Light’s always been there.
Behind a tree, guiding me.
Till dark storm clouds passed.
“Get your ducks in a row,” the polished silver haired woman seated before me advised.
A few months after my husband Richard passed away from dementia, and a year after my Mom did the same, I thought I better see a grief counselor.
“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?” I’d asked myself one night in the mirror.
Previously I’d attended a group session for family members of those who’d passed while in hospice, but I left feeling worse then when I went in.
I no longer needed to share my tears and grief over Mom and Richard, but instead wanted to move on with my life. After a decade of caregiving responsibilities related to memory loss for both of my parents and my spouse, I was ready.
Yet I was still mourning what I saw as the loss of ten years of my life.
I felt I’d gone from middle aged to old with the snap of an arthritic finger.
So as I sat with this wise woman before me for my two sessions, I took her advice to heart.
I knew I wasn’t getting any younger, but getting my affairs in order so I could fully enjoy the rest of my days made good sense.
As I sat down by the lake this morning watching sailboats and the family of happy ducks before me, I reflected on the changes I’ve made in the last eight months.
I’ve swapped both houses and communities.
I retired early from my corporate career, and I’m now working in the non profit sector with children.
And I believe I am at peace.
Sharing a muffin with the ducks, I thought too of a former co-worker from my corporate days who experienced rough patches in her own life. She is now an accomplished and very talented poet.
I believe she’s very content and proud of a new book she just published that I finished earlier this morning.
She should be.
And I thought again of contentment as I greeted another former co-employee later at the farmers’ market, a few blocks up from the the lake.
This bright fellow’s become a farmer.
It was an unplanned lifestyle change, starkly different from his corporate life in the city, but it seems to agree with him.
Buying a bunch of red radishes from my friend, my eye caught a basket of colorful notecards with photos he’d taken on his beautiful farm.
An expression of pride immediately spread across his face as I selected the shot of a cheerful and smiling pig to send to an ailing friend.
“You know, these aren’t at all easy to capture on a pig’s face,” he told me, smiling wide as well.
After I left I was thinking how different ships come in during the course of our lives as we venture to different ports of call.
And we always encounter storms along the way.
But in the end, perhaps what provides us peaceful passage may just be those very smiles we give and receive.
I was thinking yesterday, moving out of your home can be like a root canal gone bad.
The pain seems to go on forever.
My back was finally complaining this week after 23 days of urban camping.
A.K.A., sleeping on the floor because my bed and the rest of the furniture have been in storage.
And my cold fingers and ears chimed in as the winter gear has been resting along side it.
I’ve learned coordinating with multiple moving partners can cause a major relapse on bad habits like biting your nails and avoiding reality.
At least it has for me.
And repeated phone calls to straighten out double billings in wrong names and wrong languages haven’t helped any.
Yet with the first frost coming I had to at least try and make those calls again to get my belongings back this week.
But all now seemed aligned, and I had my delivery perfectly scheduled for yesterday morning when I’d have a few hours off from work.
Or at least thought all was perfect until I discovered my work schedule had changed.
So I called in my daughter Nicole from the field to pinch hit.
Knowing I’d be unreachable at work, I left her my cell phone so she could triage the inevitable confusion and emergency issues with my mover and storage folks.
I kept biting my long nails shorter all morning, wondering how it was going.
Finally, I was free to call Nicole from a break room phone right before noon.
There was no answer.
Trying again and again, I reached her on the fifth attempt as she pulled into a gas station on her way home.
“All is well,” Nicole proclaimed.
But I remained skeptical.
There just had to be a snag some where.
Isn’t there always one?
Walking gingerly into my kitchen after work, I first picked up my cell phone on the counter to check for my missed calls.
And I found some.
In fact, a lot of them.
There were multiple missed calls from the same number but no voice mail.
“Now what?” I mumbled.
Problems with the credit card for the mover?
Or is it the gas company again, I wondered.
