Empathizing vs. enabling

This is part 3 of a 4-part series on Simplifying the Semantics of Suicide

For part 1, click here

I keep reminding Ann that I am not the lemon she married 25 years ago, but have blossomed into something pretty wonderful. She may agree that the lemon is gone, but I’m not sure she would go so far as to say I’m something wonderful.

Oh well, one step at a time I suppose.

One example of me being a lemon (or just a downright horse’s backside) happened not long after we were married. As I was blowing out the door to class one morning I said something along the lines of “be sure you get that car washed and cleaned out by the time I get home.” (Yes I know, I still cringe at whatever stupid pill I had swallowed that morning.)car2

Anyway, when I got home that night the car was sitting in the driveway, in exactly the same condition it was when I left that morning.

I was dumbfounded.

When I asked Ann about it, she simply responded “If you had asked me to wash the car, I would have gladly done it. But because of the way you basically ordered me to do it, I will let the wheels fall off from rust before I wash it.”

There was no anger, no picking a fight, no intention of long-term punishment for my idiotic attempt at machismo.

What there was, however, was a calm and quiet strength communicating without words that before me was a valiant and pure daughter of God who knew she was worthy of respect. She simply would not accept anything less.

breakfastThen she began to put dinner on the table and ask me about my day. As far as she was concerned, the matter was over and she had moved on.

Now I was really dumbfounded.

Who was this woman?

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, and ashamedly apologized for what I could now see as something unworthy of both of us, we went out together and washed the car.

This singular experience a quarter century ago completely changed our life from what might have been to what actually has been.

And still is.

And always will be.

Here’s another experience that has made all the difference in how our life is now:

We all know that I have a bit of OCD (okay, not just a bit but a LOT… okay maybe not just a LOT but perhaps enough to choke a horse). That much OCD not only could choke a horse, but could choke a family.

If permitted to.

I really like things to be a certain way. I notice immediately if something has been moved even fractionally from where I carefully positioned it. In my illogical logic, there really is only one way to do something, which is MY WAY. It only makes sense that everyone else should do it my way. cattle2(Holy cow, I’m closer to the lemon and farther from wonderful the more I talk. I should just shut up. But we all know I’m not capable of that, so… )

After showing Ann just how EVERYTHING should be done in our humble little home, she simply smiled and said that she would accommodate when she remembered, but otherwise would do things the way a normal, reasonable person would do them.

If I wanted it done differently, I was certainly welcome to do it over, or simply do it myself in the first place.

Again, there was no anger or impatience. In fact, I think over the years she and the kids have learned to have a little fun with it. I swear that they move things on purpose just to annoy me.

Laughter and amusement aside, here is the point I want to make: Ann has helped me understand that it is not always about me.

Okay, so I am OCD and really want things to be my way. I can have my fair share of that, but no more.

Okay, so I am kind of sick all the time. She will love and help, but never treat me like an invalid.

Okay, so I am attracted to the same sex. She understands that I’ve made my choice and she supports me, but she will accept nothing less than the complete and total devotion she deserves from me.

depression4Okay, so I am bipolar and at times homicidal and suicidal and just scary to be around. She will leave me alone when she needs to, and stay with me when she needs to, and be constantly vigilant of possible danger and act accordingly.

But she will not fight a fight that I’m not willing to fight even harder.

Because she knows that under it all, there is a calm and quiet strength communicating without words that before her is a valiant and battle-weary son of God worthy of respect. She simply will not give anything less.

In doing so, this true lemon has been made free within the set boundaries of love and respect to do my very best to work toward being something more than what I naturally was. I am no longer trapped or defined by all my crazy brain wirings.

I am becoming more.

By empathizing but not enabling, Ann literally has saved my life.

And made it a life better than my wildest dreams.

You’ve heard the saying that you can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink?

Well, Ann has taught me where the faucet is, where the glasses are, and that they go back in the cupboard when they are clean.water6

Whenever I am thirsty, I can have all the water I want.

She won’t fill the cup, bring it to me, clean the glass for me, and rub my back while I lay on the couch.

But she will stand by my side while I do it for myself.


Because in standing firm that it really isn’t all about me, she has shown me that I can be part of a life that is about so much more than just me.

It’s really about all of us.

Who is it about in your life?


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