Timeline for a Tragedy

Timeline for a Tragedy

As the shocking news of the Boston Marathon bombing filtered through social media, so did the criticisms for those who continued tweeting and blogging as if nothing had happened. Some were outraged at the insensitivities, while others were ready to give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they haven’t heard the news? But soon it was inescapable. Everyone on social media must have head about it, and while many people were struck with the urge to go hug their brothers, unplug from the internet, and take time out to just enjoy being alive, there were countless other people who had to return to work. They wondered when it would again become appropriate to tweet about the mundane sales their shop was offering, or share photos promoting their recent blog post. For those who were close to the tragedy, whether they were Bostonians, marathon runners, or they were actually there when it happened, the readiness to return to normal activities might take a long time to happen. Perhaps things will never seem the same, though gradually a sense of normalcy might return, and it happens at different times for different people.

Those who have lost loved ones in senseless tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook shootings will always look at the world differently, and will struggle with anger or impatience for people who chronically complain about the silly things, or #firstworldproblems, like a sniffly nose or a husband’s lack of interest in closing cabinet doors after opening them. While I haven’t been closely involved in a tragedy, I have been diagnosed with cancer and struggle with the same disconnect from the otherwise healthy and blessed community I’m surrounded by. Sniffly noses and lazy husbands? My reaction is usually not empathetic. I usually think that one should be grateful for the breath that sniffs a runny nose and for the fact that a husband is still around to forget about closing cupboard doors. But if I’m honest with my feelings, this judgmental attitude isn’t a more evolved way of looking at life. It’s a peculiar mix of a gratefulness for life and a jealousy for those whose problems are smaller than my own. I’m quite certain, though, that anyone who goes through hard times, or witnesses them via the media, has probably experienced similar feelings.

There seems to be an unknown timeline for tragedies. The public is expected to limit and consider what they say on Twitter or Facebook in the light of horrific events. Maybe they should stay silent and disconnect from social media altogether. But for how long? How long do you disconnect from the day-to-day activities that had been a part of your everyday life? And how long do you look at the world with a different perspective forced upon you by an unexpected act of violence or a terrifying medical diagnosis? The answer is different for everyone. For some people it’s just a brief moment. For others, it may be the rest of their lives. We all have a different timeline, and I’m still trying to figure out my own.

Do you remember how you felt when you read about the Boston Marathon bombing, and then scrolled through Twitter to see people still complaining about being stuck in traffic or posting ridiculous selfies taken in their bathroom mirror? Did it strike you as disrespectful and trite? When did you decide that it was okay for people to start sharing the parts of their lives that had seemed insignificant after the tragedy had struck? There are people in parts of the world that experience tragedy every day. When do they decide it’s appropriate to enjoy and partake in the meaningless details of life after their child dies, or a neighbor is shot down in the street? Should we all live our lives every day in awareness of the fragility of life, or would it cripple our ability to enjoy it? These are all the questions that many Americans were contemplating after the bombing, and they’re questions I’ve been grappling with ever since I prepared for my surgery in March.

I have been given a new perspective on life, only it hasn’t faded away with media coverage. If I forget for a moment that I have cancer, I’m reminded when I wake up in the morning and drive an hour for my radiation therapy. Or maybe I’m reminded when I glance at my mounting hospital bills, or see a missed call from the hospital. How do I continue living my life, washing the dishes, taking out the trash, and tweeting about shoes, when I’m now aware, 24-7, of the fragility of my life and the urgency to hold close my family and friends? When do I start regularly blogging again? When will I even care about regularly blogging again? I’ve been considering the timeline for my own little tragedy. I have been keeping an upbeat spirit, but have yet to figure out how to reconcile my new perspective on life with the realities of my life as it was before my health problems arose. I do enjoy doing crafts. I really love sharing fashion insights. Sure, those are meaningless things, but they add some excitement and joy to my life, so I’ll definitely be indulging in them once again. But at the same time, I have gained a fresh perspective on life in general, and I certainly feel it permeating every aspect of my mind and body’s activities. I’d like to do more with this space than just adding to the clutter of the internet. So now I just need to figure out how my own personal timeline will unfold.

29 Responses

  1. I’m so sorry. I wish I could give you a big hug and help you in any way I possibly could. But I can’t….so I’ll just tell you you are strong. And amazing.

    I feel much the same way, by the way. Years of scary deployments, lost soldiers, and friends who are suddenly made widows. All of that has made me SO unable to handle tweets complaining about husbands. I just.Can’t.

