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Seeking Peace and Happiness? (Pt. 2 of 4) The Past is History

 The fact is, you could become better today than who you were yesterday, but when we live in the past we can suffer from bouts of depression from those unceasing, repetitive thoughts about what “could have been, should have been, and would’ve been”. If you’re adrift in that thinking, know that there are two natural antidotes: make peace with the past by acceptance and gratefulness for what you learned and what you have now including life itself; and have something to look forward to. I learned this from a psychologist at a Veterans Administration (VA) nursing facility where my Dad spent the last few months of his life.

A normally well-balanced man, he had recently lost his wife, my Mom. He understandably cried and then got a big blow with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He had lived a truly good life and was already 92. When he arrived at the VA, he was seriously depressed. His two children lived far away and visited for weeks at a time to help. The second day of my Dad’s stay at the VA, I was invited to attend a private meeting of “soldiers”, mostly from World War II. I was told I could only attend the first one with my Dad. I was honored, but even more, I sat in the meeting with wide open ears. 

Leo Buscaglia Quote

The stories, when told by the men who lived through the war were mind-boggling. One Air Force pilot was the only survivor in a crew having been shot down in his war plane. He was held captive in Germany as a prisoner of war (POW) for two years. My Dad, an Army man, earned two Purple Heart, but his astounding stories are for another time. However, the two men had two distinctly different attitudes. The former POW was incredibly cheerful. My Dad, on the other hand, was a wreck. He wanted to die.

During the meeting, the psychiatrist told them all that the only way to combat depression was to be grateful for what they each had and to look forward to something. I was soaking all this in. Dad cried about being the last of his familial generation with parents, uncles, cousins, and his beloved wife of over 60 years now all gone. I went into action fast. Both men were in wheel chairs and were encouraged to hang out after dinner on a lovely porch viewing a green grassy field. I wheeled my Dad to the other soldier, also in a wheel chair, and made sure they had the opportunity to make friends with one another. Dad was a talker and that helped a lot, but I could not help Dad about gratefulness. His living in the past, was not working for his well-being. I told all my family when visiting or calling, to remind Dad how lucky he was to have loving kids and grandkids. It finally started to work. 

Having visits was something Dad could look forward to, but with our far away residences, the visits were not constant. I came up with a plan besides the daily phone calls. I sent him a beautiful greeting card every single day. The staff told me Dad would wheel his chair to the front desk Monday through Saturday waiting for the mail to arrive. It gave him something to look forward to and provided him joy and peace. Eventually his depression lifted to the relief of his loved ones. 

Cherokee Proverb

See part III for the rest of “Seeking Peace and Happiness?”

Barbara Klide