Regrets

My mother’s birthday is tomorrow.  She died about two years ago.  I thought I had been mourning her death in a pretty healthy way, moving through stages of grief appropriately.  I felt that I was moving forward towards wholeness.  I thought the worst was pretty much behind me. 

I think I was wrong. 

Those of you who have been traveling with me know that, when my mother died, I experienced a wide variety of emotions.  I tried to feel each one instead of pushing it aside so I would not create a dark prison of grief within myself.  It has been a difficult, painful process, but also satisfying in that I feel like I’ve mourned with a certain amount of courage and integrity.

The one thing I thought I was spared during my mourning was the problem of regret.  When my mother died, I felt fairly satisfied with my role in her last years.  I believed I had done my best. I thought I was able to let go of any self-loathing about what I “coulda shoulda” done. 

Once again, I think I was wrong. 

It seems I do have regrets. Big ones.  But I think I have just been too afraid to face them. They are menacing.  They are terrifying.  They are threatening to start building that prison of grief. It might be time to show them the light of day. 

I first became aware of the regrets around Mother’s Day this year.  Some of you may remember my story about the day I stopped holding my mom’s hand and vacated the room when family came to visit her roommate (http://www.terrilabonte.com/2019/05/hug-a-mom-today). I think that memory opened the door to my regrets.   I have been regretting that day ever since.  I’ve been regretting it so much, it hurts. I regret that I didn’t just stay in the room and hold her hand when the other people came.  I regret that I didn’t hold her hand more often.

There are other regrets, as well.  Sometimes, I even regret things that I was absolutely convinced were the right thing to do when I did them.  For instance, I regret not being with my mom when she passed.  I was always sure my mom did not want me there when she died.  Now, I wonder.  It would have been difficult to tell when the time was coming, admittedly.  She had been slowly leaving me for so long, it was hard to know when the door was finally going to close.  I had been through the “it may be just a few days” phase several times.  Apart from staying at the nursing facility full time for several weeks or months, there would have been no way to know the critical moment.  During those last few days, which I didn’t know were going to be the last few days, the hospice nurses thought she might be getting close.  She died in the very early hours on a Saturday morning.  When I saw her on Friday, she drank a whole can of Ensure… after not eating anything for days.  My hospice angel said that it seemed that maybe she wasn’t ready to go yet.  Less than twelve hours later, she was gone. 

In some ways, that chain of events should reassure me that my mother’s intent was to die without me there.  On some level, she may have been trying to fool me into believing I could go home because it wasn’t time, even though she knew it was.  It doesn’t really matter whether I am right or wrong about the way I interpret her actions.  I still regret not being there.

I regret that I was not able to figure out what my mother was trying to say a lot of the time.  I tried so hard, but I failed much of the time.  I resorted to trying to interpret her nonverbal cues and I will never know how good a job I did of that.  I am sad because I don’t know if I advocated for her properly because I wasn’t sure what she wanted or needed. 

Then there is the biggest, most shameful regret.  I regret that I did not have her at home with me.  I regret that she lived in a nursing home.  I know there are a lot of good reasons she was there.  She was bedridden.  She needed extensive wound treatment and medical comfort care.  She was incontinent.  Her cognitive and communicative abilities were impaired. She needed twenty-four hour a day assistance with activities of daily living. It was good that she had a network of loving people who genuinely cared for her and attended to her needs.  I was with her just about every day, but, if she had been at home, it would have been only me with her.  She always responded well to the caregivers who visited her room and made her laugh.  I’m not sure I was up to making her laugh, much less taking care of all her needs.  I don’t think I honestly could have taken care of her at home.  Let’s be truthful. It was all I could do to make it through that time when there was a whole team of people caring for her.  Still, I regret it bitterly.  I feel like I should have been able to care for her at home.

Truth be told, I have hit a rough patch.  I am in a bit of a dark place.  I have woken up crying several times over the last few nights.  In the shower this morning, I couldn’t draw a deep breath.  My heart felt ready to explode.  There was a dead heaviness in the center of my abdomen.  All I wanted to do was scream, as if by pushing sound violently out of myself, I could also dispatch the pain.  It is even hard to write this because it hurts so much to realize how much more I wish I was. 

As I said, I have been struggling with these feelings of regret for several months now.  I work hard to manage them.  I’ve found a few strategies that seem to help make things easier to endure.

