My New Life: Chapter One
Yesterday I began my new life. Well, not really a new life, but a very different one from that which I have lived for several years- a new chapter. I gave myself until after our brief beach trip to begin working toward several goals that I have identified for myself; I climbed out of bed at 5am and headed up to my gym to kickbox, I ate healthfully all day and recorded it in the fitness app on my iPad, I drank lots of water and finished the evening with mugs of Sleepytime Tea after a long and productive day at work. Small steps as I begin to understand who I am as Denise the woman, and not Denise the daughter and caregiver.
This summer has drained me in every way, and I feel like I am living in a stranger’s body, walking through a thick fog. Life feels muted, often like I am going through the motions. I am ready to feel good again, to feel truly alive. I would have done anything to be there for my mother in her time of need-it was worth any price. This is not about regrets or recriminations of any kind, but rather about looking for the opportunities and gifts that can rise up out of the ashes of grief and sorrow. It’s my choice to decide which direction to take from this point, and I will always choose the path that leads to joy and light.
I have gotten so used to always being on the run, focusing on the needs of others, often putting my own needs on the back burner in so many aspects of my life…just as my mother did. Perhaps this will be one of the great lessons for me to take from this experience, that I can take care of myself and help others….and maybe I can help others better when I am taking good care of myself. It’s high time I began to think this way, as I take inventory of the effects of this summer of stress, anxiety, and sadness. I have gained weight, my brain feels fuzzy and out of focus from grief, I feel unready for a very busy semester of recitals and concerts, I stopped work on the book and articles I had almost finished, I started the semester off sluggishly, instead of with my normally energetic drive…I feel like I have been dropping balls left and right.
Enough. I have always been good about sticking with a goal once I set it, though I am trying to be gentle with myself- it has not even been a month since Mom passed away, and I am very much still grieving. However, life is moving forward, and I have to move with it. I am setting daily goals, sometimes hourly goals…instead of making proclamations that I have to exercise and eat right every day, I am worrying about today. I can do today- that isn’t overwhelming to me. I am back at practicing consistently, happy to be reacquainted with the music that is so much a part of me. I am making time to read and be quiet each day, crucial to someone who is as much of an introvert as I am. Small steps that will help me move toward my goal of coming out of this sad time a better person.
I am working on reaching out to my support system more. I still feel a strong inclination to be off by myself, avoiding phone calls or contact with anyone, but I am making the effort to call dear friends that I have only been able to text or email since Mom’s death. I am finally getting the tons of thank you notes ready to send to the people who were so kind to Mom and me during the past months. I am slowly going through the remainder of Mom’s things, sorting them and preparing to sending things to family members or to give to the Goodwill. This is still difficult, as I am deeply sentimental, and most everything that remains has some sort of nostalgia attached to it. I can’t let myself drown in things, though- things won’t bring my mother back. I have identified the items that truly mean something to me from my mother, that have a real connection to my memories of her. The clutter has to go, as it clutters my mind and my spirit. I also need the closure that will bring.
Life as I knew it stopped on the day Mom fell, setting into motion the events that took us to room 305 of the South Tower of St. Vincent’s Hospital on August 15th. Now it is time for me to pick up the pieces and move forward. I have plans to resume and finish the book on my mentor, along with finishing the articles from it that will go to professional journals. It’s time for the professional Denise to move front and center, as I have also just begun my newly elected position of Secretary of the International Clarinet Association, which will include a performance in Madrid next summer. I need to be at the top of my game…not unfocused and wallowing in sadness. My mother would want success and happiness for me, she always did everything she could to help me achieve my goals…now I am calling on her in a different way to encourage me along the way.
Finally, I am taking care of myself physically, scheduling appointments to deal with long-standing issues with my back and shoulder that have left me with nagging pain for months. I am seeing a therapist to talk through my grief, and I am returning to the exercise I have always loved to lift my spirits and help to lead me back to a healthy and fit body. Feeling good physically and mentally will help to lift the veil of grief.
I look closely at my life; what do I want to do with this opportunity for growth? I have put things off for so long, that sometimes I’m not sure I even know. I examine my heart more closely; I want to embrace some activities that have faded away, like running 10-Ks and riding my bicycle with Dan. I want to travel, including making the pilgrimage to the Bedlam Farm Open House in October. Meeting the people who have encouraged me so profoundly and who were such a comfort to Mom and to me will be an incredibly moving experience. I want to begin meditating again, and explore new areas in my writing. I want to write a book of my mom stories, focusing on the love, and on the journey from darkness to light after her death. I promised Mom that I would do this for her.
This morning while sitting in a faculty meeting, I felt the tears surge again. Yesterday I felt strong, but today, the memories of our time in the hospital flood my mind. I know this is normal, all part of what I will experience for a long time as I work through the winding paths of my grief. I am always one who wants to fix everything this moment, but I am learning that this road will be a long one, and not something I can fix…even with escapes to the beach. I look forward to it all, though. I want to grow and change in positive ways from what I have experienced. This is an opportunity for even greater love, even greater appreciation, an even more vibrant life. It’s my opportunity to fill the pages of this new chapter with joy, my own personal renaissance of sorts…just as my mother would have wanted.