Ok, if you've seen my Twitter and Facebook posts this past week then you know that it wasn't exactly the best week of my life. It was stressful - too much going on with everybody wanting a piece of me and not enough of me to go around. Not pretty. And, of course, we all have our limits and I hit it Thursday. The shadow within me came out, and, well, that dark side came out.
Folks, this is the stuff my novels are made of. I daresay that this shadow is probably what inspires a lot of art and creativity in this world. And frankly, I think it's a shame that this is the very thing so many people try to deny, bury, and hide from the world because it just scares people and, well, we fear what we don't understand. That's a shame, really, because I think that understanding ourselves at our worst is the only way we learn how to be better people. Unfortunately, most people don't agree with me on that point. In fact, I'd say this is the #1 reason why I left Christian writing and switched to fiction. Folks in the Christian end of the publishing industry thought my views were "too postmodern" and thought such darkness should never be exposed, much less brought to the light of day. But put that in the setting of a mystery or sci-fi novel, and they eat it up. I was recently laughing with my husband and mother over the irony of getting a publishing contract for Splinter. That I was so angry with the world at one point in time that I wrote a novel where I destroyed the planet shows something wasn't right in my head. That somebody said "yea, let's publish this and give it to the world," shows that there are people that get that frustration, and relate to it. It seems it's all in how you package it.
But back to my point, which is that we all do have that dark side in us, and there are going to be times when we're pushed to revealing it. The world isn't going to be all unicorns and rainbows and there are going to be times when we've had enough. God himself got angry - just read The Bible and you'll see he got ticked to the point of sending His own people into 70 years of captivity! Of course He was also gracious and sent His son, but Jesus also got mad when he made a cord of whips and overturned moneychangers tables outside the Temple (which I think was pretty awesome of Him). So if the Creator of the Universe and His only Son got mad at the unfairness and injustice of the world, then why do we try to pretend we're better than our Maker by trying to shove our frustration in a corner and pretend that "it is well with my soul?" Man, I hate that song. It's such a filthy lie. You try to tell me that any old thing that happens and you'll calmly say "well, praise God" and go on sipping your coffee while the world is blowing up? I don't think so. You're gonna scream, cry, complain and wail at the world about the insanity of it all, just like the rest of us. I'll be the first to admit that it's not well with my soul and I've got problems, and so does everybody else. I'm almost 37 years old and I've NEVER seen anybody that well adjusted. And by the way, did I mention that I hate that song because I think it's a hedonistic deception? Yea, I call that bluff.
We're human beings and we can only take so much. When it gets to the point where you're stressed, taken for granted, and your needs aren't being met, it's going to get ugly. Frankly, I don't think there's anything wrong with that because it forces us to stop, take stock, and defend our right to have our own needs met. And knowing what pushes your buttons helps you to know yourself better, and to know what you need to do when those stressful times come around again so you'll know what you need to do to prevent such breakdowns, or to deal with them more effectively when it does happen. And when you know yourself well enough to realize these dark episodes will pass, you know what happens? You find that you're not put off when you see it in others. You might get frustrated, but you also have some grace and are able to forgive and just let it go, knowing this isn't their true personality and it's an extreme due to too much stress and too many unmet needs.
Now I'm not saying I excuse such things. Of course, we aren't excused from our behavior during such episodes and can and should be held responsible for our words and actions during these times. I'm saying that by realizing that it's in you and knowing what triggers it, you can figure out how to avoid such times as much as possible and handle them better when they do roll around. I'll be the first to say I'm not proud of many things I said over the past couple of days - but I also feel I handled it better than I did even 2 years ago, because I was better able to articulate the source of my frustrations and what I needed to get past them. And people responded too, with sympathy and compassion. My honest acceptance of this shadow and ability to admit it helped others to help me. And I hope I can return that favor to all of them the next time they face such trials.
So don't be too scared of that shadow. It's part of the balance in all of us and knowing the bad as well as the good can help us to be a better all-around person.
That's all today. Enjoy a video share for a song for days like that - and inspiration for a lot of my writing!
December 6 is always a tough day for me because my maternal grandmother died on that date in 1987. I’ve lost many people, but that date stings every year – no doubt because of the holidays that wrap around this month. Losing people is always tough, but losing them during the holiday seems to cut a bit deeper. It’s something you feel more. I usually don’t talk about it much and do my best to be a “big girl” and move on, as is expected.
Until this year. I know it’s been 24 years, but I’m all grown up (middle age now, in fact), I’ve found my voice, and now there’s this great thing called the Internet where I can post things. And now, you’re going to hear ALL about it.
One of the reasons why dealing with death over the holidays is tough is, naturally, because the entire world is celebrating, and you just don’t feel it. A hole has been ripped in your life and, as I said in my last entry, a date in red on the calendar doesn’t hasten the healing of the heart. I believe it was C.S. Lewis that said death is unnatural because people weren’t created to die, and I believe it. Death is such an aberration to our spirit, and that abnormality is especially evident in a season where we celebrate the birth of our Savior and eternal life. Emotions know no season and if they take a smack then nothing is going to expedite the healing process. Here they parallel the body. Don’t believe me? Burn your hand, break a bone, or sprain something today and see if you’re healed by Christmas.
