regrets

Good Grief

If I had superpowers at my disposal one would the uncanny ability to remove soapscum from a bathtub at will.

Being a human capable of flight sans an airplane is a superpower I’d love to have.    And never finding onseself in a situation of saying or doing something that would end in regret would be another.

I’m about to quote someone who once heard  Dr. Phil ( I’m not a fan) quote Will Rogers,  “Never miss an opportunity to shut up”, or something like that.    Knowing when to completely self-edit is something I’m keen on trying.

But apparently now isn’t the time to start self-help endeavors.    Lately, I’ve been so incredibly angry.   Hotel reservationsists, and several poor saps at a call center in Mumbai have experienced it firsthand.

And it’s not so much anger as it full on rage.

I’m mourning the loss of a friend and the better part of a ten year relationship that ended in his taking the perpetual dirt nap.   This happened just over two months ago and I’m only now addressing the residual effects of those left behind.  Ours was a complex duet that most most people didn’t understand.    He was an asshole, a crook, a dick.    People freely  called him names without knowing him.  And maybe he wasn’t a shining example of humanity.   I’ve always said I can’t beatify the dead simply for dying,   Still,  he meant something to me.   Even so, I should have defended him more.    But I couldn’t.   I guess after a while, I either weenied out or got tired of the fight because it was easier to allow  people think as they wanted.   I was outnumbered.   I had to dismiss him when he was alive and remain as dismisive in his death.    Now, instead of calling him names, they say nothing at all.    This means  I’ve been doing a lot of mourning all by myself, partly on purpose, partly because his death like his life, remains awkward for people.    Hell, any grieving person is awkward for anyone to deal I don’t care how much empathy or sympathy you think you have.   You can feel shock and be apologetic during the funeral and wake, but afterwards, you get to go to back home to life as you know it.    You’re barely on the periphery.

That sounds like such a luxurious place to be….on the outside and only infrequently looking in.

There are supposedly five stages of grief, first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.   They are the denial and isolation combo, anger,  bargaining, depression and  ultimately,  acceptance.    I understand there are caveats to all of these.  Aits different across the board.  One grief stricken person won’t necesssarily go through the stages precisely as Ross determined them, others will,  some won’t experience any of them.  Others might go through a few of them.

I understand isolation and anger, as little Habib who instists for English speakers, his name is Greg Jones, can surely attempt.  But I consider myself too rational to bargain.     There are no ‘what ifs’ in life, much less in death.   Depression?    Hardly anything new.  Denial?    I’m too much of a realist and acceptance was /is something I’ve always found easy.   Acceptance of all things is immediate with me.   Once I knew my friend was dead, I acceped it.      I didn’t like it, I felt it happened too quickly, so suddenly,  too out of the blue, yet I accepted it.   Like Automatic reflex.

But the anger!!!

I’ve been doing dome thinking and Ive realized there  are subtexts to anger and isolation Ross never considered.

1–The pajamas phase.  It’s very important that we exeperience a denial in terms of personal hygiene.    This means a complete lack of desire to bathe or shower and  a full on need to be consistent in our filth.   Such as wearing sweat pants, pajamas, the same robe or caftan for days and days and days.

Usually there’s weight loss or significant  weight gain during this time.   And if we eat at all, the majority of food becomes part of the daily uniform.    We wear our food.   And the kind of food also matters.    Grocery shopping is out of the question so, we either have food delivered or if that’s not an option,  the minimal amount of effort is using the drive throigh, but if that’s not possible, we eat whatever we can find in the fridge, And this can lead to some very weird  combinations.    For example:  Peanut butter and mint jelly on stale potato chips.

2.   Isolation:    Mourning  is personal .   In the beginning,  well-meaning friends and family call and try to visit and we tell them, no, no, we’re fine, all is well.   We tell them not to come by and we refuse to answer the door if they stop by.   Then, they eventually  stop dropping by, they stop calling as much or completely, which can be a double edged sword.   We want to be left alone,  but we still appreciate the effort.    Wether we admit or not, the concern makes us feel relevant, a little less alone.   But grieving really is an extremely personal process, even with four people living in your house, it can still be a very lonely process.     It makes us uncomfortable and skiddish, even for those who’ve walked in your shoes, even those who know then mourning game first-hand.    The reality of loss is very inconvenient and even more inconsiderate.   It plays by its own rules and often strikes at our core at 3:15 on a rainy Sunday morning, seven months after the funeral.  Sometimes three years later.     Sometimes longer.

