I’ll be frank. I would not have chosen a year of wrangling a rare auto immune disease. I would not have chosen the headaches, the aching joints, being cloaked in fatigue, the fear that it would always be this way. The fear of having a stroke. Of losing my eyesight. But, having gone through a year of Giant Cell Arteritis, I see the blessings. I learned some things in that year that I would not have otherwise learned. Or, let’s just say, it would have taken me a lot longer.
I learned that people are not perfect. I know, I know, this is something you could have told me, and saved me quite a lot of grief. When I was dealing with the jots and tittles of the estate after my father died, I expected people to do their jobs, if not perfectly, at least with some degree of aptitude. Some were kind and efficient, able to take care of their end of things without making my life harder. Others were incompetent or simply failed to do their jobs at all. My father’s attorney, for example, made over 30 mistakes, the most significant being getting the date of my father’s death wrong on legal paperwork, and neglecting to get Dad’s name right. Now my father didn’t make it easy. He had no fewer than 7 versions of his name used for bank accounts, utilities, investment accounts, and whatnot, a peculiarity which complicated my role as executor considerably. Still, one would think (I did) that the attorney and his paralegal would look at the copy of the birth certificate and/or the death certificate to verify the legal name of the deceased. They did not. It appears that they grabbed one out of a hat and slapped it onto the paperwork before sending it off to the courthouse. Which meant that the personal representative paperwork I needed had the wrong name, which meant that it had to be amended, which sounds inconsequential now, but every delay, every mistake, every correction meant that I had to start over. The attorney was only one among many who did not do their jobs well. I won’t bore you with a diatribe on this. Suffice it to say, I was enraged at the lack of perfection smacking me in the face. Right. First lesson. People are just people. They are not perfect. Expectation of perfection only leads to blistering headaches.
Second lesson, I must be my own advocate, with doctors and nurses, with my husband, with my friends and with strangers. People cannot know how to support you unless you stand up for yourself and say (out loud) what you need from them. It turns out that people are not very good at reading minds, even those closest to you. I’ll delve into this topic at length another time, but I’ll say that it took for some spunk for me to stand up to my doctors and challenge the need for all of the drugs they’d put me on, it took persistence to deal with insurance people all over the country trying to get my medication covered, and it took digging deep to ask my husband for the kind of support I needed from him. Learning to be my own advocate was incredibly hard for me because, initially, I didn’t want to be a bother and I didn’t think I deserved what I was asking for. But I learned. If I don’t value myself, how can I expect anyone else to?
Finally, one of the biggest lessons of this illness was learning to let go of anger by not feeding the story behind it. Sure, I was able to justify my rage at each of the people who had not done their jobs competently, or at all, when I was dealing with the estate. I relished telling my family and friends how unqualified, incompetent, and idiotic these people were. Did I feel superior? Of course. Did I get sympathy from these rants? Sure. Did it fix anything? Not at all. Talking about my indignation just fed my anger, which fed the flame of headache in my skull. I had the “right” to be angry, especially with the people I was paying to do this work. I had the right to be angry, to fire them, to file complaints, but it wouldn’t have changed anything. I still needed to wade through the tangles of the estate, and the reality was that most of the problems associated with the estate were the doings of my father. The many iterations of his name confounded people and the process. The fact that he hadn’t set up the trust in the way that he wanted to meant that the attorney had to get involved. And the fact that he had gone over everything with me years before he died, but hadn’t kept it up to date, created a mess that he never intended. That was the hardest part for me. Not only was my father not perfect, he was not here to help me sort this out. I knew that he had high expectations of me and that, no matter how well I did my job as executor, I could not do it perfectly, nor could I make him proud. Well. That was the crux of my anger there. Dad was gone, things were a mess, I was going to have to sort it out, and my “last chance” to do something of which my father might be proud of me could very well blow up in my face. What a story I was telling myself. That I had to be perfect, to make not a single mistake. That the mistakes of my father fell on me. And that, if I could just figure out how to do this job with perfection, my father would finally be proud of me. It was as if I had a vision of my father sitting on a cloud somewhere, watching over my efforts. I could hear his voice in my head saying, “Oh cripe,” grumbling when he realized what a mess things were with the trust. Would he have been able to say to me, “Sorry for the mess, kid, but you’re doing a great job,” or would he have placed the blame at my feet? I can’t know and I won’t ever hear him say that he was proud of me, but I can imagine. It’s far better for me to shift the story, to say the words I longed to hear, “I’m proud of you. That was a real mess to get through, and you did a fine job. Thank you.” Far better for me to shift the story and let the headache go.