It’s a horrible fact of life that at least once, most of us will have to deal with some sort of tragedy or major sickness. A sudden death in the family can occur, or abnormal cells come back on a medical exam, and it can leave us feeling more than broken – we can feel like we’re about to collapse under the weight.
Some people maintain their usual happy, productive demeanour, but for those of us incapable of that, we often feel a need to reassess: how we live our life, what’s important to us, where we’re going in comparison to where we wanted to be. The sad fact of life is that death, or its potential, puts things in perspective. And hey, before you feel gloomy just reading these words, good can come of it. So many people realize that they’re lacking authenticity, or that they haven’t travelled, and that they want to start caring more about the moment than the chintz displayed in their living room. It’s not all bad.
But when it seems bad, when you don’t have much energy to give because you’re quite simply trying not to break down, it can seem like life is overwhelming and a long nap would be more appropriate. But you can’t really do that, can you? You’re the centre of your family, the mecca of organization, the one people go to when they’re feeling kicked in the shins by life. You, Mom, are everyone’s everything, and I’d wager that you can’t check out, despite whatever horror you might be facing. So what do you do?
1. Cut back on all non-essentials.
When I’ve been in this position, I’ve asked co-workers to take on a little bit of my work, relegated household tasks to other family members, and deprioritized extra events. For me, doing my job badly is worse than not doing it at all, so delegating tasks to others makes sense when I’m distracted by something major in life. Similarly, a messy home would make me feel horrible, but putting what little energy I have into cleaning can be too much, so I ask my daughter to help out with cleaning and trying not to make messes, and I’ll even ask her father to pitch in sometimes, even though we’re separated. During these times, invitations are often turned down because showing up and putting on a happy face is just too much. We’ll even start eating simpler, shopping less and spending more time reading and watching movies, or simply walking around our neighbourhood.
2. Find perspective in a hurry.
The worst thing I’ve ever done is get bad news and shut myself in. Better, in hindsight, would have been if I had sought out other people’s experiences, meditated on the potential positives that could come from a negative situation, or if I’d simply said, “This is a wake-up call. I’m waking up, now.”
3. Prepare for the worst.
This means different things to different people, but quite simply, I mean: look at what the worst thing that could happen is, and do everything you can to prepare yourself, your family, your household, etc. for it. Not to be morbid, but if you’re looking at something life-threatening, it makes sense to prepare a will, make sure that your life insurance plans are up to date, that your partner knows where to find all of the necessary documents they might need if you aren’t around, etc. If you’re going to be away or incapacitated, even preparing frozen meals is a good thought.
4. Celebrate the best, if you can.
It can become easy to get stuck in a sad, joyless space when tragedy hits. That’s why it’s important to try to remember to celebrate life, still – and to include your family in doing so. If your son gets a B on his history exam, it can seem small in comparison to a newly-diagnosed auto-immune disease. It’s not, really, when you consider that you’re not only celebrating the grade, but also your son’s ability to succeed in school, even if things aren’t going well at home. You’re celebrating your son’s ability to weather. Even more, celebrate the genius genes that you passed down. Taking the time to step into the sunshine with intention can actually make dealing with a tragic period in life easier – it refuels the engine, so to speak.
5. Keep on truckin’.
Giving up, if it’s really an option, still shouldn’t be an option. Scaling down your responsibilities is quite different from curling into a ball in bed. Keep doing what you do, as much as you can, so that you don’t feel into the self-perpetuating depression that can come with bad news. It helps to feel alive, to make you want to be alive.
6. Seek out help from outside parties.
There’s no shame in seeking out a support group, therapy, a righteous yoga class, or stocking your shelves with tons of memoirs written about just what you’re going through. You can ask friends who’ve been there to come over for coffee; you can seek out groups online. Everywhere, if you look, is a wealth of people going through what you are, and also wanting someone to talk about it. Don’t forget to try to include your partner and family, though – this is a time when it can seem like they don’t understand, but they’re like to, I’ll bet.
7. Start writing the memoir of this moment.
Cliché, I know, but sex and sadness sells. If you have the drive to write, now might be when your best material flows. If you’ve ever wanted to publish, your shot is a lot better than if you wrote vampire fiction. Most important of all, at least in my case: writing can be an awesomely great way to process and purge feelings, it can be meditative, and it can even help us to remember what we’ve gone through and how we’ve changed. To me, writing is therapy.
How have you held it together, when times were getting really tough?