Monday, 6 April 2009

On the 4th of April, 2007, I fell from the step of our new motorhome and completely destroyed my right elbow. The recent 2nd anniversary of this life-changing event set me thinking about anniversaries, and how we, as individuals and as a society, adjust to dramatic changes - especially in this current time of economic uncertainty. It seems to me (from the perspective of 62 years of a well turbulent life) that it is very hard to make rational, considered decisions about the changed situation, unless one lets go of one's previous sense of identity and beliefs about reality - this may seem obvious, but this means grieving for the self, and world, that has passed, and we seem, on the whole, reluctant to do this. Western, particularly Christo-centric, society seems very unwilling to face the end of anything, to let go of what has been (be that life itself, or merely a possession) and move on into a new context for being.

This 'letting go' is what grief is for, but we seem to regard grief as embarrassing, a weakness that we should not be subject to if we're 'real adults'. This attitude is more than the British 'stiff upper lip', as we Brits are not alone in this phenomenon, it is part of Western discomfort with uncertainty, a deep-seated social insecurity that has seen us comforting ourselves with more and more 'things' to make us feel safe, and an ever increasing effort on the part of those at the head of our society to control as much as possible. This is, of course, a complete waste of effort and resources - as they say in the classics 'stuff happens' and we just have to find a way to come to terms with it. Grief, unresolved, can be very damaging to those who refuse to grieve and let go - not just for people who have died, but for anything lost irretrievably that was valued. Some years ago I was briefly involved with a wonderful organisation called Cruse, with helps those who are berieved to deal with their losses. Though brief, my experience was enough to show me how vital it is to recognise one's loss and to grieve for it, I saw many stuck in fear, indecision and depression because they could not, or would not, face their loss and feel it - and let go of what had been lost, instead of trying to carry on as though nothing had happened.

Over the past 2 years I have been discovering (a) how much of my previous identity relied on my ability to do things, reliably and with skill, and to be independent, and (b) how different my picture of myself now has to become. I still struggle to let go of much of my previous picture of myself - in my head I am still the capable cook and provider, but my body tells me otherwise. I may still have all the knowledge, theoretical skill and body knowledge, but I can no longer put much of it into practice. Now I have to rely on the support of others to a degree I am still enormously uncomfortable with, I can no longer simply prepare vegetables, put things in and out of the oven - some days I cannot even spread butter on a slice of bread! To woman who has not just run a household and brought up 4 children, but run cafes and guesthouses, this is a big shock! In addition, I have always made things - sewing, knitting, crochet, embroidery . . . . . this requires dexterity and strength I cannot now rely on, and while i still do as much of it as my arm allows, I keep finding myself up against challenges where once I would have done the job almost without conscious thought. I am still grieving for the 'Me' I once was, and groping for a new 'Me' that feels like someone I can live with. This new 'Me' is not just a struggle for me - I am now no longer the person my husband, my children and my friends thought they knew, the ground has shifted underfoot for them, too.

Sometimes i just need to sit and weep for who I used to be, who had so many skills that she took for granted and now has to find replacements for - many would be uncomfortable with this, so I tend to do it alone, those i love, and who love me, have their own grieving to do, and their own adjustments to make - not just with reference to me, I don't mean that, but changes in their own lives - promotions, job losses, family break ups and reformations etc. It's hard to let go of what has been treasured, or simply taken for grated, for a long time, but we cannot control much in life, really, it's appalling arrogant to believe we can. All we can truly control is how we deal with what happens to us, and much of that is about letting go and grieving for the space that is left behind - then finding something else to fill it! I love the truism 'If you love someone/thing let them go - if they come back, they're yours, if they don't, they never were." It's important to recognise that very little is ever truly ours, and to let go freely, and be open to accept whatever gift life offers next. I'm not sure what life is going to offer next, i am due to have a replacement elbow fitted, will that lead to a return of some of my dexterity and strength, or a return to greater pain and debility? I don't know, but I'm ready to tackle either - though I won't deny I'm scared, It would be foolish to go forward in life with my eyes shut, just as it would be foolish not to grab opportunities with both hands - and to do that, I need to let go of some of the ideas/things I no longer really need.

1 comment:

The Sparrow's House said...

Hello, I am hoping to hear how your elbow turned out after surgery; or did you decide not to have it?

My husband contracted hepatitis c some 30 years ago getting blood after a horrible car accident. This led to a destroyed liver. In January this year we received a call from University Hospital in Denver CO to come and receive his new liver. Life was going to be so much different. He would get the liver, recover and return to work. We could look forward to tomorrow.

Then, however, because of the liver transplant, it has been necessary to be on immunosuppresant drugs which have caused the hepatitis to become very agressive. This is near the end of March now and our outlook for him returning to work is quite dismal because he will require a tough chemo-like treatment to get the viral load down so as not to destroy his new liver.

Thankfully, about a year ago I began downsizing. I met Tammy through the Rowdy Kittens website. It has been a year of learning to live with less. I own a small vintage business where I collect old things I imagine people might love in their homes and try to show them that all things need not be new; but there is a certain use and desire for the old, the reusable, the reimagined. We are surviving now and hopefully the summer will bring more income as I do shows to sell my vintage things. So, I am well aware of and we are dealing with that special grief. It is a realization that life will not be the same. We cannot afford the luxury of thinking we will get what was lost back. We must choose to experience the grief and learn what the next hour or day will be like. Joy comes. It takes different forms. Certainly we do not know where we will be living the next months; but we are together and we are able to keep walking ahead. That's all we can really look at right now. Finally, spring is coming! My outlook thaws as the snows do the same. It's going to be alright.