First, there is prayer.  I have found that laying my grief and my regrets at God’s feet is the best way to unburden myself from it.  Not only that, but prayer has helped me find other ways of dealing with the regret.  For one thing, I know that my mother is in Heaven.  Her heart holds no regrets.  She experiences only joy and love.  She has long since forgiven me for every weakness, failing, and misstep.  Secondly, instead of wallowing in my regrets, I try to invest that energy in doing ordinary things with extraordinary love for the people I still encounter in this world.  It is sweetly satisfying to use a little of the love I have for my mother to brighten someone else’s life.  It is part of her legacy to me. 

Still, all my strategies don’t always work. Some days, I run smack into one of those grief prison walls and I just give up.  It hurts. Today is one of those days. 

Have you experienced feelings of regret after the death of a loved one?  How do you manage those feelings?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a regret-free day!

Terri/Dorry ☹

These are flowers I had sent to my church this week in memory of and thanksgiving for my beautiful mother.
The memory flowers at the feet of the Madonna and Child

Limited Resources

Most people realize that they will have more limited financial resources when they retire.  They plan for years to make sure those resources will be sufficient to meet their needs after they stop working. 

There are other limited resources in retirement.  It is a good idea to think about how we will manage them, as well. 

Lots of people say that, after retirement, they are busier than they were during their working lives.  They remark that they really don’t know how they ever found the time to work.  I am certainly not busier than I was when I was working for a living, but it does seem like I am busier than I ever thought I would be in retirement.  I absolutely understand the feeling that I don’t know how I ever found the time to work.  If I had to fit a regular job into my current life, I’m not sure how I would be able to do it.  My dance card is full.

When I felt the first pangs of overscheduling during retirement, I put it down to the fact that I was taking care of my mother.  While I did not spend 40 plus hours a week with her or doing things for her, I did invest a considerable amount of time.  I had, in effect, traded in my full-time career for a part time caregiver job.  It made sense that I didn’t have as much free time as I would have thought.  It didn’t bother me.  In fact, I blessed my lucky stars and thanked my good God every day that I was able to retire from my full-time job so I could devote my energy to my mom.  A lot of people are not so fortunate.  They do the best they can trying to combine caregiving with their full-time job responsibilities. 

After my mother passed away, I think I desperately tried to figure out what I should be doing with myself.  I jumped into a lot of new activities.  Some of that mania was about filling time to avoid melancholia, but most of it was truly about trying things I wanted to do but had postponed while my mom needed me.  I’m very happy with my experimenting. I have settled quite nicely into a routine of satisfying activities.  I’m living my life… and maybe overliving it sometimes, based on the overcrowding of my calendar. 

I think we forget a little bit about how to schedule when we retire.  I remember when I was working that I used to yearn for retirement as a time when I did not have to do everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  That time has come and I don’t do everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  I sometimes forget that time is a finite commodity and I can’t continuously fit in “one more thing.”  When I do try to fit in one too many “one more things,” I feel the tension in my gut and remember why I wanted to retire.  Even when you aren’t working for a living, time is a limited resource.  It takes some practice to find the pleasant sweet spot between unpleasant idleness and unpleasant overextension. 

Health can also be a limited resource as we age.  We all hope to live a long, healthy, happy life and enjoy our retirement. It is likely that we will enjoy reasonably good health for at least part of our post-employment lives.  Realistically, though, it is probable we will experience some period of declining health.  In order to fully live our retirement years and to avoid becoming a burden on others to the extent we can, it makes sense to try to take care of our health.  Eating properly, avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking, getting regular exercise, seeing medical professionals for early detection screenings, cultivating fulfilling relationships, and laughing a lot can all help us live more of our lives in a satisfying way.  It can also be a good idea to buy long term care insurance.  Nobody wants to be in a situation where they can’t take care of themselves, but it happens.  Sometimes, even loving and willing family members can’t perform the care that people end up needing.  By providing for a financial plan to pay for professional care, you can increase your peace of mind about the future, which may also help improve your health in the present. 

It also makes sense not to postpone things we want to do for too long.  If you want to fulfill your bucket list, it makes sense to start before the bucket starts leaking.  If you really want to take a trip to Alaska, do it.  By all means, plan for it and do whatever preparations you need to do to maximize your enjoyment of it.  Do not put it on the back burner, however.   Chances are, you are healthier and more physically able today than you will be next year or the year after. 

