Pain. Grief. Hardship. “Always Looking Up” by Michael J. Fox and “Perfectly Imperfect” by Lee Woodruff (May 2009)

Susan’s Thursday morning note May 21, 2009
Accepting Pain & Hardship  
            Always Looking Up: the Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox
            Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress by Lee Woodruff
            Diaries & Letters of Anne Lindbergh
 Good morning! Oh, the wind isn’t blowing this morning…I can’t believe it!…I thought I should be reading therapy books for us to handle the ceaseless wind…I have honestly formed thoughts in my head that I am not proud of just because of the incessant winds….all day…all night….even the coffee doesn’t taste as good…if you’re reading this & not in Nebraska this week….count that as one of your blessings!!! Instead of that particular avenue of therapy I read two new books that have arrived…books that are not hard to read, but interesting and easy to read when tired, or when you only have a few minutes.
The one that continually gave me the giggles was Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress by Lee Woodruff. She is the wife of Bob Woodruff, reporter for ABC, who was seriously wounded in a head injury in Iraq. She writes short, funny essays about raising teenagers, her body changing in her late 40’s, friendships, mother/son relationships, mother/daughter relationships, a child with major hearing loss, getting a puppy, aging parents losing their abilities, dealing with depression, parenting experiences at amusement parks…a perfect book for reading after a long day.
Crying in the shower: My favorite chapter that I was going to write on is titled Swimming Through It – how she does her crying…her sobbing… in the pool…lets it all out, then walks back into “life” ready again to face whatever that day’s particular situation that caused her to break. I have often said, “Get it all out in the shower!” for that has been a perfect place since childhood to just cry…sob…whatever I have to do….then drying my eyes and going back into the day…the therapy of allowing those few moments every few weeks to just cry – even if I don’t know exactly the reason….but then I read her book’s conclusion on how she dealt with the pain of her husband being seriously injured – dealing with tragedy, that I think you’d like me to write out for you.
When bad things happen, we all dream of rewinding the tape. Every one of us would go back to the minute before the car skidded off the road, would make the appointment for the colonoscopy a year earlier, would stop ourselves from turning our backs for a second as our child was swimming or when the ladder holding Dad started to wobble…but we can’t…I say that all collective suffering exists on the same frequency of human emotion. Grief is not a competition. Sorrow is sorrow and fear is fear and loss is loss and we humans are all traveling on the same bandwidth in life.
There are absolutely no shortcuts through sorrow and pain or to mitigating the day-to-day terror of a crisis. There’s no going around it. It’s like a long, dark train tunnel in the Alps. All you can do is go straight through it. Buckle your seat belt, pray, do your homework, stretch, keep breathing, turn to literature, gather collective wisdom for solace, brace yourself, talk it through, hold on. Grief, loss, and the twisting roller coaster of emotions that accompany it are all about endurance. Sheer endurance.
 Anne Lindberg’s writings in her journals/diaries: Hour of Gold Hour of Lead writes an introduction on why she is including the diaries of her intense pain in the kidnapping of her son.  She writes that grief is grief.  Pain is pain.  We all suffer.  Not to compare levels, but to read and learn from each other’s experiences of going through their pain, that we will be able to find those that understand ours.  That help us to get through ours.  I can’t for the life of me find my book to give you the exact words, but I loved her forward. If you happen to have that book of mine………
Helping someone you care about through a crisis: Lee Woodruff ends the book with her suggestions for how to help friends through a crisis.  She then gives examples and detailed ideas for each of these suggestions:
1.  Don’t Hang Back…Make Contact (acknowledge what is happening – don’t ignore the situation and avoid the friend)
2.  Help them feel “normal” – how to talk about normal events in your life…
3.  Recognize the power of human touch.
4 . Establish a healthy information exchange.
5.  Avoid over-mothering (being full of ideas & suggestions for how they can care for themselves)
6.  Be sensitive to what they need to hear.
7.  Think practically about what people really need.
8.  Choose your words and actions wisely.
9.  Understand where faith belongs.
10 . Be there for the long haul.
I also read Michael J. Fox’s book that came out this month, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist..  Either in his book, or in Lee Woodruff’s above one of them used the analogy of card decks.  We are all dealt a story…cards that we do not have control over what we are handed.  How are we going to handle the situations that we are dealt?  We didn’t choose them.  They hurt.  But how will we play?  What moves will we make?  Who will we be at the end of the game?  I’m not saying life is a game by the way…just using the deck analogy because I liked it!
On seeing our children suffer at any age:
Michael J. Fox writes:  You can only be present, be aware, be responsive, be compassionate, and love that child with everything you have.  Of course, my 47 years, my childhood, the ups and downs of my career, my experience with and ultimate surrender to alcohol, my diagnosis and subsequent life with Parkinson’s disease, as well as everything before, after, and in between, have taught me something about resiliency. No matter how well intentioned, if I somehow convinced my children that I could remove their problems and relieve their pain, spare them the ups and downs of life, I’d be doing them a huge disservice.
Lee Woodruff writes:  None of us would ever choose to rupture the veil of innocence that shelters our children.  As a parent I would have liked to spare them from the worst of it, but that’s ultimately not realistic. You cannot protect them all of the way.  That’s not how life works.  And that’s okay.  But in the grateful aftermath of our family’s collective sorrow, I tell myself that my kids have learned more from the difficulties and hardships they have witnessed and endured then they ever would have otherwise…they have forged their capacity to truly engage in their own lives, to be empathetic and to genuinely care for others…they have built up the same capacity that now sustains me, the ability to roll down with the chutes and up with the ladders, to reorient themselves and search for hope in even the most terrifying situations…
So how will we make decisions today?  Play our hand?  By getting on our knees and asking for help?  By looking to the hills – the promise of our help being there.  Being examples to our children.  Making decisions by thinking, “How would I want my child to handle this if he/she was in the same situation as an adult?”  Read classics, be still, be quiet, question, think….don’t let your days be senseless. What will you write tonight for what you chose to read, think, discuss with friends?  What will you write for your epitaph of the time you used today?  The time you cannot get back.  Make yourself proud.  Thank you for letting me in again today – in on your Thursdays. Go make yourself proud with decisions that you make…decisions that no one else will even know you made.  Make your minutes count…they are ticking so quickly.  Susan
Latin for this week: 
obdurare, to remain firm, hold out, persist 
Works Cited: 
Fox, Michael J. Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist. 2009. Hyperion. New York. 
Woodruff, Lee. Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress. 2009. Random House. New York.