3.   We become mini-hoarders.    We endure this isolation and anger sub-phase by becoming quite messy.   There is no order in grief– why should there have any in the life of a gerievinf person.     Our environmental hygiene suffers, too.  Dishes are piled high in the sink.   Bottles, cans everywhere.    Empty food bags and wrappers.     Junk mail is everywhere, mixed in with bills that have gone unpaid.    Days old pizza still in the box on the couch.   Shoes  everywhere.     The ever-growing pile of Mt. Laundry is in the corner of the room with new foothills that can be found throughout the house.

These brief  dalliances with hoarding behavior comes as no surprise.  Hoarding is a direct response to loss.   I don’t necessarily get how or why one feels compelled to cling to an outdated page of Burger King coupons,  but I understand that’s part of the hoarding process.     And hoarding is the result of how a mentally ill person deals with loss.

3.  Emergence.    The darkness in grief can be stunning.  It can take a month or three, but newfound singles who earned that title through the death of a mate or divorce (loss is loss, my friends)  will eventually come around.    Most of us have to.   We have to work.   You have to be wealthy to be have degenerative grief, the all consuming kind that seemingly lasts forever.    When opportunistic  mental illness comes to visit and stays resulting in the way you can only traverse  your home through the tunnels of junk you’ve created then yes, you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis.    You might not realize there’s problem until  a few TLC producers, a camera crew and a HAZMAT  team knocks on your door.    While those sad cases we see on the TV show, Hoarders: Buried Alive  are the exception rather than the rule, most of us (if we even get to the messy phase) rarely stay there.   We arrive at a point where our reactions to death start to wear  thin.  Basically, boredom can set in.   Monotony.    This is healthy forward progression.  It doesn’t mean we no longer love our dearly departed, or that their death has become any less significant.    It simply becomes a matter of moving on.

It pains me to quote Dr. Phil a second time (I’ve actually gotten more psychological assistance  from watching reruns of Frasier) but he often asks people, “What are you getting out of this?”   Or worse, “How’s that working out for you?”

Shudder, but there is truth in the queries.

Living life in a perpetual state of mourning means you’re not living.   Change is tough, You can’t eat your way through this….or sleep through it.  Stockpiling garbage isn’t a healthy response.  There’s not enough Scotch or Vodka in the world, not a Xanax big enough.   There aren’t  enough carbs to eat your feelings and by contrast, refusing to eat won’t work either.  When your life stops working for you for whatever reason, it’s time to make a change. Yes, you’re heartbroken.   The death of a mate or spouse or a relationship of any kind, even the loss of a job, means the end of an ideal.  It means the death of plans, hopes and dreams and these things are horrendously painful.    So yes, Loss hurts.   Break ups, divorce…terminations of all kinds.    The death after a loved who one lingered  with an illness, a suicide, a sudden massive coronary or aneurism, are all very painful.   After a point, the process by which one arrives at death doesn’t matter; the end result is the same.  So called prep time doesn’t matter.

But if the sadness is overwhelming and not subsiding,  if guilt has beome an unwelcome roommate who won’t leave, if your grief has literally taken over your life, then please seek help.   And if you keep glancing over at that bottle of pills and that quart of whiskey, please, PLEASE  seek help.     Death + death only = more heartache.   It’s the simplest example of negative math.  And if by some chance you are thinking of taking your own life, well depending on your faith, you won’t end up in the same place as your dead wife,  so why bother?

So, rid yourself of ‘end it all thoughts’.    Embrace your curiosity about life and maintain your healthy fear of death.    Be brave enough to dare yourself to wake up tomorrow just to see what the day brings.   Until then, go with your pain….cry, or not,  get angry, feel free to wear sweats containing a poly blend AND  the four basic  food groups for a week.   There’s no rule book.   No game plan.    Just understand that you have ultimate control over all of your feelings.   Please look  for that eventual break in the clouds.    Even tarnished silver linings are better than none at all.

