Some will immediately relate to these labels, and some maybe not so much. Yet most people I work with exhibit at least some of these traits, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. For the perfectionists, it may come as an almost badge of honor. A commitment they’ve made to themselves to do everything the best they can, without fail, in every single category of their life. The people pleasers may not be as satisfied with that title. But they also understand it as a necessary skill to function in their lives, and as a way to get along with the people around them.
But what happens when life falls apart? Expectations for ourselves often remain the same, but how can they when EVERY SINGLE THING in life has changed? Do these old habits and old roles still work?
There is a pretty well-accepted theory on grieving that the first year is the hardest. The loss is so new, the first months can be spent in a blur of shock and disbelief.
This can be especially true for a sudden loss, but can surprise people when they are in “shock” even after a loved one has died following a long and drawn out illness.
I’ve said it many times: nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can prepare us for the finality of death.
Navigating that first year, through anniversaries, birthdays and holidays can feel endless. But the assumption for most is that as long as they can get through that, it should be smoother sailing in the days ahead.
When speaking with a person who has recently lost a loved one to a long illness, I often hear them say “I’m just relieved that she’s gone.”
And this statement is almost certainly followed with something like: “It’s just that she was suffering for such a long time. I love my mom, but for those last few years she wasn’t herself. She had no quality of life and I know she would not have wanted to live that way.…”
The fact is that relief is a complicated emotion when coupled with grieving.
We are born selfish. The only thing that matters to us in our earliest days is being fed, sleeping when we need it, and being comforted when we want it.
When we’re a little older, and we begin walking and talking and interacting with others, some of this starts to change. We’re expected to be patient, to share with friends, and to use our manners.
As time passes, expectations grow. Hold the door for others before you walk in. Don’t eat until everyone has been served. We are taught that others’ needs come before our own.
With maturity, in marriage and with parenting, the sacrifices continue. How quickly we go from “what do you want to be when you grow up?” to learning how to forfeit our interests for the sake of others. It seems that to be a “good” adult we must recognize that what we want isn’t always the primary concern.
Of course there’s a need for this. To be part of a society and to get along with others, we do need to learn some of these “rules” of benevolence.
But, oh, how quickly we lose the balance. And nothing is a greater example of this than the caregiver.