The Stealthfulness Of Grief

Nobody tells you how sneaky grief is. 

For the first five months or so after my mom’s stroke, I rode the emotional roller coaster all the time.  It was understandable.  So much was happening and changing on an hourly basis.  Of course my emotional reactions fluctuated. 

After about five months, my mother’s condition plateaued.  She was not improving, but neither was she undergoing stressful medical procedures.  I got her settled in the nursing facility.  I resolved the financial side of things.  I sold her mobile home. Once her status quo seemed to be pretty stable, I thought I might be able to begin to stabilize myself and start learning to cope with my own feelings. 

For the most part, I thought I was doing pretty well.  I was figuring out how to accept the new reality. I was even starting to carve out a “mini life” for myself.  I was regularly spending some time without being engulfed in my mother’s condition and care.  None of it was easy.  I certainly can’t say I was truly “okay,” but I felt I was gradually repairing my shattered psyche.  Both my mother and I seem to be living in the now with a little more good grace and good cheer.  Our relationship is certainly not what it was in the pre-stroke days, but we are starting to find our footing in our new one.  We both seem to be recognizing each other again and are acting more like ourselves.  Things are far from “okay,” but, for right now, they are better than I can expect.  So there is every reason for me to put on my big girl panties and get on with life.   

Still, every now and again, I am just floored by sadness.  There isn’t even necessarily a reason or a trigger I can identify.  I’m fine…  and then I’m not.   

The other day, I was walking up to the door of the nursing facility.  I was carrying my purse, a case containing a portable DVD player that I bring to show my mom home movies, and a milkshake.  I don’t quite know how it happened, but I tripped on a warped place in the pavement. I might have been trying a new technique for long-jumping, except that I think you are supposed to land on your butt when long jumping, not forward onto your face.   It was as if I really believed I was Tinker Bell and had sprouted wings.  News flash- I had not.  

Luckily, I didn’t really hurt myself.  As I lay on the sidewalk, stunned, all I could think about was the milkshake that was now spilled all over the cement and the DVD player that might have been much more disabled by the fall than I was.  For some reason, that milkshake spill just demoralized me beyond almost anything I’ve experienced in life.  I felt so defeated that I kind of just wanted to lie there and hope the world would end.  It was a weird sensation of knowing that I was reacting beyond all rational thought but not caring.   

I knew the reaction wasn’t really about the milkshake.  It wasn’t about the DVD player (which, remarkably, was unharmed by its flight).  It wasn’t even about the fall.  It was the same old grief and stress that I thought I was conquering.  The reaction was about the fact that my mother is so compromised and I can’t fix it.  I thought I was coming to terms with that reality, but the sadness came crashing back out of nowhere.   

A very nice gardener guy helped me to my feet.  I stared at the mess I had left in my wake.  The gardener guy asked if I was all right and I said, “yes, but the milkshake is all over the ground and it is ruined.  Besides, there will be bees and people might slip on it.”  The gardener guy looked at me strangely and mumbled some sort of embarrassed response.  Still a little in shock, I made my way into the facility and into my mother’s room, where I greeted her sans milkshake.  I burst into tears when I saw her, apologizing profusely for the lack of ice cream.  I think I kind of alarmed her.  She kept telling me to go home but I wouldn’t.  I didn’t want the fall to win.   

When I did leave the nursing home, still feeling unspeakably sad, I noticed the milkshake mess was mysteriously gone.  I am sure that my nice gardener guy cleaned it up for me.  Thank you, nice gardener guy.   

I read somewhere that sometimes you don’t have to get over things; you just have to get through them.  Maybe the “getting through them” isn’t always by a straight path. 

Has grief ever “snuck up” on you?  How do you cope?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a thoughtful day!

Terri 🙂

School Of Dolphins

Yes, I know that dolphins travel in pods, not schools.  However, that doesn’t mean that the dolphins don’t have a thing or two to teach us.  I learned a lot from my day swimming with the dolphins at Discovery Cove.  The dolphin experience especially taught me  several important things about how to best use the time of our lives. Here are some of the lessons I learned from my new merry marine mammal friends.

Make the most of your time.

A few years ago, I nagged a friend of mine to participate in a dolphin encounter in Hawaii.  We didn’t exactly “swim” with the dolphins.  It was more like “wading with the dolphins” because we kind of wimped out and took the encounter option that didn’t involve any deep-water interaction.   I can swim and have been swimming since I was a very little girl.  On the other hand, I was sort of anxious because I didn’t know how competent one needed to be in the water or how far I’d have to swim or how long it would take me to cover the ground I’d need to cover to do the deep-water swim.  My friend and I had a wonderful, soul-lightening time on our “dolphin wading” encounter, but I still couldn’t help but feel that I was missing out on something.

The Discovery Cove experience did include a deep-water swim with the dolphin.  Part of my hesitation in deciding to go was the same anxiety that I wasn’t a good enough swimmer, but I decided to throw caution to the wind.  As I was standing in the water waiting for my turn at the swim, I confess to feeling a bit nervous. I am a self-professed proponent of carefully controlled adventure.  I’d rather have artificial adventure than risk the dangers of the real thing.

I believe that litigation potential is a fairly effective vetting tool to determine if something is reasonably safe.  I figure, if an organization is big enough and has deep enough pockets to get sued in the event of disaster, I’m probably going to come out of whatever adventure simulation they provide in one piece.  Since Discovery Cove has been operating for over fifteen years and has not been felled by ruinous lawsuits, I figured I’d probably be okay.

