The conversation started out about laundry.
In response to my coworker’s inquiry on what was happening with me, I mentioned doing a couple loads of laundry before work. Both the regular clothes and a load of linens.
The young man (mid-thirties seems young to me these days), call him Sean, replied by talking about what a task it had been for him to sort out clothes to give to Good Will and the Salvation Army – leading me to cringe, just thinking of the similar task awaiting me, given how it’s been over a year since I moved into my tiny apartment and I have many more clothes than I actually wear or have room for. We commiserated on the issue of too little room for our stuff.
But, he wasn’t talking about his own stuff so much as his mother’s. She died little more than six months ago – at age fifty-eight – and he’d had the painful task of going through her belongings and having to dispose of them, while every thing he gave up meant another loss: a loss of mementos, reminders of personal history, of the life he remembered growing up.
I’d lost my own mother just the previous May, and my father when he was only fifty-four. I was able to commiserate. When he said that he’d been having a lot of trouble sleeping since his loss, I suggested that a grief counselor might be helpful.
The conversation reminded me, later, that I may have some unaddressed issues of my own. Those unpacked boxes of my old clothes, my reluctance to let go of favorite clothes I’ve worn to rags, the way a whole big part of my life seems to have been in mothballs lately… I’m something of an artist (see http://www.dreamspell.net if you don’t believe me), but I’ve only poked at drawing or crafting projects in the past year and a half since my own mother’s death – instead, my favorite pastime has been playing computer games to zone out, achieving as numb a state as possible.
Sean said his loss had hit him especially hard since it came at a time when he considered himself otherwise very happy, thinking life was really going his way.
My mother’s passing came at a time when I should have otherwise been on top of the world, having just realized a life-long dream with the publication of my first novel, and looking forward to the publication of my second novel a month later.
Instead, it presaged a time of huge upheaval, as I was also out of work and in the process of looking for a new residence – without the means to support one – as it was, I moved three times within three months, going from place to place, to my brother’s spare bedroom, before I finally came to roost in the tiny apartment where I’ve been for the past year.
In retrospect, I can see signs of trauma in my behavior, how withdrawn I’ve been – almost paralyzed in some ways, doing little more than the minimum requirements for survival. It could have been a lot worse. I’ve stayed positive in a lot of ways, moved forward with writing, found work, kept up with friends – but there’s a sense of avoidance, as if poking into certain areas would be like putting weight on an injury. Hearing about my coworker’s loss and his task of sorting reminded me of my own situation, especially, the juxtaposition of loss in the midst of success.
I suggested to Sean that we need to define happiness in a way that recognizes the fact that life will always include pain and loss. A true happiness must be based in this reality, will require that we take what love and light we have to bring as comfort into the darkest corners and hours of our souls.
Well, I’ve smoothed out the language, but that’s the gist of the thought and it seemed to help.
Hearing about his loss and the follow-up work of disposing of his mother’s possessions reminded me of issues I’ve been avoiding. Sometimes the perspective offered in the stories we share turns out to be necessary to the whole process of unpacking our own stories, sorting the past into what’s meaningful and valuable before we can let go of the rest.