Sometimes on this planet bad news comes from within. Within the body from a headache or a cut finger at one end of the scale to a cancer diagnosis or a stroke at the other. And within the mind, from a nightmare at one end to on-going symptoms of major mental illness at the other. Bad news from within is different from bad news in the outside world in that it is relatively inescapable so whether we want it or not we somehow have to deal with it. We can try to put it in perspective, or deny it, or embrace it, or treat it, but there it is. Inside us.
A long time ago I used to be a social worker. Sometimes I had to try to help little motherless refugee children. I could not tell them they would never see their mum again, although it was likely. All I could do was hope that my intervention might make a tiny difference to their experience of the world as now utterly malign.
Last night I had two separate dreams of each of my now dead parents. Quite something given my advanced age! Or maybe not. Neither dream was very nice. In one my dying mother, whose head I was trying to support on my shoulder as she lay in her hospital bed, jerked herself away from me crying out, ‘Vile, vile!’. In the second dream, set on Glastonbury Tor which played a big part in a long epic poem I wrote a few years ago*, my wilful, demented father was wandering off, being a law unto himself. Both dreams, subjectively anyhow, were ‘bad’ and both involved ‘negative’ images and negative feelings and reactions on my part when I woke up.
This is what they also left me with:
That ‘bad news’ from within when set alongside the ‘good’ reminds us that we live in a world that is always turning, presenting ever-changing contrasts, that the one consistent element is actually ourselves experiencing these external and internal days and nights of our lives.
That we cling onto life and love (if we can) because we are genetically and emotionally programmed, as it were, to do so. (I am not talking about intelligent design. I don’t do God).
That given how many of us there are, this ‘programme’ is evidence of how important each drop in the ocean of humanity is.
That being time-limited, we do get released from the human experience, but while we are alive, our job is to feel the bad news and notice not just that it affects us but also how it does so and even to try to consider why. And not just the bad news. Also the wind in the trees, a painting on the wall, a wonderful dream, a cloudless morning, a starry night, a loved one’s uniqueness, everything!
Doing so helps us to move on through the course of our lives; to allow ourselves to let our parents and children, alive or dead, be themselves; to recognise, unless we have been irredeemably damaged by the bad news we have been subjected to, that most of us are nice. And to try to care for those who for very good ‘bad’ reasons, like events over which they/we could not and cannot control, are not able to be.
Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre
*’Searching for a Home’ in ‘Engenderings’ by C Clery, Chipmunka 2013