Overthinking

Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living.  Far be it from me to argue with Socrates, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

I think most people think I think too much.  Heck, I think I think too much.  Is that an oxymoron?

I tend to be a little overzealous in examining my own navel.  As I surf the crest of another decade, I think I am thinking more strenuously than is good for me. 

It isn’t that I think I am old.  It is more that I think I can see the dream of what I thought my life would be fading from the realm of possibility.  I thought my life would be a little more traditional (while also being deep and meaningful) than it has turned out to be.  I thought I’d get a romantic proposal and have a beautiful wedding, crammed filled with memorable, sentimental moments that everyone would think back on in reverie as the years passed.  I thought I’d have a family of kind, smart, courageous children, who I would gently rear into successful human beings. I thought those children would go on to restart the cycle of landmark moments and family celebrations, so that I would continue having new magical memories throughout my life. I thought my husband and I would work as a team. I thought we would share a world view and a rhythm of life.   I thought we would think in tandem. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think I’ve run out of time. 

I think most people in my circumstances would have had a moment of clarity long ago and realized that the clock was ticking away any opportunity to create that dream.  At some point, I would have had to blow up the life I had if I wanted to roll the dice on that dream life.  I didn’t think I wanted to undergo a violent overthrow of my happiness at that time.

Truthfully, I still don’t.  While I didn’t get a romantic proposal and don’t have a husband, I have a partner in life who loves me.  Our relationship may not be romantic in the same way as movies and reality television shows, but we do have our own brand of romance and affection in abundance.  I don’t have any children, but I think I have made a positive impact on other people even if I did not give birth to them.  I’ve also had more time, energy, and money to pursue charitable endeavors and fulfilling, satisfying activities in my own life. I may not have another generation of people creating new memories and celebrations for me, but that motivates me to create my own.  I don’t think Max and I share all the same opinions, thoughts, routines, rhythms, and conventions, but I think we do pretty well as a team. 

Still, I have been thinking a lot more about the “what ifs” as I orbit around my 60th birthday. I try not to feel sad about the dream life that will never be because to do so would seem ungrateful in the extreme.  Sometimes, though, I get stuck at the intersection of Wistful and Regret when the light turns red.  I have a moment to pause and consider the scenery of the place I might have been.  Then, the light turns green and I go on with the wonderful life I have.

I do think I am exactly where I am supposed to be. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think about the other paths that might or might not have played out even more happily for me.  I understand that some people believe in moving heaven and earth to craft the life they want.  I admire them, but I also think that isn’t me.  I think I’m more of a “bloom where you are planted” kind of girl.  I think God put me on a particular path and that He curves that path as necessary, depending on the choices I make.  The choices I make may alter the details of my life a little bit, but the basic journey is going to be the same because that is what God has in mind for me.  

This is a comforting philosophy. I’d like to say I adhere to it all the time.  If I did say that, I’d be lying.  No matter how much certainty I muster that I am living the life I was meant to live, I still sometimes covet that other dream life that is slipping away… no, not slipping away… more like crashing down a cliff in a giant landslide of age!

What do you think?  Do I think too much?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you cane email me at www.terrilabonte.com

Have a thoughtful day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

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

Quality Of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the quality of your life today!

Terri

 

Trapped Inside My Own Mind

The other day, I left the house exclaiming, “I hate this house.  I just want to sell it and move.”

After the saga of the sod and related lawn issues, the demise of the clothes washer, and the snake incident which also prompted spending a lot of money getting the garage door refurbished and rebalanced, I was about at the end of my tether.  I was on my way out to go pick up a prescription and eat a well-deserved bagel.  I pushed my garage door opener button to close the garage as I pulled out of the driveway and the garage door started to do the hokey-pokey.  It was spontaneously closing partway and then reopening, over and over again.  In retrospect, it may have been user error.  Perhaps my blood sugar was low or my finger was just stuttering.  At any rate, I was done in by this garage door malfunction.  I yelled for Max and he was not able to get the door to work properly either.  There was either something wrong with the door opener or I had just given it a case of terminal confusion with my manic button-pushing. This was early afternoon on Friday. I called the garage door company, thinking they could maybe give us a hint of what to do, since they had just been out THE DAY BEFORE to finish the $1500 refurbishing job to protect us from garter snakes.  The “assistor” told me he could not give me any advice and scheduled a technician to come out on Monday morning…. Approximately 70 hours later. 

I explained that I was not happy about it, but would certainly like to see the technician as early as possible on Monday.  I also left pretty explicit feedback when I received the rather ill-timed email asking me to take a customer satisfaction survey immediately after I hung up with my oh-so-unassisting assistor. 

We closed the garage door manually to prevent unwanted reptilian callers (or should I say “crawlers?”)  Max could tell I was getting unhinged, so he sent me off to get my drugs and bagel.  As I left, in my moment of despair and defeat, I exclaimed, “I hate this house.  I just want to sell it and move.”

To be clear, I don’t really hate my house.  In fact, I love my little house and I quite enjoy living in it.  So, what prompted this temper tantrum?

I think the problem is really that the past year has been filled with so much change, both positive and negative, that the cumulative stress has been building up inside me, whispering, “Feeling this discombobulated can’t be good…. Moving was a huge mistake.”  Verbalizing the sentiment was actually a relief.

The concept has been lurking around in my brain for a few months now, but I have been pushing the whisper away whenever it got too close to the top of my brain. I was terrified that, if I allowed myself to entertain the notion that moving was a mistake, I would have to do something about it.  Now that I had actually uttered the words, “I just want to sell it and move,” the cat was out of the bag.  When nothing tragic happened when I said the words, it somehow felt safer to let myself analyze the possibility of changing course.

As I munched my bagel, I felt the carbohydrates surge through my bloodstream.  I began researching costs for buying a condo in a smaller town in my old state or in another town in the new state.  I also researched renting.  No matter how I looked at it, the economics of moving were horrible.  Even considering all the unexpected money I was spending, moving would be a bad financial decision.  At the conclusion of my analysis, I muttered, “great, I’m trapped.” 

Then, another thought struck me.  Maybe the research wasn’t telling me that I was trapped in a bad decision.  Maybe it was actually supporting the fact that the initial move across country was a good financial decision.  Maybe if I felt trapped, I was simply trapped inside my own mind.  Yes, my new living situation has not been perfect. I do miss elements of my old home.  My psyche is fairly scrambled by the amount of stress and change I’ve experienced in the last year.   That’s all okay, though. It doesn’t mean that the decision to move was a mistake.  I did not expect all the costs and annoyances associated with my new home, but that is pretty typical of new homeowners.  Also, I have been able to afford them and my financial situation is still much better than if I had remained in my old state.  As to the other elements of my old home that I miss, distance does lend some enchantment to the view.  There are things I miss, but there were also things I hated that I just don’t think about any more. Planes do fly both east and west.  I can take one of those planes west to see the friends I miss and eat a decent pizza.   As to my scrambled psyche, maybe I just need to cut myself some slack and acknowledge that it needs some tender loving care.

When I arrived back home, Max was triumphant.  He had the garage door working.  I was skeptical, but everything operated properly throughout the whole weekend.  When the technician called on Sunday night, I explained what happened and we agreed he did not need to come out the next day. 

Things won’t be perfect, no matter where you live, but you can usually create a pretty happy life.  Especially if you maintain some perspective, let the people who love you help overcome the challenges, and eat a bagel now and again. 

So what do you think?  Have you ever struggled with whether a decision you made was the right choice?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a great day!

Terri 🙂