Silver Linings

Sometimes life throws us a curve ball, and sometimes life throws us several curve balls all at once.  When that happens, all we can do is try our best to cope with the situation and trust that things will eventually get better.

Last Thursday, I went to the animal shelter where I volunteer and signed the papers to foster Stanley, a Beagle-mix that was sick with kennel cough.  He’s a sweet dog, and I knew he would get better much faster at our house.  I was also hoping that if everything went well, I’d be able to adopt him once he was healthy.  So I loaded Stanley in my car and headed for home.  Halfway there, I realized he was peeing all over the car seat (thank goodness I’d thought to cover it with pee-pads).  I told him to stop, which he did.  Unfortunately, he promptly threw up instead.  And not just on the pee-pads.

These things happen, so I was annoyed, but not too upset.  I put him in the back yard, pulled on some rubber gloves and cleaned up the mess.  It took awhile since the vomit managed to seep into almost every nook and cranny in the car (I had to use a toothpick to scrape it away from the gear shift), but by the time I was finished, no one would ever know a dog had used the front seat of my car as his personal toilet.

My grandson had been sick with RSV since Wednesday, and I was planning to babysit for him on Friday.  But his symptoms worsened dramatically, so we ended up taking him the emergency room on Friday morning where they promptly admitted him to the hospital.  The next two days were a blur of very little sleep, trying to help my daughter and son-in-law without being intrusive, and a whole lot of worry.  There is just something so wrong about a baby in a hospital gown.

And just to make things even more interesting, our furnace decided to quit working Friday night, on the eve of what promised to be the coldest day of the year.  The good news was a service man was able to come to our house first thing Saturday morning.  The bad news was that we needed a part that cost $1,300 and wasn’t going to be available until Monday, or possibly Tuesday.  All I can say is that I’m very grateful for space heaters.

So, one way or another, it’s been a rough weekend and a very long week.  But life is nothing but a series of ups and downs, and things are finally on the upswing.  Our grandson got to come home last Sunday afternoon, and a few days later was back to his normal happy, healthy self.  Our furnace is working again.  The foster dog has settled in nicely and appears to be housebroken.  Even the nasty cold that I managed to catch mid-week is starting to fade, making me hope that I might actually get to enjoy the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

If I’d had my way, most of the events of the past week would never have happened.  But they did, and the good thing is, we got through them.  In the process, we were reminded that we’re stronger and more resilient than we thought, and that we have many people we can count on for support when we need them.  And that gives me hope for the next time life throws a curve ball our way…..

The Best-Laid Plans

My schedule has been very hectic lately, which is why I was really looking forward to Saturday.  Saturday was the first day in over a week when I actually had a big chunk of free time, and I was planning to use it to get caught up on some of the things I still needed to do for Christmas.  I thought I’d get up early, hit a few stores before the crowds came out, and then go home to make a few batches of Christmas cookies and stash them in the freezer.  Afterwards, I planned to go out somewhere casual with my husband for a pizza dinner.   I planned to make Saturday both relaxing and productive, since I could move along at my own pace without having to keep a set schedule.  But things don’t always go according to plan.

My day started early when my mother called to say she was feeling very sick:  extremely dizzy and weak.  I hurried over to her house and ended up taking her to an Urgent Care Center, where they discovered that her heart rate was alarmingly low.  The doctor recommended we go to the Emergency Room of a nearby hospital for further tests and evaluation, and said she would probably be admitted to the hospital.  It’s scary when your elderly mother needs to go to the hospital, but she was putting on a brave face and so I did the same.  I drove her to the ER, where they did a few quick tests before putting her in a wheelchair to wait for the next available doctor.

Luckily, her condition seemed to improve with each passing hour.  When she told me to wheel her over to the receptionist’s desk so she could ask why it was taking so long for her to see a doctor, I knew she was feeling much better.  When she finally did see a doctor and she passed all her tests with flying colors, I became very hopeful, especially when he said she could go home.  And when she started singing along to the radio on the drive home, I knew she was going to be just fine.

