Happy Birthday To Me

A few weeks after my mother died, I had a birthday.  Birthdays have always been special to me.  My birthday is the only day in the whole year that I allow everything to be all about me.  Long ago, I stopped looking at my birthday as a commemoration of another year passing. Instead,  I look at it as a kind of holiday. It’s  Terri Day- the day the world (or at least any portion of the world that so desires) celebrates the unique wonder that is me!  That may sound conceited, but it isn’t really. I don’t limit my birthday philosophy to myself.  I think everybody’s birthday should be about celebrating that person’s individual, special awesomeness. What difference does it really make if you are another year older, when all is said and done?  On the other hand, what a wonderful difference it truly does make that the world is filled with awesome people who are amazing for so many different reasons!

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel celebratory when, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t sharing my birthday with the woman who birthed me. I say that my birthday has always been “all about me.”  That isn’t entirely accurate.  Part of that “all” has been all about my mother and me.  That very first birthday was the beginning of the very special bond we’ve shared over the past 58 years. I’ve always bought my mother a present on my birthday. After all, my mother was the one who did all the work the day I was born.  All I did was show up.

I almost felt like skipping my birthday this year, but my current obsession with busy-ness and distraction forced me to find something special to do that day.  Max and I returned from a trip to Las Vegas on September 28 and we visited Disney Springs to celebrate my birthday on September 30.   Now, normally, I would not visit Disney Springs on a Saturday when hordes of people walk the earth, but I was pretty committed to celebrating on the actual anniversary of my birth.  Max made a few half-hearted attempts to convince me to juggle my birthday celebration to another, non-weekend day.  He soon realized that idea was a total non-starter.  He ultimately embraced the idea and set out to ensure I enjoyed a special birthday- different from all previous birthdays because my mother wasn’t with us, but special in a new way.

For several days before, during, and after my birthday, Max walked around calling me the “birt-day girl.”  He greeted me every morning by calling out, “Happy Birthday.” He sang to me on the gondola at the Venetian Casino during our vacation, which was amazing.  Max doesn’t really sing and lives in terror of standing out of the crowd in public. Yet, there he was, singing to me.  Without benefit of alcohol, even. The fact that he was singing to me in front of a gondolier and a couple of strangers and anyone who happened to be able to hear him in the fake Piazza San Marco truly demonstrated the extent of his effort to delight me.  It touched me deeply and I think I found a way, after knowing him for almost 22 years, to fall even more in love with him.

A few months ago, part of me realized that my mother was likely not going to be alive when my birthday came.  I purchased a necklace and paid for it from one of her accounts.  I gave it to Max to save so I’d have one last birthday present from my mother.  The morning of my birthday, he brought it out and fastened it around my neck.  The necklace is a diamond and silver butterfly.  The body of the butterfly consists of two interwoven open-heart designs.  I chose the butterfly motif because it reminds me that my mother, like a butterfly, is reborn to live in beauty and joy in Heaven. I chose the double open heart design because my mother is the one who taught me to live my life striving to love and to be loved. 

When we got to Disney Springs, we went to Starbucks and had a beverage accompanied by a pumpkin scone.  As we walked around the shops, I found a pair of earrings that fascinated me. Max surprised me by buying them for me.  We had a late lunch at a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try. My mother used to keep a stash of what she called her “hidey hole” money- about $400 in cash that she kept at home in case of emergency.  I took some of that money to pay for my birthday meal and the Sprinkles cupcake I bought to take home.  Later that evening at home, I put a candle in the cupcake and Max sang “Happy Birthday” to me. 

I also received beautiful cards, texts, and gifts from my brother and from friends all around the world.  It was as if the Universe knew that this was going to be a tough birthday for me and wanted to provide a little additional emotional padding against the buffeting my heart was likely to take.

You can see I ended up having a lovely birthday, even though I was kind of dreading it.  It was a special day, even if my mother wasn’t there to share it with me.  Then again, maybe she was.  And maybe she always will be.

