I am in the finishing stages of Lifting the Gloom, but realised that I need stories to illustrate the seven first aid measures that give you the inner strength to cope with anything. These are:
- Healthy eating
- Satisfying sleep
- Regular physical exercise
- Regular fun
- Social connectedness
I’d be grateful for your opinion regarding this little story. And please comment with a guess regarding which of the seven measures it illustrates.
Rory loves work and hates home. He is an organizer for Greenpeace, which gives him worthwhile, varied, interesting work with wonderful people. Today, he is leading a team who are getting a community hall ready for a large meeting. He is everywhere, which is his job: setting up two girls to clean the big windows, keeping an eye on the team preparing lunch, in between helping with setting out seating, rigging up sound and electronics. Life is great, and he revels in the friendship, liking and admiration of these admirable people. He has made dozens of friends through work.
Ginny is particularly admiring, and sends him clear signals. He likes her a lot, but over lunch has to explain, “My mom has multiple sclerosis. If it wasn’t for me, she’d have to be in a nursing home, and I don’t think she’d survive. So, I’m her carer. Doesn’t leave me time for a social life!”
If anything, this makes her glow at him even more, and he is tempted, very tempted, but… He is at work much of the time, and when he is away on campaigns she stays in a nursing home for respite care, and she hates Hates HATES it and takes it out on him when they’re back home again. In the nursing home, she sulks in her room and barely talks to the staff, never mind other residents.
So, there is no way he can have a girlfriend.
When he gets home, instead of a greeting, Mom says, “About time! The left brake of my chair has jammed and I’ve been sitting in my own piss for hours! And my phone is out of reach on the table.”
He can see the problem: the edge of her rug has caught in the brake lever. If she’d just looked, she could have fixed it, but… With a sigh he frees her, wheels her to the bathroom, helps her to undress, shower, and dress in clean clothes, then settles her in front of the TV while disinfecting the chair. All this time, he tries to cheer her up by describing his day, and how he is looking forward to the inspiring speakers he’d lined up for tomorrow.
All he gets is the occasional grunt. When she is comfortable, he cooks dinner, and they eat in silence. But he has an idea. “Mom, rather than sit here alone tomorrow, why don’t you come with me?”
“What? A bunch of strangers, all looking at me like the freak I am.” She starts to cry.
“You’re not a freak. OK, you’re in a wheelchair, but none of these lovely people will hold that against you. Actually, you look dignified when you get that sneer off your face.”
Oops, he’s gone too far. She wheels away from the table, leaving her meal part-eaten.
He follows her to her bedroom. “Look Mom, sorry. But honestly, they’ll welcome you, and you’ll enjoy our two speakers, they’re—”
“Their job is to inspire young people to care for the future, right?”
“Not an old woman wishing she was dead.”
“You’re only fifty-two.”
“And on the way to the grave, and the sooner the better!”
Sigh. “If you died, I’d feel like my leg was cut off. We’re a team.”
Her face softens. “You’re lovely. But when I die, you’ll be able to have a life.”
“Look, come along tomorrow. I’ve lined up great food, and you do have a stake in the future: me.”
In the event, she does come. Ten of the team are already there. Rory says, “Hey people, this is my mom, Melissa. He starts to reel off names, but she holds up a hand. “Maybe you all need name tags. There’s no way I’ll remember.”
Laughter ripples around, and all of them pin Greenpeace labels on their chests. A girl says, “Rory, you’re needed, and we have an oversupply of labor. I’ll keep your mom company.” Her label identifies her as Ginny McGillicuddy. Ridiculous surname, and Melissa has never liked carroty hair. The girl’s bosom is too small, her eyes too close together, mouth too narrow. But then she smiles, and a glow of loving and being cared for fills Melissa. Never mind appearance, Ginny now looks beautiful.
Ginny steps behind the chair and Melissa feels it move, to a little room off to the side. The chair turns so she is facing the open doorway, so she can see everything.
Ginny is in front of her again, and looks sort of thoughtful. “Hmm. Strong white tea, one sugar?”
“How on earth did you know?”
The girl laughs, again lighting up the space around her. “Blame my Irish ancestors. It’s one of my little party tricks. How about some apple strudel with it?”
In five minutes, they are sipping — Melissa the tea just like she likes it, and the strudel the way she remembers her grandmother’s, while Ginny drinks black coffee. I suppose now I need to make conversation. Melissa has pretty well forgotten how, but manages, “What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Greenpeace?”
“I’m just finishing a Masters in Counseling Psychology. I’ve got a bit more writing to do on my thesis, and started a placement a week ago at a correctional facility for girls.”
“That sounds challenging.”
“Terrified the hell out of me when I started, but actually it’s going well. You see, I was an inmate there at fifteen, but grew up thanks to a couple of wonderful women. That’s why I decided to be a psychologist. And I’m in Greenpeace to give those kids a world to grow up in that’s worth growing up in.”
“I’d never have picked you to be a reformed delinquent.”
“I wasn’t lucky like Rory. My parents are both drug addicts.”
Melissa just has to look at this young woman, and doesn’t know how to respond. At last she asks, “Why is Rory lucky?”
“Personality is set in the first five years of life. He is so wonderful, you just have to be a wonderful mother.”
Preparations completed, Rory looks for his mom, and sees her with Ginny in the side room. They are smiling at each other, filling the little space with sunshine.
That’s what Mom used to look like before falling into deep depression. This is the first time he’s seen her glow with a smile in years.