Sweating the Small Stuff

I try to live by the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff,” but sometimes it is impossible to do especially since some of the really small stuff seems to be the biggest stuff.

Some of the small things I am currently sweating are mosquitoes, gnats, and other insects. They wouldn’t be a problem if they left me alone, but already, so early in the season, I am dealing with mosquito bites, gnats up my nose, grasshoppers eating my petunias. (Luckily, so far the petunias are all the hoppers seem to like, though they have nibbled on other plants to see if that foliage were to their liking.) There’s not much I can do about the gnats or the grasshoppers, but I have sprayed permethrin on my gardening clothes (khaki pants rather than my usual black because mosquitoes love black) and I use eucalyptus lemon oil on my face and hands, but they still manage to get me despite those precautions. It’s possible they get into the house at night and feast on me then, but I’ve only seen one mosquito in the house so far. (Although I would never hurt a fly, I have no compunction about offing critters that drink my blood.)

Another small thing that I sweated was an eyelash that got caught in my eye. I couldn’t get it out last night, though after a while I couldn’t find it anymore, so I thought perhaps I’d removed it without knowing I’d done so. Today, however, I woke up with a sore eye. I finally found the lash masquerading as an inflamed blood vessel. I eventually managed to work it over to the corner of my eye where I was able to scrape it off. That is one “small stuff” I had to sweat because it’s not good to have something foreign in one’s eyes.

And yet another small thing that looms large is that each of the past few evenings, I’ve had tearful moments of missing Jeff. After eleven years, most people would think that missing him should no longer be an issue, especially since I’m doing okay, but occasionally it is. I’ve been trying to be upbeat, to see the good in my present life, to not look back but not look forward, either. Neither looking back nor forward does me any good. There is nothing I can do about the past because it’s done and there’s nothing I can do about the future because that is out of my control. Besides, aging is a factor in my future, though people often disagree and tell me that it isn’t. The truth is, looking to the future, I can see myself getting older and feebler and trying to do the best for myself with diminishing strength and energy, and that’s not something I want to dwell on now.

So I look to today, but sometimes, as it has the past few evenings, that concentration on today seems . . . phony. As if I’m trying to be someone I’m not.

Still, there’s nothing I can do about Jeff being gone, and all I can do about missing him is let myself feel bad for a few minutes then dissipate the sadness with some sort of activity. Last night I dissipated those sad energies with dusting the furniture and dry mopping the floors.

Nor can I do anything about the other small stuff I’m sweating, including literally sweating — it was already eighty degrees when I went out to water the garden this morning. (It’s now 95 degrees Faranheit, 35 Celcius.)

Although a more positive or upbeat attitude seems phony to me, as if I’m not being true to myself, I tend to think it’s not really phony but simply another way of dealing with whatever comes my way. And what’s coming my way, for the most part, are a few flowers here and there.

I am glad to have the flowers, and glad that the hoppers around here aren’t as voracious as they were where Jeff and I lived. I blamed myself for my inability to grow a garden back then, thinking it was due to a brown thumb, but it was actually due to the large, brown grasshoppers that ate everything down to the ground, even the three-foot trees we planted. (The only things they left alone were lilacs and Siberian elms.) So I am grateful that I’ve managed to grow anything!

See? Even in a post about my various “small stuff” troubles, I end up with a glad and grateful attitude, though that wasn’t my intention.

Phony or not, that seems to be the way I am now.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

It’s All Small Stuff

Yesterday’s post, “It All Matters” was not supposed to be so much an explanation of why I blog about the things I do but rather an explanation of why small things are important (and important enough to blog about).

There is a saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.” Believe me, it’s not all small stuff. Dying. Death. Grief. Loss. Love. Birth. These are all huge. You can’t choose not to “sweat” them, because they sweat you. So much of the accompanying emotional, mental, chemical and hormonal changes occur without your volition. They all work to propel you into a new way of being so that you can eventually handle those immense and intense life events.

When you are dealing with changes, especially traumatic changes, it’s the small things that keep you going. A cup of tea. A flower blooming in the desert. A smile from a stranger. A shadow. (After Jeff died, I so often walked with my head down to keep people from seeing the bleakness in my eyes, that I was very aware of shadow play.)

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, there was something I once did that helped train me for grief. Jeff and I lived on a lane that was less than a third of a mile long. At one end was private property. At the other end a busy highway. To take a walk of any length, I had to walk up and down, up and down that lane. It was like a treadmill in that the scene never changed. It could have been horrendously boring, but I learned to look for the small things: a flower growing in the gravel, a reflection in the irrigation ditch water, a pretty weed. I also learned to look through the eye of a camera. Focusing on one of those small things (or even a big thing like the mountains in the distance) helped make that walk as interesting as a hike in the forest. (Well, maybe not that interesting, but it did keep me going.)

After Jeff died, what kept me going were the small things. What brought the world into focus was the eye of the camera. (I was too raw at the time to be able to see life as a whole. I had to break everything up into small, lens-size pieces.)

Conversely, it was also the small things that brought me low. One of the first upsurges of grief came when I broke a mug. The mug was unimportant but it was something gone from our shared life. One of the worst upsurges of grief came when I was blindsided by lilacs. Jeff had loved lilacs, and we had planted them all around the property where we lived. I’d never seen any lilacs in the desert I’d moved to after he died, but one day, shortly after the first anniversary of his death, the scent of a stray lilac bush in a vacant lot called to me, and I was once again awash in grief.

Mostly, though, focusing on the small things helped. I could not deal with the enormity of death, but I could focus on a dying leaf. I could not deal with the immenseness of learning to live without the one person who had made it all worthwhile, but I could focus on a budding flower. I could not embrace life quite yet, but I could focus on a hug or a smile; I could focus on a single bite of food or drink.

Grief is such a hard thing to deal with, but it does come with its lessons, and one such lesson is that in comparison to the immensity of loss, it’s all small stuff. And the small stuff really is important.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.