The “relaxing and productive” Saturday I had planned turned out to be neither relaxing or productive.  And that meant the already busy schedule I had on Sunday became even busier.  But you know what?  It doesn’t really matter.  Both my mother and I got through a difficult day just fine, and we learned a few lessons along the way.  The most practical lesson was that she needs to remember to keep her Medicare card in her purse, because she needs it to be treated at an Urgent Care or Emergency Room.  But there were other, more important, lessons to be learned as well.

IMG_4369I learned that planning is a good thing, as long as I bear in mind the possibility that things can happen that blow my plans right out of the water.  I learned that my mother can exhibit a great deal of grace under pressure, and that she knows how to be brave when confronted with the possibility of a serious health issue.  I hope that she learned she can count on her family to help her in those times, because that is exactly what family is supposed to do.

Finally, I learned that there is no need to worry about the unexpected problems that pop up in our life, because we can’t predict when the bad stuff will happen or what form it will take.  It’s enough to know that when the hard times come, we will find the strength to cope and to do what we need to do.  Because life doesn’t always go according to plan…

Time Out

I’ve been out of sorts lately, both physically and emotionally.  I’ve been tired and cranky, lacking the energy to perform even the most basic daily chores and not particularly interested in engaging in the social activities I usually enjoy so much.  I thought I might be coming down with some sort of virus, but days passed and I never actually got sick.  It took me a while to figure it out, but I finally realized what was wrong with me was that I was feeling totally and completely overwhelmed and that trying to keep up with everything I usually do was only making things worse.

Feeling overwhelmed now and then is normal for me, as it is for most people.  Most of us lead busy lives with responsibilities that we can’t drop every time they feel a little too heavy.  I volunteer regularly at an open-admission animal shelter, and I can promise you that every single person who either works for or volunteers at an open-admission animal shelter is all too familiar with feeling overwhelmed.  It’s just part of the package.  And I know the same is true for parents with little children, people with super-stressful jobs, those who are primary care-takers for aging parents, just to name a few.  There are times when know that we’re trying our best, but we also know that our best is not quite good enough.

Dealing with our own issues is hard enough, but we are also constantly aware of the onslaught of tragedies that are playing out in the world.  The Las Vegas massacre, Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, the earthquake in Mexico–the bad news just keeps coming, and it becomes almost impossible to even process it after a while.  Honestly, it’s not  surprising that most of us feel overwhelmed at times.  And when we do, sometimes the best response is to take a little break from it all.

Taking a break doesn’t come naturally to me, probably because it feels too much like wimping out.  I have a tendency to think that I should be able to handle whatever life happens to throw at me, and that admitting there are times when I can’t is the same as admitting that I am weak.  But I’m not.  I’m just like everyone else:  I have my limits.  And when I hit them, I need to step back and allow myself to catch my breath.

So this past week, I didn’t write my usual blog post for no other reason that it felt like too much work.  I gave myself a couple of days to perform only the essential chores and let the other stuff slide.  I didn’t accept any invitations for social gatherings.  I watched only enough news to learn the basic facts, then either turned the TV off or switched to a different channel.  I let my phone ring out more than once, knowing that any important messages would be left on my voice mail.

And you know what?  It worked.  Taking a break from it all didn’t make the world any better or make any of my problems go away, as nice as that would be.  But it did change my attitude and it did restore my confidence in my ability to cope with the the things I need to handle.  My head doesn’t hurt anymore, and I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends this weekend.

I am a strong person, but that doesn’t mean I can be strong enough all the time.  And for those times when I’m not strong enough, a little “time out” is exactly what’s needed.

Letting Go

IMG_1116I am the first to admit that I am not particularly good at “going with the flow.”  I may not be fond of schedules (being over-scheduled actually makes me cranky), but I do like to know what to expect in any given situation.  And the reason I want to know what to expect is so that I can prepare for it, fully and meticulously.  Being prepared makes me feel as if I’m on top of things, and  secure in the knowledge that I’ll be able to handle whatever situation happens to arise.  Trust me, I would have made an amazing Boy Scout.

