mental health, nostalgia, poor judgment, psychology, social media

AITA? Nah… I don’t think so, even if you do…

Lately, I’ve been following Reddit Ridiculousness on Facebook. Every day, the person who runs that page shares certain over the top threads from the Am I The Asshole page on Reddit. I don’t follow Reddit much myself, but it seems to me that the person who shares the threads on Facebook deliberately picks the posts in which the person asking is very obviously NOT the asshole. Sometimes, the posts are a little bit triggering and provoke unexpected enlightenment. I share them with my friends and conversation develops. I like it when conversations develop, since they promote understanding… especially among people I actually know offline. A friend might reveal something about themselves as they comment on these threads which offers insight into who they are as people. Sometimes, I can relate.

For instance, back in my college days, I had a lot of “issues”. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was suffering from clinical depression and anxiety. The reason I didn’t know I was depressed was because I had been that way for so long that it was “normal” for me. I was always a very emotional person. Everything affected me, even really stupid things that should not cause me a moment’s pause. I would either think something was insanely funny and laugh inappropriately, or I would be so overcome with shame, humiliation, or anger that I would melt down in tears. I had a real problem regulating my emotions to the point at which some people thought I was bipolar (I’m not). I’m now surprised I got through those years without some kind of black mark on my permanent record.

I was also suffering from “disordered eating”. I hated my body, so I would attack it by doing unhealthy things. I used to skip meals all the time, which would make me kind of temperamental and mean. I hated going to the dining hall for many reasons. One time I didn’t eat for a few days, but then I broke the fast by drinking a lot of beer. I tried to exercise a lot. I wish I could say I did it because it made me feel good, but I probably mostly did it for optics, and to escape my roommates. I often thought of suicide, mainly because I didn’t know what to do with myself or why I was born.

My problems with dieting started when I was about eleven years old. I grew up with three sisters, and they were constantly dieting and running to lose weight. One of my sisters was like a rodent. She would always eat half of things and leave the rest in the packaging for someone else to find. We actually did have mice in our house, so this wasn’t a very hygienic practice. It was also very annoying for obvious reasons.

I never was one to be ritualistic about food. I didn’t count bites, hide food, or eat a certain number of bites. I would just skip meals. Because I went to a highly residential college, people would notice and sometimes say things to me. I would feel both embarrassed and kind of gratified that anyone cared. I’m sure it was annoying behavior, though… and I’m not particularly proud of it. Sometimes I did it for attention, and sometimes I did it because I actually wanted to self-destruct.

There were other times, besides my college days, when I engaged in these kinds of weird food related behaviors. I usually did them when I had to live with other people who weren’t family, but I did it with family, too. Often, I would skip meals after my dad yelled at me, criticizing my weight or appearance or touching me on the back, telling me I had “fat” I needed to lose. I remember one distinctly humiliating incident involving my father. My mom had been trying to force us all to lose weight and I ate more than my dad thought I should have. So he screamed at me and said, “You hog!” A few days later, my mom asked me what I was “living on”, since she hadn’t seen me eat. That was the only time I remember her ever being concerned, even though I regularly skipped lunch at school. My parents were very image conscious, and I never really did seem to measure up, at least when I was a child. They often had a complaint about my appearance, personality, the way I smelled after being at the barn, or even the way I laughed. So I tried to change, sometimes in the very needy, attention seeking ways that I thought might “show them”. It was all very stupid and immature, but I was definitely not the only one doing it.

There were times when skipping meals caused negative consequences… like the time I lost out on Champion of my division at the state 4H horse show because I had neglected to eat. I was so dazed when we finally got in the show ring that the judge never saw me and my beloved Rusty. We had won first place in the first class, but didn’t even make the “cut” for the second. After the class, we went back to the barn and I was unbraiding Rusty’s tail when I heard my name, summoned back to the ring. It turned out we’d ended up tying for Reserve Champion and had to hack off for the honor, which Rusty and I won. As I was accepting the ribbon, the judge asked me where I had been! Maybe the end result would have been the same if I hadn’t been so focused on not eating instead of what we were doing. Either way, I felt like such an asshole after that class because we hadn’t done our best and it was my fault.

