GHOSTS OF WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
I may not be Carnac the Magnificent but I know exactly what you're thinking about my latest blog. In fact, I've made up an entire conversation in my head, and it goes something like this:
YOU (aka HUNKY DORY): "Another month, another blog. I'm not sure I want to read your blog. You write about such serious subjects. Why don't you let your fingers diddle-daddle across the keys of your laptop and produce something happy and homey. Like writing about your grandmother's German Chocolate Cake or your first poochie?"
ME: "Aw come on. You should know by now that I blog about real life. L-I-F-E. At my age -- somethin' short of geezer and not that far away from the last hurrah -- I got a whole lotta life in me to blog about!"
HUNKY DORY: "That's s-o-o-o depressing. Really."
ME: "It's just the way my mind works -- maybe my years as a therapist -- I think in terms of people and problems, facts and feelings -- the gears, guts, garbage and grief of life."
HUNKY DORY: "I don't wanna spend my free time reading that crap! Why don't you write a warm and fuzzy blog once in a while? It might be a welcome break from problems and more problems."
ME: "You may be surprised to hear this, but that's not what most people wanna read. They long for answers -- to make sense of their lives -- to understand themselves and others. Their thoughts, feelings and behavior. Most of all, people just want to know they're normal! Look, blogging is a dirty business -- but somebody's got to do it!"
HUNKY DORY: "I'm normal enough without reading about gears, guts, garbage, and what?. Please, I'm beggin' you, don't write another blog about problems!"
ME: "There aren't any 'problem-s' plural. There's only ONE problem in life. Yes, indeedy. You heard me right -- ONE itty, bitty problem! It applies to just about everything that may trouble you or me."
HUNKY DORY: "Come on. You're joking, right? You spent thirty years as a therapist talking to your clients about ONE itty, bitty problem?"
ME: "O-N-E! I'm not kidding, Hunky -- just one problem."
HUNKY DORY: "Oh sure. And what might that ONE problem be?"
ME: "Loss! L-O-S-S!! Loss of life, limb, time, relationships, health, money, jobs, youth, hopes, dreams, etc.. You get the picture? Every single one of our cockamamie miseries stems from some kind of loss. Now, don't you feel better?"
HUNKY DORY: "Oy. Please stop this before someone hurts you!"
ME: "Wait! I have even more heart-warming details. The older you get, the more losses accumulate in your psyche. You can't escape it. Old age is simply one loss piled on top of another loss. Deeply touching, isn't it?"
HUNKY DORY: "OMG. You're serious, aren't you? I'm gonna need a wheelbarrow to haul around all that loss."
ME: "And if that's not enough to melt your butter, listen to this: Every darn one of us is grieving -- all the time, every day -- whether we're consciously aware of it or not. Grief doesn't just come from big-ticket losses like death or broken hearts. It comes from everyday life. Change. We start grieving at birth when we lose the connection with our mother and we don't stop until the tick-tock of time runs out."
HUNKY DORY: "Well, I'll be damned. You don't say?"
ME: "Yessiree. And to make it even more interesting, it's not the run-of-the-mill 'I-had-it-and-lost-it" experiences -- like a favorite teddy bear, a beloved grandmother, or a fortune squandered -- that hits the hardest. Nope. Nothing like that. The most difficult losses to bear are the hopes, dreams, desires and fantasies -- the ghosts of everything that could've been and never was."
HUNKY DORY: "So, lemme see if I understand you correctly. The grief over the end of my marriage isn't nearly as difficult to deal with as -- say -- the dream that we would live happily ever after?"
ME: "Exactly. You've got it. Me -- I wish I had been a teetotaler or my childhood had been in a stable and loving family.
HUNKY DORY: So, what you're saying is that I'm just a bag o' bones, draggin' all my losses after me like so much dead weight? And that's what I have to look forward to in the winter of my years? What happens if I don't deal with the losses, or even recognize that I'm grieving?
ME: Well, a couple of things. You could simply deny that a loss affected you, refuse to talk or think about it, or tiptoe around it. Your reality would be distorted in such a way that the loss wouldn't touch you. Or, you could act out your grief inappropriately through anger. That's the most common way people avoid addressing loss.
Hunky Dory: "What d'ya mean?"
ME: "Lashing out verbally or writing mean mail. It pushes away the pain. These are the folks who may vocalize their political views noisily, with four letter words and all manner of insults and threats -- F-this and F-that! Or, with hurtful and abusive language they blame so-and-so for this-or-that rather than dedging up the sadness that lies beyond the anger. We all know them -- the 'what-cannot-be-said-will-be-raged' people. They label their anger as 'honesty' and it's often directed at the people whom they believe are wrong. I grew up in an angry family and spent many of my young and middle years angry -- just plain angry. I didn't know what I was angry about until I set about to understand it. Now I realize the anger was a defense. The pain couldn't touch me when I was angry."
HUNKY DORY: "Good grief. That's not normal, is it?"
ME: "No. But those aren't the folks we're talking about here. It's people like you and me -- fairly well-adjusted people -- who are aware of our losses on a daily basis."
HUNKY DORY: "Hey, Carmac, I guess you're right. Life just isn't easy, is it?"
ME: "No way, Hunky. Have you ever heard of anyone who got out of it alive?"