Don’t Be Mad

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I have a soft heart. It may not seem that this brash, loud person is vulnerable. A friend whom I love, who is occasionally abrasive, but a tell -it-like -it-is person, keeps a part of herself hidden. She and I are alike in that we seem to be extroverts, but I found I’m really an introvert pretending to be an extrovert and always out there. We have loud personalities. We take up causes. We have loud opinions. Hidden underneath that out-there personality of my friend is one of the softest hearts I know that gets hurt easily. She keeps that hurt hidden.

Going through the transition of my husband moving into memory care has brought much soul searching. I’ve never lived alone. Acknowledging that I’m scared is hard. It’s a secret to be kept inside and I realize over the years, especially the last five, I have run on fear. Fear of upsetting the person I lived with, fear of upsetting my children. That fear came out of me as someone that was always whining, asking for help from my family, and in desperation it came across to others as a person to stay away from because I wasn’t pleasant to be around. By being opinionated and verbal about issues that weren’t mine, and taking up some other cause, I could hide my fear or put it out of my mind for a short time. My behavior distanced myself from people I love.

I was breaking inside but on the outside I was pretending, trying so hard to be this I’ve got this person to those around me that weren’t family, this social person, the perfect grandma and good friend. And I complained and cried. Why weren’t family coming home more often to see us and help, to ease what was happening. The Pandemic caused isolation and loneliness but when it was over the visits still were sporadic. I knew it was because of busy lives, but still I suspected it was the drama our life represented because of the memory loss, and me being completely emotional and irrational. Maybe emotionally they couldn’t handle what was happening either. Don’t get me wrong, if it was an emergency they were there immediately for us. Now having some quiet and alone time I pretty much accept it was me that kept them away for the small things, for more frequent visiting.

I have spent the major part of my life wanting people to not be mad at me. I can just hear Dr. Phil saying, “And how’s that working for you?” Looking back I tried too hard, came out as over the top, giving mixed messages and being wishy- washy in my actions. I am always being told by my family , “ Make a decision.” And yes I have been very outspoken. I will tell you right now that those who are caregivers 24/7 don’t think rationally either. They are too caught up in the drama of their lives.

I now see it wasn’t the situation, but me and my crazy personality that made close ones stay away. And it was fear that made me act that way. Fear of being rejected, of making the wrong decision. Fear that I would never get out of the nightmare, and fear of saying I felt I was living in a nightmare, not being able to say those words to anyone because the person I lived with really was living a worse nightmare, so what he needed is more important. His fear was there but not expressed as fear, but anger. Who wouldn’t be angry? So I felt my fear was not rational because I was fine, the healthy one. .

I suspect I am not the only caregiver that doesn’t show who they are to their families, doesn’t express their true feelings, and what they do express comes out wrong because the stress turns their ability to verbalize their emotions, making the words irrational. Not only are we fearful but angry. We keep that inside too. Caregivers compromise who they are, withhold their anger and sadness about the situation to keep the peace, and not have their families upset with them. And yet it isn’t working.

Family is love and that love doesn’t leave because of discord, but it may be hard for all of us to remember that. Our kids live in a world today that is very stressful. They are busy just trying to live and excel and don’t have time for all the drama we may bring to their lives. They have learned to set boundaries to protect themselves. And because of that, we as parents may not understand. Us oldsters were brought up in an entirely different world. We didn’t know about boundaries and stress reduction. We didn’t have media telling us to protect ourselves by staying away from toxic people. The mental health help was not there.

The two worlds of the younger generation and the older generation today are having a hard time, in some cases, understanding the dynamics of the world growing us up differently.

My generation didn’t know it was acceptable to put the toxic people out of our lives, even if they were family. If my mom would have known that she might have put my grandma out of her life. My grandma was always yelling. You can ask her grandkids, we never remember her smiling, but because she was family she was taken care of until she died. My parents sacrificed a lot to take care of parents and brothers because that’s what you did in the olden days. The nursing home and mental health weren’t options.

