“When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured, Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.”
– The Beatles, Help!
Okay, anyone who loses someone close is dealing with a lot of issues. But this one caught me by surprise, and it’s been one of the harder issues for me to come to grips with – I can’t do this (grieving, raising two kids, working, keeping all these balls in the air) on my own.
When I was fifteen my dad died, and the only advice I got from the males left in my life was that I was now the man of the house; translation, it’s time to step up, be responsible, work hard and help out your mother and sisters. So I did, as begrudgingly as any teen who’s told to mow the lawn – but the work got done and it did instill in me a work ethic that got me through college while working and continued into my professional career, and now carries into my latest challenges. There are 30 years of habits here.
I also chose at 15 to keep everything inside and do everything I could on my own, because the hard working stoic Marlboro man is a lot cooler to a 15 year old than the sensitive, caring dude in touch with his feelings, despite the (now recognized) wonderful example of openness and communication and sharing that my father gave me.
(Sidebar – my parents enjoyed a wonderful relationship made stronger by a fantastic program called Marriage Encounter. ME is run through the Catholic church, and teaches the simple lessons of better marriage through better communication. And so they talked, and wrote to each other, and shared feelings, and expanded these lessons to us kids through Family Dialogues. Great job, mom and dad! Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time and grumbled through it, I’m learning it now. Just goes to show, do the right thing, you never know when that lesson will be taken to heart.)
(Another sidebar – so how do I teach my boys its okay to ask for help, to show emotion and share feelings, when I clearly didn’t learn from my old man’s example? Trevor still will not talk about events; it’s been two months and the concerns are mounting.)
So since my late teens I’ve done what needs done without asking for help, a stiff upper lip and poker face for the cowboy no matter how bad I might want to say “no mas.” And I discovered that my stubbornness (or is it really a fear of failure, if I’m being honest?) allowed me to work longer than most, and that most obstacles can be overcome with just a little more elbow grease and a few extra hours. My work habits over the years evolved into the belief that I could outwork any obstacle.
This served me well in my career, but I am now regretting the cost of this trait, time lost irrevocably to the office. Regrets will be saved for a later post, but just as devastating as regret, I have finally met an opponent that cannot be overcome by simply working harder and longer.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still trying, old habits die kicking and screaming. Most days I can still go to bed at night with the house in reasonable order, the kids fairly clean and fed, the homework mostly done, and the work wolves kept at bay for another day. But this requires a tremendous amount of energy, and my 17 and 18 hour days are exhausting – I know I will not be able to keep this up long term. I need (gulp) help.
And the offers of help abound; I am just not used to taking them up. Before I do, I want to make sure I’m asking for help in the right places doing the right things, and that is taking some time to figure out. So have some patience, I just don’t know what I need yet, what’s most important for the boys, and what priorities I need to set. How many extra-curricular activities should I have the kids involved in (read, how many can I get them to and still maintain gainful employment?) Is it okay to get a babysitter for a night out, or should I save those for when I’m in a pinch with work? When is it okay to let the laundry pile higher and the grass grow taller so we can just sit and watch tv (I completely missed the entire Olympics this summer, haven’t seen more than a few downs of any Steeler game, and I’ve thankfully not had the time to watch even an inning of the this years’ Pirates collapse.) And when do I just finally open the door and let the help take over, at least until the sanity returns?
Nope, I’m not good at this letting go stuff, especially the help part. I know I’ve gotta let go of the notion that accepting help is akin to weakness; it’s time to put the Marlboro man out to pasture…
And I have also learned that folks helping us also helps them, too, for grief affects more than just the immediate family. So thanks for all the meals, the unexpected laundry being done, for picking up my kids from school and getting them to baseball games or watching them while I run errands; know that it is appreciated, and I hope it helps you, too.
Please continue to think of us and all of those who have lost loved ones as the nights get longer and we slip back into routine; remember that our routines are forever changed. Everyone says it will get easier but I’m not seeing that light yet, it still feels like a very dark tunnel. But I’m confident I will figure out what help we need and hopefully will have the courage to ask when I do.