Hello 2017! 

Happy New Year!  I want to first thank everyone who reads my blog on and off.  I’m really grateful that you do!

January 1st is considered a day of new starts and new beginnings.  People make resolutions to save money, get into shape and find a partner.  It’s great to look into the universe and ask for what you want but you must really believe in it, visualize it.  At times of doubt, reform your positive thoughts, see yourself 20 pounds lighter, see yourself with more money or see yourself holding hands with your love walking in the park.  You can make all the resolutions you want but unless you really believe that it is possible, that it will happen, you will only sabotage yourself.

But enough about resolutions.  I quit making them several years back.  Every day is a new beginning and a new start.  Last night after a dinner out with my husband, we were talking about things like vacation, bucket lists, what we want to accomplish in the new year.  I reflected back ten years ago when my life was quite different.  It only changed when I made up my mind that I could no longer live in this 2nd marriage.  Today my life is much different.  In 2006, I was unhappy and miserable just holding it together.  Day by day, week by week fighting against the negative energy of someone who didn’t have mine or my daughters’ best interests at heart.  Fast forward to today and there is little I need or even want.  If I died tomorrow, there is very little on my bucket list.  I would only regret leaving the people I love.

The whole ‘bucket list’ thing I somewhat understand.  It’s great to motivate you to go out and experience life.  While there is some traveling I want to do and I want to write that best-selling novel, my focus is very small.  I used to have grand ideas and dreams but my mom’s terminal cancer and death put life into a whole different context.  Things I believed were so important whether they were material or intangible, are really not important to me now.  The meaning of life to me is to spend time with the people you love and find ways to show love to others.  It means stop taking crap you don’t have to take (though sometimes you have to do it to make a living), stop doing things you don’t want to do especially social obligations and start doing the things you enjoy the most even if it is not something everyone else finds exciting.

Rather than a bucket list, I want to focus on a gratitude list.  Recently, I started volunteering at a local nursing home and have found it very rewarding so far but also very sobering.  Imagine what it would be like to one day wake up and your life is limited to a small room (possibly shared) and a hallway leading to the dining room/ rec room.  Physically you are no longer able to walk or care for yourself.  All your possessions are now in the room with you and can be placed in a few large boxes.  That isn’t how it ends for everyone, but it is a reminder of what is truly important.  Our health, love and the people we love.

I have so much to be grateful for but it is easy to get into this cycle of feeling sorry for yourself or focusing on what you may have lost.  Grief has a way of pulling you down under murky waters and you can’t see the light.  I’m sure this is normal and it’s hard to live without someone you were very close to that was also a big part of your life.  Eventually you surface and start swimming for shore but the thick water of grief keeps pulling at you, making your progress slow and painful.  Some days the swimming is easier and other days you just want to slip back under the surface and never come back up.  I have no sage advice though time does help but it’s not magic either.  You have to be careful though to not forget your life and the ones who are still here.  My grief became somewhat selfish and self-centered.  I felt bad for myself, my mother is gone, and I kept living in that cloud.

The problem with living that way is you short change the people who need and love you.  You don’t mean to do it, you are lost in your own grief but at some point you have to get back onto shore and walk.  Even though it’s hard, and you would rather just keep swimming in the thick dark lake of grief and sorrow.  You need to look at all that is good in your life right this minute.  For me that is my husband, my daughters, my extended family and friends.   That I live is a beautiful comfortable home, drive a nice vehicle and have all the food and comforts I could ever want.  I can walk, cook and take care of myself.  I can literally walk a few feet, get into my truck and go wherever I’d like.

At least for now.  I am the most blessed woman on the planet even though I’ve lost my mom and other people I love.  Even though I had two shitty marriages and made a bunch of mistakes in my life.  But no matter what, I think being grateful for what you have at that moment is very powerful.  This brings happiness and joy to your life.  I went from nothing, an abusive home, sexual/verbal/emotional abuse, poverty etc. to still lead a good life.  Life may kick you hard but it is up to you where you end up.  You have the choice to be grateful and look ahead at improving your situation or you can sit around feeling sorry for yourself.  Be a victim.  I chose gratitude.  I chose to live the life I want.