We won this class out of maybe 75 ponies or so… I was shocked.

We could have been champs! Oh well… this was still kind of a thrill. Not a day passes that I don’t miss Rusty. He was my best friend.

Although I was never a thin person, I did used to skip meals all the time. Most of the time, I didn’t seem to suffer any ill effect, except on the occasions when I would faint. But even those episodes didn’t seem to be because I skipped meals. It was more because I would be drinking something on an empty stomach, swallow too hard, cause myself a lot of pain, and have a vasovagal response. I haven’t had one of those fainting episodes in a long time, but when I was younger, they happened occasionally.

When I think back on those days, I feel like an asshole for wasting my youth on so much nonsense. It really was a waste of time to be so obsessed with something as pointless as dieting and weight loss. But in those days, it felt very important. I felt like no one cared, even though I know now that that wasn’t the truth. The truth was, in those days, there were people in my life who cared about me. They just weren’t necessarily my parents. I do know my parents loved me, but they had their own issues, and were trying to run their own business. And I had “crashed” their party by being born when they thought they were done having children. I was too loud, too opinionated, and too rambunctious and obnoxious at a time when they had hoped to relax.

Because I often cracked jokes, people thought I was witty and funny, and they equated being funny with being happy, which I definitely was not. The ability to make people laugh is not a sign that a person loves life. Just look at the number of comedians who have committed suicide or suffered from substance abuse problems. I know a lot of people like to point to Robin Williams as an example of a brilliant comic who committed suicide and hold him up as a poster child for treating depression and suicidal ideation. Personally, I don’t really lump Robin Williams in with people like Richard Jeni and Ray Combs.

Although Robin Williams did commit suicide, he also had a devastating neurological illness that was going to kill him after it made him lose his mind. Robin Williams had Lewy Body Dementia, which is absolutely horrifying. That was the disease that ultimately killed my dad, and after seeing what my dad went through, I would never judge someone for opting for suicide instead of going through that hell. Actually, I generally try not to judge people for committing suicide in most cases. I don’t think it’s my place. Now, I might judge someone for attempting suicide when it’s obvious they’re doing it to be manipulative. But even in those cases, I figure a person has to be hurting a lot to go to that extreme for attention. On the other hand, having to live with someone who pulls kind of manipulative bullshit is also hell.

It bugs me when people hold up Robin Williams as someone who just needed a caring friend and some antidepressants, and that would have prevented him from killing himself. Although he reportedly didn’t know he had LBD when he took his life, he did already have the symptoms of it. Having seen my dad go through that disease, I can tell you that it legitimately makes people irrational, taking away their minds as it wastes their bodies. Think Parkinson’s Disease mixed with Alzheimer’s Disease and all of the indignities that go with either of those diseases; then think of having to suffer both at the same time. That pretty much sums up LBD. Robin Williams was diagnosed only after he died, and doctors said it was one of the worst cases they had ever seen. And it had come for him heartbreakingly early. Robin Williams was only 63 when he died. My dad was 81 when he died, but he’d been suffering from LBD for years.

In just a few months, I’ll be 50 years old. I don’t know what I have to show for it, which sometimes bothers me. But then I realize how much time is wasted on stupid shit, like social media. Yesterday, I quit a Facebook group because I got “modded” for something really trivial. In the past, I might have stuck around and tried to argue with the admin. But when I got a message saying that a comment of mine was “removed by an admin” and I should “click for feedback”, I just shrugged and said to myself, “this group is not for me.” And I said “fuck it” and clicked the “leave group” option. Then I wondered for a moment if that was the admin’s goal… to drive people away. But they’ve got 15k members, anyway, so my presence isn’t needed. Then I said “oh well” and took the dogs for a walk. By the time we got back, my mind was on something else… finishing my latest jigsaw puzzle, which I didn’t manage to do.

