Fasten your seat belts this is going to be a long ride and I won’t blame you if you bail before we arrive at the destination…Day Three Initiate
My life’s destruction began just about six years ago, almost two years after I pulled off the great escape from my past life by retiring from a very productive but unfulfilling 30 year career in risk management. What’s that you ask? Ahh…we’ll get to that another time. Today I’m moved to put down the sequence of events that led to the downfall of my life as I knew it. I’ve never really thought about how I got here from there until this morning.
Retirement was good, great to be away from the hierarchy, the constant micromanagement, and justification of every decision but I missed the stimulating interactions with my professional peers and the travel to conferences, seeing new faces and places. I was very pleased that I had been able to retire at 61 and how my finances had all worked out considering my start “behind the eight ball” in 1968, a widowed high school graduate with three children under 6 to support. I could travel I had a home I loved and an exciting future beckoned. I decided to get my real estate license so I could meet people, keep busy and still have time for travel, lots of travel!
In the summer of 2006 I was six months or so into my new “career” when it became apparent that my mother could no longer live alone as she had for the past 30 years. She was forgetting to eat meals, shower, change her clothes and a few other not so important daily things. I would find her sitting in a chair, where it appeared she had been all day, not having eaten anything. I became concerned and talked to her about having someone come in to help or set up meal deliveries. She wouldn’t hear of it and didn’t want a “stranger” in the house “besides they would probably just rip me off,” she would say. So I thought it would be a good idea for her to move in with me. My sibling wasn’t too keen on the idea and thought an assisted living facility would be a better choice for mother and me. She seemed to think I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into and maybe I didn’t really. After much discussion with my sister and brother and a group meeting with mom we gave her the choice of having someone come in and help, move to an assisted living facility or move in with me. She chose the later as the lesser of the three evils, not being keen on any of them, preferring to have her “own place”.
The next couple of years developed a comfortable rhythm and I began to feel content. Mom seemed to thrive and I reestablished a relationship with my father who I had been estranged from for a number of years. His second wife was bedridden and dying. During the time they had been married he had always put her and their relationship first to the exclusion of our relationship, perhaps because I was a staunch defender of my mother, not because I thought she was right but because she was the underdog, weaker somehow and is some ways quite strong to her own detriment. She was private and not available to get close to for me (or my dad I think).
Dad and I would get together most Sunday afternoons for “cocktail hour” to talk and solve world problems over a drink, his was Gin and mine was Canadian and water. We discussed politics, world suffering, the fate of humanity, the efficacy of religion, you name it there was no topic left untouched. It was a delightful outlet for me, adult conversation with a challenging intelligent companion and it was especially good to establish the relationship with him that I had always wanted as a child and throughout my teen years. He came to family gatherings at my home too and was especially pleased with the space I had set up for mom. He had been distant and critical of me most of my life. We met for the first time when I was over a year old after he returned from the South Pacific at the end of WWII. I think it took him 50 years to feel connected to me and to make matters worse I was a strong willed, difficult child. If you “didn’t like me as I was too bad for you” was my mantra and defense mechanism. His interests and mine were greatly divergent and he showed little respect for my passion for language, the arts, history and culture. In the last decade of his life he gave a lot of thought to the state of humanity and it problems facing the people of the world and I had long since delved into the world of science, physics, solar energy and technology. We found common ground and mutual respect through our growth and maturity and the icing on the cake was one evening when he confessed to being sorry for not being there for me and being a poor father. It came at a time when I had recognized that my response to his neglect had given me the strength, character and determination to become who I am and I am grateful for that. I told him so and that I believed everything is there for us to learn from. I was to have him for a short five years or so but they were the best and I still treasure that time.
