Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective.
In the olden days, as I like to refer to them, I think I had a hard time discerning what was worth making a big deal about and what wasn’t. I was easily upset and stressed by little things and was quick to overreact.
In 1992, I met my husband Lee. It was May, and his younger brother, Greg, was at the Jewish Rehabilitation hospital in Chomedy, recovering from a catastrophic bout with meningitis.
He’d been misdiagnosed with the flu a few months earlier and was critically ill by the time he arrived at the hospital.
A cardiac arrest and an induced coma followed – a coma from which he, true to form, stubbornly refused to wake up. When he finally did – on his dad’s birthday – it was nothing short of a miracle. For four months in rehab, he slowly learned to reuse his muscles, to walk and talk again. His eyesight was permanently damaged however, as were his kidneys, which meant regular dialysis and a transplant down the line.
And then just shy of his scheduled transplant date, Greg suffered a stroke while on dialysis. He was left with limited use of his left leg, and a completely paralyzed left arm. Two steps forward, a hundred steps back. Back to rehab to learn to adjust to his new heart-breaking limitations.
Greg went on to endure a kidney transplant (a gift from his mom) and the subsequent recovery. He’s actually endured a shitload of challenges and limitations over the last 22 years that few of us could even begin to imagine.
And the thing about Greg is I have never, ever heard him complain, ask “why me?” or begrudge others their relative freedom.
His kindness, optimism and generosity of spirit never cease to amaze me.
Talk about a lesson in perspective.
And another one: in 2006, at 59 years old, my father was diagnosed with bladder cancer. A relatively innocuous cancer if caught early, he suffered through two and a half years of painful treatments and chemotherapy, infections and devastating metastasis. I watched my mother suffer along side him, frantic with worry that she would lose her first and only love – until she did, early in the morning of September 22nd, 2008. I will never forget his last breath, or the surreal moments just after he died when I waited for someone to come into his hospital room and tell us it was a mistake.
For weeks, even months, after he died, I had no patience for anyone.
I promptly ditched a friend who complained about the duress she was under, planning her father’s 75th birthday party. Grumbling about anything shy of illness or death was unacceptable to me. You couldn’t get tickets to your favourite band in concert? Your kids are driving you crazy? Your email’s not working? You can’t stand your daughter’s teacher? Well, screw you, my father died. You don’t have cancer. You’re healthy. Nothing else is important.
I stood on my soapbox for a while, simultaneously devastated by sorrow and proud of my sense of perspective. Between Greg and my father, I knew that I would never, ever let anything insignificant bother me and I would never complain again.
Then slowly, I started to feel the familiar heat of irritation at the little things I had vowed would never bother me.
I yelled at my husband because his socks were on the floor. I got upset with my kids because they hadn’t thanked me for a dinner I’d slaved over. I became agitated with a friend who hadn’t returned a phone call. Nothing earth-shattering, devastating or life-threatening. Less weighed down by grief, I was more open to feeling annoyed, aggravated and sad about the little disappointments we face every single day.
I like to think that having lost a parent to illness and being the sister-in-law of a pretty remarkable guy have given me a pretty solid sense of perspective.
I regularly count my blessings. I’ve learned what’s important – and who’s important.
But I’m also human, and that means I can get sidetracked by stupidity – like garbage that wasn’t taken out, websites crashing, and bad drivers.
Which I suppose, in a way, is a good thing. If you only have little things to worry about, life must be pretty freaking good.
To learn more about Greg, please click here.