It Isn’t Just a Log …

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There’s one remaining piece of a large tree branch sitting at the back of my yard, leftover from a pile of trimmings that were cleaned up more than a year ago.  It was easily missed and I only noticed it was still there months after the job was done.  I rarely visit the back of my huge yard, except to take out the trash and that’s usually when I’m also getting ready to go somewhere else and not taking time to observe anything near the path.

This little log isn’t in my way, and the two or three times I’ve seen it laying there, I’ve thought I should pick it up and toss it but I don’t.  It’s not a priority, it doesn’t appear to be in the way of my lawn care guy – the grass is always neatly trimmed even though this log never seems to get moved.

Today while standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes I observed a man in the alley trimming a neighbour’s trees and loading pieces into a truck, and I thought about my log.  It’s out there covered in snow (until I brushed some off for the photo) and sitting above the surrounding area just enough that it’s visible from the house.  And I wondered what I could do with it; the first idea that came to mind was a cool crafty Christmas decoration, like a few I made ages ago with scrolls of the sheet music for Silent Night printed on parchment colored paper rolled up and attached to the wood with big red ribbons …

And then it happened.

You see, it doesn’t actually have to be Christmas for my mind to be swept away by all the little Christmas things that used to be part of our lives.

Before I go on, this isn’t a Christmas post in January.  It’s isn’t meant to make people feel sorry for me and I already know about and appreciate the real meaning of Christmas; this is about human experience, not religion.

When you’ve grown up with and carried over into your own family the many fun and happy experiences of nearly half a century of Christmases shared and then something changes, something goes away forever, and nothing comes into that space to bring about a new joy, there is sadness and emptiness.

Families change over years. Usually they’re growing, first with children being born and raised, then with marriages and grandchildren.  Traditions are started and passed on.  Most of the time the changes are happy ones.

I used to love getting ready for Christmas, crafting up all sorts of new things to decorate the house and make everything fun and exciting for my kids and my husband. I was the happy little Christmas homemaker!  It gave me joy to prepare and sew and bake and turn the house into a jolly space.

Of course, once our kids were grown up, some of that naturally changed and mellowed, and there are no grandchildren yet so our celebrations had already become more about fun social interaction and lots of fancy food treats than about waiting for Santa.

But now that Pat is gone, we seem to be in a strange place.  The things that used to be exciting about Christmas – getting together with family and friends, sharing meals, playing games – also happen at other times of the year that aren’t so closely associated with the big annual event that brings on emotions, stress, and at times, at least for me, confusion.

My brain wants me to remember it and to feel about it the way I always felt, but my heart seems to need a quiet, relaxed time with no pressures or expectations, no hurry, no pomp and circumstance.  I want to enjoy it, but then get on with things and not drag it out.  It’s nothing anyone else can change or fix and it doesn’t matter how many people I see or don’t see over the holidays.  Christmas comes, I laugh, I cry, and then it goes.

Obviously I do want to see my family and friends, and I’m able now to get into the spirit of Christmas to a certain extent, especially since my daughter loves to bake and decorate herself so I try to put in a good effort.  I think my son likes the meals and snacks the most and whether or not we had a tree probably wouldn’t matter to him!  But in general, I often have as much or more fun and enjoyment with them on other days of the year to which there are no strings attached.

Of course, I still want to celebrate Christmas, but it won’t ever be the same and the part of me that’s waiting for that just needs to catch up.  Some of it is middle age and learning that many of what I saw as Christmas experiences can really be enjoyed any time at all.  Some of it is the fact that our family has grown smaller rather than larger.  And some of it is because he isn’t here anymore to share it with me, with us.

So while I might have snatched up that little log and turned it into something cute several years back, I think I’m just going to let it sit there for now.  And one day, if the right idea strikes me, it will become something beautiful. It has potential and it sparks memories, so it’s already more than just a log.

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The Little Things

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Yesterday marked five years since my husband’s accident.

I’m not one for paying a lot of attention to the anniversaries of sad occasions, mostly because once something like that happens there are plenty of other days all through the year when the sadness hits and I remember him with love and often tears every day of my life.

