A little compassion for the grieving

As I get older, I learn that the old cliché rules of social etiquette are actually pretty valid. The first one I came to accept is “don’t discuss religion or politics in polite company”. (I’ll go into why that’s a good rule in a later post.)

And with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II last week, I realized there’s another important one: “Don’t speak ill of the dead”. For the purpose of this argument, I’m going to limit this rule to the time period between the death of the individual and their funeral. There’s a practical reason for this rule, and a more important spiritual reason.

Practically, it’s not a wise idea to antagonize people dealing with their grief. Grief puts the human mind in a perilously fragile emotional state. Dealing with grief is the most difficult situation humans find themselves in, and the overwhelming emotions can easily be diverted to easier to manage but more dangerous emotions like rage. It’s the whole “7 stages of grief” business. So picking a fight with the bereaved is unproductive. It makes them your enemy while doing nothing to advance your cause.

But more importantly, you need to have compassion. It’s a basic currency of human decency that you spend on others, in hopes that they will do the same when grief comes for you. Because grief comes for us all, king and servant, pop star and shopkeeper alike.

Now you may be filled with the growing need to rebut my argument with a ‘whatabout’ statement. I’m going to get you to pause for a moment and ask yourself this: why are you so determined to withhold some basic human decency? Any issue, any historical grievance you want to draw attention to will still be there after the funeral. No amount of anger right now will erase any of the past. But in refusing to hold a respectful silence for a few short days, you’re choosing to inflict hurt on people who are already wounded from the loss of a loved one. You do remember that, right? That in addition to being a ceremonial head of state, Elizabeth was a mother, and grandmother, and great grandmother. Let them have their sorrow.

I know it seems unfair that you have to show respect for someone who you think is responsible or representative of great evils inflicted on others. Sorry, but’s that the only way this works. Everybody gets space to grieve. Even the worst person in the world (to you) is loved by someone somewhere. It’s easy to show compassion and grace to people you’re sympathetic to. Compassion for your enemies is much, much harder.

Your shirts not getting shorter, chum

Back in late December my doctor and my blood pressure cruelly ganged up on me. They told me my “blood pressure was too high” and I “needed to lose some weight”. I was so offended that I nearly dropped my giant bag of candy. How dare they say I wasn’t in peak physical form? Maybe I naturally have a blood pressure so high that it scares the doctor!

To be fair, my doctor was very very gentle about telling me to lose weight. She presented all the factors that can raise blood pressure, as listed on the Heart and Stroke foundation documentation, and gave me a moment to realize that all the factors I could control led back to the same goal: weight loss. She was almost too subtle about it. It would have saved us some time if she could have channeled the spirit of a gruff 1950’s doctor and said “Lose some weight, fattie!”

And let us be very frank about one thing: I was fat. Not husky, not hefty, not chubby. I used all those terms to refer to myself, in the guise of supporting a positive self-image. But for me, it was actually a way to pretend my gut wasn’t as large as it was, having grown tremendously over the last 4 years. My delusion was pretty powerful, a testament to the human mind and its ability to only see what it wants to see. I’d go to the gym and think ‘huh, this exercise shirt is shorter than I remember. Must be shrinking.’ Dear reader, it was not shrinking. I was expanding. But the crowning achievement of my motivated reasoning came as I was cooking one day. My front porch overhand of a gut brushed against the edge of a hot frying pan, giving me a small burn. And I was puzzled: Am I cooking differently? Did the pan get larger? DID THE PAN GET LARGER???? No, you deluded dingus, you got larger.

I had told myself that I’d start working on dropping the excess pounds if my doctor ever told me to. And then she did. F*#k. So I pouted for a bit, then I got down to business. I’ll give you the short version of the important part: I stopped overeating. I measure my food and eat enough calories worth of food each day that I lose a half a pound each week. It’s monotonous measuring out my meals every single day. But I know where making special exceptions and excuses will get me: right back to FatTown! Yes, even on my birthday, I kept track of my food. And yes, it did decrease my celebratory mood slightly. But you know what is a real buzz kill? Catastrophic stroke.

Well I can tell you now, after 9+ months of more exercise, more fruits and veggies, and no overeating, that they were completely right. I’ve lost 26 pounds of fat. My blood pressure has come down out of the danger zone, and my doctor has stopped looking Very Concerned when I see see her. My blood pressure isn’t low enough to get her all the way to Not Concerned yet, but I’m working on it. Do I miss gorging? You bet your sweet ass I do.

Gone feral

I have a couple of friends who I met during my last stretch of office work way way back last decade. I joke with them that, having spent 10+ years as a freelance writer/intensely underappreciated author, I was no longer compatible with the in-office lifestyle. I’d gone feral. Put me in an office from 9-5 and I’d spend all the time hissing at my co-workers while lurking under my desk.

But my fear now is that I’ve gone feral in a general sense. Much like a cat that’s forgotten how to be domesticated, I’m no longer sure how to get along with regular society. I gotta blame the pandemic for a big chunk of this, but not all.

You see, I started to withdraw into the hermit’s life before that. I cut out the old hobbies that just weren’t any fun anymore. Sometimes you keep doing an activity that used to be fun, in hopes it will be fun again. That’s like continuing to chew a piece of gum long after it’s lost its flavour, hoping its going to get sweet again. Chasing nostalgia. But cutting the hobbies out meant cutting contact with the hobby-related friends.

And I also decided to back away from the volunteer organization I was a part of, citing a need to focus on my professional writing career (such as it is). And again, leaving the organization meant leaving that social circle behind.

Then two years of not doing much of anything outside the house happened. I found the limits of my introversion, and then went far beyond. I know I need to re-connect with peers, acquaintances and friends, but I’m frankly clueless on where to look for them.

Sprinkled on top of this situation is the spice of getting older. I just had my 48th birthday, and there was a little bit of reflection about getting older and needing people. When you start to see the hint of the downhill slope into old age and all the challenges and heartbreaks that come with it, suddenly being a lone wolf doesn’t seem like a beneficial thing at all. Shouldn’t I have some kind of robust support network by this age? Am I so churlish and coarse? I don’t think so, but the doubt pricks at my mind in the dark hours of the night.

Instead of leaving this post as a morose meditation on isolation, I’m going to put on my positivity pants. First, I’ve identified the issue, and I’m admitting it is an issue. That’s, like, 90% of the battle right there (estimated percentage may be optimistically high). Second, I know there are many opportunities to get out and meet new people and expand my personal network. And third, I have faith that there are many people who, even though I do not see them frequently, would do what they could to help me when needed, because they know I’d do the same for them. Oh and fourth, my wife really loves me and she’s my best friend in the best possible sense.