Does God Have A URL?

The other day I googled God, but couldn’t find an email address. I wanted to keep in touch, so I thought I’d write Him a letter and post it on the blog… just in case God happens to be trawling the internet.

Dear God,

I thought I’d write a quick note today to tell You I was thinking about You.  How are You?  No, wait, don’t answer that.  You are Great.  Of course You are Great.  You are God, after all.  At any rate, I hope You are in Your Heaven and all’s right with the world… at least from your perspective.  I suppose Yours is the only perspective that is completely accurate.  Please forgive me if, down here in the weeds, I sometimes question the “all’s right with the world” part. 

A frog fell on my head today.  Yes, really.  I pushed open the screen door on the garage and apparently dislodged the little guy.  He must have been perching on top of the screen. I had no idea that frogs even had perches.  Maybe this frog suffered from species confusion.  Maybe he was a bird in a prior life.  If he was, he forgot he no longer had wings and couldn’t fly.  Instead of soaring into the air when I jostled his nestling place, he came crashing down on what would have been the hard cement driveway if my head had not gotten in the way. My head is also pretty hard, for that matter.   

I mean no disrespect, God, but was that absolutely necessary?  Haven’t things been challenging enough lately without lime green amphibians hopping around in my hair?  Did You think You really need to up the degree of difficulty? Or were You just bored and in need of a laugh? 

If it is the latter, I hope I provided you with a real gut-buster.  I am sure I looked insanely amusing while chasing the little guy around with a broom.  Once he bounced off of my head and onto the ground, I regained my senses enough to know that I wanted to make sure he didn’t hop into the house.  He was cute, but not THAT cute.  I stared down at him, trying to figure out how to get him away from the garage door without turning my back on him.  I’m not really sure why turning my back on him seemed like such a bad idea.  I’m not a border collie. It wasn’t like my staring at him was going to make him stay put.  In point of fact, I have no frog-herding skills.  Maybe the already defective visual reasoning part of my brain was still stunned into silence.   

At any rate, I ran backwards into the garage to grab a broom, never taking my eyes off the little bugger.  He was wedged into the track of the sliding screen garage door, but I was pretty sure he was just waiting for his chance to make a break for it.  Amazingly, he was still hanging out there when I returned with the broom. He soon became MUCH more active when I tried to sweep him onto the lawn and away from the garage. 

Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very bright frog and didn’t seem to understand that it was in his own best interest to hop in the direction I was sweeping.  Instead, he kept jumping up and spinning around in mid-air trying to propel himself closer to the garage.  I’m not sure what he found so compelling about my garage.  I can’t imagine entering this vehicular inner sanctum was actually the hill he wanted to die on, so to speak.  Unfortunately, though, I think he did die for his cause.  I must have looked pretty ridiculous dancing around the driveway, broom in hand, maniacally sweeping a moving object.  No matter what I did or how hard I tried to redirect it, that critter kept resuscitating and moving towards the door.  At a few points, he actually breached the perimeter, but I persevered.  I didn’t intentionally kill the frog, but I’m pretty sure he perished in the fight.  Maybe not, though.  He was a very resilient creature.   

So, what have I been doing when not killing frogs?  Not much. Certainly nothing as jaw-dropping as my close encounter of the amphibian kind. I am spending a lot of time with my mother exploring different techniques to keep her alert and engaged. I am only marginally successful with any of these strategies. I’ve decided to grade myself on a curve and declare victory based on the smallest achievements.  I gave myself an “A” the other day when she laughed and nodded while watching me discuss the day’s activities on a home video of my trip to Williamsburg a few years ago.  I am atoning for any unnecessary administrative burden I placed on clients during my career by trudging my way through Medicaid paperwork purgatory. Just a reminder, dear Lord… purgatory is supposed to be temporary, isn’t it?  In my spare time, I’ve been sightseeing, literally and figuratively, around various Christian churches.  I walk at least six and a half miles to nowhere every day. I go to water aerobics classes and am proud to report that I have become much more proficient at not drowning.   

So, God, I hope You are doing well. Thanks for giving me all the people who love me. I’m sure You are busy, so it is great that You’ve sent some emissaries to bring a little of Your grace into my life. If You get a moment between crises in running the Universe, could you please spare a second to bless them all with peace and joy?  I’d really appreciate it!   

Love, Terri 

P.S. One more thing, Lord, if it isn’t too pushy to be asking…. Do you think you could keep the frogs out of my hair in the future?  As long as I’m at it, the same goes for any other animals.  Thanks! 

I think God will get my letter even without an email account. I think God is everywhere- even the worldwide web!

Now it is your turn.  Have you ever experienced anything so ridiculous that you thought it had to be God’s joke?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a hoppy day!

Terri 🙂

 

The Long Haul

It has now been over nine months since my mother’s stroke. We’ve experienced several seasons of her prognosis. I’ve felt that each season has required a different response from me.

When my mother first had the stroke, I stepped into the war zone of my emotions, trying to be ever present and functional as medical staff triaged her towards “survival.” This season lasted only a day or two.