When I’m going to be spending the night at a hotel, I bring along a box fan, a pillow and a night light, just so I can be sure of getting a good night’s sleep.  (I can only sleep on a soft pillow, the night light helps me find my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and the box fan drowns out the sounds of my husband’s snoring.)  I don’t set foot on an airplane without a carry-on containing food and water (I was once stuck on a runway for five hours), a light sweater in case they turn up the AC, and a couple of crossword puzzles to pass the time.  The trunk of my car is packed with emergency essentials, including a pair of comfortable walking shoes just in case the car breaks down and I have to walk to the nearest gas station.  One way or another, I like to be prepared.

The problem is that there is so much in my life that I can’t possibly prepare for, and when that happens, I tend to get very anxious.  For example, I didn’t plan to spend last month dealing with complicated dental problems, but that’s exactly what happened.  And the situation was made even worse because I was never exactly sure what to expect at each office visit, which left me feeling completely unprepared and unsure of my ability to cope.  That meant I spent a lot of time and energy in these past few weeks worrying and fretting about dental procedures that weren’t even all that bad when I actually had them done.

I may be almost sixty, but there are still many things I hope to learn in this life.  And one of the biggest lessons I’m hoping to learn is how to let go of my belief that I can actually anticipate and prepare for all the problems that come my way.   Because I realize that my obsession with being prepared is really just a way of trying to stay in control, and there is always going to be a portion of my life that is absolutely beyond my control.   And just like everyone else in the world, I need to find a way to come to terms with that.

A good first step, I suppose, is focusing on the things that I can control (I will always travel with at least a fan and a pillow) and trying hard not to think so much about the things I can’t control.  An even better step might be to remind myself that I am stronger and more resilient than I think I am, and that I am also resourceful enough to find solutions to problems when and if they present themselves.   Because if I can remember that, then it’s so much easier to just let go of all the rest.

The Wall

If I made a list of 1,000 ways I’d like to spend my day, having a root canal wouldn’t make the cut.  I’m nervous during even routine visits to the dentist, where the only thing they remove from my teeth is a little bit of unwanted tartar.  Major procedures where they actually drill into my teeth to remove nerves or advanced decay usually terrify me, and make me wish I had a nice big bottle of Valium handy.  Or morphine.  Or enough anesthetic to knock out a hippo.

So I’d been feeling pretty darned proud of myself lately, what with getting through two root canals in less than a week and managing to handle myself with a certain amount of grace and dignity during both of them.  I did not curse at the dentist, try to exit the chair before the procedure was over, or threaten anyone with grievous bodily harm if they hurt me at all.  I was polite and cooperative, if a bit tense, and even thanked both the dentist and her assistant for their good work before I left the office.

All of which is to say that I had convinced myself that I was finally okay with major dental procedures, and no longer the sort of person who had a hard time sleeping the night before even a minor filling was scheduled.  I won’t go as far as saying that I was looking forward to the three crowns I have to get next week, but I wasn’t overly nervous about them either.  So it came as a complete shock to me just how strongly I reacted last night when I discovered that there was a chance I might actually need a third root canal  before the week was up.

If you’ve ever seen a two-year old throw a temper tantrum, you can probably picture the hissy fit I threw last night.  I stomped around the house, said all the curse words that I had held back during the previous root canals, snapped at my husband when he tried to reason with me, and even cried just a little bit. Eventually, not unlike a two-year old, I took to my bed and slept it off. Apparently, I wasn’t handling things quite as well as I had thought.

What I had assumed was a major change in my feelings about dental procedures was actually just a case of my sucking it up and doing what needed to be done.  Two of my teeth needed a root canal, and so I had two root canals, and behaved like an adult during the process.  But underneath that calm demeanor was a person who is very anxious whenever she sits down in the dental chair, and that person was counting on the fact that there were no more root canals in her near future.  The possibility that I might have to endure another one was more than I could handle last night, and so I had just a bit of a melt-down.

Of course, once I woke up this morning, I had calmed down and realized that I could, in fact, handle whatever procedures, dental or otherwise, I am still facing.  And even though I was just a little embarrassed by my behavior last night, I also realized that it really isn’t anything to be embarrassed about.  No matter how much we try to be strong and cope with whatever life throws at us, there are times when it is just going to feel like too much.  And those are the times when we “hit the wall,” emotionally speaking.  We vent, we cry, we withdraw a bit, and stop pretending to be stronger than we really are.  It’s just part of being human.

