Monday, June 7, 2010

What now?

What happens when someone with whom you have a complicated history, someone about whom you have some fond memories, but also who irritates you deeply from time to time, someone who has been their own worst enemy in their search for a happy life, someone who you've recategorized from "friend" to "friendly acquaintance" in order to not be upset so often by their words or behavior, someone who still has many good qualities...

What happens when that person -- only a couple years older than you -- suffers a serious medical crisis that leaves them mentally impaired, possibly for life?

What if the last words you said to them were not kind, but rather calling them on some bullshit?

How are you supposed to feel?

18 comments:

squadratomagico said...

Oh God. I'm sorry.... but, calling people on bullshit is something you do, right? You can't take it back because of this, and you couldn't have known this would happen. You can't change who you are for fear someone might suffer a misfortune soon thereafter.

But, I'm sorry you have to feel confused and/or a little crappy about it. I think that's completely normal and probably unavoidable. It's part of being human to regret these things, even if there really is nothing to fault in the general behavior of calling others on bullshit.

Someday_phd said...

You know, before my stroke, I'm pretty sure that the last words I said to some people were probably not the last words I would want to have said. Maybe there were even people who had called me on my own b.s., but I couldn't remember it anyway.

Honestly, at first I didn't worry too much about what my last words to someone might have been, but I think that had more to do with trying to walk, and proving to everyone that I hadn't suffered any long term mental impairment.

Now, with some perspective, I still don't worry about it too much. Unless you have a whole lot of money and don't need to work ever again, it really is a myth that you can live every day in a constant state of gratitude and pleasantness - making sure that you've been nice to everyone at all times. We can strive for those things, but the reality is that everyone is human and that means feeling a whole range of emotions, and sometimes acting out.

After the stroke I was grateful for my recovery, and for the friends and family around me, and I still am. I make an effort to make sure everyone knows that, but the reality is that it's not all shiny, and fluffy. I had times when I was really, really angry. I had times when I terribly sad. If you ask my husband, I had times when I was a complete b***. Eventually, I still had to go to work everyday, and I still have to write a dissertation.

I guess what I am trying to say, is that it is impossible to always say nice things to people - and, you can never know what is going to happen. All you can do is try.

Send some flowers and a card to the hospital. I know I really appreciated that. However, if you weren't that close, maybe don't go to the hospital. At the time I really appreciated all the visitors, but as my head cleared the idea that so many people had seen me looking so unprofessional and vulnerable kind of freaked me out.
Seriously, there are now officially too many people who have seen me without a bra on. ;)

Someday_phd said...

PS - Sorry for the book length comment.

Bardiac said...

I'm sorry about your friendly acquaintance having a medical problem. But, as Someday PhD says, it's not something that you want to hold onto. But do send some flowers or cookies or something?

Notorious Ph.D. said...

No need to apologize: this is helpful.

But even without me saying or not saying something, my feelings towards this person are so ambivalent that the shock of it happening at all has me groping for a reaction. I feel about eight different ways at once.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Apparently outside-world contact is distressing right now, since s/he can't remember who these people are, and that naturally bothers hir.

clio's disciple said...

I'm so sorry, for you and for Friendly Acquaintance. Relationships are complicated--I would contest, a little bit, the idea that calling someone on their bullshit is necessarily unkind--after all, if you care for someone, you want them to be their best selves and get over their bullshit. But I know that doesn't make things easier.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

did calling the person on their bs cause the movement from friend to friendly acquaintance?

I guess ... here's the thing: if you are my friend, I *want* you to call me on my shit. The people I feel closest to are the ones I am willing to be that brave with, and who are willing to be that brave with me. I might not always agree, and it might sometimes hurt, but if it's honestly done, and not in fact dumping one's own baggage? I want and need people like that in my life (and thank goodness I have friends like that -- some of them friends via blogging -- who I would never give up).

If it's a friendly acquaintance? then it's awkward, but what squadrato said -- you can't change how you are just in case something bad happens. Ok, maybe if you were unjust or unkind, but even then, sometimes we think that of ourselves, and the other person didn't know it. But there are still ways to say you're sorry.

And it's ok to have mixed feelings when something shitty happens to someone about whom you feel ambivalent. But probably? at this point, they are much more concerned about what's happening to them right now than to any perceived unkindness or slight. If that makes sense...

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Be gentle to yourself.

Susan said...

Well you can always send a card or flowers. And tell whoever is helping/managing that you just hope they give some pleasure, and that it doesn't matter that you sent them. I.e. this is a pretty picture on the card.... Then you have done what you need to do.

When my husband had a stroke, several people send long letters, and I just edited them and said "X and Y sent a lovely card, and said..."

I think the ambivalence is more common than you think.

rootlesscosmo said...

As squadratomagico says, it's part of being human to regret these things, and (I'd add) so is feeling about eight different ways at once. I'm sorry for your quasi-friend and for you; sometimes sympathy is all we can give each other, but as Glenda Jackson's character says in Sunday Bloody Sunday, "that's not nothing."

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thanks, all.

I e-mailed last night with someone who knew a bit more, and we've got a date to talk on the phone a bit, which will help. Especially since this person knows both the good and bad about this other person.

But thank you all for your ideas and willingness to talk.

I decided last night that what I can do is wish this person a recovery that enables hir to lead a happy life, even if that happiness is not in exactly the same path as s/he was headed down before. And I can be more consciously grateful for the life I do have.

Not Nurse Ratched said...

I've seen more than anyone would want to of sudden accidents and occurrences, and no matter WHAT the last words/actions were, there is bitter lamenting that it should have been something else. I've decided it's the human condition. My advice is to just accept that you'd feel this way no matter what you'd said; it sounds crazy, but it's really true.

Belle said...

How are you supposed to feel? Conflicted - that too might well be part & parcel of the human condition.

tenthmedieval said...

I was having trouble with Blogger's OpenID stuff or I'd have said this sooner, but here it is now: though I am no paragon of emotional good conduct, it seems to me that we cannot fix the past (as we know!) except by changing the context of the present from which we view it. By which I mean, it's more important that you do right by this person now than what you may or may not have done in the past. What you ought to do now, I have no idea, but it will make the rest much less relevant.re

Clio Bluestocking said...

I echo Squadro, too. I'm sorry that you have to go through this. You seem to have the right plan to wish the person well.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Tenthmedieval has true words of wisdom. Thank you. And I'd add to that that it's a good reminder for me to treat people people with compassion at all times. Not necessarily giving them a key to my apartment and an open invitation to my life, but compassion. Always.

This looks to be a summer of lessons.

The Bittersweet Girl said...

I'm late to this thread but just wanted to add my voice to the chorus encouraging you to not be too hard on yourself and to focus, as you say you are going to do, on sending the best vibes towards your friend. A very sad story -- going to go be grateful now.