19 October 2011

Border Sharing

The Captain and I spent yesterday at a funeral. One of the Captain's dearest friends, a woman he's known since high school, lost her sister. She comes from a family of seven children, and she and her sister were the only girls; the bookends to all the boys. Her sister was 56 years old. Her parents are 86 and 83. It is a horrible perversion to outlive your children.

We asked our friend how her parents were holding up, as if there could be an answer that encapsulates the devastation of burying one's child. She said they were fine, in the way that all Irish Catholics are fine with death. She added, "I don't want to be fine anymore."

Our friend's sister had been awaiting a liver transplant, but her body deteriorated to the point that she was removed from the transplant list. We did not even know she was sick. Our friend was the person responsible for making her sister's medical care decisions, and in the end, she had to give the order to remove her sister from life support. I cannot imagine how heartrending that must have been for her.

In that moment our friend realized she didn't want to be alone in her pain any longer. She was struggling with the knowledge that her sister had been sick, and didn't reach out to her family in time for them to help her. Our friend didn't want to be an Irish Catholic stoic and soldier on, deflecting her grief with humor. So she sent an email to her nearby friends, and let them come to her. She told us, "I want to stay connected to the people I love, and I want to let them love me."

Our conversation resonated with me. The Captain jokes that he never saw me cry until after we were married, when, ostensibly, I should have been my happiest. And indeed, I am more open with my feelings now than when I was younger. But I still prefer to keep my internal struggles to myself, mostly because I can't think of anyone who is more qualified to solve them. In fact, on most subjects, I'm 98% sure I know best. These include: my marriage; my children; my physical well-being; my emotional well-being; your marriage; your physical well-being; your emotional well-being; and in general, the political and humanitarian needs of the world.  I'm not looking for input, or support, very often. An outside observer might consider me myopic, or self-centered. I prefer capable, and strong.

But, as you know, no woman is an island. Life is brief, and precious. It's important to reach out and maintain relationships with the people that matter to us. It's okay to ask for help. I can't guarantee I'll overcome my stubborn independent streak, but I might try to become more of a peninsula. Connected to the larger whole, but not land-locked. I could have more fluid borders. Do you?

14 comments:

  1. Oh my, yes! The story of your friend and her sister is like the story of my life and my family. Stubborn, private, proud Catholics are some of my favorite people in this world (myself, included). It was not until I met Joshua (Carrie and Sarah's brother) that I was exposed to public and copious amounts of hugging, crying (that would be the fluid part) and more hugging! Does a body good.

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  2. Asking for help is really, really hard. We feel like we should be able to do it ourselves. We like feeling capable and strong and in charge. (At least I do) Something I am learning from a friend of mine who is well into her 80's, legally blind, has trouble walking from a stroke, who I take shopping and erranding sometimes. She is so gracious in receiving help that it is a joy and a pleasure to help her. She, in fact, by her gracious and thankful reception of help is giving me a gift. So I am trying to learn that receiving can be a gift as well. I suspect I'll be working on this one for quite a long time, though.

    FGBVs for your friend and her family and for the Captain and you. Hope you're staying warm and dry on this wet day!

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  3. I know what you're talking about. I'm the direct inheritor of the Catholic stoicism (which, if you'd met my Franco-Canadian mother, you'd know it's not just the Irish). I'm actually comfortable with it, but I do try to be gracious when people offer me help. Gifts, I'm still no good at. I keep trying to figure out what I did to earn them (as if you need to earn gifts).

    Either way, I'm so sad for your loss. Long distance, non-stoic hugs and FGBVs coming your way.

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  4. I have a friend who is making the decision about taking her husband off life support this week. She's a couple of thousand miles away, and I've already been to visit her, so there's not much I can do.

    But yeah, asking for help is not one of my strong points. Oddly, I'd rather pay someone to help me than ask a friend, which is crazy, because I'd be happy to help them if they needed help.

    Good thoughts, Megan, thanks.

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  5. As you know, I am not Irish Catholic but I have same attitude towards self-sufficiency. I think it's congenital Megs. And as your 56-year-old (yes I am) first cousin,I will share some hard earned wisdom. The really "smart" ones realize they can't do it alone; they have a team behind them. Whether it's a professional team to help advance a career or a parenting team to provide insight and support. Personally, I'm now working on assembling the KEK team. BIG HUG!!!!!