But somewhere in my mind as that date approaches it will always trigger a kind of apprehension as I find it also affects the holiday season for me because my last memories of “normal life” with him were over Christmas and New Year’s of 2012, and because that Saturday morning was spent putting away Christmas decorations before he went to work.  It was the last thing we did together on the last day that was normal; the last time I spent with him before saying goodbye and sending him off for the day that would end tragically.

So there is sadness and grief and mourning that will never end.

BUT this year, I also found myself smiling as I was reminded of some of the simplest things I enjoy now that I either didn’t like or didn’t know about before I met Pat.

I used to eat mild cheddar cheese and only mild.  Pat loved strong cheese and didn’t enjoy the mild, so I was gradually introduced to medium and then to old and eventually found my love of good strong cheese that I have today – the stronger the better.  The one stage I couldn’t get to was the blue cheese stage.  He loved it and I still can’t handle it.  But I’m grateful he got me to tolerate and then love strong cheese!

I hated yogurt and couldn’t understand why anyone would eat it, let alone grow bacteria themselves and make their own! LOL  Pat loved yogurt and ate it regularly, and when our son came along it was one of the first foods I introduced to him as a baby and he gobbled up even the plain stuff.  Yogurt was a staple in our house for Pat and both kids; eventually I tried eating some of the fruity varieties and over time I developed a taste for it.  I’ve loved it for years now, I eat it regularly, and if all I have in the house is plain and I want yogurt, I’ll make it work.

I’m sure I probably heard music from Peter, Paul and Mary at some point in my youth, but never really paid attention to them as a group. Pat knew their stuff very well – he was into totally different music than I so I was exposed to a variety of it over the years, some of which I liked and some not so much!  But Peter, Paul and Mary are, to this day, one of my very favourite groups and their music is deeply rooted in my heart.  I also learned to enjoy music from Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bachman Turner Overdrive, the Eagles, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles, along with a lot of other random music that wouldn’t have been on my radar when I was single.

One of the gifts Pat gave me the first Christmas after we started dating was a mix tape he had made with songs from his collection that I got to know and enjoyed while we went for drives in his Scirocco. Today while driving on the highway, I had to smile when I chose the 70’s music station and found myself singing along.

Peanut butter was a take it or leave it thing for me until I met Pat who practically survived on peanut butter and bread!  He didn’t even need the jam.  I don’t honestly know if a day went by that he didn’t grab that snack, even well into his more recent years, and it eventually became a treat for me which isn’t always a good thing because when I get a craving for it, I’ll eat it right out of the jar on a spoon! And when I do, I think of him.

Thanks to his routines, I always remember to check my tires and my washer fluid before I head out for a long drive and I never let my gas tank get low during the winter.

And sometimes when I stop to write myself notes so I don’t forget things now that I’m middle aged, I smile when I’m reminded of how many little notes he used to write for himself even before we got married – I called them “IMP” notes, because he always wrote that at the top! – how they were spread out everywhere, and how I used to tease him about them.  But he always remembered what he was supposed to remember.

So there are many significant and beautiful memories that I carry in my heart.  But sometimes it’s the little things that come to mind that make me smile and remember how much he did for me, how much he taught me, and how much he showed me about life that I didn’t already see.

Five years ago seems like forever, and then it seems like yesterday.  Because his spirit will always be with us 🙂

 

The Meltdown

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Definition of meltdown

1:  the accidental melting of the core of a nuclear reactor

2:  a rapid or disastrous decline or collapse

3:  a breakdown of self-control (as from fatigue or overstimulation)

I’m sure everyone has their own experience of a meltdown or perhaps, like me, you’ve had a variety of them under differing circumstances.

I don’t remember using the term “meltdown” much, if at all, before the past few years of my life when it became the most descriptive word I could use to put a label on my complete losses of emotional control.  I know that only the third of the above definitions refers to emotions, but I would have to effectively combine all the above definitions into one to come close to some of my own experiences: the rapid collapse and melting of my core resulting in a breakdown of self-control.

I suppose I’ve had what would be considered meltdowns in the past, from frustration and exhaustion with a situation I was going through, people I was dealing with etc. when the stress became too much in the moment and overwhelmed me.  Sometimes throwing up your hands and screaming it out in the sanctuary of your own home is all you can do and you know it will pass but you need to get it out so you can breathe again and think a little more clearly.

