LIFE CHANGING EVENTS
I owe a debt of gratitude to Liz Flaherty for a recent blog post on WordWranglers. She shared life-changing moments or events with readers and invited them to share their own.
Since I seldom jump right into anything without mulling it over, wrassling it around, and pummeling it into shape, I didn’t come up with my own list until several days later. Since then I’ve pared the list to three:
· October 1955 when I found out my mother was dying
· February 1960 when I gave birth to my first child
· March 2006 when I retired from 29 consecutive years in a law office
Each of these marked the beginning of a new life for me.
One October evening in 1955, I was riding with my Aunt Virginia and her husband to a city an hour from our home—we were on our way to visit my mom who had just had surgery and was recuperating enough to be able to return to Charleston where I lived with my dad.
As we traveled through the dark night, Aunt Virginia told me that my mother would not live much longer. The cancer had progressed too far. The reason she was telling me, she said, was so I’d be prepared and not break down when I went into the room to see my mom.
I’ve always been glad it was Aunt Virginia who told me; she was my favorite aunt, my mother’s youngest sister, and had been with Mom when I was born. In the nearly fifteen years I’d known her, she had always showed me love and acceptance. The news I’d just heard wasn’t good, but it was compassionately shared.
Though we didn’t know it then, I would have six months to make the transition from teenager to fledgling adult. In some ways, a too-soon adult in a teenage body. The mental shift took a long time: No mom to share my school day news with—no siblings also grieving—a silent father who, I suspected, was also grieving, even though he had remarried after the divorce.
Eventually I turned to writing because it was a place where I could commune with myself about what I felt and experienced. During the next couple of years I wrote a lot of poetry and a few short stories. This period of my life marked the beginning of a life in the written word—and writing as a way of healing.
In February 1960 I was given another opportunity to grow—my first child was born. I named her for my mother.
In a very short time—hours, maybe a couple of days—I learned that I didn’t know the first thing about being a mom. I had no friends having babies, no sisters or sisters-in-law, no cousins my age with kids (or if I did, they lived too far away and I seldom saw them).
No mommy blogs—though the few I’ve read make motherhood sound like a romp in the park. For example: baby with earache screaming in the night? Piece o’ cake! Refusal to drink milk or eat cereal? Par for the course. Diarrhea? So what! (I‘m glad there were no such blogs when I was a young mom—I’d’ve felt even more inadequate than I did.)
In time I learned to go with the flow (along about Child No. 3, I think). Not every aberration was life-threatening; the doctor’s phone number was right by the phone; and eventually I found another mom (also with a first child) who had nieces and nephews to learn on, so she helped me weather First Baby Syndrome.
I’m pleased to report that my firstborn is alive and well in Arizona, teaching at Northern Arizona University and finishing her Ph.D. dissertation.
Her three siblings all grew up, developed their own personalities and interests, and—this may be a shock to some readers—the four of them get along well, visit by phone and email, and actually enjoy getting together when they can. (They live in Arizona, Ohio, Indiana, and Minnesota.)
My most recent life shift came in March 2006 when I retired from 29 years in a law office as a paralegal. I worked one more year as a contract worker to assist the woman, already a seasoned employee at the office, to settle into the kind of work I had done. My assistance was scarcely necessary after the first couple of months, but I continue to visit Emily and eat lunch with her a couple times a week while we knit our various projects.
The biggest adjustment to retirement was how to handle my time—I had so much time! After I went to the Y, had breakfast, and swallowed a handful of pills/vitamins/supplements, I was free to—well, do whatever. There was a pretty strenuous learning curve to this process. If I had no plan, not much got done; if I had a too-firm plan, a lot got done but I wasn’t pleased at the end of my day--and I was too tired to eat (that's tired!).
What I learned: Have a plan (you remember my Today List?)—modify, if necessary—let go of disappointments—put the unfinished things on the next day’s List. And don't forget to rest. Might not work for everyone, but it did for me.
My life is as full as I want—I have freedom to say no, thanks if I don’t want to do something—and I have time to explore new ideas and adventures. I take naps when I need to and rest every afternoon.
The best thing of all—I can go on learning: how to manage my days, how to make the best of this time in my life (which is quite different from other eras), how to enjoy what I do, how to keep growing.
Thanks, Liz Flaherty, for stirring up memories. Life changers can work for good, if we let them.