Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Level Jumping On Friendship

I've been reconnected with an old high school classmate. We were not friends then, but over this last week I feel that we have become so.

He will no doubt be reading this so I feel I must chose my words carefully. All of our conversations have been open and honest but they have been private and for that reason alone, I feel protective of sharing. But I do want to share a bit because I think it is an experience we all can grow from.

We have been filling each other in on the last 20+ years. Surprisingly though, we've only just touched on the broad strokes of life - the where did you work, where did you live, when did you get married. Instead, we've been discussing at length who we have become and how we came to be who we are in a very exposed and frank sort of way.

I'm certain that this level of intimate conversation, for most, is reserved for only the very closest of friends and family. For whatever reason, it seemed utterly natural to start our new friendship this way. There was no facade, no shined up version of ourselves, only truth... sometimes glaringly so. And because of it, we have compacted decades into three phone calls and an on-going facebook message.

But as is my usual course of action, I question things.

Is there a reason it happened this way? Am I seeking more depth in my friendships and so I initiated level jumping and he just came along for the ride?

Have I tired of friendships whose depth only goes as far as talking about what's on sale at the grocery store? Have I allowed myself to get mired in the day to day of life?

Or maybe this is the better way to friendship? No games, no charades, just me, just you.

But there is one more piece to the puzzle. The fact that while we have written and spoken, we haven't been face to face. Does that still give us some anonymity? Are we being as truthful as we think? Are even our issues and conditions and flaws presented with some panache through the written word or in the inflection in our voices?

If you are reading this C, you are no doubt regretting finding me in the first place ;-) But I did tell you this about myself. I question things. I wonder about things. And many times, this is where I come to ask these questions - throwing them to the wind and hoping that someone, somewhere has an answer that will give me some new perspective.

For what it's worth, I have been honest, perhaps with a nod to stand-up comedy in my "prose" but still, that's who I am too ;-) I hope that we will continue to be friends.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I've Got To Be Me

I have sat at this computer, contemplating this blog, many times before. I have written about what makes me mad, and sad, and thrilled and scared. I wondered aloud and ranted even louder. I have thrown questions to the blogosphere and in doing so, at myself.

For your part, you have listened, and consoled, and commiserated, and countered with questions of your own. We have discussed flaws and character traits, nasty neighbors and crazy kids, what feeds our soul and what pains us deeply.

And we have done it all, you and I, with truth.

One of my earliest blog posts (Oct. '09) was about honesty. Honesty with ourselves and who we are and what makes us, us. And for better or worse, and for all our attempts to change if we so desire, we are still only who we are at our core. And we must, ultimately accept that.

Back then, I posed this question to my facebook friends: "Why can't people be honest about themselves?" The overwhelming majority of the responses came back with variations on a theme: I know who I am, but I'm only willing to show a version of myself to everyone else because, fill in the blank... I don't want to be hurt, I don't want to be judged, I don't want to have to explain myself. But there is something that I've learned in my journey to self discovery. Being hurt or judged or having to explain oneself, is all on us. The other person didn't really make us feel that way. WE made us feel that way.

And why? Because, yes, their comments hit a soft spot, a flaw we see in ourselves that we were hoping no one else would notice. Now they have reinforced the bad feeling we have about ourselves. But all too often, that's where the story seems to end. We wallow in those feelings and relive the situation countless times. We don't move forward and we don't fix anything. We are the car stuck in the mud with the driver sitting inside bemoaning his fate but not doing anything about it.

As most of you know, I work at our local elementary school and almost daily I am confronted with situations in which I am asked to dispense advice. "Miss Bonnie, she called me short." "But you are short. So what is the problem." Usually that kind of response is met with a blank stare so I go on to explain. "If someone says something to you that is true, your response should be Yes. I know. If someone says something untrue, or meant to hurt your feelings like Your shirt is ugly. Just agree with them the same way Yes. I know. The point of anyone saying something nasty to you is to get a reaction. So don't give them one." [To date, that piece of advice has worked 100% of the time.]

Where am I going with all of this? I'll tell you. If we are honest with ourselves about our flaws, then we can be honest with others about them too. No need to hide. In fact, in expressing your acceptance of your own shortcomings you may just free someone else to do the same.

Just be who you are. If some people are turned off by that, then that's on them. You don't want people in your life that only like the fake version of you. And let's be "honest", you can't keep up the facade forever. In the end, the real you will come shining through... you've got to be you.

OK then, I'll go first... I'm short and right now, I'm wearing an ugly shirt ;-)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

7 Stages of Grieving

It's been a week since we said goodbye to our beloved furry girl. I've gone from excruciating pain to restrained sadness to a strange calm. I looked up the stages of grief early on in the week to see just where I had been and where I was going. For those of you unfamiliar with these 7 stages, here they are:

1. SHOCK & DENIAL You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.

2. PAIN & GUILT As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs. You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn't do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.

