I don’t want to go inside, Shelly thought to herself. But she had no choice. She steeled her mind and forced her legs to swing outside the driver’s side door of her SUV.
“Mommy, mommy,” Shelly barely noticed her six-year-old son’s voice greeting her, as he ran out the front door toward her car.
A cloud of discouragement smothered Shelly, making the coral and peach hues of the morning sunrise invisible to her, and muting the singing birds in the boughs above her head. When Brett grabbed her left leg in a bear hug, Shelly realized she needed to shake the after-effects of her overnight work shift, so she could focus on her family. But how could she play the happy mom and wife, when the scent of death still echoed in her nostrils?
Shelly’s plight is common to those who work under the shadow of death. Viewing the worst of the worst takes a toll on the soul. But is it truly possible to make a happier home life when the hours and horrors you see on a daily basis regularly replay on your mind?
In my work with death investigators, law enforcement, and other emergency service workers, I believe it is. However, make no mistake, there is no such thing as perfection, although drastic improvement is possible. Some of the following may seem silly at first, but I challenge you to actually try them. The results from simple, yet intentional decisions, are often shockingly amazing.
- Choose happiness. Your self-talk will determine your mood. When stressed, try meditating on mental statements like these: I am calm and cheerful. I feel energized and happy. I love my life, my wife (or husband), and children. I have much to feel grateful for.
- Request a scheduled time to privately discuss your emotional work weights with your spouse, (away from the children), and do it regularly. It isn’t necessary to go into graphic detail, but simply speaking general feelings out loud will help you vent and release. (See our July 2018 article on the Volcano Effect.)
- Drop any expectations that your family should “know how you feel.” They are not mind readers, and unless you tell them, have no idea what is going on inside your head.
- Instead of blaming your spouse, or turning to someone else inappropriately, invest your energy into improving your marital relationship. What can you practically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually do to make things better? Act on the possibilities.
- Schedule weekly dates with your mate. (Anticipation is usually as good or better than the actual event.) Don’t hope for the spontaneous, or expect your significant other to do all the planning —take the initiative, choose a mix of activities that each you and your spouse enjoy. Make any necessary work/travel/kid arrangements, then communicate them respectfully and clearly. If you narcissistically choose only those things and times suited to you, without consulting with your partner, or are not mindful of the pressures your mate is facing, your good intentions may turn bad.
- Plan playtime with your kids. Never forget what it feels like to have fun with your children, or to let the kid in you have a little innocent fun, too.
- Put device-free, substance-free, and complaint-free dates on your calendar. As often as possible, present all of your best self to your family. Give your spouse, children, parents, siblings, and extended family the gift of a fully present you.
- Be the type of person you would like to be around. If you’re not happy with the man or woman you see in the mirror, start making daily changes until you see that reflection transform.
- When you catch yourself saying, I have to ______________________________________, change your language. Start saying, I get to _____________________________________.
- Expect bumps and setbacks. Life happens to us all — but all of life does not have to throw us into depressive or embittered free falls that steal our families away. You cannot control some circumstances, but you can control how you react to them.
Even when we achieve professional greatness, if we have no one to celebrate or share our success with, any victories will feel hollow. Just because you work under the shadow of death, does not mean your family must die because of the job. Balance your work and home with intentionality, to enhance peace and wholeness, making your living worthwhile.