Transitioning from 2022 to 2023

I feel off balance at the beginning of this new year. Maybe I was assuming that the beginning of a new year would result in the obliteration of the old year and a fresh start without any garbage from the past year. But I’ve been around the block enough times to know that this isn’t the way it works.

We had brutal cold and snowy, icy roads during the last couple weeks of December that disrupted our Christmas celebrations so the wrapped presents were still under the tree Christmas night and the ham was still in the three season room waiting to be carved. Now January has been almost balmy, feeling more like late November weather. And we have been in Florida during the first weeks of January for most of the past 35 years, but not this year.

The past year was a very stressful year for us, a year of sadness, a year of “missings.” Yesterday Jim went into our travel trailer to check things out and came back saying he really likes our camper. We didn’t use it at all last summer – it was jacked up without wheels. We both miss the summer road trips pulling our summer home behind us and he is wondering whether we will use it this next summer. I told him that last summer we didn’t go out because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to do the heavy work that is required of him. This year he is doing better with medications and I said that we wouldn’t know if he could do it unless he tried. He was happy with this answer.

I have been working on being patient this past year as Jim is struggling with coming to terms with the impact that Myasthenia Graves is having on his life – the weakened and cramping muscles, decreased energy, and sometimes slow mental processing. Watching him struggle to find meaning for his life has triggered the memories of my struggles adjusting to living with fibromyalgia. I remember so well the pain of loosing my sense of self and fearing that I no longer had value, that I had no purpose for living. I am remembering the scene of Jim telling me, with tears, that he missed me – and I, with tears, saying I missed me too. I don’t feel like I have lost him although I struggle to be patient when he gets stuck thinking things through when solving problems with me. Yes, I remember my own mental fog that used to sometimes be like pea soup.

In January, after the tree is taken down but the manger scene is still on the table in the middle of my living room, I am reflecting on how the birth of Jesus should impact on who I am and what I do within the social context of 2023. What difference does it make in how I live my life that Jesus was born 2023 years ago? What do I need to do as a 78 year old woman who deeply loves a man who is struggling with health issues; a woman who has needed to take on the work of negotiating with people and making hundreds of decisions in our rebuild project after Hurricane Ian flooded our condo in Florida; a woman who is fearful for democracy here in the U.S. and around the world, who fears for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and those in underdeveloped nations who will hurt because those before them have destroyed the environment? I know what I would like to do as I ponder the teachings of Jesus, but I also know I have limitations due to age and decreased physical functioning. I would love to get involved, to work for justice, but the fatigue that forced me to retired from paid work also makes it impossible to volunteer in the world of work. I have been working on patience for a long, long time but now I need something different – I am feeling called to practice gentleness.

As I wrote that last phrase, I feel this calling deeply and intensely within my soul – I need to become a gentlewoman if I am going to successfully deal with life, that messy life that is following me from 2022 to 2023. I will start by being gentle with myself as I define what it would be like to be a gentlewoman. And my knowledge of how people change tells me that I will need to start practicing personal gentleness until it becomes a part of who I am. At the same time I will practice gentleness (along with honesty, firmness and grace) with those people that I live with. This is consistent with the research (Harvard Longitudinal Longevity Study) that has found that as we age social relationships are very important for our mental and physical well-being.

Have you thought about what the start of a new year means for you? What guiding principles do you draw on when thinking about who you are and how you want to be? I think the process of maturing/aging is the same for everyone – we just go about it differently.

Living in the Age of Covid-19: Coping

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These are normally my two places to rest, rejuvenate, start my day and end my day – my favorite chair in my reading room or my purple porch swing on the front porch. These are safe places. But life has changed in so many ways and I am feeling the impact. Research has found that people can only stay in a crisis mode for about 6 weeks before the seek a resolution, a way to cope. Sometimes we find adaptive ways to cope and other times it seems like the only options are maladaptive. We try to move back to our old ways of coping, but sometimes our world had changed so drastically that we can’t find our way back to what was.

I continue to try to identify and name how I am reacting to the pandemic, the Trump presidency, increased focus on racial injustices, and the impact of global warming. Mostly I have settled into exhaustion with brief breakthroughs of peace and joy when concentrating on sewing quilt tops and canning the wonderful fresh produce that Michigan summers provide. Frequently I have felt tears at the back of my eyes that leads me to believe that I am mourning our losses.

