Here’s to Life …

It’s been an incredibly unique year. One riddled with loss, illness and transition. One consistently challenging and inviting me, (which one depends on the day), to acceptance, flexibility, resilience, living with the truth of ambiguity and uncertainty, and more. My mom died in January. She was recovering from respiratory heart failure in a nursing care facility, caught Covid-19, seemed to be recovering fine, fell the morning of January tenth, and died by the evening. All month as we approached her services, and after throughout February, dad was being diagnosed with lung cancer and gearing up for a treatment plan. I spent February taking dad to all the testing, and helping him clean out mom’s stuff and our “family home” in general of forty-five years of accumulated stuff. The end of February and the first few days of March, I went home to California for six days before returning to Illinois the eve of March 8th to live with my father and support he and my siblings during dad’s treatment: chemotherapy once a week for six weeks and thirty radiation treatments during the same time. Ironically, chemotherapy ended in April the Tuesday of Holy Week, and radiation the Monday after Easter Sunday.

I then stayed another two and a half weeks to be sure my father was regaining some strength and able to be in the house alone before returning home to California just before Mother’s Day weekend in May. My husband and I came back by the end of May for a week to help dad begin to look for possible housing to transition to that would not include stairs, be less space to manage inside and out, and put him in a better long term economic position. With the help of my siblings, the day before dad’s birthday, July 8th, he put in an offer on a home by a lake in a fifty-five and over community about forty minutes or so from his home. On his birthday, it was accepted. And for the month of July, my husband helped him work with a realtor and lawyer to close the deal with the final closing happening with my sister’s support Friday, July twenty-ninth. Now, as of the past several days, dad has had a developing cough and then shortness of breath. And so today, August third, he went to the ER with my brother per his heart doctor’s suggestion. Dad had several scans, has been admitted for pneumonia and to stabilize his pulse oxygen number. 

My siblings and I, our life partners, my daughters and their significant others all continue to walk together, breathe and take one day at a time, as we marvel at the strangeness of both and in the mix, and scoop up lessons and gifts along the pathway of all this. Mom’s death was both tragic, and coming as her health had been greatly declining. Dad’s diagnosis both felt “unfair” particularly in the mix of losing mom, and brought dad’s children and life partners closer as we realized we had to work together to tend everything needing tended for mom’s services and dad’s care. It was both incredibly challenging to be away from my home in California, spring season there, my husband and children, and, dad and I made many memories during that time I will cherish over a lifetime. Like having walleye four or five times while it was in season at Culvers in February and March since it’s one of dad’s favorites. Like being with Dad for the first fire of the season in his fireplace through the last, knowing how much the mystery of it’s warmth and glow means to both of us, and also knowing it was likely the last fire season in the house using the fireplace he and my grandfather built forty-five years ago. Being away from home and caring for dad during his treatments as his body got weaker and weaker was both hard, and, it allowed me more time with my siblings and high school friends, particularly my best friend, than I ever get living so far from each other otherwise. 

At first, with mom’s death and moving in to help care for dad, I was disoriented as to where and what my life was now? part of me wanted my “old life back”. And part of me realized, “this IS your life, silly”. Yet this, too, was a weird both and. My life had drastically changed into a new routine and way of being in so many ways. So of course I would yearn for the comfort and familiarity of before; have the desire to be living back more directly with my husband in California, even as he traveled often for his work. And, I was forming new routines, finding new places and ways to do morning devotions, get my exercise in, integrate my work online with caring for dad and his house and yard. 

All of this transition, loss, dad’s illness, required acceptance of what was, flexibility into what was needed each day – for dad, me or my siblings or life partner. A lack of surrender or acceptance on some level meant wrestling with resistance that served nothing helpful in the end. Even as I certainly needed to allow and be with my feelings of frustration, the real loss of life as I previously knew it, resisting realityfor too long meant the misery of being chained to the unrealistic desire of what i wanted things to be rather than moving together with “what was”. There simply was greater freedom in the latter. Particularly as I remembered it was not “either or” regarding the good and bad, the blessing and curse of all this. It was both and. As the Indigo Girls sing in one of their songs. “The curse and the blessing are one and the same. It’s all, such a treacherous game”.

I have moved to a whole new level of acceptance, flexibility, and resiliency these past months. I have learned more and more to remember what is really important. And not waste time sweating the small stuff. When you have limited energy and need to be as efficient as possible with time, you learn a lot about letting a lot go. When you feel knocked down enough times in a row, and have to decide whether you will just stay down, or get back up yet again, you are glad for every song, piece of art, scripture or prayer of every and any faith, your friends and countless other things that keep encouraging or picking you back up again. It’s really quite something how all these things and more just seem to find us, flooding back into our heart, soul and mind through various means. Each one a true incarnation of love, goodness and grace, teaching or reminding us that this is the raw material of resiliency. And it’s beauty full. Pure gift. 

And so, this eve of August fourth, in a year already so riddled with so much loss, illness and transition. A year more than any other when I know on a deeper level how I have no idea what tomorrow or the rest of this week is going to bring. I put on the Indigo girls, recall some inspiring scriptures and prayers, text some family and friends to feel connected there, sprinkling some self-compassion in with yet more acceptance, flexibility and resilience. I contemplate dancing, or drumming, using all these spontaneous, life giving choices as further practice for moving well with the current rather than fighting against it. There’s just so much more healthy energy, freedom and life there. And I’m convinced healthy energy, freedom and life are meant to be part of the dance of every good life, and the dance shared by all Life.

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