How do you like to celebrate your birthday?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have an extra special day, whether it happens to be your birthday or not!

Terri 🙂

 

 

 

Busy-ness

Reader Neki commented that it sounded like my last year with my mother was extra special. When I read Neki’s comment, it caused me to reflect. While I was living that last year, I don’t know that I would have described it so. Living that year at my mom’s side was the most painful and most arduous thing I’ve done in my entire life. There were many times when I felt like the pressure of the grief and the stress were unbearable. In reality, though, Neki was absolutely right. That time with my mother was extra special.

As difficult as this past year has been, I would not have had it any other way. If my mother’s fate was to suffer a stroke and decline so heartbreakingly towards the end of her life, I wanted to travel that path with her. Whatever support I could give, I wanted to give. Whatever comfort I could provide, I wanted to provide. Whatever shared joy we could find, I wanted to find with her. The time and effort I spent with her in the past year was my gift to her, but it truly was also a gift to me.

Now that my mother is gone, I am a bit disoriented. The time I used to spend with her and taking care of her needs is now empty. I have a new-found and somewhat unwelcome freedom.

I’m not quite sure how to navigate this new life condition. I feel a bit tender and tentative, as if I am dipping my toe into the water of the part of my life that is all about me. In the days since my mother death, I grasp wildly for activity. I’ve started the processes to finalize my mom’s administrative matters. I’ve gone through most of her possessions. I’ve sent thank you notes to people who sent cards and flowers. My house is cleaner than it has ever been. I plunged myself into a new life filled with new events, new people, and new thoughts. I initiated outings with friends. I began accepting every invitation offered me. I signed up to join a women’s group at the church. I began preparations to survive Hurricane Irma in a manic frenzy, despite my absolute certainty that I would die in the storm. Max and I took a trip to Las Vegas. I’ve been planning a trip to New England to see the fall foliage next autumn. I seem to flit from one activity to another without ever stopping to let my feet touch the ground… or to take a breath.

I do want to try new things now that I have some more free time, but I think this busy-ness is more about not wanting to sit still and feel than it is about expanding my horizons.

The truth is that the hole my mother left in my life is so huge that I am afraid of falling into it. If I stop and stare at that hole, I am sure that it will suck me into its emptiness and I will never recover. My mother was all about light and happiness. Her absence leaves darkness and grief. If I am to honor her memory, it is important that I look beyond this present darkness and grief to find the love she left behind. I can use that love to live in a way that would bring her joy. I can and will be her legacy of light.

The thing is… I’m not quite ready to do that yet. I am still too vulnerable to the darkness to risk getting too close to that empty hole. After so much sadness for so long, my strength is depleted and needs rest to be replenished. So I keep moving and doing, propelling myself far away from the emptiness. I’m sure I will eventually be able to find a better balance between activity and introspection. When that happens, I know I’ll find a way to live more beautifully and meaningfully than I ever have because my mother showed me how. I’ll know my mom will be smiling down on me from Heaven.

In the meantime, I think I’ve earned a little distraction!

What do you think?  Does a whirlwind of activity help us heal after losing someone?  Or is it just a whirlwind of activity?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a pleasantly busy day!

Terri 🙂

In Praise Of Chocolate Ice Cream

My mother always said that chocolate ice cream can solve pretty much any problem.  Or, if it doesn’t solve the problem, consuming chocolate ice cream will at least make you feel better about failing.  I have an abundance of ample curves in places that should be less curvy and more flat because I have spent a lifetime harkening to this advice. 

My mother was not too proud to offer her children chocolate ice cream to do her bidding. In fact, I first learned the meaning of the word “bribe” in conjunction with chocolate ice cream.  One day, my mother asked if she could bribe me with a fudgsicle to take out the trash.  I asked her what “bribe” meant.  After she explained, I told her I didn’t really want a fudgsicle, but would take the trash out anyway.  I’m sure my refusal of the fudgsicle left her wondering if we did, in fact, share the same DNA or if she had just found me under a cabbage leaf. When we were sick and refusing to eat, she would coax back our appetites by pulling a half-gallon carton of chilly chocolate out of the freezer.  Jimmy Buffett might have had his margaritas, but, in our house, the frozen concoction that helped us hang on was chocolate ice cream.   

