Several years ago my uncle Bob was killed by a drunk driver. He was a doctor, single, and had only three nieces–myself and my two sisters–as relatives. Having already lost our mother, uncle Bob was our only “connection” to her side of the family, and we were devastated. He had been such a big part of our lives. Of course, everyone deals with a loss in a unique way, but once the shock was over, we realized we had to make the “arrangements,” get his affairs in order, and settle his estate (which was rather large). That’s when all of the drama and negative energy rose to the surface.
I quickly learned that deaths, funerals and property issues bring out negative energy. At first, I only wanted to run away from it all and just grieve for my loss. What I came to realize, however, is that letting that negative energy surround me, if only temporarily, actually worked for my good in many ways. Here are 12 things I brought out of that experience:
Negative energy means criticism, but confrontation builds confidence
It was my job to make the funeral arrangements. I was the only one living in the same town, and uncle Bob had left no instructions. Still, I knew his favorite hymns, and I knew that he did not have a specific church affiliation. So, I contacted my church pastor and asked for him to officiate. Then I contacted a nearby mortuary and arranged for the casket, the viewing, and all of the other details. I purchased a plot in the cemetery in which our mother was buried, along with a headstone.
The criticism came almost immediately. The casket was too expensive; uncle Bob never would have approved. Why my church? My sisters had church affiliations and maybe they wanted the service in a church of their denomination. How selfish could I be? For an afternoon, I stewed and agonized. Then, the epiphany hit. Criticism born of negative energy needs to be met with confident assertion. I called each sister, stated that I had made the arrangements I felt best, and they would stand as made. I also reminded them that this was about uncle Bob, not us. I then offered that if either one of them wished to take on the task of completely re-doing the arrangements, I would be okay with that. Neither volunteered, and that criticism ceased. I felt good, and the negative energy did not envelope me.
People with negative energy blame, but it can be a teaching tool
All of us, in our grief, blamed the justice system for being too lax on drunk drivers. The individual who killed our uncle had already been in court for DUI’s and had paid fines and undergone probation. Obviously, he was anything but a safe driver, and yet he still had a license. And not one day in jail. We wanted our revenge not just on him but on the court system as well. This blame talk went on for months, until I finally realized that only positive action would be productive. I stopped having these conversations with my sisters and, instead, did some research on active groups in my town that were confronting the issue. Not only did I find a support group, I found lots of positive energy toward changing laws.
Negative energy causes us to catastrophize, but that forces us into perspective
One sister was tasked with meeting with the local newspaper to devise an obituary. My uncle was a bit prominent in the town, and so a longer obituary was in order. She provided all of the details. When the obituary was published, it left out one organization of which he had been president. You would have thought the sun had dropped out of the sky permanently. Seeing her reaction made me think of times when I had done the same thing. Small incidents become catastrophes and magnified beyond proportion. Given that my uncle was gone, any obituary was such a trivial thing. Now, I understand my grandmother’s statement, “If it will matter five years from now, then it is something to worry about.” Smart woman. I’ll try to remember this in the future.
Filtering out the positive is common negative energy but it helps with the weeding
I was nervous about the funeral service because I was worried about how my sisters would react to every little thing. I was not too far off. While the service was a lovely tribute to my uncle, there was a small eulogy given by a lifelong friend that probably bordered on slightly off-color memories of their youth together. One negative chalked up. There were a few other minor things, such as my pastor pronouncing his middle name incorrectly and a second cousin we had not seen in years arriving drunk. One sister chose to dwell on these negative things after it was all over. It really put a damper on my mood for a while, and there was no way to escape. As I lay down to sleep that night, I began to laugh. First, my uncle was probably laughing at these mistakes, so I might as well laugh with him. Second, by getting all of the “little negatives” out of the way, my sister had done me a favor. It was like weeding a garden. What was left was a beautiful event that honored our uncle.
Negative energy feeds negative drama, but drama can be a great release
I’ll admit it, sometimes I like to observe drama. It can be quite entertaining if you are not in the midst of it and can just watch from the sidelines. The drama of my uncle’s estate began with the dividing up of his personal goods from his home. Now, mind you, as wealthy as he was, my uncle was a bit quirky. He lived in a very modest home and maintained very few valuables–some rare coins, a Rolex watch (I wish now I had given it to the undertaker to put on his wrist and kept hidden by his jacket sleeve), a few pieces of antique furniture, a few valuable pieces of art, and my grandmother’s china which is probably worth quite a lot.
My oldest sister had the idea that we would draw numbers for who would go first, then we would alternate, each making a selection. The Rolex watch went first of course, selected by my sister who was divorced and had no male children. My other sister was appalled, of course, because her husband would have gotten actual use out of it. Now I am not a perfect person either and was clearly upset about a few items that the others got. We had a lot of drama that afternoon–most of it along the lines of, “He knew how much I loved that; he would have wanted me to have it.” By the end of the afternoon, however, after it was all over, we sat, got a bottle of wine from his private collection, and toasted him and his wonderful being. The drama was a great release of part of our grieving, we recognized it as such, and moved on.