I’ve also “melted down” on occasion when I’ve been afraid of something; I remember a time when I was pregnant with my first child and I got suddenly violently ill one day.  It lasted for hours and while I was leaning over the toilet, in between crying and being sick, I was praying that God wouldn’t take my baby (my mother had suffered several miscarriages and I was afraid of what was happening to me).  But there was a solution once I saw the doctor, it was just a wild stomach flu, and all was fine again as it passed.

The hardest ones are those that come from pain.  Broken heart pain.  Because there is no solution.  The pain doesn’t pass, and even when you think you’re doing pretty well, you suddenly aren’t.  There’s no situation to resolve, there’s no doctor to make it better.  And you know that once it’s over it won’t be the last.  Those are the kind of meltdowns I have now, at what seem like the silliest times, over the smallest things.  But the truth is that they aren’t over small things at all.

Broken heart pain meltdowns are always about far more than just what is happening in the moment.  They’re about everything that has happened up to that moment and about the things we cannot change or fix or make disappear.  They aren’t about moving forward or time healing.  They’re about never being able to mend a broken heart.

So today I had a trifecta meltdown.  Bet you didn’t know that was even a term, did you?  Yup, it was a frustration, fear, broken heart pain meltdown.

I was hanging some outdoor blinds.  The fact that I have to do this in order to keep the sun and heat from blasting into my house is already a frustration beyond description. I HATE SUMMER.  I hate bugs, I hate heat, I hate the sun shining directly on me.  It makes me physically ill in ways I won’t describe here in detail.  It makes me unable to concentrate or sleep properly.  There is nothing at all about it that I enjoy.  And the temp was expected to reach 24 today so I needed to get it done because after the town crew removed most of my trees last year, and until I can get a few new ones planted, the only thing keeping those UV rays from barbecuing my windows will be those outdoor sun and heat blocking blinds.  I thought I’d have time after the snow melted a few days ago to hang them before the roasting began, but alas, here we are again with no spring at all.  Just six months of annoying snow and then summer. (And no, disliking one thing doesn’t equal liking another.  It’s not the cold of winter I despise, it’s the constant, inconvenient, messy, hard work inducing snow.)

Hanging blinds is never a fun project, but I thought I could start early in the morning, take it one step at a time, go slowly so as not to fall off my ladder, and get them up before the sun got around to the front of my house.  So, with a positive attitude and feeling like I was taking care of business, I gathered my tools and extension cords, dug my ladder out of the shed, put the screws in my pocket and went to work.

I didn’t even think to spray myself with deep woods off – a blatant error on my part because I am the best insect repellent ANYONE ELSE could ever have.  Just sit next to Ann and nothing will bite YOU.  Sure enough, two minutes in, standing at the top of my ladder with my hands full, there’s a bee and mosquitoes and I’ve got a welt on my neck (insert profanity here …).

I drilled the holes I needed, climbed down, and got the bug spray.  This was the beginning of the end, although I didn’t know it just then.

Back out to move the ladder and drill the next set of holes – thankfully the blinds came with a template that you tape up first so you don’t have to do any measuring yourself, which is, incidentally, a wonderful idea that every single blind company should incorporate…

My yard isn’t level.  Anywhere.  Safely steadying a ladder is always a challenge.  After becoming annoyed with the ground under my step ladder and worried that if I leaned too much one way I would end up crashing down in some kind of twisted position that required a call to 911, I decided to haul out the extension ladder to see if I could arrange it differently and get to where I needed to go.  Got it out on the lawn and it wouldn’t extend, so after kicking it in a few places to no avail (insert more profanity here …), I grabbed the hammer and pounded one end until it moved.  Then I carried it over near the window, shifted it around a few times, and gave up because I promised myself I would not take any stupid chances.  Down went the big ladder, and I went back to the step ladder.  Once it finally settled into the ground, I managed to finish getting the first set of brackets in place on the smaller of two windows.

The next window was too long for me to tape up one end of the template and be able to grab it from the other end once I had repositioned the ladder yet again so I had to climb back down and go into the house for a “reacher” as my mom calls it.  I have one because my now deceased aunt had one and I brought it home with me “in case” I might need it to reach for something.  This might be the first time I’ve used it, although my memory in summer heat is not reliable at all.  It proved helpful once I had climbed back up the ladder and needed to reach the hanging end of the template so I could tape it up and drill the holes.