Calories and curves aside, it is hard to argue with her position.  Chocolate ice cream is just awesome.  It is creamy and sumptuous and decadent.  It goes down softly and smoothly and with a sultriness that is almost tangible.  I can go up and down the counter at an ice cream parlor touting thirty-one flavors of ice cream, savoring the idea of each of the flashy flavors. Inevitably, I end up ordering chocolate.  I would live on chocolate ice cream if I could. 

Maybe it is possible to live on chocolate ice cream.  When I was a child, we always had waffles with chocolate ice cream for our birthday breakfasts. Don’t they say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? 

At any rate, my mother’s chocolate ice cream cure ran into an ironic snag at the end of her life.  I guess she was testing the hypothesis that one can live on chocolate ice cream alone. During her last ten months, all she consumed was food based on chocolate ice cream.  She ate virtually nothing except Wendy’s chocolate frosties and McDonald’s chocolate milkshakes.  Sometimes, just to mix things up, I brought a thermal bag of ingredients and made her chocolate ice cream sodas.  I pulled out a small bottle of club soda, a jigger of half-and-half, a container of chocolate ice cream, a bottle of chocolate syrup and made the ice cream soda at her bedside.   I was the Benihana’s of the ice cream world. Her ice cream soda was dinner and a show.   

It is hard to imagine how it is possible to survive on chocolate ice cream alone, no matter how enamored with it you are. Day after day, I helped her drink her milkshake or ice cream soda.  It was really the only pleasure she could still enjoy. She continued to lose weight and to weaken.  She became more confused and restless.  She often punctuated short periods of wakefulness and connectedness with napping and detachment.   As I watched her fading away, little by little, I realized that it was not possible for her to survive on chocolate ice cream alone. 

I wonder if I will ever think of chocolate ice cream the same way again. 

What is your “guilty pleasure” in food?  What food would you live on if you could? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a sweet day!

Terri 🙂

A Beam Of Love

In the wee hours of the morning on September 2, my mother found her way out of this life.  After over a year of struggling on her path towards the next life, she fell asleep.  When she awoke, I am sure she found herself in God’s dwelling place instead of in the nursing home.

All my mother’s life, she lived joyously and richly. She squeezed every drop of enjoyment and meaning out of every day.  She was almost always happy.  It wasn’t that her life was always wonderful or exciting or fun.  It wasn’t even that she had a particularly exotic or interesting life.  Most people would say that her life was pretty conventional. She was a daughter and a sister and an aunt and a wife and a career woman and a mother and a friend.   What made her so special was not so much what her life was, but how she lived it.

My mother had a gift for satisfaction.  She collected fulfillment and meaning in her every action, even the most mundane experiences. When we were out driving somewhere and got off course, she’d often say, “I never get lost; I just have adventures.”  I think that pretty much summed up how she approached life, way beyond just how she approached a road trip. Wherever she was going in life and whatever she did, she was determined to find happiness and pleasure in the process.

She was the kind of person who attracted other people. She was an interesting and interested person.  She was curious about all kinds of things and embraced opportunities to learn.  She relished good, meaty conversations.  She was an excellent listener. She knew how to make people feel safe.  She heard what you said and what you didn’t say.  She heard what was underneath your words.  I don’t believe there was ever anyone who knew her who did not love her.  She constantly sowed love and harvested relationships as she rollicked through her day-to-day existence.  She valued those relationships and nurtured them.  Even in the nursing home in her very compromised state, she radiated a kindness and joy that attracted people.

On the other hand, she followed her own heart in living her own life.  She did what she believed was right and followed the paths that brought her happiness. She used to say that she liked herself and she liked her own company.  She had a busy mind that was always tooling away happily, creating thought and considering possibilities.  I used to say she was her own occupational therapist because she could figure out alternate ways to do almost everything when her mobility started to desert her.   She owned a home computer before most people did and, even in her eighties, she embraced new technology that added interest to her life.

