Edith Eger

What Hope Isn’t

March 24, 2023

Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash

“We never know what’s ahead. Hope isn’t the white paint we use to mask our suffering. It’s an investment in curiosity. A recognition that if we give up now, we’ll never get to see what happens next….

“To ask how hope is possible in the face of dire realities is to confuse hope with idealism. Idealism is when you expect that everything in life is going to be fair or good or easy. It’s a defense mechanism, just like denial or delusion.

“Honey, don’t cover garlic with chocolate. It doesn’t taste good. Likewise, there’s no freedom in denying reality, or trying to cloak it in something sweet. Hope isn’t a distraction from darkness. It’s a confrontation with darkness.”

— Edith Eger, The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life

Tough times

Getting Through Tough Times

March 17, 2023

Since I last posted on Catching Happiness, life has been so challenging it hasn’t seemed real. First, Carol’s condition took an abrupt downturn, and after a week of trying to stabilize her, and then a few days of round-the-clock care, she passed away Feb. 17. Still reeling from this, the next day I was on a plane to California to see my mom, who had been in a rehab facility with fractures in the vertebra in her back. By the time I got there, her condition had taken a turn for the worse and she’d been readmitted to the hospital. When I stopped at my aunt’s house to pick up the keys to my mom’s house, I learned from a note from my cousin that my aunt was in the hospital with fractures in her back as well (they are twins, but this is carrying the twin thing too far)! 

And that was just the beginning.

I stayed in California for two weeks, partly to figure out what was going on with my mom and to help get her the care she needed, and partly because I caught COVID-19! That’s right, at a time when I needed to be with my 84-year-old mom in the hospital, I was sick and staying at her house by myself.

Practically everything that could go wrong, went wrong. While I was still sick, we had a big snowstorm (see photo above) and I needed to sign some documents to admit my mom into Hospice care. Since I was sick and I’ve never driven in snow, we needed to find a way to get the documents to me and back to Hospice without my leaving the house. My mom doesn’t have internet service, so I had been using my phone as a hotspot. On the day I needed to sign the documents, it didn’t work! I wound up using Starbucks’ internet from the parking lot since I was still supposed to be in isolation. Coming on top of the last intense weeks of Carol’s life, I felt pushed to the very edges of my ability to cope with all I had to deal with in California.

When the tough times seem to go on forever

For nearly a year, we’ve been living with uncertainty and curtailing of “normal” life. We felt unable to make certain plans and do certain activities while caring for Carol. Our world shrank. It’s been a year of digging deeper, finding strength we didn’t know we had, making mistakes and moving on from them, and trying to find happiness in an unhappy situation. I’ve been through difficult experiences before, but none that lasted so long and affected so many areas of my life.

I know I’m not the only one who is or has been going through tough times, of course. But since these experiences are fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share five tips that have helped me the most:

1. Take it one moment and one step at a time. Deal with the situation immediately in front of you. Do not think about what could happen. The “ifs” are what keep me up at night. How will I handle it if… What should we do if… I don’t know how I’ll cope if…

Just stop. None of those things has happened, or is happening at this moment. It’s been my experience that when something traumatic happens, you don’t have time to worry about what to do—you just have to do something.

If you have a legitimate huge mess to deal with, break that down into the smallest doable actions. Go slowly if you can. Let yourself fully take in the situation and solutions may present themselves.

Our Hospice people are big on the “one day at a time” concept. Particularly the aspect of simply enjoying what we can enjoy today, and not worrying too much about what tomorrow will bring.

2. Make a list of battery-recharging activities. Make sure you do at least one of these every day. Even in the toughest of times, a tiny pleasure helps you to remember that things will not always be so hard. For me, these things included climbing in bed to read for at least an hour before going to sleep, taking a hot bubble bath, stepping outside to breath some fresh air and look at the sky. These things made me feel calmer and more relaxed and they cost virtually nothing.

When possible, plan a small treat sometime in the near future so you have something to look forward to. Anticipation boosts happiness.

3. Ask for and accept help. Maybe you don’t “need” help right now? Accept it anyway. One of my friends offered to make dinner for us just after Carol’s initial illness. At that time, making dinner wasn’t really a problem for me so I was about to refuse, thinking there would likely come a time in the future that I would need that kind of help. My friend simply said something like, “I’ll make you dinner then, too, but right now I’d like to do this for you.” Sure, I could have made dinner that night. Instead, we all enjoyed a nice meal while feeling cared for. I can’t emphasize enough how important just feeling like you’re not alone, and that someone cares about what you’re going through is. So if someone offers to do something for you, take them up on it.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people really want to help and support you, but they’re not sure how. They may feel awkward and unsure of what you need, or not want to overstep any boundaries.

4. Let go of perfectionism. You are going to make mistakes and do the wrong thing. You are only human, but guess what? Those around you are only human also, and they make mistakes too. We all need to remember this and be kinder to each other when we slip up, rather than pounce on one another’s mistakes.

5. Take care of yourself. Take care of yourself. Take care of yourself. You’ll do this imperfectly, but don’t forget to spend some time caring for your own needs. No one benefits if you martyr yourself. I’m not surprised that I got sick just a few days after Carol’s death. I knew I was tired and rundown. I was lucky that my case of COVID-19 was mild. 

This, too, shall pass

When you’re dealing with terminal illness, it feels weird that the world is just moving on as normal. You feel like you’re on the outside, looking in. It can be frustrating when others don’t realize your situation, yet you don’t want anyone else to have to go through what you’re going through.

It feels like it will never be different, but know that it will.

If we let them, extended hard times, whatever the cause, can help us build strength, resilience, compassion, and humility. While I wouldn’t choose to go through the experiences I had over the past year, I believe I’m a better person because of those experiences.

“Happiness” is not always possible. But often acceptance, contentment, and meaning are. We don’t need to slap on a happy face when we’re coping with one of life’s inevitable challenges. Life isn’t all simple pleasures and everyday adventures. However, I believe seeking out and savoring those simple pleasures and everyday adventures helps us cope when we are going through the hard days, and helping to fill our well of strength and kindness.

Thank you for your patience and kindness during my absence from Catching Happiness. I plan to resume posting semi-regularly again as long I’m able, depending on my mom’s condition. My mom is currently stable, under Hospice care for now. I’ll be going to California more often to check on her as we continue to monitor her condition. My aunt is improving and able to get around on a walker.