My daughter asked me, "Do you miss Auntie Donna every day?"
It wasn't the conversation I expected while we were making the salad.
"Well, some weeks, every day — and others not. But while Dad and I were on vacation, that first week I had a tough time because I did miss her every single day — there was so much I wanted to tell her. She would've been so happy for me."
"I'm sorry, Mom," my daughter said as she touched my arm and let me know with her eyes that she was with me in that moment.
To have been on this big vacation finally — one that we'd thought about for half a decade, planned and saved for, for more than a year — and to feel down in the dumps was upsetting. Feeling down was something I'd struggled with much of my life but not the past few years. I'd experienced a real sea-change. It wasn't just that my kids seemed happy and were doing well transitioning to adulthood or that Chris and I were doing well too, it was more about me. What I was feeling. How I was managing to put aside some of my perpetual worrying, worrying, worrying, and just allow myself to be happy. Instead of always doing was best for someone else, it was about putting myself first. It took lots of
hard work with a smart and insightful therapist.
This sea-change required making very different choices in my life. Let me give you an example.
I got on a plane and sat in my aisle seat. One row behind and across is a man on the aisle who reluctantly moves to allow a woman to get in to the window seat next to him. It's clear he's not interested in engaging in conversation; he has papers, he has work, he is busy. The woman is a bit frantically squirming this way and that, looking around and under her seat, under his seat. She catches the flight attendant's attention signalling her to come over, "I've lost one of the lens to my eyeglasses. It must've popped out. I can't see without it. Can you please look in the aisle of the plane?" The attendant nods and continues on, but as she heads back up toward the front of the plane, she's not checking the aisle for the missing lens — she's not even looking down.
So naturally, I have to look for the stranger's missing lens. I get up and start walking forward, eyes scanning back and forth, walking up and down, no luck. I remember this woman from the waiting area. I head for the flight attendant at the door. "I need to look for an eyeglass lens in the waiting area. I'll be really quick." and she lets me exit the plane. I run up the jetway, eyes down searching for the glass. I enter the waiting area run to the seats where she was sitting, looking high and low. No luck. I ask the gate agents. Still no luck.
Quickly I make my way back to my seat, tell the woman that I looked and didn't see it, and as her face registers surprise, it occurs to me to check one more thing. I turn to the guy sitting next to her.
"Could you check the cuffs on your pants? Maybe it fell down and somehow got caught in your cuff."
He does, but it wasn't there.
I have run out of things to try. Finally, I give up, sit down, buckle in, and exhale — feeling I'd failed. Fell down on the job. Failed someone I didn't even know. That's how my head works. All day, every day. It's very tiring.
Every time I thought about helping someone else (especially, complete strangers) I had to stop and monitor myself. But I had been doing so well! With hard work I was turning things around and focusing more on me. I stopped biting my nails. I'd joined a program at work to help with my weight. I was getting some regular exercise. I was checking in monthly with a coach — getting information about portion control, healthy snacking, fiber-dense calories. I took that class on Authentic Happiness. I bought that bedspread!
The sadness I felt at the beginning of our big vacation came as a surprise to me, but over the trip, thankfully it slipped away. Now I was back home and my daughter's question prompted me once again to think about the loss of my sister and all the feelings associated with that. It was also the slew of recent news about health issues and surgeries for those I love dearly and their family members and it was about loss all around me. It was now my generation faced with loss and caregiving. People my age were losing their parents (a hard yet expected loss), but they were also losing their siblings, friends, cousins. I lost MY sibling and MY cousin.
It was depressing. Even though I'd had my dinner and it was too late to be eating anything, I ate two large soft chocolate chip cookies I'd bought for the kids. After that I had two wheels of black licorice my husband bought for me (I adore licorice) and then, after everyone else went to bed, I was still up and still fretting. With no one to talk to (my sister would've been there to talk to), I went into the kitchen, grabbed the box of Kashi 7 Whole Grain Flakes & Granola with Black Currants & Walnuts (because one of those nutritional pamphlets said snacking on dry cereal was better for you than chips) and I snacked away (without even measuring out the amount).
I hadn't yet read the handout they sent on emotional eating.