One of Louise Penny’s characters, Myrna, who is a psychologist in the book Still Life, discusses a quote, “Life is loss.”
Myrna goes on to say, “But out of that comes freedom. If we can accept that nothing is permanent, and that change is inevitable, if we can adapt, then we are going to be happier people.” (My note: Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament emphasizes the same idea.)
Myrna explains a turning point in her career and life, “I woke up one morning bent out of shape about this client who was forty-three but acting sixteen. For three years he had always had the same complaints, ‘Someone hurt me. Life is unfair. It’s not my fault.’
For three years I’d been making suggestions and for three years he’d done nothing. I suddenly understood. He had no intention of changing…
Many people love their problems. They give them all sorts of excuses for not growing up and getting on with life…… They spend their whole life waiting for someone to save them or at least protect them from the big, bad world.
The thing is, no one else can save them because the problem is theirs and so is the solution. Only they can get them out of it….but that is the grace.….the fault lies within them, but so does the solution.”
These thoughts speak to my stage of life and current challenges. My life has changed drastically since the beginning of this year. But what I am experiencing is that while there are sorrows in life that have no physical solution, we can change how we see them and find the gift they bring.
Just last fall my husband and I traveled with one of our sons around the South West of France. This is Middle Pyrenees’ country so it involved quite a bit of uphill walking and stair climbing. My husband wants to explore every inch of Castles and ruins. We recently turned eighty and seventy-nine, so it was a challenge, but we managed it using a walker in some places and taking lots of Bistro breaks. He still designs on his computer in his home Architecture office and I cook and clean, do his bookkeeping, and chauffeur grandchildren and friends to malls, museums, restaurants and even the zoo. I also lead worship once a month and began at seventy-five doing some stand up comedy on aging. So, though no longer young, we had interesting and purposeful lives.
Until New Year’s Eve.
Then I became ill with a respiratory infection and ended up bedridden for three weeks. The day after I got well enough to grocery shop, we were shut in by snow and ice for two weeks. The next week, I tripped carrying laundry down our hall and broke my right shoulder in three places. The two weeks waiting for surgery were unbelievably hard for both of us. I was totally helpless and in excruciating pain even with pain medicine, so my husband had to do everything for me around the clock. But his tenderness and constant concern for me brought us to a whole new level of intimacy and love. I had never felt so cherished and tenderly and totally loved by anyone except God. Even in the worst pain I had ever experienced, there was joy.
But after my reverse shoulder replacement surgery, it was obvious my husband was too exhausted to continue taking care of me. So I went to a nursing home for physical therapy for two weeks to get over the worst of my pain and helplessness and give him time to recoup. After the first few days, I actually enjoyed the people I met in therapy. Even the therapists and nurses were kind and laughed at my jokes. The food was amazingly good, and my room was filled with beautiful flowers. Friends and family came to visit bringing treats. I didn’t have to clean or cook and aides even helped me shower and dress. After eating in my room a few days until I could manage it left handed without baptizing those near me, I went to the beautiful sunny dining room for meals. The first day, since dressing took help, I was in my slightly scroungy clothes for Physical Therapy. So I felt seriously intimidated when I realized the other women were dressed in elegant suits with matching jewelry. I soon relaxed however when a caregiver came around and put large terry cloth bibs on all of us. Bibs are a great leveler. I confess there were times after I returned home that I missed my vacation experience. As I left the facility the therapists and nurses asked me to return to do some stand up comedy for the people living there.
When I came home we managed well with lots of help from our son and daughter-in- law who live near by and friends at church who fed us frequently for two months. My husband drove me to out patient therapy and we celebrated each bit of progress such as the red letter day I could use my right hand for eating and brushing my teeth. Becoming able to shower and then finally even dress myself were momentous events. With each small accomplishment I felt like an Olympic winner.
But, then my husband, who has had lung problems previously, came down with the respiratory infection. After three weeks in bed none of the steroids or antibiotics had helped and he was fighting to breathe and almost too weak to get to the car. He was hospitalized for two weeks while the increased steroids and antibiotics not only didn’t help him, but gave him thrush in his mouth and throat and a yeast infection in his esophagus. A bronchoscopy finally showed that he had serious permanent lung damage from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, which is incurable and progressive. They sent us home with my husband too weak to walk, unable to get up from a chair without help, and still having trouble breathing when sitting up or standing. Fortunately, I had been cleared to drive the day before he went to the hospital and even our children who lived in other cities and states rallied and helped get us through the first hard weeks. About mid-May my husband began to go to therapy with me to build up muscles in his legs. We were managing fairly well with two walkers and a new to us larger car we had just gotten at Christmas. Good timing once again.
We found many people our age and even younger with problems similar or worse than ours at therapy. And we bonded with them and laughed together more and more. We went to therapy three days a week and it became the highlight of our week. We both improved enough that when I ran out of Medicare for therapy, he was able to continue on his own. When we were able to go back to church everyone applauded and welcomed us back with hugs, which I managed to turn my left side toward. Grace abounds in community, whether of shared challenges or shared faith.
We found that we were still limited in how much we could do physically. If we did what used to be a normal amount one day, we were wiped out the next. My natural rhythm for work is to work in spurts and do something pleasant and sedentary in between, so it suited me to not over do. (In fact, it was sort of nice not to have to feel guilty about it.) But my husband just naturally works until a job is done or he is exhausted, so this was a difficult adjustment for him. Finding some TV series that were mentally stimulating on Netflix helped him accept the need to rest and increased our time spent together. For a while, I needed to do most of the house hold chores my husband used to do, like taking garbage out and filling bird feeders and watering outside plants. After his devotion to me when I broke my shoulder, it was a joy to have the chance to do things for him. He had always preferred cold cereal while he read the paper undisturbed early in the morning, so I used to sleep in (I tend to want to talk). Now I managed to get up four or five days to fix hot breakfasts that he needed and now began to enjoy. He even started reading bits of things from the paper to me and we discussed them or laughed about them. More and more we have begun to see the humor in even frustrating things. These are new blessings for us.
To be continued…………Learning to Live One Day at a Time.