Fast forward to getting the second set of brackets screwed onto the house – nothing too interesting other than more sweat and itchy bug bites and the fact that each time I had to go back in the house, I had to face the hot sun beating down on my step as I came out of the still shady front yard.  You know how the radio always tells you the temp is different in the city than at the airport?  Well I can do that in my yard. “It’s 17 degrees at the front, and 35 degrees on the side step, watch out for those UV rays …”

I was ready to try putting up a blind, thinking that I probably had to wait for Kate (who’s been sick for a week and was at the hospital being diagnosed with pneumonia just to keep things exciting) to hold one end for me, but when I unpackaged it I found it much lighter weight than I’d imagined, so I forged ahead.  Once I had steadied the ladder in place for probably the tenth time so far – between moving it from one end of the window to another and then to the other window and so on – I climbed up, blind in hand.  Of course I couldn’t see properly to the other end to get it in properly.  I struggled with it a few times and finally gave up.

And then it happened: the rapid collapse and melting of my core resulting in a breakdown of self-control.  Everything was just suddenly, randomly, publicly wrong because I don’t have my husband and I was in tears.  And if you aren’t sure how it escalated to that point so quickly, I will tell you:

  • I was hot and tired.  I hate being outside when it’s warm and this project was taking MUCH longer than anticipated so the sun was now moving around to me. (frustration)
  • I was bombarded with fearful thoughts of how I’m going to get through the forecasted extreme hot dry summer over which I have no control and for which I have no solution because my previous successful options for cooling off have been taken away from me due to other issues. (fear)
  • I had no way to hang the stupid blinds myself.  MYSELF.  I shouldn’t have had to be out there myself.  I shouldn’t have had to try to figure this out myself.  I should have had my husband there to help me, to climb the ladder and drill the holes and screw in the brackets and put up the blind with me being the extra hand to hold the open end and tell him when it was clicked in the right place.  I have to do everything my damn self.  (pain)

And I lost it.  Randomly, suddenly, publicly, right there in my front yard over a blind.  But it wasn’t over the blind.  It was because of the broken heart pain that is always there and never goes away.  It just simmers until it boils.  And today it boiled over.  Again.  And as I stood there holding that stupid blind in my hand, staring at my house, crying like a baby, and swearing out loud because I try so hard to do things myself, to be independent and learn and build and fix, I knew it was just a blind, but it was a blind I couldn’t deal with MYSELF.

I knew I could have called someone to come and install the blind.  I could have found someone to help me for free; I could easily have paid someone to do it.  But it wasn’t about the blind.  It was about every single thing that I have to do alone, to figure out alone because he is gone.  Him.  My husband.  My extra set of hands. My strength and support.  The other half of my heart.

I was picturing myself calling my friend to please come and just hold the other end of the blind for me, but I knew I would be crying and have a hard time explaining how this simple task had me in tears.  I knew if I tried to hire someone, they probably wouldn’t be able to come right away and I wouldn’t be able to ward off the 24 degree heat this afternoon which is why I had persevered to that point already.  And then as I was making a final attempt to get it locked in place before completely giving up, my sweet neighbour lady – who, unbeknownst to me had been working in her own yard – walked over and reminded me that I probably shouldn’t be up on that ladder without someone standing by and she offered to get her own ladder so she could stand at the other end and help me.

And I was grateful.  Because that’s all it took to get the blinds up.  Five minutes of help from an extra set of hands.  She didn’t see me crying, but when I told her I was having a moment because it’s times like this that just keep reminding me my husband is gone, she gently sympathized, saying that her husband always helps her on the ladder 🙂  As it should be.

Until next time …

 

 

 

 

 

 

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That Special Someone

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I was thinking recently about how, when I was a teenager and growing into an adult, I would observe couples together at social events or in our house when my parents had company.  I would think how nice it was that at the end of the evening, each couple got to go home together, that they would have each other to share stories of the day with, to cuddle up close at bedtime, that they each had someone special who was their own.  And I looked forward to having that experience when it was my turn.

