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chasing the blues away

The news of Chantal’s death hit me hard. It came Friday, when I was desperately trying to shake off the predictable “back to school blues” along with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness about the victims of Hurricane Katrina…not to mention overwhelmed by our current situation (our own fight against childhood cancer). To top it off, my husband had been out of the country for a couple of weeks on business, missing the start of the school year, the start of the multitude of activities that always coincide with that, and the start of a new round of chemotherapy for Nick. He was physically exhausted from round-the-clock parenting duties. The many roles he had played—driver, cook, dishwasher, laundress, secretary, accounts payable manager, and cheerleader leader—were being thrown up in the air in terrifying displays of bad juggling. I felt an inevitable shock, along with a deep sense that the looming storm cloud of “the blues” would overcome whatever feelings of optimism or joy I was trying so hard to muster.

But the news of his death, instead of snapping me out of my depression, seemed to sink me further. It certainly struck immediately, as one would expect an eternal death to. I sat at my laptop, where the news of his death reached me first, not just heartbroken, but deeply angry that he was allowing me to experience “the blues” for one more minute. I hated my emotional state, but felt powerless to snap out of it.

Chantal was a new friend, a darling ten-year-old girl we had met at the chemotherapy clinic, where she was being treated for leukemia, along with our son, Nick. She had been recovering perfectly well, having endured a bone marrow transplant with a perfect match (a rare and appreciated wish for someone in that situation); her spirit was always bright, even when the drugs made her weak, nauseated, and pale; and she radiated a sweet spirit, often without her knowing it, and even when she didn’t feel like being particularly sweet. Her personal battle was nothing short of heroic. Just by showing up, she exuded inspiration to me and everyone else at the clinic.

However, it shouldn’t take the death of a child, one I can’t understand no matter how hard I try, to chase away melancholy. One should be able to just “get out of it” with a simple click of the fingers. Good? But that is not what experience and observation tell me. From emails from my readers, as well as readings from editors of women’s magazines, blogs, and newsletters in virtually every section of the Western world, “feeling overwhelmed” ranks at the top of mom’s lists. It’s almost universal now to feel overwhelmed by motherhood. The accompanying feelings of despair, abandonment, and depression are the “new normal.” Trying to juggle the demands of “perfect parenthood” (a misnomer in every sense of the word) along with careers outside the home, community service, the demands of aging parents, and husbands’ schedules, moms can hardly find time for self-preservation. For balanced nutrition and daily doses of exercise and fresh air. Artistic expression and creativity are thrown out the window, along with dreams of “self-actualization or self-advancement.” It’s like being “on call” with the buzz of a cell phone or the beep of an email system. Everyone needs us, everywhere, all the time.

When the cruel winds of life are blowing with particular force, how do we maintain the strength to not only get up in the morning, but to carry on with grace, dignity, and that all-too-forgotten imperative, creativity?

Recognize that grief is a totally different emotional process than depression, mere frustration, or feelings of being completely overwhelmed.

Everyone endures the grieving process at one time or another. It is both painful and persistent while experiencing it. For days or weeks or months or years. Allow yourself to go through the process, so that healing can take place.

Look for. then out

The psalmist proclaims: “I will lift my eyes to the mountains, from where my help will come. My help comes from the Lord, from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” Seek solace in your Creator, even when life doesn’t make any sense. My physical, earthly life gives me little comfort in the death of infants and children. I still don’t have the much-needed understanding of those mysteries. Just by looking up and begging for some kind of help, I find rest in my soul. Prayer comforts, heals and guides. Prayer works. Even when our questions seem unanswered and our cries seem unheard.

Seek comfort in best friends.

Girlfriends have a way of helping solve life’s worst nightmares. They soothe wounded spirits, aching hearts, and ruffled feathers. My friends convince me. Keep your friendships intact, so that when the storms come, as they will, you will have others to lean on.

Replace reactivity with activity.

You need to react to horrible news with pure emotion, at least in those first few minutes. But at some point, it’s important to make the leap from pure reaction to action. Whether it’s cooking dinner for someone in crisis to arranging flowers to brighten someone’s day; action breeds optimism. It may not happen instantly, but it will happen over time. The best antidote to “sadness” is, and always has been, to physically move outside of yourself.

Certainly, serious emotional crises demand a different course than the run-of-the-mill “sadness” of every day. Monthly hormonal changes, in fact, qualify as “normal” by any woman’s measure (even if they don’t register as such by her husband’s). As is excessive carpooling, numerous trips to the pediatrician and grocer, or visits to the primary school principal. Let’s face it: chocolate therapy and retail therapy usually provide the right solution to all of the above. I’m the first to admit it: A long day at the chemo clinic invariably finds me cracking open a bar of dark chocolate and indulging out of the closet, square by square. And the “run-of-the-mill blues” can send me off for some retail therapy (or two). But they are temporary solutions to the serious challenges that inevitably afflict us all. In the end, it is faith, hope and love that get us through the difficult moments in life. Yes, these three remain. And in the end, it really is about love. Perhaps it is love that guides you during your week.

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