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Tuesday, December 8, 2020

My New Year's Resolution: No More Self-Pity

I rarely make New Year’s resolutions; they seem silly to me—and statistics back me up. Only eight percent of Americans keep their resolutions, and 80% have abandoned their commitments within the first 30 days. But this year there is something I want to resolve—something I want to hold myself and be held accountable for doing. I want others to hear me state my intention and be prepared to point out when I’m not meeting it and encourage me to do better.

I suppose this is why people keep making New Year’s resolutions despite the low success rates; we feel more likely to do something if we tell others we will. Most years, happily enough, I don’t feel I need peer pressure to meet my goals; I am already doing pretty much what I think I ought to be doing for myself, so I don’t need to state an intention and ask people to hold me to it. This year, however, I know I need help reaching my goal. So here goes:

I want to stop feeling sorry for myself. I am drowning in self-pity and feel way less likeable and certainly less at peace for it, but I find I am unable to stop seeking public sympathy and feeling bad about how wronged I’ve been. I hate this quality in others. I have ended friendships with people who seemed stuck in self-pity, in seeing themselves as a victim of circumstances. We all endure tough breaks, and self-pity doesn’t help us in the long run. I know this, yet I continue to have a daily pity party playing in my mind’s background every day.  

It feels hard to admit I am displaying a quality I abhor. Everyone suffers; I cannot think of many friends who haven’t battled a painful illness or infertility or tragic loss or had to cope with a life-changing diagnosis for their child. And I have much to be grateful for: my wife, daughter, mother, friends, warm home, full fridge, and pets among them. But I just haven’t been able to stop feeling wretchedly sorry for myself and our family.

Many of you may assume I am consumed with self-pity over the loss of my son, shown above sleeping with his daughter. When he died of an overdose in late 2016, shortly after that photo was taken, it seemed natural that I would feel sorry for myself, and I welcomed all the sympathy I could get for the first year or so. The grief books I devoured encouraged me to wallow all I wanted, and doing so felt healing. But then, gradually, thanks to the support of friends and family, thanks to my wife’s extraordinary rearranging of our lives and budget to allow me to stop working outside the home, thanks to talk therapy and medication, writing and daily Yoga with Adriene, I started to feel a renewed sense of wellness and wholeness. I was gradually able to put Kyle’s life and death in perspective, and eventually to feel grateful once in a while for the 26 years we had with our brilliant, generous, hilarious son. I started putting together a poetry manuscript about my son, incorporating his poetry into the book, which helped me find some meaning in my suffering. I learned that finding meaning is key to healing. I found a publisher for the book.

Then, about a year and a half into my learning to live without my son, the girlfriend my son left behind, Amber,  asked if she and their daughter Maggie could come stay with me and my wife here in Massachusetts. To the right is a photo of them watching a 3D movie in our living room shortly after their arrival. Sharing more of this story is just another way of asking for sympathy, so I will refrain. Suffice to say that after Amber and Maggie lived with me for six months and then in a nearby apartment for another year, after Amber encouraged all of us in Maggie’s family to fall in love with Maggie and she with us, Amber cut us all off. She has not spoken to me nor let me or any of us see Maggie since shortly after Maggie turned 5 in February of 2019.  I tried to fight in court for visits, but Amber’s boyfriend (the man she said she needed to escape when she moved in with me) is wealthier than we are and paid for an expensive attorney to battle and bully me in court. After an exhausting and expensive year of trying everything I could, seeing a trial would not be scheduled for many more months, realizing that even if I "won," Amber would appeal and at least another year would pass without my getting to see my granddaughter, I agreed to drop the case. Amber said she would consider restarting our relationship in exchange for my signing away my rights. I never heard from her again.

My wife and I, who opened our home, supported Amber and Maggie, and worked tirelessly to help them both start a new life, have never in our lives felt so used and discarded. And to know that Maggie was cut off without explanation from her entire loving family without our even being allowed to say goodbye has been excruciating. Here's a shot of us at a local Bird Show from 2018.

But what can I do? Although Amber and her boyfriend have blocked us on every social media platform, I have tried reaching out with loving letters to Amber, all of which have been ignored. I no longer have any legal recourse, but I continue to send cards and gifts to Maggie; I fear most of them are thrown out. My last card included this P.S. “I take a picture of every note I send you in case you’re not seeing them now so I can show you all the times we tried to be in touch through the years.”

I sometimes dream of writing a book about other grandparents who have been unfairly cut off from their grandchildren after their child has died. There are a lot of us. Perhaps writing a book would help me find meaning in this experience, give me a constructive use for all of this self-pity. 

In the meantime, I am at a loss as to how to stop feeling sorry for myself. I am giving myself the rest of December to wallow—and to hear suggestions from all of you on how you have moved on from a brutal betrayal—and then, as of January 1st, I’ll be working on keeping this resolution. Thanks for your help. I’m going to need it. In the meantime, if anyone reading this knows how Maggie is doing, please drop us a note letting us know.


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