Life can be difficult. Marriage can be hard. Kids can be stressful. Work can be demanding. We often feel pressure to fulfill a “do it all” persona we create for ourselves. But, we can only do so much before our energy fizzles, our motivation tanks, and our interactions with family and friends, as a result, become less than enjoyable. We may even become irritable, impatient, and downright difficult to be around. Take a break. And leave your guilt at the door.
I recently returned from a glorious getaway to Miami with my sister and cousin. I needed to fly somewhere because I had expiring flight vouchers from a canceled trip with Dan last summer. I exercised a quick, “what would Dan do?” and knew that a spontaneous getaway to someplace new was the answer. So I booked three tickets to Miami and convinced the girls to come along. Miami was the break we all needed. It was a short reprieve from our normal lives – me, away from my new role as a widow; my sister, away from her husband and three small children; my cousin, away from her husband and busy career. It was a break from reality; it was sunshine, the pool, a tiki bar, great food, and lots of quality time together. It was bliss. We all went back to our lives rejuvenated, relaxed, and ready to return from our respite.
While sipping fruity poolside cocktails, we found ourselves talking about the lives we’d left behind. Each one of us felt the need to justify, in a way, this spontaneous and luxurious getaway that we were so thoroughly enjoying. I, of course, didn’t have the same situation of leaving a family behind, but, as I listened to the girls, I noticed pangs of guilt shrouding their fun. My sister felt guilty about leaving her husband to care for their three children for three days, and felt anxious about how the baby was doing without her; my cousin worried about how little time she had gotten to spend with her husband after several days of business travel surrounding our trip. The wives worried, but the husbands comforted. My sister’s husband sent her pictures of the kids doing just fine without her. My cousin’s husband let her know he was excited for her to return. Sometimes a break from reality is exactly what we need to be a better person – a better colleague, friend, and spouse.
Dan and I gave each other breaks. As much as I could, I tried to give Dan a break from his suffering. I concocted cool elixirs to ease his mouth-sore pain and I cycled through ice packs to comfort his aching head. As much as he could, Dan gave me a break from caregiving. He ordered take-out so I didn’t have to cook and he encouraged me to plan a happy hour so I could spend time with friends. Love is humble, and this was another way we could practice it. Interestingly, the probably not-so-peculiar thing is that the short breaks often left us rejuvenated. Taking a break, even a mental one, gave us the energy to manage our often scary reality.
Life can be difficult. For me, life right now is particularly tough as I roam through it as a widow. Miami was a break. It was a mental break from grieving. I once heard a widow reference her “grief relief” and it resonated in my mind. There are moments, many moments, where I feel true happiness and I experience real joy in this life after Dan. But, alas, I also know the shrouding pangs of guilt. “Am I really getting over this?”, “Did I grieve long enough?” “Should I be this okay this soon?” I even feel guilty that Dan isn’t getting to experience things anymore (after all, those flight vouchers were supposed to be for US to take a vacation TOGETHER). As quickly as precious grief relief sweeps in, it tends to sweep right back out again with a vengeance. The loneliness hits, the sadness envelopes, and the sense of loss becomes so overwhelming that I feel like I’m starting from scratch. In those moments, sometimes gripped by grief, I take a break. I put my writing away because it stirred up my emotions, I go for a walk, I call a friend. I find something I can control.
Life is busy. Take breaks. Be ready for the hurdles that will inevitably show up when we least expect them. We deserve breaks. And when those pangs of guilt weigh on your shoulders, push them off, relieve yourself of the guilt. Take control of any opportunity for a break, even if it’s five minutes upstairs away from the kids or ten minutes in the hospital cafeteria away from the ICU to grab a snack. Rejuvenate your spirits. Take a break. And leave your guilt at the door.