Frustrated, I glanced up as I entered a very peaceful living room on the way to the back bedroom.
I stopped in my tracks.
There really was furniture, including a bed, off in the distance.
My daughter had even decorated the place.
And she did so beautifully.
I saw my terrier, Tuck, back napping in his favorite spot on the black sofa.
And my beloved cozy quilt, nestled next to my old reading chair.
I took a long deep breath, then looked again at the phone in my hand, studying the mysterious number for those missed calls.
And I laughed, finally recognizing the number.
“Hey, Tuck,” I said. “That was just crazy me making all those calls from work to my own cell phone.
At that point, I dove into my bed for a very long nap.
And so did Tuck, right at the foot of it, immediately snoring away like always.
It seems we are finally at home.
And as for that pain, the first nap in my own bed was just the perfect Novocain.
September is a month of much change.
Stressful ones apparently.
In fact, four of my current pick hits are showing on a list of life’s top ten stressors.
“Ah, bring it on,” I said to the dogs early this morning.
But an hour later, the pen I’d been using for all those related to do lists had run dry.
And it seemed I had as well.
I drove into town to find some greatly needed lake therapy.
And I found it there on the beach as soon as I overheard a wise man speak my favorite words, “It’s all good”.
I smiled, knowing he was right.
I moved to the breezy dock and stood for a while watching the early morning sailboat regatta with my cup of coffee.
“Breathe, just breathe,” I sang softly to myself in my best Kelly Clarkson voice.
And I did, taking in as much crisp fall air as my lungs would absorb.
It was just the high octane fuel I needed to sail back home and start cleaning out my basement as part of a downsizing effort.
I discovered once there it actually can be “all good”, even below ground.
And surely will be, when the tough task’s completed.
Oh, what a glorious gift change really is.
I’ve been reading a lot.
And thinking too much.
Probably not too surprising as I’ve entered the second act of my life’s play.
A milestone birthday along with a major life change always kickstarts some serious self reflection.
And so will taking a life expectancy quiz, where I’m gently reminded that I have a lot more miles behind me then in front of me.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Instead more like a coaching session to convince me to pick up the pace.
And I’m excited.
In the last year, I’ve discovered in many ways I’m moving back to that girl I once was (except for some graying hair and those wrinkles of wisdom).
What I’m talking about here is jogging back towards my passions.
Writing, drawing, photography, the outdoors.
Those passions from my twenties that rarely were penciled in with work and family responsibilities.
Then finally growing dormant once the cobwebs of family illnesses covered all.
But it doesn’t really matter if I’m older now, with a smaller nest egg as a result.
As I’m much richer for the growing appreciation I have for the years left.
And I don’t need much besides my own health.
When I was young, my life was never more efficient than when I lived in a small studio apartment.
Maybe it would be again, with a library, grocer and a community center where I can volunteer after my senior dogs have passed over the rainbow bridge.
I’d also want a lake nearby as my muse, with ample acres of parkland to travel.
Along with one sturdy mountain bike and a good pair of snowshoes.
Because in the end this second act is simply about playing more.
And smiling more as well.
After a decade of caregiving, I’m now focusing on self care and my own plans for the future. But that focus brings with it more questions than answers.
Such as where will I live?
What do I need to survive?
Can I return to the freedom and transcendence of my twenties?
And is that realistic?
What I do know for sure is I’m often overthinking my decisions, which only leads to over stressing.
So with the chirping chickadees beckoning me out into the sunshine, I’m confident exercise is the right path for me this day.
I head to a nearby park reserve.
Snowshoeing down the canal, I hang a right past two smiling teens in plaid shorts basking in 40 degree temps.
To my left as I enter the lake, I dodge holes left by ice fishermen long gone. Though soon I spot new ones being aggressively augured by ice fisherwomen behind a rusting Chevy truck.
I move on.
My final destination is the simple yet sturdy home of a neighbor.
