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Meadowlark Hospice

Dawn's Notes

Behind the Mask - October 2017
by Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW

The summers in Tennessee are usually hot and sunny, and the cool water of a small stream which we called “the branch” was a fun place to play when my sisters and I were at our grandmother’s house.  But that same branch took on a totally different atmosphere when we dressed up like ghosts and goblins and trekked up the hollow on Halloween night to visit an older couple in a small cabin. 

We wore old clothes, several sizes too big, and masks which we re-wore year after year—there were no store-bought costumes.  By October 31, the warm days of summer were usually gone, replaced with the chill of autumn.  I remember shivering from the cold, wishing I had worn a coat, but also not wanting to cover up my costume.  

Traveling up the branch in the dark was not easy, and sometimes we stumbled.  We had to walk single file on a narrow path, following my sister Joy who was five years older.  She held the only flashlight that lit the path in front of us, and we had to trust that she knew the way to the cabin in the hollow as we crossed the stream with its many crooks and turns.      

To complicate things, my mask seemed to migrate around on my face and the “eye holes” did not stay in place, so I had to adjust my mask frequently in order to see.  Walking up the stream in the dark was very ominous compared to the daytime when sun lit our way from overhead.  There were times that I wondered just “what” might be watching from the darkness—wild animals, ghosts, or some unknown critter?   

When we finally arrived at the cabin in the woods, the older lady who we called Aunt Mandy greeted us at the door.  We approached her with our “Boooos” in our scariest voices.  To our delight, Aunt Mandy acted as if she were terrified of us, like we were real goblins about to get her.

Looking back, I now know that Aunt Mandy knew who each of us were hiding under our make-shift costumes and old masks.  She recognized us by our stair-step sizes and our voices—Aunt Mandy was not fooled by us at all!    

During the month of October, you may remember times when you dressed up for Halloween or other times in your childhood when you tried to camouflage who you really were or what you were feeling. 

The use of camouflage has a purpose—to help soldiers hide from the enemy or help hunters sneak up on their prey.  And nature is a master of camouflage—animals, birds, insects, fish, and snakes camouflage themselves by changing their colors to blend in with their environments.

Chameleons and octopuses change their skin pattern and colors, and the white fur of polar bears blend with the snow around them.  Some fish are darker on their top side so they blend with surface of the water, and their underside is lighter so other larger fish do not easily see them.  Some insects look like leaves, and arctic foxes have brown fur in the summer and white fur in the winter.   

In a world of camouflage, it is no wonder adults have learned to disguise their feelings and circumstances, beginning at very early ages.  For instance, the rumbling sound of an empty tummy may let a teacher know that a young child had no breakfast before coming to school—the child may be embarrassed to tell anyone he is hungry or that there was no food at home.

A woman in an abusive relationship may not verbally tell on her abuser, but a black-eye may unmask her situation.  So it is no wonder that we mask our feelings after the death of someone we love.  We may not feel comfortable letting others know the deep hurt in our hearts.

After a death, our world may feel like it has come to a standstill while people around us continue working, playing, and laughing as if nothing has happened.  We may feel out of place and embarrassed to acknowledge our real feelings, to cry, or ask for help. 

If someone you love has died, you have probably been asked many times, “How are you doing?”  And you, like I, may have replied, “I’m fine,” a safe response even though you are hurting inside.  And the person asking might be uncomfortable if you told them about your pain.

After my husband died a few years ago, a co-worker regularly asked me, “And how are you really doing?” and I would tell her.  She had watched me put a smile on my face and do my job, but she sensed she was not seeing the real me.

If you have a family member or friend who you can confide in, someone who will listen, you are blessed.  Take off your mask and let them know what is really going on and how you really feel.  The pain of loss is too difficult to carry alone.

Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
Meadowlark Hospice
709 Liberty, Clay Center, Kansas
(785) 632-2225
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator