The news of Chantal’s death hit me hard. It came on Friday, as I was desperately trying to chase away the predictable “back-to-school-blues, " along with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness about the victims of Hurricane Katrina…not to mention being overwhelmed by our current situation (our own fight with childhood cancer). To top it off, my husband had been out of the country for a couple of weeks on business, missing the start of the school year, the start of the multitude of activities which always coincide with such, and the start of a new round of chemo for Nick. I was physically exhausted from round-the-clock parenting duties. The many hats I’d worn—-chauffeur, cook, dishwasher, laundress, secretary, accounts payable manager, and head cheerleader-—were being tossed up into the air in frightening displays of bad juggling. A crash felt inevitable, along with a deep sense that the threatening storm cloud of “the blues" would over-run any feelings of optimism or cheerfulness which I was trying so hard to muster.
But the news of her death, instead of snapping me out of my funk, seemed to plunge me further into it. It certainly hit immediately, as one would expect an untimely death to do. I sat at my laptop, where the news of her death reached me first, not only grief-stricken, but profoundly angry for even allowing myself to experience “the blues" for even one more minute. I loathed my emotional state, yet I felt unable to crawl out of it.
Chantal was a new friend, a darling child ten years-old whom we’d met in the chemo clinic, where she was being treated for leukemia, along with our son, Nick. She’d been recovering perfectly well, having endured a bone marrow transplant with a perfect match (a rare and cherished longing for someone in that situation); her spirits were always bright, even when the drugs made her weak, nauseous and sickly-pale; and she radiated a sweet spirit, oftentimes completely unbeknownst to her, and even when she didn’t feel up to being particularly sweet. Her personal battle was nothing short of heroic. By simply showing up, she exuded inspiration to me and to everyone else in the clinic.
Yet it shouldn’t take the death of a child-—one which I cannot understand no matter how hard I try—-to chase away the blues. One should be able to just “snap out of it" at the mere click of the fingers. Right? But that’s not what experience and observation tells me. From the emails of my readers—-as well as perusals of editors of woman’s magazines, blogs and newsletters in virtually every cross-section of the western world-—“feeling overwhelmed" ranks at the top of moms’ lists. It is now nearly universal to feel overwhelmed with motherhood. Accompanying feelings of despair, desertion and depression are the “new norm. " Moms, trying to juggle the demands of “perfect parenting" (a misnomer in every sense of the word) along with careers outside of home, community service, the demands of aging parents and husband’s schedules’, can hardly find time for self-preservation. For balanced nutrition and daily doses of exercise and fresh air. Artistic expression and creativity get thrown out the window, along with dreams of “self-actualization or self-advancement. It’s as if we’re “on call" with the buzz of a cell phone or the beep of an email system. We’re needed by everyone, everywhere, all the time.
When the cruel winds of life blow particularly strongly, how do we maintain the fortitude to not only get up in the morning, but to move forward with grace, dignity and that all-too-forgotten imperative, creativity?
Acknowledge that grieving is a totally different emotional process than depression, mere frustration, or feelings of being completely overwhelmed.
Everyone endures the grieving process at one point or another. It is both painful and persistent while experiencing it. For days or weeks or months or years. Allow yourself to go through the process, so that healing can take place.
Look up. Then out.
The Psalmist proclaims: “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, the Lord which made heaven and earth. " Seek comfort in your Creator, even when life doesn’t make any sense. My physical, earthly life gives me little by way of comfort in the death of infants and children. I don’t yet have much-needed comprehension of those mysteries. Only by looking up, and pleading for some sort of help, do I find rest in my soul. Prayer comforts, heals, and guides. Prayer works. Even when our questions seem unanswered and our cries seem unheard.
Seek solace in bestest friends.
Girlfriends have a way of helping one sort out life’s worst nightmares. They soothe wounded spirits, aching hearts and ruffled feathers. My girlfriends balance me. Keep your friendships intact, so that when the storms come-—as they will-—you have others on whom to lean.
Replace reactivity with activity.
Reacting to horrible news with pure emotion is needed, at least in those first few minutes. But at some point, it’s important to make the leap from pure reaction to action. Be it cooking dinner for someone in crisis to arranging flowers to brighten someone’s day; action begets optimism. It might not happen instantaneously, but it will happen in time. The best antidote for “the blues" is—and has always been—physically moving outside of oneself.
Certainly, serious emotional crises call for a different course than do everyday, run-of-the-mill “blues. " Monthly hormonal swings do, indeed, qualify as “run-of-the-mill" by any woman’s measure (even if they do not register as such by your husband’s). As do excessive carpooling, numerous trips to the pediatrician and the grocer, or visits to the elementary school principal. Let’s face it: chocolate therapy and retail therapy usually provide just the right fix for all of the above. I’m the first to admit: a long day at the chemo clinic invariably finds me opening a dark chocolate bar and out-of-the-closet indulgence, square by square. And “run-of-the-mill blues" are able to send me for a retail therapy (or two). But they’re temporary fixes to the serious challenges which inevitably afflict us all. In the end, it is faith, hope and love that get us through the rough spots in life. Yes, these three remain. And in the end, it really is all about love. Perhaps it will be love that guides you during your week.
Carolina Fernandez earned an M. B. A. and worked at IBM and as a stockbroker at Merrill Lynch before coming home to work as a wife and mother of four. She totally re-invented herself along the way. Strong convictions were born about the role of the arts in child development; homeschooling for ten years provided fertile soil for devising creative parenting strategies. These are played out in ROCKET MOM! 7 Strategies To Blast You Into Brilliance. It is available on Amazon.com, in bookstores everywhere, or by calling 888-476-2493. She writes extensively for a variety of parenting resources and teaches other moms via parenting classes and radio and TV interviews. Please visit http://www.rocketmom.com to subscribe to her free ezine and get a weekly shot of inspiration.