Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Thing You Can't Do

Last week I wrote about Ron burying one of our goats, something he had to do although I’m sure he never wanted to. Ron loved a challenge—as long as it was related to the carpentry trade. To renovate our farmhouse, he learned wiring and stone pointing and all sorts of framing, drywall, flooring, and finishing techniques.

In other words, he loved to acquire anything he could hang from his tool belt. He shied away, though, from challenges that would stretch him from the inside out. Instead of staying as his father lay dying in the hospital, he offered to take his mother home—a move he regretted so much he mentioned it in his suicide note five years later. I was the one who stayed with Lloyd that last, long night. I’d never seen anyone die before, either—but I didn’t think he should do it alone.

Due to my need to commit Ron to psychiatric treatment against his will, and his subsequent suicide standoff, Ron continued to give me ample opportunities to do things I thought I couldn’t. It seems odd to call them “opportunities,” but in the long view, that’s what they were: each impossible challenge I met made me a larger, stronger person.

It wasn’t a lesson I sought to learn from him, but Ron taught me that sometimes you’ve got to do that thing you think you can’t.

Here are a few of the challenges I faced after Ron’s death, which I write about in my memoir:

1. I had to contest a lawyer’s invoice when, unbeknownst to me, divorce services originally valued at $3,000 had transitioned, upon Ron’s death, into a $15,000 estate case (I had no experience with lawyers; until then I had only ever bartered for the purchase of a Christmas tree).

2. I had to tell my eight- and ten-year-old sons that their father had killed himself.

3. I had to scrape pieces of my husband’s brain off the wall of his woodworking shop, where the Hazmat team missed them.

4. After six months, I finally found a service that could clean up after mace—the police who shot it into Ron's shop, to try to get him to come out during the standoff, had no clue how to help me.

5. I sold my husband’s guns (I knew nothing of guns, was scared to touch them, and felt faint standing in the gun shop).

6. I took a weekend after Christmas, waiting on one toll-free number after another, to cancel 29 active credit cards I didn't know about (I’ve refused every offer of new credit since, no matter what the enticement).

7. Dealt with #s 1–6 above, and more, while teaching my sons—who should never have had to witness any of this—that hope is always possible to find.

8. Watched as a vet euthanized my dear dog Max, because he too suffered from the suicide standoff, and while life left his body I was determined that my loving eyes would be the last thing he’d see—then brought him home and buried him on the farm.

9. Stayed on the farm to raise my children, facing down again and again and again what happened there.

10. Through all of this, held tight enough to my belief in the possibility of a healthy, enduring love that I was able to marry again.

I've learned that all sorts of things are possible. I remember once thinking that I’d never be able to swim a half-mile—then I swam two.

I, like my husband Dave, am afraid of heights—yet we climbed the Beehive at Acadia National Park in Maine (pictured above).

I thought I'd never travel abroad then Dave and I accompanied the boys on their school choir trip to Italy and watched them sing in the Vatican.

I recently thought I’d never be able to lose weight at my age—then, with hard work, lost 15 lbs.

I didn't think I could face caring for my parents, who suffer from dementia—but I am.

I once thought I’d never amass enough words or ideas to fill a book, but the memoir I’m writing is my third. Can I get any of them published? It's harder than ever for a first-time author to break into print and yet... Who knows what other feats I’m capable of?

I've decided there’s never shame in falling short of a goal. Because if you don’t try, you’ll never know. The trying, in and of itself, can add value to your life.

What have you done, that you thought you’d never be able to do?


Donna Galanti said...

Kathryn, I cried reading your post today. What pain and anguish is beneath the people we meet in life, and we have no idea. You are a strong, strong person.

I too saw the brains on the ceiling from my cousin who shot herself and her 9 year old son while he lay sleeping - to protect him in her paranoia. And yes, the "cleaners" obviously didnt think to "look up". That haunted me for months.

I admire you for so much but can relate to staying by your father in law's side as he died. I did the same for my mother, in her time of need as I wanted to experience every painful moment in caring for her and saying goodbye. I never thought I would bathe her and changer her diapers - yet I did and did it with love.

And so, yes, we must ask ourselves what can we do we never thought we could ever do - and reach for it. We can only grow stronger, deeper in our empathy for humanity, and deeper in our love for ourselves and truly appreciate all the wonder and tragedy in our life. It makes us who we are. And it's the choices we make that make us. So bravo to you!

Kathryn Craft said...

Thanks, Donna. My strength has been forged, that's for sure--I wasn't always like this. But sometimes there's a practical angle that can't be ignored, like with the brains. Who else is going to do it? I already paid to have it cleaned up, I was a bio major... I just kept chanting, "It's only gray matter. It's only gray matter..."

I don't want my big regret at the end of my life to be that I never stuck my neck out, never lived with gusto. So to the best of my ability, I'm seeing what I can do about that!

Marie Gilbert said...

I enjoyed your post, and began thinking that we frequently forget to count all the bad things that happen to us as we go through life, as a success story. You have accomplished not only surviving a tragedy, but learning deal with it. You already had that inner strength in you, but the suicide and events after, brought it out into the open. I am really looking forward to meeting you at the writer's conference in June.

Kathryn Craft said...

Thanks for your kind words, Marie, and I look forward to meeting you, too!

I learned from my first husband in so many ways, as did our children. I'll bet he'd be shocked to realize I still write about him all the time. I hate the way he wasted his gift of life, but he made me more determined than ever to make more of the gift of mine--and, in a strange way, through my writings, I'm making more than he chose to of his own.

Still living for the both of us, lol. Guess those old patterns, ingrained from living with an alcoholic, never end! But I've never been convinced that turning in a new direction without looking back was the best way to heal...

Kate Brandes said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing your hard earned wisdom.