Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wishful Thinking

One of the most intense feelings that I've experienced since Bronwyn died is the profound and intense wish that things could have been different.  I wish that Bronwyn had not struggled with seizures and physical encumbrances in her life.  I wish that she could have talked, sung songs, chased butterflies, and most of all, I wish that she hadn't died. 

I wish that life had turned out differently.
But it didn't. 

And herein lies the crux of my problem: Of course I would wish for those things!  What parent wants to see their child suffer?  And at the same time, I found that my wishing was getting in the way of being able to accept the reality of my situation.  I felt stuck and went to see a trusted counselor for some clarity.  This is what I understood her to say:

It is natural for us to protect ourselves from pain by moving away from it. We do this on both a physical level (the stove is hot, we don't touch the burner) and on an emotional level. When we wish for what we do not have, we engage ourselves in the act of imagining what it would be like if we actually posessed the wished for thing.  And in the moment of fantasizing, we actually feel better. Eventually, though, we come back down to earth and then we play a cruel trick on ourselves: we compare the fantasy not to our whole reality (which is composed of messy bits and tidy bits) but to the least desired parts of our reality.

So for me, the comparison looks like this: FANTASY: Bronwyn and I are laughing together while we bake Christmas cookies.  "REALITY:" Bronwyn lays dying in the hospital. 

Upon this comparison, I now feel horrible. The difference between what I have chosen to represent as reality compared to the fantasy is unbearably painful. By abandoning the whole of my experience with Bronwyn (the parts that include joy), I have actually manufactured extra pain for myself! I am bereft all over again, and am re-living the traumatic hospital experience.  And amazingly, I do this over and over again. 

With the help of my counselor, this is what I've discovered as a way to help myself out a little.  I ask myself some questions:

Does my reality include the traumatic experience of watching Bronwyn's decline in the hospital?  Yes. 

Is that the whole truth of my reality with Bronwyn? 
No.  My life with Bronwyn was rich and beautiful.  The quality of life that was given to Bronwyn was high, and she faced her obstacles with grace and courage, surrounded by the love and support of all who knew her.

Remembering the whole truth of my complex situation helped to diffuse the negative feelings that I had selectively clung to.  And I realized something else of importance: Even if I had gotten my ultimate wished for thing; even if Bronwyn were alive, well and free from seizures and physical encumbrances, I would still wish for more.  I'm not sure exactly what I would be wishing for, but I'm quite sure that a sense of dissatisfaction is an inherent part of being human. 

For me, the pathway to healing my chronic wishing lies first in the recognition that the fantasy is fiction, which is created by me.  I alone have the power to change the story.  I can ask myself, "Is this line of thinking helping me?  Is it serving a purpose to better my life or anyone else's?" "What might be more helpful to me right now?"

I have not completely stopped wishing that things had turned out differently for Bronwyn and for our family, but I have started to remember more of our complex and wonderful story.  I feel calmer and more balanced.  I'm ready for another day.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The More That Time Goes By, The Longer It Has Been

It has been three and a half months since Bronwyn has been gone, and I find myself in a complex sea of emotion. As time has passed, I have gradually become more accustomed to the pain that is Bronwyn's absence.  But at the same time, the longer I live without her, the more deeply I miss her.  So the acute pain has lessened, but the ache has spread. 

Additionally, as the relationship to my pain shifts, so does the way that I relate to Bronwyn now.  Instead of being haunted by her final days in the hospital, I remember more of the whole of her life, and the happy moments that we shared.  Of course this is natural, and a positive part of the grief process.  But I find that it also introduces a whole new element of grief; I grieve for the passing of the old way that I was relating! 

It's as if I'm afraid of losing Bronwyn all over again through the transitions of my emotions.  I have found it immensely helpful to remind myself that Bronwyn will always and forever be a part of my biology, my psychology, and my way of relating to the world.  She will never be lost to me.