E-motion column by Tamera Schreur
How can your heart go walking around outside your body? A personal reflection, written by a therapist in a mother's voice.
My heart started pounding when I read the first few words of his email… “Don’t want you to worry…”
Worry? Instantly, I was way past worry and on high alert. The alert intensified when I read the next word - “EARTHQUAKE.” And then I saw these precious words, “We’re safe. We left Christchurch a few hours before it hit.” Exhale. Deep breath.
Most of us get bad news at some point in our lives. A car accident. Cancer. Rejection. Bad news is devastating. It can take years to get past. In some cases, we never get past it. It often leads to tough times. We can benefit from working with someone like a counselor or clergyperson to help support and guide us professionally towards a return to well-being. I don’t wish this kind of bad news on anyone, and I certainly want to avoid it myself.
Most of us get "almost" bad news more often. Where it could have happened or almost happened, but didn’t. “Her car almost hit me, but then swerved at the last second, or “The tree limb fell right where he was standing…five seconds before.” It’s easy to get stressed out from this kind of news (even though it is actually good news for us!) when it concerns someone we love.
I’m glad my son’s news was of the "almost" bad news type. It’s not the first time I’ve gotten this kind of news from him. You see, he’s quite the adventurer. He’s always dreaming up some trip, and then making it happen. The adventures can be of the extreme sort. Author Elizabeth Stone described parenting as having ‘‘your heart go walking around outside your body.” Well, my son takes my heart on some major walks!
He’s had backpacking in New Zealand on his list for quite some time now. The day for his big trip finally came, and everything was in place and looked good. We said our goodbyes and off he went, planning to be off the grid for two weeks. Great for him. Not for me. And then on his first day there, the earthquake struck.
Life gives us surprises, despite our best planning. There are things we have no control over and certainly without advance warning. These are things we can’t do anything about. The only place of control we have is how we react.
My son’s reaction seemed rather calm and collected. I don’t think he even knew much about the earthquake, except that it had happened and he was safe. The reports of the damage and deaths came later when he was already deep into his adventure carrying a backpack filled with all he needed for the week ahead. With his cell phone off, no Internet access and no news reports, he was simply having a good time.
Meanwhile, I was reading everything I could on the earthquake... and feeling quivery inside each time I read a new report. I was not calm or collected. This was my son! I’m still feeling somewhat tense. You see, as I write this column, he’s not back yet. There have been multiple aftershocks. Today’s biggest was 4.5 on the Richter scale. I’ve lived in California and know that a 4.5 is significant enough to cause major damage.
I haven’t heard from him again and have to assume he is ok. He stated clearly that he was going off the grid and not planning to call or write. We’d agreed on that. But really now, that was before I knew there was going to be an earthquake!
So part of me says “Just relax, remember, he’s safe.” And part of me will only fully relax when I hear his voice again. As a mom for many years now, I happen to know I’m good at worrying about my kids. But as a therapist, I know this is an area I need to keep working to change. So, once again, I ask myself:
- Does my worry somehow prove how much I care?
- If I think and think and think about this, will I feel better?
- Does my worry help prevent something bad from happening?
- Is all that tension I’m carrying around good for me or somehow helping him?
I know it’s time to change my focus from contemplating what could have been to celebrating what is. He is safe! He left the city before the quake, and thank God, he is ok!
Coming face to face with what could have been is sobering. I suppose it’s good to recognize that while we can control much in life, our lives can change in the blink of an eye. It puts things into a different perspective, doesn’t it? It reminds us of things bigger than ourselves and points us to the profound.
Good things can even come of it. When we have one of these "almost" bad situations, we often see a spike in our gratitude. And a spike in affection when we consider what it would have been like to lose a family member or friend, colleague or classmate. Sometimes, we even make a resolution to live differently from now on.
I’m sorry for the tremendous loss that happened to so many in Christchurch, New Zealand. But I’m extremely grateful that my son is alive. I’m eager to hug him and tell him I love him. I wouldn’t suppose you have a family member who is on his way home from New Zealand, but may I suggest you too be generous with your affection when you next see your love ones, even if they didn’t narrowly escape an earthquake?
So, my words of wisdom today: Worry less and celebrate more. Give thanks for life and love, for they are indeed precious gifts.