So, wail, cry, shriek.    Punch a wall….I won’t judge.    Just do your best, even in the midst of it all, to understand why your heart aches.    Be very clear and honest within your pain. Death is the ultimate ending.   It’s life’s final play of the game and when it happens to someone  you know and love, it becomes your new reality.  This death is now a part of your life,  a fact that mercifully becomes something  you’re just going to have to live with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advice from Uncle Bob

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Dear Laurie,

I know you have a pivotal birthday coming up and while presents are wonderful and I have no problem in obtaining one for you, I thought this 50th birthday of yours deserved to be a little special, so my gift this auspicious year will be different.

I’ll preface this letter by telling you that I think I’ve only recently learned that life is about risk, taking chances and at least, occaisionally glimpsing over that scary proverbial edge.  As you know, I just turned 74 in January and I’ve come to the sad conclusion that I’ve spent my life in a safe  vacuum, unwilling to do anything that might affect my health, well being and longevity. 

But all I did was compromise my happiness.  

I reflect back on my life, as I’m sure your doing, and I didn’t think I had any significant regrets, but I do.    Your Aunt Stella and I were too frightened, for reasons that I can’t even fathom now.  We read every self help book; believed every news report about the evils of eggs, saccharin, beef, red M&M’s, alcohol consumption and smoking.

What predicated this letter to you?  Realization mostly, inspired by a recent visit to a new doctor.    

After the first check up when the test results came back, he called me back into his office.  I asked him how I was doing medically.  He told that I was fine “for a man of my age”.  As the family knows,  I’ve tried to live the healthiest life possible, but even so, his response alarmed me.  

So, I asked him, “I’m not sure what that means. I consider myself to be a very careful, very healthy 74 year old guy. I’ve tried to live by the book, so what do you think, Doc?   Will I live to the age of 80 and beyond, maybe?”

The doctor just looked at me and cocked his head.  “Well, answer a few questions for me.  Do you drink alcohol of any kind to any degree?   What about drugs?  Do you eat red meat, Bar-B-Q beef and pork with all the trimmings and endure periods of stress and insomnia?”

“I do none of those things.   I sleep fairly well, too!”

He squinted his eyes.  “Do you work out?  Race cars?    Do you gamble, bowl, watch sports, play pool, have evenings out with the guys?”   

“Oh no, no!  I exercise in moderation only.  I don’t want to risk injury. Gambling is a vice I want to live without, thank you and sports is nothing but relatively civilized savagery”.

He asked, “No lifting weights, crunches?”  

“Never.  Plus I rarely socialize.  My wife is my best friend.  It’s pretty much just her and I.  We watch educational TV and documentaries and we ONLY listen to classical music and the occasional opera.  Candide and La Boheme are my favorites.  And I’d never risk life and live by driving fast.  In fact, obey all speed limits.  I’m proud to admit that I drive conservatively in my American-made sedans.  Had them all my life.”

He continued on with this questioning.  “Do you like being in the sun, sailing, playing golf, swim, tennis, jogging, cycling or hiking?  What about yard work?

“I do none of those things. I’m extremely fastidious.  I hate getting dirty.   As I’ve told you, I live life very safely.  I don’t tempt fate.   Unprotected exposure to natural sunlight  is a carcinogen!”

He then asked, “What about sex, in your marriage bed or extramaritally?”

“Oh no!” I answered him.   My wife and I care for each other, but we agreed to stop having sex 17 years ago.  We figured our bodies didn’t need the over exertion.   We’re celibate and we couldn’t be closer!  Nor would I or could I ever even contemplate an affair with some tarted up floozie.  I believe in the sanctity of marriage and celibacy only adds to the quality of ours!”

He looked puzzled and removed his glasses.  “Really?  All you’ve told me is  true?”

I proudly responded “Yes!!.   So lastly,  do you think I’m going to live long enough to reach 80?”

He shook his head.   “With the way you’ve lived your life, why would you even give a shit?”

Needless to say, that gave me pause.    

I started thinking about what he said and frankly, that’s convinced me that I’ve probably never actually lived my life.  I merely existed in it.  I merely experienced whatever came my way.  I never sought anything.   Life happened and fear of something I’m not even sure of forced me to live under a rock and, I suppose, a bunch of lies.   Namely those which I told myself. 