She had courage of conviction.  She walked her life with God as her guide.  She held firm in her convictions and relied on her relationship with God to support her in her journey. She believed in prayer.  She believed in miracles.

She loved God.  She loved life. She loved other people.  She loved herself.  In short, she was a joyful beam of love, illuminating and warming everyone with whom she came in contact.

Now this beam of love has faded into the next life, leaving this life darker and colder and considerably less sparkling.  The thought of going on with my journey without her physically by my side seems unconscionable.  Considering all the memories we shared, all the things she taught me, and all the gifts she gave me, it is inaccurate to say I will ever be traveling through this life without her.  All that she was is embedded in me and will be with me forever. I want to honor all she was and all that made her beam by carrying on her legacy of loving, joyful living.

It seems that now I will have to grow towards the joy on my own, without her walking in tandem with me. I don’t know yet how I am going to do that.  It helps to know that she has found the greatest Joy of all.

Thanks to all of you for your support as I have walked this difficult path with my mother.  Thanks, in particular, to my friends Louisa and Odete, who encouraged me to write this tribute to my mom.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a joyful day!

Terri 🙂

Special programming announcement:  I’ll be off the grid next week, but will be back with new content on October 4.  

Tumults Of Terri

This is not so much a post for Terri LaBonte: Reinventing Myself In Retirement as just a message to let you all know that, despite the discombobulations of my life in the past ten days, I am alive and well and still living in central Florida.  I’ll be posting more details in posts over the next few weeks, but, for now, just now that we are safe and all manner of things will be well….. once we regain power.

My beautiful mother passed away early in the morning of September 2.  In my sadness, I began frantically grasping distraction- accepting any and all invitations, volunteering for projects and organizations, planning fun outings for the next year.

Before I got very far into my business mania, we heard that Hurricane Irma was on its way and would likely impact central Florida pretty significantly.  We spent days preparing and I spent lots of brain cells worrying.

Irma hit on Sunday and we hunkered down to wait out the blast.  And blast it was.  Blessedly, we are safe and the house seems to have weathered everything quite nicely. The wind was still bad Monday, but we were obviously past the worst.  Today, we did clean up.

We don’t have power or internet and won’t until the middle of whenever.  Still, we count ourselves lucky and gifted by God.  My cell phone battery has died and so has my laptop battery.  I am charging them both in the community clubhouse, as I type.

Just wanted to let you know that I’ll post again as soon as I can.  Thank you all for your prayers and support.

Terri 🙂

 

Do Babies Ever Come Installed With Refurbished Knees?

The reason I ask is that I’m pretty sure my knees are older than the rest of me. I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but my knees seem to be protesting the passage of time much more vociferously than any of my other body parts.

I used to kneel in church with relative ease. I enjoyed sitting on the floor and could rise from that position without assistance. I was the designated “get down on my hands and knees” person to plug and unplug various computer connections to reboot them (since that is the only computer troubleshooting trick I know, it stands to reason that I would get lots of practice at it.) I am a fairly clumsy person and had infinite practice crawling around on the floor retrieving things I dropped.

Now, things are a little different. I kind of hope that elderly, immobile people will sit next to me in church services so I can use them as an excuse to remain sitting on the edge of my seat during traditional “kneeling” times in the service. I would never voluntarily sit on the floor unless I intended to die there because I know I could never get up again. If I have to reboot the computer, I either just push the button to turn off the power supply, get Max to pull out the plugs, or consider buying a new computer. As for the many things I drop, I shamefully admit to sometimes using one of those grabber thingies.

It isn’t that I am inactive or shy away from exercise. I do housework. I do yardwork when I really must. I participate in water aerobics classes. I walk over six miles a day. I’m actually a pretty healthy person, all in all. My vital signs and lab work suggest that I’m wearing well. There is just something about activities requiring excessive pressure on the knees that makes me suspicious that I might have come with used knees.

