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Posts Tagged ‘facing adversity’

I cannot believe that I have not written a word here in over six months. Perhaps I should break that statement up. I can’t believe that I have not written, period. And I can’t believe it is nearly six months.

Externally, nothing has changed. We remain unsettled, searching for employment so that we can have our own home again. But internally, where it counts, there’s been growth and healing. The battle isn’t over, but we feel like survivors. More than ever before, we recognize the strength of our union. Not all marriages could have withstood all that we have. We make a damned good team.

It’s easy to gloss over the difficulties we’ve experienced. Grief, worry, regret – every negative thought that had plagued us for over two years continued to lurk in the background these past months, waiting for those times when we seemed most vulnerable. Late night drives into our current subdivision brought flashbacks of the night of our move, and caused me to have panic attacks. I couldn’t sleep. Food suddenly caught in my throat as I ate. I was drowning in guilt over what I should have done differently. My husband was obsessed with feelings of failure. Gradually, though, we collected an arsenal of “weapons” to combat the pain we’ve felt. Such is survival. It’s instinctive.

The day-to-day needs of our new household became our lifeline. Mindless chores kept us from dwelling on our situation. We took our sweet little dog on long walks through the subdivision, the nearby park, the trails winding their way through the protected forests of the Oak Ridges Moraine. We compared one home’s choice of landscaping to the next, and laughed as our dog compulsively left his mark on every pole and tree he could find. It’s hard to stay depressed as you watch a tiny shih tzu attempt world domination in a half-hour walk.

There were times when we allowed ourselves to hope: the possibility of a contract being extended; companies that expressed interest in consulting contracts; success on the first day of a new sales job; a third interview for a new position that was a perfect fit. But inevitably, there were disappointments. A contract ended; a company decided against consulting when they checked their books and saw another month “in the red”; the realization that customers simply weren’t buying Toyotas, and that seeing just one customer a day left him earning less than minimum wage; a sudden silence after a third interview, and the suspicion that the only edge another candidate likely had on him was being younger.

Each time, we searched online for homes near these positions, so that if things worked out, we’d be ready to move. We collected a running list of “favourites,” keeping track of those that sold, and the new listings that came up. And when our hopes crashed, we learned to pull back for a while, stop looking, and give ourselves time to regroup. We read. We walked. We watched television and played mindless computer games. Did you know that Spider Solitaire can practically put you into a trance, if you play it long enough? I dreamed about playing it. It was better than not sleeping at all.

In many ways, those days in between the times of “hope” have felt timeless, a sort of limbo. Forced to live just in the moment, unable to predict the future and not wanting to revisit our past, our sense of time feels altered. One day melts into the next. We’ve been neither here nor there, our lives somewhat on hold, and subconsciously, I guess we’ve sometimes fooled ourselves into thinking the rest of the world has stopped as well. For example, summer was over before we knew it, and with that came a wardrobe dilemma I’d never anticipated. I never expected that we’d live with our friend so long, so I’d only brought summer clothing with me. When temperatures dropped in October, we drove to the storage facility to collect my warmer clothes, only to learn that the bins they were in were virtually inaccessible, lodged under and behind large pieces of furniture and boxes that couldn’t be moved. It was one more reminder of just how “out of sorts” our life felt.

Certain dates have also jolted us into reality and reminded us of the awkwardness of our situation. The first day of school, and no longer connected to that day as a teacher or parent; Thanksgiving, and the effort needed to show thankfulness; no longer preparing for Hallowe’en; and then, more than any other day, Christmas.

The first reminder saying “Just forty days left to shop for Christmas” was like a sucker punch. I felt sick and even more than that, I wondered how I’d possibly get through the day without becoming weepy and maudlin, ruining Christmas for everyone around me. I thought of our Christmas decorations stored away, how I loved to make our house look festive, the many friends who used to visit us, and Christmas morning, when my younger son and his girlfriend would arrive to join my husband, my oldest son, and myself to exchange presents. Where would we meet this year, with no family home to call our own? Whenever I allowed myself to dwell on the situation, my sadness grew, so I pushed it out of my mind, compartmentalizing it into the part of my brain reserved for regrets and losses.

