I won a golden head award at work for best headline of the week last year. It was a sports columnist’s column about the Carolina Panthers that made it to the front page: “The losing season of our discontent.” It speaks for itself.
I’m feeling the springtime of my discontent lately, and of course it’s related to Mom’s declining health. She’s in the very last stages of Alzheimer’s. She’s now a complete invalid in a semi-awake and unable to talk state, confined to her hospital bed at home. When I asked for a week off work to help Dad care for her, a friend at work caught me after deadline that night and got me crying. It’s easy to do at 11:30 p.m. She said, “You must be so angry.” Huh. Of all the things I’d been feeling, I hadn’t thought about anger yet. The luxury of anger I can’t afford to feel. Grief must contain the whole gamut of human emotion, but anger is one I didn’t want to entertain for very long. Once she said it, I was there.
No wonder I’m so easily ticked off by my son’s baseball coach who won’t move him up in the lineup, the AIG teacher who said he didn’t make the cut for next year, lousy drivers. I’m on a short fuse and need to throw the dynamite far from me lest we all blow up. I’m mad at friends who mention lunch with their Moms, or Moms who babysit, or old but healthy people who complain, or people who say they’re too busy. I’m mad at the “sandwich generation” columnist at my paper who has a 17 year old and a Mom in a “memory care facility” she occasionally visits. “But you don’t care for your mother. She’s in a home. And your daughter is a teenager. You have no issues,” is what I wrote on the proof. Ugh. Of course I threw that one in the trash. Mad at a 20something who says she’s paid her dues (by working 1 year), so how dare they lay her off last year, when those with 30 years were, and continue to be, laid off too, and I’m working contract hours at half pay. I’m just mad.
It always leads to self-pity, poor me, my pain is worse, with me. I get dismissive and self-righteous. It’s ugly in here. Changing your mother’s soiled diapers is ugly. Holding her hand as she stares right through you, sitting by her side as she’s dying is unbearable.… I don’t have the words for it.
I listen to Mumford & Sons CD in the car and cry along to “You are not alone in this. As brothers we will stand and hold your hand. You are not alone in this.” Mom is not alone. But I feel like I am. Grief is very self-centered. It wants all of me.
Anger, self-pity, selfish dismissiveness of others’ pain and problems—not what I want to learn from adversity. Grace, mercy, love and especially compassion for what every human being must suffer—this I need to embrace. The good stuff, the stuff that makes me a better human being, not a selfish bitch.
The baseball coach volunteers her time. The AIG teacher has a difficult job, and is facing layoffs. The young girl at work has or will suffer her own losses. They all have pain--this we are guaranteed to share as members of the same human family. You can’t measure pain on a scale, or say mine is worse than yours or yours is worse than mine. Pain pales in comparisons. It’s very humbling, and the ultimate leveler.
A happy coincidence came in that I heard a speaker talk about gratitude the other night, which initially made me mad. It’s so easy to count what’s wrong, but to count what’s right—it’s a sure cure for my anger. There is so much to be grateful for. I remain a humble servant, and humbled more by the day. There is so little we can do, but we can hold each other’s hand. We are not alone in this.