During the next season, my mother worked hard at rehabbing. The goal was for her to improve from “precarious existence” to “some truncated version of independent living.” During that time, I rabbitted around doing, doing, and doing. My focus was on doing all the administrative things to keep her life on hold and making sure nothing fell through the cracks so there was nothing to distract my mom from just getting better. I also invested my efforts in being her cheerleader and motivator.  I concentrated on trying to share the rehab process with her, as if my doing the exercises with her could somehow take part of the yoke from her shoulders. I also tried desperately to provide some sort of normalcy and memory of what “real life” was like. I remember regularly pushing her wheelchair around the rehab facility in the hot, humid Florida weather. My goal for that little adventure in exhaustion and dehydration was to remind her how much she enjoyed just being out of doors.  I wanted to show her that she could still enjoy some of her favorite things about living.

I think my mother knew before I did that things were not going to work out in the way I wanted. The season changed. It became darker and bleaker. The rehab wasn’t working.  My mother’s life got smaller instead of larger as she kept struggling with the physical and occupational therapy. As her life got smaller, so did the number of life experiences she could still enjoy. She became so, so weary. She declined physically and emotionally.  We seemed to have entered a season of good-bye. The hospice people believed she would pass quietly within a few days or weeks.

When someone you love is in their last days or weeks, everything in life changes. My life became all about her. During this short-term season, I spent much of my time just being with her at the hospice center. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t really do anything. I was just there. She ate almost nothing.  She slept a lot. I think she was just worn out from the months of battling to make progress in rehab and from the emotional effort it took her to accept her reality and decide to just let things be.  I did nothing to keep my life running that didn’t absolutely have to be done. I didn’t make much progress on the tasks needed to manage the financial side of my mother’s life either. Anything that wasn’t boiling over got pushed to the back burner, including my own feelings.

Once my mother had this opportunity to rest her weary body and soul, she stabilized and the season changed again. While it was clear she was never going to get better, it appeared that she would survive beyond the short term… whatever that might be. She was still journeying rather purposefully towards the end of life, but she was traveling at a languid pace. Sometimes, I think that pace has slowed for a reason.  This new season has given her time to look at the totality of her life in a clearer, less confused way than she could during the rehab or hospice seasons.  It has given us both the chance to reconnect in a more meaningful way.  Whatever the reason for the slower pace, it is her pace and it needs to be what it is.

Now, we seem to be managing her illness and journey towards her end of life for the “long haul,” if one can speak of the journey towards the end of life as the “long haul.”   The response must change. My role in this season has been to suggest and implement ways to make her memories and connections more satisfying and concrete.  I’ve bought laptop computers and portable DVD players to show her family pictures and videos. I’ve suggested particular movies and television shows for us to watch together that have meant something to us in the past. I call and face time my brother regularly from her nursing home room so that they can interact I’ve kept up with her friends in California, which results in those folks sending her emails and cards.

I have to acknowledge, though, that it is no longer possible for me to react in the same way I did while my mother was at the hospice house. All those practical and logistical tasks that I postponed during that sad, strange short haul have to be dealt with at some point. I must invest some time and energy in other relationships, if I want those relationships to survive the long haul of my mother’s decline. I have to feel the feelings that I pushed to the back burner when the only thing that mattered was my mother’s comfort. I need to take time for myself to replenish the reserves of strength that I’ve been depleting over the past nine months.  Over the long haul, my life has to be about more than watching my mother come to the end of hers.

I struggle with how to prioritize and balance over the long haul. I’m confident that my mother likes it when I live in a world outside her narrow one. She enjoys the pictures and stories I bring back to her after my “day off” each week. It is still pretty excruciating to leave her, for a lot of reasons. It is still exhausting to conduct my life with the extra layer of hurt over my shoulders that doesn’t ever really disappear. In some ways, of course, the short haul season was more difficult because it was so dark and intense and lonely. The long haul has been lighter and more purposeful. On the other hand, the long haul is just so relentless. I am so aware that I have no idea how much longer this way of life will continue. I have no idea how much longer I will be rearranging my days to visit the nursing home during my mother’s “sweet spot” of alertness. I have no idea how many more days I will have to do what needs to be done to manage her affairs. I have no idea when I will run out of strategies to keep her engaged.  I have no idea how long I can handle the grief. I have no idea what is ahead and how far ahead it is, except that the situation is likely only to get worse. As difficult as the “now”  is and as difficult as it is to journey this path with my mother, it hits me in the gut that the day is coming when I won’t be traveling with my mother anymore. That reality sneaks up on me from a dark, cold corner of my brain on a regular basis.  I am terrified of what it will feel like when it happens.

Sometimes I think I cannot face all the sorrow and fear one more day. Then I realize, I don’t have to face it for one more day. Right here, right now, I only have to do it today. I do much better when I keep my eyes and heart focused directly in the present. I can go to the nursing home today. I can think of ways, however small, to make my mother happier today. I can handle seeing her pain today. I can avoid experiencing the pain associated with my mother’s eventual death today.

What is the answer to handling the stress of everything related to my mother’s illness over the long haul? The short haul.

What do you think?  How does a person balance the needs of oneself  with the needs of others?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have safe travels today!

Terri 🙂

PS For those of you who read last week’s post, I wanted to provide an update.  Last Thursday, when I was walking into the nursing facility, I noticed that the warped places in the pavement are now covered by cement structures that look like speed bumps.  Apparently, my nice gardener guy did more than just help me up and clean up my mess.  I’m glad they fixed the problem!

 

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 🙂