When I got to live life as part of a married couple, those evenings were as I imagined they would be: the comfort, the companionship, the sharing of stories of the day.

Now, I have moments when I recall certain memories that only he and I shared, certain things that only the two of us experienced together.  Those live now only in my own mind.  I can talk about them, but no one actually shares them.  He was THERE.  No one can actually remember with me now, or fill in the blanks as my own memory fades. It’s a simple thing that we don’t really appreciate fully until it’s gone … like many simple little things.

And now, like others I’ve spoken to who find themselves in similar situations, I don’t really fit into groups of couples anymore, and they’re everywhere!  Couples who were friends are still friends, of course, but socially it’s difficult for me to join in on occasions where couples are the norm.  It just hurts to be there.  A lot.

I observe the random loving glances, the shared smiles or laughs, the small physical encounters as they brush past each other.  And it’s still beautiful to see – I will always appreciate it – but I’m not a teenager anymore, imagining what it will be like to have it one day.  I know what it’s like. I know what I’m missing.

That special someone. The one who could finish my sentences, the one who knew me inside and out, better than anyone else in the world and sometimes better than I knew myself.  The one who was the other half of me.

No matter how true my brain knows it is, there are sometimes moments when I cannot grasp how he can actually be gone and how I can be here.  Alone. Still breathing.

 

 

Facebook Memories

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You know that annoying new feature on Facebook that regularly shows you memories from years ago?  Yeah, that one.  The one that’s constantly showing me pictures from a sad and tragic experience, pictures I only look at in my home on occasions when I’m able to do so without bursting into tears.

I guess it isn’t enough that Facebook asks me every single time I log in “What’s on your mind?” (like they really want to know) it now feels the need to PUT things onto my mind that weren’t already there in Kodak living color in that particular moment when I might just have been having a very happy day remembering all the nice and fun things I have to remember and avoiding giving too much time to those thoughts about how sometimes parts of my life just suck because my husband is gone and I miss him terribly.  Every. Single. Day.

And then, BOOM! There’s a picture I deliberately keep tucked away.

Doesn’t Facebook know that our lives go through cycles and that when we post something in the moment for a specific reason, maybe three years later we don’t need it flashed back at us because we can look it up ourselves if we really really REALLY want to?  I mean, we’ve already shared it once, is there some need at Facebook’s end for us to share it again?  Of course, there’s always a nice little note that it won’t be seen by anyone else as a past memory unless we choose to share it.

Thanks, but I CHOSE TO SHARE IT THREE YEARS AGO WHEN IT HAPPENED, NOW PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE!  Are they running out of data or traffic or interesting shares?  Are people just not posting enough stuff anymore that they’re turning to reruns? Geesh.  Maybe other people get a wide variety of memories brought back up in their faces, but my stream seems to follow the same path every time, right into a Kleenex commercial.

That’s what is on my mind, Facebook.

(Before anyone feels the need to tell me, yes, I do know I can turn off the memories that appear, and yes, once in a blue moon there is one I enjoy seeing but I’m not a fan of reruns unless they’re ones of my favorite old TV shows.)

 

“GRAMPA!!!”

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My kids’ Grampa, Flintstone Park, 1995

The door opens, a child barrels into the house, jumps into the arms of the man waiting with joyful anticipation, and yells: “Grampa!”  The man swoops the child up in the air and they hug each other with big smiles on their faces.  And I burst into tears.  Because it’s happening on a TV show and I know it’s something I will never experience in my home; it’s a small thing, in the middle of a comedy show that makes me laugh time and again, but it hits me hard just as many little things do when I least expect them.

Growing up, I always felt that I missed something in not having grandparents around the way other kids I knew had them, sometimes just down the street.  I only knew one grandparent – my dad’s mom – as my mom’s mom had passed away before I was born and sadly I have only vague memories of her dad because I was very young when he died.  My dad’s dad was never in our lives, or in his.  His mom lived until I was sixteen years old, but we lived about 800 miles away and only saw her about once a year.  I know she was a very good lady, but unfortunately, as my brother and I were the youngest of thirty-one grandchildren, she seemed old for as long as I can remember.  We had chats during our visits, but she wasn’t healthy enough to run around and play or to have us bouncing on her knee, and because of the huge family, our visits were generally crowded with activity, people, food, etc. and seldom quiet enough to actually bond closely.  I know my dad and mom had great respect for her, and I know many stories of her that confirm her character and determination in caring for her family and getting through very difficult times.  Circumstances dictated the nature of our relationship.

