Rather than looking for presents under the tree, I'll be looking for ways to thank all the people in my life who have shared a special moment, a smile, a virtual or real-life hug, a word of support, a laugh or a tear. These gifts are priceless. These gifts can't be found in a store or online, and don't go on sale for $9.99. These gifts are expressions from the heart that have the power to lift my spirit in a way that no material thing can.
11 years ago today I underwent a 10-1/2 hour surgery that gave me my life back. I was reborn at the age of 52 with the promise of less pain, fewer hospitalizations, the ability to eat again, the ability to live again.
My breaking point came at a family friend’s viewing. I vividly remember standing in front of his casket, looking down at this 82-year old man who had passed away, and wishing with all my heart it was me in there instead of him.
By late fall 2005, my physical symptoms began to dramatically affect my day-to-day life. I couldn’t continue to tell myself it was just stress or that I was “run down.” I began my quest in earnest to discover what was happening inside my body. It’s also when I discovered that even doctors don’t have all the answers.
It took me several years to truly understand that what happened with my friends was not malicious or intentional; it was the unfortunate by-product of change. It was the natural shift that occurs when people are no longer moving in the same direction. Like a road that reaches a fork, I went left while they went right.
The wheel on the hospital gurney made a continuous squeaking sound as they wheeled me down the hall to the operating room. It was one of those incessant noises that would normally drive me crazy, but for some reason that morning I found it comforting.
Nothing prepared me for the physical, emotional and spiritual fatigue, and the ongoing insomnia I would experience when I became chronically ill. It goes well beyond the occasional night or two of no sleep. It’s so much more than being “tired.” It’s exhaustion at the cellular level.
Like many women, I thought of self-care as selfish or indulgent, served up with an undercurrent of guilt. It seemed extravagant – like a weekend at a spa, rather than emotional first aid of the highest order. Like the classic example flight attendants give about putting on your oxygen mask first before helping others, it’s important to tend to yourself first.
Moving forward often demands that we live lost, knowingly surrendering our attachment to who we think we are, voluntarily stumbling around in the dark with little to guide us. Growing is all about leaps into the seeming unknown.
Brenda is part of a tribe of women who were the first to enter the professional world in large numbers, and are the first to encounter the hazards surrounding retirement. Defining themselves largely through their careers, they have challenged traditional models at every stage of their lives, and are now being challenged by their own negative stereotypes about retirement.