In most circumstances I am a planner. I have rarely completed tasks at the last minute. For all of my life I have carefully crafted schedules and calendars designed to ensure that all of my duties and assignments are completed with great order and design. I do so because life has taught me to prepare for the unexpected, to be ready for roadblocks and interruptions that blowup my best intentions. If I am ahead of the game, such incidents do not deter me from meeting my obligations on time. I am always ready with plans A, B and C.
In reality life is not so kind as to defer to my intentions. My best laid plans have often gone awry. The unexpected throws a bomb into my best efforts to be reliable. Someone gets sick. Someone dies. The weather grows angry and dangerous. My car won’t start. A hot water heater floods my home. A pandemic changes everything. The blues settle over me like an unremitting dark cloud. Any number of things change me from a long term planner to a minute by minute reactor who walks through the muck of living minute to minute, day to day.
Each of us has experienced life changing events that give us pause, upend all of our careful plans. In those moments it’s difficult to decide what to do in the next hour much less days and weeks ahead. If we are honest we want little more than to curl up into a fetal position and just shut out the world and all responsibilities for a time. Keeping ourselves moving forward becomes a step by step process, a minute by minute exercise in distracting our minds from the sorrows of traumas that inevitably enter every human’s life.
I’ve blessedly never been so overwhelmed by sorrow that it totally immobilized me, but there have indeed been times when thoughts of stopping the world so that I might get off were certainly appealing. I’ve spent a day locked away from all of my responsibilities contemplating my sorrows. I’ve thought of chucking it all, running away. Somehow I always regain my momentum and soldier on as my mother often said we must do. I find a tiny reserve of motivation and energy and push myself inch by inch past whatever grief has come my way. I have learned that sometimes it is actually a good thing to take one day at a time until the fog of tragedy lifts and allows me to be my forward looking self.
We humans dislike the mix of feelings that come from any kind of loss. We have a tendency to most admire those who seem able to carry on with great courage never seeming to miss a beat. In truth it is really okay to give ourselves time to adapt to life changing events that take us by surprise. The feelings that overwhelm us are quite natural and simply ignoring them is hazardous to our health and well-being. The sapping of our energy and lack of focus is a physical reminder that sometimes we cannot, and probably should not, push ourselves to dismiss the panoply of emotions that we are experiencing. At the same time we have certain responsibilities to ourselves and perhaps others that cannot be abandoned. Learning how to find a balance while we are healing often becomes a day to day challenge that is more than enough to do.
Ours is a very competitive society that begins even when we are very young. We leave the safety of childhood to attend school where we become one of many. We have to keep up with a sequence of learning and assignments in spite of any traumas that may be taking place in our lives. There is often little patience for anyone who can’t keep pace with the scope of one size fits all planning. We learn as little ones how to simply march along day by day even when things are amiss in our private worlds. If we are lucky we encounter insightful and compassionate adults who give us room to deviate from the pressures of learning on a preconceived schedule.
Eventually we become adults and the expectations imposed on us become even greater. We juggle multiple responsibilities that require careful planning, attention to long range goals. One monkey wrench suddenly upending our schedules can cause incredible damage to our futures if we totally shut down. People give us a brief respite to recover and then expect us to return to our normal routines as quickly as possible even though we know that we are no longer the same as we once were. The world moves forward with or without us, so we have to find ways to cope. That often means putting one foot in front of the other over and over again until we have made it through one more day.
It’s up to each of us to be aware of those impacted by trauma and to understand compassionately how difficult it may be for them to perform the most mundane tasks until their minds have had enough time to begin to heal. We can help them by being present for them, lightening their loads, suspending judgements of their reactions., allowing them time to grieve.
When my mother lost her husband and subsequently became afflicted with mental illness there were angels in her midst who did everything possible to help her through the toughest of times. Her neighbors lovingly sat with her listening to her sadness and even her paranoia. They alerted me and my brothers when she was slipping again. Her boss and coworkers allowed her to take time off from work as long as she needed so that she might recover from her cycles of depression or mania. Her sisters lovingly called her each day and encouraged her to slowly get back into her normal routines. They were all loving souls who did not abandon her like so many others had. They stood with her from one day to the next, never forgetting how wonderful she was. We would all do well to be like them for surely there are suffering souls among us who need our patience and our love as they slowly recover one day at a time.