One I’ve never met, though I know this neighbor’s out of town.
Most likely she’s in Florida, as are many Minnesotans this time of year.
We call them ‘snowbirds’ here in the midwest.
As I get closer, I see this snowbird’s home rests atop the tallest tree on the shoreline.
She’s one very lucky bald eagle.
This elegant bird of strength will be soaring back in March to her familiar nest to lay this year’s eggs.
A smart female, I’m thinking.
Nomadic, yet a bird who knows just what she wants and needs to stay centered.
Flying with grace on her return flight to Minnesota, she’ll settle in again to simplicity and beauty.
Maybe there is a lesson for me woven right into her special nest.
I look up and smile at this simply constructed home of strength.
Once the ice melts I’ll be kayaking over again to welcome the bird back home, as well as to thank her.
In the meantime, I’ll return home to work on simplifying my own nest.
When a major, unforeseen life change slaps you in the face you’ll want to run for cover.
Like to a cave.
I know I did when my husband’s early onset dementia struck my heart like a lightening bolt.
Impacts on life style and finances, when the illness hits your family member in mid-life is cruel at best.
But looking back at the last couple of years, I am grateful for the reminder of the importance of simple gifts and simplicity as a whole.
It was a great gift that my husband was surrounded by so much love the last few years of his life.
And it is a gift now that I continue to downsize, and work towards a more simple life style for the months and years ahead.
I live in a state of confusion.
But a much wiser woman gave me some solid advice earlier this year after my husband passed away.
And her message was simple.
Life would be easier once my financial affairs were in order, and to have fun as life is short.
In hindsight, I’m not sure those 2 conflicting priorities should ever sit in the same sentence.
For months now I’ve been trying to clean up three small small estates. Beside’s my husband’s, there’s one for Mom and another for Dad.
I’ve been wondering if there’s even a dining room table sitting below all those forms and documents anymore.
I do know I haven’t eaten on it since Christmas.
But tonight, I decided to opt for the “hey, life is short” part of the equation.
In Minnesota that means taking advantage of gorgeous days whenever one breezes through. And this afternoon our fall temps rose all the way to 70 degrees.
That is big stuff out here in the snow belt.
We’ve already dipped deep into our annual season of confusion with young gals wearing shorts with their UGG boots and fur trimmed mittens.
And the guys are still going shirtless some days, flexing their tattoos down at the town beach with their thick wool caps pulled tight over their ears.
And their eyes.
Now I had no plans myself for any shorts or shirtless activity but I still drove down to join them after work, parking my own purple parka in the Subaru.
Though I admit I did strip off my morning wool socks so I could wear the flip flops I’d filed in the car trunk, right next to the snow brush and the estate form I’d misplaced.
After our group admired the fall colors and plentiful sunshine, we all bought chocolate ice cream cones to cool off.
And then some steaming hot cocoa to warm ourselves up.
I guess we really are confused out here.
Or maybe it’s just me.
I’d hoped to travel out of state this past weekend for a very special event, but it didn’t happen.
The costs were more than I could handle right now.
After finally filing my taxes for last year, the full enormity of the $6200 monthly bills I was paying for my husband’s care hit me.
Along with a big bill to my state’s department of revenue.
No wonder I cringe as I look at my aging roof when I come home from work each day. And I’m nervous to call the repairman about the 1959 oven in my house that’s been acting up.
Yet I’ve been fortunate.
My husband’s care was filled with love, the roof hasn’t yet leaked, and I’m happy with cold salads for dinner.
At least for now.
I still even managed a short road trip this weekend to a new destination.
And I discovered while there, a Plan B can be filled with just as much joy as a Plan A.
Particularly when it’s held in a peaceful setting with placid waters.
Brillant, under tall trees with leaves of red, orange and gold.
And blessed with a bonus gift of 2700 acres of wildlife to hike.
Perhaps it’s true that some of the best things in life really are still free.
Or at least pretty darn close.