huge amount on our plates of bad stuff, are supposed to be somehow more virtuous than others. I'm supposed to act and feel normally and not make any waves. I'm supposed to be able to rise above the pettiness and jealousy accepted as a matter of course in other people's behavior.

One of the reason I continue these reflections is to give a voice to those out there suffering beyond the initial loss of a death - those struggling with other conflicts and hardships - multiple layers of grief and loss that stretch out the traditional mourning period for many years. That is a factor in all of this. Years of grief is wearying and tiresome. Strength and hope become buried and lost. To be grieving and hit with another bombshell and then another ends up with its own set of consequences. Bereavement becomes a bit more complicated, drawn out and frustrating. Especially when life keeps plunging downward instead of improving.

The Rabbi Pesach Krauss advises in "Why Me? Coping With Grief, Loss And Change" that it is futile to tell people what they're doing wrong when they are in the midst of feeling grief and despair. They will not be able to accept or process any advice. The key is to provide sympathy such as "I hear your frustration and upset in regard to the unfairness of life. And I know you are dealing with these painful feelings in an effort to get through and beyond them." He also believes that there are those of us who will reach for the light and those of us who will get buried in our bitterness, pain and hurt. I admire the great many of you who are valiantly moving toward and living in the light. The jury is still out on which direction I'm going to end up.


  1. Well, I hope that you will move toward the light. I could comment further on the above, but I think the best thing to do is to sum up my own feelings toward events in my past. These are the words that I live by every day:

    Don't let the past control the future.

  2. Of course, none of the things that happened are your fault.
    Here's what I'm wondering. You've worked as a counselor. I get the feeling you worked with kids, but just suppose an adult came in with the same problems you're facing now. What would you say/do to help?

  3. Just because our lives are surrounded by ratings and comparisons (as you rightly pointed out), doesn't mean it is right.

    Looking outside of yourself for validation will always disappoint. We need to accept and love ourselves in order to be happy. I personally do not think everyone knowing my personal circumstances and feeling sorry for me is worth the invasion of my privacy. My friends know the truth and my worth.

    You need to show yourself the loving kindness that you show to your children and you showed to your first husband. Let go of that terrible tape playing in your head of blame, self-loathing and jealousy. You are worth having a glorious life, we all are!


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  5. Nice.

    And, I actually really like the non-sequitur comment above. Random.

  6. Yup--aquarium lights--that's what your post was all about. Where do these people come from anyway and was that an automatic, robot comment? I don't understand, but that's okay. I don't understand much of what this life dishes out.

    I think you are doing admirably with all you've gone through in the last few years. Comparisons of ourselves to someone else--someone in a better situation are human foibles. When I got divorced and lost my home of many years, it just, in general, pissed me off to see my old friends who were still stable. Those same friends that avoided me at times, because I was no longer in their social mileau. It gets better as the years pass--I hope! Steady On.

  7. ...or milieu as the word should have been. Whatever....I wasn't "one of them" anymore and it hurt because I was still the same old Judy they had always known--just a divorced, poorer one.

  8. Jude - You hit the nail on the head. It has just been impossible for me to sit with the same group of women I've known for years and just not feel sad and down because I am no longer one of them. It helps and feels so much better for me to know I'm not the only one out there who has struggled with all of this. Thanks a million for letting me know your outlook. Like you said, it is seeing old friends that are still stable that has uspset me the most since my life seems so unstable and crazy. I hope the years will soften the blow and soften my bitterness.

  9. I recently lost my 56 yr. old husband after a very difficult, year-long battle with brain cancer. I too wonder "why us". When I hear friends talk about their weekend plans with their spouses, or meeting their husbands for lunch or having a day together with the grandkids, my heart aches. I am envious. But what good does it do. I know the pain will dull over time and their is only one direction to move and that is forward.

  10. Anonymous - I extend my heartfelt sympathy to you and I thank you for commenting. I think in the end that we probably wouldn't be human if we didn't have moments when we compare ourselves to others who still have what we have lost. So I guess I am trying to be less hard on myself that I have gone in that direction at times - when I was feeling especially down and out. But you raise a significant point that it doesn't get us anywhere by dwelling on the comparisons. We just have to keep trudging forward after a detour or two.

  11. Bravo. Well said. There is NO right or wrong way to grieve, there is only YOUR way. It's your loss. You own it. People can be so damn arrogant can't they x