Call it a midlife crisis. Call it “searching for 40s wisdom.” Call it simply one person’s innate curiosity. Whatever way I choose to phrase it, I have a lot of questions and not many answers at the moment. And for the last week these lingering unknowns have seemed to suck the energy and motivation right out of me. Please tell me there are others of you out there who have experiences something similar.
The questions began shortly after my grandfather passed away two days before Christmas. I began delving into my memories of him from childhood to the present, and analyzing the changes I had observed in him over the years. From him telling me he was too young to be called Grandpa (which he whole-heartedly denied ever saying this summer) to his changing perspectives of education and life experience gained in “the real world” to what family means and the way he seemed to reject his cancer diagnoses and prognosis 3 years ago, his death brought up a lot of memories, questions and thoughts.
For my mom, his death meant more. He was the most consistent father-figure she had experienced in her formative years. He was kind to her, and made her laugh when she listened to him reading mixed-up versions of childrens’ stories to her younger brother. He was the one who comforted her when she broke her arm and, when she was younger, he exemplified what she believed a young father should be. Now anyone who knew my grandfather knows this statement is kind of an oxymoron. As he grew older and married and divorced a few more times, and had children younger than myself, my grandfather’s connection with his children and grandchildren changed. Some saw him more, others less. He was odd and opinionated and knew a lot about everything. He embraced some grandchildren and barely knew others, but for my mom his death was the last connection to her childhood. The last person who shared her memories of a particular time in her life long ago. As a result, the stress and the grief caused something physical to release in her body that had laid dormant for three years. The same virus that had attacked her eye years earlier and resulted in loss of sight and a corneal transplant, had returned and it rocked my mom both physically and emotionally. I’ve watched her struggle for the last couple of months while enduring countless doctor’s appointments and winter in the Berkshires, when she’d rather be active, and vibrant and social with my father and their friends at their second-home in Florida.
Besides these life-altering events during the Christmas holidays, my family encountered another tragedy. After an 8-month battle with bladder cancer, my father-in-law was admitted into the hospital the day after Christmas due to intense pain that he had been experiencing for nearly two months which had impacted his ability to eat, and resulted in a severe amount of weight loss. My husband and his brother flew down to Alabama on New Year’s day and returned home to New England with a treatment plan underway and optimism in their hearts and mind four days later. A week later, just two days after learning that the cancer had returned and my father-in-law had approximately 3-6 months left to live, he died suddenly and unexpectedly. The call came at 5 a.m. on Jan. 12.
At the same time a friend’s mother was diagnosed with colon cancer, and another family that my husband and I knew as children lost their mother as a result of a massive heart attack. A young mother in town is battling breast cancer and countless others have learned of new diagnoses.
A very strange ending to 2011 and beginning of a new year. My husband said he hopes the new year will start out in February. It’s been a long hall, with lots of tears, and late-night talks, kids struggling to go to school at times, and many in this household tossing and turning at night, craving just a little more sleep.
So I guess it’s no wonder that I have been struggling with mortality, spirituality, defining relationships and life and goals lately, and feeling, at times, beaten down by all this. Yesterday I was told, “No wonder you have no energy, you are trying to take care of everything and everyone else.” Maybe it’s the former psychotherapist in me, but I have this urge to make things better, and when I can’t or I’m struggling to figure out how, I begin to lose faith in myself, in people, and in God.
Now, for those who were looking for an upbeat post this week, I apologize for the morbidity the beginning of this post brings, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel in all this, I think.
You see, when I am struggling I have the habit of asking lots of questions and opening my heart and mind to new experiences. In the past couple of months I have met new friends and re-entered the church that I had been avoiding for almost six years. I have been enlightened by art and color and a desire to organize anything and everything (thank-you to my sister for letting me experiment), and I have found peace in a new Sunday morning ritual in a make-shift chapel/sanctuary. I have seen people connect and become passionate over a common cause, and I have seen others begin to ask questions for the first time instead of questioning what is. In other instances when I have felt as if life as turned upside down, I begin to re-evaluate my priorities, redefine my goals, and make a game plan. And through all this, I begin to become more accepting of myself and others, even though my motto to do this often has to be “I will agree to disagree with you.”
The problem, that although the final result is usually a peaceful, zen-like, “I’ve got it all together” type of feeling, getting there is not that easy. I get angry, I perseverate on things, I bring up old grudges, and I feel the need to call myself, as well as others on their “shit.” I may vent, I may share “what I really feel about you” and I may lie in bed at night with lots of ungodly thoughts swimming through my brain. But then surprisingly … I let it go. I get back to basics. I write. I organize. I connect with those who tend to light up my life, make me think and who surround themselves with positive energy that radiates from their pores. I embrace my kids and my husband and my puppy, Murph, and I relish our time with family. And then I start to feel whole again.
I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there. But isn’t that just the way life goes.
P.S. In a previous post I asked anyone out there who actually reads these crazy ramblings of mine to show their support by donating to a fund in memory of my friend’s mom who passed away in November. If you are interested we are currently accepting donations in memory of my-father-in-law Duane McIlquham for the Dalton Lions Club. Checks can be mailed made out to the Dalton Lions Club and sent to Mark McIlquham, 2 Depot Street, Dalton, MA 01226. Thank you in advance.
Coming up next … I’ll share with you my brief trip into a world of peace, friendship, relaxation and COLOR!!!! Here is just a sample of what I saw …