Tim Schnabel is a retired marriage and family therapist from Walton County.

Phil and Tim

Phil, left, and Tim enjoy each other's company at Lumpkin County-Wimpy's Airport in Dahlonega, Ga., around 1997.

Inside a theory of psychotherapy treatment there is a social game called, “Ain’t it awful.”

It is how an individual presents him or herself by unceasingly complaining about how bad life is for them. It is done out of awareness and can at times fall into the category of learned helplessness. In other words, I express how awful things are, but don’t do much to change my situation. And if I complain enough, just maybe you will help me without my asking.

However, there are positive aspects of taking time in clear awareness to express how awful life is or has been that can provide relief with a sense of normalizing a current condition. And for way too many of us, 2020 has been an awful year. For some, it has been the worst year of their lives.

The suggestion that a person in suffering should put on a happy face for the holidays is sheer nonsense. Wearing an occasional smile or two from time to time is acutely different from pretending that suffering has not been a constant companion in this heartbreaking year.

My experience is that attending to the causes of one’s suffering, spending time creating language for the hardship, can then lead to what most of us want as a result … relief followed by hope. And this year in particular death has been part of many of our lives.

Who reading these words has lost a loved one or good friend to COVID-19? Who has had to close their small business? How many parents worry because virtual learning is insufficient for their son or daughter and they are falling behind. How many parents carry scare as they notice alarming changes in the mood of their children due to social isolation? How many have skipped house or rent or vehicle payments because of lost employment? How many parents are feeling badly for not having enough money for Christmas presents for their children?

Not making time to speak of the anguish deepens the anguish. I am not suggesting to go on and on about it, but taking 10-15 minutes to speak to the loss(es) can be productive. Addressing our mads, sads and scares with a compassionate family member or friend who, without judgment, simply listens, can be powerfully therapeutic. Who among us has not benefitted from hearing the words sincerely expressed, “I am so sorry this happened to you”?

My experience this past Wednesday symbolizes many different losses for myself this year. While I am grateful none were traumatic, all carried various levels of hurt, sadness and grief. A dear buddy who flew with me more than anyone died last month from complications of congestive heart failure and progressive supranuclear palsy. We flew many, many times to the Dah­lonega/Lumpkin County Airport, where we sat in rocking chairs on the deck of the small airport building. There we ate the lunches we brought and shared our lives with each other. We were each other’s best friend and confidant. There we were, Phil and Tim, with the wind, the cows, the calm and the beauty. It became almost a sacred ritual.

On Wednesday, I flew from Cy Nunnally Memorial Airport in Monroe with part of Phil’s ashes to Dahlonega. There I placed on the deck the two pictures symbolizing our time there. In one we are sitting in the rocking chairs with big smiles. The other is a picture Phil took on final approach just as we were to touch down. With a prayer of gratitude for what Phil and I shared as well as for his eternal peace, I quietly spread his ashes on the grass, close to where he always sat. Afterwards I quietly said “Goodbye, Phil, thank you and God bless.”

I have flown quite high in my life. Oh, not because of the altitude at which I was flying, but because of the many people who have been the wind beneath my wings. Honoring my friend Phil is a reminder to once again, express my love and appreciation to those who have lifted me up higher than I ever could have flown by myself.

In this year of such unstable air in this most turbulent time, I am reminded of how important it is for me now to express my gratitude once more to cherished loved ones as well as honor those special souls who have departed this life.

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