Tell me about it, I think to myself. I just had carpets pulled out of my house because of water damage. Juggling adjusters, repair men and my work schedule was no mean feat. And, yes, it certainly would have been different if my husband was alive. George was a contractor who once could have done all the work himself and certainly could have expertly supervised everything that needed doing. His absence has felt particularly acute. But I’m not selling my house. No way. “How would it feel to sell your house?” I ask Marybeth.
“Sad,” she answers immediately. “It’s where Phil and I raised our kids. There are so many memories there.” She pauses. “I wish you hadn’t asked me that. I don’t want to feel sad. I don’t want to keep missing Phil. It’s been three years already. I should be over feeling sad.”
I smile inwardly. It’s been over seven years since George died and although I no longer cry every day, I never don’t miss him. “There’s no statute of limitation on feeling sad about the death of someone you love,” I say gently.
“But I don’t want to stay in my house anymore,” Marybeth says emphatically.
“Did you hear me telling you you should stay in your house?” I ask, furrowing my brow.
“You focused on my sadness, rather than on my relief, my moving forward.”
I’m taken aback by Marybeth’s response. Was I being too negative? Was I encouraging Marybeth to stay stuck in the past, rather than, as she said, moving forward? Was I putting my sadness onto her? Suddenly I flash on my overwhelming feelings of sadness and despair when I left my Michigan home for the last time. The pain felt almost unbearable, but I was still leaving. Yes, that’s the problem, Marybeth was confusing feeling and action.
“Well?” she says, impatiently.
“Well?” I think to myself. I had only been lost in thought for a few seconds.
“Can I ask you, Marybeth, what did you feel in the few moments that I was silent?”
“I thought you were pulling that silent therapist technique on me.”
“But what were you feeling?”
“I don’t know. Annoyed, I guess.”
“It’s hard for you to feel sad, Marybeth. It makes you feel “weak” and vulnerable and you want to get away from those feelings. So if I ask how you feel when you think about selling your house and you feel sad, you immediately think you can’t sell your house because you have to get away from your sadness. And if I’m silent for a bit, you feel I’ve left you alone with your sadness which feels intolerable to you, so you become annoyed with me instead. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, but don’t you think I’ve felt enough sadness?”
“I’m not saying you should feel sad, Marybeth. I’m not trying to torture you. I’m saying that when you do feel sad, you need to allow yourself to feel what you feel. You can still do things – such as selling your house – even if selling the house makes you sad. It may also make you feel relieved and content and free. It’s possible to feel more than one feeling at the same time and a feeling doesn’t mean you can’t act despite what you’ll feel.
Marybeth’s eyes fill with tears. “I’m so tired of feeling sad. I don’t want to sell my house. I don’t want Phil to be dead. I sound like a spoiled brat, wanting what I want.”
“You don’t have much compassion for yourself, Marybeth. You don’t sound like a spoiled brat. You sound like a grieving widow who is thinking about yet another loss, your home, and feeling understandably sad about it.”
“I hate it.”