I have a friend who has recently gone through a serious tragedy. He watched, in gory detail, the months long, sickness, deterioration, and painful death of his father (with whom he had a conflicted past). There was also a ridiculous extended-family drama that erupted and to make things worse, his wife’s father is going through almost the exact same experience. Cancer is a motherf^%er. I don’t care where you are in the world or what your situation is dealing with the death of someone close to you is hard on the psyche.
So, my friend has needed to vent a lot lately. Normally, I am a very bad choice for this. I am always analyzing everything you say or not paying any attention at all. I am cold, inconsiderate and even down-right rude if I don’t concentrate and I never concentrate for long. But I don’t have many friends and this one needs me, so here I am. At one point, in the midst of his ranting yesterday evening, after going around and around in a circle of emotion and logic and making no progress I sort of blurted out something that seemed to help. So I want to share it here.
My friend was angry at the way his sibling has been acting since their father’s death and he’s especially upset by how he thinks the sibling and some friends are treating him. He is feeling a moral weight on his shoulders due to the sudden realization that you only get so many breathes and then it’s lights out. He feels obligated to make his time count, his actions worthwhile and, as a result, he’s become hyper-sensitive to the future problems stupid decisions cause (not enough to stop smoking, mind you). So about the 5th time he broke down why he was made at the decisions of his sibling and how much trouble it was going to cause I pointed out that there’s absolutely nothing any of us can do about something other people have already done and the only reason that you are actually worried about it, at all, is because your brain is evolutionarily designed to look for future problems to guide your own behavior. Our memories aren’t typed out records like this one and they aren’t video clips stored in the cloud. The brain takes physically translated experiences (visual, tactile, olfactory, auditory, etc) and breaks them down into bits that can be stored in neural networks and related to perceived experiences (happy, sad, scary, slow, fast, etc). To remember your 10th birthday you have to put the bits back together and they become interjected with emotional weight. This is why so many old people look back fondly and ahead fearfully. This is why eye-witness testimony is the least reliable form of evidence. (I am told there was a podcast all about this) Our memories aren’t meant to be sterile, well lit, video recordings. Their purpose is to allow us to store useful info, create emotional supports, and figure out things in the future.
In the case of my friend his brain is completely preoccupied with what someone else has done not (necessarily) because what they did hurt his feelings or caused him a problem but because our brains deconstruct the actions we see around us and use those bits of info to make future decisions. You could make the argument that we are all worried about how other people's bad choices will cause us future problems, and you'd have a point. No one likes to feel helpless or to be forced into decisions but the thing that seemed to help my buddy was realizing that, he is subconsciously thinking about the future and the problems he would face there. I think we was literally mad at things that have not happened yet (which is another side effect of seeing death).
That’s my theory anyway.
I should mention that my friend did see his sibling's choice coming. He did speak to his sibling and friends about it; they everyone agreed it was a bad idea and then did it anyway.
Just as a closing thought, dear reader:
NEVER, EVER, EVER make a major life changing decision right after a tragedy. Stick to “what do I want for dinner?” and “should I clean out the garage this weekend and sell all that junk?” Do stuff like that. Don’t buy anything you have to finance. Don’t sell anything with a title. Don’t quit your job. Don’t drop out of school. Don’t start or stop any romantic relationships. You can do all that stuff 6 months or a year down the road (and you probably should but do it down the road).
You might have guessed that the sibling’s life changing decision involves a relationship. I wish I could give you more details (because I enjoy a good story) but it’s a family thing and it’s still going on and people will get their feelings hurt. So, for the sake of convoluted communication let’s do it like a recipe and leave it at that.
Ingredients you will need:
- >Recent death of a loved
- >Recently changed home environment
- >Uncertainty about the future
- >Money troubles
- >Long standing relationship problems
Pour the Recently Changed Home Environment in a large mixing bowl and realize that things aren’t like they used to be as you add a ¼ cup of Uncertainty About the Future
Stir in the Recent Death of a Loved One vigorously until there are tears and yelling. Once the mixture reaches a thick, confusing consistency, grate all the Money Troubles you can afford into the bowl.
Cover with the Long Standing Relationship Problems for as long as you can put up with it.
In a little while you should notice a sick feeling that makes you want to throw it all away.
This is how you know it’s done.