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  6. I am afraid that I did not set the best example for you to follow but I followed the one set by MY mother. Stuff it and be stoical. I have tried over the years to change that and I think I have been largely successful. I hoped it would help you and your siblings as well. I'm very happy to know you will try to change for yourself and I know it will not be easy (you are the most like me)but it also takes strength to change you know?

    One of my favorite expressions that I picked up somewhere along the way is very true, ie: "Tears are the safety valve of the heart." ILY, Mom

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  7. Damn, I wrote a great post and then it didn't stick... not sure I can replicate it. The gist was that I am basically a strong woman (Sagittarian- cousin! And of Vroom gene pool) and yesterday and today I was a puddle. One sister called to say 'hi' and got the first bout of tears and today the other sister called me while I was driving between meetings and became a puddle again, and she said: "it's very hard to take care of the entire world all by yourself" (paraphrased, but on the money). At the end of my babble, she said; "even when you are not at full speed, you are better than the average bear".
    It helps to reach out to those you love. They are there and care- and, at times, can say the most important things.
    p.s. My closest friends lost a son of 24 in a head on collision last month; losing a child is devastating. My best to your friend and her family.
    XO

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  8. @bobbi: it is very hard to manage the world! But it would be a lot easier if everyone listened to us, and understood that we're always right. I'm very sorry for your friend. I hope you have a better day tomorrow!

    @norma: My favorite game is when the Captain plays "Who's more stubborn?" with us. Of course, you always are, but I think we're both getting better. ILY, too.

    @My Anonymous First Cousin: Put me on the KEK team!

    @BarbN: How horrible for your friend! There is only so much you can do from a distance. I appreciated your realization about paying people to help you-it seems silly when you look at it objectively!

    @Delia: Thanks for the hugs. I think you're right-the stiff upper lip afflicts all nationalities. It will be interesting to see what happens with the next generation, or, as the Captain calls them, the veal.

    @KarenB: I never thought of it this way before, but allowing someone to help is a sign of good manners. Like accepting a compliment with grace.

    @Amy: I love a good hug, and a good cry. I just have to work on allowing both.

    Thank you, all, for your kind words!

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  9. Big love for you, the fam, and your friend as well. Coming from that position, I gotta tell ya, it sucks way more than can be imagined. Hug her for me if you get the chance please, and I'll think about her sister sitting over there with mine, feeling so very much healthier, both of 'em.

    Dan used to tell me that even though I COULD be the Universe's bus driver, I didn't NEED to. I'm much better now about asking for help. (NO really, I AM better!)
    Julie

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  10. The veal? No way. Your kids move around far too much to be veal. ;p

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  11. Ah...the independent island woman...another like myself.

    It was such a shock when I had the Sweet Pea and immediately wanted all the help in the universe. As in SOMONE tell me how to comfort her and when to feed her and why she's crying! I'm not used to asking and no one around me is used to seeing me vulnerable and frantic. So it's been...a trip.

    Hugs to you and to your friend. It's very brave of her to acknowledge her need.

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  12. Here's how I've compromised; I don't ask anybody to do anything I wouldn't do for them. I like to feel useful, and I think most of my friends and family do to. It's no fun to stand on the sidelines and watch someone struggle when I know I could help--with laugh, a distraction or a boost.

    Now, that's doesn't mean I'm GOOD at asking. It just means I'm better at it than Sarah. ;) (Hi, Sarah! Don't pretend I didn't have to browbeat you into letting me visit last week.)

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  13. @Julie: I know you're better! I also know it's hard to surrender the keys to the bus.

    @Lora: You don't have to do it all by yourself. You know that if the Betties were closer, we'd all be there demanding to help! You've had a rough nine months-let people help you get back on your feet. You deserve some rest.

    @Carrie: I, too, like helping, so I'll remember your advice. I can't say anything about Sarah, because I think she's outstanding (and I think we fall on the same "Oh no I'm fine" scale).

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  14. My internet at home hasn't been letting me comment here so i'm doing it during my lunch break at work :-)
    I'm an island girl too but I think i'm getting better at asking for help. I think having the betties has helped me a lot because it means I can ask for help but from a distance. It's like i'm sending out a message in a bottle.
    FGBVs for Captain's friend.

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It is now incredibly easy to comment! Feel free to stop lurking, and add your opinion. Yes, I'm talking to you Moscow, and the Philippines. You, too, Australia. And what's going on down there in Georgia? Do you feel the same as Arizona? Let me know. Politely.