3. ANGER & BARGAINING Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.

You may rail against fate, questioning "Why me?" You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair ("I will never drink again if you just bring him back")

Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be "talked out of it" by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving. During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.

5. THE UPWARD TURN As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your "depression" begins to lift slightly.

6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.

7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.

For me, I felt a strong responsibility to my daughter and husband to see that they were dealing with their pain in a healthy manner, before allowing myself to do the same. Call it mothering, call it control freak, call it what you will, but I had been the driver in this decision to put our furry kid to rest and it would be on my watch to see that everyone came out on the other side in one piece. When I saw that they were handling themselves beautifully, I took that as a sign that I could breakdown. And breakdown I did.

I passed over #1 and spent the better part of the week mired in #2. "If I had known Saturday was going to be the day, I would have given her a steak dinner on Friday night." were the kind of errant thoughts that passed through my body. For the first time in my life, I experienced true guilt. I had essentially killed my dog without so much as a bagel for breakfast. I was consumed for days with these ideas until I just said "no more".

I passed over #3 and seem to take #4-#6 as a combo. My sadness was tempered by a compulsion to create a collection of photos of her 13 years with us. Seeing all that she did, the vacations we took, the people she meet, the lives she touched, showed clearly through a timeline of pictures that her short life was indeed full.

I am currently in stage 7. I plan to be here for awhile. More than likely, longer than I need to. Each day is in fact, a bit easier. Each time I remember her, I am no longer brought to tears. Instead, I catch my breathe a little and let the pang of sadness pass through me instead of wash over me. I believe that is growth. And I will take it... one day at a time.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Goodbyes Are Painful

Today was the day.

The day we have been dreading for a long time. The day we had hoped to put off as long as possible... and did. But there was no question that today was the day.

The situation came upon us fast. The flood of emotions was at panic mode. There was no time to mull. Action was required. Not only to end her pain, but to not prolong our hesitation. Any more time and we might have found excuses not to.

Now we are home. My husband, my daughter, and myself. But our furry girl is not. She lived a long and full (and spoiled) life. But at 13 plus years old, she was not herself. She couldn't stand up without help, she couldn't manage the stairs alone, she had begun to wet herself without knowing. Her quality of life was not what we wanted for her... not for the last days of a glorious life.

Saying goodbye was painful. It actually hurts. What may hurt more right now is that she is not here. In a week, we'll go back for her ashes and we'll have a proper burial. In the meantime, we have nothing of her here except for dog hair and stained carpets. Not the best way to be remembered.

But I try not to think about that. I try not to think about many of her final days. I prefer to remember her in her healthier moments; her happier moments.

But we loved her to the last and we love her still. The pain will subside eventually. For now though, we grieve. Openly, with sobbing tears and clenched throats and turning stomachs.

We will love you forever and you will always be a part of us.

Hepburn 11/22/98 - 2/11/12

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Grown But Not Always Grown-Up

Remember as kids on the playground, feeling that twinge of panic as you overheard someone talking about you. Remember being nervous, sweaty, having difficulty breathing, scared stiff not wanting to turn around and confirm that the voice you heard, the one being nasty, was someone you thought was a friend.

I remember it. Like it was yesterday. Oh, wait. It was.

Well, not yesterday exactly, but this week. And even though I am not a child, I was still nervous and sweaty and stiff.

I didn't turn around. I finished what I was doing and walked away. I thought to myself, I'm going to just let it go, pretend it didn't happen, take the high road.

The high road is boring!

I chose instead to use what I've learned in my nearly 45 years on this planet. If I was feeling insecure and uncomfortable by this, I wasn't going to be the only one. And because this person chose to talk about me behind my back, that was my cue to bring this situation to light.

In my most straightforward and mature tone: "Hi. Do you have a second?"

"Sure. What's up?"

"Ah. I heard what you said yesterday."

"What's that?"

"You know. About me. I believe that we are all entitled to our opinions, but as friends, I really wish you had come to me directly to discuss instead of going to random people with it."

"I don't know what to say."

"I don't know that there is anything to say. Let's just move on from here. But please know that I am much more receptive to constructive criticism when you come to me directly, then I will be to overhear you talking about it with someone else. If we're friends, that's the policy I hold most important. Honesty."

"OK. I'm sorry."

"No need to apologize. I'm good."

I gave her a smile, gathered my things and walked away. I left her, no doubt feeling nervous and sweaty and stiff. That was all I needed. The satisfaction in knowing that she didn't get away with being nasty to me behind my back.

It's true. It wasn't all that mature of me to wish she was sick to her stomach, but still...

I wasn't too far off the high road...

Let's call it, the service road running parallel to the highway - it's a bit bumpier but it still takes you in the same direction ;-)