I did believe our dolphin, Kaolani, was probably not going to attack.   On the other hand, I still did not know what level of swimming competency was going to be required to keep up with the dolphin. All the trainers kept saying that if you had to ask if you’d need a life jacket, you probably shouldn’t be doing the deep-water swim.  They offered a shallow water swim as an alternative.  I kept thinking about it, even when I was out in the water.  No one else was asking for the shallow water swim. I didn’t want to miss anything, especially after self-limiting my earlier dolphin encounter in Hawaii. There was a bitsy little girl in our group whose toes barely reached the bottom of the shallow part of the water.  She opted for the deep-water swim. I decided that, if she could do it, so could I.  As it turned out, I just had to swim about eight feet and tread water for a few minutes.  I held on to Kaolani’s flippers and dolphin-surfed my way back to the shore.  And I didn’t drown.

Once I had my dolphin encounter, I resolved to stop limiting myself.  I stopped worrying about what I looked like or whether I could do something.  It was incredibly freeing.  I did everything the park had to offer.  I felt like a kid again.  But a more self-confident kid than the kid I actually was once upon a time.

Let It Flow.

It may seem almost contradictory to my lesson about making the most of time, but I think it is more of a corollary than a contradiction.  I learned that nothing terribly bad happens if you stop worrying about what an experience is supposed to be like and what you are supposed to do to maximize your time.  Sometimes, it is best to just let a day of exploration unfold as it is going to and react as you want to in the moment.

Before I went to Discovery Cove, I had this huge need to understand how everything worked.  I had so many questions about the minutia of the operation!  Here are some of the queries that ran through my head:

  • How good a swimmer must you be to enjoy the dolphin experience? (just barely competent)
  • Where were the lockers in relation to the activities? (all over the place and you could easily appropriate more than one locker if it was more convenient)
  • Is there a preferred order in which to experience the attractions or maximize your time? (I don’t really think so- I felt like I could do all the attractions without prioritizing) How easy was it to get to the lockers periodically during the day? (phenomenally easy)
  • How did you know when to go to the dolphin encounter? (they gave you the time and location when you checked into the park)
  • How did you get reapplication of sunscreen? (there were stations all over the place)
  • Where were the food stations? (again, all over the place)
  • Since I eat like a four-year-old, what was there to eat? (a wide variety of sweet and savory offerings)
  • Did you need to bring money for incidentals? (not really, although I never feel comfortable leaving the house without some money so I kept $40 in the locker and never took it out)
  • Should I bring a hat? (yes, but know it will get drenched going under the waterfalls interspersed on the lazy river)
  • Were there private showers and dressing areas? (yes)
  • Would the required wetsuit vests fit me? (yes)
  • Would I look awkward or funny doing the experiences? (maybe, but nobody cared)

I could go on and on, but I think I already have.  The Discovery Cove website gave a lot of information, but I found that it was just enough to inspire my brain to craft new questions.

Once I was in the park for half an hour or so, I relaxed considerably and stopped worrying about “doing it right.”  I just meandered and did what I wanted when I wanted.  I did it right, without even trying.

She Who Travels Fastest Travels Alone.

I really wasn’t thinking so much about traveling fast through Discovery Cove, but I do think that I probably traveled better alone.

One of my other hesitations in booking my day at Discovery Cove was that I’d be going by myself because Max doesn’t do water recreation.  The idea of him paying the high admission price to simply trail along behind me, take pictures, and consume all-you-can-eat hot pretzels all day seemed ludicrous.

Before I met Max, I did a lot of things by myself.  After my divorce in 1988, I was single for many years.  I learned very quickly that, if I really wanted to do something or go somewhere, I should do it by myself rather than wait for a time when someone else might join me.  It was nice when I did things with dates or with friends, but I really had no problem having adventures on my own.

After Max and I met, I became very used to having a partner on my experiences.  It was really nice to share our recreation and perspectives.  Once he moved in with me, I almost never did anything fun on my own.  I didn’t mind at all.  He doubled my enjoyment of these activities.  On the other hand, I found I was starting to lose my self-reliance in the fun arena.

When I first made the reservation, a day on my own at Discovery Cove sounded appealing.  I could please only myself and wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs or desires.  As the time approached, however, I started to feel a little bereft about being without Max while I had this new experience.

It turned out that Discovery Cove is a great place to have fun, with or without other people.  I pretty much tuned out everyone else and did exactly what I wanted to do.  To be clear, Max would have been fine paying his money and watching me have a good time.  One of his favorite recreational activities is watching me do stuff he wouldn’t do, like feeding animals in a petting zoo or bouncing around in a swimming pool.  It bothers me, though, to know he is waiting for me.  Since Max doesn’t do water activities, I am sure I would have worried about him being bored while I cavorted in the deep. Without him, I was free to return to a second and third time snorkeling on the reef.  I could lie around doing nothing when I felt like it.  I could eat and drink when it felt like the right time for me.  Also, I could enjoy showing him pictures and telling him all about my day when I got home.

So, dolphins don’t travel in schools.  They are good teachers, though, and I think I am going to try very hard to apply the lessons I learned at Discovery Cove to the rest of my life!

Have you ever learned a valuable life lesson while engaged in some seemingly inconsequential event, like my day with the dolphins?  Please tell us about it.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a great day!