Why so serious? I’m in the middle, second row, looking depressed, as I often did in the early 90s… and also in the 80s. I was a lot thinner and prettier in those days, too. I should have enjoyed it more, and fretted and obsessed much less. I came very close to quitting this choir because of a row I had with someone. Ironically, it was my dad who talked me out of doing that.

I remember college to be a lot of fun, but it was also a cesspool of people who were dealing with personal problems that most of us knew nothing about. There was often a lot of silly drama and high school antics that went on in those days… things that I thought were so significant at the time, but I now see were ridiculous. I can remember judging people for the way they behaved, without ever really considering why they behaved that way. Years later, I have had the chance to reassess a few people I used to dislike because I didn’t know them very well, and they didn’t know me. I don’t always get those second chances, though, so when they happen, I try to be grateful.

I have since learned that most people who seem like assholes really aren’t; they’re just dealing with something big that no one else knows or cares about. And I think people in their teens and twenties tend to be mired in a lot of drama, anyway. In many cases, it’s really petty drama, but even petty drama can seem huge when a person doesn’t have the life experience they get as they age. On the other hand, there are some unfortunate souls who never learn from the petty dramas and act like they’re about sixteen when they’re in their fifties. Those types of people are always fun to deal with… and in many cases, they really are the assholes that become the banes of everyone else’s existences.

These days, I don’t skip meals very often. It’s probably because Bill notices when I’m hungry and feeds me. He says he can tell when I’m hungry by the way I look, and the fact that I will sigh a lot and get short tempered. I’ll flush red, then get pale and shaky, then plunge into confusion if it goes on for too long. It amazes me that I used to be able to go without eating for as long as a couple of days or more. I can’t do it anymore. I feel pretty sure if I tried, I’d probably pass out… or Bill might decide I am the asshole and file for divorce. I do still have issues with depression, though, and sometimes anxiety, although that’s not as bad as it once was, either. I don’t even cry very often at all anymore, although I still laugh a lot and crack inappropriate jokes… or fart loudly at the breakfast table. Okay, maybe I am the asshole for doing that. Fortunately, Bill doesn’t mind laughing with me.

Thanks to Livingston Taylor for this… it could be my theme song for life with Bill.

Even when I feel like a huge failure when I look at my life and where I feel like I *should* be, I realize that where I am isn’t actually a bad place to be. At least I managed to marry someone who likes me just the way I am. Yes, he also loves me, but more importantly, at least in my opinion, he likes me. He doesn’t want me to change. He doesn’t call me names or tell me I’m disgusting. He doesn’t say he’s sick of me, as my father did on more than one occasion. He also doesn’t do things like pee in the toilet and leave it for me to discover, as my dad did on occasion when I was in my twenties and temporarily living in his house. Somehow, in spite of everything, I found the right man… at the very least. As Livingston Taylor sings, “I Must Be Doing Something Right”. 😉 At least he doesn’t think I’m the asshole, right?

There’s a lot of wisdom in this song. Just remember… just about everything is insignificant, when it comes down to it.
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book reviews, nostalgia

Happy Christmas Eve, 2021! A look at the magical world of Stephen Cosgrove…

After a couple of really frigid days in Germany, it suddenly warmed up today. I didn’t have to break the ice in Noyzi’s water bowl, as I have for most of this week. Our back yard is a mud pit, thanks to weeks of rain. Curiously, the rose bush in the backyard still has two blooms on it. It’s kind of poignant to look at it… those resilient crimson blooms are hanging on for dear life, even as New Year’s approaches. Maybe it’s a sign of hope.

It kind of reminds me of a book I loved when I was a horse crazy girl in Virginia. It’s probably no surprise that I loved reading, so the school book fairs were a big hit, as far as I was concerned. Sometime in fourth grade, I got hooked on children’s author, Stephen Cosgrove’s, books. I especially loved the ones he wrote about horses, and there were a lot of them. He also wrote books with other animals as the protagonists. I didn’t read as many of those books, because when I was a child, horses were my passion. I would probably love his other books.

I would definitely choose Stephen Cosgrove over Dr. Seuss. I guess that’s another way Ex and I are very different.

