My life has been full of new experiences recently, new beginnings and many challenges. One this that I've learned is this: Be careful what you ask for . . . you might get it.
My life is . . . well, a lot of things could fit here. And frankly, I'm not sure how to describe it, at least not succinctly. I'm a "young" retiree. My husband of 31 years passed away in October, 2005, after many years of illness. I decided to retire because I was very tired and felt a need to take care of me for a change. This was my second marriage, the first one lasting for a bit over 10 years. I have 2 children by the first marriage, and 3 stepchildren from the second, all of whom are dear to me. I have 10 grandchildren, ranging in age from (almost) 24 to 5, and 3 great-grandchildren, a 3 year old and two infants.
I was a late bloomer in career terms. I worked at various positions in my early adulthood, first in the financial world, later in the medical field in doctor's offices. In my mid 30's I decided to go to college and to change the course of my life. (Or did I? Do we really change the course, or do we simply change directions to follow the plan?) I earned a BSW (Bachelor of Social Work) and an MSW (Master of . . .), then spent the next 18 years working with children and families, helping them to create better lives for themselves. I worked at an agency for about 13 years, then embarked on my own path with a private practice. I loved the work . . . at least on most days . . . and I believe I was effective. However, my husband's health began to fail in the early '90s, the combined, or perhaps opposing, pressures of working with emotional issues of my clients, then coming home and facing the increasing health demands (both physical and emotional) of my husband took a toll on me.
The last few years have been very difficult, and somewhere in that part of my journey, I think I more or less lost track of myself. I didn't find time for me in the press of demands on my time, and I sort of quit thinking about my own needs and wants. Funny how that can happen. Well, not funny, but curious. A year ago my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer and told that he had "perhaps as long as 6 months" to live. Three and a half months after the definitive diagnosis, he was gone. IF YOU SMOKE, STOP IT NOW!!!
For the months preceding his death I was obsessed with trying to put our belongings in storage so I could sell the house and go with him to be with the older 2 daughters. I needed help with his care or he would have been in a facility, something he feared. I literally worked as hard as I could, pushing against every obstacle with all my strength until there was no time left. He flew to be with the girls, and I drove so we had a car and some comfort items with us. He lived only a month after the move.
I spent the following 5 months traveling, visiting with the children and friends. During this time, I began to adjust to being alone (not part of a couple), but I was with people who cared about me and protected me in some ways, let me grow in others. Then I returned to our home of nearly 30 years. Since then I've continued the unfinished business of getting the house ready to sell. Too many things are in disrepair as my husband couldn't take care of the tasks very well for over 10 years. I was too busy with the job, with his care and I didn’t have the knowledge to do most of them anyway.
But most difficult for me in recent weeks has been the process of learning who I am. Alone in a house where the children grew up and where we spent most of our married years together, I've found memories coming out of the woodwork. The memories are both good and bad.
The marriage was shaky toward the end after years of stress, realizing we had dissimilar goals, and most of all, the fact that I had begun to question why I stayed in a relationship that wasn't happy. I was reluctant to end a second marriage and admit failure . . . again. I longed to be alone and to live as I saw fit, without anyone else having input unless I openly invited it. I loved all 5 kids. Would I lose my stepchildren in the process? That would be a tremendous loss. All that became irrelevant when the cancer was diagnosed. And my life, which was already in turmoil, became something indescribable.
Now I wrestle with the conflict daily. I wanted out. I got out. But the price has been dear. I struggle with learning how to be me by myself, with integrity. I’ve always felt that I am a person of pretty high moral and ethical foundation. The conflict of wishing to be free, then finding myself to be so, has shaken my self-image. Logically, I know it isn’t my fault, but emotionally, well, that is another story.
I’m on a journey and the route is much different than I thought it would be if you’d asked me a year ago. I am generally happy. I’m finding that I am pretty self-sufficient. My life is challenging but not unmanageable. And I’m looking forward to being able to start in a new segment in the next few weeks. I will be moving to the Southwest and begin exploring what my life is like alone, without the memory-saturated house that I’m in here. I don’t know if it will be better or not, but it will be MINE.
So there you have it.