So when we had our children I was so grateful they were going to have grandparents close enough to build relationships and watch them grow up.  As parents, we’re always glad when our children can have something we didn’t have, or that we didn’t have enough of compared to what we would have liked to have.

When we brought Michael home from the hospital and over to my parents’ house the first time, my dad looked at him in his little car seat and told me he would pay me $10,000 for each one I had if I just kept making more!  My parents were part of my children’s everyday lives from the start, and when we moved to Alberta, there were regular visits and phone calls, and many memories were made.

Of course, both Grammas and Grampas are very special, but the relationships are different, at least that is what I have observed myself and in some other families too.  Grammas are a lot like moms; they can be fun but they also teach, correct, worry, and try to keep things somewhat organized and safe because they want to make sure their grandchildren grow up to be responsible people with good manners who obey the law and, well, you get the point. They’re often more relaxed than moms, and they’re good at reminding moms not to be too hard on kids.

But there is something about Grampas; just as dad is often perceived as the “fun” parent while mom is busy enforcing rules, making sure the house is clean, and trying to prevent any major injuries, Grampas seem to be the calmer ones, letting the kids have fun, go on adventures, try cool things, probably because they are being entertained themselves just by watching!  Grampas are full of mischief and stories and secrets.

Our children weren’t in the stage of life to be parents yet when Pat had his accident.  But during his time in hospital in Ponoka, he always lit up when little ones came to visit other patients and wanted to get close to them.  I remember him saying that he really wanted to have a grandchild.  I asked him what he wanted to do with a grandchild and he said, in his childlike way: “I could hold them on my knee and kiss them.”  He had it figured out.  he would have been a wonderful Grampa.

But while my children were blessed in having grandparents play an active role in their growing up years and even into adulthood, even though I was happy to see that they had something I had missed, here we are now and they will miss something else that I can’t give them.  If they have their own children one day, there will be stories to share, pictures to look at, and questions to answer. But they won’t experience the joy of bringing home their new baby and seeing the look on their dad’s gentle face that I know would be there: the sweet smile, the tears, the pride.  They won’t later hear their little voices holler with glee: “Grampa!” and neither will I.

After laughing through most of the above-mentioned episode, it took me a little time to gather my emotions together.  I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the slightest thing can still hit out of nowhere and feel like a stab in the heart in the middle of an otherwise uplifting experience.  We didn’t just lose him for now.  We lost our future with him that was still to hold so much, and this cute little boy on a TV show just reminded me of one more special thing I won’t get to share with the one person I was meant to share it with.

And, as it must, life moves on …

 

Strong is over-rated

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I want to talk about strength in adversity.

Some believe staying strong is a “choice”, that people can decide what to do with their difficult circumstances, and that one’s ability to face them comes from strength, while another’s inability – and possibly their choice to back away altogether – is a weakness.  I disagree.

I’d like to start out by taking this immediately to the extreme in suggesting that the choice is not about whether to endure a suffering with strength or to bemoan it and walk away in weakness.  The choice is made on a level much more basic, yet rarely discussed openly: do I want to live or do I want to die?

I’ve encountered various perspectives in my own journey, here a just a few:

“faith keeps you strong”

“all things are possible with God”

“good things come to those who wait”

“all things work together for good for those who love God”

Yet, I’ve seen people of faith crater in desperate ways, myself included; I’ve watched – and endured – situations that God could have fixed end badly; I’ve watched people wait and wait and wait – and I know what it’s like to wait – to end up with a result that is not “good” by any human perception;  I’ve watched – and endured – situations where God loving people have lost everything.  Did I – or we- do something wrong to affect whether or not the blessings came?  I doubt it.  But for a while, it certainly did cross my mind, and that in itself was damaging.

Does this mean I don’t believe the above statements? No. I just don’t believe they always apply to life on earth.  Like many religious verses and cliches, I take them with a grain of salt (partly because salt often gets rubbed into wounds while waiting on God) because while most of these things are conceivably true in the realm of heavenly life, they often don’t show themselves to be true in earthly difficulties.