Cosgrove would marry animal characters with beautiful illustrations by his colleague, Robin James. The stories always had a winning combination of magic, royalty, fantasy, and morals. Since, as far as I was concerned, horses were the most beautiful animals, I was especially enchanted by his books about them in any incarnation.

One of my favorite stories by Stephen Cosgrove was his book, Shimmeree, which was about a majestic winged mare– a lightosaur– who lived in a crystal water droplet. The only colors in Shimmeree’s crystalized world were blue, gold, and silver. One day, Shimmeree discovered a speck of dust lands in a crack the droplet. Shimmeree and her friends had never seen dust before, and it scared them. They shied away from the dust, thinking it was dangerous, because it was a color they had never seen before– grayish-brown.

Some time passes, and Shimmeree and her friends continue to be worried about the dust and the strange pearl shaped seed within it. What was it? Was it dangerous? The leader of the lightosaurs wanted to destroy the seed before it harmed them.

Shimmeree stood up for the seed. She pleaded with her friends not to destroy the seed, just because it was different. Shimmeree offered to watch the seed, promising that if it turned out to be dangerous, they could destroy it.

One day, the seed broke open, and Shimmeree saw the color green for the first time. She went to tell the others, and they all rushed back to the seed. The green color casted by the light on the others, and they became truly frightened. They were going to destroy the plant, but Shimmeree talked them out of it. Then, while everyone slept, she moved the plant to another place.

When the creatures came back to destroy the plant, they realized it was gone. The group was thrilled that it was gone, but just then, it bloomed and cast the most beautiful shade of red, which was reflected on everyone. The group went to where Shimmeree had moved the plant, which had bloomed into a beautiful rose.

So pretty!

And Shimmeree and her friends learned that they had nothing to fear but fear itself… Below is a video reading of this story.

I loved this book when I was a kid!

I did love Shimmeree, but I don’t think it was my favorite Stephen Cosgrove book. I was just reminded of that story because of the tenacious roses in our yard. Usually, by this time of year, the roses are long gone. Given how challenging the COVID times have been, I think it’s kind of cool that the roses are still hanging on… or, it could just be another sign of global warming and climate change. This cynical side I have is one reason why I don’t think I would make a very good children’s author, as much as I loved to read children’s books.

I think my favorite book by Stephen Cosgrove might be Morgan & Me. I identified with the protagonist, although I don’t tend to “live in the land of Later”… I’m just not so good about cleaning up my room. I don’t procrastinate, though. I think I was just taken by the little princess and her trip through the enchanting forest, where she met Morgan, a unicorn whose horn was stuck in branches.

I miss some things about being a child.
Blessed are children’s authors who can come up with magical stories…

True to her nature, the princess promised to help the unicorn named Morgan. But just a little later…

She finally helped Morgan when she became bored. Once she freed Morgan, he followed her, until she fell into a lily pond. She asked Morgan for help, and he promised he would… but just a little later. The princess begged for help, since she knew she’d catch cold sitting on a lily pad. Then she realized why Morgan was doing what he was doing and apologized for making him wait. He lowered his horn and rescued the princess. She learned a lesson, and they became the best of friends!

Stephen Cosgrove wrote so many other awesome books for children that were easy to read, beautifully illustrated, and enchanting. I probably should order some of them to read on the days when I’m feeling especially cranky. Based on the YouTube videos people have made, reading Stephen Cosgrove’s books, he was very popular among people my age… especially the girls. I think a lot of my friends liked his book, Flutterby Fly. As you can see, Cosgrove would probably be inspired by Germany… many times, I have seen forests and meadows like the ones illustrated in his books.

I suddenly have an image of Vanessa Redgrave reading this… wouldn’t that be interesting?

Or Nitter Pitter, a story about a narcissistic stallion… I used to have a beagle like Nitter Pitter. He was gorgeous, and definitely knew it!

I loved this book, probably because it was about a regular horse…
And maybe because of this illustration, which inspired a lot of horsey dreams.

