Accepting Help from Others

Tomorrow my family will bury my aunt. She died tragically and unexpectedly over the Thanksgiving holiday. She, her husband, and her six children play starring roles in so many of my childhood memories: going to the pool, putting on terrible Christmas plays, riding around in her navy blue Previa minivan that just would not die.

I am sad for obvious reasons--the tragedy of a life lost too soon, of children without a mother, of a 91-year old woman outliving her daughter--but her death seems to have dislodged some hidden things as well, things I seem to have conveniently packed away in my mind and in my heart. Now these things--fear of dying alone, fear of too much self-reliance, fear of being misunderstood (or of being understood?)--are all floating out there and I want them back and stuffed away in their proper places. I feel disconnected, ungrounded, confused. I feel angry and sad that she is gone. I feel angry and sad that I feel angry and sad. 

I don't want tomorrow to come but at the same time I can't wait for it to get here. I have this thought that if I just get through tomorrow then everything will be back the way it was before she died. All the uncomfortable feelings, the obvious ones and the not-so-obvious ones, can retreat to their hiding places. I can get on with the show.

But it's a bit like when you try on a pair of shoes and you decide you don't want them and want to put them back on the shelf but all the paper and cardboard and fillers you took out of the box and the shoes to help them keep their shape now won't go back in so you leave all the stuff spilling out of the box and just try and shove it back on the shelf as neatly as possible before someone sees you and silently judges you for being a discourteous shopper even though they would probably do the same thing if no one was watching, too, because God none of that stuff ever goes back in the way it came out. That's what's going on now. A lot of stuff got unpacked, the shape changed, and now I can't get it all back in the box. Everything is just laying on the carpet for people to step around and gawk at. And tomorrow isn't going to cure that. 

I like to be in control of my personal growth. I like to say, "Today, I am going to look at my need to be perfect," then I do that for an hour or two and say, "That's enough of that. Let's go drink some coffee instead." And then I abandon the microscope until the next time I'm ready to look at whatever part of myself needs editing that day or week. But in death, or tragedy, or just in life, that control is such an illusion. Because now here I sit comparing my life to shoe stuffing, feeling inarticulate and angry at the microscope for showing up when I didn't ask it to. 

I have mercilessly hounded the Universe over the past few days looking for the takeaway in all of this. And even when I write that, I know, too, that there have been parts of me that don't want to find the silver lining, that want to enhance the pain, that want to dig my heels into self-pity so I can go back to the old way of dealing with things, which is not dealing with things. But I know from past experience that when I isolate, push the unpleasant feelings down, and escape into the recesses of my mind, I'm just delaying pain. It isn't going anywhere when I ignore it. It's just sitting there waiting for me to acknowledge it. I know, I know, how this story ends, too. It was my life for so, so long. What starts as a tiny knock on the door of acknowledgement, if ignored, ends in a world of hurt and self-destruction. 

This time I am trying something different. I am telling people how I feel even though it makes me uncomfortable. Then I get post-sharing anxiety and think, "Oh my God, now these people know what I'm thinking. I have to disappear." And then I share about my post-sharing anxiety. It feels really crappy and vulnerable and self-indulgent and ooey gooey, but I am not equipped to keep "it" inside anymore. I never was. We are not supposed to be. 


When I let people take care of me, I am better able to take care of others. The links of service, my number one way of staying okay, continue unbroken. I won't always be the one who needs to be carried. I'll rotate to the center, get strong through others, then rotate out. This is the gift of community and fellowship--having others carry you and getting to carry others. 

And this works all the time, not just in times of sadness and heartbreak. No one needs to die in order for you to let someone take you to lunch. I'm not weak because I need others. I'm stronger because I invite others in. 

Tomorrow will be a tough day, but it is still just a day. I considered yesterday a win because I finally put on real pants. I ate food that wasn't chocolate or Cheez-Its. I smiled and I meant it. Tomorrow will have its wins, too. I will get to be present for my family. I'll get to say goodbye to my aunt. I'll worry a little less about all the stuff not fitting back into the box.