February 2014

Seeking Mature and Wisdomy

Two years ago this spring I was spending the night in the hospital with my then fifteen-year-old son who had just been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Fatigue, weight loss and throwing up had taken us to the doctor on a Monday and from there to the emergency room and into the hospital and an intermediate care room. Between Monday and Friday my son received IV fluids, food and insulin while he and the rest of the family received a crash course in diabetes care. Late one night after everyone else had left and the movie we were watching was over, he asked me how I felt about the whole thing. When I returned the question to him, he replied that sometimes he felt "all mature and wisdomy" and sometimes it was "this sucks." Not for the first or the last time, I was very impressed.

"Mature and wisdomy" and "this sucks." What a fitting description of the package deal that is our lives. Not just one thing or the other but a complicated mixture. Not so many generations ago, his condition would have led to an early death. Today diabetes is a chronic, incurable but manageable condition. Annoying and high-maintenance, but not a tragedy in the big picture. Annoying and high-maintenance is the sucky part. No day will ever go by, no meal, snack or drink, where the reality of this new world and condition will not be a present fixture, consideration and burden. Life can be good, of course, but the recipe for its goodness will always now necessarily contain calculations of carbohydrates and administration of insulin. Loss of the old life, adjustment to the new.

There are days when life changes in significant ways. Turning point days. Sometimes we see them coming like graduations, weddings, first and last days on the job. Test results days can be turning point days, too. Whatever the results of the tests, we know we stand at the fork in the road looking at the possible paths ahead and waiting for the guidance that the test results will bring. And then there are those days that we never saw coming where we end up in the emergency room, on the side of the road or at the end of a phone call where life has been changed forever. Something about what we had has been lost and we have been yanked into a new reality, a new dimension of living. No choice about it despite our protests, understandable denial or sulkiness. Grief is there as loss can't and won't go anywhere without it, and while we adjust to the new world, we do well to give grief its due right of way and attention. To do otherwise, frankly, is not much the option because grief won't just go away if ignored. Annoying, frustrating, or grossly unjust, change means loss, loss means grief, and grief means grieving. That is the "this sucks" part.

But what of "mature and wisdomy?" Where do they come in? While part of ourselves is understandably living in pain and protest world, there are other parts of us. These parts see a different truth. Loss is not the whole picture despite its common deception that it is. There is more to the situation if we can back up far enough to see it. Much may be lost, but not all. That which is left has value still, even more value than can be measured. In the novel, The Fault is in Our Stars, author John Green suggests the idea that some infinities are larger than other infinities (book is highly recommended). Life before loss had infinite value. Life after loss also has infinite value although the loss was substantial and real. One infinity may be smaller but still infinite. Our mature and wisdomy selves can see this or at least have a significant glimpse and this is important. This truth does not negate the loss and its pain but is no less true. Life is still this package deal whether or not we see it, and we need this perspective from our mature and wisdomy selves.

One way we get into trouble when losses come our way in these turning point experiences is that we are tempted to see such experiences in either/or fashion. Either they are all bad—loss, pain and injustice—or they are all good and the loss doesn't matter—only the potential gifts within the loss, underneath the wrapping of the pain, matter. Why must it be all one or the other? Is life really so simple? Loss and its griefs are real as are love and the relentless nature of life, all infinitely true. Sometimes what happens in life does "suck" but our mature and wisdomy selves understand that life's suckiness is not all there is to it and certainly does not deserve the last word on the matter.

After our hospital admission on Monday and days of stabilization and education, we were discharged home on Friday. In a move to a new normal, we decided to eat dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. After dinner, my son and his driver's permit got in the car to drive us home. He put on some new sunglasses, turned on the CD player, buckled in and said something along the lines of "Well, I'm driving the black Honda, got my new shades, got Keb Mo on the stereo…and I've got diabetes." Mature, wisdomy and sucky. Package deal. Here we go…

Greg Adams
Center for Good Mourning

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Lessons from Lions: Using children's media to teach about grief and mourning is a creative resource for helping children understand ways to cope with a death in their lives. It is available only from the Center for Good Mourning for $3.00 per copy, plus shipping and handling. Please click the following link to receive your copy.

Lessons from Lions

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