Sunday, January 5, 2014

Stop Saying This Word

I'm going to tell you why you should stop saying the word "should." And yes, I hear the irony.

Sometimes--especially around this time of year--we say that word to ourselves: I should lose weight. I should exercise more. I should read more books. I should drink less wine. I should be less crabby with my kids. I should call my mom more often. I should stop being a bad Christian.

We should all stop saying should to ourselves. I am trying to stop "shoulding" all over myself--but more about this in my upcoming memoir. (Props to my therapist, Doc, for that  nearly homophonic pun.) But this post specifically addresses the use of the word should when it's directed at another person.

Stop saying "You should..." to other people. It comes under the heading "Unsolicited Advice: Never Give it."

Don't tell your sister who has stage three ovarian cancer that she should feel grateful that she doesn't have stage four ovarian cancer. This is an important sub-category of Stop Saying Should: Don't tell any cancer patient--or any person with any illness at all--that they should feel grateful. In fact, just stop telling people how to feel.

Don't tell your overweight friend that she should try yoga or pilates or aqua cycling or pole dancing classes.

you should follow my advice / after all it works for me / maybe i'm not you. don't be rediculous
Thanks to Mimi and Eunice for the cartoon.
Don't tell parents who are dealing with a child that JUST WON'T SLEEP, "Oh, you should try Dr. Sleep Nazi. I did, and now my kids sleep perfectly!" 

Don't tell your son or daughter or friend or neighbor that they should spank their temper-tantrumming child, or that they should not give their children candy, or let them watch TV or play video games. Don't ever use the word "should" to your parenting son or daughter with regard to their parenting choices.

I know that your intentions are good. I know that you are only trying to be helpful. I understand that in your mind, when you offer an unsolicited "you should...", you are offering the benefit of your wisdom and years of experience.

But here's how it comes across: You know better than me. You would feel differently if you were in my shoes. You are better than me, and you would make different choices. It's easy if only I'd do it your way. You are trying to fix me.

Do you hear the condescension? That's how it feels. It's not helpful or constructive--in fact, it's counterproductive.

All of this is, of course, moot if your friend/son/daughter is actually asking you for advice. Then it's OK to make suggestions--although This Blog still recommends that you do it without using the phrase "you should." Try these alternatives: "Have you tried..."; "What worked for me was..."; or "I wonder if you could..." These phrases have a degree of humility and compassion.

By the way, I should people all the time. It's an instinctive reaction, I think--when we see someone we care about struggling, we want to help, to fix, to advise. One time I told my friend Roseanne, who was struggling with money issues, "You should cancel your cable subscription." To this day, I hear myself saying that, and I cringe. Who the hell am I to tell her how to live her life and balance her checkbook? None of us know enough about another person to tell her what she should or should not spend her money on--UNLESS SHE ASKS US FOR ADVICE.

What unsolicited shoulds have you received lately? And have you dished any out?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Letting Go and Holding on Tight

One thing defines 2013 for me: the loss of Aidan. He died in 2012, but we spent 2013 trying to learn how to live our Aidan-less lives.

I still have days, like Sunday a week ago, when I cry so hard and for so long that I'm exhausted and ready to go back to bed by 2 p.m. But then days go by when I only cry a little bit, like today. I shed a few tears when I write about him; or when I see something Aidan-esque, such as a manatee, a toy train, or a Pokemon; or when I walk past the table that holds photos, cards, and mementos. Mr. Peevie has moments, hours, and days like this, too.

I think this is what getting through grief looks like. Midway through the year I said to the therapist, I don't know how to do this, how to walk through this dark valley. He said, "You're doing it." I suppose what he meant was that I was getting out of bed, working, taking care of my family--sometimes badly, and always with the constant presence of Aidan's absence, but I was doing it.

We took a family vacation to Seattle in late June. We had a fabulous trip--as as perfect as it could be without Aidan. Everything is measured by that yardstick, now; everything is viewed through the lens of not having Aidan. Our photographs have two kids in them, instead of three. We asked for a table for four at dinner; we purchased four bus tickets; four people divide easily between two beds. 

Two kids rolling down a hill instead of three.
In August we attended the wedding of friends whom Aidan loved, and who loved Aidan. I started to cry from the moment the groom looked down the aisle at his bride as her father walked her to the front of the church. I cried for Aidan and for our lost future; I cried because Aidan did not get to see his friends' beautiful ceremony, because he won't have his own, or stand next to C. Peevie and M. Peevie at theirs.

I had lunch with a friend later that month, and our conversation covered many topics--but later she said she felt that every conversation should be about Aidan and about our loss, about our missing him. This notion felt exactly right to me. For a long time nothing else mattered except that Aidan was gone.
I think this is at the Space Needle.
His loss was a bleeding, internal wound that would never heal. It was chronic and debilitating. 

There are still times that nothing else matters except that Aidan is not here. Bereavement obstructs my work, my relationships, even my faith. In church, there are still times when I cannot worship, pray, confess, commune, or greet because all I can be and feel is that I have lost Aidan-- which feels incompatible with worship, and especially with confession. I can look at Jesus, but only as a sufferer, not as a sinner. It's like I exist on two different planes, or in two different dimensions; or I'm schizophrenic. If one personality has surfaced, the other recedes. 

But one year, one month and twenty-one days later, I can see that my grieving has changed from what it used to be, when it consumed most of my waking hours. It is still a constant presence, but it is no longer constantly debilitating. Bereavement has changed me--it has changed all of us--but this new, bereaved me is slowly re-learning how to do relationships, work, and worship all over again.

Part of me feels that this reduction in debilitation is a betrayal of Aidan, like I don't love him enough to keep on suffering the most intense and painful grief. But if I let myself go down that rabbit-hole of despair, I would spend the rest of my life not just grieving, but clinically depressed and possibly suicidal. So I remind myself that moving through grief and letting go of the empty despair of those first few weeks and months is the right thing to do for myself, my family, and for Aidan's memory.
Aidan and Mr. Peevie in Colorado, 2011.

Continuing to let go of debilitating grief, but holding on tight to Aidan, to my memories of him, to the things he loved and valued, and to the lessons he taught me--this is where I hope 2014 will take me. 

But god, I miss that kid.