So many of us are in this boat – each having loss many things that are very dear. My greatest loss seems to be a sense of safety – I feel the threat of the corona virus, the extreme damages Trump has wrought on what our country stands for (even with all of our faults and blemishes), and the looming threat of global warming. And my heart aches for the hundreds of thousands of people who have loss loved ones or have loss their health due to the virus. And I feel rage that the pandemic and its consequences are a thousand times worse than they should be here in the U.S. because of the incompetence, denial of reality, and narcissism of our president. And then it makes me angry that I hate someone as much as I hate that man and all the people who support him. Lord, have mercy on me.

It helped to write the previous paragraph, a little, but I’ve expressed similar thought before. But there are other things I need to write, I want to express, but something gets in the way, blocks the path from soul to brain to fingers. Maybe they are thoughts that are either half baked or seem too inconsequential within the magnitude, the enormity of what we as a country and a world are experiencing. I want to put to words the minor frustrations that I am experiencing from the crisis we are experiencing.

This past week we went camping on Lake Huron, the Great Lake that is the border on the eastern side of the lower peninsula. I had been looking forward to this get-away with a couple who is similarly terrified of the virus. I wanted to run away from everything just for a little while. But it didn’t work because there was always that nagging fear in the back of my brain that maybe it was a mistake even though we encountered just a handful of other people. I found that I longed to be home piecing my quilt top and by Thursday I really wanted to just pack up and go home. As we were driving home today, Friday, I decided I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to turn around and go somewhere for another week. My take-away is that I can’t escape any of it, no matter where I go.

I am also irritated at how cautious I am whenever I leave my “clean” space. Every time I leave the house I am continually calculating how safe my movement is, who I am coming in contact with, and how to avoid being close to people – especially people who don’t have masks on. (And then I have to deal with my rage at people who refuse to wear a mask because it infringes on their personal freedom – damn them all to hell. Oh Lord, have mercy on me again.)

This same cautiousness happens when I bring things into the house. I can’t seem to separate rational caution from irrational. When we returned home I had to unpack a lot of the food from our camper before I could fix some supper. As I took things from the carrying boxes, I felt the impulse to disinfect them – and to wash my hands yet again. And I wonder if I’m being overly cautious, irrationally cautious. Sometimes I am and then sometimes I slip back into old ways and I fear that I let some virus in. Damn, it is exhausting.

Most of all I’m trying to make sense of my reaction to the pandemic (and my reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement that will have to wait until another post). The pandemic hasn’t affected my economics but it has my social relationships. The pandemic hasn’t impacted on my health but it has on my movement within my community. I haven’t lost a job but I have loss my sense of direction. I have loss my safety because I believe I have about a 40% chance of dying if I am infected. I don’t want my husband, family and friends to experience the pain of my death. I don’t want to lose my husband, and I don’t want all the people who love him to experience the pain of his death. I am afraid – but within my fear and grief are times of joy and happiness. I’ll share some of those next post.

Sister Hole

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My sister died yesterday of a brain aneurysm. My editing of the photo from my last post is crude but death isn’t pretty and leaves us survivors feeling a bit beat up. There is a gaping hole filled only with jumbled memories of a lifetime. I like closure but the hours and days after a death leave me adrift. I’m exhausted but feel a need to do something.

Have you experienced the subtle changes that take place in families with each death. We three sisters lost our father, but mom was there to keep everyone up to date on family happenings. When she died I felt that burden shift to my shoulders – holding the family together. I didn’t do a very good job because – well, staying connected is hard work, we don’t live in the same town, and I hate making phone calls. They didn’t call me either. When I did connect with each of them our first laughter was always about how much we hate talking on the phone and then we talk for a couple of hours. There is a lot of catching up to do when we haven’t connected for a year or two.

We loved each other, gone sister and me. We knew we were there for each other even though some people would say we weren’t very close. But those people are basing their conclusion on external demonstrations of love. We didn’t have to share our every problem to know that the other cared. We just do and we know that we do. That’s enough.

I finally found and connected with sister three to tell her. She had been in South Dakota and was driving across Minnesota. They are figuring how to make it to the memorial. We saw them on our drive home from out west but I really need to see her and hug her now. I remember my Grandma saying to me, after a death of someone important to her, that everyone was gone. I wanted to say, “But you have me.” Now I am understanding that lonely feeling – sister three and I are the only ones left of our childhood family.

It is the same with all the cousins. I’ve contacted most of them and made sure they contacted some others. I don’t see them often but look forward to seeing them at the memorial. Another indication that life changes – we used to see each other at graduations and weddings but now it is deaths. All the aunts and uncles have died so we are the older generation. I remember great aunts and uncles and how old they were as they sat together at family celebrations. Funny, but the cousins I look forward to sitting with aren’t nearly as old but we are the next generation to die. Sister is cousin number two. We will talk about how that shakes us up. And we will be glad we are together.