Terri

My Date With The Dolphins

I’ve never been very good at “once in a lifetime” experiences. One year, I booked a special “photo caravan” at a local wild animal park for an extravagant amount of money, believing it would be a “once in a lifetime” adventure.   We ended up going back every year until we moved away from Southern California.  The first time we visited Disney World, I sold it to Max as a “once in a lifetime” trip.  We went back on vacation several times before I retired and ultimately ended up turning our whole “lifetime” on its head by actually moving to within an hour’s drive of this “once in a lifetime” destination.  Now, we go about once a month.   

A few years ago, I cajoled a good friend of mine to go with me on a dolphin encounter at Sea Life Park in Honolulu.  She agreed with my exhortations that it would be a “once in a lifetime” experience.  We had a wonderful time.   

Given my track record and lack of credibility with the whole “once in a lifetime” thing, it should come as no surprise that I recently succumbed to temptation and spent a day at Discovery Cove. 

Discovery Cove is an “all inclusive” day resort owned by Sea World.  It is a reservation-only experience.  They limit the number of people allowed in each day so that crowd-traumatized tourists can experience all the park has to offer without waiting in lines or fighting the masses for towels. To be honest, I think that limited capacity thing can be a pretty big draw for someone who has spent an entire vacation wedged between bodies and strollers waiting in line for the bathroom at Disney or Universal.   

For one not-so-low (actually, a pretty darn high) price, a guest gets access to a lazy river, animal encounters, a simulated ocean snorkeling pool complete with artificial coral reef and assorted very real aquatic creatures, a wading stream that meanders past otters and marmosets,  the most beautiful walk-through and float-through aviaries you have ever seen, and several beaches for relaxing.  The price of admission also includes towels, lounge chairs, lockers, showers, dolphin-friendly sunscreen, all meals, snacks, soft drinks, beer, and wine.  For a slightly higher admission fee, you can also swim with the dolphins- hence the need for dolphin-friendly sunscreen. 

When I lived in Southern California, the Sea World park in San Diego had dolphin encounter opportunities for visitors.  The encounters were limited to just a few people a day and were hugely expensive. Also, the facilities at Sea World are geared for animals being in the water and people being on dry land watching the animals. Their dolphin encounter seemed kind of awkward.  It was sort of like the people swimming with the dolphins were on display as part of the exhibit.  While 8 or 10 people donned wetsuits and waded into a small pool with a dolphin, other fully dressed park visitors stood by the side of the pool to watch.  It just seemed a bit weird to me.  Still, I was one of those passersby watching.  In a way, despite the awkwardness and the logistical issues (like what did you do once the 20-minute dolphin experience was over and you were standing around in a sopping wet bathing suit for the rest of the day?), I was envious.  

When I heard about Discovery Cove, I thought I might take the plunge.  Literally.  Still, I wrestled with the decision for a long time. It just seemed so frivolous and decadent.   It is an expensive proposition.  Finally, I decided to stop telling myself no.  I made my reservation, including my dolphin swim. I spent the entire day indulging myself in Discovery.  And loved every minute of it.   

I arrived early. The staff scheduled me for the first dolphin encounter group of the day.  I went to the breakfast buffet and wandered around the park a little bit until my marine mammal rendezvous.   Then it was dolphin time! We spent some time touching and playing with our dolphin, Kaolani.  Then, it was time for the swim. As I waited for my turn, I became more and more excited.  I watched the other participants in delight, as Kaolani whooshed her way back to us, towing a grinning visitor in her wake.  When it was my chance, I swam out to the trainer in the deeper section of the pool.  I treaded water while watching Kaolani gracefully return from shore to take me on my ride.  I grabbed her dorsal fin and left flipper and let her pull me through the water.  I was dolphin surfing!   It was fabulous.  I felt like I was in a movie. I felt very accomplished and brave and free and sort of primal.  There was something about the buoyancy and weightlessness of the experience that somehow lightened my heart, freeing it from much of the care and worry it has been hording.   

After my dolphin dive, my first thought was that I could easily have done that all day long.  My next thought was dismay because the dolphin encounter, which I expected to be the highlight of the day, was over.  Now what? 

What, indeed.  Actually, a lot of what.  I went to the reef experience next.  Donning snorkel and mask (also included in the price of admission), I went exploring.  I snorkeled with huge schools of silvery fish.  I saw Doryfish the size of dinner plates.  I reached out and touched stealthful rays.  The massiveness of some of the rays amazed me. They were the size of shipwrecked chests of drawers on the bottom of the fake ocean.  I swam up to the glass barrier separating the reef swimming area from the shark enclosure and watched the sharks feed beneath the surface of the water. As fish swelled around me, I couldn’t stop giggling underwater from sheer giddiness.   

Next, I ambled over to the freshwater portion of the park.  I waded down the oasis stream.  I saw otters at play in the same river where I was playing, separated only by a glass partition.  Next, I realized I was wading through a moat surrounding an island of monkeys… marmosets, to be exact.  It was as if I had happened on a cloister of tiny nuns in their black and white habits as they scurried off to sing the Hours.  Next, I picked up an industrial strength pool noodle and floated down the lazy river. As I drifted under waterfalls, I reveled in how much fun it was to feel the water crashing over me.  I floated past exotic, beautiful, and curious birds in the aviaries.  It was so relaxing, I went around a second time.  I was glad I did.  On my second pass through, some trainers appeared randomly on the side of the river with a couple of “animal ambassadors.”  I interrupted my journey, got out of the river, and introduced myself to the anteater and kinkajou.  For those of you who don’t know and don’t want to bother googling, a kinkajou is a small mammal that has the face of a pug puppy, the body of a weasel, and the tail of a monkey.  She was very appealing for a creature made out of God’s spare parts! 

