Dear friends, I’ve decided not to die…
It’s not like I wanted to die, it’s just that I thought I had nothing left to do that would ever matter. It wasn’t that I was looking at the number fifty in my life’s rearview mirror, it was that my babies were all officially raised. Raised and thriving. Thriving and accomplishing. Accomplishing and growing and squeezing every drop of sunshine out of every day. Truly, it’s not like I wanted it any other way. I’m so very proud of them and all that they are doing and I thank the Lord daily that they are strong and healthy and happy. It’s just that those seven little ones made my world turn and the first morning it was just Jess and me, I sat alone in the very center of our couch and listened to the complete silence. It was so loud it was palpable. I remember tapping my fingers on the warm coffee cup I held with both hands when I heard myself wonder out loud if maybe there was nothing left for me to do but wait to die.
I hope that’s not too honest to admit?
I wandered around the house and through life, in and out of that state of listlessness for a couple of years. I didn’t feel depressed, and I didn’t not enjoy every wonderful thing that happened during that time, it’s just that I felt kind of useless. If it weren’t for our darling grandbabies and the precious little ones I loved and cared for as a pediatric registered nurse I probably would have taken up some sort of a really bad habit.
Through this I kept my feet moving forward and thanked the Lord for every new sunrise and sunset. Sad things and happy things happened and life continued but I was never completely able to shake that feeling of meh when it came feeling useful.
But then one day I changed my mind about myself.
I decided there was more in me. I stopped mourning my young motherhood and the days when tiny fingers wrapped around my bigger ones and mornings that were ushered in as my little ones snuggled against me in our sometimes too small bed. None of us know how many days we live on this side of heaven and I grew weary of just living mine waiting for my phone to ring with a call from one of my now grown darlings or a grandchild. I know solidly that my children love me, but they need room to continue to grow, and frankly, so do I.
In the last six months, I’ve been blessed by being signed by one of the most amazing and respected literary agents in the publishing world, (I might be only slightly biased about how wonderful Ms. Gardner is). I have a book that has made its way out of my hands and is waiting for its next step. Behind it are the outlines of two other books and two started screenplays for what I truly hope will be wanted by Hallmark. As a whole separate work are several children’s books, and as always some Christmas plays. Whatever happens with any of them I have no worries concerning those works because of the blessing I have in Ms. Gardner. All those thoughts and words and pages are in the most capable hands as they are held in hers. Even if that means some of them are returned and live in my filing cabinet for several more decades or forever.
While it was still the time that a fire burned in our wood stove and the dogs snuggled under blankets I decided I was not too old to dream more, and achieve more, and grow, and learn more. I filled out an application for a doctorate program. Not just any old program but a highly competitive and well-respected one that would also encompass my earning a Family Nurse Practitioner degree. The motivation for this came about because of a deep and relentless calling I feel to be a servant to the children and families who are the future of the Navajo Nation. They don’t need me per se, but I want to offer my hands and my knowledge to whatever way they might be put to work to make life better, easier, healthier.
Hours of prayer, and many discussions with my Jess brought about my preparing a doctoral application. I got busy requesting transcripts, letters of recommendation and gathering other necessary components and getting it all turned in. No easy feat! And then one day, I got the notification that I was going to get to interview for a spot! Me! This mom who thought she was done!
I got in.
I GOT IN.
Now I wait for August to come. But not just wait. I’m busy. I’ve got six classes to finish between today and July 31st. August will begin another new season and I’m so excited to learn all the new things and know all the new stuff and push myself to see if I really have it in me to make it. My Jess says I do. Dr. Taylor and the whole committee says I’m ready. I have three years before there will be no higher degree for me to earn. When the day comes for me to wear an eight-sided velvet tam upon my head I’ll be doing it at almost the same age my mom was when she passed away. There is something significant for me in that. I’ve not fleshed it all out yet but I sense the Lord speaking to me in that fact-I don’t believe in coincidence. Even though I know it’s not possible I somehow also hear my mom’s voice and in my heart I know she is smiling.
