Last week, my sweet Aunt Millie was hopping mad. She called me at 7:00 am from her assisted living facility.
“I want to move right away,” she said. “I don’t want to stay here any more.”
I sighed. We went through this last year when she and her sister, my 99-year-old aunt who lives in the same facility, had gotten into a spat.
She wants to move whenever any bit of stress crops up. When you’re 97 and living in close proximity to twenty-five or so other nonagenarians, there are apparently plenty of opportunities for hurt feelings.
This time a new resident parked her walker behind Aunt Millie’s chair in the dining room. Aunt Millie politely asked her to move it. The new lady refused. She might have even smiled slyly.
“But what about your sister and your boyfriend?” I asked, trying to cajole her. “You will miss them.”
“I won’t miss them. This place is terrible. They won’t accept my claim against her.”
“Your claim?” I asked.
“Yes, I made a claim and they rejected it.”
It took about ten minutes to unravel the fact that Aunt Millie meant her complaint, not claim. She’s a little confused sometimes and doesn’t hear well, so there was some shouting, too.
“They won’t accept my complaint,” she said. “And they said I’m an adult and can move anywhere I want if I don’t like it here.”
I patiently tried to explain to Aunt Millie that there were no other places as nice in our budget and that I couldn’t take off three weeks like I did two years ago to get her moved. Nursing home regulations require doctor’s exams and reports and when you’re 97 and have multiple medical issues like she does, that’s a lot of doctor visits and reports.
“And we’d need a truck and people to move your furniture,” I added.
“I don’t care,” she said. “I want to move.”
I sighed again and told her I’d think about it and call her back.
I hung up and began to grumble in my head. Why me? Why am I always the one she calls? Why does she always have to react like this? Ugh. I can’t believe this. Why does she always have to call so freaking early? She’s not moving and I’m not going to drive five hours up there to explain it to her. Again.
I picked up my phone and began to text my cousin, to let her know that there was another incident. Another crazy request. One. More. Thing.
Later, I’d tell my friends, too. What a sacrifice I was making! What B.S. I put up with! What a wonderful niece I am!
Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. I felt my stomach tighten.
Halfway through the text I looked up. The sun was shining and a light breeze was blowing through the palm fronds in my back garden. There was an orchid blooming on my back porch. I’d just made a pot of fresh coffee and could smell it. A little pan of steamed macadamia nut milk was ready to add.
I didn’t need to text my cousin. She didn’t need to know what had happened. We weren’t going to move our aunt.
I poured a cup of coffee, added the milk, and took it outside. I breathed deeply and looked at the bright green around me. The tension in my belly relaxed.
I’d call the facility administrator later in the day to make sure my aunt had calmed down and that the parking rules for walkers was explained to the new resident. That was all the situation required.
I’d been on the verge of “story fondling,” Martha Beck’s description of unnecessarily keeping an unpleasant situation alive by retelling the story over and over. I’d momentarily wanted to milk the full drama out of this, which would only keep me aggravated and perhaps get my cousin stirred up too.
All I really needed to do right then was to savor my coffee and enjoy the quiet morning.
Which is exactly what I did.
I had been right on the verge of ruining my morning when I came to my senses.
I’m sure you have your own version of “Aunt Millie wants to move again.” Most of us do.
Maybe your friend canceled dinner plans at the last minute again. Do you really need to stew about it all evening or complain about it to another friend? Really?
Maybe the traffic made you late to an important meeting and you charged in feeling frazzled. Do you really need to keep telling yourself that you probably looked ridiculous? Do you really need to keep worrying about the impression you made? Are you sure?
Maybe you sprained your ankle and you’ll be on crutches for a couple of months. Do you need to tell everyone you encounter how clumsy and stupid you were? How much weight you’ll gain since you can’t go to the gym? Is that going to make you feel better?
What if you could just let it go? Just stop and breathe and look around for the beauty that is pretty much always somewhere nearby.
Whether you can sit outside or sit by a window or look at the beauty of the faces of the people or pets you live with, there is always something else better, more nourishing to focus on. There always is.
When I catch myself hanging onto unnecessary stories, maybe finding drama in ways that make me feel worse, and I let it go, my whole system settles down. My day can open into a possibility, a creative idea, or a bit of magic just waiting to be discovered.
We don’t have to hang onto our unpleasant stories.
Truly, we don’t. Take a breath. Look at what’s around you. Let the story go.
Try it and see.