Coping

There are a billion memes about 2020 being the worst bitch of a year. It’s hard to argue. Every stinkin’ day there’s a new thing. Australia burned, Covid-19. Meagan Markle and Prince Harry quit royalty. Covid-19. 45 was impeached and acquitted. Kobe Bryant died. The Iowa Caucus. Covid-19. Weinstein was found guilty. George Floyd. Brionna Taylor, and so many black lives I can’t get my brain around it. Epstein died of hanging in prison. Maxwell is in jail. (Not everything that has happened this year was bad.) Covid-19. The US dumps the WHO (and I’m not talking about the band.) And the list goes on. On and on and on and on, and it’s only August.

2020 is the year that keeps on giving. I keep thinking about the people who are also having real life happen. I mean, I know in my own life other things are happening, too. My childhood friend’s parents both died of Covid-19 in March, and my friend and her husband were diagnosed only to spend their grieving time sick with the illness. Two cousins got it and declared it the worst disease they’d ever had. My dear, dear friend has had cancer for a few years, will be on chemo for the rest of her life, now has Alzheimers. My niece’s BFF was happily pregnant, had a ruptured appendix, and while the baby is doing well, the previously healthy Mama is still in ICU on a ventilator and dialysis. My nephew was tear gassed during a peaceful protest against police brutality. My dog is dying. I just got my passport renewed before all this struck, and it is a deep, aching pain that my passport is useless. It was always a symbol of potential and exploration. Not now. Not in 2020. My kids are far away, and I can’t go see them even though I wouldn’t need a passport. In the Before Times if I felt like I do I would take PTO and go see them. I need their hugs so much these days.

I had this other horrible year in 2008 & 9, that was possibly more horrible for my family than 2020. And weirdly enough having lived through that gives me hope that we will live through this, even though I know Covid-19 is not likely to be kind, and will overstay the welcome that was never extended, by years or decades.

In February 2008 I had just finished my MS degree. A late bloomer, I was excited to get a job designing and developing an Animal Behavior Programs Department at the SPCA of Texas. The Friday before I started my Greyhound, Bravo, was discovered to have bone cancer, and euthanasia was required because her bones were breaking. Starting a job at an animal shelter was bittersweet, but I loved the work, respected my boss and peers and knew that the right next dog was likely to come along. I had a front row seat.

Ralph Emery Sisson
1928-2009

In May, I was driving to work when my sister called, very upset. Our 79-year-old father had fallen through the floor in the attic landing on the island in the kitchen, and falling to the floor. My mother found him wandering through the house confused and bloody. My boss was so supportive and said to go, Family comes first. There was a huge bilateral subdural hematoma which required a very risky and long surgery, He had some small fractures in his neck. There was internal bleeding. He was in and out of the hospital, then into rehab. Dad was eager to recover and did everything he was supposed to be, but his brain was hurt. He didn’t like not being strong.

The minute he got out of rehab and was still not back to normal, our 78-year old Mom had a major hemorrhagic stroke. She was unconscious for a week, in the hospital much longer, but she came around. The thing is, with strokes and dementia, often the the things that were significant about your personality before become more salient after. Our mother was a strong, hard-headed woman who didn’t like to be bossed around. When my Dad and I told her she couldn’t drive, she stole the keys and disappeared. My aunt lived with them and called me at work 2 hours away to tell me of another time she stole the keys. She didn’t get lost, she just went to the quilt shop and did some shopping, but she was going to do it on her terms.

My poor, poor sister and her family lived near them and were responsible for all these crazy events. My sister was in college getting a degree in teaching. Can you imagine? Her kids suffered a lot of emotional trauma watching all this happen. Oh, and her husband had a heart attack during all of this. Can you even??