There is a tremendous truth in never allowing the world to tell you who you are. When I was young I was lonely, and often alone. When I was a little older I was used, and hurt, and ashamed, and almost broken. I made the choice to marry in my late teens and by the time I was barely twenty I had held in my arms three of the most darling little blue-eyed baby girls. Before I was twenty-five I was divorced and left with my three baby girls, five suitcases, seven cardboard boxes, a rocking chair, and I set off in an old Jeep Cherokee for somewhere far away from the humiliation and the pain. To really throw wood on the bonfire of gossip the only person in that small town who didn’t treat me like a leper was a seriously handsome and well known broad shouldered cowboy who was five almost six years younger than me who said he was going with me, and I let him! Yes, yes I did.
After seven marriage proposals we were married on the front steps of a church (because we could not afford to get married inside of it) by a lady JP (because the pastor we asked to marry us refused saying it would never work and he could not be bothered for such a trivial whim). We added two more darling baby girls and two sweet baby boys and if I were drawing a big circle instead of crafting sentences and paragraphs we’d be back where all these words started.
I’ve faced many losses and many hardships and if I let my critics, my past, my insecurities, and my fear, make my decisions I’d be nowhere but broken and completely used up.
As it gets closer to graduation season my heart goes out to every mama that is looking in the face of a brand new part of life that is being thrust upon her. We raise our children to become independent and to take on life’s challenges with determination and fervor. Then they leave to make their own way and we are left wondering what just happened and how it happen so quickly. The sense of loss is real, and to have grief is normal. There were many moments I chide myself for being ridiculous or berated myself because there were moms who had truly suffered the physical loss of their child and I knew they’d trade places with me in a moment. May we all remember though that pain is relative and it is alright to be sad and to miss your child when they leave home to chase their own brand new dreams and find their own successes.
When we get to this point in our lives we often have lots of things stacked upon our shoulders. Hormone changes, menopause, mid-life, regrets, aging parents, career changes or challenges, or if you’re like me you’ve been a full-time mom that has just realized she’s just been forcibly retired. It’s hard and I don’t have a single piece of advice to make it easier. But I can tell you this-it is survivable and you do have a choice.
Make this season be what YOU want. If you want to write a book, well, write it. If you want to go to school, well, go. If you want to travel, take up gourmet cooking, start a food pantry, or like my sister, start an animal rescue, then do it.
Our life isn’t over, until it’s over.
I wish there was an easy way around the hard stuff but the only way past it is through it.
In this new coming season I expect my writing to get fuller, be more abundant, and more meaningful. I expect my mind to get broader. I expect my hair to get grayer and the lines on my face to get deeper, and I especially await with great anticipation as my faith and devotion to my Father grows ever bigger. May it be and may it always be.
You are still teaching your children regardless of their age or yours. You are showing them what to do with all the life that is left to live when seasons change. Marvin Breckinridge Patterson said of her Aunt Mary Carson Breckinridge, “Having decided that what she wanted to do with the last half of her life was to provide quality healthcare for families in a remote area… she set to her task with intelligence and careful preparation.”
Mary Breckinridge said of herself in her autobiography, Wide Neighborhoods, “I wanted to give care, not to receive it. I read ‘Lycidas,’ ‘Adonais,’ and ‘In Memoriam.’ In the last of these elegies, which I think I read hundreds of times, I found a verse that, with a change of one word, seemed applicable to me:
‘My old affection of the tomb,
A part of stillness, yearns to speak:
Arise and get thee forth and seek
A service for the years to come…’”
That word, service, is a powerful one. Through it we have the ability to make more of our life than would ever be possible if we remain inside of our own walls. It gives us the power to model a richness of living for our sons and daughters and of stewardship for our grandchildren. Service is one of the cornerstones of building a legacy.
Your children will grow up and leave home. You will survive that season. You have a choice to be fully alive regardless of your circumstance.
Be brave, and know that I am cheering you on.