Every day when I walk into work, I feel like I’ve walked into my daughter’s pre-school class. I am appalled at how certain adults’ behaviors in the 21st century are like children. They don’t follow instructions, don’t think about other people’s feelings, do back-biting and gossiping, and don’t even remember to wash their hands after using the restroom. Do they think we can’t hear that the sink was never turned on? And are we becoming such an internetting, phone-texting society that we can’t function normally anymore? I’m ready to go back to the “Mayberry” days. We used to talk across the back fence. You neighbored. You rode your bike up and down the street only as far as you were allowed. I was allowed to go as far as the local drug store where the pharmacist, if he wasn’t busy, would throw pennies at me joking that he was trying to hit me. I would scramble to collect them and take them home to show my mother. On hot evenings, Dad wanted to stay out on the porch swing and Mom would call to him that it was dark, and he needed to come inside before someone from the bar down the street would come and kidnap him. “Don’t worry, Dear,” he would say back, “If anyone takes me, they’ll end up bringing me right back to you.” Greeting cards? Now everyone sends electronic ones. Can’t check the envelope for birthday cash. Yes, I want to go back to the Mayberry way of life. Anybody ready to go with me?
— Let’s Go Back
Dear Let’s Go,
What we have all had to do was to learn to let go of any hope of regaining the past. For better and for worse, life moves on. The resilient learn to adjust to the changes, or how best to resist the negative ones. I have some wonderful memories from my youth, but we get only one time through that. We spend the remaining part of our lives practicing what we learned in that first part. And not all of it was wonderful.
From the sounds of the first part of your letter, you have co-workers who did not absorb some basics. I would keep a container of germ killer handy at work. As for Mayberry, it amuses me that you would choose that term because I have recently been using it to describe my town to strangers. Even those nostalgic episodes included events of gossiping and dysfunction. They simply found ways to accept the flaws of themselves and others and to do well around them. I think that that may have been the biggest take-away from that show: accept that all of us are flawed, but do your best living anyway.
When I moved in with my boyfriend, I knew he was a drug addict, but I believed him when he told me he’d been clean for a long time. Later, I learned that he was either using again, or had never stopped. Not too long after that he died from drugs. Because the apartment was his and not mine, his parents took it over and would not allow me to go in and get my clothes and personal things. They packed up all his stuff and took it away, then put what was left — my things — into garbage bags and set them out on the front porch and told me to come get them there. Not all of my things were there, like my special shampoo, but it was the best I was going to get from them. They either kept that other stuff or threw it out. They are acting like this wasn’t a drug death, but they also had no funeral. I think they had him cremated. They probably have his ashes. I got no closure. I feel like I’m just going crazy with all of this. What can I do?
— Shoved Out
Life has just handed you a huge slam. Your boyfriend began its momentum by leaving you the way he did. His parents will be quick to want to blame away their son’s decision. Their reactions would seem to indicate that they have decided to hold you at least partly responsible for his death, either by bringing it on, or by having been inadequate to have stopped it. Or I could be giving them too much credit for even such misguided caring. Maybe they are simply greedy people who never consider the feelings of others. Either way, you were in their line of fire where your things were concerned, and now you are keeping yourself there because of the hurt that everyone’s actions have allowed you to experience. To survive this effectively, you would do well to turn the whole event into a learning experience. As part of that, consider designing your own memorial service along with those who knew your late boyfriend. Plan it to include such things as writing notes with thoughts of him and reading these aloud. Be sure to include stories that would bring a smile or a laugh as these are important for healing. Finally, work at forgiving his parents. Sometimes forgiving does not stick the first fifty-thousand times we do it, but keep it up and someday it will surprise you to discover that a sudden thought about those people no longer leaves you feeling frustrated.
[Gayle Wright is a mental health counselor doing area agency and hospital social work. Write to Gayle at: LV MY TAKE ON IT, 435 Broad Street, New Bethlehem, PA 16242, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org where your anonymity will be maintained in keeping with all current HIPAA standards.]