Making Meaning of the Madness

Chapter 8

Looking After the "Me" in Me

The most important person

in your life now is you.

Journal: Oct '96

When I first read or heard that I would now have to look after "me" as a result of our tragedy, I had no concept of what that meant. For so many years, looking after me meant being husband, father, teacher, friend. I never stopped to ask myself whether I was doing what I really wanted; wasn't being all of those things expected, and therefore what I wanted? Expected and wanted had become one and the same. How could I now suddenly focus mainly on "me"? What kind of selfish tack would that be? Didn't I need to be strong and look after everyone—be the male?

The whole concept of "me" seemed strange. Unfortunately I dismissed it, and it was many months before I again gave it consideration, but only after I had grown utterly fatigued trying to do what I thought everyone expected.

After eighteen months I was worn out, pulled in far too many directions and getting far too little rest. My body rebelled as only it can, by getting sick. First a messy rash, followed by pleurisy and then an attack of facial shingles, the worst of the three. Normally I would have paid little attention to any of those problems, but all three hit within a matter of weeks, forcing me to take notice.

Stress was having its way with me. It forced me to rethink my priorities and to care for myself. I came to the realization that my children and my wife were grown people, perfectly capable of looking after themselves. In fact, they were doing so quite nicely! So I stopped worrying about them.

The same idea occurred with respect to my work. It would still be there when I got back, and if I were to leave for a lengthy period, someone else would very competently take over. Arriving at this point meant I could now focus on myself. I realized I was spreading myself too thin, so I said no to work, to society and to an extent, to my family. I began to put me first. With that thought, I stayed home for awhile.

My mortality was now confronting me. How much time did I have left, and what was I going to do with it? I began to do what I wanted and concern myself less about what others thought of my actions. I began to realize that some problems that had grown large, weren't large at all. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, they really didn't matter.

What mattered was me. I was fifty-three, and if I didn't soon focus inward, establish some peace of mind and provide for myself, perhaps I would become a statistic like so many other fifty year olds one reads about in the paper. It took time and a good deal of thought, but I have recently come to some understanding of what people mean when they say the most important person in your life now is you.

Survivors lives have been irrevocably changed. It is all right to embrace the concept that patterns of old need not be patterns of the present. It is all right to change the way we do things and become a little self-centered. After all, if we do not look out for ourselves, who will? Life does not go on as usual no matter how much we want it to, nor how much society would like that for us. We need to "go with the flow," but the flow needs to be our own.

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