Carolyn Hax is away. The following is from Aug. 10, 2003.
Dear Carolyn: This has been a rotten year. My dad got laid off from work, my mom had breast cancer surgery, my grandmother had two serious hip surgeries, a close friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer, my dad just fell ill with a mysterious illness (no, really), and I got pregnant. (The pregnant bit isn’t rotten, but it is contributing to the roller-coaster nature of this year.)
I’m floundering in a sea of black emotions and despair, which, aside from not being good for the fetus, isn’t really good for me. My work is suffering, my relationship with my husband is suffering, and I’m at wits’ end. I wake up every day wondering what bad thing will happen, and I go to sleep every night praying no one dies before the next day. Any tips, advice?
Wake up every morning accepting that bad things might happen, and go to bed accepting that someone might die the next day – whether your year has been rotten or not. (You, too, can receive Mary Poppins as your personal savior.) While you’re at it, also accept that it’s better to have death and bad things than not.
This is not a typo, or a braino. That’s because the only alternative to feeling the pain of loss is to have nothing to lose. You’re suffering now because you care about these people. And if you were given the choice, on the spot, right now, irrevocably, to stop feeling all this pain and with it the love you feel for them? You wouldn’t do it.
Know this. Force it to the front of your anguished brain every time you’re picking a fight with your husband, or fretting too much to concentrate at work, or feeling road-enraged as you try to get to the hospital before visiting hours end, or wishing pregnancy had come at a more fortuitous time.
If you’re less than convinced, consider: You have enjoyed, in some cases for decades, the great gift of knowing these people – all for the low, low price of one abysmal year. Since everyone who cares about anybody has to pay at some point, pay gladly. Go love mom and dad, love your grams, love your friend. Love your husband.
And love that baby. You’re carrying nothing less than living proof that love can be renewed. I risk my cliche-combat badge by pointing it out, and yet it’s too profound to ignore.
Granted, unleashing all these warm feelings will only deepen your emotional sea, but there’s an answer for that, too. Anchor yourself to whatever you can – your job, your marriage – then stop thrashing and just . float. I’m sure you’ve tried many times not to laugh or cry or have a crush on someone, so you know that feelings always last longer when you fight them. Feelings at full intensity simply cannot be sustained.
So float, and trust that the waters will slowly recede. It’s a scary thing, and exhausting, to surrender yourself to so many feelings at once, but it’s exhilarating as well. It’s also the least grinding path to dry land – and your child will be grateful for that.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.