Tears were running down my cheeks. Serious, vision-blurring tears. Which was probably a bad thing, since I was driving at the time, and my path included at least one school zone.
It was probably around 2001 or 2002, and I was on my way from my home to that of my parents. My mom had just called with some situation that my dad, who had alzheimer’s, had likely gotten himself into. It was a crisis of some sort — small or large — but the severity of each had been increasing over time.
I’d be in tears again on the return trip home. It’s hard to drive that same road today and not remember.
Dealing with my parents as they aged, being the designated on-call crisis manager, was incredibly stressful. But it was also incredibly educational.
I learned a lot about myself, and life, in those tumultuous days.
What I learned is best summed up in the title of a recently published book that I can highly recommend: Everything Is Figuroutable, by Marie Forleo(*).
I’m an only child, and all blood relatives are on another continent. I had no one with which to hand off, much less share responsibility. My wife was incredibly supportive — always, but particularly during this time — but somehow that’s not the same as being able to hand responsibility off to someone else completely.
As the sole family member, it was all on me. My parents, my responsibility.
I occasionally joked that not having siblings I had no one to argue with. That was a blessing in many ways. If I determined something was necessary, I did it. I may not have enjoyed doing it, but there was no one else.
Each crisis, each life change, each stage of their eventual decline, came with its own set of problems, issues, and decisions. Rarely were they truly expected, but at each stage my wife and I figured it out as best we could, and did what needed to be done.
Shit happens. It just does. And one of the most helpful attitudes that I think I’ve tried to adopt from that time is that no amount of angst or anger will undo shit. Figure it out as best you can, make the decisions as best you can, and move forward … as best you can.
In the moment it can be incredibly difficult to see this. In the moment it truly is a crisis that seems to have no solution.
It does. Everything is figureoutable. It, too, will pass.
Having limited options — like being the only child — makes hard decisions easy. By that I mean that often there are no practical alternatives other than a fairly obvious answer, like taking action yourself. It may not be easy to do whatever’s needed, but often the decisions, at least, are easier.
It’s a skill I continue to try use to this day. Often in difficult times you just know what needs to be done. Delaying doesn’t make it easier. It’s best to simply do it and pass through it.
My mother became ill, my father moved to assisted living and then a nursing home. My mother never recovered from her illness dying in the very home I’d been driving to and from. My father passed a few years later. My tearful trips came to an end.
I survived. I figured out what needed to be figured out, and came through the other side.
Whatever it is you’re facing know that it, too, shall pass. You can figure out what needs to be figured out, make the hard decisions, and take the difficult steps to move through it. The decisions may or may not be easy, and taking action will almost certainly be hard,.
Just knowing what needs to be done and deciding to do it is, perhaps, one of life’s most valuable survival skills.
(*) I really do recommend Everything is Figureoutable. I happened to listen to it in audio form, read by the author, but either way it’s a very entertaining and thought provoking read. Particularly if you’re struggling with some of life’s more difficult times and decisions.