4 Lessons I Learned in Later Life About Dealing with Unexpected Family Drama and Tragedy
It seems a lot like a movie now, but I didn’t choose to see or play a role in this one. I was dragged in as a lead actress in this long-running family drama and was forced to make the best of it.
We Don’t Get to Write the Script
In the months after my mom’s initial hospital stay for heart trouble and my dad’s collapse on his 90th birthday, collectively, we managed to get our lives organized. Meals were assigned and in place and we had secured around-the-clock home care.
All seemed to be calm. But as is the rule in scary movie thrillers, the music changed and something horrible began to take shape.
Our “horrible” was the phone call that came just as I took my first sip of wine at my girlfriend’s annual Christmas party. My nephew asked me to come right away: Grandma, that is my mom, had fallen and broken her neck.
That day would deliver a double whammy of fear and grief. As I stood next to my mother in her emergency room bed, I got the news that my oldest brother had suffered a fatal heart attack. Who could script something so crushing?
We all wanted to run. But this film was rolling and there was no escape. I had no choice but to face my fear, try to clear my mind and make the life or death decisions this new threat required.
Thankfully, there was already an established communication pattern between family members. Little did we know months earlier – when our biggest challenge was salt reduction – how much harder things would get.
But God prepared us at that time for what was ahead. Our survival skills were honed and intact.
We Need to Allow Others to Take Care of Us
Grieving the loss of my brother and dealing with my hurt and frightened mom meant I needed to rely even more on the resources of people in my life.
Experience had taught me that many people might want to help, if only to bring food to us at the hospital while we waited endless hours.
Most memorable were those who, in their own busy lives, found time to make sure our family was covered in prayer and the necessities. This all goes back to the lesson I preach to anyone who will listen, “Ask and accept all offers of help.”
The truth is, when we say no to our friends’ offers of support, we are robbing them of the joy they will feel in giving. Harmony exists only when there is a continuous cycle of giving and receiving.
If one is always on the giving side and then refuses to receive, the cord of friendship that binds those lives together may snap.
Do yourself – and your friends – a favor and allow them to be there for you in the tough times.
Pride Can Rob Us of Valuable Relationships
Pride also has a way of rearing its ugly head when life gets real. Not admitting we are weak, frightened, and lost is the biggest obstacle to healing – even if nothing’s physically wrong with us.
I admit, I have lived all versions of the pride spectrum. Today I’m thankful to be learning how different life can be when I allow friends to see my hardships and carry me if needed.
Fear Can Be Conquered
Finally, I have come to understand that fearing future tragic events robs me of the peace I can experience and enjoy today.
I don’t want to know how the movie ends. By spending time with my caregiving friends and helping each other through challenges, I have built a bulwark against the impact of future tragedies. I go by the Bible on this one: “Do not worry about tomorrow because today has enough worries of its own.”
I’m protecting my heart from pain by staying focused on the peace and joy of today. I won’t allow my thoughts to wander the countless scary scenarios that have not yet and may never play out in my life.
We all have wise people around us who have already traveled this course. Maybe it’s a neighbor or a colleague, or a friend of a friend. When you find yourself in a caregiving crisis, reach out and trust that others want to help.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, to confess your fears, to address your shortcomings. There’s probably nothing they haven’t already heard, felt, or experienced. Take advice where you can find it, from someone who knows the ins and outs of the game.
When do you find it the hardest to ask for or accept help? What helps you live in the here and now? Who do you count on when things get tough for you? Do you have a network of friends on whom you can rely? Please share in the comments below.