    Unfortunately not everyone has the gift of perspective.

    Sending you so much love.

  2. achariya says:

    Reach out! You are not alone. I have been through this, and am still going through this, with my own cancer (and my daughter and husband are also by my side). If you’d like to talk, I’ve been there, and I feel you so completely.

    All my thoughts are with you. The first few months are the hardest.

  3. Halle says:

    Oh, Mandi. How well I know these feelings. There have been many nights I’ll spend up all night writhing in pain, then scroll through facebook and see someone quoting scripture about hardtimes and it’s something about having to miss an event or a sprained ankle or a bad grade and I want to scream. But I realize that for them, it is hard. Just because they don’t know my (or your) sense of loss or hardship doesn’t mean their hardships aren’t real to them. And the truth is, I never want anyone to know anything like what we experience. I just have to remember that sometimes.

    It takes time. Let yourself feel all the emotions, even the bad ones. Locking them down just makes it all the more worse when they hit you. It’s not weakness, it’s humanity, and Christ felt it too. Hurting with you and breathing strength for you and Phil.

    • Mandi says:

      Halle, you are so right! It’s like the bar of hardships is set so high for us, that we fall into a way of thinking that anyone’s difficulties which fall below that bar are somehow not justified…? It’s not right to think that way, but I can’t help it sometimes. Someone else could look at our situations and think that we have it easy. That’s the problem in looking at life through a lens of comparisons. But everything IS relative in a way. Oh man, the thoughts that mill through my mind these days are so confusing and disjointed. I’m surprised I was even able to organize a few of them into this little post!

  4. Elise says:

    Sending you and your wonderful family so much love, Mandi.

  5. Rachel says:

    Great post. I have a similar situation going on, although I haven’t shared it with many people. It’s hard not to think about it all the time, to think about your disease as your own personal tragity and go on with your daily life. For me I just continue to try to keep a good attitude, force myself to be happy and do my “day to day” things as if nothing is going on! Maybe an ignorant approach but until I have to be hooked up to dialysis machines every day that’s how I’m going to live!

  6. Kathy says:

    Very insightful Mandi. I think all we can do in every situation is to make plans and then focus on the moment. Really that is all we have. Meditation can help. And always prayer. You are a remarkable individual and you will do well. I am sure.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    That kind of stuff always bothers me (the, what I see as, somewhat self righteous posts about how awful people tweeting about trivial things are). I know that I deal with tragedy and grief in a way that isn’t the same as other people. I’m not one to get emotional and write about things like any of these tragedies, but sometimes I get the vibe that if you’re emotionally “disconnected” like that then you’re insensitive or dealing with it improperly. It’s the attitude that there is a right way to deal with something and a wrong way, which I think is supremely condescending. That being said, I do think that sometimes there’s something to be said about brands “shamelessly” tweeting about sales in the midst of national or local tragedies. But really, I don’t feel like something like twitter or who’s tweeting what is really that important, and focusing on that is missing the point. Instead of getting mad at people on twitter being insensitive for posting selfies and laments at minor inconveniences, we should be looking around at the blessings we’re currently enjoying. Like you said, at least there’s still a husband to be annoyed at, and breath with which to sniffle.

  8. leah. says:

    this post is probably one of those ones that i have read that will stay with me for a while. while i only recently started reading your blog in the past couple months, i have missed your posts. i have wondered how you are, and i am sure i am not the only one.

    i think when people encounter crises there are a few different reactions: some people like to continue doing whatever they have been and almost pretend not to acknowledge what is happening around, or inside of them – there is a disconnect. some call this denial. some call it coping.

    for some people there is a very obvious disconnect. they may stop engaging in certain activities they don’t feel are very important. they may spend more time with those who are the closest to them. they may alienate themselves all together from everyone. this is also called coping.

    some people become completely “miserable” to those around them. they do not mean to. they are hurting. they are upset. they don’t understand how everyone else is going about when everything is so horrible. they don’t feel that anyone understands what they are going through. they don’t mean to be so down, but they cannot help it. being “miserable” is how they cope.

    i am an er nurse. i take care of people who are going through health crises, and their families. every day i go to work i encounter at least one person or family going through a catastrophic life event. the whole world continues to go on during it… and at the end of my shift i go home to my healthy family and complain about the dirty dishes left in the sink… there are times i cry about a patient or a family (usually to a fellow nurse friend), and i hold my little girl tight whenever i return home from caring for an injured or sick child. there are times when i do not allow myself to get emotionally involved when providing care because i am sure i will fall apart by doing so…

    we all hurt differently, cope differently, and try to go on with life in a way that makes the most sense to us. i hope that you are receiving good care and lots of love from those around you. thank you for your lovely blog and beautiful post.

