When grief and Good Things collide

As I’ve mentioned, Boyfriend is set to finish grad school in the next few months and we’re looking forward to starting a new chapter with less financial stress and to moving to a place that’s a better fit for us. The closer these Good Things draw, the more conflicted I feel about them. In the wake of my mom’s death and the traumatic experience of taking care of her, my brain just cannot process this good stuff properly. Instead, it’s looking for the ‘catch.’ It wants to identify all the ways this could go wrong and hedge against them. My mother-not-quite-in-law insists I’m not the Universe’s punchline and I know she’s right, but, goddamn, it sure feels like it sometimes.

I guess I feel a sense of control in preparing for worst-case scenarios, whereas I have very little control over anything else right now. Boyfriend doesn’t have a defense date set yet, so there’s only a vague timeline for the next several months of our lives; I’m waiting to hear whether I’ll be running a youth program this summer, in collaboration with another organization; we don’t know what job offers Boyfriend will get or where; we don’t know where we’ll be living after August; we don’t know what my job opportunities will be wherever we end up; etc. I’ve always hated uncertainty and there’s just so much of it right now, even though I know these should be good changes.

Anyway, we’re talking about buying a condo if we stay in the city because it would be cheaper in the long-run. This is exciting! This is a Good Thing! “But look at all the unpleasantness we’ve been dealing with lately. Good Things don’t happen to us,” says my grief-y brain. Then it started to worry what would happen if this shiny new life we’re talking about building fell to me to maintain. We’ll likely be able to make a down payment at the same time I’d hopefully be starting a 3-year Masters program (which is a recent decision), so I’ll have little to no income for the first few years in our new place.

My brain, being wired differently than others at the moment, started asking what would happen if Boyfriend got sick or hurt or worse. We’re not married, so I’m not de facto entitled to any of his assets. I don’t have any savings since I dropped out of my life last fall to take care of my mom and am just freelancing until Boyfriend graduates because the nonprofit needed attention and I needed, mentally, to be able to get to work right away when I got back and not have to slog through the depressing dance that is applying for jobs.

Of course, I don’t actually expect anything to happen to Boyfriend nor that I’ll be poor forever, but he’ll likely always make more money than I will as far as day jobs go. (Though hopefully one of our startup ideas will make both of us rich!) Even if we’re making reasonable choices based on our joint income, for as long as our joint income isn’t actually held jointly, I will likely be woefully unable to take over the bills, if need be.

It’s not at all about keeping material stuff or maintaining a cushy lifestyle if something happens to him; it’s about being in this really scary place since my mom died where I don’t have people who are obligated to catch me if I fall. You know, if most people break up with a live-in S.O. or get divorced or suffer the devastating loss of their partner, their family will take them in or help them out until they’re back on their feet. That’s not my situation. I now have to land on my feet, no matter the circumstances. And I know there are people who would help (like his family) but it’s just… different. I guess I feel like letting them help would make me a victim-y charity case, whereas sometimes needing your parent(s) in one way or another is just kind of built into that whole relationship. I know not everyone has that kind of relationship with their parent(s) and I should be grateful that I ever had it with my mom, but it’s hard to focus on that when most of my friends have families who are willing and able to make sure they’re okay, no matter what.

I also know that it’s normal to be struggling with these things in the wake of a major loss, but I swear sometimes I feel like an alien now. Other people just don’t get where I’m coming from. Hell, I don’t always get it. I know it’s weird to feel like you should plan your life around remote chances of bad things, including the possibility that everyone you love will die too soon. But on the other hand, my grandparents (only one of whom was over 70), my college friend, and my mom all did just that before I’d even reached the latter half of my 20s. I guess I just feel like if I plan for every bad thing, then I can hopefully enjoy the Good Things without worrying about becoming a cosmic punchline. If I do everything in my power to forestall Irony, bad things won’t happen (tempting the Fates and all).

Even though I know that it is in no way my fault that my mom died of lung cancer, grieving brains seek control and we can only control our own actions. Ergo, my control-seeking brain can’t help but place some of the blame on me for not somehow forcing her to quit sooner because it means that I could prevent a similar tragedy in the future. This is, of course, absurd, in no small part because I bugged her about it for years and I was ultimately the reason she quit. (She’d smoked for 25 years before I was even born and she was exposed to my grandmother’s secondhand smoke for who knows how long.) It’s obviously not really my fault, but that also means it’s obviously not in my power to prevent a similar outcome in the future. And just I can’t accept that right now.

So yeah, it’s an unfortunate phase, but looking gift horses in the mouth is where I’m at right now. I’m no less grateful for Good Things like relatively good health, lovey pets, and exciting new adventures. If anything, this quest is attributable to the fact that I can’t bear the thought of losing anymore Good Things in my life anytime soon. I realize it’s futile to try to control big picture stuff. Maybe this is just my version of Bargaining. At any rate, I hope those of you who love me will bear with me through this, even if you don’t understand it.

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