Coles Notes: My intended theme of this write is one-size-fits-all is never always (or is it sometimes never?) a perfect fit (a reflection on unconditional acceptance). I feel I need to preface this today because I wrote this piece through a migraine, so the clarity and purpose may read as obscure, although perfectly clear to me! It’s all about the perspective, people. With gratitude, Sarah.
(Song Dedication: Leave the Light On – Tom Walker)
When your ship is lost you need a lighthouse. If your plane is off course you need air traffic control. If your car is broken you need a mechanic. And sometimes if there is a problem, some people won’t bother with a fix they will instead ignore, avoid or replace altogether. These examples relate to my new understanding of the various relationships I have with people in my life. It has all come together in my experience of writing this blog.
Some people have been my lighthouses or air traffic control, some people have been my mechanics (some even becoming my most trusted confidantes) as they apply their knowledge so I (we) can repair my broken body. But I would never expect the lighthouse to fix my chronic neck pain, or my air traffic controller to fix my abandonment issues. In the past month, I began reflecting on the various friendships I have been gifted over my lifetime.
From childhood friends to the good time friends that grew up with me through my 20’s, like our chosen family. To the ones that have been there because fate has made it so, though thick and thin, leaping and assisting each other over each hurdle. And then, my younger friendships that have grown out of my most recent experiences with anxiety, depression, pain and migraines, as I search, they bravely share their own trials with me encouraging me to stay the course, holding me emotionally, reassuring me I am not alone and I too will get through this. And even more interesting, how some of these people seem to be making career changes here and there (lighthouse attendant to air traffic controller), during my timeline, leaving for a while and then re-entering with open hearts and arms, sometimes years later. I guess those ones were the drifting ships, that let the currents of life take them where they were meant to go and through happenstance our currents merge in a new body of water.
The reason for this recent reflection has been my blog. There are my frequent readers who outwardly, consistently show their support for my writing therapy. And then there are others who drop little verbal hints that they know because they have been reading when they are able-they are fairly up to speed on what’s up with me these days. But the last group is where I have had the biggest egoic challenge…they are the ones who don’t read at all, let alone ask me how I am doing, as if they are avoiding me and/or my issues. They absolutely do not need to read this as a prerequisite to being my friend nor do they need to ask constantly about my progress or decline. They are there for me the best way they know how, whatever form that may take; sometimes the form is even not there at all, only because they don’t know how. But in the spirit of full disclosure, it still hurts my heart a little to know they don’t or can’t go there with me.
Cue the psycho babble about their actions aren’t about me they are about them (Kristen Neff), this is your superego triggered by your abandonment issues (Eckhart Tolle and Gabor Maté) and just because they are considered a friend who has been there for other parts of your life, doesn’t mean they can be there now, because one size doesn’t fit all (that one is by me).
I am beginning to write this post in my car outside my massage therapy appointment because I was having a migraine. Even though I had a good nights sleep, have been eating well, had a calm yet very productive yesterday and crying daily, I still had a migraine. As I drove from drop off at school to my appointment, at first angered by the fact I couldn’t see my sons face when I kissed him goodbye, I shifted and thought about the conversation my husband and I shared last night; this could have been a possible trigger not because it was bad, because it was difficult and vulnerable and I was very emotional (crying generously, like enough for 2 or more people).
My husband lost his Dad unexpectedly 2 years ago this March. At the time, his parents were in Palm Springs for their annual winter reprieve, where they would golf and BBQ and watch the Canucks with their other southern migrating friends. A life my husband and I admire and aspire to someday ourselves, after a lifetime of working and raising a family.
His dad caught a terrible flu and fought his way through it until one day he couldn’t anymore. He was taken to hospital and even with the best care and medical attention, was unable to recover. He went downhill quickly, my husband flying out to be with his parents and hopefully see his dad recover, called me one day in the classroom to tell me he wasn’t going to come out of it. I too, left that night, travelling while he and his Mom made the toughest decision anyone would ever have to make on behalf of a loved one. They knew his battle was over and they knew he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way (because this was the beauty of his Dad, he was nothing if not direct and very clear about his view of the world from lawn maintenance to Don Cherry to his son’s “iffy” call as a hockey ref or to more serious matters of life and death), they knew it was time to let him go. The time the three of us shared together in Palm Springs in their house rental, a place of peace and relaxation, became a place of mourning as we all dealt with our grief differently. At the same time, we were there for each other the best way we knew how, in the limited experience we (my husband and I) had with tragic loss. We wanted to be as supportive to his Mom as possible and help with the logistic side of things.
During that time, you might expect it was drenched in tears and dark times, but it was not. His Mom took us to some of their favourite places for date shakes and dinner with some of their oldest friends at the Jackalope Ranch in Indio, and even to the La Quinta Art Festival, one of the biggest (most inspiring) outdoor art exhibits in North America. It was a warm and beautiful time to share with each other and we all did our best. I flew home a few days later and my husband stayed to make the several day drive home with his Mom in their vehicle. He now sitting, where his Dad usually sat, navigating with precision (time prefaced by “ass-in-seat by 8 am”, locations and accommodations mapped out) to bring this woman they both loved so dearly, home safely. I am grateful for that time they were able to share as Mother and Son.
The reason for my trip of nostalgia is I needed to remember that time to re-connect to the loss of his Dad, her husband, my father-in-law and our son’s Grandpa, but also to note how I was feeling last night when my husband was hurting and missing his Dad (something he doesn’t openly share as he usually just tries to remember and share the positive memories). As my husband opened up and spoke about the retiring of the Sedins from the Canucks and how he would have liked to share this with his Dad, it lead him to other thoughts and memories about their relationship as well. He spoke and I cried quietly placing a comforting hand on his back.
In all of this, I realized I too haven’t always been a beacon of hope for my husband in honouring the magnitude of his loss. As we all know, I have been deep in my own shit so consequently haven’t always been there for him to listen more or ask him to tell me more about his Dad and how he is feeling. Even as his spouse, for better for worse, I haven’t always been there unconditionally for him, as I would liked to have been.
So this brings me back to the idea of lighthouses and mechanics…how some people in our lives are more equipped (experience, context, personal baggage) “to keep a light on” for us when we are facing a particular struggle at a specific time in our lives and how although some friends may fade out at times, it may just be because they are not the people who are able to best help you through or out of that circumstance. It may hurt a bit to feel like the ones you think should be there have abandoned you in a moment of need, but all you really need do is look around in another direction to find the light, the direction, the adjustment to help you correct your course.
Even as I write this, I am finding my own hurt softening as sharp ridges melt smooth like a once angular stone eroded by the elements, recognizing my own variability with my husband during one of his most difficult times. Being able to now shift my perspective; rather than seeing some of my people’s avoidance as abandonment, feeling their presence in this particular moment as an ill fitting sweater, a sweater that I once thought should fit me unconditionally…and I can’t be mad at a sweater. Nothing is unconditional, especially when it comes to humans who are flawed and imperfect. I will work a bit harder to remember this lesson, and stop expecting it from anyone; but appreciate it’s warmth when it does come, slipping my arms into that comfortable fit for my beingness, wrapping myself in the ones who are lending me the right sweater for me right now in these conditions.