I spent some time at Serenity Bay, the mouth of the lazy river.  I lounged and sunned myself and observed people.  I went back to the reef and snorkeled some more.  I interspersed my trips into the depths with episodes on the shore in a lounge chair, reading and dreaming.  

The service at Discovery Bay was remarkable. The shower, locker, and dressing facilities were practical and easily available all around the park.  There were multiple stations to reapply sunscreen.   There were plenty of lounge chairs located wherever I happened to decide to lounge. The staff was more than helpful.  If you asked someone where something was, he or she not only told you, but walked you over to your destination.  Staff members appeared at random intervals at different places in the park to offer tips on how to get the best interaction with the animals, answer questions about the creatures you were viewing, and share their “animal ambassadors.”  The staff seemed less like theme park workers and more like delightful little surprises for your personal benefit.  Throughout the day, I helped myself to meals, snacks, and drinks from the convenient kiosks distributed throughout the park.   

When I finally decided to go peruse the merchandise in the souvenir shop, I was shocked to notice it was already after 4:00pm. It had been a wonderful day.  What had originally seemed like a shockingly exorbitant price of admission now seemed a terrific value.  It was truly a memorable “once in a lifetime” experience. 

And we all know what that means for me. 

Next week,  I’ll tell you what I learned from my day at Discovery Cove.  In the meantime, what do you think?  Do you have any “once in a lifetime” experiences that turned into regular events?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a swimmingly good day!

Terri 🙂

 

Still Alive and Kicking

Based on the Holmes Rahe scale, I’m lucky I’m not dead yet.  The Holmes Rahe stress scale is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness.  These stressors are not limited to negative events, but simply represent situations that typically cause change or a need for readjustment in a person’s life.  They range from the relatively benign (experiencing a major holiday, for instance) to the more cataclysmic (such as the death of a spouse.)  The scale assigns each event a weighted score and measures the combined score of all the identified life events a person experiences in a year.  Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe conducted a scientifically valid study that resulted in a correlation between life events, as measured by stress scale scores, and illness.   

A score of over 300 indicates a significant risk of serious illness.  Even before my mother’s stroke, my score was 344.  In the year that included my retirement, the life events I’d experienced included but were not limited to:  changing jobs twice, retiring, moving across country, changing my entire financial situation, and taking responsibility for my ailing mother’s care, along with a few other more garden variety stressful life events like Christmas and a vacation.  And my elevated stress scale score doesn’t even include any events not included in the good doctors’ research…  like selling a home, moving my mother 3000 miles across the country, or finding snakes in the garage.      

Even with this empirical evidence to explain my feelings of stress, it still felt vaguely shameful to talk about that stress with family and friends.  After all, I RETIRED.  That should have been the end of my need for sympathy from them.  Obviously, if I am no longer working, I must have nothing about which to feel stressed.  It’s like I’ve lost my membership card to the Forever Frenzied Federation and am no longer entitled to vent about the frustrations and fears of my existence. 

When I think back about what the pace of life was like before I retired, it does seem silly to even think about my post-retirement stressors, especially before my mother’s stroke.  When I was working, I was constantly tossed and tousled by a hurricane at sea.  I was always struggling against drowning.  For some time after retirement, I waded at the edges of a still ocean.  Sometimes, a wave lapped a little too high on my leg and my pants got wet.  Certainly, not much comparison.  Still, the events in the year after my retirement truly were significant in their own right.   It would behoove me to pay attention to their impact, especially now that the cataclysm of my mother’s illness has caused a whole new type of storm in my world. 

So, what do I do?  Obviously, I can’t undo the life events and spread them out over a more reasonable time period. The damage is already done.   But maybe it is time to stand still for a while.  It is tempting, now, to invest any time and energy I can muster into pleasurable and fun activities.  When I take a day off from visiting my mother in the nursing facility, I tend to want to go somewhere and do something to divert my attention.  Running off in search of amusement whenever I have a spare moment may not be the healthiest strategy.  I think the situation calls for a little boredom to quell my overactive nervous system and dilute the overabundance of stress hormones in my blood stream.  Constant excitement, while entertaining, may not be all it is cracked up to be.   

So let’s hear it for monotony!  Sometimes it is better to lie down and yawn rather than to stand up and cheer.

Did any of you have a hard time responding to stress after you retired?  Did it feel like you somehow weren’t “entitled” to feel stressed once you weren’t working?  How did you cope with the situation?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a reasonably stress-free day!

Terri 🙂

PS I hope I didn’t throw anyone off by this early posting for the week.  I have a date with a dolphin tomorrow and must be on my way very early, so I thought I’d post tonight and save some time in the morning.  More about the dolphin day soon, I promise!  In the meantime, I’ll be back to posting on the regular day next Wednesday.

 

 

Winter Wheat

Ever since my mom’s stroke, people have been telling me to remember to take care of myself.  These people mean well. They are often very somber and earnest in admonishing me to take care of myself. It is as if they believe they can will their words to permeate my brain and convert into action. They never quite do.

I realize, on some intellectual level, that self-care is important.  I don’t think I fully accept that it is important to me, however.  After all, it isn’t like my mother is living with me and I am the full-time caretaker.  Lots of people handle much heavier burdens than I do.  Somehow, “just” managing my mother’s life, being her advocate, and visiting a couple of hours a day six days a week doesn’t feel like enough to entitle me to the concern of those well-meaning people.  It doesn’t feel like I deserve the “permission” to take care of myself.

