Anybody who has ever lost a person, a job, a relationship, moved, lost one's health, even lost files on the computer (which seems upon writing it, silly, compared to the other losses I mentioned, but a loss these days, nonetheless) - deeply understands that loss makes us feel vulnerable. I know a man who said that losing a family member at a young age introduced randomness into his life. And what feels more vulnerable than the intimate knowledge that bad things that happen are often random? That we are now exposed to randomness and vulnerable to pain at any time?
Or more truthfully, that we were vulnerable the whole time before the loss and didn't truly know it.
And that's the crux of what I'm wanting to share today - it's that we are always vulnerable and that perhaps there is a healthy humility we can cultivate that will help us in our day to day life, but also when the chips are down.
12-Step Programs like Al-Anon and AA begin with a concept of being humble (the word they use is 'powerless', but I interpret it this way - "Alcohol is bigger than we are." I think the idea ripples out from there and is more expansive than addiction - "My grief is bigger than I am, alone" or "My depression is bigger than I am, alone", "My rage is bigger than I am, alone" "My cancer is bigger than I am, alone", "My resentments is bigger than I am, alone", "My child's anxiety is bigger than I am, alone."
I'll give you an example of a time I wasn't humble in the face of something big. I was a couple years into my work in hospice and had gained enough experience to just begin to think I 'knew something.' I visited a patient for the very first time - it was a beautiful late Spring day and the house was near one of the city parks. It was a changeable weather day, though and a storm would soon be rolling in - tornadoes were predicted. I met the adult daughter, who was taking care of her father. He was bedbound, but rousable. She could still get him to the bedside commode - he was strong enough, when awake, to help her a little. But she wondered how long he had, really. Her brother would like to come in and say goodbye, but he lived out of town. Did she need to call him to come in today, she wondered? I listened to the man's breathing - it was not rattling. He breathed shallowly, but at regular intervals. His color didn't look terrible. I said, "While I can't be sure, I don't think your dad will die today. I think you would be okay to wait another day for your brother to come in." Her dad died within 24-hours and her brother had not driven in from out of town. I felt terrible and responsible and I felt ashamed. I talked with one of our 'old' hospice nurses about that - one of my favorites - a salty, hilarious Irish lady. She said, "Katy, that is hubris. To guess when someone will die is hubris." I never did it again. Not that way, anyway. I always told my patients and families that story, too. Death is bigger than me. Death will always be bigger than me.
I am grateful every day and for so many reasons that I had the opportunity to work in hospice. Selfishly, I realize that through experiencing and observing so much loss, I was somehow that little bit more open to the changes I've needed to make since that time.
What do we do after we wake up to that fact that we are small and vulnerable? Do we just give up, roll into the fetal position on the kitchen floor and cry? Yes! Well, yes, we do that for a little while and then we get up and we ask for help.
Many things are bigger than me and I am humble before them. But, I also have a team. I have a loving, imperfect, crazy team of friends and family and poets and church people and neighbors and for me, even God (though I know not everybody goes in for that.) And, while you might think I'm extroverted and so sure, it's easy to ask for help. No, I'm only kind of extroverted, and I'm also kind of introverted, so it's not always easy to ask for help. Plus, I'm a perfectionist and a caregiver and all these other things that you might know about me from reading this blog.
But now, when I don't know what to do or my brain is like the old 'bird's nest' in my fishing pole - a mess of confusion, I am sure about something. I am sure that I need to ask for help. So, I ask myself this: "Who knows more about this than I do?" "Who might have some insight into this?" "Who is a good listener?" "Who will encourage me?" "Who lifts my burdens?" And then I make a phone call (or three) or send an email or say a prayer. And more or less, this is what I say, "Will you help me?"
This doesn't mean everything gets wrapped up with a pretty bow. My kid's say one of my negative personality traits is my timing and bluntness - I am honest and blunt with them and sometimes tell them some cold hard fact of life right before bedtime, and they are like, "Mom, your timing sucks." So here's my cold hard fact, and much like I'd say to my kids. Shit happens. So, ask for help before shit happens, that way when it does, you don't have to overcome your pride and false ideas of control to do so.
And then, you will get help. And sometimes you'll get help, but it won't be in the form or timing you want it. Be humble and ask for help anyway. It will help you remember that we are all in this together. And it will help you remember something else, I think you know, deep deep down, if you really let yourself listen.
It's all going to be okay.