This year after living most of my life in dysfunctional chaos, I am going to chose to live in peace.  Even if events are out of my control, I am going to chose a different path.  I’m going to focus on what I have to be grateful for and I’m going to ask for what I want in life.  I want to publish a book.  I want to be fit.

What do you want?  What are you grateful for?  

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Life is So So Short… 

You hear all the cliches.  Life is short, YOLO, your health is everything, just do it, and so on.  They are everywhere you turn. When you are younger and you hear “if you have your health, you have everything”, you probably smile and nod then go on with your day.  It never really sinks in unless you are suffering some medical maladie at the time.  Most of these saying float around us, especially on social media, and we note them or ignore them but never really consider what they mean.

Yesterday was my first volunteer day at a local nursing home.  I chose the state-funded home rather than a private nursing home because they don’t have a lot of volunteers and most of their residents had no money or family to help care for them.  I’m no expert on nursing homes, so if this is ring, forgive me but that is my best guess.  My employer gives us one day a year to volunteer but while I used this paid day off to help, this is also my new volunteer project outside of work.  My therapist suggested that I was missing helping people and that maybe I try more volunteering.  I’ve been lost since my mom died and my girls are grown.  You go from being needed to being well, not needed quite as much.  And while I didn’t want to rush into something that would be as difficult as caring for a parent with terminal cancer, I did miss helping people.

I chose to try the nursing home becuase when my mom passed, we donated many of her medical supplies to this nursing home.  The lady who took them said how desperate they are in need for donations and help.  The building is an old brick building that once was an old infirmary.  The inside is a little dated and worn.  It’s not posh or set up to feel like a resident is in their own home.  It is simply like an older hospital inside.  They don’t have a lot of money to work with but the place is spotless and the residents are well cared for as far as I could tell.  When I walked in and asked the activities director about volunteering, she whisked me to a nurses station to start my TB test rounds.  They don’t get a lot of volunteers it seems.  It felt good to be needed again, even if it was for a few hours or so a week. 

People shy away from nursing homes because they seem depressing.  This is the place you go to die, confined to small areas.  And honestly, before my mom’s ordeal with cancer and her death, I felt the same.  What changed my mind was in the last weeks of her life, they had moved her to the nursing floor of the hospital and kept her there as long as they could to help us take care of her in her final days.  My mom at this point could not walk or care for herself, she was a shell of who she had once been which was a formidable force of nature who had rose through the ranks of her company to be one of the top people at her site.  Even today, people will tell me, I remember your mom.  She was quite a lady and didn’t mince words.  Yeah, that pretty much sums her up a bit.  She had spent so much time confined to her house and couldn’t do the things she loved anymore.  

For a month, she was under the care of the nursing floor.  They would have different people volunteer and come in and do crafts, or bring in a dog to visit her.  She had people around her in and out all the time.  The thing that was most surprising was she didn’t seem to want to rush home like her past hospital stays.  What you don’t realize is when a person loses their health, their world shrinks incredibly.  Suddenly instead of being grouchy that someone wanted to come sit and do a craft with her, she was excited about it.  Though it seems like a small thing, to her this person added happiness to her quickly fading life.  It gave her a way to feel productive and useful from her bed.  She crocheted up until the last few weeks of her life to keep herself productive.  She hated to be idle and useless.  I read a news story where a bed-ridden man knitted thousands of hats for people in need.  He couldn’t do much, but he could bring warmth and comfort to a stranger.  

The nursing staff became my mom’s friends and they joked with her, got to know us and even shared cake in our last birthday celebration (my husband, my daughter and my birthdays are all in February – my mom died mid-March) with her.  As sad as this all seems, they are the sweetest, most precious moments.  And yesterday, I walked the halls of the nursing home, pushing carts of presents, finding residents packages for ‘Santa’ and ‘Mrs. Claus’ to pass out to people.  Santa and his wife were telling me they do over 40 nursing homes a year and they enjoy it very much.  Watching them walk into an otherwise quiet dining room where half the people are sleeping and seeing them all light up like kids on Christmas, reminded me that it’s often the littlest things that are the most important.  

