Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thank You, Henry James

As the Kubler- Ross model, and every psychology text book since would suggest, there is most definitely an Angry stage in the grieving process. After losing my mom last year, I felt like I was being pretty healthy about my grieving. I was sad all the time, but I was trying not to let it consume me, trying to go on with my life, trying to continue to be the person she raised me to be. Really, I wasn’t doing a bad job as far as I could tell. However, about six or eight months into it, the Angry Phase set in. Because my personality is very ‘all-or-nothing’, I think my brain gave a big screw-you to the other phases and just stuck with Angry. For months. It definitely caused strain in my relationship with Mike. Talking with my sisters about our feelings didn’t always help either because they could sometimes be pretty Angry, too. We were sticking together, but occasionally, we were just making each other more Angry. At work, during a review, I actually had my Creative Director tell me that she was a little worried that I was Angry about some things. That was a shock. I have always prided myself on being a great employee, and spent a lot of the early days after my mom’s accident throwing myself into my work, desperate for the distraction. I had no idea that the people who normally really liked me were suddenly viewing me as somewhat hostile.

For those few months, I fell into a damaging pattern of taking everything personally, and reacting to situations in ways that would never have occurred to me before. Yelling and freaking out when I got cut off in traffic, ranting and raving to whomever would listen about work issues that were really not a huge deal, subconsciously doing things to get a rise out of people who loved me so that they would get angry, too. Not good. While I was being angry, I was also withdrawing from all of my friends, meanwhile keeping myself very busy by gaining 40 pounds. (Can you say ‘Emotional Eater’?) Then, when my clothes wouldn’t fit, and when I would look fat in pictures, guess what? That’s right. I would get really effing Angry. Something had to give.

I’m not sure what exactly it was, maybe just a normal part of the healing process, but about a month ago, the Angry just started to go away. Halloween night, after I embarrassed myself in front of the mayor, I was reading Real Simple Magazine. One page in every issue of their magazine is always a beautiful nature photograph with a deep quote next to it that is intended to make you reflect on life. Sometimes I think the quotes are a little cheesy, but this one stopped me in my tracks. It was a photo of a tiny, fluffy baby bird sitting in the palm of a man’s large hand. The quote was:

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.
-Henry James

It really struck a chord with me. The old Cara would have cut it out and posted it on the fridge, dutifully using these words to live by as a small inspiration each day. Angry Cara, who was sitting there reading that magazine, was inclined to roll her eyes and flip the page, idly continuing the search for holiday shopping tips and Thanksgiving cooking ideas. But, something in the quote made the old Cara start to wake up a little. I stared at the page. I read it over and over and over again. I unexpectedly felt tears on my cheeks. I cut it out and posted it on the fridge.

It occurred to me that I had not been being very kind to anyone in a long time. Sure, I was always nice to servers at restaurants, and the checker at the grocery store. I bought Girl Scout cookies when the kids came to the door, and I always waved and said hi to my neighbors. My heart wasn’t in it, though. I used to be a really nice person, and I meant it; it came from somewhere inside of me, and it was definitely put there by my mother. There is a very real difference between being kind and just being polite; I was still going through the motions of being a good person because we are all supposed to, but inside, I really wasn’t giving a crap. On top of it, I was abusing my relationship with my boyfriend, ignoring friends’ phone calls and invitations, and apparently being sort of a bitch at the office. The only living thing I’d really connected with in months was my dog. For some reason I felt like he was the only one who could possibly understand me, an animal with no real ability to truly understand. How irrational is that?

I tried to explain to Mike a few months back that I was waking up every single morning with an uncontrollable urge to throw baseballs as hard as I could through big glass-paned windows. I craved the release and the noise and the force of it all; I would actually spend time picturing it and trying to capture in my mind what it would really feel like. What I have since learned is that the feeling, that fist in my gut, and my heart and my brain that wouldn’t unclench, it has a name, and that name is rage. I have always been such a comedic, even-keeled person that I didn’t even know what the feeling was. I thought I had just developed some weird baseball/window fetish, but there was actual rage inside of me. Mike tried to understand, and he always did a good job of helping me to feel better, but I am sure he was questioning my sanity. I was questioning my sanity, too.

