How we offer support in moments of change…a personal post or vent of sorts

“I’ve spent too many years at war with myself. The doctor has told me it’s no good for my health. To search for perfection, is all over well. But to look for heaven, is to live here in hell.”  —Sting, “Consider Me Gone”
Change: The only constant in our short time on this dusty rock in these temporary cloaks we call bodies, yet the one thing that we fight against with every fiber of our being. Change is uncomfortable and can even be disruptive, but it is often necessary to our very being. We ought to change; our 20-year-old self should not be like our five-year-old self, our fortysomething self should probably be a little different than our twentysomething self and I suspect that the changes continue as we grow older. Though we retain the essence of ourselves as we grow older, the journey of life will continue to mold us until we take our final exhale.

The greatest gift that my mother bequeathed to me in her “early” departure from this life was the understanding that time is finite. Despite the comforting words that we take as the gospel, an eternal life in this realm filled with  non-stop joy and goodness is the fabrication of a mind that struggles with impermanence and change. Life isn’t a non-stop party; it’s ever changing and fluid, and we live on the sea of of life. A place where one minute the waves are calm and seducing and then at another moment, just when you are enjoying the ride, the waves get choppy and scare the hell out of you.

I am in the midst of change, great and small.  Yet I have no desire to flee from the storm. Instead, I welcome the waves and let them rush over me knowing that when I reach the next shore, the respite will come and once again the cycle will repeat until I am released from this realm.  That said, in choosing to navigate the sea of life as openly and honestly as I can,I admit it’s my fellow travelers in this journey sometimes that frankly are rocking my boat uncomfortably.

A few days ago, I lost a reader who felt that I was being a bit of an ingrate because I expressed my own annoyance via social media that some well-meaning family and friends are kind of annoying me with constant questions of “Are you OK” when I’ve been pretty clear that I’m OK and many of them should know that if I wasn’t OK, I’d let them know. The problem isn’t that I dislike people showing concern for me; rather, it is the tone in their frequent queries that insists somehow that I couldn’t possibly be okay with a marital split after almost 20 years. It feels like they want me to play the “approved” role of a person grieving my situation and dreading the future. People often do mean well but they also bring their baggage and lens to other people’s situations and project their feelings onto others. We all do it at times and I most certainly have been guilty of it at times.

No one wants to see the end of a marriage. It goes against the very notion of a lifetime partner. We stand before our family and friends and pledge ourselves forever but forever is a very long time and well…shit happens. The reality is the half of all marriages are going to end, we know this yet we play mental and emotional reindeer games and feign surprise that these things happen. Why?

People change and life happens. Sometimes a couple can move with the flow of life and change together and make it a lifetime affair and sometimes it’s time limited. Personally I choose to be proud of the almost 20 years in my second marriage. Considering that I am just a few months shy of 43, I have literally done the heavy lifting of growing into my adult self while serving as a wife and mother. But I am no longer that 22-year-old young woman and he isn’t that 27-year-old young man. However, we still abide, much like The Dude (if that confuses you, watch “The Big Lebowski”). Though our family isn’t quite what we thought it would be, it is still a family albeit not in the same space. The bonds of family run deeper than a romantic relationship and we need to honor that in our culture. Yet so many of us still fail at it.

Loss can be painful especially when we are not prepared for that loss. It’s been 11 years since my mother’s untimely death and I still have my moments. Yet I admit that I find it hard to grieve an organic process that I had a hand in bringing to its natural conclusion. To be left when you have loved or to be harmed and abused by the person who pledged forever love is painful, and that does require time to move on from. That’s not my situation, though. When you have seen the ship of change on the horizon for years, it’s different. The grieving occurred during the process of valiant efforts to keep the boat from sinking and by the time the lifeboat of change arrives, it’s relief. It’s a deep breath. It’s joy at realizing that you are still alive and intact.

I have spent a good chunk of my adult life trying to live according to the predesigned script of society that says what should and should not make me happy. Growing up working class, I wanted to flee from where I came from; I wanted more. I racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt obtaining a couple degrees which, at this point, I would gladly give back if Sallie Mae/Navient would zero out my balance. I have done meaningful work  and I have done work that made me feel like a whore. Currently, I am blessed to head up an organization that I love and to have a great staff and supportive board which makes my “extreme” commute more than tolerable because I take great joy in what I do even in the challenging moments. Despite the naysayers who marvel at how “awful” my commute is, I wouldn’t want to return to the days of the five-minute commute doing work that constantly left me questioning myself and being unsupported by a group that eventually threw me and a community of kids under the bus because it was no longer comfortable for them.

 Years ago, I wanted the “perfect” home and despite even my own real estate agent telling me I should hold off and think about it longer (knowing I had just recently buried my mother), I picked a home that will forever be called the money pit. A beautiful on the outside, challenged on the inside old home that as the years have gone on has sucked the marrow from my bones at times. Instead, I now call a tiny 400-square-foot place home, and despite the logistics of living on an urban island, already I feel more at home there than I have felt in the place that had been home since 2004.

Change isn’t all bad. It’s often needed, and sometimes the best way we can support those in the midst of change is to examine our own biases and make sure we aren’t dumping our own emotional leftovers and perceptions on others. Sometimes the best way to support someone in the seas of change is to truly be present with them and follow their lead. I cherish and appreciate all who offer concern and care, but please don’t put strings, conditions and assumptions on that support. I have lived long enough to know that conditional support is just a one-way ticket to stress. No, thanks. I have had enough of that and have the consistently tense muscles to prove it.
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6 thoughts on “How we offer support in moments of change…a personal post or vent of sorts”

  1. Well said! I think a lot of those “are you okay”s represent the asker’s discomfort with some one else’s “potential” pain or angst. Our culture isn’t comfortable with illness, loss, etc. We’re always “happy”, right? Like you said, we’re supposed to be married forever, even though we know that that isn’t the case for so many. But we carry that myth into someone else leaving a marriage (or getting an illness), “oh my god, it must be horrible!”. It sounds like you have transitioned over time so that this external shift is just the representation of something you’ve been working on for a while. I like Patricia’s comment because I think it represents what makes us squeamish when one person asks “are you okay?” vs another: her elderly MIL wants Patricia to be interested in her well-being, but she doesn’t want pity or condescension, or an assumption that she’s “not okay”.

  2. I appreciate what you say about people and their ” concern inquiries” which by their tone or implication are questioning the idea of being ok, like that couldn’t be possible in a given situation. Well said.
    I am aware that I do this will my elderly mother in law and it’s a habit I’m trying to break. I know she wants me to check in on her and likes the attention when I do, but no allows for pity, no assuming that she requires assistance even when she is struggling. She too is proud of the challenges and changes that have gotten her here. I respect that.

  3. So well said and so meaningful to so many….. the one constant in life is change and if you do did prepare for it ….it just happens. But in your verse…. you indeed are the master of your change….. good voyage.

    • So well said and so meaningful to so many….. the one constant in life is change and if you do did prepare for it ….it just happens. But in your verse…. you indeed are the master of your change….. good voyage. Oops did to better edit my stuff ….. “if you do prepare for it

  4. I was happy for the reminder myself. I was looking at it through the lens of my own experience. Yet for me, I was happy to be free of my marriage, so in a way I understand that you are relieved to be moving forward. I know you will do well and be well. I wish you only the best as you continue your life journey. Much love.

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