Life and Health

Nothing Left Unsaid

I was thinking about my dad today and with that came thoughts about grief and loss. My dad passed away almost 10 years ago after a six-month battle with Small Cell Lung Cancer (SMLC). If you aren’t aware, SCLC is the type of lung cancer that most often effects smokers (or those exposed to smoke on the regular), and my father was a smoker for almost my entire life and long before I was brought into this world. He stopped briefly after a heart attack at 40 but unfortunately his addiction was too strong. My brother and I posted “No Smoking Section” signs around the house when we were little and over the years, I expressed my disdain for this habit and plead with my father to stop but for whatever reason he never could until it was too late.

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Ten years later and I still miss him every day. Something will still remind me of him or the wish that he could “be here” for this moment. My beliefs on death and the afterlife are still a bit fuzzy. My mother would say he’s “still with us” or he’s “looking down on us” and that’s all well and good but I remember being a tween when my own grandfather passed away and all that did was creep me out. I was not happy at the idea of my grandfather “always looking down on us” from Heaven; when I got out of the shower for example. I remember distinctly sitting in my room one day after a shower, wrapped in a towel, looking around my room like “Dziedek?” (Dziedek = Grandfather in Polish) And ever since then my feelings around “Heaven” have been a little skeptical.

But I digress….the afterlife (or lack thereof) is not the point of this.

The point is living with the grief over the past ten years and the 6 months that led up to his passing.

When my father was first diagnosed I, of course, went to “the Google” and read up on SCLC. It’s a pretty gnarly and fast acting cancer. At the time, median survival was only approximately 18 months which meant on average patients diagnosed with this cancer usually died around 18 months — some shorter, some longer; we all know how averages work, right? I knew something was up when they wanted to start chemo like yesterday and were scrambling to call other hospitals to find the drugs. I met the doctor outside my father’s room and said, “tell me the truth.” The poor doc looked like a caged and worn out animal, didn’t help that I towered over him (thanks Dad!), and said “we try to treat each patient as an individual, not a statistic….*pause*…cherish what time you have left with your father.” I nodded and went back into the room. I knew what he meant.

I also talked with my minister at the time, Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti (who is a man of incredible insight and compassion honestly if you ever get the chance to meet him you should do it regardless of your faith tradition). I expressed my frustrations and anger that basically my dad had done this to himself, and we were suffering because of it. He acknowledged my feelings but told me to stop and just love my father and be present with him during whatever time we have left. 

Because of the doctor and Manish, I spent those six months trying to remain present and enjoy what I still had with my father while I still had it. Some days it certainly wasn’t easy and some days I was angry as hell that I was going to lose my father in some unspecified amount of time but I kept going.

Now almost ten years have gone, and I still think about him every day; I am incredibly sad that he isn’t around to meet my daughter. I can just see my Dad with my daughter trailing behind him as his little helper, the way I was at her age. Unfortunately, my daughter has never met him but she does ask about him once and a while and I try to tell her stories or share experiences with her like “my dad used to do this with me.” While we were camping a few weeks ago, I told her that her Babci and Dziedek (my parents) took me camping when I was her age so this was something I was passing on to her.

While I still miss my Dad, I don’t feel the gut wrenching absence that his death initially caused. The hole that was there in 2012 when he passed away has been filled with the way my Mom (Babci) tries to be the best she can for my daughter, the way I share things with my daughter and say “my Dad, your Dziedek, taught me that”, or when I see her following after her own father trying to be his helper.

In those last six months, I really tried to embrace the message from Manish and the doctor so I could focus on what is and not what could or should be.

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

I’m not in a stranglehold from grief or regret because there wasn’t anything left unsaid or undone when he died. When we sneaked (or snuck depending on what country you live in) into my mom’s house to decorate that first Christmas after he passed, I said to my brother it wasn’t about ignoring that he existed just because it hurt so much (we were debating putting up one of his golfing ornaments on the tree), it was about celebrating that he was in our lives; I can still hear him to this day whistling “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”.

I can’t be wrapped up in “what ifs” because I’ll miss what is — which is beautiful even if someone is missing from it.