I remember reading the book The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (of Little House on the Prairie fame) when I was younger.  The premise of the book is that the residents of a small town in the Dakota Territory were running out of wheat to make bread during the particularly cold, blizzardy, and brutal winter of 1880-1881.  Most of the citizenry, regardless of how they earned money, raised their own food.  Some people were actually commercial farmers, but even those who weren’t had chickens for eggs, a cow for milk, and fields of vegetables. And wheat.  They grew wheat for home consumption. They stockpiled stores of the grain to make sure they would have flour during the lean times of the year when game was scarce and the ground was too hard and barren to yield crops.  They were hardy, forward-thinking pioneer people who knew how to eke a living off the land.  They were used to living in harsh elements.  That long winter demonstrated that, sometimes, the elements win.

As the wheat supplies dwindled and winter showed no sign of abating, townspeople started approaching starvation.  Because the weather was so violent, it seemed foolhardy to travel to a larger town in hope of finding emergency grain.  People were rationing and doing without, but it became clear that the town was not going to survive until spring without some infusion of food.  A rumor started that the Wilder brothers still had a store of seed wheat that they intended to use to plant the next season’s crop.  One man in town approached them, begging them to share just a little of the seed wheat to keep his family from starving to death.  The Wilder brothers agreed, but could see that this was, at best, a stopgap measure.  Giving up their seed wheat would only stave off the famine in the town for a week or two.  It would also mean that there would be no wheat at all to plant for the next season.  Ultimately, the brothers decided to brave the wicked whiteness to find wheat for sale. After a long, uncomfortable, and perilous trip, they found someone with wheat and brought back enough to see the town through until spring.

I think this story is a good metaphor for caretaking, even if one is “only” providing care for a loved one living in a nursing facility.  Caretaking does mean meeting the hour-to-hour physical needs of a loved one. It also means some other things. It means managing the administration of her life. It means being her advocate to campaign for her wishes. It means listening and concentrating and trying to interpret when she attempts to communicate. It means keeping her company.  It means trying different strategies to keep her engaged and connected. It means being her proof that she has been-and still is- valuable and loved. It means showing her that she, herself, is still able to love.

All these forms of caretaking involve stress. They all require energy and emotional food. All caretakers are susceptible to emotional famine.  It may feel safer to try to just ride out the difficult season, rationing your emotional reserves and hoping you make it to spring.   It may feel dangerous and impossible to remove oneself from the immediate situation to look for the food that might be the longer-term solution to the problem.  After all, if I give my all and do nothing but my best all the time, all I am left with is nothing.  And nothing won’t yield any wheat in the next season.

What do those of you who are caregivers do to replenish your supplies when your “winter wheat” is diminishing?  Please respond by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a nourishing day!

Terri 🙂

Employable

I learned a lot of good stuff while I was working.  I figured most of it would immediately become moot the day I retired.  That assumption is probably correct, but I’ve found I actually did learn some transferable skills.

Recently, I’ve been struggling to fight my way through the administrative jungle involved in applying for financial aid to help with my mother’s care.  After hiring one law firm to help, I quickly realized that my own background provided a much better machete for slicing my way through the undergrowth. For several months, I fought through vines and branches of internet research on my own, trying to understand the eligibility and documentation requirements.  I spent a lot of energy wandering around in useless circles without clearing much of the jungle out of my way.

It was exhausting, but even inefficient persistent activity can sometimes result in progress.   Using the experience and education I amassed during a 30 plus year career in bureaucracy as a basis for my analysis, I slowly began to understand what was going to be necessary and how to ask the right questions. A kind stranger also gave me a referral to a specialty law firm.  That law firm helped me trade in my blunted, bedraggled machete for an earthmover.  Working with the staff of the new law firm, I was able to work more methodically and spend my energy on the activities that were going to matter.  Rather quickly, I was able to see some light at the other end of the jungle.  I’m still whacking away at low-lying branches, but I’m getting there.

During that process, I met with the office manager of the law firm.  She did the initial interview, pointed me in the right documentation-gathering direction, and assigned a caseworker to help me.  In our conversation, she asked what I did for a living before I retired.  When I explained the progression of my career and what my role was when I stopped working for a living, she offered me a job in her office.  I could kind of see her thought process.  My career was actually very similar to the kind of work her office does.  On the other hand, her offer stunned me.

I never contemplated working after I retired.  That was never part of the plan.  While I was still in my job, people used to talk about how well I could do if I went into private practice when I retired.  I reacted to those comments with complete bafflement.  What would be the point of retiring if I was going to keep working?   In my mind, I would just keep my steady job with a nice income and benefits if I wanted to work for a living.

Yes, I understood that some people liked the idea of having their own business and being their own boss, but it always just sounded like a lot of extra trouble to me.  Yes, I understood that some people think they can reduce their hours and stress when they work after retirement.  I’m not sure I buy it, especially for someone like me.  I believe God gives us all talents and expects us to develop them.  My talent happens to be worrying. I have spent a lifetime learning to excel at it.  I’m not sure it matters how few hours I work.  I would be wor”ry”king full time.  Yes, I understood that some people are passionate about their work and can’t imagine giving it up completely.  I can almost get behind that argument. If there was some opportunity to get paid for working at some passion of mine, I might concede.  But battling bureaucracy?  I don’t think that’s anyone’s idea of passion.

Still, when the office manager asked me about coming to work for the law firm, my first impulse was to try to figure out a way to make it work.  My brain immediately stumbled over obstacles to device possible strategies that would allow me to work at a job (that I didn’t even want) while also taking care of my mother, doing the tasks necessary to keep my household running smoothly, writing the blog, maintaining my relationships, and trying to have some sort of fun in my “spare time.”