The morning after I read the Henry James quote, I woke up with a different feeling. I woke up thinking: Yes, I am still sad, and I will probably always be a little sad, but today, I am not angry. I will be angry again in the future, but it will not control me, and today, the most important thing is to be kind.


Today, I was walking out to get into my car and make the commute to the office. As I strolled to the driver’s side door of my little SUV, I noticed black plastic and bolts, and broken glass scattered all over the street. I looked at my car and realized that, as it was parked on the street overnight, someone had driven by and clipped my mirror, completely torn it off, a total side-mirror-ectomy. I let out a groan, and picked up the pieces and went inside to get Mike who was still shaving. He came out and took a look at it, assessed the damage in his ever-so-analytical engineer way, and said “Well, I’ll price them today and fix it over the weekend.”

I sighed and even stomped my boot once, “Arrrrggh. This sucks!”

Then I kissed Mike and said goodbye and got behind the wheel. As I was getting ready to pull out into the street, my eyes instinctively went to where the mirror would have been, had it not just been reduced to a tangle of wires and broken plastic protruding from the side of my car. I laughed at it. It looked so ridiculous, and here I was still trying to use it to check behind me. It occurred to me that I was not really Angry about this unfortunate little event; I was just annoyed. Annoyed I can deal with. Annoyed feels healthy and normal. Annoyed does not feel like baseballs crashing through glass.

I do not know why certain things happen in life. I try to believe that things happen for specific reasons, but sometimes it seems that an event will take place and there is absolutely no semblance of a reason attached. It will always be one of those things that humans will never be able to understand. I do not know the reason for my mom dying when she was so young and when I still needed her so much, but I definitely know why some idiot knocked the mirror off of my car. It was simply to show me that the old Cara is back. That is worth way more than the $69.99 for part number 22095 at AutoZone.


Crabby McSlacker said...

Glad to hear the anger is easing up a bit. And, um, I don't want to fly in the face of your blog title--but if the anger part gets bad again, talking to Someone Who is Trained can sometimes be helpful and can speed up the healing process a bit. (If you get a good therapist and not an idiot, of which unfortunately there are many).

But sounds like you're working through it in your own way, and it's good to hear it's getting better.

Cara said...

Thanks, Crabby. I'm probably scaring anyone who reads my blog... One day I am cracking jokes about the Ladies Room, and the next I'm dealing with my "issues" Ah well, more hilarity next time :)

Maggie said...

It's not called "Cheaper Than Therapy" for nothing, right? I'm liking the mix of light and heavy; it's life. I definitely admire your candor, and am glad to hear the angry phase is fading out.

Cara said...

That's right, Maggie! I appreciate you not thinking I am looney. Although, I sort of am a lot of the time. Thanks you!

katieo said...

It's ok. You don't have to be "the funniest person I've almost met in a long time" all the time! I totally agree with Maggie, light and heavy makes for more interesting reading. And glad to see the Anger is lifting. I love that quote by Henry James!

That girl from Shallotte said...

Love the Henry James quote. And I love your ability to put a light, honest touch on your experience. I think you're awesome and a book is coming out of your blog!

My favorite quote ever, in every translation from the French I've encountered, was Flaubert from "Madame Bovary":

"Human words are the drum upon which we tap out crude rhythms for bears to dance, while we long to make music that will melt the stars."

I read that at my sister's funeral 14 years ago. You and I really do live semi-parallel lives. But you have the courage to put it all out there. And I'm glad to be your fan. :)

That girl from Shallotte said...

Sweet girl-

I am so glad you hit "Next Blog" that night. After all our back and forths I feel like I've known you forever. I love your stories!

What I want you to know the most is how much you inspire me. This post and your honesty in reflecting on a not-happy event gave me the courage to write my last three.

My husband's half-brother lives in Colorado Springs and is engaged. My mother-in-law HATES his fiancee. Though I've never met her (only met him once), from the stories I hear, I'm gonna have to side with the madre and hope he sees the light and doesn't marry her.

But, if he does, I'll go just so I can stay in Denver and hang out drinking beers with you! I'll bring Songburst; it's been out of print for years, though you might find it on eBay.

Your fan-