  9. Inge says:

    Hello Mandi,
    The first time I found your blog was about a month ago and bookmarked it since there was so much interesting to read… Now I just came back and read this post and I was in shock by reading you’re diagnosed with cancer.

    I cannot say I know how you feel, because I simply can’t know how you feel. I do know how it feels to have a sick mom for years – she’s a Multiple Sclerosis-patient and will turn 60 next month – but I guess that’s totally not the same. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I sometimes feel the same what you’re trying to say here: there are so many people out there who are oblivious. Who only care about their own little lives and never seem to think further – they sometimes take life for granted in my eyes. They don’t know what it’s like to be or feel sick all the time. Because most of them simply never went through bad or rough times…

    And even I can’t say what that is like, but I do know what it’s like to live with a mom who’s sick from her 30’s – my age now. Life is fragile. If all people lived their lives to the fullest, with their minds on enjoying life, the world would be a different place I guess.

    I send you much love and strength and positive thoughts and hugs. Even when I have never met you I really hope from the bottom of my heart that you’re strong enough to beat the ugly cancer cells and you’ll feel strong enough to watch every day the world with glittering eyes and enjoy the little things with your loved ones. That is what matters.

    Much love to you,
    Inge x

  10. Krissy says:

    Mandi, So well said! We all need to appreciate every single day and all the good in our lives! I wish you all the best!!

  11. jenny says:

    I’ve never commented before, but this post really moved me. My beloved dog died unexpectedly at age 7 last month only 3 weeks after being diagnosed with kidney disease. Losing my soul mutt has made me feel extremely disconnected from most of my friends and coworkers, angry at my fiance and family for being able to move on so quickly, and guilty about any renewed interest in the trivial things in life, like clothes or movies. I’m still a work in progress about my grief but I definitely have learned the hard way to stop living in the future, stop waiting on anything that’s not my family and friends. I really appreciate you sharing your experience. It is always good to remember that the blogs I scroll through every day are run by real people with real, meaningful lives! Good luck to you and your family.

  12. paula strong says:

    Mandi you keep family close and other things ail be there tomorrow or in a month. they aren’t as important as your family bring God in on your hurt He understands it all

  13. Rozita J S says:

    Oh Mandi, I hope it would not come to that as I do enjoy reading your posts. I can only imagine how hard it must be for you. Sending you lots of love, warm thoughts and positive energy all the way from Malaysia! xxx

  14. Lisa W. says:

    You pay it forward with each and every post. I don’t do facebook, I only have twitter to have pinterest:) This blog and others I follow make my day ALL the time.

    Having been through a few major trageties …moving forward is probably the hardest. You want the world to STOP, you want your friends to understand, and sometimes it feels they don’t. However you decide to “handle/deal’ with it is what you should do. Whatever is best for you, we all care deeply about you and wish you the very best!!!

  15. Jenn V. says:

    Mandi…I am thinking of you and praying for you! Hope all your treatment goes well. It breaks my heart that such a wonderful person can have cancer. I will keep reading your blog. I love all the types of posts that you write and appreciate your honesty. And completely off topic but I thought I should mention that we are probably naming our little girl Lucy (its a family name). Best girl name ever! :)

  16. Eulalia says:

    Mandi –
    I don’t know if this is going to sound strange, but I’ve been following your blog for a couple of years now and although it might seem creepy or strange I feel like I (and probably most of your followers) keep you in my thoughts more than I care to admit (considering I’ve never met you). What I mean is that sometimes I’ll be complaining about something or feeling shitty because it’s Monday and then I’m reminded of you and your family and that makes me realize that I really have nothing to complain about. I keep you and yours in my thoughts and although I’m not a Christian sometimes I stop and try to send you…I don’t know what to call them…positive vibrations?
    I hope and trust that you’ll get well soon, because you’re young and strong, but in the meantime please be reminded that your presence on the internet – whether you’re talking about a movie, about how to wear a hat or about your feelings- makes our lives better.

    Thank you so much for everything.
    I’ll be sending some major vibrations from across the ocean.

