I don’t have to die to claim my right to self-respect.
This is the saddest story…
My teenage daughter’s close friend Lindsay’s mother passed away from cancer over a year ago. And today, her dad, Bill, also died.
“Mom,” my daughter Jessica enters my bedroom early this morning, “I just received a text from Lindsay.” “Her dad had a heart attack… He is gone.”
For a second, we just stare at each other. “I don’t understand,” Jessica mumbles, “I was just at their house yesterday and we all went out to lunch. Her dad seemed completely fine…. Why? How?”
“You need to go to your friend immediately!” I exclaim, jumping out of bed. “We need to go, offer help. Who is going to take care of her? Her entire family lives on the East Coast!”
“Mom!” Jessica stops me. “Her older sister is home with her now. She drove in from college, and their family is flying in from New Jersey today. Lindsay needs space right now. I’ll keep you posted. I love you, Mom,” Jess hugs me quickly, wiping her tears as she leaves the room.
But am restless. My mind is stuck on the practical aspect of death: Who is going clean the house, pay the bills, and check school emails? With each minute I’m losing my balance, wanting to storm into Jessica’s room and talk it all over.
And yet, I am aware that, as a parent, I‘m always in the spotlight, and it’s my responsibility to notice how I act in front of my child. She’s watching me and my reactions, internalizing my opinions, absorbing my coping skills. And later on in life, she will model what she has learned from observing me.
So, who am I choosing to be in this moment? A hysterical mom, reacting from my own childhood insecurities, or a mature, empowering teacher?
So I back off, giving my daughter space to process and absorb what has happened. In the room next to hers, I’m on standby, both of us doing our best to accept and handle our emotions.
* * *
Two days later, on the way to the funeral, crying, I share with my daughter what life has taught me. “This is sad, so horrible,” I say, “and yet life will never present us with something more than we can handle. Lindsay’s parents are together now, happy in heaven, shining love down upon their girls. No matter what, life will show the way. Somehow, it always works out…”
But I didn’t have to work too hard, because, to my great surprise, the priest conducting the funeral transformed the socially-accepted gloominess into an empowering spiritual service. He even managed to sooth the grieving family’s unbearable pain.
He began by sharing a story about how, when he was a young priest in New York, he and a rabbi friend decided to start classes for kids that taught them religion that was relevant to their lives. They began each class by asking a series of questions, and one of them was “What is death?”
A seven-year-old boy raised his hand, he told us, and gave an explanation that he never forgot. And he’d decided to share it now.
“Do you know what a dragonfly is?” the boy asked. “It’s an insect,” he explained (in case grown-ups didn’t know), then continued. “So it spends several years of its life as a ‘nymph,’ living in fresh water, until it grows its wings. But until then, water is the only world it knows.”
Everybody in the room was listening intently to the priest’s story, anticipating the insight to come.
“And so,” the priest continued to recount the boy’s words, “when its wings have emerged, the dragonfly transitions into our world of color. And none of his siblings and friends, who are still growing their wings, can know about this world of color. And yet, it is real and it exists.”
Soft sobs ripple through the silent room, followed by a refreshing breeze of hopefulness that there is, perhaps, another world of intense color where, after death, we still exist and can reach our loved ones down here, under the water… and share our love with them.
“I know, right now,” the priest continued, that the deep sense of loss is like an open wound, raw and excruciatingly painful, and yet, it will close, as all wounds do.” He went on to urge everyone to be open-minded, to question our three-dimensional existence, and to feel the presence of God and our deceased loved ones in our hearts.
He emphasized the importance of recognizing and learning from Bill’s accomplishments, and then taking these lessons and applying them to our lives; extending the essence of this person we loved so much and taking what he has created to the next level, to keep his legacy alive.
The priest then finished with something peculiar, yet inspiring.
“I would like to challenge each and every one of you,” he stated, eyes moving from face to face, “to have a breakthrough of your own, based on what you’ve heard about this special man today from his colleagues, his brother, and his kids. I want you to decide how you will improve your life, with God’s help, in Bill’s honor, after what you’ve experienced here today.”
After hugging Lindsey tightly and offering any help she and her sister needs, and being reassured by her family that they will take care of everything and keep us posted, Jessica and I walk slowly to the car. On the way home, we’re quiet, each of us lost in thought. As sad as I am, at the same time, I feel deeply inspired by the priest’s words.
At home, putting the tea kettle on, suddenly, something snaps in my mind, like a light going on. Following the priest’s admonition, like an obedient servant, I have a breakthrough: I decide to become a bitch.
What I mean by that is, while being very much alive, I’ll begin demanding to be treated as if I am dead: with respect. In the same way we’re urged to focus on all the good qualities of the deceased and their accomplishments—as we pay our final respects—we should be expected to treat each other, ourselves included, while we are still alive. Pouring hot water over the jasmine and green tea bag, determination fills me to the saturation point: I don’t have to die to claim my right to self-respect.
So from this day forth, ignited by my inspiration, I vow to become obnoxiously vocal about being treated right.
From this day forth…
My kids are only allowed to address me in a polite, respectful tone of voice, and the same applies to my husband; there are no demands, only kind requests for dinner, fresh laundry, or toilet paper.
I’m eating my yogurt with granola in a pretty cup, not out of the container while rushing to serve everyone else.
I’m sitting down to have dinner with my family—I’ve quit being their waitress. And we clean up the table together, before heading to the family room to watch “America’s Got Talent.”
I honor my body’s wish for water and rest, massage and a pedicure; I stop making excuses that I’m too busy to treat myself right.
From this day forth, I act polite to rude neighbors and relatives and ask them to treat me with equal respect.
And I’ll stop staying yes when I really want to say no. I’ll quit pleasing others and stay true to myself.
Something happened that day Bill died: My Inner Bitch/True Self was born. She is powerful and bold. She has plans to take over my old insecurities, setting up healthy boundaries with myself and others.
It turns out that being treated as “dead” feels more alive than ever.
Katherine Agranovich, Ph.D., is a Medical Hypnotherapist and Holistic Consultant. She is the author of "Tales of My Large, Loud, Spiritual Family". Call her for an office or phone consultation to attain mental-emotional alignment and close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Visist www.achievehealthcenter.com.