Several years ago I found myself in a place of feeling like every facet of my life felt like ‘work.’ Have you ever felt that way? That no matter what you had your finger in, it just became more investment than reward, more negotiation than resolve, more conflict than peace. More work.
Sharing this with a good friend, his response was to encourage me to “take some time and practice gratitude. Write down everything you are grateful for right now in your life.”
My first reaction was “Oh, thank you Mr. Solution-Oriented Male.” (I’ll own up – he was my pastor.) That’s NOT what I wanted to hear. In fact, I didn’t want to have to DO one more thing.
Yet, within a week or so of that conversation I found myself traveling for work (which I was not happy about). Having some free time one evening, my friend’s recommendation was ringing in my ears so I bought a journal and started writing down what I was grateful for.
At first it was a great struggle. But then, I changed the ‘what’ to ‘who’. And then the writing became easy. I began writing down the names of so many friends. Friends from childhood that were still good friends. Friends from my late twenties that I met during a season in a social organization. Friends from my faith community. Friends at work. Friends that had moved away but we still stayed in touch.
By the time I finished writing and looked at my long list, my heart was indeed grateful. My mind began to clear and I began to have a fresh perspective on changes I could make in my life to lessen the ‘work.’
Thank God for my friends.
Today I’m embracing and returning to that much-needed gratitude exercise. Last week, after a 7-year decent into Alzheimer’s, my mother passed away.
August 12th of 2007, one day after my parents’ 55th wedding anniversary, my father died. While a biopsy was not possible, his doctors believed he had mesothelioma – asbestos poisoning in the lungs. He lasted less than 4 months after his diagnosis.
The very next day, August 13, my mother began to die. Depression over the loss of my dad overwhelmed her and, on its heels, dementia stormed in like a freight train. There was no slowing it or stopping it. In a short season, my mom went from being someone whose wicked sense of humor and boisterous laughter could fill a cavernous ballroom, to someone who struggled to get out of bed and take care of daily tasks. And she continued to decline.
It Takes A Village
They say it takes a village to raise a child. I’m here to tell you it also takes a village when you’re caring for an aging, declining parent. If this is you, let me say first: I’m with you, I’m for you, and I’m in your corner. I understand because I have lived the ‘long goodbye’ and have spent a lot of time in the last seven years taking over finances, negotiating bad decisions, managing expectations and endlessly re-adjusting to yet one more stage of a “new normal”. Then came one of the worst days of my life when I moved my mom from her home of 50 years into an adult family home.
Countless first-time moms (and dads) have lived through the anxiety of the days approaching the first time s/he’s going to drop the new baby or young child off at daycare before going back to work.
The mental stew of worry begins:
“Will they love and take care of her the way that I do?”
“Will I be able to reach her in time if something should happen?”
“Will she cry all day when I leave?”
“Will I really be able to go through with this?”
Those questions and emotions are similar when moving a parent out of their home and into a care facility. Plus, you know they’re not ever going home again.
The events of the past seven years created a very full backpack that was too heavy for me to carry alone; and too heavy to expect my spouse alone to help me carry.
Thank God for my friends.
Just as with that previous ‘work’ season in my life, I pause today to celebrate and give thanks for how the support of my friends carried me and sustained me during this terribly sad and stressful season. For my two best friends-who still live in our hometown-who carved out time for me again and again in those first years when I would need to ‘unload’ the latest frustration or heartache that I had discovered on my visits to my mom.
My BFFs here in Seattle and at multiple points across the country who constantly made themselves available in person, on the phone, via email, text – whatever communication I could find time to grab. They consistently responded “I’m here.” My cousin who is like a sister to me. And countless others who listened over coffee. Each connection was an opportunity to vomit out the toxin and create room for healing, wisdom and perspective.
And, my neighbors. How grateful I am for my neighbors who have become so much more than neighbors, but my dear friends. Especially the women of my book club who frequently coached me through the ‘what do I do about this’ endless series of challenges.
The loss of my mom, whom I loved so much, is yet another reminder of why I want to always be expanding my circle of friends. How incredibly fortunate I’ve been to have such wonderful people in my life, supporting me and encouraging me through a long, difficult season. It definitely took a village. And, how fortunate I am that so many of these people lived within walking distance of my home, being so accessible.
Spring is a time of new beginnings, as well as a time for a surge in local housing sales. New people are moving to the greater Seattle area everyday. Many are moving away from their families for the first time. Their once solid network of support is now several hundred or several thousand miles away. Some are relocating from a different country. And, as they arrive, their ‘real lives’ don’t go on hiatus. Life keeps happening every day in every way for all of us – the exciting, the happy, and the very sad. We need each other for all of it.
If I’ve learned anything in my first 50 years, it’s that real life – as well as a real friend – is always waiting for us just around the corner. Real life will always find us. A good friend will help us find a meaningful way through it.
Let’s continue to encourage each other to be purposeful about welcoming someone new – a neighbor, a co-worker, a club member – into our friendship circles. You never know – as we reach out to perhaps fill a need in a new neighbor’s life, they might turn out to be just the person that we’ll need for that next chapter of our lives.