I worry. I’m not obsessive about it and I enjoy my life, but I like to feel prepared. Most of the time when I worry, it’s merely a way of analyzing a concern and getting a jump on addressing it. If I didn’t worry about my kids getting cranky on a long outing I wouldn’t have thought ahead to bring a snack. Many moms in particular spend time worrying as a kind of preemptive strike. Worry now prevents a meltdown later. As long as it doesn’t drag you down, worry can be constructive.
But there is a limit. Worry with no endpoint can be debilitating.
If something is too large or unsolvable worry can gnaw at you until you
are ragged. And if worry stretches on too long it hurts.
My family found out this week that my dad’s health is in trouble. He went into the hospital on Christmas day,
and recently had surgery. I don’t have enough significant details to
write about even if they were mine to share, but suffice it to say we’ve
all had to stop and shift what we are doing to accommodate this new
situation. My brothers and I are all looking at what responsibilities
in our own lives can be set aside, and when, so that we can coordinate a
tag team effort to go out to Michigan and help. I’m in line first for
when dad gets out of the hospital.
My first reaction to the news that my dad was in pain and my mom was
possibly overwhelmed was akin to panic. There is nothing more upsetting
than feeling helpless, especially where loved ones are concerned. A
serious situation deserves a serious response. And I am in a different
state with nothing to offer from here and it’s frustrating and scary.
But the night we got the news my brothers and I tried to communicate
using Skype. The group conversation was too awkward, so Barrett Skyped
me directly. He’s in Germany at the moment, and it was really the only
way to talk to him. We said the couple of important things that needed
saying, and then we started to laugh. Not in any riotous kind of way,
but Quinn was lining things up
on the bed and Mona kept appearing and calling Barrett the wrong name
the way she usually does, and, well, seeing my brother makes me happy.
So we laughed a bit.
I was really conflicted about that. It seemed disrespectful of my
dad’s troubles. If his pain mattered to me, how could I laugh?
The truth is that life is more complicated than that. I remember
crying during my first miscarriage and feeling as if I would never smile
again, but at some point you can’t keep crying. Eventually you sleep
and you eat something and you get dressed and move on. And if you have
small children as funny and sweet as mine, you laugh. Whether you want
to or not, you laugh. Because it’s disrespectful to ignore that side of
The morning after I talked to my mom and my brothers I got an email from my friend, Sarah.
She has had more than her share of dealing with long term illness and
hospitals, and she gave me practical advice based on her experience.
All of it was interesting and insightful, but at the moment the most
invaluable thing she said was, “Don’t suffer before you have to.”
Because if a fight is long you can burn out on suffering and not be
useful. She also advised me to not turn away humor when it presents
itself. A good laugh is sometimes the best thing.
This has been immensely helpful to me. I feel as if I’ve been given
permission to laugh. I didn’t realize I needed that until it came. The
same way it was all right to enjoy the company of my extended family at
my grandmother’s funeral, despite the sad circumstances, it’s okay to laugh with my brothers even if our dad is sick. When I think about myself when I’m sick,
do I prefer it if my kids are in some kind of mourning because I’m in
bed, or giggling together down the hall? When my kids are happy my
world is better. I’m still someone’s kid. I can’t imagine my dad wouldn’t choose the sound of his own children laughing together over our worried mutterings.
So when I need to cry I will cry, but if I feel like laughing I will
allow that to happen, too. Because if I didn’t, what is the point? Of
anything? I will not suffer before I have to. And I will worry in
small doses–just enough to keep the meltdowns at bay.