I often think about how much I would love to have horses in my life again, even though they are very expensive and require a lot of work. Some of my best friends in life were four legged… and the one who got me through high school was a very special Appaloosa named Rusty. He was my dearest confidant, and we made a great team. But real life was calling, so I left that world behind… Maybe someday, I can revisit it, although without as much intensity as I once had.

Last night, Noyzi the Kosovar street dog came into our bedroom and watched fox hunting videos with us. A year ago, he was terrified by the TV, especially when men were on the screen. But now he is fascinated by television, especially when there are dogs baying, as they do in fox hunts. I got a kick out of watching Noyzi react to the horses and dogs of Ireland. I used to fox hunt myself, back in the day, but fox hunting in Virginia isn’t quite as intense as it is in Ireland. Noyzi was very impressed by the show and even joined in with the barking. I always knew he was a hound at heart, even if he’s really a shepherd of some sort. I got three videos of Noyzi last night… below is the last one I took. Arran also got into it.

Anyway… I guess it’s time I got on with the day. I hope, if you’re celebrating, you have an excellent holiday– Christmas or whatever– and there’s no drama or strife. And if there is, I recommend watching a few videos of people reading Stephen Cosgrove books. They’ll take you away from the ugliness of this world for a few moments.

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memories, nostalgia

Repost: My brush with the rich and famous in rural Gloucester, Virginia…

I’ve been a little bit homesick, lately. It’s been years since I was last “home”. So, as I think about what fresh content I want to write today, here’s a repost from 2018. The featured photo is of me, running in my first race in April 1982. I won first place for my age and sex– which, at that time, was nine. It was a four mile race. My, how times have changed. Now, I feel great when I manage to walk a mile.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia in the 1980s.  We moved there in June 1980, the day after I turned eight.  I remember very clearly that in those days, Gloucester was very rural.  I seem to remember just a few stoplights in the entire county and maybe a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut. 

Decades later, I see that it’s a lot more cosmopolitan than it was in my day.  Areas that used to be nothing but trees are now home to big box stores and chain restaurants.  Both the Pizza Hut and the McDonald’s that were there in 1980 have been torn down and moved.  And there are now many stoplights in Gloucester and there have been for probably thirty years or more.

I didn’t appreciate Gloucester when I was young.  In fact, I hated living there for most of my youth.  When we first moved there, I was mercilessly bullied by a group of my classmates– the smart, “preppie” kids whose families had lived in Gloucester forever.  Many of those kids rode the same bus I did and made my life a living hell.  I didn’t get along with most of the kids who lived on my dirt road, either.  They were a different group of kids.  They weren’t necessarily smart.  What most of them were was very “redneck”.  We didn’t mesh.  They probably thought I was too highfalutin’ and snobby.  There’s no telling.   

The one thing that saved me from succumbing to despair was my love for horses.  I wasn’t especially horsey when we lived in Fairfax, Virginia, which was where we spent the first two years after my dad retired from the Air Force our of Mildenhall Air Force Base in England.  My sister had taken riding lessons in England, but I wasn’t necessarily into horses myself…  but then we moved to rural, country Gloucester, where many people owned horses.  My neighbor, mother to one of the hoodlums who used to harass me, used to let me ride her horse every once in awhile.  I will never forget the intoxicating aroma of the horses and the thrill of sitting on one for the first time.  I fell deeply in love.

Within a couple of years after we moved to Gloucester, I started taking formal riding lessons.  I continued riding throughout high school, finally giving it up in 1990, the year I graduated.  Although Gloucester was, and probably still is, a rather provincial place, there were actually some interesting people living there.  In fact, there’s a lot of old money in Gloucester and many historic plantations are located there.  You could spend all day driving around the county looking at them if you wanted to.

Little me on Rusty, the pony who got me through high school still innocent.  I think I was about twelve in this photo.  The year was 1984.

