The Hoarder in All of Us

Joanna and I had just finished helping a friend by spending about one hour cleaning as much as we could in their place. We retired to my car (affectionately known as Darlene the Dale-mobile) and took a deep breath. Though we worked steadily, it was easy to feel like just a minuscule dent had been made. The reality for this person, along with so many others that we know, is that the hoarding of stuff has become a serious issue, and one that quite often threatens their ability to remain housed.

I am regularly witness to the traumatic effects of this kind of hoarding. Reflecting on this, I have been reminded that in a sense, hoarding is something that touches us all. For some, like our friend, it is characterized by a constant procurement of things. For others, it might be the cluttering of a schedule with too much work, or social engagements, or activities for children. For me, my mind can be filled with too many to-do lists and what-ifs. I suspect that for all of us what might accompany the hoarding is a fear of letting any of those things go.

When I studied art, we talked a lot about the importance of white space. Too much white or negative space and a drawing can appear incomplete; used properly it can bring balance to the overall composition. I wonder what it looks like to create similar space in my own life? What if I were to not fill up all the voids with busyness? What if I let go of the what ifs and remain more firmly in the present? It’s not so much about purging everything, it’s about carefully choosing what can remain and appreciating the new-found space between things.

Which is what began to happen with our friend. When anyone allows us in to their space it is an act of vulnerability, and this time was no different. Together we got to work. Before departing, we all marvelled at the counter cleared of dishes and the small path of floor finally exposed. A few cherished belongings now stood out, no longer hidden at the bottom of piles. In many ways it felt like small, slow progress, but I suppose that is how it goes for most of us. Again, and again we are invited to loosen the grip we have on the things that produce clutter in our lives. One little step at a time.

Losing Control and Finding Love

The sun is shining. I’m trying to position myself close to its rays as I write. Cate had four friends over last night for a sleepover. They surround our dining room table, groggily  eating breakfast (I won’t divulge how late they were up). There is laughter. It all feels normal. Which is a relief when there is so much about life that is the opposite.

Last night, hidden away from the noise of our house guests, I found myself thinking about control. At various points in my life I have been made all too aware that control is not in my hands. By that I mean, I couldn’t/can’t fix everything and make it look the way I want. Except for maybe how clean my house is. Which is why I’ve become a tad obsessive compulsive about keeping things especially neat. But I digress.

I’ve been reading a book by Kate Bowler titled “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved”. It is, among other things, an exploration of suffering and surrender. Maybe not a surprise that such a topic would speak to me. Take this: “What would it mean…to give up that little piece of the American Dream that says, ‘You are limitless’? Everything is not possible. The mighty Kingdom of God is not yet here. What if rich did not have to mean wealthy, and whole did not have to mean healed? What if being people of ‘the gospel’ meant that we are simply people with good news? God is here. We are loved. It is enough.”

This made me think of my mom. She was not wealthy, but would have described herself as rich; not physically whole, but definitely experienced healing in other ways. Though I could see how beautiful her surrender was, I still hated that she had to go through so much. To borrow again from Kate Bowler, she was a “superhero. But I wish [she] didn’t have to be”.

I can’t help but wonder why everything is happening as it is right now. Why does MS exist? Why are we going through so much as a family? Just in case you’re wondering, those are rhetorical questions. I don’t think there’s an obvious answer, and even the most well-intentioned attempts can do more harm than good. All I know is to work on what’s right in front of me to do, to relinquish the idea that I can fix it all, to remain rooted in my faith, and to remember that I am loved. WE are loved. In the eye of this storm, that truth, along with sunshine and teenage chatter, brings much comfort.


Express Instead of Suppress

I was listening to the radio this morning and heard a portion of an interview with a grief psycho-therapist. Two things she said have stuck with me. The first: unresolved grief contributes to 15% of psychiatric referrals, and the second: how our fear of talking about death thwarts our ability to deal with its consequences. This also got me thinking about how grief can meander into our lives for other reasons too. While grief is what we usually associate with the loss brought on by death, the dictionary allows for a broader meaning: “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.” 

I know something of grief. It has touched my life a lot. I try very hard to allow myself to fully experience what I call the “waves” of grief. They often come at the most unexpected and even inconvenient moments. I once wrote a blog about being hit with such a wave, all related to my dad, while standing in an aisle at Canadian Tire of all places. These days I feel like I have been hit by a tsunami. I’m in the first year of grief over my mom, on March 3rd it became ten years since my dad died, and on January 25th Dion entered the hospital system, where he remains for the immediate future.

Grieving relatively publicly is hard work. I don’t think I need to share everything here (which is why I can be very quiet at times). I desire to be as transparent as possible AND it comes at a cost: I feel exposed and rather raw. In my day-to-day I occasionally want to avoid conversations about how I am because I almost inevitably start crying. I can understand the compulsion to disguise the pain of loss, or sweep it under the carpet (so to speak) because that feels safer, less vulnerable. I sat to write this and worried immediately that all my recent posts are too sad. I don’t want to exhaust everyone with my struggle.

Last week I was walking through the little park beside the Health Centre in Parkdale. Three of my Dale friends were sitting there, so I stopped to say hello. Each earnestly wanted to know if Dion was seeing any improvement, and how I was managing. I shared a bit and then explained that I’m not having an easy time. I keep crying, though I can’t believe there are any tears left. One of them turned to me and said, “there is a fountain inside all of us, making tears always possible. This just means you’re human. You can cry with us any time”. These words, coming from one who knows so much grief, were soothing.

Grief is a journey, one that doesn’t fix everything. It changes along the way, yes, and it never truly goes away.  My hope is to not suppress the effects of grief: I’ve learned over the years that by being present to it, room is made for more than sadness. It’s true that I  spend a lot of time discovering and feeling joy. As hard as this road is, I am glad to be walking it, am aware of God’s presence, and when I can, am willing to share it.