And eventually, we find the courage to pick ourselves up and keep right on going, which is all that really matters anyway.

Strong Enough

IMG_0448This morning I was down at the animal shelter where I volunteer, getting ready to take a dog on its walk, when another volunteer turned to me and said, “That dog is kind of hard to get leashed up.  Do you want me to help you?”  I didn’t say it out loud, but my first reaction was, “Seriously?  You want to help me?

I’ve been walking dogs at this shelter for over fifteen years, and the volunteer who was offering to help me was still fairly new.  Plus, I am one of the volunteers who is authorized to handle even the most difficult-to-walk dogs, and I have always sort of pictured myself as someone other volunteers can turn to for help.  Having someone else offer to help me with a dog almost seemed like an insult to my dog-walking skills, and I even opened my mouth to tell her, “No thanks, I’ve got this.”  But then, thankfully, my ego checked out and my common sense checked in.

The volunteer who was offering to help me was probably thirty years younger than I am, and judging by her muscle tone, also much stronger.  And she wasn’t offering to help me because she thought I was incompetent, she was offering because the dog in question was very big, and often so excited to go for his walks that he almost pulls the person trying to walk him down.  And, as long as I’m being so honest, I’ll admit that she was probably offering because she could plainly see that I am no longer young or particularly strong.  Accepting her help just made sense, and so I did.

I have come to believe that the most difficult aspect of aging is the steadily widening gap between who I think I am, and who I actually am, physically speaking.   Accepting the wrinkles, grey hair and sagging skin that come with aging is only part of the struggle.  For me, the more difficult thing to accept is that I no longer have anywhere near the strength and stamina that I did when I was young, which means I’m still a bit shocked every time I try to do something I used to do so easily and find that it’s just a bit too much for me now.  The woman who once regularly carried fifty-pound bags of grain for her horse is now asking for help carrying in some of the heavy bags from the grocery store. And sometimes that smarts a bit.

IMG_4349Still, there is nothing I can do but accept the changes that are happening in, and to, my body.  I may still be young in spirit….and hope that I always will be….but I am no longer quite so young in body, and that means that I have to remember to cut myself some slack.  I need to pay attention to my physical limits these days, and be willing to ask for help when I need it.  I also need to be strong enough to graciously accept help when it’s offered, even those times when I didn’t ask for it.  Because the time is coming, slowly but inevitably, when the only shelter dogs I’ll be walking are the chihuahuas.

No Contest

IMG_2401I’m worried about my dog.  Last Friday, she had what appeared to be a stroke and we rushed her to the emergency vet clinic, thinking that the end had come.  It turned out to be Vestibular Syndrome, which looks like a stroke, but the vet said her chances of recovery are actually quite good.  The problem is that Lucy is 15-years old and so far, her recovery has been very slow.

Her eyes are no longer twitching, she’s no longer drooling non-stop and she has regained control of her bladder.  But she’s still lurching around with her head twisted sharply to the right, can’t manage stairs, wipes out completely now and then, and is eating only sporadically.  Lucy is usually fiercely independent, and although she has mellowed somewhat with age, she has always been a sassy little hell-raiser.  So it is hard to see her so tired and bewildered, so unsure of her movements, and so completely dependent on our help.  I cling to the hope that the vets are right and she will continue to improve.  But meanwhile, I worry.

At first, I was reluctant to tell anyone what I was feeling, because I was afraid of the responses I would get.  Yes, I know she’s “just a dog,” and there are people who are suffering from much worse,  and there are even more people out there who are watching loved ones suffer from painful and potentially fatal diseases.  I also know that among my fellow dog-lovers there are many who have watched their own dog suffer, and sometimes even die, of much worse things .  But eventually, I came to the conclusion that even though I feel genuinely sorry for what other people are going through, that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to worry about my dog’s bout with Vestibular Syndrome.

Worry, like grief, is personal.  There’s no competition for who is dealing with the worst hardship or the greatest tragedy.  Whatever it is that I’m coping with, there will always be someone out there coping with something much worse.  But that doesn’t diminish my feelings.