What if we always acted like we might die tomorrow? What regrets wouldn’t we live with or what wouldn’t be left unsaid? 

Whether it’s telling people that we love or appreciate them (why is this so hard sometimes?) or telling people the things that are getting on our nerves or hurt us so it can stop twisting us up in knots — things shouldn’t be left unsaid because what happens if you could never say them again?

Life and Health

Dealing With “Bucket Dippers”

Photo by Mary Oloumi on Unsplash

If you aren’t aware, there is a book titled “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud. It’s a great little story about “bucket fillers” (people who do nice things for others) and “bucket dippers” (people who do mean things to others). It explains how you can fill your own bucket of happiness by filling other people’s buckets. While I don’t disagree with this sentiment, I think it’s important to teach kids empathy and to be “bucket fillers” but I think we’ve spent so much time trying to force people into being bucket fillers that we haven’t taught kids either how to deal with days when they want to be bucket dippers or how to deal with the bucket dippers in their lives.

We have spent so much time and energy on the “be kind” movement and it doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. There still seems to be a large contingent of people that are in it for their own gains and to be fair, there are days where we’re all a little selfish. Sometimes selfish is good but there are other times where being too selfish means being a bucket dipper. Always telling kids to “be kind” or be a “bucket filler” doesn’t help them deal with the very real feelings of wanting to be selfish and sometimes in our adult lives NEEDING to be selfish.

All we’re going to do is raise more adults to be burned out because they’re constantly trying to be something for someone else.

What happens when you’re in a relationship that becomes toxic? What happens when your friends really want you to go out when you really need to stay home and rest? By constantly telling kids to be “bucket fillers” we are missing the fine line between being a decent human being and being a doormat. Sometimes I want my daughter to be selfish, I want her to stand up for herself and be her own person without always being worried about what it’s going to do to someone else’s bucket. And what happens when, because inevitably it will, they want to be selfish and suddenly they worry about whether they’re going into bucket dipper territory? Kids see things in black and white and I wonder what kind of messages “The Giving Tree” and this book are planting in their heads sometimes.

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash

The other problem I have with this idea is that we’re not telling children HOW to deal with the bucket dippers. There will always be bucket dippers in your life — sometimes they’re friends who unintentionally do things that are hurtful and sometimes they are people who don’t see the world the same way you do. There will always be hurt or angry feelings to contend with and someone who doesn’t like you but we’re setting them up with the unrealistic expectation that we’re “all friends here” when that’s not going to be the case. When you get out into the uncontrolled dog eat dog real world (and sometimes that’s just the playground) it’s not always friendly.

Kids need to find ways to problem solve and resolve conflicts that are more complicated than just the platitude of “be a bucket filler honey!” By not allowing kids free range to work through the difficult and sometimes difficult relationships of life because there’s always an adult going “now be nice to your friends” or something to that effect we’re not letting children develop the necessary skills to navigate the messy waters of real life.

There is another strong-willed girl on our street that is a year younger than my daughter. They generally play together very well but sometimes their fierce personalities get in the way and one (or both) stomp off to their respective houses to sort out their feelings and cool off about whatever the problem happened to be. I recognize this is part of being a kid and part of dealing with other people. I haven’t stepped in to try and force the two girls to work out their issues and “stay friends” because we all get angry sometimes, we all want it our way (Burger King banked on that) and part of learning how to deal with other people is learning that we must pick and choose and sometimes there needs to be compromise. Living in the real world means determining what you can compromise on and what you can’t but sometimes you can’t identify the boundaries until they’ve been crossed, and you deal with the fallout of that.

Yes, I want my daughter to be a “bucket filler” most of the time but I don’t want her to be so focused on being a bucket filler that she loses herself in the mix. 

I want all of us to be kind and that includes being kind to ourselves; sometimes we need to fill up our own bucket in whatever ways we feel called to do.

Being in community sometimes means that things get a little complicated and we must learn to deal with the unpleasantness when things don’t go the way we want them to so I will continue trying to help my daughter navigate the grey messy middle in between being a doormat or always doing for others and being a jerk.