2016. One heck of a painful year for so many, and one in which Joe and I faced the challenge of our lives. Literally.
It was in May of 2016 that Joe’s speech became halting, slurred, showing that something was amiss in his central nervous system. Yet, we didn’t pick up on the possibility of Joe having suffered a stroke. We were excitedly planning our nuclear family gathering in celebration of our twenty-fifth year as a blended family and blinded to the signs that his speech difficulty was broadcasting.
Until my cousin in San Diego also had a stroke and within days he had passed. When I received the news of his hospitalization I took charge of the situation and insisted Joe go to the local emergency room. A CT scan followed, the doctors declared him alright and sent us home.
We enjoyed our anniversary festivities but knew, by then, that something was terribly wrong.
How right we were. Thus began our year of doctors, tests, hospitalizations, tension and the fear that Joe was not going to pull through.
My cousin’s passing was followed by the death of a dear friend, which was followed by yet another close friend leaving this realm for the next.
And so it went, throughout the year with one friend and, or cousin, dying and bringing grief and pain to all of us who were now faced with life without the Earthly presence of each person as he left us.
During the darkest times for me: when Joe was at his most critical point, I would envision a scenario in which I, too, had lost my spouse, my best friend, my love.
But I so did not want this to happen, yet my thoughts went to a dark place; one where my thinking would create a reality.
The pain and shame of my thoughts were too deep for me to admit to anyone else, and, so, I kept it all within. Until, finally, one day while sitting with a dear friend who is a psychotherapist, I could no longer hold in the terror within me.
“Normal and natural” she gently declared. We often have anxieties that seep into our psyches unbidden. And in this case mine were not unusual for a caregiver in my situation. As for believing in the possibility that my wayward thoughts would turn to reality, “That,” she told me, “is magical thinking.”
It is magical thinking that makes us assume clicking our fingers will keep the elephants away. It is also magical thinking when we dream of something and believe it will come true.
The Universe just doesn’t work that way.
It’s true that since I have been clicking my fingers I have had no elephants surrounding my house. But not because of the magical thinking. And that is what I have come to understand as I contemplated life without Joe.
It is normal and natural, as my friend said; to harbor such dark thoughts in times of great emotional stress such as I was going through with Joe and the loss of my friends.
It is also normal and natural to consider those thoughts being powerful enough to bring about a reality.
And, I believe, it is normal and natural to feel great guilt in believing your dark reflections will come to fruition.
But, in the end, it is only magical thinking. And magical thinking is just that: magical, unfounded and just not going to happen. We are – none of us – so powerful as to change the course of our lives or others’ with a mere an electric impulse arising in our distressed brains.
Magical thinking can bring us to a place of great pain. Until we understand that is powers are nonexistent. When I finally came to that realization, I was able to relax, cease feeling guilty and learn to take each day as it came –without the need to cross emotional bridges that I had not yet come to.