I’ve been thinking lately about how so much of life is about misunderstanding. A lack of clear communication. An absence of the ability to say how we feel and why. A tendency to jump to the defense when someone tells us we’ve hurt them, instead of actually listen to what it is they’re saying.
Have you ever been in the “middle” of a terrible fight? By that, I mean, two people are in a horrible disagreement, but they are both confiding in you?
For whatever reason, this has happened to me more than once. It’s, of course, extremely difficult because you can’t tell the other person what the other one said, and it’s so important to stay neutral, but more than anything it is so interesting to see how one thing, one problem, can be seen in two totally different ways. You know, the whole “two sides to every story” problem.
One of my biggest faults, and it’s gotten even worse since the twins died, and then amplified by two kids who NEVER stop talking, is that I have a complete phobia/hatred of speaking on the phone. I used to pace around in circles, wishing and wishing for the phone call to be over so I could move on. I’d pretend that we lost connection or my phone was about to die (but never with you, if you’re reading this! LOL). I hate how when you tell people you have to go, they continue on anyway. I hate how once you’ve said what you need to say, there’s a feeling that you should keep talking anyway.
When I first got married, I had no idea how much it bugged/angered/hurt my mother-in-law that I never answered the phone. I loved my mother-in-law so, so much, but I couldn’t stand having phone conversations with her, when she lived 4 minutes away and I always thought, why don’t you just come over?
So, anyway, a ton of my communication is done over text and email and social media. This is the way I like it, because I like using written words. I like having time to think about what I’m saying, and go back and reread and make sure I don’t sound like an asshole. I like being able to set aside the time to respond in a meaningful way, instead of answer the phone while I’m also cooking, doing laundry, reading to my kids, and brushing the cat.
Like everything in life, though, there is always a downfall. And first of all, my choice to not answer the phone or return phone calls puts out a message, even when it’s not intentional, that I don’t want communication. And sometimes, when a phone call is absolutely necessary, I still flake out and I don’t make the call.
Sometimes, as they say, silence speaks volumes. Even when all I really mean it to say is, I will totally answer you if you text me. (HA)
This summer, when my mother-in-law died, my husband was in France and un-reachable, and my children (and myself) were distraught. I had suddenly added a cat to my household, and I was in total and complete shock. I was on auto-pilot, going about my day to plan a funeral and play with my kids, then put them to bed and weep. If my mom hadn’t come for a few of the days, I don’t know what I would’ve done (thanks, Mom!).
But during this time, one snap decision that I made to not pick up the phone (not at all because of any animosity or to cause pain, but because I just couldn’t. I just could. not.) turned everything into this big horrible mess. Of course, when someone has died, you should answer the phone. I knew this. I know this. I messed up.
Next, my poor husband who was stranded abroad with high schoolers and hardly being able to function, should have made some phone calls himself. After all, someone had died. But that someone was his mom, and he was so worried about everything that he could barely function. And so he didn’t pick up that phone, and he sent a text instead (I mean, maybe I could add here that I texted him like 10 tens telling him to call, so I get a little credit, LOL).
What happened next was right out of a novel, of course. One thing after another and soon I was, quite literally, SCREAMING into the phone like a lunatic, my rage and fear and grief all combined into one huge toddler-like fit in the middle of the night and through that enabling a situation to tumble down the mountain like an avalanche.
Y’all know that funerals don’t exactly bring out the best in people. There is so much judgment. People get misinformation. There are misunderstandings. There are people who we forget to thank, or people who we feel have let us down. There’s money, and paperwork, and lawyers, and decisions. But most of that is just happening in the fog of grief, and unless we can talk openly and honestly about how we’re feeling, it’s just going to be a mess. A dumpster fire, if you will.
As I get older, I just have come to realize that relationships are more difficult than we ever knew as kids. My mother-in-law always tried SO hard to not suffocate us (like she had felt), that we spent years hurt that she didn’t want to be around us. Had we talked sooner, I think we could have saved a lot of tears. But her experience was different than ours, we were of different generations, and while she loved to talk, she wouldn’t (and probably couldn’t) express her feelings very well. She was often in riffs with her friends and, boy, was she stubborn!
One summer, I shared with my husband that I just felt it was so silly that all of us were adults and we were having all these hurt feelings across the board, when we really all wanted the same thing: to be together. So we called her up and said, “Listen. We are having family dinner every Wednesday. If one of us has to cancel, we reschedule for the next night. End of story.”
She agreed. And I’m telling you—it didn’t fix everything, but it came darn near close. I learned so much from that. I am so grateful to my mother-in-law for everything she taught me, and for her fierce love and her pride in everything I did. I’m grateful that she loved me like a daughter and gave me all sorts of second chances. I’m so sad that I never got a chance to say that I was sorry for any of the ways that I made her sad or mad.
Losing her has taught me so much about living my best life. It has reminded me that I need to be open, and honest about as many things in life as I can. It has hurtled me back into this space where I feel uncomfortable and I want to fight the grief that has crept its way back in.
We’ve lost some other people along the way since she died, not because of death, but because of misunderstandings. Because nobody wanted to own up (including me!) to the mistakes that had been made. Because we let history get in our way. Because we really didn’t mean it when we said, “I’m sorry,” or we just thought it was easier to ignore the problem.
I read recently that as soon as you start caring for yourself and for what you want, you start pissing people off. I have clearly done at least a little of that in the past 2 years, since I started Um, You Guys and published my book. I’ve hurt people, I’ve made mistakes that I have learned so much from, but I do sort of feel that that’s what life is about. I’ve tried to use my experiences to connect with others, but really people just see it as me flaunting my personal problems/struggles all over the Internet(s). Sigh.
I never, ever imagined that I would be the “toxic” person in someone else’s life, someone who needs to be removed, like a pest, but it appears that I’ve not been able to escape that particular label. Removed without a second thought, my toxicity having leaked too far in.
I guess that’s helped me learn that the people who are toxic to me probably don’t mean to be-and I’ve removed them, too, without the wish to hurt them, but just to have my heart back and safe. Maybe some of them have been a misunderstanding- and maybe not. But for what it’s worth, it’s never been personal.
Dang, y’all, that got long. If you’re still with me, thanks so much. Keep on living that best life, yo.
You got this.