There is another limited resource that I never considered when crafting my retirement life.  I spent most of my adult life living in less than 700 square feet.  I’ve stayed in hotel rooms bigger than my condo in Southern California.  When I retired, I more than doubled my living space.  I never thought I’d have to manage space again.  I obviously deluded myself.  Many of the activities in which I’ve become involved have encroached beyond the garage into the trunk of my car and into the vast expanses of square footage that used to be my bedroom floor.  For many people who downsize in retirement, limited space can be more of a problem.  I guess the key to avoiding this problem is to be realistic about the fact that you can’t fit a ten-pound bag of sugar into a five-pound canister.  You either need to get another canister or get rid of half the sugar.

Currently, I have three different volunteer efforts competing for room in my car. My back seat is filled with bags of books to take to a local elementary school, courtesy of a literacy support organization to which I belong.  Before the appointed time to drop off the books at school, I am also scheduled to deliver meals for Operation Homebound, an organization that provides nutritious meals for people who are unable to shop or cook for themselves.  My plan is to put the ice chests that contain the meals in the trunk of my car, since the back seat is filled with the books.  Unfortunately, my trunk is currently housing food for a funeral reception at my church that one of my church ladies’ groups is hosting.  If everything goes perfectly, I’ll be able to juggle my deliveries so that I won’t double encumber my vehicular real estate. 

Pray for me.

What limitations on resources have you experienced in retirement?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a limitless day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Adaptable

I’ve never been a very adaptable person.  I don’t handle change well. I am hard-wired to avoid it.  When I was working, people often called me “stubborn” because I was usually the last to let go of an old philosophy or procedure. I clung to the last scrap of past practices like a drowning woman clings to a life preserver.  It wasn’t stubbornness.  It was sheer terror.

In the years since my retirement, I’ve thrown caution, if not to the wind, at least to the strong breeze.  I plowed my way through the numerous changes involved in retiring, moving to Florida, caring for my mother, and other such challenges of life.  Most of the time, I survived by closing my eyes and pretending it wasn’t happening.  Kind of like a root canal.  At least with the root canal, they gave me laughing gas. 

Despite my best efforts, I have learned a few things about responding to change in my post retirement life.  The other day, I experienced living proof of my increased ability to adapt.  Actually, it was a bit too living, if you ask me.

I was outside spraying the weeds around my house with Round-up.  This is a routine summer activity.  In fact, during the summer months, spraying weeds is something like painting the Golden Gate Bridge.  By the time I circle the house once, more weeds have sprouted and I could just go around again.  If I didn’t call a halt to the madness, I’d be spraying perpetually.  I limit myself to one circumnavigation of the house per spraying episode.

What I would not call exactly routine is that I saw a snake outside our lanai. That never happened in California.  In Florida, it isn’t exactly abnormal, but it is not an everyday occurrence.  It happens a couple of times each year.  This guy was a big fellow, though.  He was about six feet long and about as big around as a garden hose.  I don’t think he was a poisonous variety, but seeing any variety of snake around the house always creeped me out in the past (please see  http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/07/the-great-snake-chase/ and http://www.terrilabonte.com/2019/01/snakes-why-did-it-have-to-be-snakes/).

The evidence of my new adaptability is that the noise I emitted when I saw the enormous black snake was more like a startled “eek” and less like the screeching gurgle of someone whose throat has just been slit.  I was immensely proud of myself when I realized the progress I’ve made on the adaptability front. 

Really, though, does a more measured reaction to a snake sighting mean that I’ve learned to adapt to change?  Or is it just that seeing the occasional reptile no longer constitutes “change” for me?  That is a frightening thought. 

I’ve always thought that “adaptability” meant “flexibility.”  That may be going too far.  I don’t think my “startled eek” demonstrated any Gumbyesque ability to morph effortlessly into whatever shape is necessary for survival and thrive-al.  Truth be told, I’m still not very good at adjusting to new situations.  Gumby and I have little in common.  My approach to adaptability is more like the little boy who sculpted animals from rocks and sold them on the side of the road.  A lady once marveled at one of his cute little renditions of a donkey.  She asked him, “How do you make these beautiful carvings?”  He replied, “I pick up a rock and chip away anything that doesn’t look like a donkey.”

That’s me.  My ability to adapt is not immediate and beautiful.  I don’t transform myself gracefully and fluidly and effortlessly.  I just doggedly chip away the parts of me that don’t serve my new reality.  The new version of me I create is fairly rough and primitive.  So far, though, I seem to be able to churn out the donkeys when I need them. 

What pieces of your life have you chipped away because they “don’t look like a donkey” in retirement?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a flexible day!

Terri/Dorry 😊