"I got to thinking one day about all those women on the Titanic who passed up dessert at dinner that fateful night in an effort to 'cut back.' From then on, I've tried to be a little more flexible."
(Erma Bombeck)

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"Never place a period where God has placed a comma"

The above quote is attributed to comedienne Gracie Allen. Some of you may be too young to know who Gracie Allen was (well, she was before MY time as well), but I remember seeing clips of Gracie and her husband, comedian George Burns, many times while I was growing up in the 60s.

Gracie Allen died decades before her husband and the story goes that after her death, George went to sort through her papers and, on top of everything in her desk, he found an envelope addressed to him. When he opened it, the note inside read, “George, never place a period where God places a comma.”

George went on to live another 32 years. When he died in 1996, he was interred in a crypt at Gracie’s side. The engraving on their gravesite marker reads, Gracie Allen and George Burns — Together Again.

Gracie had no idea when she wrote that note decades ago, someone far removed from her time and place would be so encouraged by it. Tonight, I needed to read that note.

I am depressed. I read once that depression is nothing more than anger turned inward. I think there’s something to that. I have often thought, though, that anger is really just a reaction to deep sadness. So, basically . . . I’m sad.

I didn’t even know I felt this way until the floodgates opened up the other night. I was having a conversation with my daughter and . . .  sort of . . . “lost it.” Sobbing. The thing is, the topic (at least on the surface), didn’t really merit that kind of response.

So I was surprised at myself. I realized that I’ve been stuffing down my emotions (a lifelong hobby). Afterwards, I examined my feelings so that I could pinpoint the problem.

I think it’s a combination of several different things having to do with this season of life: Preparing for the empty nest; Elderly parents; Elderly dog; Elderly husband (whoops, how did that get in there?); Cancer survivor; Menopause; Feeling old before my time (part of the whole cancer/menopause thing); Hormonal medication (to try to prevent a cancer recurrence); New season of marriage; Rat-on-a-wheel syndrome at work, etc.

I’ve often wondered how to acknowledge the sad parts of my life without wallowing in self-pity. If someone can share the trick, please do. I think that’s where I’m stuck.

I forgot to add that I was laid off from my public relations job with the school district this week. In retrospect, I suppose that was the tipping point.

I had already anticipated the possibility of being laid off due to budget cuts. But I convinced myself that it wasn’t going to happen (for a variety of reasons). So I was a little surprised when the superintendent asked to meet with me after school last week. Then I figured it was coming--and I was right.

He told me that the district had contracted with an outside graphic design agency to handle their communications efforts beginning on September 1, thereby saving $12,000 a year. Perfectly understandable, especially in this economic climate.

I tried to be gracious and understanding (and I really do understand the decision), but the net effect was that I felt shoved aside and unappreciated for the hard work I’ve done for the last two-and-a-half years in that position. And for getting the big projects out while working them in between a cancer diagnosis, two surgeries, four chemo and 38 radiation treatments (not to mention doctor’s appointments, lab visits, MRIs, and mammogram appointments).

To be fair, my employer has been understanding throughout. I was given all the time off I needed, my job was waiting for me, work priorities were re-arranged, and I even received donated leave from co-workers when my sick time ran out. So there really shouldn’t be any sour grapes on my part.

I guess that’s why I was so surprised at my delayed reaction. When I realized that my income would be cut by $14,000 a year, I felt a little sick inside. I really do believe all of this is God’s plan for me at this point in my life. The truth is that I would prefer to work at the high school full time (I still have my lesser-paying high school admin job to return to in September, thanks be to God).  

I’ve never been laid off before in all of my 53 years (and I’ve had a lot of jobs). Maybe there’s a little bit of my pride being hurt, I don’t know.

The lay-off notice set off something deep inside of me that I have been suppressing for quite awhile and that I am no longer able to deny. I have come to realize that not only am I being laid off from my “9 to 5” job, but I am in the process of being let go of the most important job I’ve ever had . . . I am being “downsized” as a mother.

I knew this day would come. I prepared for it. I told myself that I wouldn’t be one of those mothers whose entire life revolved around her child and who didn’t have anything of her own going on. One of the reasons I decided to pursue teaching was in preparation for my daughter’s leaving home. I wanted to find other outlets for my energies and need for relationship. I wanted to be proactive, not pathetic.

The temptation is to give in to the “put out to pasture” feelings. The temptation is to think that my greatest contribution to the world is over, finis, kaput. I have been keeping myself motivated with thoughts of the future involving a certain dream I’ve always had. And I am coming to grips with the reality that maybe, just maybe, my life won’t play out the way it does in my dream. And that makes me incredibly sad.

I’m learning that no matter how much I prepare for this season of life, I still have to walk through it. I don’t know why, but transition hurts. Probably because it involves a certain amount of struggle while new routines replace old ones. Birth. Adolescence. Early years of marriage. Divorce. Death. Leaving home. No matter how you slice it, change--even positive change--is stressful and often hurts.

We live in an age where pain is to be avoided at all costs. Comfort is our ideal. Depressed? Take an anti-depressant. Headache? Pop some Excedrin. Pregnant with less than ideal circumstances? Get an abortion. Fear of STDs? Envelop yourself in plastic. Yep, we’re technological experts at handling all the discomforts of life.

But not all pain is bad. Sometimes it lets you know that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. For example, the pain in my breast got me to a doctor so that my breast cancer was discovered at an early stage. Sometimes it accompanies a wonderful blessing, such as the birth of a child. Sometimes the pain of dysfunction is great enough to motivate you to change your life for the better.

Pain is not the enemy.

Thank you, Gracie, for the reminder. I will pray and ask for God’s help. I will ask for God to help me see the comma.

And in case you’re interested, here’s a look at that dream:

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Reader Comments (1)

Oh, Dana. Whaaaaa! I am feeling sad for you. It's okay to be sad. Change is hard and you have weathered some BIG things this past year. I hope you know you are an inspiration to others, especially those of us with wee ones. I look at women like you who have done an excellent job (the proof is the great daughter) raising kids.

May 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

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