I think, before I was born, maybe God was trying to conserve resources and found a couple of used knees that someone returned knocking around in the body parts bin. He made a few tweaks to spiff them up a little and installed them in the new Terri1959 model baby girl. I’m sure those refurbished knees were “as good as new” at the time, but I think their patina is wearing a bit thin almost 58 years later.

Yes, the extra weight I’ve carried around in the last 58 years may have something to do with the wear and tear. Yes, the bare feet and footwear without adequate support may have contributed. Still, wouldn’t you think the rest of me would also be protesting if the problem was just ordinary depreciation? After all, my knees have had no life of their own separate from my hips, ankles, back, shoulders, etc.

Come to think of it, maybe my hips, ankles, back, shoulders, and my etc. are complaining too. I pulled weeds for forty minutes this morning and felt like I was run over by a truck. Let me clarify…. all of me felt like it was run over by a truck. So maybe my knees truly aren’t any older than the rest of me. Maybe all my body parts are feeling their age. And maybe the warranty just ran out!

What do you think?  Do you have a certain body part that seems to have aged way beyond the rest of you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a great day!

Terri 🙂

Autonomy

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog piece called Loosening My Grip.  In that post, I discussed my need to find a way to let go of my mother’s situation long enough to allow me to take a trip to California.  Lately, I’ve been thinking that the concept is much broader than just leaving my mom to take a vacation.

I need to figure out a way to let go of my mom’s journey.  Everything I read tells me that this time before death is very important to the person who is dying.  The person has internal work to do to feel complete in this life and to be open to whatever God has ready for her in the next, everlasting, life.  The journey belongs to the dying person and it must be whatever is must be for her.  As much as I would like to intervene and make the process “better,” I cannot.  Truthfully, it is better that I don’t try because my idea of “better” may not be what my mother needs or wants at all.  I’ve always been inclined, when given the option, to shoulder the hard job instead of asking someone else to do it.  I think part of me is trying to do that for my mother now.  I want to take on some of the difficulty, the pain, and the work for her.  However, I’m learning that, on some level, death is something that we each have to do on our own.  Besides, the fact that I suffer pain and grief does not alleviate any of her pain and grief.

I also wonder if my mother needs me to let go so that she can feel confident that it is safe for her to let go.  I think neither of us wants to be the one to turn away from the other first.  I’ve had the conversations with her that all the books recommend- the ones in which you assure the loved one that you will be okay when the loved one passes from this life.  I’ve tried to think of all the things she might worry about and I’ve talked to her about how they will be okay.  I’ve shared memories with her and continue to look for things in her current life that I can connect back to our history together.  I can’t think of anything else I can do to help her feel content that it is safe to let go.  Except to let go of her.

I don’t know if I can let go of her.  I don’t want to.  Traveling this path with her has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, but it would have been unimaginably harder to know she was walking this path without me.  I know that, someday soon, my mother will pass and I will have to let go.

The same books that tell me it is important for the dying person to understand that the family will be okay after the death also tell me that the most important things to a person who is dying is for the person to know that she is loved and that her life has had value.  That is really what I have been doing for my mother for the past year.  As long as my mother still understands the concepts of love and value, which she clearly still does, I feel like my attachment is that validation of love and value.  I don’t want her to go a single second of her life without feeling that she is loved and valued.

At the same time, I can see that my mother is just starting to slip slowly away from me as she continues on her path.  She still recognizes me and seems pleased to see me, but she doesn’t feel as attached in some vague, almost intangible way.  It is hard to explain or describe.  It is just something I feel.  I think the time is coming when we are going to reach a fork in the road on this journey.  She will go one way and I won’t be able to follow her anymore.  I will have to stay at the fork in the road.  I won’t be journeying with her anymore, but will only be watching her.  It will be the part she will have to do by herself.