I don’t want you to wake up 30-years from now and wonder if you’ve done enough, read enough, loved enough, been loved enough, helped others enough and laughed enough.   I don’t want you to die without ever having seen Barcelona or the Turks and Caicos islands.   I want you live your life and take chances.   It’s completely worth the risk.  Live your life in Technicolor, Laurie.   It’s like that damn candy commercial, Laurie:  that one that urges young consumers to feel the rainbow.

You’ve got a lot of life ahead of you.  In many ways, the best part of your life has yet to unfold.   Grab it and go.  Anticipate all the wonders that are being laid out before you.   In many ways, turning 50 is a gift.  It really is.   Maybe you don’t regard it as such now, but you will in time. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must end this tome and make plans for this evening.   I’m taking your aunt Stella out for a romantic dinner and dancing.   I’m thinking steaks and a terrific Pignot… maybe a bottle or two.   Then, I’m calling the municipal airport to inquire about skydiving lessons for this Saturday and if I can secure a lesson at that time, I plan on driving above the speed limit to get there faster, while listening to rock music on the radio and eating peanut M&M’s.    

I hope they melt in my hand.   

Regrets, Laurie;  they’ll age you before your years.  So, carpe anos, Darlin’!! And have fun on your birthday.  Hope it’s a great one!

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Always, 
Uncle Bob

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Regrets

You hear a lot about damaged people.

Living, breathing human beings with psyches so fractured, they’re almost immobilized, emotionally speaking. I once knew a man like this. For the longest time, I thought I was the one who was bringing the dysfunction into forefront of our relationship. In retrospect, I was merely responding to his lunacy.

How can you detect these broken people? They don’t come with visible cracks, but they’re there–just underneath the surface. It doesn’t take long for the astute observer to notice that something is amiss. It’s by their actions. Attentive at first; supportive in the beginning. Then comes the little white lies. They start out infrequently, but gain momentum. And all of sudden, you wake up one day, aware that you’re already in too deep and panic ensues when you realize that his growing inability to be honest WILL BE a part of your relationship’s vista. Sadly, the lies get bigger and bolder and soon, those little white ones become tinged with vivid anger and resentment. And these become the ugliest of colors.

He was a liar and I would imagine, he still is. He was always of the mindset that everyone else is at fault. He was never errant. The problem lied elsewhere. He drank too much. Way too much. Calling him a functioning alcoholic might be akin to saying a woman is just a little pregnant. But if you were around him enough, you noticed that either beer or a gallon of Jim Beam was never far from his reach. That bottle meant everything to him. He was a coward and alcohol gave him courage–or so he thought. Liquor filled in his character flaws–or so he thought. The problem was that his alcoholism was his biggest character flaw. And he never started a weekend, or ended one, without a bottle or case of something.

I used to ask him about his drinking and he’d glare at me then say pointedly, “It’s a symptom of a bigger problem.”

Meaning me.

My God, we were a match made in Hell. I’d always felt that Satan had a hand in the matchmaking process. What we had was horrible, hellish; we were never happy; not for one second of one minute. Why did I stay? Pathetically, I can’t answer that. I only know why I eventually left. I wanted to continue living and I assure you a death of some sort would’ve awaited me had I stayed. It was that bad.

True, I waited too long to leave, but leave I did and that I don’t regret doing at all. The abject horror that I experienced in that relationship had to have been karmic retribution for previous sins committed.

And let me be perfectly clear about the fact that I wasn’t perfect. He drank and I reacted…poorly. But he dealt the first blow. He was never faithful and stayed out all night with another woman a mere three months into our relationship. He lied and he drank and drank and lied. But please note: one wasn’t a catalyst for the other. He lied sober, too.

In the waning years of our union, I lost a very high profile position and in my line of work, you can never just slip into the private abyss of unemployment. No, when we get fired, it’s accompanied with a press release and an article in the newspaper. I’d never been fired before and I took it hard. So, lapsed into a deep state of depression and that gave him permission to drink more; to cheat more. I sat there, broke, damaged all alone and sad beyond the realm of human comprehension. In my fit of depravity, I reacted to everything by eating pills like Pez. Our mutual dysfunction was reflective and refractive. But I can honestly say that hope was never lost; it never existed.

