Saturday, May 6, 2017
We All Have Hardships And Inspiration Is Everywhere
This father lived a little over a year beyond his daughter’s death. He was in the middle of his 75th year when he died, and his daughter perished in the midst of her 47th year in her antique airplane. His passion for flight had become a joy for her to share with him. To learn to fly and live adventurously – these were in a hobby they could share that would help her connect with her father and feel loved.
Sometimes we don’t get what we need. This father, my grandfather, became fatherless at the age of nine at the beginning of the Great Depression. This boy was thrust into the role of man of the house and helped support his mother couriering laundry for people. He’d pick up clothes for washing and return them clean. The price was a nickel as I recall.
The daughter, my mother, became motherless at the age of two. She learned her mother had left the family and wasn’t coming back. This toddler didn’t speak for hours, and ever after she spoke with a stutter she hadn’t had before. And when the daughter died, she left four daughters grieving. They were three young adults and one child ten days shy of ten years old. All of them – the father, the daughter and the granddaughters - all lost someone they needed. The fact that they all lived with the absence doesn’t mean their loved ones weren’t needed. The void gets filled in some way – with heartache, distraction, and sometimes purpose, but that person never gets replaced.
There’s a new monument near the father and daughter’s graves. Three children all gone on the same day, much too young and with senseless cause. The Tower children were taken in an instant. I looked it up later and saw they’d perished in a house fire. The mother had escaped, and the father lived elsewhere. The fire was ruled an accident. It was the worst kind of accident – one that can’t be fixed.
In each of our grief we can feel isolated and lose sight of the grief others have had or will experience in their lives. There’s always a story that is more tragic. To feel the worst pain we’ve ever felt gets some perspective when we compare ourselves to people enduring pain we imagine to be exponentially greater than our own.
This doesn’t mean we should minimize our own pain. It only means we have an ounce of knowledge of the pain, loss and grief someone else might be enduring that helps us see what there is to appreciate in our own experience.
When in poor health it’s natural to compare ourselves to when we were in better health or to others that we presume are in good health. It’s helpful though to compare ourselves with those with greater challenges. Noticing perseverance is inspiring. It’s a helpful reality check for me to see people who can’t walk at all when I’m only tripping and in pain or to see people with permanently clawed hands when mine are aching and not cooperating as much as they usually do.
I could fear their reality as my fate, and when I allow that it depresses me. But when I look beyond the conditions and consider their lives as a whole, I’m inspired by their resilience, perseverance, and matter of fact acceptance of their conditions.
I may be chronicling my declining health, or I may be sharing a life worth living with challenges. You’ll form your own judgments, but I see it as sharing our invisible conditions to connect us and to remind ourselves that we aren’t alone in our fears, grief or hardships. We all have them in one way or another at different times in our lives.
There’s comfort in compassion without pity. While it may just be my pride showing, I prefer it that way. I try to convey my compassion with respect for the differences in our experiences that doesn’t come across as competing for the Who Had It Worse award. And I like it when people are able to do the same for me.
It’s beautiful to know we each have a unique experience and still we all share feelings about them that bind us together. To feel a kinship laced with understanding, respect and love for our fellow grievers, survivors, sufferers and thrivers is heartening and motivating to keep going when it’s tougher than usual. It can give us the strength we need to continue with our own hardships when others are in the midst of greater suffering.
Among my sisters, it was a given that our youngest sister had it the hardest. She’d had so little time with our mother and she still needed so much. At least we’d had our mother’s love and support through young adulthood.
I think of the Tower children and their family. I can only imagine the grief their parents live with. My mother died twenty-three years ago this month. It was a decade before I was able to talk about my mom without showing visible grief. The family of these children has been living with their absence just over a year. In their invisible condition, I hope people show them kindness, patience and compassion even when they know nothing about their lives.
And I hope people give this. Not because the Towers deserve it, but because people can be amazingly kind.
Each of us has challenges. Sometimes we’re lucky and the things we’re dwelling on or frustrated with aren’t monumental. I think everyone always has a set number of challenges that they’re dealing with that are frustrating. It’s just at times that huge life events or conditions move in and make the rest seem inconsequential. When my problems are small I can appreciate them for their trivial nature, and when they’re big I can look for inspiration to keep going. There’s always someone out there that is living well with more difficult circumstances. And that's heartening for me.