I remember when I was planning my father’s memorial service, and in the midst of trying to make so many decisions, I blurted out the to minister, “This is just so hard!”  He  reminded me that my father was old and sick when he died, so I didn’t have it nearly so bad as people who were planning a funeral for someone who had died young and suddenly.  And you know what?  That response didn’t help at all.   My father may have been old and sick, but my grief was still real, and so was my frustration at trying to figure out the right way to honor his memory.

I know the minister didn’t mean to dismiss my feelings (aside from that remark, he was quite helpful and supportive), but he made the common mistake of trying to rate the bad stuff that happens in our lives on some sort of world-wide scale.  And that’s not helpful.  If I’m upset about something, I don’t benefit from being told it’s a “First-world problem.”  A mother grieving for her dead baby doesn’t need to have someone point out to her that, unlike some other grieving mothers, she has still has another child to love.  A man standing next to the concrete slab where his house used to be doesn’t want to be told, “you’re one of the lucky ones, because the tornado missed your barn.”  Those may be true statements, but they only serve to tell someone that they shouldn’t be feeling what they actually are feeling.

I believe that each of us is allowed to be upset, to worry, and to grieve exactly the way we want to and need to, without being judged or corrected.  There is no prize for the one suffering from the biggest tragedy, and no one deserves to have their feelings dismissed for being too trivial.  Our emotions are real and need to be dealt with as such, even if they don’t make much sense to others.  Because when it comes to feelings, there really is no contest at all.

Time Marches On

Jones girlsIs it just me, or is the world really changing so much faster than ever before?  It seems that as soon as I master a new technology, it becomes obsolete.  As soon as I learn the latest lingo, it is no longer used, and I barely have time to wrap my head around the latest tragedy in the news before it it is followed by another one, usually even more awful.  I really don’t want to be one of those old people who is always saying, “things were so much better back in my day,” but there are times when I really do feel that way.

My husband and I were eating dinner at a restaurant the other night, and I couldn’t help noticing the table of eight young women who were seated next to us.  (I admit, I am hopelessly nosy.)  They were all dressed up for a festive night out, but their table was eerily quiet, because each and every one of them was staring intently at her cell phone. Of course it was possible that they were all looking something up that had to do with their night out together, but they weren’t.  Craning my neck, I could see that two of them were scrolling down their Facebook news feeds and another was texting a friend.  (I told you I was nosy.)  And they all seemed to think that ignoring the people they were with and looking to their cell phones for entertainment was perfectly normal.

Living our lives on-line is the new normal for most people, even in my own family.  My daughter routinely posts photos of our family gatherings on Facebook, sometimes while they are still going on.  New parents post tons of pictures of their babies and children on social media, usually in good taste, but not always.  I can’t help thinking that the moms who put up the photos of their toddler on the potty are going to have some explaining to do someday.

But one way or another, I am most certainly not living in the world in which I was raised.  And there are times when I feel a bit overwhelmed by all the changes, and feel nostalgic for the “good old days.”  But then I remind myself that change is inevitable, no matter how quickly it comes, and that it’s not always a bad thing.

Families change significantly, with the older generations passing away and leaving us with only the precious memories of our time together.  But that is balanced as the family gains wonderful new members as people marry into it and new generations are born.  The latest technology may be challenging to keep up with, and only time will tell the true effects it has on individuals and society as we become ever more dependent on it and have less and less need to think for ourselves.  But the latest technology also routinely saves lives in hospitals across the world, and enable us to stay in close contact with friends and relatives, no matter where they live.

I may be a bit fascinated by the past, but I sure don’t want to go back and actually live during the time before air-conditioning, antibiotics and automobiles were invented.  In many ways, the “good old days” weren’t always so good.  Like most people, I remember the good things and gloss over the bad.

So when I find myself feeling a bit cranky about all the changes around me, I remind myself that time does not stand still, and never has.  It may well be true that changes are coming at us at a much faster pace than ever before, but that’s not something I can control.  But what I can do is pick and choose which changes I embrace, which ones I simply cope with, and which ones I just plain ignore.  And for me, that makes it so much easier to cope.