I think this process reveals a congenital defect in my reasoning ability.  At some point very early on in my life, I somehow bought into a pretty basic fallacy.  If someone asks me to do something, it must make sense for me to do it.  I spent a good deal of my career attempting to fulfill that fallacy.  I often didn’t consider whether I actually wanted to do a particular job or assignment or even if it was feasible for me to do it. I figured that, if someone was asking me to do it, it must be possible and it must be a good idea for me to do it.  I’m not saying that this was always a bad thing.  In fact, following other people’s plans for  how I should spend my time and energy was a good thing in some ways.  If I had stopped to consult my own preferences, I might have passed up some opportunities I ultimately enjoyed and from which I profited.  It is sometimes easier to stretch your capabilities when someone else is pushing you than when you try to expand your horizons under your own power.  Still, there were also other “opportunities” that would have been better left untapped… at least by me… and I would not have been tapping them if left to my own devices.

This time, though, when the office manager offered me the job, I managed to stop myself before agreeing.  I let myself live in an awkward pause while I did not immediately reply to her suggestion.  During that time, I am sure my face did express a certain degree of horror at the whole idea.  Initially, the office manager thought I didn’t realize she was serious.  She started reassuring me that the offer was real.  She extolled the virtues of the position.  I was still not responding.  She got the idea that I was either dimwitted or just not interested.  She looked kind of embarrassed and unsure of how to extricate herself from this particular line of conversation.  My mind unfroze and I bailed her out, explaining that I just didn’t see how I could take on anything else while caring for my mother.  The office manager seemed happy to let the matter go, but did mention that I should call her when I “got bored.”

I’m not bored and I don’t foresee myself getting bored.  On the other hand, part of my mind still keeps revisiting that job offer.  It was heartening to have someone validate my value on the job market.  I felt kind of sassy and swaggery.  The whole exchange was very flattering. I think part of me has always kind of felt that most of my success in my career was due to simple longevity.  The fact that someone wanted to hire me for a professional position to do something new and different makes me think that maybe there was at least some actual talent fueling my career success.

I haven’t done anything mad like calling back and asking for the job.  The bottom line is that I don’t want the job, but it’s very nice to be asked.

What do you think?  Have you ever considered starting to work again after you’ve retired?  How is it working out for you?  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 🙂

The Path To Easter

Someone I know once said that people should be careful what they wish for when they pray for faith.  Sometimes, God just gives them faith.  Sometimes, He sends challenges to help them develop their faith muscles.  Sometimes, He puts them in situations to show them just how much faith they already have. In short, at least two out of three of those options tend to be uncomfortable.

Last Lent, I felt like I was on a pretty good path of spiritual development. I felt like I had been spending years lazily luxuriating in a big, soft Catholic feather bed.  I had been comfortable for a long time, but had not really done anything to grow or focus my faith.  When I retired, I began investing more time and energy into spiritual development.   I was participating in a program called “Best Lent Ever” and it kind of was. Every day, the administrators of the program sent me an email with a video message, Scripture readings, reflection questions, and suggested activities.  I opened my heart and my mind.  I felt like I was learning a lot. I journaled about the program’s reflections every day.  Sometimes, I even posted comments on the program’s discussion boards.  In short, I felt like I really took last Lent as an opportunity to deepen my commitment and understanding.

This Lent, not so much.  The church I have been attending has offered Lenten activities, but I haven’t been able to summon the energy to attend.  I started going to Sunday school a few months ago, but have missed several sessions lately.  I even missed the service a few weeks ago when I messed up on the whole “springing ahead” thing.  In general, I feel like I’ve just kept stumbling over my feet this Lent without making any spiritual progress.

Some of you might point out that my stumbling has not been confined to spiritual progress. You would be correct. Since my mother’s stroke and the ensuing chaos in my external and internal life, I’ve been fairly lacking in competency in any arena.  I sort of stumble through everything now.  And maybe that is really more in keeping with the spirit of Lent than my activities with the “Best Lent Ever” program.

I think maybe God puts us in whatever desert He thinks we need for Lent.  Last year, I was just starting to re-examine the depth and maturity of my faith.  Maybe God wanted to tempt me to continue by providing me exactly what makes me comfortable- orderly growth and tidy spiritual development.

But no one gets to Easter without going through Calvary. This Lent, I think perhaps God is using the sad path I am navigating to grow and develop my spirituality.  It isn’t orderly or tidy.  It is certainly not comfortable.  But it seems to be my Calvary. I try to accept His will and offer up my pain for love.

I’m not equating my struggles in any way with those of Jesus at the Crucifixion.  In fact, I am clear on the fact that no one will ever have to endure the complete pain and emptiness that Jesus experienced on His Calvary, simply because He did experience it.  He endured it exactly so we would never have to.  And, truly, the challenges I’m experiencing are nothing when compared to those that many other people battle.  Still, I don’t think God minds too much when I complain and cry over my difficulties…. Especially when it is to Him I cry.

This Easter, I will rise above my difficulties and celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection.  I will try to rejoice that, just as I share Calvary in my very small, weak way, I will one day also share in the Resurrection.

Have you done anything special to prepare for Easter this year?  How has it been working for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a blessed Easter!

Terri 🙂

If I Never Leave, How Will You Ever Have A Chance To Miss Me?