In the 80s, the Sadovic family from France owned a big fancy plantation called Eagle Point.  I don’t know what their business was, but they were very French and apparently very wealthy.  Their son, Greg, was about my age.  He showed horses.  I believe he and the rest of his family now live in Palm Beach, Florida and he now shows horses professionally.  In the 80s, he was involved in 4H, like I was, and he sometimes rode in the small shows, like I did.  But his family owned beautiful horses and were very serious about the sport. 

For several years in the 1980s, the Sadovics employed an expert French horseman named Francois Lemaire de Ruffieu.  Francois was a bit of a “rock star” in the horse world.  He first trained and graduated from the Cadre Noir, one of the oldest and most prestigious riding academies in Europe.  During his six years in the cavalry at Saumur and Fontainebleau, he studied and showed extensively in dressage, stadium jumping, three-day eventing and steeplechase.  He was awarded the title of Master Instructor of the American Riding Instructor Certification program in 1996.  Given that he was born in 1944, Francois has been in the horse business for many years.  But I knew him during his prime.  In fact, I distinctly remember falling off my horse, Rusty, right in front of him back in the 80s.

In those days, Francois was in his 40s and he lived in Gloucester.  He’d give riding clinics at Eagle Point.  I know I attended at least one or two of them.  In those days, Eagle Point had a number of events that we’d attend– horse shows, competitive trail rides, and fox hunts.  It wasn’t located far from where I took lessons.  My riding coach took lessons from Francois and passed on some of his techniques to us when she taught us.  I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it was actually really cool that she was able to do that, especially in a place like Gloucester.

In 1988, right after Rusty and I won first place in a huge Hunter Pleasure Pony class in Richmond, Virginia.

In 1984, Francois published his first book, Handbook of Riding Essentials.  It made quite a splash locally, but I believe it also sold well internationally.  I see that Francois is still in business, too, giving riding clinics in places like Vermont.  I see on an old Facebook page that someone who worked with Francois in the 80s mentions having known him in Virginia.  He evidently also worked at Beau Shane, which was a beautiful farm in next door Mathews County (which I think is now defunct).  I knew it because the woman who used to run our 4H horse judging group was a horse trainer there and we used to visit Beau Shane to study conformation.  They had beautiful Swedish Warmbloods.  Mathews County is even more rural than Gloucester, but there were some really high caliber horses there.

This topic comes up because last night, I was noticing all the boat pictures and videos posted by some of my Gloucester friends and I felt a little bit homesick.  Gloucester is also home to several rivers and many people who live there own boats.  I joked that maybe it was time to move back to Gloucester.  My old riding coach mentioned that mosquitos are a thing there and maybe I’d forgotten that.  I was being a bit facetious.  I can’t see myself moving to Gloucester again.  It wouldn’t be the same as it was when I was growing up.  But another friend, a guy who lived there in the 70s, started talking about the plantations and mentioned Warner Hall…  He said it’s for sale.

Warner Hall is located right next to Eagle Point and, in the 80s, one could board their horses there.  It is now a five star B&B, but in the 80s, we rode our horses through the property while participating in events put on by Eagle Point.  I didn’t know it back in the 80s, but George Washington’s grandparents lived there.  Actually, Gloucester is a very historic place.  It’s also where Pocahontas was born.  And Dr. Walter Reed, a U.S. Army physician who led the team that postulated and confirmed the theory that yellow fever is transmitted by a particular mosquito species, rather than by direct contact, was also born in Gloucester, Virginia.  Gloucester was also used in a couple of films, notably Zelly & Me starring Isabella Rosselini, and Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise.  And John Lennon once owned a plantation in neighboring Mathews County called Poplar Grove.

When I was about eleven, I also used to occasionally visit Lisburne, another plantation that was restored by the Peebles family.  Their daughter, Laurie, showed horses on the A rated circuit and a church friend, also wealthy, hooked me up with her.  I remember I used to visit this marvelous home in Ordinary and play with Laurie’s horses.  This was before my mom got me into lessons with the woman who taught me all through high school. 

