Sunday, March 4, 2007

Perceptions and Expectations -- jcarolek

Everything I see and everything I understand is based how I would react in similar situations. Or is it? Many times in my life I have been astounded by how others have reacted to a situation, because their reaction is so mind-boggling when compared to what “I would do.”

But, as with everything, some lessons must be learned the hard way. I must live them to KNOW how I would react. Below I have put forth real life occurrences, my anticipated reaction, and my actual reaction.

1. In 1985 my aunt called to tell me that my grandparents’ house had burned down, my grandpa had perished in the fire and my grandma was in critical condition in the hospital. They had not been able to reach my father, so I was given that task. As my aunt’s words came over the phone, I felt myself “leave my body.” It was as if I was there, on the side, watching myself react. I did not hold it together, as I'd have sworn I would, but I only lost it for a few moments. After that, I was able to contact my father and give him the tragic news. I was 27 years old and this was the first time I'd had to give my father awful news.

2. At age 23, as I was preparing for the birth of my second child, my best high school friend was diagnosed with a tumor on her brain stem. She was my age. Over the next few years and specifically toward the end of her life five years later, I found I was completely incapable of reacting in a way I thought I would have. I’d have thought I would write and call regularly. I’d have thought I would stand beside my friend and help her through, as she lost everything her young life had stood for. Instead, I found the letters impossible to finish. I put off calling her. I thought about her constantly, and could think of nothing I could share with her that would make a difference. I felt guilty for living and being healthy. I could not say, “get well soon.” or “miracles happen,” or, “How’s it going?” I just couldn’t. When her mother sent me the notice that Kelly had passed, I was left with an incredible feeling of failure. I was 28 years old, and had not been able to help my best friend in any meaningful way.

3. One year later, the day after my 29th birthday, I came back to the car from surf fishing on St. George Island, to find my car surrounded by several Sherriff’s deputies. I was informed that my brother Ted, four years my junior, had perished in a single car collision that morning. He had left my birthday celebration the night before and I would never again get to see his happy, silly, dimpled grin or hear his naturally contagious laughter. Again, I felt myself leave my body and watch on the sidelines as I lost it. Again, I not only had to “deal” with it as the listed next of kin, but I had to break the news to all of my brothers, sister and parents. I had to continue to be a wife and mother. I had to keep it together. I reacted in a way that actually worried my father, as I simply put one foot in front of the other and took care of what had to be taken care of. I recall my father saying, “you’re so young to have to be dealing with this.” I replied, “Dad, I’m 29.” He said, “I’m 53 and I have never had to deal with what you are having to do.”

4. Fast forward to 1998, May. I was actually on-line chatting with my brother’s girlfriend when the knock came on the door. The Sheriff’s deputy at the door told me of my son’s head-on collision and again, my body and mind separated. My body fell to my knees, and my mind watched, willing my body to be sturdy. I recall the deputy saying, “come on, we need to get you to the hospital as soon as possible…we don’t know if he is going to make it.” I would have THOUGHT I would have jumped in that car and taken off, but instead, I found my way BACK to the computer where I typed a short message to this girl, telling her to please tell my brother. The rest of the night was handled in much the way I would have expected to handle it, but I have always wondered WHY I sent that last message. I didn’t think about it, I just did it.

5. When my FIL went in for the surgery the doctors recommended to ensure he lived a happier longer life this past August, I had very high expectations of a good outcome. However, I had to leave my eBay business and travel to SC to support my husband for whom the fear of his parents’ death had always been overwhelming. So, I put my store in vacation mode and since I had recently started blogging, I also posted a note letting others know I would be away, but checking in. Had this happened a year earlier, I would never have considered posting a message to the world that I was traveling to SC for my FIL’s surgery. During the following four days, I posted when I returned to the hotel at night. It was as much of a way for me to unwind as it was to share the information with those whose prayers had been offered. When, in the end, he passed away, I also posted. It was not to get sympathy. It was just something that felt “necessary.” I had found nice support in the blogs and I did want to let others know of the results.

Why am I writing this post? Well, I know it is very easy to believe I know myself and how I will react in many situations. But reality has a way of proving me wrong. I can say I will approach each of life’s hurdles with honesty and the most strength I can muster. But I sincerely hope that others will never misinterpret my sharing as begging for attention (any more than usual, of course.) I have come to realize that each deals with life events in his own way, and while I might THINK it odd, or inconsistent, there is really never consistency without lots of practice. So, once I get the whole deal of dealing with huge events down, I will be better able to predict how I will react to future events. Until then, I will promise what I can…always to do my best. And I will also choose not to judge how you deal with your life events.

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