In the meantime, I, too, have to start taking baby steps towards letting go.  The balance between allowing my mother the autonomy she needs to complete this journey and making sure she understands how much she is loved and valued every single minute is going to be difficult.  I think I have to stop trying to think so much about what the right thing to do is and what the right amount of time to spend is. I have to start trusting my gut to tell me what feels right.

What do you think?  It is hard to let a loved one go.  Have any of you had an experience that might help me release her?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Thanks for reading and traveling with me virtually!

Terri

I Heart The Planet

I’ve always felt a little guilty about not buying a hybrid car.  Every time I go to buy a new vehicle, I tell myself how much more environmentally responsible it would be to get a hybrid.  Then, I look at the sticker price of a hybrid model and compare it with the non-hybrid price.  The significant difference in cost sends me skulking shamefully back to purchase the non-hybrid version.

Recently, on a trip to California, I rented a car.  When preparing for the trip, I looked at the car rental company’s website and selected the class of rental vehicle I wanted.  I had only two criteria for selection.  Firstly, I wanted a car as familiar and as much like my own boring, gas-powered, mid-range four-door sedan as possible.  Secondly, I wanted a car with sufficient space for luggage for three people, preferably in the trunk.  Based on these criteria, I obviously did not select a hybrid.

The car rental fates giggled.  When I got to the airport and picked up the rental car, I found I had been “upgraded” to a hybrid.  I wasn’t thrilled about having to adapt to a different type of car in unfamiliar territory.  Also, it seemed clear that three suitcases were not going to fit in the trunk of the vehicle.  I argued and pouted and begged for the class of car I reserved, but the rental car people were “short on inventory.”  The lady said she could “see” if there were any other cars available, but she did not sound hopeful.  In fact, she sounded downright whiny.  Not wanting to waste any more precious vacation time feeling put-upon, I decided to get over it and just take the hybrid. I could use this opportunity to sample hybrid drivership.  Maybe the experience would motivate me to get past the sticker shock on my next car and actually buy a hybrid.

The lady at the rental car company told me that the car operated pretty much the same as any regular car, but did warn me that it might seem kind of freaky that the car didn’t make any noise when it was turned on and the engine was going.  That was a little freaky.  What was more freaky was that it wasn’t really true.  Yes, the car didn’t make the traditional engine rumbling noises.  However, it would periodically emit a sort of high-pitched squealing noise, reminiscent of a siren in the distance.  For the first couple of days, I nearly got whiplash spinning my neck around trying to spot the emergency vehicle every time I heard the noise.  When I finally figured out that the noise was coming from the car, I nearly got run over by a fire truck because I didn’t realize there actually WAS a siren in my vicinity.

Then there was the shuddering. Every now and again, the car would shake, rattle, and roll.  It was similar to the sensation I used to get when an older, tired car in need of a tune-up would cough and sputter and eventually die.  The hybrid didn’t conk out, but it certainly did a great imitation of a car getting ready to expire.  You know how they say “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down?”  Well, hybrids wobble but they don’t stall out.  Comforting to know, but it would be way more comforting if they didn’t wobble to begin with!

There was also the acceleration rate… or lack thereof.  The hybrid’s get-up-and-go seemed to have got up and went… somewhere else.  Pushing down on the gas did not result in a commensurate sudden increase in power or speed.  I think the hybrid interpreted me pushing down on the gas pedal as more of a suggestion than an imperative.  This was especially noticeable as I braved lane changing on California freeways and climbed the summit over the mountain  pass we had to travail when we took a side trip to Nevada.  To be fair, I think I could detect a very slight increase in power when I pushed down on the gas.  It was more like the power oozed into the car rather than spurted into it, though.  It took some time for that ooze to solidify itself into something resembling strength.  When I pushed the accelerator, I think the engine may have worked harder, but not any smarter.

I drove the hybrid over hill and dale for about 1000 miles on our trip.  I was not sorry to give it back to the rental car company when it was time for us to return to Florida.  I am sure many people drive hybrids and love them.  I am prepared to believe that my hybrid experience was colored by my own ignorance, inexperience and ineptitude. It was, however, my experience. That experience did nothing to motivate me to buy a hybrid the next time I am in the market for a new vehicle.  What it may have motivated me to do, however, is to stop feeling guilty about not buying one!

