Do you remember Pollyana, the eternal optimist from 1960 Walt Disney Productions film of the same name, and based on the novel by Eleanor Porter? Pollyana always saw the bright side, and although at first, she got on the nerves of cynics, she ended up endearing herself to them and enriching their lives. As caregivers, it’s easy to lose a sense of optimism, or to see the bright side of life. I remember waking up and dreading what the day might bring. A day without a crisis was a great and welcome surprise, but I didn’t dare expect or anticipate it. I did hope for it. Grief carries that same tug of emotions. I have a lot more good days now, so it hits me hard when I am caught off guard by something that triggers tears or sadness. I sometimes try to avoid things that I think will make me sad, but I cannot anticipate what might cause the grief to surface. It occurs to me that in these down times, I need a little Pollyana in my life!
There’s always a pressure to be in the holiday spirit, and that can be stressful for anyone. I’ve been feeling a little down since Thanksgiving. It bothers me because I’ve been feeling more empowered since I went to London. I can intellectually understand the grief, I can analyze it, I can say that what I am going through is completely normal. Grief, however, is sneaky and unpredictable. And, I have become more self-conscious about grieving. People ask how I’m feeling and I’m not sure how I should react. If I say I’m fine, they either respond with “really?” as if I am betraying my loved ones or could not possibly be fine, or they have a sense of relief. Of course, there are the people who are genuinely interested and are happy for my good days, but sympathize with my bad ones. But, there are also the people who have given me a time frame for grief, and are impatient if I do not appear to have “moved on,” or those who have lots of inappropriate and unsolicited advice, and, for those people, I am never anything but superficial in my responses. I don’t see any point in foolish discussions or being defensive about my feelings. I do, when necessary, rely on the wisdom of Scar (click here for that post).
I do love the idea of the holidays, and I do love my decorations, although now they hold memories that are bittersweet. Since I was a young girl, I have loved being in NYC during the holiday season and I have so many fond memories of looking at all of the department store windows with my mom and my aunt Eleanor. The streets here are vibrant, with holiday windows, pretty lights and holiday craft markets. I try to focus on those good memories, but I can’t seem to keep my thoughts from drifting to the winter of 2014, when the only lights I saw were from the car window as the taxis brought me to and from the hospital, where I visited my dad until he went to the hospice, and then I saw lights from the Long Island Rail Road train. After he passed away, I was Ben’s caregiver, so there was little time to wander the streets. Last year, after Ben passed away, I had the time to the see the holiday windows and I even wanted to feel the excitement. However, I quickly realized that it was too soon after losing Ben and I was hurting from the loneliness of my first holiday season without him. There were simply too many thoughts of recent sad holidays. Having the time did not mean that I had the desire or the motivation to enjoy things, and certainly not in the same way. Those thoughts began to plague me again during Thanksgiving. I had the opportunity to view Bloomingdale’s holiday windows a couple of days ago and I used a little Pollyana enthusiasm, and was even proud of myself for not avoiding a potential trigger of sadness, but I found myself just going through motions without the excitement I used to have.
Watching Walt Disney Productions’ Pollyana recently, I was reminded of her wonderful world view and of the “Glad Game.” This was a game that Pollyana’s father taught her to deal with disappointment. You turn every bad situation around and think about something you’re glad about regarding that situation. What a gift to be able to always see a good side of things, even if it signals a bit of naivete. I was inspired by watching this sweet little orphan tirelessly bring cheer and optimism to everyone.
Given my current less than upbeat mood, I decided to play the “Glad Game” like Pollyana, and here are a few things I learned:
- Being a caregiver was difficult and heartbreaking, and the memories of those experiences continue to weigh on me. There were times of high tension, anger and resentment on my part and on Ben’s, which time has helped me to better understand, but which have also left me somewhat scarred. But, I’m glad to have been able to take the opportunity to show so much love and caring to him and to have had such a profoundly loving and rewarding experience. And, I’m glad that over the course of our 16 years together and while he was in the hospice that we shared great love and appreciation for each other.
- I’m still sad that my dad isolated himself and did not let himself enjoy life while he could. I always hear that I was his whole world, and that means everything to me, but it was also a huge responsibility as well as an exhausting task to always try to motivate and cheer him up (I think my dad would even have been a challenge for Pollyana). But, I’m beyond glad that I made him so happy with the books and gadgets I brought him, our many daily conversations, hearing about my adventures, and my constant presence, caregiving and love. That’s a uniquely special feeling.
- I’ve lost the people in my family I was closest to in this world and I miss them every single day. But, I’m glad to have had those deep and meaningful relationships and, in the case of my dad and Ben, that I could be the person they turned to as caregiver. I carry all of them with me in my heart and I know that their strong influence is reflected in the person I am.
- During these family holidays, I have very little sense of family and very big sense of not belonging anywhere. But, I am very glad to have wonderful friends who include me as part of the family, and they have become my family.
- My holiday ornaments bring back memories that are beautiful, but are also reminders of memories I can never relive. But, I’m so glad and lucky to have had the experiences that created those memories. I am glad that I am still able to smile when I look at them, even if I smile through tears. I’m also glad I found the strength and zest to begin to create new memories, even though I have not quite worked through how to weave together past and present.
- My emotions are all over the place and I feel very vulnerable and unsettled. But, I’m glad that am a creative and resourceful person who can blog to help myself and engage with other people who struggle as caregivers or grievers. I’ve been inspired and comforted, as well as validated, by much of what I’ve read, and I hope that my words have a positive effect on other people.
So, did the “Glad Game” help me? For me, I think that the notion of “glad” is a little simplistic, and it’s more about gratitude. But, to get myself into the habit of trying to look at things from a different perspective, as the “Glad Game” does, serves me well. I think it would serve most of us well. And, it might help caregivers get through difficult circumstances. When I was a caregiver, my feelings and emotions were very conflicted- I was satisfied yet frustrated, strong yet weak, giving yet resentful, optimistic yet pessimistic. Coming out the other side of that experience, and now in grief, I see that caregiving has changed me at my core. Some of the positive and negative ways are visible and I believe that there are other aspects that I have yet to discover. I feel that in some ways I found myself and for that I’m glad, or grateful. I see that I am comfortable as a caregiver and maybe that’s why I always loved the field of education and teaching. I do not romanticize the experience, or forget the extreme hurdles, but I treasure the unique relationships that developed as a result of caregiving. I am even pursuing certification as a caregiving consultant beginning in January 2017. I have a heightened sense of gratitude that has improved my outlook and sense of myself. I am a compassionate person, and the compassion I’ve seen in others has shown me that compassion will reveal itself where least expected. I am most assuredly glad about that, because that is the kind of magic that keeps me believing in pixie dust and wishing on stars. Maybe I do have a little bit of Pollyana in me after all!
Try the “Glad Game.” And watch Pollyana. Please get back to me and post your comments in the space below.
For those of you who remember the TV series Bewitched, the woman in this clip, Agnes Moorehead, was Endora!
Film clip: Pollyana, 1960, Copyright © Walt Disney Productions