At the same time, my father-in-law’s dementia (not my dad, my husband’s dad) was worsening and he was eventually placed in a nursing home. My mother-in-law was sure he would only be there for a while, but the week before Thanksgiving that year she died. She’d been having some tests to get to the bottom of some stomach pain, but she was at church when she had an ischemic bowel attack. She died that afternoon. Four weeks later my father-in-law died. As we were driving from his funeral to his burial, my aunt called. My uncle was dying and she wanted me to come. After the burial I went to the hospital to sit with her and my cousin. He died the next day. In fact 5 aunts and uncles died that year. 2008 sucked.

The holidays were a disaster, as you can imagine. We still had teenagers, and we couldn’t pull off a real holiday. We did our best, and it was awful. It wasn’t until we moved to Pittsburgh in 2018 that I felt like doing the holidays again. Every year it was a burden. Now it’s a treasure because I get my kids for a week… although I’m not sure that will happen this year. Thanks, Covid-19.

On New Years Day 2009 I learned of my father’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. My sister had tried to hold off telling me until we got through the funerals with my husband’s family. The cancer was discovered during more scans related to his fall the previous May. He left us in July, two weeks before his 80th birthday. That wasn’t fair. His parents lived to be 92 and 94, and several family members lived in to their 100s, so we assumed Dad would, too. It wasn’t to be.

For those of you who have made it this far through my annis horriblus. I survived. Right now, I have to admit, the way the world is in such bad shape with our political lack of leadership and the coronavirus and the mailbox debacle, I feel awful. I want to go shopping. I want to see my kids. I want to explore Pennsylvania. I often think I don’t have a set of skills for coping with the kind of world we live in today, but I know that I got through another really horrible time and lived. There’s nothing to be learned from stuff like this except that impermanence is normal. Change, normal. We got lucky having consistency in our lives with a lot of things in the Before Times. Now we are walking on a long pier, and we don’t know if we’ll step off into a clear blue ocean, or a pool of sharks, or a sea of bubbling red lava. Right now we’re just on this rickety dock and we just don’t know anything.

The key, as always, is just to do now. My dog who is dying soon? He is the one I got as a puppy a month after our Greyhound, Bravo died. He’s a really good dog and he gives me comfort in my heart. So, I’m doing my best to just tell him he’s a good boy, and not be too much up in his face when he’s trying to rest. It hits me hard sometimes that his body is failing and he won’t be here soon.

We can either be with our Now or we can struggle against the unknown and suffer. I’m really sad, and I’m depressed, about the country, the world and my dog, but I’m not suffering. I just understand that life has pain in it. There’s no way around that.

One evening at dusk while sitting with my father just days before he died in July 2009, I was too exhausted to do anything else, so I just sat watching him sleep. In those quiet moments with the sun fading outside the window, I thought, “He’s dying.” And I just let it wash over me. I didn’t cry. I was too weary. I just let the sadness be. “He’s dying. This is his dying time.” Instead of busying myself with work matters on my laptop, or chasing down nurses or doctors for information, or calling family members to update them, I just sat with him. I was there to hold space for him while he moved toward death. And it was okay. My dad was dying and it was okay. It was sad as hell, and it was okay for me to be sad. I loved my father so very much. He was my unconditional love. But he was dying. And dying is a significant part of life. It’s important and should be honored.

There is a way to find peace in what is going on in 2020, too, even though things are so sad, and so frustrating, and so angering. Peace comes separately. Peace comes when we accept that sometimes sadness is appropriate, that anger can be appropriate, that frustration is sometimes appropriate. Or let me rephrase that. They aren’t appropriate. They simply are. Sometimes you’re mad. Sometimes you’re sad. You just are. It’s not wrong to feel what you actually feel. Those feelings aren’t bad. But if you hold on to those emotions as if they are in charge, you will suffer. If you fight to escape those emotions as if they aren’t right, you will suffer.

You can have peace along with sadness. That realization can be revolutionary.

2 Comments

  1. Jill Lundin

    Hi Kelly! Wow. You have had A LOT. My heart extends to you and your family. I loved this post, it hit me and I will remember it. Thank you for writing it. And thank you for your Facebook Helpers group, it’s one of my favourites!

    Liked by 1 person

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