My mother wanted to teach in Alaska. She wanted to travel the world, but gave up her dreams to stay home and take care of her mother. Others did the same. Family came first. I always thought that was why she was crabby, now I surmise she was crabby from Caregiver burnout, not because she sacrificed her dreams. I did not understand how hard her life was. The generational difference. But the one thing I understood was that family was everything above work and even money. Both my mom and dad financially helped out family members when they had a need. Occasionally supporting them financially until they could get back on their feet. They helped both sides of the families. They helped friends. I still have my dad’s billfold with all the IOU notices from people he lent money to. Their brothers and sisters were the same way. Before her death my mom told me what she had wanted to do with her life, but that she did not regret giving up her dreams to help her family. I believe that. It was the caregiver burnout that caused the crabbiness and I didn’t understand. It was a different generation.

I think my generation has a hard time understanding the difference of today’s world and where the shift is. So we hurt, we hide it and we don’t make sense to our kids because they don’t understand that our expectations come from our past. And we don’t understand the world they live in and how stressful and time consuming the reality that is their life is.

We have a communication gap between what our hearts feel and what we say. If we choose to share, how we say it because of our emotions, it comes out wrong. Emotions that we keep hidden and don’t always recognize ourself such as fear.

Caregivers have so much fear hidden inside of them. Their world is changing. The people that love them don’t always see that their needs are getting lost in the abyss of whoever they are taking care of. A caregiver wakes up in the morning, if they’ve gotten any sleep, and puts one foot in the front of another and takes a step, and occasionally that one step is all that is holding them up. If you know a caregiver ask them what they fear. Do they feel their security is gone and they no longer feel safe? If they are that tender hearted person with a brash exterior, you may have to read between the lines because if they let all the hurt out that they are hiding, they might break. Or they may be that soul who doesn’t want to make anyone mad for fear they will disappear from their life and they will be totally alone, and so the decisions or words they speak may come out as complaining or whining, but really it’s a cry for help, for you to help them be who they are. And love them anyway.

He Was Just An Ordinary Guy Or Was He?

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We tend to believe changing the world means we need to be out there, preaching, speaking, and occasionally being loud because we want to be heard. Isn’t that what the world wants us to believe?

I am incredibly sad today because a friend died. He was young, my son’s age, and that is when I first met David Paal Jr., as a little boy. I must admit over the next forty-some years I lost track of him. We moved and my son changed schools and we didn’t move back to our home community for ten years when my son was grown.

I connected with Dave again a few years ago because I began to see his photos on his media pages. They were breathtaking. As an author, I wanted to try my hand at creating my own book covers. I could see my stories and plots in Dave’s pictures so I messaged him and asked if I would be able to use one of his pictures for my cover. He immediately said yes. We met for coffee so we could hash out the details.

As we chatted I found a humble man with a great sense of humor. His photos were a part of who he was and how he saw the world, yet he didn’t seem to realize how special his talent was. He wasn’t out to make money just to share his love of his hobby. In fact, when I suggested ways he could make money with his talent he seemed to only want to pass the joy onto others.

We chatted recently, him giving me permission again to use his photos in a couple of new book covers, one to update a cover from a past photo I used, and another for my new book coming out in March. Again, his generous attitude registered with me. I am so happy I was able to share both covers with him before he left this earth to use his talents in heaven. I can only imagine the landscape he is seeing through his eyes.

I don’t like to use the word ordinary for anyone because each person is unique, but yet for this blog, I am going to use the word ordinary to describe Dave, even though he was extraordinary. The reason for this is we view those who influence us in the world as different than us ordinary joe’s that keep the world running, working everyday jobs in industries that are not recognized as careers that leave a mark or influence anyone. They are quiet, in the background people, some of who we don’t see because of their ability to keep us going and we take them for granted.

Dave was an ordinary guy with an ordinary job and a fabulous hobby that he excelled at quietly. He was kind, funny, and humble. Yet, this man influenced people on a wide-reaching basis in his quiet way of those he worked with and reaching out to the world with his photography, sharing it on social media so the rest of the world could for a few moments see the breathtaking work that God created.

Seeing his photo’s you knew who Dave was. He let us know through the pictures he took. He loved his country, he loved the communities he was part of, showing those of us that live here through his photographs what we miss every day, because we aren’t looking. He gave us the gift of seeing the beauty of our lives through the lens.

Dave loved nature and old buildings, but most of all he loved his family. His son, his mom, dad, and his sister and her family. Through any difficulties in life, I would say he had his priorities right.

Dave Paal, Jr., you changed lives. I do not think you realized how far-reaching your influence was. You will be missed and always remembered. Thank you for sharing your love of photography with us and for showing us and showing me what true generosity is.

