The world surely started to spin faster and more madly in the month of December 2012.
Sadness and unease floated through our lives in the weeks leading up to the holiday. The killing of children and teachers in Connecticut was the stuff of waking nightmares. The fiscal cliff was an ominous cloud looming over the nation, threatening not only to create further economic turmoil, but sucking us, once again, into political angst and disillusionment.
On a more personal level, my aunt who lives in Maine died of cancer in early December. Dirk’s aunt in Iowa is terribly ill and dying. A very active, loved and admired member of our local community (a strong, beautiful woman in her early forties) died suddenly of pneumonia. And the mother of one of Zoe and Alexander’s classmates (who we did not know well, because the family had only recently moved to the area) died of cancer, which she had spoken to almost no one about. Just a few days before Christmas, my father emailed to say he had gotten a bad report from the doctor about a spot on his skin and would be going for a follow-up appointment to find out more in early January.
Mortality, loss, and the potential for loss was pushing at me from all directions, and I felt it keenly.
And yet joy crept in. As it will. Christmas was nice. Lights sparkled, candles glowed, cookies were baked, presents were opened. We spent time with friends and family and, somehow, it was just right — actually, one of the better holidays I can recall — festive and fun, but peaceful and relaxed, as well.
And then, just when I thought we were out of the woods — happy holiday accomplished, bills paid, resolutions made and ready to be launched — another body blow. On the morning of December 30, my mother slipped on the snowy floor after taking a bird feeder out onto her deck and fell, injuring her hip and leg. She was transported to the ER by ambulance and then admitted to the hospital for observation. Although she hadn’t broken anything, she was in terrible pain and could barely move. The suggested cause of her condition (more of a speculation than an official “diagnosis”) was severe trauma to the area around her sciatic nerve, a part of the body (and on the side of her body) where she has already had a lot of issues and suffers from chronic pain. As several days passed and she actually felt worse instead of improving, her situation became more uncertain and the outlook more discouraging. Communication with doctors in the hospital (known as “hospitalists” under a new model of health care our local hospital network has adopted) was hard to come by and, to make things even more stressful, my mom’s scenario placed her in a position where Medicare would only cover a certain number of days in the hospital and would not pay for inpatient rehab, despite the fact that she could not even get out of bed by herself.
For those who don’t know me, I’ll explain that I’m my mother’s only child and that she moved to North Carolina from Minneapolis about eight years ago to be near us. My mom is not terribly old (for the mom of a forty-nine year old, that is), but she’s been hit by an array of orthopedic and other health issues over the past ten to twelve years that have seriously challenged her quality of life. It makes me really sad to see how limited she’s become (though she’s one of those people who pushes herself and is still very active in many ways) and how she really cannot do any of the physical activities that she used to love (walking, hiking biking, birding, canoing, camping, cross-country skiing).
And so, we return to December 30 and the call that my mom was in the hospital. After a brief period, it began to appear (though things were still murky and uncertain) that this might be a complicated and prolonged medical situation. Somewhere along the way, I thought to myself: How will I ever be able to accomplish my goals with all that is going on and everything I will have to do to help my mother? It was a selfish thought, and I felt embarrased for having it. But there it was. I felt overwhelmed by the immediate situation and the obstacles ahead.
But with a little time, I began to have a somewhat different perspective. I saw how following through on my goals — the small daily ones that help me stay healthy and the bigger ones I’ve tossed out into the universe for the year ahead — was more important than ever during times of challenge and adversity. There will always be something.
You do what you can. And you do what you must. Or as Bob Dylan said, “You do what you must do, and you do it well.”
So begins 2013.
Please share your stories of challenging situations, how you handled them and whether they turned out better or differently than you expected or feared.