20 November 2016

Selling and Sailing...Charting a New Course

My 2016 has been a year unlike any I have ever in my life experienced. It's been the most stomach-churning roller coaster ride I've ever been aboard. In January my mother suffered a fall which set off a chain of events that would ultimately culminate in the loss of both of my parents within nine days of each other. I still find myself in shock by the events of January and I'm even more stunned that I survived them.

Needless to say I discovered that no matter how much we're hurting, how broken our hearts may feel and no matter how difficult it is to grapple with the raw reality of pivotal losses in one's life, time absurdly marches on; seasons change, flowers bloom, summer heats things up and fall still proffers all things pumpkin. Two days after my Dad died I walked out of Lower Cape Fear Hospice on that very chilly Monday night of January 11th which, coincidentally or not, happened to mark my 12th year of sobriety, and as I made my way to the car to head home to grab a few hours sleep, I glanced at the sky and saw a crescent moon. In fact, it stopped me in my tracks. I clearly remember staring at it and wondering how in the world the moon could still shine because my Dad was dead and my Mom was in a pretty precarious condition. I'd been so involved in unexpectedly losing my Dad, seeing my Mom transferred to inpatient hospice and reeling from people asked me foreign but essential questions such as, "who would you like to pick up your Dad's body?", "what cremation plan would you like?" that the sight of the moon dangling up there in an inky black winter sky seemed absolutely inchoate. I guess somewhere deeply embedded in my psyche was the notion that planetary orbits should cease until I made sense of the world again. Of course, that's not at all how things work, and it's testament to the continuous evolution of life that it does not happen that way.

One of the last conversations I had with my Mom happened a few minutes before I spotted the moon. She was visibly tired from her "rally day" and she took my hand and pulled me close to her face and asked, "Did we have a death in the family?". Yes, I answered a few seconds before tears began falling from my eyes. "Was it Barbe?". Again, I nodded and whispered yes. My Mom then brushed the tears off my cheeks and asked me why was I crying? I told her in a very broken voice "I miss him". Her beautiful blue eyes met mine and she began rubbing my hand...."Honey, that's part of life. He's in a better place. It's ok.". My Mom spent her last coherent moments offering me comfort and reminding me, even before the moon did, that life DOES go on and that it's OK. So typical of my Mom to be reiterating for me that just as we had celebrated the 2014 late summer and fall births of three beautiful granddaughters, painful, unimaginable "exits" are also a part of our lives as well. We come, we go and with the help, love and compassion of a great many people, we somehow learn to move forward. I've been supremely blessed in that department. 

There has been so much about this year that has shocked me out of my wits, comfort zone and basic reality and a lot of it has tested my mettle in extremis. By the same token, a lot of other things have occurred in my life that have vigorously reaffirmed my Faith, lifted me up and literally demanded that I understand that I am not as alone as I thought I would be. Friends I've known for decades, new friends I've made in the course of this year and folks far away from my home base have rallied around and supported me in ways I couldn't have predicted. I'm still in awe of the many people who have crossed my path, deliberately, so they could lend me a hand and literally keep me going. For as dark as it's felt at times, at other moments it's been blindingly bright. I have a heightened respect and adoration for the human race and particularly the many people who have reached out to me, saw a need, and chose to get involved. What incredible life lessons in a year that began with so much sorrow.

I'm now in the middle of letting something else go. After living in this house for a little over sixteen years, I've come to the inevitable conclusion that it's time for me to move on. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which are economical in nature, but also involve some emotional and physical self-preservation. The reality is that working 40 plus hours a week I don't have the time or interest in attempting to take care of a home much larger than I need, a yard that's way too much for one person, even if that person has a dog the size of a small pony, and a large pool that requires more work than I have time to give. For the first time in my entire life, I'm contemplating a new reality outside of the confines of this house that I've loved and enjoyed for many years, the setting for some of my best memories. But, for as much as I have enjoyed this place, I still have flashbacks. The last few years of taking care of my parents was when my mourning really began, as they lost their ability to do the things they'd so enjoyed. Sometimes I walk into the master bedroom and I'm met with a barrage of visions that are painful to relive. There are times I walk out onto the patio and instinctively look to my right expecting to see Mom and Dad sitting in the swing, holding hands and chatting away - that's a lovely memory but seeing the empty swing still forms a lump in my throat. 

I finally realized a change would do me good and hey, go big or go home, right? The house is on the market and it's bittersweet, scary and maybe even a little exciting. I'm at a point in my life where I can actually imagine living in a new place; smaller, more compact and the chance to continue processing and recover from this whale of a year. Yes, it's weird. Yes, I'm nervous. Yes, I'll be OK. Yes, it's time. Yes, I'll probably cry and Yes, that's OK. 

Yesterday, the first full day after my house was listed on the market, I accepted an invitation to go sailing on a beautiful boat with a good friend of mine. My mind immediately protested with a list of things I should be doing, but I just ignored it. The waves, the wind and the vastness of the ocean worked their inimitable magic. For a few hours my view was an endless horizon dotted by a few other sailboats. The sounds of waves slapping the hull and wind filling the sails was the perfect accompaniment for a stellar sunny fall day. 

On the way out, off Wrightsville Beach, with the confluence of currents and wind I suddenly began to feel a little dizzy. For me, it was the most wind I'd sailed in since 2007 and the sensation was a little disorienting. I asked my friend to take the wheel and sat in the middle of the cockpit for a few minutes. He kindly offered to turn the boat around and head back to shore but I thought about it and was surprised to hear myself say no, let's keep going. The momentary uneasiness passed and I was happy to take the wheel again so he could work the sheets. What a profound and durable lesson from this past year; don't retreat - press on. I was glad to discover there was some untapped steel in my spine. 

Months ago, my daughter Katie suggested that I sell this house. I wasn't ready to even think in those terms at that time...a few weeks ago another friend messaged me and asked if she could offer me some "unsolicited advice"? She didn't hold back and I'm so glad she didn't - "why don't you sell that house? You can't make a fresh start unless you do.". Thanks Katie for planting the seed and thank you Celia for not holding back. And thank you to everyone who has held me up these past ten months - I wouldn't be standing without the support, love, kindness and compassion. Even after such a tumultuous year, I am extremely blessed. 

I am grateful to all of you.

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