The reason I sound cynical here is because of the other reasons why death is hard to deal with during the holidays. Yes, the whole world is celebrating, and they don’t want to stop –not for you, or for any pesky little problem like (gasp) death. They want to be happy and have fun and by God, you aren’t going to stop them. I thought perhaps it was my still child-like perspective on the world in 1987, but in the 24 years since then I still hold to the opinion that:
1. People don’t cope with death well, especially during the holidays;
2. The dumbest things are said at visitations and funerals; and
3. People can be incredibly selfish, rude, and insensitive in their desire to create “the perfect holiday” (which we have already acknowledged won’t happen).
I thought it was because people kept telling me to “cheer up” and “be glad the holidays are here to help ease the pain.” I thought it was because people kept telling me to “grow up” and“get over it because it was just a grandparent.” I thought it was because people kept saying “you mother has it worse - don’t you owe it to her to get over it and try to make Christmas good for her?” Yes, people really said these things, without exaggeration. But the problem is that I learned it wasn’t just me when Rick’s grandmother died on December 21, 2000. I warned Rick of the incredible stupidity and insensitivity he was about to experience and lo and behold if he didn’t see I was right within 10 minutes when a lady walked up to us with a huge smile plastered on her face and said “What a wonderful time to go to Heaven! She gets to celebrate Jesus’ birthday with him face to face. But oh, your poor father, this must be awful for him. So, what are you doing to celebrate?”
If looks could kill, the one Rick and I gave that lady would have made her the funeral home’s next customer. I noticed she hurried away and we’ve never seen her again.
I wish I could say I’m embellishing these comments, but I’m not. In fact, I’m fighting a rare urge to name names here so the whole world will know who the igits are. But I’m not going to do it because the point of this entry isn’t to debate right and wrong. It’s to acknowledge that people do die during this joyous time of year and to guide you toward the proper way to help somebody that’s suffering a loss during the holidays. And so, I have offered my experiences to give a few tips on how to best console people that are grieving over the holidays.
I’ve already hit on the first one. Emotional healing knows no season, so please don’t try to push people into celebrating if they don’t feel like it. Not for their sake, or the sake of the kids, or the family, or anybody. My mother and Rick’s father tried to put on that “brave face for the family,” and let me tell you – it didn’t work. Grief was the pink elephant in the room and everybody saw it by Christmas. Not only are you headed for disaster by not allowing them time to grieve, but you risk more damage by your selfish demand that the holidays will go on, come hell or high water. So please, back off. If they don’t want to put up a tree this year, go caroling or attend parties, don’t make them. Back off and give them the space they need. If you feel you absolutely must do something, do it in more practical ways that are not holiday related, like offering to bring them a meal, help them clean the house, or take care of the kids one evening. Believe me, they will appreciate you not force feeding them to a world high on Christmas more than any present under the tree.
Second, please use discernment. Everything that flies through your head doesn’t need to fly out of your mouth, and as the non-grieving party you have a higher obligation to put a lasso on your tongue. This is true always, but it’s absolutely essential at visitations and funerals. This is not the time to be witty, wise, or philosophical. There are people trained for that, so leave it to them: You know, the pastors, priests, rabbi’s, therapists, psychologists, and others trained in the religious or mental health fields. I have no doubt that losing a parent is much worse than losing a grandparent, but that’s an inappropriate thing to say to ANYBODY, especially to a 12 year old that’s confused, hurting, and doesn’t know what to do. Logic doesn’t work in highly emotional situations like this, so don’t go there. In fact, when it comes to funerals then the less you say, the better. Just say “I’m sorry for your loss” and let it go. People in these situations don’t want a dissertation on dealing with grief or a lecture on getting over it. They want people to acknowledge how they feel and have respect for it.
Third, don’t take it personally. People are already stressed out this time of year and that tends to work on nerves. Unfortunately, sorrow and anger are part of the grieving process which can strip nerves raw and increase emotional outbursts. I know it’s awkward if somebody burst into tears when a carol comes on in a store, or shouts insults at the mall Santa, but unfortunately seasonal things that seem benign to most can trigger deep grief responses in those dealing with loss. I know from experience that it can be extremely frustrating to watch the world celebrate when a huge hole has just been ripped in your life, and sometimes the strangest things knock holes in those walls of restraint. Don’t make a scene bigger. Simply try to diffuse the situation as smoothly as possible, remove the person from it, and do your best to control your emotions so you can help them control theirs. They’re weak right now, so give them the gift of being strong until they are healed and able to be strong on their own again.
I have a word for those of you that have recently lost loved ones, or that have lost them this year and are facing your first holiday season without them. Please know that you aren’t alone. There’s nothing wrong with you, and you are going through a natural process. Understand that it will get easier, but it can only get easier if you take the time to go through the grieving process in your own timing. So don’t try to be brave or try to sweep it under the rug because it’s the holidays. Some people don’t get it, but that’s not your problem. They will one day because we all lose loved ones and have to deal with that empty seat at the holiday table eventually. The holidays come around every year so believe me, there will be more chances to “do the holidays” later. It’s ok to take a year off if you just can’t face it this year. It doesn’t make you Scrooge. It makes you a human being – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Finally I’d like to say, for the record, that all the people that said those rude, insensitive things to me in 1987 and to Rick in 2000 deserve a smack. So I’m saying it now, on the INTERNET, to the WHOLE WORLD, on MY WEBSITE right now. Consider this your virtual kick.
Wow, I do believe that’s something like Nana would say.