A year ago I was busy thinking about a Word Of The Year (WOTY) to define my personal tempo for 2020. I eventually chose the word “engage”. In retrospect it should have been “acceptance”. I think we can all accept 2020 as a tumultuous year requiring acceptance of so many changes to our way of life, as a Black Swan of massive proportions, altered everything we accepted as normal.
Yet, on this last day of 2020, I sit by the fire looking out a window at birds fluttering around the feeders. Snow melts off the hill. A pot of three bean turkey chili bubbles on the stove. Portia cat insists on snuggling against my thigh while my laptop occupies her usual space. Miles Davis plays softly in the background. I’m writing again. I feel better than I have in years. This peace was a long time coming in an unpredictable year.
Staying faithful to my WOTY, as January gave way to February I arranged for home care help, allowing me a weekly respite to engage with my new community. During January I joined several local organizations for both Martin and me. I planned for yoga and art classes at the Community Center as well as a bookclub. Being the social creature I am, I reveled in the anticipation of making friends. I similarly planned for longer timeouts from caregiving starting with an April spa visit and winery tour at The Grand Traverse Resort. That was to be followed in June with a long trip to storied Mackinac Island.
Then, as we all know, the unthinkably devastating bug known as Covid-19 took over our lives. By early March I became a presumed positive as a local hospital triaged me. There weren’t enough test kits for everyone. Tests were reserved for the worst cases. Mine was mild. Having spent January recovering from bronchitis using a regimen of Prednisone, my doctor later suggested the steroids may have made the difference. Regardless, the experience heightened my awareness of the consequences of the virus. I canceled the trips and home care help. The Community Center shuttered its doors. During the next month we went nowhere, saw no one, excepting our daughter dropping off groceries.
Yet here I sit feeling peace, serenity. I could ask the rhetorical question of why, but I know why. Acceptance. I’m paraphrasing here, but the Dalai Lama said if you can’t find a solution to a problem, then the solution is acceptance. It took me several months to accept even the idea of acceptance. I don’t like change anymore than anyone else. I mentally kicked and screamed a lot. As a result, the thought of acceptance steeped in my consciousness for quite some time before the morning in late November when I awoke to feeling lighter, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
In the months previous, there were plenty of days playing victim, especially as Martin declined. Feeling emotionally defeated by his disease, wanting to think about anything but that, I indulged myself with negative thoughts about the state of the world, political divisions within the United States, my inability to focus long enough to write anything other than my journal, how much I hated the style of the house we bought, missed my South Carolina social life and anything else that came to mind. But, whenever I have felt this way in my life, I get moving physically. And, that’s what I did.
Despite feeling exhausted after recovering from Covid, I stripped more wallpaper and painted more rooms. I’m becoming quite good at painting walls and ceilings. Looking at the ceilings one day I realized the great room ceiling showed a huge leak coming from the master bath above. I didn’t know whether to cry or do the happy dance. The bath was in dire need of updating. Old toilet plumbing caused the leak. Ick! While I saw dollar signs, lots of them, if the floor had to be torn up, I also saw an opportunity to replace the entire bathroom. I went shopping. Mostly virtually but also in person to a showroom open by appointment only. As a bargain hunting enthusiast I was thrilled to leave paying 20% of retail price for floor models, which just happened to fit my plan.
My son-in-law, the builder gutted the master. In the process, we could see mold where the leak found its way into the hall. Ick! Ick! Carpet was ripped up. New hardwood and tile flooring was laid. My oldest granddaughter ran the table saw while my son-in-law and grandson laid flooring. I tried not to think about the cost.
While the interior was being completed, I stained and sealed the front porch deck. Another new house maintenance experience for me. Then, I began digging out the old gardens, dividing plants to spur renewal and settling them into spaces more attuned to their needs. Martin helped with the gardening, moving soil, digging holes and spreading mulch. By this time I had lost 15 pounds. Yippee! And, the style of the house was being transformed. I was beginning to like it.
By the end of August I finally had a much needed respite. Not 15 minutes from the house I rented a cabin from Michigan State University. Quite by accident I discovered the rentals in an email from the MSU Bird Sanctuary. With about 4,000 acres bequeathed to MSU by W.K. Kellogg, it’s used for various types of research including the Kellogg Research Center on beautiful Gull Lake. The Center boasts the former mansion of W.K. Kellogg along with three cabins for rent on a private beach head. I rented Cabin A, took long walks in the research gardens, swam in white sandy bottomed Gull Lake, laid in the sun. Best of all, thanks to Covid, I was the only guest. However, these pleasant surroundings sans caregiving duties renewed me for but a few days.
Upon my return home I was struck by another virus. Sent to the ER for a Covid test, which came back negative, I received the dubious diagnosis of having a virus of the brain or spinal cord. After a week of fever, stiff neck, excruciating headache, extreme exhaustion and soaked sheets, I recovered.
Also, Martin’s neurologist, for many reasons, recommended committing him to assisted living. During a pandemic? With people dying in residential facilities? My soul and heart screamed, “Noooooo.” But my mind and body started going through the process of finding a suitable residence.
Still tired in every way imaginable, by late September, my frayed emotions gave way to a cosmic meltdown. Geez. The loss of my husband to his dying brain, the move to another state, my illnesses, the isolation, the worldwide pandemic, the division within my country all collapsed inward on me. Logically, I knew I was better off than so many in so many ways. That didn’t help. I felt guilty for feeling this unshakable sorrow. A pall settled over my immediate world. But days of crying, introspection, journaling did help.
As I settled upon an assisted living residence, an entry date was chosen. It was to be a Wednesday. I would have scheduled weekly visits as long as I had no Covid symptoms. Then the Thursday prior to admission, I received a call from the Executive Director. They were in lockdown due to a Covid outbreak. Of 20 residents in the building, 14 had Covid. Although there were separate apartments, communal meals and activities allowed it to spread. Subsequently, even after the residence was cleared of Covid, I made the decision to keep Martin home until there was widespread vaccinating.
If you can’t find a solution to a problem, then the solution is acceptance. We are universally in a difficult situation. Some days it’s intolerable. We all have a story about how the pandemic has upended our lives. Though isolated, we are not alone.
Although I spent many months attending to my material surroundings, what I miss most is not material. I miss other people. The material things were just to occupy time. It’s the touch of a hand, a real hug, not a virtual one, a smile not hidden by a mask, a meeting over lunch with friends, sharing thoughts about a recently read book or another students work of art. That’s what I miss. I accept it may be a while longer before those acts are again normal.
Yes, for 2021 my word is acceptance. Within that word lies inner peace and outer calm, the capacity to be comfortable with oneself, the freedom to look at our current state with an open mind.
I wish you all a Healthy, Happy 2021.