Friendship – Nourishing or Toxic?

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Yesterday my phone was busy. I was blessed because I received phone calls from friends. They brightened my day and reminded me of the gift I was given when these people chose me to be their friend. All of these particular people were old friends. Friends from childhood, my early years as a wife and mother, my middle years as I struggled, as we all do, with responsibilities we never dreamed of in our wildest dreams that we would have to tackle.

As I pondered my conversations throughout the day with these people, I was not only amazed all of them called me on the same day, but that it seems as if we just talked yesterday. Throughout this pandemic we have been in closer touch sharing our joys, our fears and just talking silly. What had kept us together so close all of these years?

As we grow both in our personal lives and in the way we present ourselves to the public there are some friendships, old friendships, that fall along the way for many different reasons. Perhaps we didn’t always connect and take the chance and show those friends who we are, or we did, and because of it just didn’t mesh anymore. There is something about hearts aligning that keep important relationships going, along with hard work.

Although, I must say, with the friends yesterday, it has never felt like hard work to keep the friendship. Probably because our values align, our interests may be the same, but along with that we have challenged each other to try something new and experience each others interests. And…after trying their crazy ideas, it’s been perfectly acceptable to say to them, “You can do that but I think it sucks.” All in all, through it all, the good, the bad, the ugly, we have the luxury of acceptance of who we are. We feel safe in those friendships sharing our failures, our fears and also our triumphs and successes and we are happy for one another.

Inevitably, as we go along life’s road we have let go of people because the way in which we change and feel and believe, is too different for us to maintain a connection. We agree to disagree but life’s circumstances have changed us so much that middle ground is hard to find. We are in a different era in our lives and we need a friendship and a soft place to fall that isn’t there in a friendship, and maybe never was, but we made excuses and bit our tongue so as to not provoke judgment from a friend. I say that as these friends were probably doing the same thing with me.

I have changed. I have always been opinionated. I was spoiled. I didn’t have time or enough compassion for those who had less than I. I didn’t care about others feelings, or I shouldn’t say I didn’t care, but I didn’t see them. Life hits you in strange ways. My wake up call was job loss, illness, losing people I cared about, Alzheimer’s in a family member and their ire, and abusive relationships. I found when we were down and out I no longer fit in some places because our cash was gone, and we live in a world where belonging needs money. Some friendships I thought I could count on I lost, occasionally because of my attitude. Once we peeled away the mask of acceptability because of what was happening in my life, people went away. I learned the true meaning of friendship and the true meaning of compassion, and that I am not a sum of the kind of house I live in, what type furniture I have, or if what kind of vehicle I drive. Figuring out how to pay my bills was more a challenge than trying to keep up appearances.

I’m not complaining because those experiences opened my life to so many peoples struggling like we were, and though we were never in the situation some are in now, I have empathy for those who use the food shelves, need help and assistance during a tough time and who struggle every day with illness or mental health problems. Let me tell you there are days I want to go back to not caring about anyone because it hurts to see others hurt.

My old heart friends have been there with me through it all and I felt no judgement. That doesn’t mean they let me get by with bad behavior. They are very good at calling it out, but it comes from a place of love. Those are the friends you need. Disagreement but no judgement, calling you out when they see you making a mistake, or putting their take on things when you have a different viewpoint but it’s never toxic.

I can be a very toxic person. I don’t want to be that toxic person that destroys lives, but I also don’t want to be that person in a friendship that has to bite their tongue all the time, or be scared if I voice my opinion I am going to verbally be assaulted. For a long time I felt guilty wanting to distance myself from some people, but talking to the friends I did yesterday I realized I am only toxic when I spend time with others that feed that toxicity. There should be no guilt in letting that go. Friendships should make you a better person and those are the ones to hold on to.

I am rambling. I guess that’s what a blog is all about. I do have some advice. When you are with a friend ask yourself how you feel when you are done with a conversation. Are you a better person being with someone? What brings you together? Is it a commonality of spreading toxicity or love? Maligning others that think differently than you or uplifting others and accepting the differences? How has life changed you? It took me a long time to get out of the pity party of the circumstances we were in. It was the friendships that stayed, put up with me, listened to me and jerked me up once in awhile that got me through. They know who they are. I am forever grateful because that is true friendship. I still fall short being that type of friend but we are all a work in progress. The key is to keep that progress going.