When the world goes dark

Everything seems a bit brighter, and my troubles a bit smaller when in the mountains

This last Thursday, we received the call no one wants. My father-in-law will only live a few more weeks. We were shocked, perhaps because we were hopeful the brain cancer wouldn’t spread so fast…that we would make it to the summer…one more Fourth of July, one more birthday. But one of my mantra’s in the corporate world is “hope is not a strategy,” and sadly, it applies to our personal life as well.

The tears had barely started to give way to a deeper level of grief and pseudo acceptance until Saturday, when I got another call. This time, telling me the husband of our dear friends and neighbors of 15 years had 24-48 hours to live. There was no time to process that–just stunned disbelief and grief. He died this morning, and my husband, who was still in his robotic, I-can-and-will-take-care-of-my-family mode, was determined I wasn’t going to spend another day riding the waves of tears and weepiness. He announced he was taking us skiing, and loaded me and our youngest daughter into the car and up to the hill we went.

I cried for most of the drive, then the liquid seemed to dry up the higher we climbed in elevation. At the top of the gondola, the sunlight blinded me and I had to concentrate on my eight year old zooming down the mountain. The heartache of loss was gradually replaced with the joy of youth, her unfettered happiness of swishing down a mostly empty hillside. Rog caught me in a moment of smiling, that point in time where I forgot everything and just saw the beauty of life.

Taking another look around, I pulled out my phone and took a photo. From above, the grief I experience down below, in the real world seemed so far away.

As we rode down the gondola, the dark clouds weren’t just metaphorical, but very real. My heart constrained again, my eyes blurred, but I didn’t lose it. I felt like a little of the hurt had been replaced with light, not a sunbeam or super nova, but enough to allow me to see through the dark.

 

The Safe Friend

It was 1:30 in the morning.

“Can you talk?” My friend asks me. Well, I’d answered the phone I think to myself.

When someone calls at 1:30 a.m., they don’t want to hear me talk. They want to talk. They need to talk.

“Of course. What’s up?”

“You are never going to believe…” she starts, telling me about the trainwreck that has become her life. I put my hand to my mouth, close my eyes, ignore the wave of judgment that passes through me and think of the right words to say to the person who has said these things to me more than once.

“That must be have been hard,” I say.

Friendship is like the sun thawing an emotional chill.

“Yes!” my friend wails. I keep going, saying phrases designed to help my friend get her emotions out. It’s what my mom (a shrink) did with us around the dining room table after school. Of course, we had no idea we were being shrunk out. We just felt understood, heard and validated.

“Let it out,” I tell my friend, all the while thinking I was a safe environment, and that’s what friends need: a safe environment to emote. Friends aren’t always looking for advice. That’s what spouses are for (wanted or not). Friends want compassion. A listening, non-judgmental ear that is all for them and no one else. Taking sides isn’t even a question.

Here’s a few affirming statements I learned from mom. For a:

  • Breakup…..”It sounds like it really hurt you….” (“Yes!”)
  • Loss of a job…”That must have been discouraging…” (“It was!!”)
  • Rejection…. “It’s like it’s never going to get better…” …. (“That’s right!!”)

So my friend continued like a young child, until she finally got it all out, her energy spent. The dark fumes of hurt, anger, anxiety gone. She then cried again, but this time happy, relieved and able to sleep. The gift of a safe spot for a friend the only thing I could offer but precisely what she needed.