“Everything is relative in this world, where change alone endures.”
As a widow, one of my least favorite sayings is “you’re so strong.” I’ve heard it a lot since Randy died. It always confused me before it started to anger me. Strong? Because I can’t will myself to stop breathing? (Believe me, I tried—no luck.) Because there’s only so many days I can wear the same clothes before they crawl off to the washer, themselves? Because eventually I have to get out of bed to pee? Because once the fog cleared, I realized that the earth was still turning and my children were still here and that meant I still needed money and food and shelter and my job? I don’t consider that strong. I consider that life. You do what you gotta do.
I read something (on Facebook, surprisingly) about how people try to downplay their own pain, which hampers the grieving and the healing processes. It really spoke to me at that time, because I felt there were people in my family who didn’t quite get what it meant to be a widow and a mother, and expected far too much of me. Since I was raised to do what I should, it was hard to put my own needs in front of their expectations. While I may not have had the energy to live up to those expectations, I simply exchanged that for guilt at not being enough and anger at not being understood. Guilt and anger: what a lovely, isolating, self-destructive combination.
What I got from that article was this: everyone’s pain is relative, because everyone’s history is unique. What was my “worst” could pale in comparison to someone else’s “worst.” Conversely, someone else didn’t need to experience my “worst” to have their own version of “worst.” I have my unique moment that is the lowest point and others that represent the high end. It is my relative scale against which I gauge all other moments. It is ok for me to feel pain at my worst moments, even if I can objectively see that others have had moments that may be worse, because this is the bottom of MY scale. And it is ok for others to not quite get my own worst moment, because their scale may not go down that far. It doesn’t make their scale “less than” mine; it just means they have a different scope of experience.
I have always marginalized my own experiences. The bad is never as bad as others act like it is. I have the curious ability to pooh-pooh my own memories. I wouldn’t exactly call it sexual abuse by a neighbor’s son, but if it had happened to one of my kids, I’d be screaming sexual abuse. I definitely call it years of physical abuse from a sibling, but I survived it, so let’s move on. It’s an amusing story now about how I was left at a store when I was 4-5 years young as my parents continued with their Saturday errands and how I remember every second of searching the store and sitting in the window staring at the parking lot for an hour or two before their car raced back into view. I didn’t know it was ADD and just dealt with the “stop daydreaming” admonishments my entire life. I can laugh about being 6 or 7 and watching my dad steal a hubcap from a car in the bowling alley parking lot and then the harrowing ride home at speeds up to 70 mph on winding roads after a Friday night Men’s League (which meant lots of drinking on the Men’s part). I know I was leaning strongly towards alcoholism, myself, in college and have many, many things to regret there, but so do many others, right? That’s just college. And yes, I lived with an alcoholic for 7-8 years and dealt with car accidents and DUIs and screaming matches and separation and at least one incident I will never ever ever talk about, but he became a Recovered Alcoholic and things improved phenomenally for the next 13 years. He was everything I knew I would love about him after that and gave me a life & family I could only dream about before. So he started drinking right before he died, and we’d already had one major argument concerning the drinking, but I never got a chance to find out how that would play out because, well, he died suddenly. And yes, he and my heart died when he was 48 in the span of 3 days from leukemia. I’ve since met many widows/widowers with stories much sadder than mine. My experiences with childbirth may be others’ visions of hell, but they’re all I know about bringing my children into this world, and I wouldn’t begrudge their entrance for anything. My youngest may have spent 4 days in a psychiatric hospital and for years suffered from extreme anxiety and depression and bipolarism, but just look at her now. She’s healthy and happy and working full-time at a job she loves. And the oldest daughter distanced herself for over 10 years, just so I wouldn’t be able to see how her boyfriend/fiance/husband was whittling away her confidence and self-esteem. And I’ve had to watch her go through a divorce, a new romance with someone I really disliked, and then become a widow, herself, after less than a year of that marriage. And I had a ring-side seat as she descended into alcohol and depression and refused to let me be a parent again. And even though I jumped into that ring to battle it out more times than I can count, she has found her way back to life and love and I can breathe again. And yes, I packed up and moved across states to be closer to a family that never seemed to understand me, but I figured it out after 5 years and my mother’s death and moved back to my friends. And ok…it’s been 12 years and I have yet to work up the courage for even a first date in spite of the daily loneliness that permeates my life. I won’t even address the years of pain and “oh, you’re too young for that” related to arthritis and other health ailments, or the laundry list of surgeries to try to correct joint and stomach issues. Everyone’s life is tough. Suck it up and move on.
I don’t want people to think bad about people who I feel may have wronged me, because that’s just my opinion and I’m sure they had good reasons and I’m sure it’s not as bad as I remember and I’m sure I played a large part in what happened to me. Seriously, I am responsible for my own actions, and reactions, and the consequences of both.
I know what my worst moment is, and I can rate all the moments from that point up. It’s amazing how the “best” is not one single moment. “Best” appears to be relative, also, within my own experiences. There are moments that are “best” as a child, and “best” as a sibling, and “best” as a wife, and “best” as a mother of this child and then mother of that child, and “best” as a professional, and “best” as a friend. This scale appears to be an inverted triangle, with many points along the top of the scale whittling down to one single point at the bottom. I’m going to assume that means I have had more happiness than sadness, and so it is harder to pinpoint one single moment of extreme happiness.
I don’t consider myself stronger than the next person. I don’t consider myself weaker than another person. I only know that I have catalogued my worst moments and my best moments. As long as I’m breathing, I’m hoping the upper end of that inverted triangle continues to expand faster than the lower. I’m not strong. I’m just balancing as best I can, just like anyone else. After all, everything is relative, including triangles.