Thursday, December 6, 2012

Bearing Up Under the Strain

My paternal Grandfather, who drove a tank for the English Royal Guards in WWII, moved his family to Canada in the 1950s to provide them with a better life, had 5 kids, rose the ranks of the Edmonton Police Department, and remained happily married for well over 50 years... this Grandfather of mine had many sayings that became mantras in my mind.

One of my favourites was in response to someone else's greeting of "How are you doing?" and he would always say "Well, I've nothing to complain about, and if I did, you wouldn't want to hear it."

In the last 10 years of his life he watched his wife slowly deteriorate from Alzheimer's disease. He spent every day with her for those 10 years. Even when his drivers license was taken away he still bussed the 2 miles (in wind and rain) every morning to be there to feed her lunch, then he bussed home for an afternoon nap, and then bussed back to be there for 4pm to feed her dinner and tuck her into bed for the night. He did this for all those years until she passed away, and for the final couple years, he himself was failing due to Alzheimer's as well. His whole life he always said, "It's a good life if you don't weaken," but in the last couple years he confided, "I think I might be weakening Regan."

My Grandpa definitely had a lot to complain about. But I never once heard him complain about Grandma and having to take care of her. And the nurses who saw him every day attested that they never once heard him complain either. He would say, "She took care of me my whole life, the least I can do is take care of her now."

If anything, and near the end, his reply of "I've nothing to complain about" was sometimes accompanied with a sigh, but he knew enough to know that no one wanted to hear his complaints.


On the one hand, there are those people who really have nothing to complain about, yet they do at every chance they get. They'll go on a fantastic trip somewhere and when they recount it afterwards to friends, the first things they talk about are how wet and rainy it was, how noisy and busy the cities were, how tiring it was, how bad the food was, and on and on.  Why, then, I ask myself when I listen to these people, do you go on trips in the first place?

The parenting networks that I've stumbled upon are ripe with this type of complaining too. "My kids won't let me sleep in!" "Oh no, my kids are sick and won't go to sleep."  "I never get to go out any more."  "I'm so busy!" And on and on. Sometimes I wonder if the whole point of the network is to complain about parenting and validate other people's complaints (as well as upload and compliment one another's pictures). Are they losing site of the forest for the trees?

On the other hand, there are those who really do have things to complain about, but choose not to. They choose not to tell people about the bullying they were victims of in school, the friend(s) whose company they miss since the car accident, the challenges that come with raising a special needs child, or the grief they feel in watching their spouse pass. These are real things to complain about! It's ironic, however, when faced with a real adversity, people often realize that complaining is not going to help the situation at all. It's only going to make it worse.

It's been my experience since having Gabrielle and giving her as much love as we can in her short little life, and in meeting so many other people enduring similar situations, that people who are coping with serious pain and sorrow tend not to complain about their pain and sorrow. Maybe this is because their experiences have helped them understand a simple truth that we have only recently come to learn: life is difficult.

When you live through a tragedy, the loss of someone dear, or some other life-altering adversity, you learn this beautiful lesson: life is difficult.

It's one thing to complain about the weather, the traffic, or "the problem with movies these days," the latter being my Grandpa's most common complaint. But it's quite another to complain about life being difficult. I'm not saying that complaining about life being difficult is a bad thing; you can complain about this fact all you like! I'm just saying that life is difficult, so you're complaining about something that can't be changed.

In other words, once you realize that life is difficult, you realize that there's nothing really to complain about in the first place. You free yourself by surrendering yourself to this fact.

Life is not meant to be easy. We all are, as my Grandpa Billy used to say, "Bearing up under the strain." The least we can do is try to make the most of it.

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