    Eulalia.

  17. Beth says:

    Such an insightful post Mandi, it has really touched my heart. I’ve only been following your blog for about 6 months, but can say wholeheartedly that i plan to keep reading no matter what direction you take this. I understand the feeling of wanting to do more, and am greatful for the joys and thoughtful insight i get from your postings. Stay strong and know that you have support from your many readers!Sending you well wishes and prayers.

    -Beth

  18. Sadly, that is the day I parted ties with a friend I love. It had been an issue with other things over a 3 week period. That day however, she posted all over her facebook a sadness towards people saying they wanted to pray for victims of the bombing, INSTEAD of for aborted babies through Gosnell’s practice in PA. My response was to pray for everyone: the victims of the bombing, the abortionists, the people who decide to get abortions, the people who decided to go and bomb others (no matter where it happens). She was upset with that comment as if you are supposed to choose one to be more upset about instead of all tragic events that go in line with a loss of life, from one to dozens to hundreds to millions. . .we should be willing to love and forgive.

    Everyone grieves differently, and I greive pretty heavily and am sorrowful for the expanse of death, because it is not how it was originally meant to be. . .and so my heart breaks for all people, and is thankful for the redemption of the Savior.

    Your post was heartfelt and amazingly written.
    I pray that healing comes upon your life in abundance.

  19. kayla aimee says:

    This post is beautiful – and I really understand. I remember the day I was forced to go to the grocery store after Scarlette was born. I was wandering sort of lost watching people on their cell phones and laughing with the cashiers and I kept thinking “How can the whole world keep moving like normal when my baby is dying?” It was so hard for me, that my whole life had frozen into this moment of tragedy and everyone else was buying milk. And then at the deli counter a stranger commented to me that I should smile, that it couldn’t all be that bad and I burst into tears and told him “it IS that bad. It’s so bad.”

    Now on the other side of this I can say with certainty that my life perspective was changed- that I still have first world problems and complain about J leaving his socks on the banister (why? why would you put socks there? why?) but gratitude for life is the undercurrent of my day and I have so many more pauses where I stop and breathe in the beauty of being and give thanks that we’re here where I didn’t before.

    Much, much love.

  20. Sierra says:

    This is a great post, but I have to say, I am living with lymphoma & I hate how other people dismiss their own problems cuz I “must have it so much worse.” I don’t! My situation is just different. But then I get bothered when my mom gets a bee in her bonnet over every. little. thing! So I guess we’re all different and we all need to have compassion one for another.

  21. Annie says:

    Mandi, I think you are so very kind, thoughtful and compassionate. Thank you for sharing your heart. My prayers for you are in full swing. You are blessing us with your insights and your passion for life. God bless you. Annie

  22. Heather says:

    Perspective.

    There will always be someone with “bigger problems” than you. Maybe there is someone out there who has cancer AND recently lost several family members, or couldn’t concieve, and looks at your blog and thinks, “how dare SHE complain, at least she has a loving family and a child, I’m alone and have cancer”. That person might find your issues small, because they feel alone in their fight.

    I am a hospice social worker. In my world, every day someone is dying, every day a family is grieving, and every day there is a new crisis that could make anything in my relatively “normal” life appear small in comparison.

    I could spend my life feeling like all my problems are insignificant in comparision. But I don’t. The value of my life is not measured in how much I am currently suffering or enduring, or how that stacks up against everyone else.

    Bottom line, people die everyday. From old age, from disease, from war, from tragic accidents.

    Dirty dishes and sniffly noses are still okay.

    • Mandi says:

      Yes, I think the trick is to still be mindful of others’ situations, in a way that makes you a considerate person, more grateful, and less of a complainer. But it’s tricky to get to the point where you compare yourself in an unhealthy way.

  23. Amber says:

    I don’t feel that any part of life is meaningless, because each and every life is built from all those tiny, ‘insignificant’ moments. Moments matter.

    When we veer close to death or pain in some way — either personally or through proximity to or affiliation with tragedy — I believe that it sharpens our awareness. Our awareness can either make most things seem MORE meaningful or LESS meaningful depending on our choices and position and disposition.

    The thing is… we run into trouble whenever we compare ourselves with someone else. Nobody’s life experience is ever exactly the same as another’s, and to assume that somebody else has bigger or smaller problems, illnesses, losses, or whatever never seems to enhance our empathy. Comparison brings shame or superiority, self-consciousness or selfishness.