I think about all the places I could have grown up… places not as interesting or historic as Gloucester County is.  When I was a child, I thought it was a boring place.  Now I realize that Gloucester is pretty fascinating.  I still don’t know that I want to move back there, but it was a cool place to grow up.  There’s an interesting mix of old money, old redneck, and military transients in that county.  I still have a lot of friends there, although my family has moved on.  If it weren’t for horses, I don’t know that I would have had so many opportunities to see some of these wonderful old homes. 

Of course, I also got to see a few of them thanks to being a Presbyterian.  I think in Gloucester, a lot of Presbyterians were somewhat well-heeled and connected to old money.  But I see now, even the church I grew up in has changed.  I remember when that sanctuary was built, back in 1980, 100 years after the church was founded.  And now, it’s no longer First Presbyterian Church.  Now it’s Grace Covenant Church, affiliated with the new ECO branch of Presbyterianism because apparently, the minister didn’t want to have to marry gay couples, and disagreed with some of the other changing views of the PCUSA branch.

Anyway… I just heard the chimes go off, signifying that it’s time to move the laundry to the dryer.  I guess I’ve rambled on long enough this morning.

Here’s a link to Francois’ book…  I see it’s significantly more expensive these days!  But it is very well-regarded… Maybe I should buy a copy for old time’s sake.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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mental health, nostalgia, obits

When the mourning is done already…

2020 has been one hell of a year for a lot of people. For me, personally, it was not my worst year, but I know that for many people, it has been the most challenging, difficult, and horrible year ever. Much of the worst of it has been punctuated by profound loss, causing large numbers of people to mourn. People have lost their jobs, their ability to travel, their homes, their social lives, and, in some cases their health or even their lives. All of this loss, which has occurred on a worldwide scale, has affected the collective mood of the planet.

Between us, Bill and I have lost three family members since October. None of the people who died lost their lives to COVID-19. Two had cancer, and one had pneumonia that turned into septicemia, complicated by osteoporosis. There was a thought that maybe Bill’s dad had also had COVID-19, but he was tested for that and it was negative.

I think being so far away from my friends and family has made mourning somewhat less challenging. Since 2014, I’ve lost my dad, four uncles, an aunt, a cousin, a cousin’s spouse, and my father-in-law. I lost my dad only weeks before we moved over here. I remember, when I went to Natural Bridge for his memorial a few months after his death, I thought to myself that I was probably seeing some of my family members for the last time. Sure enough, that is what came to pass.

Bill, on the other hand, is newer to grieving family members than I am. He lost his Aunt Betsy last year. Last month, he lost his dad. I remember him telling me in the early years of our marriage, that he dreaded losing his father. He actually teared up a bit as he talked about it. But now that it’s happened, he’s not totally depressed.

The trouble is, he says he feels a little bit of shame for not feeling “sadder” than he does. He said he’d cried more over losing our dogs. I don’t know how or why this happened, but I blurted out, “I think maybe it’s because you mourned your dad many years ago, when your parents got divorced.” Bill’s eyes widened in surprise. It was a new thought to him. It was a new thought to me, too. I think it was a sudden flash of insight that came to me as I realized that he hadn’t lived with his dad since the late 60s and was never able to forge a very close relationship with him, even though he loved him very much.

If I were to die tomorrow, Bill would probably be devastated. We live together, so my presence would be acutely missed. We’re also very close friends as well as partners, and we are a major source of support to each other. But I think that sometimes losing family members with whom you don’t share a close, physical connection can be somewhat less traumatic. A lot depends on how bonded you are to them. And again, living far away from your friends and family can dilute that grief somewhat. Because the pain of missing someone tends to be sharpest at the time of the breakup.

At about this time in 1993, I lost my pony, Rusty. He had been my very best friend. I told him all my teenaged secrets and cried in his mane when I was upset (which happened a lot in the 1980s). Since he was an old horse, I didn’t want to sell him when it was time to go to college. I was afraid he’d end up in the wrong hands and not enjoy his last years. So I found a local horsewoman to take him in. She lived on a beautiful farm in the Northern Neck of Virginia.

