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by Dr. Mari Dias, contributing writer
“We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams. “ (Jeremy Irons)
“We kill time. We save time. We rob and get robbed of time, we lose time, and we have all the time in the world. But no one of us is powerful enough to stop it.” (actitime.com”). We never know what will happen from one minute to the next. We expect that our minutes and days will be predictable. We are shocked and numb that while cooking dinner, a phone call reveals the death of a loved one due to a car crash. We stand aghast at the police standing at the front door informing us of our adult child’s accidental overdose. A family outing, replete with the obligatory grilled hamburgers and hotdogs ends in an unexpected minute when a toddler drowns in the pool. We go to the emergency room for what we consider a commonplace complaint of headache and nausea and are told we have stage 4 brain cancer. A young man takes a bicycle ride on a cool summer evening and is hit by a drunk driver. A child playing outside is attacked by a dog. A kayak overturns and the occupant drowns. As one client expressed sudden trauma and death-
“This is not the right story.”
On a positive note, we may unexpectedly fall in love, get a job we weren’t counting on or win a contest.
We all have a story in our minds of how our lives and those around us will play out. We grow up with expectations. We will outlive our parents. We will choose a career or college major. We might have a dream home or vacation. Then – a wrench in the story. There is a sense of safeness and trust in life, until or unless time plays a trick on us and causes us to rewrite our story. There may be many rewrites. Some have great difficulty in the rewrite.
“This is not my life. My life was this… and now it’s not.” (Client)
Yes, it is. Different, but as much as we don’t want to face it, it is still our life. As with any rewrite, we cross out, change the words, delete and add. The final product rarely resembles the initial draft. And that is what our story, our life, is. An initial draft.
I recently worked with two siblings, a boy age 10 and his sister age 12. Let’s call them Joe and Phoebe.
Joe and Phoebe lived with their biological mom. Mom has an alcohol dependence problem. Both children were taken from their mom and placed in their biological father’s home. Joe told me that he loved where he was, but wanted, no, needed to go home to Mom.
“Mom can’t take care of herself. She falls asleep on the couch every night, and I would wake her and help her to bed. In the morning, before school, I would make breakfast for me and Phoebe, and then wake mom. I would help mom take a shower and give her some breakfast. Phoebe would make the beds and clean up the dishes. When we got home from school, mom would be sleeping on the couch and Phoebe would make dinner. After eating, we would do our homework, clean up the kitchen and then I would wake mom up and help her to bed. Every day is the same schedule. Mom can’t live by herself- she needs us to take care of her. She could never take care of herself! She wouldn’t eat or shower. We need to go home and take care of her. “
Phoebe never said a word. Just nodded her head.
These children never expected to be the caretakers of a parent, without a childhood. Perhaps mom never expected to have a drinking problem. It wasn’t in the initial draft, but it’s now in the rewrites. This loss, this perceived responsibility of children is heartbreaking. This is what we call an ACOA (Adult Child of an Alcoholic.) They need to become adults at an early age and the roles are reversed. They don’t have the time to kill time, yet they do get robbed of time, and yet have all the time in the world. Joe’s comments show me that he wants to go back to the initial draft. No rewrites. It’s what he knows. Now we need to work on giving him and his sister the childhood they deserve. They will either erase these memories or use them to reframe life. They still have dreams.
This is Joe and Phoebe’s story. Now. Hopefully I can help them rewrite it. Fortunately, they have time.
“The good times are what help you get through
That’s what you’d think, but there’s so much more
So don’t overlook, life’s got more memories for sure…
A great life to get through
It all becomes the good times.” (Lyrics from “The Good Times” by Joe Martira, 2021).
Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief.
She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI. For more information, go to: http://gracepointegrief.com/
Dr. Dias is the author of GriefSpeak – Stories of Loss