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.


  1. Thank you for this - it really resonants with me. Also, love the heron, 'tis my favorite bird

  2. Nobody can choose the destination. It happens. And most important is that you have fond memories with Bronwyn (is what I see in the pictures).
    Many parents are only able to grieve and mourn. And I do not blame them for it. Each one reacts. And you do not. His strength and courage came by his infinite love for Bronwyn. You gave her a life of love and happiness. Led her to feel the snow, to put the touch on the land, the beach ... Do you have them participate in the life of Bronwyn. I thank you very much. I cry at their absence as if he knew personally Bronwyn.
    "I'm sure she had you as a mother, not by chance but because you were the best mother in the world to her".

  3. Colleen you did a masterful job of explaining/describing this complex, profound, and intimate notion. Loving you, jr

  4. Your words and your pictures are inspiring to me, and help me, also, in accepting my own reality in comparison to my own fantasies. You are right - no matter how good, it always seems like it could be better and I have wished for more than I already have had.
    I am your elder, but you are always teaching me.
    I love you so much - keep on learning and teaching, please! With love from your Auntie B.

  5. I love it that we can all learn from one another!

  6. You are a powerful source of grace for me. That counselor was wise, indeed, giving you tools that help you continue on your journey, build the road that will take you to tomorrow. Thank you so much for the courage to write this blog. Your sparks are helping to light up the dark in many other worlds.

  7. Thank-You, Quinn. The writing of these things helps me to understand them more fully. The fact that others might find comfort too just makes my joy more profound.

  8. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I cry each time I read about your sorrow, and I am in awe of your wisdom and strength. Love and hugs!

  9. Beautifully written, Colleen - thank you for sharing your incredible insight and wisdom. There's so much I'd like to say but there are no words in my heart. Love you! Sue

  10. Abandon simplicity:
    it's not what you think.

    Better. Best. Most.

    The shining, sparkle of almost
    perfect. Until the light

    fades. And you can't see like a cat-
    in the dark.
    So you're lost again,
    in the space between could be and should be
    searching for some day.

    Colleen -- you have an amazing voice. i'm glad you share it. Juli

  11. Colleen you are so brave in articulating your feelings and you are an amazingly strong person, what wise words you share with us. x

  12. Where did you come from? I am so amazed by you! You have taught me more than I can ever say, and I am so blessed to have you as my daughter. Keep is helping me to heal my soul.

  13. You are allowed to think and feel whatever you think and feel. You clearly know the difference between fantasy and ..... I hesitate to use the world reality because it is our perceptions that colour our reality ........ your memories. Sometimes we have to scratch the itch until it bleeds, to reconnect again and again with the pain, to worsen the pain occasionally, in order to assimilate the dreadful, awful, tragic things that have happened, in order make some sense of what is absurd and wrong in the extreme.
    Allow yourself your fantasies please. It doesn't mean that you will ever lose sight of your truth, or that you will be lost in dreams. It doesn't mean you will lose Bronwyn, or that you dis-serve her in any way. Your love for her is clear.

  14. Dear Colleen, what a beautifully written and wise post. Once again, you teach me by sharing your journey. I have carried pain and guilt in my life over several past circumstances that I have wished had been different, and sometimes I let the battle between what I wish had been and the part of what actually was, play out in my head to the point of mental torture. Now I see, (for the first time) how I have only been focused on isolated parts of reality. Zeroing in on just the ones that caused pain and weren't what I would have wanted, and by doing so I have passed right by all that was good and right. Wow. I get it. Thank you. You continue to illuminate through your marvelous light of being. Bless you. xo

  15. I'm so glad that we can all comfort and learn from one another. I love you, Victoria!

    I do allow myself fantasies, but I also want to make sure that I don't pretend that they are all that I have that is good...


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