If you have your health you have everything is truer than we know.  Right now I have the world in my hands because I am able to walk and care for myself.  The people in this nursing home, the only things they own are probably right in their room with them.  You can’t take it with you.  You certainly can’t.  There is a married couple that have to reside in separate rooms.  Which I wish they had a way to reside in the same room.  I’m not familiar with why this is, but I am sure there is rules that require this.  I thought about my husband and I having to live on different areas of a nursing home and I held him a little tighter as I fell asleep last night.   

I watched the staff interact with the residents and saw very real caring.  They love the residents and watch out for them.  I’m not saying you don’t get a bad person in the crop sometimes but the people who work there aren’t doing it for the money because I doubt they get paid premium working in a state home.  I collected a lot of smiles yesterday.  I helped put a new bead on a lady’s charm bracelet, I heard how one of the residents had a sore butt.  I had talked to this lady  before when I was waiting for a nurse to read my TB test.  And just like the first time we talked, she took my hand, smiled and thanked me for stopping to talk to her.  I about cried, I should have thanked her for talking to me.  She was in the memory unit so I don’t even know if she remembered me but it doesn’t matter.  If me talking to her made her day just a little brighter, then that was awesome.

I went home feeling elated.  Yes, some of what I saw could be considered very depressing but reaching out to people, strangers, it felt very good and it made me realize that at this point and time, I own the world.  I can sit around and feel like I missing out on something, that I didn’t achieve this or that goal that in the end, doesn’t even matter.  I have my health, I have my family, I have a home, a job and health insurance, I have food and clothes and more possessions than I know what to do with sometimes (and donate a lot).  

It is easy for me to feel sorry for myself sometimes especially around the holidays.  I miss the hell out of my mom.  Christmas (her birthday) just isn’t the same.  But there are people in that nursing home with no family or friends that care for them.  The activities director was telling me that residents’ families bring in the gifts to be passed out by Santa but they also donate extra items to make sure each person receives a gift.  I recognized some of the people since it is a fairly small town.  A lady who had been a cashier for years at the small grocery store.  I never knew her whole name but I do now.  A gentleman I vaguely remember from my church when I was younger.  His wife had given me a Precious Moments figuring when my first daughter was born.  She had passed years ago and her grave is close to my mom’s.  He no longer remembers me but I said hello anyway.

Yesterday’s experience really gave me levity in this week of Christmas.  It is a tough week for me.  I want to be happy and celebrate for my grown daughters to carry on our traditions but part of me just wants to take down all the decorations and forget there was Christmas at all.  Last night I came home and felt much different.   Who knows how many Chrisstmases we have to celebrate in our life or even the choice as to where we celebrate it at all.  If our body gives out, if our mind fails, we could be sitting in a wheelchair half asleep when ‘Santa’ brings us a small gift.  

Life is so short.  Love today.  Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.  Do yourself a favor in 2017 and volunteer if you don’t already.  It is a wonderful gift.  

The Storm and Happiness

            How do you define “happiness”?  The dictionary states: good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy. Happiness is very personal because what makes me happy may not make my friend or neighbor happy. Then there is momentary happiness and happiness in general as a way of life. Illusive happiness and centered happiness. And the demanding question “Are you happy?” Are you? Are you happy? Happiness as a mindset. Happiness as a measure of how successful your life is. Happy Birthday. Happy Halloween. There is a lot of pressure for one to be happy at any given moment in their life.

          If you have followed my blog at all, you already know my life has been a crazy, dysfunctional series of ups and downs. My childhood and adolescence was marred by alcoholism and abuse. Anyone who has grown up in this type of home knows that any fleeting moment of happiness is usually quickly followed by something horrific or terrifying at times. It doesn’t take long before you become skeptical at any feelings of joy or happiness because you know it won’t stay, something or someone will ruin it for you. Volatile is your world, not happy. You are always waiting for that other shoe to drop. Happiness is a temporary state.