I am a bit off the grid this week. I’m sorry to have missed you. Rest assured I’ll be back with new content on 4/12. In the meantime, why not read a few previous posts as long as you are here? Better yet, talk amongst yourselves! Leave a comment to share whatever is on your mind.

Until next week…

Terri 😊

To Dog Or Not To Dog

I always wanted a dog of my own.  There is very little in life that makes me feel as good as a puppy snuggling into my shoulder, with its little paws around my neck.   I was always that kid who befriended whatever canine came within drooling distance.

When I moved out on my own, dog ownership was always a goal of mine.  My husband at the time did not share that goal.  He was more interested in reptiles and rodents as pets.  This propensity showed his clear lack of judgment, which he further demonstrated when he left me.  After I got divorced, I was a pretty sad sack.  My parents, desperate to suggest anything that might rouse me out of my funk, pressed me to get a dog.  Even my father, who had always been firmly in the “Not To Dog” camp, extolled the virtues of doggy parenthood.  It didn’t take much pushing to convince me to adopt my little mutant Welsh corgi, Luci.

Adopting Luci turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.  In the beginning, however, the wisdom of the decision was debatable.  For one thing, the shelter told me she was over two years old.  In actuality, she was about six months old.  This meant she kept growing until she was approximately twice the size she was the day I brought her home.  It also meant that she was still teething.  She also suffered from severe separation anxiety.  This neurosis manifested itself in her tendency, when left alone, to eat anything and everything …including things that were not technically edible.  Like a couch.

Yes, between the teething and the anxiety, the dog ate the entire arm off my couch while I was at work one day.  I tried crate-training her, but, contrary to every dog behavior book I read that told me dogs actually like the safety and security of a crate, Luci hated it.  She would throw up if I put her in the crate and left the room. She cried and whimpered pitifully. I consulted with the vet, which is when I found out the full-grown adult dog I adopted was actually a poor, pathetic puppy who still missed her mommy.

Since I was now the mommy, it was my job to soothe and comfort. This entailed coming home at lunch and calling Luci several times a day while I was at work so she would hear my voice on the answering machine.  It also involved heating a seasoned pig knuckle in the microwave to give her each morning when I left for work.  The idea was that she would come to associate my leaving with something pleasant.  She did indeed associate the smell of microwaving pork at six in the morning with something pleasant, but I can’t say I did.  I, in fact, found it pretty revolting.  My stomach came pretty close to revolting most mornings when presented with the smell of sizzling pig knuckle before any self-respecting pig would even be awake.

I can’t say I could ever completely rely on Luci to not eat anything within reach.

However, as Luci grew out of the puppy phase and became more secure in her home, she became much better about eating only things with actual calories.  When I left for work, I Luci-proofed the house.  I closed all the doors to bedrooms and bathrooms to minimize temptation.  I set wastepaper bags on high kitchen counters.  I was not foolish enough to leave shoes or socks laying around the Luci-occupied zone. It worked well enough.  As time went on, I found that minimal effort kept my home canine catastrophe free.

Some people may have thought this was a crazy way to live.  It probably was, but it was well worth it for me.  In a time of my life when I was bruised and empty, Luci was my safe place to land.  Luci always loved me.  No matter what.  She made me laugh. She gave me a reason to keep moving forward in life.  She enabled me to focus my energy on something other than my internal misery and decimation. We were a team and faced the world together.  In caring for Luci’s happiness and well-being, I found some of my own.

Luci made out pretty well in the deal, too.  People who believe in reincarnation want to come back as my dog.  Nothing was too good for my fur baby. She came home from the shelter with a doggy seat belt.  Unfortunately, she ate it.  I took her to obedience training. I learned to obey. I took her to the vet whenever something seemed even minimally amiss.  When the vet moved from a small strip mall storefront to a large, modern, beautifully designed building, I used to call it “The House That Luci Built.” My mother corrected me, reminding me it was actually “The House That Luci’s Mommy Built.” As Luci aged, general practice vets were not sufficient for my baby’s growing pains.  She had a root canal from a doggy oral surgeon.  She had acupuncture from a specialist to manage her arthritis pain.  I’ve never actually added up how much money I spent on vet bills in the last few years of Luci’s life and I don’t want to.

Luci lived with me for almost 16 years.  She had a long, loving life.  When I finally accepted that it was time to let her go, I called a specialist to come to the house so that her last hours would be with me in the home where she knew only love.

I knew I would not want another dog right away.  About a year after we lost Luci, I was in a pet shop and saw a Welsh corgi puppy.  The nice young man in the store took her out of the kennel for me and she snuggled sweetly into my shoulder.  I started to cry.  Actually, I started to sob uncontrollably and unrelentingly.  I knew it wasn’t time yet.

A year or so later, I started thinking that I might be ready.  I was doggy jonesing.  However, at that time, I was also applying for a new position.  The new position would involve a commute of three hours or more each day.  It would involve longer hours and more travel.  I didn’t think it was fair or even feasible to integrate doggy motherhood into my life at the same time if I got the job.  I told myself that, if I didn’t get the job, I’d get the dog as my “consolation prize.”  Damn it, I got the job.

The next plan was to wait until I retired and we moved.  Once we were settled, I planned to get two Pembroke welsh corgi puppies.  Any time Max sensed my impetus towards moving was waning while we were waiting for my retirement date, he invoked the name of puppies to keep me focused.

