Difficult Situations Are So Much Easier When You Can Talk About Them
March 16th, 2021 by Audrey Weidman
It’s been almost three months, but I’m ready to share a bit of what has been going on with our family. I want to share because it may be helpful to you someday. Maybe you’ve already gone through this and know how far you have come. Or maybe you have some advice to share with me…
I had an eventful Christmas Eve this year. We had an unexpected guest arrive. My husband Dan went to visit his 95 year old father Larry on Christmas Eve. When he arrived Dan found Larry on the floor with no idea of how long he had been there. Dan called me up and told me he was bringing his father home.
I had been focused on my turkey dinner and was enjoying the company of my daughters and their boyfriends. I hadn’t seen my youngest daughter for 10 months due to Covid. But now we readied the house to welcome my father-in-law. My newly renovated office needed to be rearranged. We moved in a twin bed and cleared out my office essentials.
The first night was tough. Larry was in a delirium. He called out “I want to go home”. He even said he wanted to die. He threw off the covers over and over. And we were afraid he’d try to get out of bed and fall again. My husband Dan slept on the living room couch close to the office to monitor the situation. It wasn’t the start any of us wanted for the Christmas holiday.
Here is the thing I don’t want to admit, but it’s the truth. I didn’t care for Larry very much. The relationship I had with my father in-law was polite. He was tough, negative, and blunt.
And SHAME for feeling all of them. Larry is old and vulnerable and scared.
Now I am a stress transformation coach, and yet I was super-stressed even though I had “all the tools”. I developed lower back muscle pain. My shoulders were tense. My blood pressure was sky high. I couldn’t sleep well.
The body keeps the score. The body doesn’t lie. I was STRESSED!
But in time I came to learn more about Larry. He has short term memory issues, but the memory loops of his past are vivid. He saw the European and Pacific war theaters during World War II. As he so often said, he got to “tour the world” beginning at the tender age of 18! He saw many of his friends die in combat. He saw devastation everywhere – but never revealed those details. These war time memories were certainly the most traumatic of his life. They most definitely shaped who he became. These memories certainly come up most often. He undoubtedly would’ve benefited from therapy, but at the time it was not offered.
Other vivid memories include his childhood in Chicago during the Great Depression. His mom had to care for 6 children, largely by herself. His father was mostly absent because he suffered from depression. He left the family twice and admitted himself into a sanitarium. When his dad was was home, Larry would tell us about the fighting and swearing that went on between his parents. And there was always lot of stress around money. To help his mother out, he sent home anything he could spare from his army paycheck.
I’ve come to understand things now. People aren’t born negative or tough. Circumstances shape who we become. A person develops habit loops of thinking. Of looking for evidence to support the beliefs like “Money Is Scarce”, “You Gotta Fight For What’s Yours”. They believe what they see is “truth” instead of looking for other possibilities and opportunities.
Reflecting on all this, my emotions started to shift. I have a better understanding of Larry’s life experience. I feel compassion for the young man who had so many difficult life experiences. I respect Larry – the husband and father – for never swearing at his wife or children. (My husband only ever reported hearing the word “damn” slip now and then).
I am proud of my husband Dan for taking such great care of his father Larry. I’m happy to know that we in turn have support from Dan’s siblings and from my daughters. Our daughters (and significant others) see how “Team Weidman” works under pressure. That we live by the motto “no man left behind”. I feel a lot of love during this crazy time.
What I came to learn from all this upset, is that I needed to be with the feelings I was feeling. It’s misleading to think you can just push this under the rug. Larry moving into our house is big stuff and not easily compartmentalized. I went for long walks with my husband and also with friends. I started to vocalize what I was feeling and some of the load lifted. I felt self-compassion.
Hospice is a difficult situation. I am not the only one who experienced this. Nor will I be the last. I am not better than other people. I’m just like everyone else – I’m human. And what I am feeling is normal. As much as I’d like to be in charge of this situation, I’m not. I accepted and surrendered to this situation. And then I let it be…
The next day I woke up. I slept through the night! My back pain stopped. My shoulders weren’t tense. My blood pressure returned to normal. I was no longer stressed! It was such a powerful realization. I just had to surrender and allow the situation to unfold. Nothing changed other than my mindset.
My father-in-law is still here. He often talked about his sergeant barking out the order to “Pack it up!”. Larry would ask “Where are we going? “. The sergeant would reply “What do you care?” Larry would continue …”What size pack?” Sergeant would bark back “Full combat pack”. Well now Larry will be packing it up for good. He will not be taking his combat pack with him, instead he will find peace in his final home.
The process of dying isn’t easy to watch. But we will all face this one day. Larry is teaching me to become wiser and focus on what is really important in life.
My husband and I need to take some breaks from hospice care. Other family members are stepping in to help. This will allow us to be fresh for new challenges as Larry’s condition worsens.
We need to seek out things that bring us joy. I want to make my job here on earth about proactively filling my memory bank with happy times. I want to be remembered for having zest for life. I have that POWER. And you do too. Following JOY and having LOVE can conquer all.
Has the retelling of my experience helped you? Have you gone through something similar? I would love it if you would share. Please let me know and leave a comment.
Audrey is a stress transformation coach. She uses evidence based tools helping others to transform their stress. She walks the talk and is a compassionate coach. For a complimentary consultation, schedule it here.