One person of faith appears to be strong, another – sometimes stronger – person appears to have no faith.  The same is true of apparent weakness, regardless of faith.  I also believe that people of no faith sometimes turn to God in adversity because they are desperate and hoping that developing faith will fix their situation and again, sometimes it appears to do just that, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I don’t think God gives some people more strength than he gives to others, depending on how good they are, how much they pray, how much faith they have, or any other gauge of entitlement.  I don’t know how or why it comes or doesn’t come, but I don’t think we are necessarily in control of it.

I believe that people who appear to be strong in the face of great tragedy have chosen to live.  But they aren’t necessarily thinking of that as they go along.  They just know that there really isn’t any choice but to step up and face whatever comes along – sometimes with a good attitude, sometimes not – because they are still alive and there is no choice for them but to keep going.  Morning will come and night will come and they will still be here, so they keep going.  And whether or not they do it with optimism or negativity, as long as they keep going they have chosen to live.  They haven’t necessarily chosen to be strong, to endure their difficulties with hope and faith – some might, but not all – they might smile one day and scream the next, but they are alive.

This brings me to the other choice, which is to die.

While I’m not of that mindset, in keeping with the topic of this post I would say that I can humanly understand how some people could come to a point in their lives and their suffering when this choice is something they consider.  So it’s possible to be open to and even sympathize with the perspectives of someone with a differing view, without actually agreeing.  I don’t consider these people weak.  I just see that they are making a choice based on experiences and issues that are their own.

I don’t like the assumption that the way people handle certain things determines for others whether or not they are “strong”.  I don’t think pictures and comments reminding people that the best way to deal with life is to stay strong, think positively, stay hopeful, and keep the faith are helpful to everyone.  Inspiration can come in various ways depending on what a person needs at the time, but I often notice that quotes with less-than-optimistic themes – however real they might be – are frowned upon.  I think all this sets us up for comparisons, either those that others might make or those that we make ourselves when we feel that perhaps we aren’t as strong as we should be in similar situations, because we see others coping in ways that we don’t. What helps one person get through a hard time might for another person be a catalyst for further grief and pain.

I don’t want to see myself as strong or weak based on how I handle or react to things I face, or on how others might perceive me.  Am I “strong” when I’m having a good day and then not “strong” when I’m having trouble coping?  If my day doesn’t measure up to the words on the picture someone posted about never giving up, does that mean I’m not trying hard enough?

I’ve realized that many times when I’ve felt overwhelmed, beaten down by one thing after another and left feeling as though there is little to nothing to be hopeful about, I’ve chosen to keep going because I’m alive and as long as that is the case, I need to go on because the days will pass regardless of my ability to cope and I will wake up in the morning to do it all over again. Some days will be good and others awful.  I won’t always be able to smile and pretend, sometimes I will scream and cry and wish to throw back whatever has been dealt to me.  Some days I will feel hopeful and believe that God is helping me and other days I will see things as gloomy and sad and I will feel the loneliness that chokes me.  But that’s the way it has to be because I want to live. I’m a human being, complete with strengths and weaknesses, who has chosen to live. And in choosing to live, I have no other choice but to endure what comes my way, because it will most definitely come as long as I’m moving forward.  Sometimes being alive hurts.  So why aren’t pictures with quotes reflecting that truth welcomed and as widely spread as those that, in efforts to uplift, can become constant discouragements?

I think it’s more accurate and more real to see that this isn’t about being strong or not strong.  It’s about a choice between living or dying.  It’s better to focus on what the choice to live looks like – with both the good and the not good times – than to try to come up with some picture of what “strong” looks like.  Strong is a good adjective for cheese, for a body builder in a competition, or for a quilting thread!  But it’s not so great at describing the emotional depths of a human person.  Being strong isn’t my goal.  Living is.

So some days I leave the house smiling, energetic and ready to greet the world, and other days I have to splash cold water on my face, put on some lipstick and leave the house only because I really just want my mail, hoping no one will be able to tell I’ve been crying (I’d pour a drink too, but I have a policy never to drink alcohol when I’m mad or sad…), but either way, I’m alive 🙂