Behaving Badly

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better. Anne Lamott

In my darkest moments, I think about the people who hurt or upset Jimmy or me.

I remember the ICU nurse who got irritated with Jimmy when he pushed the call button 20 minutes after she’d been in because he had to go to the bathroom. It was three days past the craniotomy to remove his initial brain tumor, and he had a four inch long incision in the back of his head.

I think of the close family member who couldn’t be bothered to send a card or call after Jimmy was diagnosed, and then sent a stuffed Peter Rabbit when Jimmy’s cancer recurred two years later. Jimmy was 15 years old.

I recall the email sent from a then dear friend, complaining about how busy she was organizing a social gathering. Her note was in response to an update I’d sent out saying that Jimmy’s cancer had progressed all the way down his spine.

It’s during the hardest days of our lives that we find out the true nature of the people around us, especially close family and friends. But we do ourselves no favors remembering the negative encounters. So what’s helped me to stop dwelling on these painful memories?

I realized that when I thought about the people who had let us down, hurt us, treated Jimmy badly or worse, ignored him, I was remembering the worst of times. These events didn’t generally happen when Jimmy was feeling good, doing well, happy and thriving; they happened when he was vulnerable, either physically or emotionally. And those weren’t the days or the memories I wanted to immerse myself in now that Jimmy is no longer here.

After Jimmy died, one of the gifts my dear friend, Regina and our beloved social worker, Aja, gave me was permission to “divorce” myself from other people. I grew up in a family where bad behavior by another family member was tolerated. People might not like it; they might bitterly complain about it to other family members but because the perpetrator was a relative, no one was allowed to terminate the relationship, no matter how heinous the behavior. Aja and Regina empowered me to say, “What you’re doing isn’t okay” and, if necessary, “I’m not going to spend time with you any more.”

I’d be lying if I said that I don’t pick at these, and other, wounds at times but I’m more and more able to put them out of my mind. Distancing myself from the people in my life who behaved badly has created the space to live mostly in the happy, joyful memories I have of Jimmy and our life together.

Margo on the left in a pink shirt sitting next to Jimmy, age 3, wearing a purple shirt in the park

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