Do any of you have hybrid cars?  What do you think of them?  What could I have been doing wrong?  Or do you think it is just a case of me being befuddled over something new?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

Quality Of Life

One of my many sources of guilt since my mother’s stroke revolves around my decision to move to Florida.  If I had stayed in California, obviously, my mother would also have stayed.  It isn’t that I think that she wouldn’t have had the stroke if we had stayed in California.  It is just that she had a much more active, independent life when she lived in California.  She drove.  She ruled the docent world at the local reservoir like Glinda the Good Witch ruled Oz.  She had friends.  She worked full time for the school district during the summers. She had my brother living close by.  I hate to think that my mother sacrificed what was to be her last relatively healthy year and a half of life to make sure I didn’t postpone creating the life I wanted in my retirement. 

My original plan was to stay in California while my mother was still alive.  I know my mother had no burning desire to move to Florida.  I know she chose to embrace the move so that I would not put my life on hold.  The irony is that neither one of us wanted the other to sacrifice.  I guess that is a sign of a loving relationship, but it doesn’t preclude pain or guilt. 

Of course, I struggled with the guilt born of the decision to move long before my mother had the stroke.  I’ve argued to myself that my mother is a grown woman and she was the one who made the decision.  I’ve tried to provide as much care, company, entertainment, and love as I could to compensate for the amusements and activities she left behind.  I’ve acknowledged that there are many practical ways that her life improved when she moved to Florida. 

If anything, these months since the stroke have shown the wisdom of the decision to move.  If I had stayed in California, I would have been living over 150 miles round trip from my mother.  Here in Florida, I was only 15 miles from her mobile home before the stroke and I am only 7 miles from the long-term care facility now.  I don’t think I would have been able to do as much for her as I do now if we had stayed in California. That would have been a huge loss to both of us.   

All that aside, I still wrestle with the guilt.  It is always hard to know what the best answer would have been, even with the benefit of hindsight. 

The other day, I was responding to an email from one of my mom’s California friends.  I mentioned that I hoped that the benefits I provided in Florida compensated for the life my mom gave up in California.  The friend replied with a reassuring message about how my mother had always talked about all the fun things we did in Florida.  I decided to use that email as a starting point for a conversation with my mom.  I read an edited version of the email from her friend.  I said to my mom that I hoped she truly had enjoyed the activities and adventures we had together in our new home.  She looked a bit bewildered, so I continued.  I said that I sometimes wondered if I did the right thing moving to Florida because I worried that she gave up so much to move with me.  A light went on behind her eyes and she sputtered, “no, no, no.”  I forged ahead.  Looking around at the nursing home room, I said, “This is no one’s idea of fun, I know….”  She cut me off, insisting, “no, but HAPPY, HAPPY.” 

I think my mother’s cognitive and communicative abilities are no longer anywhere near sophisticated enough for her to try to say the “right thing.”  I have to assume she was genuine in telling me what she really feels.   

It was a gift. It was especially a gift in that my mother could not have that same conversation today, just a few weeks later.  The decline is so gradual and so ephemeral I don’t often realize it as it happens.  However, when I compare her condition today to what it was a few weeks ago or even a few days ago, I see the disintegration.  This ooze down the horribly rough road is so difficult to watch, it is hard for me to understand the “happy” response.  She is so frail and weak and disconnected, I don’t know how she can be happy. Her life has become so small and limited, there doesn’t seem much left that could inspire happiness for most of us.   On the other hand, my mother has always had a talent for happiness.   

Maybe, when you boil happiness down to its very essence, loving and being loved can be enough to generate joy.

What does “quality of life” mean to you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Enjoy the quality of your life today!

