Last week I shared part of a letter by a mother of a chronically ill child. She talked about hurtful comments people make when silence would be appreciated, and silence when ‘asking’ would be more helpful. She talked about her loneliness when she and her husband spent months in her daughter’s hospital room and how visits, no matter how short, would have meant so much to all of them. She talked about how she was made offers of help that were never carried through and wondered why people asked in the first place. Her pain and hurt cried out with each word of her letter. How does one deal with this pain, this disappointment, this loneliness and hardship without becoming bitter and angry all the time? For me, the answer has been about where you keep your focus.
Even though, for well spouses as for this mother, there are probably 20 inappropriate comments for every appropriate one and 20 insincere offers for every sincere one, it has always helped me to focus on the one and not the 20. I have learned to accept that most people will say and do the wrong thing. Whether it is innocent or malicious, the hurt is the same. To focus on it leaves me feeling uncared for and angry. It changes me into someone I would not like to be. It changes me into someone whose bitterness and anger chases people away leaving me more lonely and bitter than I was in the first place. So instead I try to keep my focus on the few loving, caring appropriate things people do. It helps me get through the day and I can still like myself and the world around me. It is not easy. It is a difficult process to change your focus. But for me, focusing on the positive has become as important as breathing and helps me survive, intact.
“A very lonely Mother” whose letter I began to share with you last week also had some positive experiences. She wrote, “But all is not sour. There were just a few people who did exhibit an out pouring of love towards us in some of the most wonderful ways. We could all learn from them. Mrs W. who stayed overnight with my daughter, just a week before her son’s wedding. Mrs. X dropped delicious home made suppers ready to be warmed up, and fresh chocolate chip cookies and brownies. Then she figured out how to have hot pizza delivered to us. Mrs Y brought fresh fruit cut up in containers and hot kugal each Thursday night. Another…dropped off fresh challa in the hospital. One friend of ours biked for 30 minutes in the rain…just to say hello. And then for Shabbos he surprised us and came to stay with us in the hospital…And one of our neighbours came each week with a new Barbie for my daughter to brighten her day.” She also noted that even though her ‘extended family and friends never thought to,’ Chai Lifeline, and her parents and in-laws sent food for the Shabbos of her daughter’s release from the hospital.
The only person in this life that we have control over is ourselves. That means we can control where we put our focus. It does take work – an enormous amount of work, but in the end, it is worth it. No one wants to be around people who are angry and bitter all the time. And if that bitter person is ourselves, we even find it hard to ‘be in our own bodies and minds.’
The mother who wrote to me is doing a valiant job of trying to keep a balance with all that is happening to her and her family. She still sees and appreciates the acts of kindness, though few, that are extended to her. I hope that she will continue to be able to do this and be able to focus more upon the positive than the negative. With time, she may be able to push the negative manner in which she and her family were treated from her mind – note it, and just let it go, and keep the positive experiences more worst in her mind instead. The loneliness this mother feels now may only get worse as people continue to avoid the situation (because of who they are). She cannot change others or alter what they do. But, she can work on focussing on the good and by doing that avoid becoming bitter and angry. It takes time and effort to reprogram our outlook, to look at the positive in our life when it is so full of negative. But it is the only thing that will not only give us solace, but will also get us more of what we want from others.