How to be Sick.

Merry Sickmas!

I was going to write Mary Sickmas, but sometimes an abundance of puns can be off putting if you know what I’m saying. Anyway, Merry Christmas! I am a little late. It’s been a chaotic week, and as I sit here writing this the chaos ensues. My brothers and sister and their significant others are currently on a search for the best Sazerac in New Orleans. (The official Nola Drink) This means that when we all meet up for dinner later everyone should be good and loaded and the meal should go nicely. I wanted to go on the hunt with them but my legs were starting to give up after breakfast so I took the old lady bus home. OK it wasn’t a bus. It was just a car with my 82 year old grandma and my mom, who weren’t in the mood to walk down Bourbon Street in search of alcohol. Maybe by 2012 my mom and I will be well enough for those types of adventures. Maybe even Grandma, too.

This year we did something a little different. Since our humble home can’t house all the DAMN KIDS comfortably and their significant others and my grandma AND Monty, the siblings rented a house on St. Charles Avenue for us all to crash in. It’s a beautiful house, built in the 1800’s with all the modern renovations you find in those interior decorating magazines. It’s nice. The street car passes in front of the dining room window. And every time it does my brother Nick raises his arms in the air and yells “STREEET CARRR!!” Somehow he hasn’t grown tired of doing it yet.

It’s been a really great Christmas mainly because all four siblings are in Nola to celebrate it. But the icing on the cake is that my grandma was able to make the trip down South from Colorado. She’s kind of a hot commodity in the family being that she has six kids, 15 grandkids, and I don’t know how many great-grandkids. I lost count. Her name is Mary too, and she is someone I really look up to for a variety of reasons. Namely, her optimism–which is something increasingly hard to find and at the same time it’s totally contagious. You find yourself smiling more at simple things when you’re with her, or taking note of scenes that typically you’d never stop to consider. If I were going to give her an award, it would be “The Most Pleasant Person on the Planet Award” because that’s what she is. Undoubtedly. On the way to dinner on Christmas Eve I asked what she wanted for Christmas this year. She closed her eyes and thought a moment and then said “Ya know, I can’t think of a thing. I have a perfectly happy life!” And she wasn’t just being sentimental. She says outrageously kind and positive things like this all of the time. I don’t think it strikes her that that type of thinking is rare. She’s always been that way.

Grandma Bell. She's wearing a nightie made in the 50's. No joke.

I loved her response though. How many times I am asked what I would change about my life, what I want, what I don’t want, and ideas fly out of my mouth like a verbal bulleted list. As though I’d been rehearsing what other life I may want. When asked what people want, whether it be for Christmas or just in life, seldom do people say “I don’t want anything.” And if they do say it, it often means “I definitely want SOMETHING, but I’m going to say I want nothing. But if you get me nothing, there will be Hell to pay!” I’ve been thinking about what being content really means. For so long after getting sick and losing so many things, I’d play over and over what I had lost, what it had cost me, what I wasn’t doing, where I wasn’t going. Like a rolladex of veritable “If only’s” the cycle would start, and that type of thinking is bad news. It’s also really hard to stop. It sortof self-propels itself. More recently I’ve been realizing that the idea of happiness is so much more simple than I pretend. It doesn’t have to be some far off dream. There are plenty of sick people who are happy. Plenty of poor people, plenty of people working mediocre jobs, and plenty of people who have lost in some way who are happy. That says to me: happiness is already available. The question is, are you accessing it? I don’t think this is an easy process. And I think I had to experience the pain and grief of the things I have lost this year. But at some point, the focus has to change, my energy has to change, and inevitably, I will change. Only I can do this, nobody can do it for me.

Sometimes I think the way to handle a big tragedy is the way in which you handle a small tragedy. For instance, when my grandma spilled some of her drink on her shirt at dinner, she said “Oh Fiddle Faddle!” Then she wiped it up, asked for another drink, and continued the conversation. It’s funny that sometimes even small episodes like this can ruin a dinner or a night just as much as locking yourself outside or finding out you have cancer! Obviously the consequence of one is more detrimental than the consequence of the other, and yet the way humans react to things, it’s hard to know sometimes whether someone spilled their drink or someone has died.

Last night as I went to sleep my thoughts took a noticeable shift. For so long I go to sleep thinking how to get better how to get better how to get better because the thinking is that when I am better is when I will be happy. But last night these words occurred to me: How to be sick. If I learn to master being sick, I can find happiness now, I don’t have to wait for it. It doesn’t have to be conditional. Of course I will continue to try to get better, to keep up with everything the doctors say, and make healthy decisions. But I don’t need to rely so heavily on potential change in order for me to start rocking right now. I think my grandma has encouraged this type of thinking, so I am very grateful she was here to spread some of her magic on us and New Orleans this Christmas. That lesson made a great gift.

Health, Happiness, and Merry Sickmas!