Terri

 

A (Weird And Strange) Sentimental Journey

When Max and I travel, our destinations usually have a wholly “vacation” vibe.  We are always visitors, not residents.  There is no overlay of “real life” on our trips.  There isn’t any consideration of work, chores, obligations, or normal day-to-day routine.  As a result, our usual emotional experience of vacations is fairly one-dimensional- pleasure, relaxation, excitement, fun.

Our recent trip to California was a whole different beast.  Some of what we did on the trip did constitute “vacation vibe.”  We stayed in a hotel with a jacuzzi, took a side trip to Nevada to go to the casinos, and didn’t worry about responsibilities.  On the other hand, we did a lot of things that recalled the time when California was our home- went to favorite restaurants, took a trip to the San Diego Zoo, visited friends.  Being in a place where we spent most of our lives made it impossible to escape the impact of the remnants of our past. Things were pretty much as we remembered, but not quite as we remembered.  Everything seemed too familiar to truly feel like “vacation.”  The rub, though, was that everything also seemed a little too stylized to feel like “home.”  California probably didn’t change.  It is more likely that the different lenses through which we now look- ground by our new lives- are the reason for the differences we sensed. Reconciling those feelings of “home” and how they have changed was a huge theme of this trip.

This nostalgia created by a vacation tangled and snarled up with the memories and associations of “home” produced a much more complex series of emotions.  It was fun and wonderful, but also complicated.  Yes, we originally decided to vacation in California precisely to experience some of our old favorite haunts and activities that we have missed since moving to Florida.  I was just unprepared to still feel so connected and, yet, so ephemerally connected to California.  It was almost as if my old life in California was covered in cobwebs and I had managed to get tangled in some of those silken threads.  I was always aware of the sense of being attached and always equally aware of how easy it would be to pull away from the thread.  Still, I was not sure that I wanted to completely disengage… either from my California connections or the Florida connections that are just starting to form.

It was a very weird sensation that overwhelmed me several times during the trip.  Everywhere I looked, I remembered the best of my times and the worst of my times. I remembered who I was and how I perceived the world during the nearly fifty years I lived in California. I remembered the experiences I had with people who are either gone from my life or who have changed radically. I remembered how satisfying it was to regularly and routinely see my friends in California.   I think I felt more nostalgic and mournful about moving from California during this trip than I did when we actually moved. On the other hand, being in California didn’t feel quite real… or quite right.

The last time I went to California was a little less than a year after we moved.  At that point, I was still somewhat of a stranger in a strange land in Florida.  The brief trip back to California was a welcome, comforting dose of familiarity.  It was really too soon for California to not seem like home any more.  At that time, I had sketched in the outline of a life in Florida, but there was still a lot of blank spaces.  Since then, I’ve grown and expanded my Florida life.   I’ve colored in the blank spaces and the Florida life is more dimensional now.  As familiar as California felt to me on this trip, it also felt weirdly unreal.  It was hard recognizing that I am losing my attachment to my old home, especially when it still all felt so familiar.  Familiar… yet more faded, kind of like the way a copy of a copy of a copy used to look in the days before we had digital images.  Maybe it isn’t really that I am losing the attachment to California, but just redefining that attachment.  California may represent my past life, but it is still my life. Surely that means there is still some kind of attachment.  Besides, people I love are still part of the California life that is unfurling each day.  I think that means that California life is still a present part of my life, too.

When I went to church the Sunday after returning to Florida, a friend asked me how my trip was.  I replied, “It was wonderful, but I am glad to be home.” She looked at me and said, “so, here’s home now for you, is it?”

As soon as she asked the question, I realized it was true.  I had said “home” referring to Florida without thinking, but I knew I meant it.  California still houses a lot of the artifacts of my life- the memories and experiences that brought me to where I am now in my journey.  We revisited many of those memories and experiences during our trip, sort of like the way you might go to a living history museum to discover how people used to live in the “olden days.”  Then, after soaking up a dose of yesteryear, you go home and go on with your own present and future.  That’s what I did. After our trip to California, I went home to my present day real life.

Have you ever gone “home” after moving away?  What was that experience like for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a great day!

Terri 🙂