Polarized thinking is negative energy, but it allows to see the grays
It was difficult to think of the drunk who hit our uncle as anything but pure evil. And we all shared in some true negative thinking about him. He was the scum of the earth; he needed to rot in jail for the rest of his life. I bought into this thinking for a while. My sisters bought into it for a long while. All during the week of preparations, the funeral, and still to this day, I am certain at least one of my sisters still has this polarized thinking.
Ultimately, the man received a three-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter, with some years of probation after that and permanent revocation of his driver’s license. I heard that both of my sisters came into town and attended his hearing and judgment, and both were livid. I didn’t go. Their attempts to pull me into their polarized thought was successful in the beginning, but it also allowed me to see how wrong that was. People, and, indeed the world, are a kaleidoscope of grays. We are all bad and we are all good, and sometimes we make horrible mistakes with terrible consequences. But black and white? No. When we stick around and witness polarized thinking, we see how debilitating it can be.
Complaining is contagious but it can clarify priorities
It’s so easy to get into the habit of complaining. The weather is bad; the traffic is horrible; prices are too high; politicians are all greedy for power and money; the boss is crazy; the kids are unruly; the neighbors’ dog barks too much. And when we are around others who complain a lot we do the same. It gives us a sense of belonging, of camaraderie. When we leave a general “bitch” session like this, what we find ourselves in is a state of exhaustion. That’s how that week with my sisters was–one complaint after another until I was exhausted. What it did for me, however, was help me to clarify what was really important in life and to vow to spend less time with them in the future.
Victimology is negative energy at it’s pinnacle, but it can have a humorous outcome
Now, my sisters and I are not victims–not by any stretch of the term. But during the week of the funeral, a great aunt arrived from Colorado and stayed at my house. She would have gotten a hotel, she stated, but just couldn’t afford those kinds of things anymore. Her husband had been a gambler and had left her with only social security and his small pension from his years at a factory job. She was forced to live in a subsidized senior citizen community. She got sick last year because the management refused to provide adequate heat. One problem after another was someone else’s fault, and she had no choice but to just be the victim of fate, of circumstances, and of others. One day she slipped and mentioned that her daughter had bought her a new car and had set up a checking account for her and put so much in every month. This, of course, was because she had been such a good mother–it wasn’t fate. When bad things happen, it’s someone else’s fault; when good comes it’s by our good work.
Negative energy means lack of gratitude, but it is easily foiled
My sisters have good lives. During the week of the funeral, however, I got an earful of their lack of gratitude. Nothing was really quite right or good enough in their lives. Why, one child was only on the second-string of the basketball team; one husband was just passed over for a huge promotion; good cleaning help was so hard to find, as they shared terrible housekeeper stories; one was thinking of a facelift because she looked older than her friends. As we say in the field of education, this was a “teachable” moment. So, I began with stories of some of my students–one whose mom had just died from cancer; another whose family had just been evicted and was now living in a homeless shelter at the Salvation Army. The point was well made, and they stopped.
Negative overgeneralization is narrowmindedness but it cautions us
My uncle always felt a need to “give back,” and he did that in the form of opening his office on Saturdays to those who could not afford care and who had no health insurance. Obviously, when he died, a lot of those people came to his funeral. They were not the best dressed and there were many others there who probably wondered who they were. I knew and had explained this to my sisters in advance. They were not happy that all of these “street people” were in attendance and clearly believed that they did not belong there. Many in fact were hard-working people. When we are hit with this kind of negative labeling, it reminds us not to do the same toward any group of people–lazy poor people, greedy rich people, or corrupt politicians.
Selfishness exudes negative energy but it forces introspection
It’s natural to focus on ourselves, our goals, our problems, and our responsibilities. When it becomes excessive, however, it throws off a negative vibe that makes us want to just get away. How long can we listen to the talk of someone who believes that it’s “all about them”? The funeral taught me that my sisters tend to be in that mode a lot. Perhaps I do too. Seeing this trait in them has made me far more mindful of my conversations with others and to become a better listener.
Resentment is terrible negative energy, but it can end toxic relationships
Of the three of us, I am the only one who never married. Over the years, I could kind of feel inklings of resentment on the part of my siblings. I am not rich; I am a teacher. They married well and enjoy a pretty great lifestyle. So why the resentment? Because I always had the freedom to do as I wished. If I wanted to spend Christmas vacation in Belize, I did so. If I wanted to sleep until noon on Saturday and not clean my house, I did so. If I wanted out of a relationship, I just got out. I also had more time to spend with uncle Bob over the years, and I did. He loved stories about my “kids” (students), we often ate out together, and took a few trips together as well.
When we finally landed in the lawyer’s office a few weeks after the funeral, the resentment turned to anger and accusations. Uncle Bob had a trust. Half of his assets were mine. The other half were divided between my two sisters. That did it. I was accused of manipulating him, of taking advantage of him, of spending time with him only to get his money.
I had finally had enough. What was holding our relationship together anyway? Blood was the only thing I could think of. The negative energy emanating from these two over the years really was a big downer, and it dawned on me that there really was no reason for me to spend lots of time letting that energy pour onto me. They have since apologized, and we have somewhat reconciled, however, I keep my distance. Truly, we should be grateful for negative energy people; they are our best teachers.