    I don’t have a terminal illness, but I have a chronic, debilitating illness. I’ve noticed something terrible about myself in the five years since I was diagnosed: I’m impatient with people whom I perceive have ‘lesser’ pain. An experience that should be expanding my empathy for others has instead made me bitter and scornful. Actually, I’ve chosen that. I’ve chosen to be bitter and scornful.

    So, instead, I want to use the pain that I experience to make me more empathic and sensitive.

    Plato supposedly said/wrote: ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’

    While we should all be encouraged to put our problems into perspective and to ‘not sweat the small stuff’ (i.e. complain about a sniffle or a cupboard), we should also acknowledge that small stuff is still the stuff of life. A hand in the dip of your back. The sensation of chocolate melting on your tongue. The hot sting of tears in your eyes. A baby’s first step. The moment after you receive bad news. They all matter.

    Let’s never assume that our battle is greater, because people often hide an awful lot of loss and pain beneath a veneer of triviality.

    I really, really wish you well as you fight this disease. xoxoxox

    • Mandi says:

      Oh, I definitely don’t find the small moments meaningless either. What I was trying to convey is that we all have a different timeline to get back to enjoying those things. Everyone’s timeline is different. I was comparing how many people felt about the trite updates on social media during the aftermath of the Boston bombing to how someone feels when they begin a chapter of life that’s particularly trying, and begins to see the world through a different filter. Not to say that they can’t enjoy small things or empathize with “smaller” or different problems, but that it takes a while to get there again, and we shouldn’t judge those who get there sooner, or those who take a really long time getting there.

      I’m glad you’re working to make your own pain into an empathetic device for relating with those in your life! I wish you well!

  24. Kristian says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am sure it took courage to bear oneself so clearly, but it is deeply appreciated. I was diagnosed with a disease (diabetes I) the same day of the bombings, and remember how both the doctor’s visit and the news coverage both seemed very unreal. Of course, diabetes is something ultimately very manageable, but it was so strange- people’s reactions, and I have definitely felt some of what you described.

    Wishing the best for you and your family.

  25. thanks for sharing this with everyone. it is so concise and beautifully written. i cannot say i have been in your exact situation but i know i’ve felt a similar disconnect with the general world throughout personal hardships that i generally keep to myself— parental unemployment, my brother joining the marines, family illness. . . it’s hard to to not be judgmental but to also know it is all relative.

    as if it wasn’t difficult enough to find balance in life without this added battle. i think the good thing is that we are all a great bit stronger than we even know. good luck with your journey— i’ll be thinking of you and your fight as you share it <3

  26. Violet says:

    Heya Mandi!

    :)

    So, first of all, let me welcome you to be of the crappiest clubs ever, the Cancer Club. Yuck.

    I remember one night, when I was in the thick of chemo, sick, bald and sporting a fever (time for ER antibiotics!). All I wanted to do was stay home. Be in MY bed. Have a normal life. But, nope. Mom whisked me off to the ER at midnight and as we were driving down the street, me in my pajamas, shivering with infection (but I was so hot!), we had to slow down the car to let this group of drugy teenagers clear out of the street. I remember how slow motin it felt, how upset I was, how jealous. These people were know for being the neighborhood druggies and they were free. They were healthy and frolicking around the streets. These people that did stuff that knowingly harmed their bodies were not the ones going to the ER. I was. The one who wanted life. I just remember feelings so short-changed and defeated.

    Now, looking back, my thoughts have changed. A friends mother told me something once that stuck with me. “Everyone has their own measuring stick.” What might be the most traumatic thing that’s ever happened to you might be just as difficult for Joe Blow who just lost his job. Not everyone is lucky (ha!) enough to get cancer like us. To get the perspective on life that we have, so young. Some people really just have pleasant, easy lives and complain about petty things (comparatively) because those are huge to them on their own personal measuring sticks.

    I know you are, but just try and be thankful for every little thing. Let roses on bushes full your heart with joy. Let Lucy’s grossest diapers be a reminder to you that you are alive and you’re so lucky to be her mom. Some Moms die immediately after birth and would probably give anything to be in your position (radiation and all) if only just to get to spend time with their baby. Measuring sticks, love.

    I hope your radiation isn’t leaving you feeling as crappy as mine made me feel. Sucks! Let people wait on you… Once you get better, you’re going to be begging for someone to give you a few minutes to chillax and bring you a drink!

    Lots of love,
    Violet