Wednesday, February 8, 2012

When Sooner Is Better Than Later

Frances has been divorced for several years. Ex-husband Ralph had been somewhat of  a bully and Frances still felt intimidated and nervous when communicating with him regarding an investment they still owned in common. As had been his habit in the past, Ralph continued to manage it quite independently of her opinion and wishes.

Eventually,  Frances made plans to change her life completely, shedding the painful past and living a meaningful life according to her own heart and standards. She planned to buy a house in the little town that once was home and find a way to make a difference there. She needed the money from the investment with Ralph.

The thought of having to tell him that she wanted her share literally stopped her in her tracks. She mentally reviewed all the scenarios on how this may play out, and in her mind one was worse than the other. She became more and more upset, and the idea began to fill her with dread. All joy went out of her vision for the future. Instead of making that phone call and, in a business-like manner, claim what was hers, she reverted to identifying with the wife of the past to whom all things were granted according to Ralph's whim.

Reliving all the hurts and insults of her marriage did much to undo the healing she had achieved since the divorce, and her mind got stuck in the past. Not in the habit of aski, she realized that talking to Ralph could not possibly feel worse than what she had been doing to herself. Almost emotionless, she made her request and "if that's how you want it, fine” was his only reply.

Think of all the prolonged anxiety and stress we undergo, when we let our imaginations decide how someone else may respond to a request or an unpleasant event that must be shared. Say what you have to say as soon as you can, before you start second- guessing the answer. Prolonging the inevitable can make you very unhappy, and it can hurt others as well.

Henry was grandfather, and best friend, to his only son's growing boys. Retired and loving all things outdoors, he took the boys camping and fishing and taught them about the local wildlife and the names of all the things that grew around them. He would sometimes quiz them about what they had seen that day, and the winner would get a dollar. Henry also taught them how to make a great kite, and in the fall flying kites and picnics became regular family affairs.

Henry was a long-time widower, had worked hard his whole life and had owned his own little auto repair shop. His greatest sense of achievement came from being able to send his son to college - the first one in the family to go. Jim in turn repaid his father well when he made him the proudest man in town - the day he became the principal in the local high school.

When Henry retired and sold his little shop, he told everyone that he would invest that money and send all four of his son’s boys to college as well. The idea of still being able to care for his family at this time of his life filled him with purpose and pride.

Our recent debacle with the stock market all but broke Henry. Gone was the dream of sending all four boys to college - he felt defeated and depressed. He declined all invitations from his son, made vague excuses to the boys when they called and kept the door locked when they rang the bell. Jim suspected the cause for his behavior and thought his dad might just need some time. The boys, however, were another story.  The daily absence of Grandpa confused and upset them very much.

Finally, an old friend of Henry's (my neighbor, who told me this story) challenged his behavior. "How can I face them, and tell them there isn't enough money left for all of them? What will they think of me then?” he asked with tears in his eyes.

“By God, Henry, you give your family little credit if you think they love you for the money. What do those boys know and think about college anyway? And if I know anything about Jim, and I do, he's preparing for his sons’ education, just like his father did for him. If it's your pride, Henry, you’re paying a mighty price for it!"

Henry returned to the fold, as they say - but again, sooner would have been better.

So, don't agonize over imagined outcomes when you have something to say or ask for. The truth really does set you free.

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