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Embracing Change

I’ve entered that stage of life where my body (and even my mind) don’t cooperate as well as it once did. I hear lots of folks utter the cliché “getting old isn’t for sissies.” And they are correct, of course, but no stage of life is “for sissies.” Remember being a teenager trying desperately to figure out life. Remember being a new mom with too little sleep and too many responsibilities. Remember being a new teacher who in the first year was going to make EVERY mistake one can make. This new stage of life is no different. The rules have changed and it’s a challenge every day to figure out how to deal with this uncooperative body.

Within the last six months I have had two major surgeries: one for a knee and most recently one for a new hip. The knee is better but not perfect. The hip is getting better but still needs lots of coddling. Tasks that I once did without even thinking such as laundry and making a bed are hard.

Along the way, I’ve had to use an “assistive device” (don’t you love euphemisms). Some refuse to call these canes and instead talk about their walking sticks. No matter what you call them, they are essential to me to move about the outside world with all its steps and stairs. I originally bought the most serviceable one I could find hoping I could just pretend it didn’t exist. It did its task, but was basically boring if not ugly.

Over the last few months, though, I’ve had lots of time to think about the changes in my world. Originally, I railed at my “infirmities” angry at what I could no longer do easily. But one day I stopped and thought back to the other moments of change in my life. I thought about the demands on me when I moved to a town far from family to live with a husband who traveled most of the time which meant I had to be the “grown up” managing finances and disasters. I thought about the freedom I gave up when my first child was born and I could no longer do as I pleased. I remembered the burden of settling my father’s estate which took months and hours of time writing letters, making phone calls, and trying to understand legal documents. Each of these events moved me from one world into another. I sometimes found myself wishing for my easier earlier life, but most of the time I accepted this new world as a good place to be.

With these thoughts in mind, I considered this world to which I have now moved. While I have physical limitations, I now also have amazing freedom. I go where I wish when I wish. I eat what I want when I want it. I sleep when I need to rarely setting an alarm. I can read far into the night or all afternoon. I can talk for as long as I want to friends far and near. I can wear what I want which can include not getting dressed until noon. There were many times in my previous life stages where I would have considered this scenario the nearest thing to perfect.

As a result, I decided to embrace this new stage with all its good points and bad. One step in the embracing process was the decision to look for the prettiest cane I could find and buy it. After all, it’s an accessory not just an aid. I wouldn’t carry an ugly purse or wear an ugly jacket. Why would I want this part of my wardrobe to be any less? The one I found matches my car and makes its own statement. It folds up with a Velcro strap when I need it out of the way (just as a good purse can be unobtrusive when necessary). And it’s red. I carry it proudly using it as I need not trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. And just as one gets comments on earrings or cute sandals, I get compliments on my cane along with the “where did you get it?” question.

Will there be other changes along the way that will be frustrating? Sure. But I’m working as hard as I can to treat each of these changes as just the flip side of a truly wonderful world. It’s a tradeoff no different than the one I made when I gave up freedoms to become a mother or when I took on responsibilities as I entered adulthood. I embraced each of those new worlds. I will embrace this one as well.

 

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My Response to a Friend’s Questions about Retirement

Retirement isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. Your experiences, needs, and wants will be different at different stages of your new life.

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A Special Thanksgiving

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This is the season when I look back over the photographs I’ve taken during the year trying to decide which ones will be preserved in my “best of the year” book. Having visited many wonderful places this year and been able to photograph extraordinary sights, this year is a challenge.

Strange as it may seem, however, the photographs that thrilled me the most weren’t taken in some exotic location. They aren’t of family and many aren’t really very good (much to my despair). So, you ask, why on earth would these be considered special?

Well, since you asked . . .

My daughter works for a well-known Houston rehabilitation hospital where patients often must remain for long periods of time working on recovery. I sort of know what she does, but only sorta. Several weeks before Thanksgiving, she asked me if I’d be willing to take some pictures at the hospital. It seems that at Thanksgiving the hospital hosts dinners for patients AND their families. They have specially reserved tables in the cafeteria or in conference rooms near the patients.

Part of the effort to make this time special includes a photograph of the family that is printed and delivered to the patient on the Monday after Thanksgiving. My daughter was asking me to be the person who provided the “click.” As one can imagine, I was thrilled.

I got so much out of the day as we interacted with each family group, and I loved that I felt like I was making it a little better for folks who faced quite difficult situations. The photographs included the usual challenges as well as special ones. There were babies who slept through the event, teenager daughters who only agreed grumpily to be included, patients who had to be coached to smile, and spouses who clearly had been struggling with the stress of a loved one’s hospitalization. There were also so many who thanked us with great appreciation and eagerly gathered everyone together for the traditional “family picture.” It was a wonderful experience to be part of.

But here’s where the surprise for me came. I got to watch my daughter in her work “environment.” I got to see her incredible sense of concern for each person she encountered. I got to see that she was aware of each person she passed in the hall giving everyone a smile. I saw her stop frequently to give directions to lost visitors. Even when she knew that her family was waiting at home for her arrival so they could start the feast, she never hesitated to walk the distance with someone to the exact spot they needed to be. I also saw her pitch in to help cafeteria staff set up extra tables and chairs for unexpected arrivals. I still can’t tell you exactly what her job description is. What I do know is that she is the kind of employee that every organization would love to have. I know how wonderful she is as a daughter. Now I know that she brings that same quality to her workplace.

So the image of the cafeteria table setting is something I cherish. It acts as a reminder of a day I don’t want to ever forget. A day of true thanksgiving.

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