In December 1993, she told me that she thought it might be time to euthanize Rusty. He was going blind because of a progressive, painful disease colloquially known as “moonblindness”. The last time I had visited him, he hadn’t seemed like himself. His eyes had little yellowish looking “moons” in them. I was sad when I left him. He didn’t seem happy.

I remember dreading the day when it would come time to say goodbye to Rusty forever. But when that day actually came, I was actually okay. I didn’t cry much at all. My old riding teacher, Louise, told me that she knew I’d already “come to grips” with what was inevitable. In a sense, I’d already mourned. I do miss Rusty. I think of him all the time, even though he’s been gone for 27 years. He really was my best friend. But I knew it was his time to go and it was for the best that he had. He wasn’t in pain anymore.

Maybe some people might take issue with me sharing this story about my pony and comparing that loss to losing a human loved one. But I had a closer relationship with that pony than I did with most of my family members. For several of my formative years, I saw him most days. I spent time working with him and bonded with him. We went to countless horse shows and fox hunts. He was my rock, and I trusted him implicitly. It hurt to lose him, but when it came down to it, I knew it was his time, and I didn’t want him to be in pain anymore. That’s what it’s come down to with all of my beloved pets when it’s been time to let them go, most of whom I would prefer to spend time with over a lot of the humans I know.

I didn’t have an especially close relationship with either of the other two family members I lost this year. I knew them both and mostly had positive regard for them. I know there are people who were much closer to them and are probably dealing with very dark days right now. With everything else going on in 2020, it really is a strain to also lose someone you love, even if they didn’t die of the “plague” that is COVID-19.

But if, by chance, the strain isn’t too rough, I don’t think it’s helpful to feel badly about that. Don’t feel ashamed for not feeling bad. Even if it seems like you should be grieving or mourning more than you are, your ultimate goal would be to get over the pain, right? So if you’re not feeling the pain, there’s no need to force it. Forcing it wouldn’t be a legitimate form of mourning anyway. Chances are, if the grief ever did hit with a vengeance, you’d still need to do the work that comes from getting over a loss.

There may come a day when the gravity of loss will hit one of us very hard. But, for now, maybe it hasn’t sunk in… or maybe we’ve already done our grieving, years ago, when the loss wasn’t permanent, but still felt acute. I know I went through a rough time when I realized that some of my family members, whom I had looked up to and loved very much, were not as wonderful as I’d assumed they were. I went through a kind of grieving when I saw them with adult eyes instead of a child’s eyes. And then I moved away, and the pain faded. When some of them passed away, my feelings ran the gamut. In every case, I was sorry that they had suffered. And I was grateful that the suffering was over. In every case, I was sorry that I would not see them again. And I was grateful that their problems were solved and that there’s a chance I might see them again on the other side… if there is one. Even if there isn’t another side, when it’s my turn to go, I won’t be any the wiser.

Death is a natural and inevitable part of life. We all go through it. Don’t ever let anyone else tell you your feelings are inappropriate. They’re just feelings, and there’s no right or wrong to them. They’re just how you feel, and you have the right to feel things authentically. I know there are some people who are very concerned about appearances and would judge another person for how “appropriate” their grieving process is. But it wouldn’t help anyone else for Bill or me to be falling apart with grief. My husband’s stepmother would not feel better, for instance, if Bill was beside himself with tears to the point at which he couldn’t function. She might think that would be “appropriate” and deferential, but the reality is, it wouldn’t make any real difference to anyone… least of all, the deceased. She wouldn’t feel any better to see Bill devastated by loss. Maybe they could commiserate from afar– maybe there would be a feeling of “solidarity”. But when it comes right down to it, the real process of grieving is mostly a solitary one. Your feelings are yours, and yours alone.

There’s no need to add to your own burdens by trying to feel grief or sadness that isn’t there because that’s what’s considered “appropriate”. I think we need to change our thinking about that, and stop shaming people for not acting in the ways we think are “normal”. Who decides what is “normal”, anyway?

Well… that about does it for my Sunday message. I’m going to dive back into The Crown, take a shower, and maybe brush up on my guitar skills. Enjoy your day.

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