However, once we moved, things changed.  First, “getting settled” seemed to be a much more fluid process and to take much longer than I initially expected.  Second, I was finding that my mother needed much more assistance than I had realized.  I was spending 15-20 hours a week with her.  I wasn’t sure I had enough time left after my efforts to keep my mother safe, comfortable, and happy to take on a passel of pembies.  Then, once my mom had the stroke, I clearly knew I did not have the time and energy to raise furbabies. When the day comes I no longer need to care for my mother, I think Max and I are going to need some time to breathe.  I think we’ll want a season to be free of responsibility to do the things for ourselves that we have been postponing during this difficult time.

So, in the question of “to dog or to dog?” I think the answer, for me, is “not now.”  While a puppy would provide comfort and healing, it would also provide responsibility and entanglement.  Still, when I recently held my friend’s tiny new pooch the other day, it was hard not to feel the surge of puppy love flood my heart.  While my head is still saying that this is not the right time for a dog, the needle on my doggydesire-ometer certainly started to twang from “not now” to “later.”  A subtle change in emphasis, perhaps, but movement nonetheless!

What do you think?  Should I dog or not dog?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a great day!

Terri 🙂

 

 

Psychedelic Prayer

I’ve noticed something odd recently.  Since my mother has settled into the nursing facility and she has begun exploring the shadow world inside her head that I cannot quite fathom, I feel different.  I’m not sure what words to use to describe the difference.  The feeling isn’t happier or more positive or more resigned exactly.  Maybe the better description would be a feeling of “surrender” or “being reconciled” or “contented.”  Whatever it is, it sure beats the constant agitation and relentless heartbreak that have accompanied me since my mom’s stroke.

Maybe the change is just because I find myself smack in the middle of the worst possible outcome that I dreaded for months and the result is not as bad as I feared. The world continues to revolve around the sun and my mom actually seems pretty cheerful.

Maybe it is prayer.

I attended a workshop on prayer the other day.  The leader asked us what factors we thought led to the most effective prayer.  I thought for a nanosecond and realized that the memorable common factor in all my most fervent prayer is confusion.  It seems that I pray most effectively when I come to prayer in a state of disorientation and dismay.  I’m not sure why that is.  Maybe it is because I am most genuine in my discombobulation.

Too often, I think I come to prayer with a solid, well-defined vision of the desired outcome for which I am praying.  I say I am praying to find God’s will and to have the strength to accept His plan.  I think my head even tries to believe that.  Still, in my heart of hearts, I think I am usually praying for things to turn out the way I want them.  It isn’t necessarily that I am being demanding or selfish.  It isn’t even that I am praying for an outcome that is easy or pain-free. I’m just scared.  I’m scared of what God’s unknown is for me. I’m scared that I don’t have the necessary faith and virtue to travel His path rather than the path I can envision for myself.

hroughout my mother’s illness, I have wrestled with confusion, grief, and fear almost all the time.  Originally, I had the sense that God was exposing me to these emotions to give me some small idea of the journey my mother has been navigating in order that I might be more empathetic.  Now, on a deeper level, I also have the idea that He is trying to train me, as I’ve walked this path with my mother.  He may be trying to teach me to truly understand that all that control and organization and planning that I so love is not where my strength lies.  In fact, I believe He is showing me that there is actually grace in letting go of it.

They do say that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  The thing is- I never wanted to be so freakin’ strong.  Apparently, God does and He is using my mother’s illness to build that strength.  I am afraid I cannot say that I am wholeheartedly grateful.  However, I know that God has unfailing patience with me.  Maybe I’ll get to that gratitude place someday.  In the meantime, I think my confusion-born prayer is at least helping me find a little more confidence that I’ll be able to manage God’s unknown for me, with His help.

As I thought through my ideas on confusion-based prayer, other people in the class were talking about what helps them pray. Most of the other students seemed to concentrate their responses on strategies or “tethers” to help them focus and shut out distractions in order to pray most effectively.  All the discussion about focus made me wonder about my experience of finding confusion to be the sweetest starting point for prayer.  Maybe we do need to be “tethered” to pray most effectively.  Maybe, though, it is sometimes best to allow God to do the tethering rather than me hitching myself to a rather wobbly post.  Maybe, sometimes, the confusion is actually God’s call and the distractions are the ingredients for prayer.

A number of students also mentioned external items that help them connect to God and His majesty.  Some people mentioned rosary beads, icons, stained glass, statues, etc.  I understand that perspective and even share it.  After all, I come from a Roman Catholic tradition.  I own and use a rosary.  Liturgical prayer sings to my soul.  I have worshiped in the ancient churches in Europe, marveling at the prayerfulness of artistic renderings.  When I loosened my grip on Roman Catholicism, I turned towards the Episcopal Church.  I’ve learned that Episcopalians express their unity as a denomination in their unity of worship.  After all, we base our worship on the Book of Common Prayer.  There is little that is more focused, orderly, and tethering than praying in a common, liturgical way. I rejoice in that unity.

Still, there is room and, perhaps, necessity in Christian life for a more individual kind of prayer. That is the kind of prayer that I find often comes from my confusion. It is a psychedelic kind of prayer.   It is colorful, explosive, and implosive.  It is often disorganized and chaotic.  It moves and pulses and morphs.  It can start out as one thing but end up as something completely different.  It is uncontrollable- breaking free of the form I gave it and rearranging itself into what it needs to be. It can be so odd and so weird and so disorderly that it makes no sense.  At least, it makes no sense to anyone but God.  And maybe, with the grace that comes from letting go, the psychedelic prayer will one day make sense to me.

What do you think?  Does prayer ever seem to be born of confusion for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a blessed day!

Terri 🙂