If there’s one thing to be said about my family, it’s that we are adept in a crisis. I hate to say it, but it’s our strong point. Maybe that’s good, although it comes from a long history of crisis control, which is not a good way to live.
When a good friend unexpectedly died recently, first the shock of her death overtook us all. My boys jumped right in to support of her son – their close friend – who lost his mom, and I did the same with her whole family. It was natural to us.
Then I realized a few days later, that I “took it on.” I mean seriously took it on – as if she were a member of my own family, or close enough that I needed to participate in a hands-on way. I felt “attached” to it, an automatic internal response to deeply feel the situation as if it were my own. Pretty overwhelming.
Sure I was emotional – it was very upsetting. Back in the day she was one of my closest friends. But we hadn’t seen each other in a while, although was in my heart and recently on my mind. And as sad as I was, she wasn’t my family. I could feel my own sadness without automatically feeling her family’s sadness too.
I thought about her son – who is the same age as my son – and how my son might feel if I had suddenly died. Everyone does that to some degree, we put ourselves in others shoes and our empathy naturally surfaces when we hear about tragedy. But I’m so used to having tragedy in my life, I only knew how to respond as if this was my own crisis. I actually didn’t have to take it on the way I did.
When I noticed this for the first time the day before her wake, the message was loud and clear. This is someone else’s tragedy and I could feel it differently. At arms length. I could think about this situation from an outside perspective, and even respond to it that way.
No to mention, I also had my own personal stuff going on that required my attention at the same time. I almost couldn’t deal with the timing of her funeral and my personal needs on the same couple of days. My sons too. They wanted to go, but they had their own priorities that could not be ignored. And they were ok with supporting their friend from afar, that was the best that they could do.
There’s a fine line between self-care and self-sacrifice. It’s a tricky balance that often feels difficult to achieve depending on our life circumstances, and conditioning. Not to mention it takes practice.
I recently read a “doctor’s orders” prescription for self-care:
Rest when you are tired. Do something fun every day. Breathe deeply. Absorb the Divine healing stream. Mother yourself well. And of course – enjoy life. (Because sometimes, as we are quickly reminded, life can be too short.)
The paradox is that while self-care may feel selfish, it’s the only way to care for or help others in their times of need ~ the last and most heartfelt message I will ever have from my friend.