**Excuse the Dr. Phil tone of this post. I’ve been watching a lot of Oprah.

25 thoughts on “How to be Sick.

  1. I love your writing and LOVE your perspective. I really needed to read this today. What a great thought- happiness is already here for us! Happy New Year!!


  2. Thanks so much for the feedback everyone! I love hearing from all of you. I don’t always reply, but trust me, I am reading all the responses. I couldn’t be happier about the little “community” that is forming. Wishing you all health and happiness in 2012 :) Love, Mary.


  3. My…you have a way with words girl! How refreshing to read something with such extreme wit and insightfulness all twirled and swirled together. High five to your old soul and the way you view the world. (and high five to your super cool grandma…I have one too and she’s my bestie.)

    ps – your poems are ri-donk!! love them.


  4. What a wonderful post! My focus with my fibro is usually the same chant of “get better, get better, get BETTER” but recently one of my doctors told me to “sit with the pain.” She said ignoring it, pushing through it, and not treating myself right will only aggravate me (and my fibro) more. So now I sit with it, and let my body know that no matter what, no matter how bad the pain gets, I will be here, and we will get through it together. I hope that helped inspire you as much as your post inspired me!


  5. I was my 17 year old son this year that gave me the best Christmas present ever. He was on Face book when I got back from Christmas service at church and all his friends were posting that they had gotten this or that for Christmas and my son posts “I got the best present of all…………………..FAMILY” How to make a mothers day and year for that matter. No matter how much he gets in my way or on my nerves he always comes back with something that makes me feel better about not having him living with me full time. I don’t have him here full time because of a multitude of health issues and when he is here he is helpful (most of the time). I try and do all the mother stuff like making meals but some days it’s just to damn hard to move. Last night we had frozen pizza instead of the spaghetti I was going to make because I couldn’t get off the couch. He’s good about that. Yes I had to make it but it only involved putting them in the toaster oven. (French Bread Pizza’s) I set the timer and gave it to my son and when it went off he came out of the bedroom and got them out and gave me mine.
    I have physical therapy this evening and am not sure I want to go out at 6 in the evening. My sister is visiting from Ohio and wants to spend the whole day with me and I know I will be so tired that come 6 this evening I won’t feel like going. I want to call my sis and say I can’t do what see wants because I have to go out this evening. I get so tired during the day and have to have a nap and I know I won’t get one with her. She is one of these people who won’t listen when you say you can’t do what she wants to do. Stubborn as the day is long. I love her and only get to see here once in a while. Wish me luck this evening.


  6. Those are some wonderful words of wisdom, thankyou :)

    It can be hard some days not to focus on the negatives when you are feeling sick and in pain. Thankyou for the reminder that we should try anyway


  7. Beautiful post. I learned – though I have trouble remembering – to welcome pain during reflexology treatments from my grandfather. Breathe through it. It WILL pass through. And, hug Monty. He’s your best guide through sickness and health.


  8. Funny- This seems to be the theme of my week. On a particularly lousy day a few days ago, I came across a book titled “How to Be Sick” – a Buddhist twist on accepting illness. Between that and your post, I think the universe is trying to hit me over the head with this message… Guess I could do a better job of embracing it.


  9. This was such a treat to read because I’ve written a book called “How To Be Sick.” I was notified about this piece because I have the phrase “how to be sick” set as a Google Alert and so I get an email when that phrase shows up on the web. Usually it’s someone writing about my book! The book is about how to live well despite illness or another disability.

    I thought you’d get a kick out of this!


  10. I love the positivity of your grandma and of this post.

    I was on the opposite end of that earlier this month. My husband and I flew out to see my grandmother. I had much of the same reaction you did. I just couldn’t get over how positive she always is. It was a great experience.

    I also wanted to tell you that my great grandmother always wore a mumu for the last 20 or so years of her life (She was approximately a million years old.), so when she died, we buried her in one.

    Thank you for this blog, it’s wonderful.

    p.s. Please excuse my wordpress user name. I swear I’m not a spambot. I don’t know why it assigned me that LOL.


  11. What a wonderful grandma! She sounds fantastic. : )

    I LOVE this idea of mastering the art of being sick!! I’ve often played the “when I get better” game and think my attitude is often rooted in the belief that I’m just getting by right now and will be happier when my health improves… Several times I’ve thought this was a pretty lousy way to live since I’m often watching life go by without me, but I never managed to put my thoughts as succinctly as you have. Thank you for this inspiration! : )

    Happy New Year!


  12. You are obviously growing a lot during this health challenge and I must say it is inspirational, especially your humor. I appreciate your take on the esoteric nature of happiness and how we can access it at any time. My world has been turned upside down with rheumatoid disease and fibromyalgia, but I too am finding ways to enjoy what is rather than wishing for what was. What a novel idea- how to be sick and do it well!


Leave a Reply. Monty's bored.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.