The family has gathered in the hospital room of their lovely niece. Except for the respirator tube across her mouth, she looks as if she is asleep. While her mother is talking to her and gently caressing her warm hand, the doctor walks into the room. His somber expression causes the mother to stop in mid-sentence and all activity among the family stops. “She’s brain dead,” he says. “I’m so sorry.”
Life has ceased; yet, life support equipment is keeping your loved one’s heart pumping and body functioning. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to say goodbye. She looks alive, she feels warm, and her chest is moving up and down, yet she’s gone. Life – responsiveness, vitality, laughter, emotion – is gone. Herein lies the harsh reality: you have to take your loved one off life support.
This was an ongoing dilemma of the Abbott family on the soap opera, The Young and The Restless. The storyline, along with other occurrences, is the impetus for my own self-reflection. There’s a short quiz in Dr. Michelle Callahan’s book, Ms. Typed, where one of the types described is Ms. Bag Lady. “Ms. Bag Lady carries around a load of emotional ‘baggage’ and lets her old emotions adversely affect her new relationships. She lets her unresolved problems from the past ruin her present and future. Because she’s been treated so poorly, she doesn’t realize how wonderful and deserving of love she truly is.” One might say Ms. Bag Lady has her past on life support.
How can my past be on life support? That relationship has been over for quite some time. I buried my father 14 years ago. We divorced back in 2003. I’m an adult now. I moved to another state. I left home a long time ago. I gave the preacher my hand and gave God my heart – Hallelujah! Yet, if you live with guilt, shame, or blame; can’t get over a past offense or rejection, or aren’t free to live your life authentically, your past is on life support. A dear friend of mine once said, “when you have an intense reaction to someone or something, you need to ask yourself what pain is life trying to heal.”
One of the most vivid examples is in The Gospel of Mark. The New Living Translation reads, “A man possessed by an evil spirit came out from a cemetery to meet him…Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones.” I don’t know if he was grieving a loss, tormented by some tragedy or trauma or was crazed by the voices from the past he could not silence, but he was in pain. He was also a cutter. I remember a talk show where a teenager was asked why she cut herself. She said it was her way of relieving her pain.
So what’s the remedy? How do you take your past off life support?
Change your mind
I don’t care how many people tell you something or someone is wrong. It’s not over until it’s over. You’ll dig it up and try to resuscitate it whenever you feel sad, lonely or afraid. The family has accepted their loved one as dead. The man living in the tombs has to disconnect from what is tormenting him. You have to view your past as no longer welcome in your present in order to take it off life support.
Change your associations
This one was difficult for me. I tend to cling to what I valued in my life. Nevertheless, I’ve found that what was good at one time in your life can be detrimental to your now. You can’t recapture what’s past. Even if it was good, you got to take it off life support. Furthermore, don’t associate with people who keep digging up your graves, pulling skeletons out of your closet or reminiscing over what has ended. Build a new circle of friends who will support your now.
Change your surroundings
Clean house. Remove everything that reminds you of the past. If it is a past relationship, stop taking his/her phone calls. Stop going to places where you used to hang out. Stop confusing his kindness as an indication he misses you or wants you back. Leave the tombs. Jesus told the man, “Go home to your family.”
I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the pages of my life. Father’s Day is an emotional day for me. Since my dad’s death, what use to be a day of celebration has become a day of deep sadness. I’m temperamental. I shed tears. I long for his presence, his voice (he used to call me “Knee-baby”). But when that day is over, the sadness ends. I’ll never forget my dad or what he meant to me, but life continues. With each new day, I’m finding more joy, laughter and hope. So, take your past off life support. Create some new memories. Most importantly, LIVE!
Suzette R. Hinton, SAC-I, Certified Life and Mentor Coach, Counselor and Mother. Graduate of CANA, Inc. and Founder of Purposeful Connections. Suzette believes that purpose is not only a destination but it is the energy that pushes us toward its fulfillment.