Monday, January 7, 2013

A Word On Coping, Grief and My Christmas "Miracle"

A Word On Coping, Grief and My Christmas "Miracle"

In a Facebook post I made at Christmas this year, I had mentioned that I was thankful for something; that I had gotten a Christmas wish that I needed to get.  I was reluctant to share that story right away.  Thinking about it, I took a long pause to ponder on my experience with grief or coping, and wanted to say a few words about that before telling my story.

No matter who you are, you are dealing with something.  We all have our crosses to bear in life.  Some people are more open to sharing than others who choose to remain quite private.  Some share the good things in their lives in public, while keeping the bad things private.  We have all had to deal with bad things in life, and I think our level of comfort sharing them with others is conditioned by how we have been treated in the past.  It amazes me how some people revel in their sorrow, or in their mistakes.  Some folks have no problem standing up in public and saying they did something stupid, or telling the world about the bad things happening to them...which to some extent, could be of their own doing. 

I remember when my Mother was ill, and I was taking care of her, many people knew I was doing that, and it seemed everyone who was concerned for me or who loved me always prefaced a meeting with me with "How is your Mom?".  When the news was not good, that was the constant conversation I was having that I hated having.  I know my friends meant well, but I remember wishing I didn't have to talk about it so much.  Things like that make you turn your grief inward, so that you don't have to share it.  I remember when she died, I really told no one...and just went to work that night as if it were just another day.  It was easier. 

In 2004, I had a horrible accident...most of you know about that one, when I broke my neck in two places and had to take months off of work.  That was a very traumatic event, and to be fair, normal humans learn lessons from such events.  Given that, if I had a dollar for every person who heard the story and said "you need to be more careful", I could buy you a house.  I knew I needed to be more careful, I am sure I would be...hearing it almost felt hurtful.   People close to me then brought it up over and over.  Later, I had an incident with a deer and a road sign in my new van, which resulted in a bent front bumper and dented front fender.  I came home and told no one, because I didn't want to hear the admonitions that I needed to be more careful, etc...  If accidents were always avoidable, they wouldn't happen, would they?  Yet when presented with the news of an accident, human reaction seems to say that the person needs to be told how to prevent it...which after the fact can come off as hurtful, yet offered in a caring manner.  Even today, 8 years or so after my accident, people still tell me to be more careful.  I keep all my accidents to myself now without telling anyone, because of the comments I get from those who love me, which feel hurtful.  

Sometimes when people are carrying a load, and choose to share the news, they are not looking for advice, a solution or blame...they are just looking to share, and maybe get a little commiseration or possibly sympathy.  When you just want to unload and share, and get blamed or advised, sometimes you think twice about sharing the next issue...because it just feels easier to keep it to yourself.  Hemorrhoids are a real pain in the ass for example.  If you suffered from them, and told your friends, then every time they see you, and your ass is hurting, they say "Hey, how are your roids?"...and you have to talk about them while suffering.  I think a better solution is, if you tell someone you have roids, and they see you, they should smile, each of you knowing the other knows, and the friend would just say "Hello, how are you"...or "how are you feeling"?  Instead they usually bring the topic up and tell you how you could have avoided getting them in the first place!  

Since then, I have had some screw ups in life that I have totally kept to myself...found the solutions and pressed on without burdening anyone...just because it felt easier.  When I had the incident with the deer and the road sign, it was 2 weeks before Lori even knew.  I chose to try to keep it from her because the wounds from the bad accident were still too fresh. 

One thing all this has taught me is how to handle my compassion toward others who face adversity.  I put myself in their shoes and remember my times that I was hurting, and what I did or did not want or need to hear.  A great friend recently lost his wife unexpectedly and is grieving in a major way.  I sent him a letter with my sympathy, and told him I would never ever bring it up again, unless he did.  I let him know that I was sorry for his loss, but that it was not going to be the ongoing topic of conversation.  I would bet that was appreciated.  Sometimes, when you know there is an elephant in the room, you don't HAVE to talk about it.  It is there.


So what brought this up was this extraordinary situation that happened just before Christmas.  After the event I am about to tell you about, I was pretty mentally messed up.  I chose to tell no one.  Lori was the only person who knew.  I did not want it out there because I mentally could not handle the blame, hearing how it could have been prevented and frankly I was embarrassed.  I needed to deal with the situation before I could tell anyone. 

On the Saturday before Christmas, I took a walk with Foster (my dog...and those who know me know he is my son more than my dog, and I am very close and protective of him).  We had time to spare and had deviated off our regular course.  We ended up in a high traffic area, and while crossing a street, I directed him to walk into the path of an oncoming car.  He was struck, and the car stopped and Foster fell to the ground in the road in front of the car.  People all over stopped.  I immediately knew that it was entirely my fault.  I did not know if Foster was dead, or what level of injury he had sustained.  I got him out of the road and told the car driver to leave, as all was OK.  People were showing up out of concern, and I had a real moment of terror going on. 

