I’m in an odd stage of life. My parents and their peers, these people who have loved me so well, are, I hate to say it, coming to the end of their life. My phone calls with my parents have, for years now, included this dialogue: “Remember Mr. So-and-so? He passed away last week.” It got to the point where I wasn’t really sure how to reply even. Some of these folks are dearly beloved by my sister and me but some of them carried just a vague impression of a business-like man-in-a-suit or prim-and-vaguely-disapproving-woman and beyond, “I’m really sorry,” or “that’s sad,” I had run out of original and compassionate things to say. Fast-forward to 2013 and I have somehow become part of the process, not just a bystander on the phone. My dear friend lost her dearly-loved grandmother at the end of the year. Another friend lost her mom in January. The wonderful man who drove our carpool for my entire school career had a debilitating stroke in January. My favorite uncle passed away in March. These are not anomalies. These are the people that a few years ago I would have said, “They lived for 80 years. They lived a good life.” But now I am aghast at my flippant and casual response. And as I look at the coming days and weeks and months, perhaps years, I realize that we are in for a difficult few years. And there is no way out but through.
One of my life rules is that I don’t want to criticize or even, in this case, write about something hard without finding some kind of redemption…some lesson learned, some strategy to recommend, some comfort to share…which is why this has been on my mind for months without ever writing about it. There’s enough hard stuff in the world without me piling on and saying it’s going to be hard so get ready. There is, in fact, some value to that simple exercise I think but it is not the source of hope or learning I feel committed to. So I haven’t written. I’ve just thought about it and wondered what in the world “getting ready” would even look like. How does one do that? Are other 44 year old’s intrinsically “ready” to be the oldest?
So while I don’t have all the answers, (honestly, don’t even have the answers I need!) here is what I do have: a quote from the book, The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown. (An excellent and quick read, incidentally.)
There is one guarantee: If we’re not practicing gratitude and allowing ourselves to know joy, we are missing out on the two things that will actually sustain us during the inevitable hard times.
So while there is still no way out but through, there is an action I can take now for those unavoidable hard-things in my not-so-distant future: I can embrace joy and practice gratitude now so they are fully developed habits by the time I am in the midst of those hard times.
What about you? What are the hard situations you face and how do you prepare for them? Are there intentional and purposeful ways that you pursue joy and practice gratitude? How about you parental types? Are these habits you’re building into your family lives? I’d love to hear what you do!