“There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”--Edith Wharton
The holidays are a particularly difficult time for many people. When you suffer from mental illness, it can feel like a time of year particularly posed for disaster. Stress and worry about family gatherings, financial woes, and feelings of loneliness are all present in varying forms and might drown you if you allow them.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel all of those and more regularly. Holiday season or not.
A few days ago one of my oldest friends lost her husband in a tragic accident. He was riding his motorcycle to work in Titusville, Florida when the vehicle in front of him slowed unexpectedly to allow someone to enter traffic from an on-ramp. We’ll never know for sure, but it appears he didn’t have time to slow down. His bike rear-ended the vehicle, spun out, and ended up part of the back of a construction vehicle parked on the side of the road.
He died instantly on the scene.
He was only 46 years old. He left behind a wife and two sons who were completely dependent on him.
As much loss as I’ve experienced in my life, I can not imagine what she’s going through. Rachel and Shannon have been together since she was 14 years old, almost 30 years. We all grew up together, so in reality, we’ve been a part of one another’s lives for much longer.
Shannon was one of those people everyone loved. Through school, he was the guy who fit in everywhere. Never bound by one clique, he flowed through them all, making friends wherever he went with ease. He was one of the most laid back people I’ve ever known and a perfect balance to Rachel’s crippling anxiety.
Their entire family has been on my mind since the day of the accident. Another family member I’m close to called me just a couple of hours after he was identified. As screwed up as it sounds, one of my first thoughts was, “I’m so glad my husband is safe.”
My feelings throughout this tragedy have made me question whether or not I’m as good of a person as I thought. But the more I think of it, the more I realize what I’m feeling is normal. No one wants their significant other to leave this world before them. No one wants to imagine living through something so horrific, especially less than two weeks before Christmas.
We are entitled to our feelings, they’re ours after all. It’s okay to feel relief in the wake of grief.
It’s also okay to feel helpless as long as you don’t take up residence there. There is no way for me to go to Florida and be there for my friend and I have to accept that. What I can do, is to be there for her in the ways I am able. She’s doing okay. The reality of her situation hasn’t registered fully, but I know from experience, it will.
The best thing you can do for someone going through such horrific grief is lending an ear and truly listen. And know of your limits. There’s not much worse than promising to be there for someone and not following through when they’re ready for your help. People who know me well are aware talking on the phone is something I avoid like the plague. So I don’t offer it unless I feel I have the bandwidth to handle it. Instead, I let people know they are welcome to message or text me anytime they need to talk.
I can handle conversations like that over text messaging more than I can via voice. I know myself and what I can and can’t handle. There is nothing wrong with protecting your mental health in helping others. We can handle only what we can handle.
Though this holiday season has not gone the way I would like and doesn’t seem to get better, I am thankful. My family is together and as healthy as can be expected. My husband has some upcoming surgeries and health concerns that are worrying, but he’s here. Things aren’t optimal, but we’re all here.
And that’s the greatest blessing I can imagine today.