He stood up...and I was checking him for injury.  He seemed to be steady on his feet, a little shaken and walking on his own power.  I reached for my phone to call Lori, but did not have my phone on me.  We walked toward a business, and he seemed to be walking OK, so we just kept walking, then headed back toward the house.  I could see no external damage, and began watching and looking for signs of internal injury.  Closer to home he stopped and had a bowel movement, and was not complaining about anything...he had no sensitivity or pain...his eyes looked good, etc...  By the time we got home, he was flat out normal, but I was sure something had to be wrong.  I got in the house and tried to keep a brave face, then Lori showed me pics she had just taken of the dog and I lost it.   Just the overwhelming grief of what I had done to my buddy, and the guilt, and not knowing if there was any injury...and the worst part of it all, the memory of seeing him getting hit kept replaying over and over and over and over in my head and I could not make it stop for days.  Every time I was alone with my thoughts, that image returned.  I could not think of talking about it without getting upset. 

If I had been allowed any wish for Christmas it would be for this incident to not have occurred, or as a minimum, for there to be no damage or penalty to Foster for my mistake.  Time has passed and I am certain beyond doubt that he was not injured.  He is 110%, actually even better than he was BEFORE the accident.  I had been posting on Facebook prior to this about his health issues, and was waiting for his recovery as this happened.  A friend asked me at work the other night how Foster was doing...and I sheepishly said "better than anyone knows".   She mentioned that I had not posted about him on Facebook in some time and I realized she was correct...that I was afraid to say anything for fear he took a bad turn.  Selfishly, as much as I would have liked a kind shoulder, I didn't want the constant reminders that I screwed up, or, when trying to clear my head, have all of our friends asking how Foster was...mentally I could not handle that.

I feel as if I am ready to have this story out there, and I feel that telling it will help me get my head if keeping it bottled up is part of what is troubling me.  Lori even said there is no need for anyone to know, and she, while watching me suffer thru this, mentioned she was glad I did not put it on Facebook to allow myself to be castigated. So, the other side of my reason is, that if someone reads this entire blog...and can manage to talk to me about this afterwards without blaming me, or telling me what I did wrong, or telling me how to avoid this in the future, then writing this will be somewhat worthwhile.  We should all study on being compassionate, sensitive, caring and supportive without making the issue be THE only topic of conversation, or without insulting someone by feeling like we need to tell them how they failed.

I have only told 3 people about this so far...testing the waters to see how I felt.  I do have to giggle because the second person I told DID respond by saying that we needed to walk a bit more cautiously through life. me...after going thru something like this, if that is not obvious, then there is no hope. 

Treat each other well, hug your dogs and cats, and put yourself into the other persons shoes before saying anything that could be well meaning yet insensitive.  Sometimes just listening is enough.  Thanks for listening...and if you have taken the time to read all of this, thank you for your friendship, and for caring enough about what I say to read it.    


Carla said...

Like I said before, you are one of the good guys. A sensitive and compassionate fellow, you made my coming back to the BC following the worst summer of my life, a very special evening! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

That's why they're called accidents. Glad Foster is doing well.

Tawnee Cowan said...

life is about choice, we all make them, and hardly ever make the right ones the first time. You are beautifully and 100% wonderful human. There are reasons for everything, and this is of no exception. The reason for this was not a wake-up call but more a lesson in self forgiveness. You are wiser now, and much more purposeful concerning those you hold dear. There is not a book on how to be the perfect parent, you just hope that you do more right than harm... and by that measure, you are a king. my last words on the topic:)

Anonymous said...

That must have been a horrible day for you. A good reminder for us all to love our pets while we're fortunate enough to have them.
Lots of good life lessons in this blog.


Anonymous said...

although we don't know each other you are on a friend's list so somehow your blog ended up on my FB newsfeed. Read your whole story. Thank you for sharing. I love my dog too.

Anonymous said...

Glad all is well, love from Thelma in CA.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Harryoke said...

Appreciate the comments. The only comment I dont appreciate was the unsolicited hateful comment someone left anonymously at the blog, that I will not publish. The author of that post is a heartless asshole. If you are my friend, please delete yourself and never contact me again. Big of you to post it anonymously. I hope you feel better about yourself.

Michelle Dettlaff said...

Thanks Harry for your blog post. I know it takes a lot for you to open up like that. I'm sad to say that I've been "that friend" I'm sure even to you. I promise to listen more and talk less. I'm glad Foster is doing well. He is your son. He even looks like you.

Michelle Dettlaff said...

Thanks Harry for your note. I'm sure it was difficult for you to write. I'm sad to say that I've been "that friend" I promise to listen more and talk less. I'm glad Foster is doing well. And yes, he is your son. He even looks like you.