In October, just a month after his 49th birthday I lost one of the greatest gifts I’ve received in my life. My beautiful first born son was killed in a one vehicle accident while on a job 1500 miles away. Nick was always the one to give me a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek that would make my ears ring each time we got together. He was the one who would kid me out of being angry with him throughout his adolescence with silly performances from old movies and voice imitations. Nick had an amazing imagination and had inherited my love of language. We got the news that his dad was missing when he was just finishing first grade. It had a profound affect on him both because he was close to his father and because I became a zombie, going through the motions of everyday life, cooking cleaning, getting the kids to school, going back to school myself to provide for them but I realize now I was emotionally unavailable to them. I loved them dearly but was lost in my own loss and overwhelmed by life. Nick had finally gotten to a place in his life where he had bought his first house, gotten his depression under control, was no longer receiving disability payments and had applied for a job that he was excited about so he wouldn’t have to travel. He had three children and four grandchildren who he enjoyed immensely. Even though his death left a huge hole in many lives I am grateful he had reached a place of peace and accomplishment in his life.
The following spring my youngest son and his wife began to have financial difficulties. His business was costing more than it was taking in. The contracts didn’t pay enough to cover the travel and costs involved so he decided to switch to local work. He had accumulated a number of debts at high interest rates and the cumulative payments were overwhelming. I was in a very comfortable place in my retirement and offered to consolidate them into two accounts that had lower interest and would reduce his payments. After giving it considerable thought they decided it would enable them to get on their feet and I took on the debts. It soon became apparent that it wasn’t going to be enough to keep them afloat and about a year later they filed for bankruptcy, lost both of their vehicles but were able to keep the house, leaving me with the two additional debts. His wife went back to school to get an RN designation and finished that in two years. They are getting back on their feet and handling their day to day expenses now but not the debts I assumed.
During this time I was laid off from my teaching job I had started the year after I retired. Not only did it affect my income but the peace and pleasure I had found teaching was gone as well. The school was suffering from reduced enrollment and loss of revenue. They waited ‘until the end of the school year after we had closed up our classrooms and went home for the summer to call me. I was disappointed but confident that it would be okay, now three years later I realize what a devastating blow it really was!
The past three years without that income has been a day to day challenge, I’ve eliminated subscription TV, my smart phone, the land line, weight watchers, online dating and anything else I could think of to reduce the monthly bills. Fortunately my car was paid off in the fall of the year I was laid off, but I still have the tuition for private school for two of my grandchildren which I wouldn’t complain about because I really believe it is giving them a leg up on life and education.
My dad, my support and confidant died shortly after Thanksgiving 2009 and I miss him and our talks terribly. I’ve spent the last 18 months administering his estate and preparing his house for sale. So many memories were there though I had never lived in that house, the pictures, memorabilia, furniture and even the well stocked liquor cabinet and his travel cocktail kit filled me with thoughts of his life and who he had been here and to all of us. He had taken a road trip the previous summer, two years ago this month, to visit Wisconsin and all his old haunts in Milwaukee around the campus where he had gone to college and where he had met my mother and gotten married on Valentines Day 1942. While in Milwaukee, he bought a new comforter for his bed at the Company Store where he had gotten one 50 years earlier. I have it on my bed now. He visited the small town where he was born and the other where he had grown up and the few people left who he had known, not many, he was 91 that summer. My family and I met him at the Wisconsin Dells for a short vacation and then went up to Clintonville for a memorial for his second wife who had died the previous fall. He was amazing and my inspiration, a 3000+ mile road trip, alone at 91, I aspire to that!
So that brings me to June 2012, my mother has declined considerably but is still with me and I’m glad I made the choice to have her here. I’m still keeping my nose above water and eager for the light at the end of the tunnel, (and hoping it’s not the proverbial train! Ha!) When I started this a couple of days ago I was feeling defeated and somewhat hopeless and wanted to analyze how I had gotten myself into this mess, just a drudge, mopping floors, fixing meals, paying bills, unable to go out evenings or only briefly with no end in sight. I started pondering and writing about it, looking for solutions along the way. I made an appointment with a therapist, I desperately need someone to talk to, I haven’t taken time to develop lifelong friendships over the years and with dad gone I need someone to listen to me. I applied for admission to the university so I can take a class or two in the Fall, I’ve been working on finding a job but starting to feel it may not be necessary so I’ve been looking at worldwide volunteering opportunities so I can travel with a purpose and I’ve been writing more. I heard Roselyn Carter speak last month and was inspired by what she and Jimmy have done since the White House, she’s about 20 years older than I, so it looks like I may still have time! I’m feeling the tingle of anticipation and optimism for the coming year…writing is the right thing to do for me, anytime, anywhere.