A few weeks ago, as I was wrapping up a workshop on women’s empowerment about getting Your”Shelf” together, one of the participants raised her hand. “Sheila, do you think you are the way you are because of all you have been through?”
Hmmmmm, well that’s a loaded question! You know, I tell my story to so many people and I’ve thought about that so many times in my own mind, but have never had anyone ask me directly. Honestly, it’s so hard for me to remember who I was before marriage, cancer, kids, life, death and life again, that I have to think that I would probably be a very different person had I not experienced so much at such a young age and over the course of 14 years.
I asked her what it was exactly she meant by saying I am the way I am. She answered me with the typical, standard answers I suppose I put out there for the public to see. “You know, like more compassionate and understanding – able to put things in perspective.” she replied.
Whew!!! Thankfully, those were observations that I quickly affirmed. “Yes, I suppose I am and I’m very grateful for that.”
Truth be told though, that’s not the whole story. I didn’t just gain a sense of perspective and understanding from my loss, I gained a whole new set of issues, hang ups and quirky behavior from it. It’s a side that I don’t like people to know about, but it’s a side that tugs at me every single day. I suppose I’m talking about it now, 1) because her question really made me think about just how different I really am, and 2) because I know there are a lot of you out there who are just like me – trying to live life as someone quite different than who you were before.
Who am I now? Let’s just say, I think about life too much and I think about death too much. I think about what could happen too much and what might not happen too much. It’s not something that prevents me from living a happy life, it’s more like a nagging sense of perpetual reality. If I see you today, I don’t assume I’ll see you tomorrow. Heck, if I see you in the morning, I don’t assume I’ll even see you in the afternoon!
I make sure that I spend time with my kids every morning before school, even though they’re old enough to get themselves out the door. I insist that my husband, who travels a lot, checks in more than the average spouse. Yeah, I’d say I am the way I am because of what I have been through.
I have a really hard time relaxing my internal self, yet can be the most calm and collected in the middle of an emergency. I know I am this way because, for years I lived in crisis-mode. I suppose that is where I am most comfortable and in control.
My friends tell me to go get a massage to relax, but the thought of “giving in” stresses me out even more! I’d rather dye my own hair at home than sit captive in a chair for any amount of time. And getting my nails done?? “I’ll have the express, just make my nails look decent in under 20 minutes manicure, please!” If we go out to eat, I’m the one sitting closest to the door with one leg poised and ready to go. I seriously just noticed that as I am writing this, I have one foot resting on the chair rail, and the other on the floor facing the door. Why? I’m waiting for the shoe to drop – all day, every day, and it’s a really tough way to live. At one point I thought that, as time went by, it would get better and I’d feel more comfortable “letting go”, but that hasn’t happened. All that has changed is that I become more and more aware of just how much death has shaped me.
It is what it is, right? I’m past the point of trying to fix it, so instead I focus on the blessings and opportunities that life and death has handed me. There is no point in trying to force myself back to my former-self. I honestly don’t think I would want to go back there anyway because the perspective is a gift that allows me to fully value this life. I don’t take things for granted, I take the time to listen, and I appreciate every single day because I am so painfully aware of just how unpredictable life really is.
So the bottom line is that you’re stuck with me and I’m stuck with you. Death has changed us in so many ways and we will never be the same, but at least we’re in it together, right? If it is what it is, I wouldn’t want it any other way…