          Since my mom passed away March 2014, I finally adjusted back into the world of the living. But I had been sleepwalking in my life for a long time. At the end of this last year, I realized I needed to start focusing on myself and what I wanted out of life as I sat down to do my five yearly goals I set each December to give me some guidance throughout the year. This is really the first time since I was in my teens, that I was focusing on goals for just myself. I registered for classes to try and finish my business degree but this time I went in and talked to an advisor. I walked out of that appointment with a list of things to complete and registered for two more classes and my graduation date in early May. After ten years of on and off taking classes online, I was going to finally graduate.

Having a goal and something to focus on has brought me a little bit of anxiety but since I am out of the fog I had been living in, this has given me a new spark. My therapist told me I was in a ‘valley’, your life is so busy and then suddenly you dip off. It takes some time but you recover and start the next journey of your life. Being me, I thought that meant a few months but for me it was really a few years.

This past Monday, the sun was out and I had spent the morning at the college library researching for my history paper. I had stopped at home to see my oldest before she went off to work. Then I had to drive to the grocery store and I really hate grocery shopping but at least on Monday, the stores are not usually crowded. My music is playing in the truck and I have my sunroof cracked when I notice this feeling I was not familiar with. A light feeling, like I do not weigh anything at all. Floating on a cloud. I had been singing with the song, loudly I might add. Inside I did not feel sad, down or pensive. I realize I feel, happy. Contented. Light. I had this feeling since I got up that morning felt this way and had just focused on the feeling because it felt strange and unfamiliar to me.

When you grow up the way I did, and spent decades of your life in miserable situations, you have moments of happiness but this was new to me. I’ve always tried to be grateful but it was usually during another storm in my life. I fixed my marital and financial problems, then my mom became sick again. Happiness is something that is temporary until the next storm rolls into your life. Except this time, it has been with me on a new level. Evolved into something I am not used to but am finally learning to embrace rather than stare at it warily with suspicion.

Twice that day, two people had referred to me as ‘young lady’ and let’s face it, I’m middle-aged at 45 though most people guess my age at 35. Usually it is only the elderly that call me that or someone being a sarcastic ass about my age. The first woman was a mid-20’s librarian at my college and she seemed sincere about the comment when she told me “Young lady your coat fell on the floor.” I had just spoken to her face to face at the circulation desk when I picked up some books I requested so she had clearly saw my face. She was very much twenty years my junior. I didn’t think much of it, she seemed like she was in a good mood.

Later that afternoon, a woman in her early 50’s, not far from my age, asked me a question and added ‘young lady’ to the end. I had left the store feeling bewildered and wondered if people were just feeling good because it was an unusually warm, sunny first day of February. Later that night as I was lying in bed, I was thinking about that odd coincidence and it dawned on me that maybe that light, happy feeling made me look younger to other people. I have no idea if that was true but it was not something that happened to me before. Maybe that should be a beauty tip, if you want to look younger, find your happiness.

Right after my mom died, my daughters and I were in the grocery store, we had split up and they found me again in the produce section bending over a display of oranges. My middle daughter remarks they couldn’t find me at first. I asked her why and they all thought I was some old grouchy lady in her sixties because of the expression on my face. I just sighed and gave up on finding decent oranges. I was just weeks into life without my mom. So maybe our feelings and level of current happiness can make us look older or younger.

Moral of the story, I’ve been learning how to be happy and let it be part of my life rather than just a fleeting moment. No my life isn’t perfect but when will it ever be? I can’t control most things in life but I can control how I react to things out of my control or other people. Allowing myself to be happy is new for me, but I really love that feeling of lightness I’ve been carrying with me. Life will always hand me knocks and challenges. It’s up to me to keep my inner peace, embrace what is good even in the storm.

Sometimes storms can be the most beautiful moments of your life. Give yourself permission to be happy, even in the rain.