Out on a Limb
A Monthly Newsletter from Martha Clark Scala
Invest in bringing joy back to your life.
October 2011

 

 

Welcome to Out on a Limb, a monthly newsletter from Martha Clark Scala. This free e-zine is meant to invite and inspire you to maximize the joy in your life.

When Loss is in the Forecast

From the moment I found out my brother Nick could not live without a heart transplant, I began to anticipate his death. That was in 1985. Thanks to a successful transplant, he lived another 11 years. During that bonus of 11 years, I spent a lot of time trying to prepare myself for that day when he took his last breath. I actually prepared quite a bit, perhaps more than the average person would. And do you know what I learned? You really can’t prepare for loss. Sure, you can imagine what it will be like, you can even make tentative plans but then that loss happens, and something(s) will take you by surprise or punch you in the stomach. It is as if you packed for a hike on a beautiful blue-sky day thinking you had all necessary provisions but got drenched by a downpour that was not in the forecast. So where can joy be found in these unexpected showers?

Here are some observations I have made with each major loss I have weathered:

  • If you get too consumed by anticipation of the end, you might miss out on the quality of the beginning and middle that preceded it. Even if someone is gravely ill, there are joyful moments in-the-now. So much depends on where you place your attention. Almost every dire situation has some element that could bring a smile to your face, either at the time or later on.
  • It is wise to make plans in the practical realm. If it is appropriate to the type of relationship you have with someone who is dying, ask if there are any specific instructions beyond a formal will, if one even exists (for example, memorial service, personal belongings, work-related products or responsibilities, etc.). You are more likely to feel joy in the aftermath if you know you have carried out the wishes of the deceased. Conversely, it is hard to muster good feelings when those left behind haven’t a clue about what the deceased might have wanted.
  • If anticipation persists, use it to ask yourself “What will make me feel more complete?” Handle what hasn’t been handled. If you suspect you might regret not handling something after this person (or pet) has died, see if you can figure out a way to do, say, or let go of that. For more on this, see the August 2011 issue of Out on a Limb focusing on The Four Things.
  • Even if you live far away, you can still be quite present: a daily check-in by phone or e-mail, lighting a candle or saying a prayer (if you are the praying type), and Skype now makes it possible to see one another from great distances. Even if the person who is dying is less accessible, it will help to be present for the primary caretakers.
  • Photographs and videos record visits that might be both happy and sad. If you are really allergic to this form of memory-making, jot down the details of your time with this person. Even the difficult details are useful and can bring joy at some later time. I promise. And if you still feel the need to prepare? Prepare to be unprepared.


Sudden Loss

The debate carries on about which is worse, sudden or catastrophic loss versus long, drawn-out endings? At least sudden loss is quick for the person who dies; if there is suffering, it is very time-limited. For those of us left behind, it is brutal. Long, drawn-out death often creates more suffering for the dying, but it does give loved ones some time to get used to the idea that this person will die before we do. But one thing is certain: sudden loss can never be anticipated. Accepting this reality points toward relishing each day we have our loved ones in our lives. My Dad used to say that all he wanted for his birthday present was to have his family with him. At the time, I thought this was a bit corny. Now, I see what he was after: quality time before a loss upsets our equilibrium. It is priceless.

 

A Surprise You Might Not Expect

You might not read about this peculiar phenomenon in grief books, and I cannot guarantee that it will show up. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to predict you may experience an adrenaline rush in the aftermath of a loss. You could be crushed by overwhelming grief and sadness, but you also might feel you have the energy to take on the sinking of the Titanic. If you observe others who are grieving, don’t be surprised if they seem more “up” than they “should.” That is adrenaline providing a temporary mood elevator. And one last thing to anticipate? The adrenaline rush will end. It may take weeks or months but when it does, deep fatigue and/or profound sadness may take its place. This is when you can count on needing plenty of support to help you through this passage.


Instant Support

There is one more thing for you to anticipate in the aftermath of a loss: your attention span may be quite compromised. With that in mind, I’d like to share some responses to Frequently Asked Questions that I have written for the incredibly useful website, www.caring.com. If you’d like to see my answers to questions such as How Do I Take Care of Myself While I’m Grieving? or How Do I Find a Grief Counselor?, click here or click the Grief FAQ link at the top of this page. They are much shorter than a book, and they are available to you right now, or at any time.

 


Your October 2011 Prompts for Joy

Click here to see the ultimate tease for a hungry pooch. (No harm to animals, however.).

Click here to see some fish out of water.

Prompts for Joy are invaluable when loss is in the forecast. Many thanks to Dr. Amy Guthrie and Bobbi Emel for these nuggets.

 


Joy-Gram for October 2011

Reach out to someone who is dying, or to a caretaker for someone who is dying. The joy that comes from this may be in-the-moment or it may reveal itself in the aftermath. Two days, two months or years down the road, you may find yourself saying, “I’m so glad I …”


Pictured Above

That’s me with my brother Nick up in a tree, anticipating nothing of what would eventually come to pass. Photograph by Geoffrey Clark.


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Disclaimer
By no means do I have joy “figured out.” Please do not assume that I do! I write Out On a Limb as much as a meditation for myself in the ongoing pursuit of joy, as for you. I think this pursuit is a lifelong journey and that the full experience of joy is, at best, episodic. May we all have more episodes!

 

Martha Clark Scala, MFT • 721 Colorado Ave., Suite 201, Palo Alto, CA 94303 •
info@MCScala.com

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