He was miserable and I lived in the depths of depression, rejection, non-existent self-esteem and a gut wrenching hopelessness that with Martin Scorsese-like attention to detail, directed the downward spiral.

I’d battled abandonment issues all of my life. This delightful combination of professional failure and his pulling away, put me over the edge. I was in a tremendous amount of pain and it had gotten to the point, where I didn’t want to “feel” anymore.

But that was late 2003; this is mid 2008. How I survived isn’t as important as the fact that I did survive and on top of that, time has been kind. Then again, I forced it to be. When it comes to being victimized by mental cruelty–your own and his, what other choice do you have? You gather your courage and then, you exact revenge. First by leaving, then by living well. No more, no less.

I woke up this morning thinking this. I also thought about life and regrets and the few that I have. Most are insignificant:

  • I wanted to be an actress, but went into Broadcasting instead
  • I wanted to graduate from the University of Texas, but instead got my degree from Southwest Texas State University
  • I quit my first TV job because I thought I was in love

But my biggest regret; the one that creates intractable shame in the core of my very soul is the relationship I write about in this post. And the reason why I’ve chosen to write about it now is because I want its exit from my life made official. Let this serve as a public proclammation. I want the world to know that there isn’t a single memory in the wasted seven year span that was our relationship, that is worthy of salvaging.

Make no mistake, I am over this man. The last nail of the relationship coffin had been hammered in a long time ago and the damn thing has been buried for as many years. In fact, he remarried and has moved but for a while there, I had to remind him of that fact. He has (or did have anyway) a terrible, terrible habit of remaining in close contact with all his exes, which meant his Rolodex was huge. It was the same with me after he got married and I know that his “wife” was in the dark about most of his actions and covert activities; as was I when we were together. Odd, that she and I would switch places. He cheated on me with her and there he was, married to her and trying to reestablish a connection with me. And he did it with Christmas gifts, birthday gifts; calls; cards…E-mails. Everything he gave me, I discarded, erased or destroyed. I even had to demand that he quit contacting me. Hearing his voice; seeing his name attached to an e-mail in my inbox created a visceral response.

For a while there, my family would bring up his name (which was rare, but it happened), I’d change the subject. If I saw his first name somewhere, such as on TV or on a billboard or something, I’d look away. And when I saw other people working in the same profession (and his had a particular mode of dress associated with it), I’d literally swallow hard or rub my throat in an attempt to force down bile and sputum.

But lately, I can hear his name and for a few moments, absolutely nothing registers. I have forgotten. I can see his name and think nothing of it. But when I see people with whom he shares a professional connection, the memories come flowing back. I hate it but can’t help but remember. I respond simply by shaking my head in pity and feeling immense gratitude that I no longer have to be among them. These are people who while educated, skilled and entrusted, possess very little integrity,  generally speaking.  This deficit seems to part of the very nature of their business.

But life goes on. I am mercifully, not that same weak soul I was. I not only survived, but I evolved. Worse for the wear, but better for the tear. It’s in the ongoing process of healing that I am becoming whole, perhaps for the first time in my life.

In terms of the ex, I know very little. I honestly don’t know where he is; I don’t know if he’s still working or if he’s still married , but if he is, I can be magnanimous enough to admit that I feel sorry for his wife; in spite of what she did to me. I have no idea as to what his character is like these days, but I’d imagine that he hasn’t changed. His behaviors were so ingrained that modification seemed unlikely. I would like to think that he’s emerged a different man, but like a leopard and its spots, I suspect he’s also unable to change.

And the glory is that after all these years, I don’t care. Apathy is a lovely and for me, a wonderfully covetous state of nothingness. I am there and it is a good place. I’ve forgiven me for allowing myself to live with his disease and mine. I’ve forgiven him, too and while liberating, all sentiment stops there. I don’t wish him evil; I don’t wish him well. I wish him “nothing”.

In the years since stepping free, I have only asked for distance–emotionally and physically and I’ve wished to someday know a much greater love than he was capable of providing; I’ve asked to be introduced to the greatest love I’ve ever known.

Five years later? Wishes granted on all fronts.

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