I began this blog about “My Year Without Complaining” as an homage to my mother-in-law, Joanna Mitchell MacLaughlin. Joanna died on 08 October 2013 after six months of decline during which I shared the care of her with her professional caregivers, her husband and children, and other family members and friends. I had gotten it into my head that I could impact her decline by daily visits, projects to keep her mind engaged, and bringing familiar and loved objects into her increasingly foggy world. I have no idea why I convinced myself that I could save Joanna, but convinced I was; and my efforts intensified as her condition worsened.
I failed. My mother-in-law died as she had lived: Sweetly, kindly, softly.
During her illness, my father-in-law Jabez Jackson MacLaughlin and I developed a friendship which neither of us had anticipated. Our only similarities or common bonds lay in the bed at the Sweet Life and in the eyes of his son and daughter; and in the hearts of his grandchildren. We shared nothing other than the love we both felt for the members of the MacLaughlin / McCoskrie clan. But that love proved sufficient to provide a rock-solid foundation for our friendship. We put aside our differences and came to love one another.
And then: He died too, on 05 November 2014. Again, despite my best efforts, Jay passed from this world with dignity and little fanfare other than the kind ministrations of those who loved him — including me.
Between Joanna’s death and Jay’s death, much happened to me. My life took such sharp and overwhelming turns that I still reel at the thought of the changes that I’ve had to weather. Sometimes my astonishment at the paths I have walked nauseates me; sometimes I laugh so hard that tears run down my face.
My mother used to say, “God only gives you as much as he thinks you can bear, and evidently he thinks you are pretty strong.” She might be right. But what I have borne, I could not have begun to endure without the people who love me; and I have thanked them, publicly and privately, for all that they have done even at great sacrifice to themselves.
I began this blog with the intention of going an entire year without complaining. I cannot really say that I have gone one day without voicing some complaint — whether outloud or in my heart. I have learned, however; and I have changed; and I have grown.
My ex-husband, Dennis Lisenby, marveled at this undertaking. He said, You are doing something publicly that I am afraid to do privately. While I doubt his fear of personal growth, I certainly appreciated his compliment. But I am not as convinced that what I’ve done is brave, as I am certain that what I have done was indispensable. The course I had set for myself could not have taken me anywhere but spiraling into an abyss, a bottomless pit of desolation and despair, loneliness and longing.
Last June, I created an inspiration board for myself. I tucked a few photographs and a couple of cards from various people on the board, and photographed it. Over the last six months, I have added to it — notes from Jessica who lived with me for three months; cards from people encouraging me on my journey to healing; little notes from this person or that; more photographs of people who inspire me. The board hangs in my kitchen where I see it every day. I draw my strength from it.
I also draw strength from the angels in my life, both human and divine. Without those angels, I would have surrendered this effort almost before embarking on it. Each time I felt that I could not keep trying, could not forge forward, one of my angels appeared to encourage me. They called, they wrote, they texted; they laughed, they cajoled, they prayed. I cannot ask for more than they gave me; I cannot express how humbled I am by what they did for me.
I intend to continue this journey. Today, I lost my temper at the rudeness of a bank clerk. She had not only treated me rudely, she treated another customer rudely, also. I felt so sorry for him; but I did not deal with her in the empathetic nonviolent way that I strive to espouse. As I left the bank, I heard my son’s voice saying, Find your empathy. I know I have a long way to go, but at least the new tape running in my head does eventually engage. It does not yet come naturally to me, but I am learning.
For anyone who wants to read about the principles of Non-violent Communication by which I am striving to live, here’s a link to the Center for Non-Violent Communication. I recommend starting with Marshall Rosenberg’s videos on YouTube, beginning with the first video in what my son and I call “the red shirt series”, because Dr. Rosenberg wears a red shirt in the videos. The version of the series which I watch has been broken down into manageable portions, starting here.
I will close with my very best wishes to each and every person who reads this, for a joyous, prosperous, happy, and safe New Year. I am posting this late in the evening of 30 December 2014 as my “New Year” post. Many of you will read this on December 31st; and that’s my intention. My next post will be on 01 January 2015, right here on this blog, My Year Without Complaining. You may think of 2015 as my second year trying to live non-violently, and without complaint. But my posts will celebrate the joyfulness of the world around me, including whatever people I encounter as I go forward in my year.
For your enjoyment, I offer some photos of people who inspired me, starting with my beloved in-laws, Jay and Joanna MacLaughlin. They became parents to me; and I became their daughter-in-law in my heart just as I had done on paper when I married their son. But more: they gave me unconditional love, despite my faults, despite my failings, despite my sorrow, despite my strange ways. I will never forget them. Their love for me; and mine for them; sustained me through this, my year trying to learn not to complain; and I expect that it will sustain me all the rest of my days.
My Inspiration Board:
As you can see ….. It has grown!
Here are a few photos of some of the people and places that have touched my life, this year and over time. There are so many more; I apologize to anyone who does not see their photo here — it might be that I just do not have a photo of you. I also apologize for any lay-out issues from device to device. One day, I hope to learn WordPress! Until that time, please enjoy these pictures of those whom I love, and who love me. My life is filled with joy because of them and others, whose pictures are not here but who nonetheless inspire me.
“I keep your heart; I keep it in my heart.” (e e cummings)