Then I went shopping.

And in the end, Christmas was as it should be. Free of the massive debt we’d accumulated, Christmas didn’t carry the usual worry for us. We exchanged gifts in the morning with our friend and his family, and then we shared a hearty Christmas brunch casserole I’d made the night before, along with hot cinnamon buns, orange juice, egg nog, and coffee. In the afternoon, I prepared dishes to take to my sister’s for Christmas dinner, then arrived to find her house sparkling with decorations and filled with family and the laughter of children. My son and his girlfriend were able to join us, and though we missed exchanging gifts under our own tree, as we always had, nothing could touch the happiness we felt at having them there with us. Joy bubbled inside me until I worried it might spill over in blubbering sentiment and embarass the men in my family. I held it tight inside, something precious and wondrous that no one could take away.

Philsophers say that all growth comes from pain, that clarity of thought is the gift you are left with when the trappings of material wealth are no longer clouding your vision. For so long, I’ve worried and agonized and despaired and grieved over the changes in my life. I’ve felt detached and disenfranchised. I’ve used the solitude of the shower to shed my tears. I don’t ever want to feel that way again.

I know that our difficulties are not over, that our situation is far from settled, but I also recognize the gifts I have gained. I’ve had seen the good in people in unexpected gestures of kindness and generousity’ and that has strengthened my spirit and resolve. I’ve arrived at a place where I can look at the worst that might happen in our lives, and still say with all conviction “I am blessed.”

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They say there’s no greater loss than that of a child. I know it’s true, for even though I never cradled my daughter in my arms, I held her within my womb for nine months, and she was as rooted to me as the organs which keep me alive. Losing her felt like a thief had reached into my belly and ripped her away while I slept.  Even now, thirty-three years later, those memories make me ache inside. We were joined, and now she is gone.

There is another loss that while different, can be nearly as difficult to withstand. It can shock us in its intensity. It is the death of a parent, the person to whom we’ve been connected since birth. Without them, our identity is altered. We are no longer someone’s child. That part of us, the part that still yearns for nurturing from the person who helped give us life, is now rootless, left to flounder.

I have lived that loss. Ten years ago, my mother’s death sent me into a slow-motion freefall. And now, knowing how difficult that loss was, staring at my eighty-two year old father’s mortality terrifies me. I can’t imagine a life without him in it, but his age is a constant reminder of that eventuality. 

This week, a medical emergency made the possiblity of losing him all too real. A decision has been made. Four days from now, he will undergo an above-the-knee amputation of his left leg. The choice is his, necessary to end the agony of poor circulation. Left as it is, it will eventually kill him.

He is pragmatic. Amputation is a means to an end, something that cannot be avoided. He self-talks and is quickly able to put the situation into perspective. “Don’t pity me,” he says. “It could be worse. I could be blind, or dying of cancer.”

On the night he accepts the diagnosis and makes the decision, he suggests we stop for dinner. He orders a large meal, charms the pretty waitress, leaves the fried potatoes because they aren’t healthy – all as if nothing has changed. His greatest concern is that his family will worry, so he makes jokes to ease the tension. He calls my sister, miles away and unable to be by his side, and says “Don’t think this means I can’t still kick your butt.” He tells another that soon, he will “hop down for a visit.”

My siblings and I send emails back and forth each day, discussing possibilities, passing on his latest joke, all of us in awe of his neverending optimism and courage while facing a life-changing operation. We call him our hero. Each day, his actions remind us how to live. As long as his indestructable spirit is evident, we can hold onto the belief that nothing can hurt him.

His strength is our strength, his joy in life our joy, and none of us are ready to let that go.

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