The past few years have kind of kicked my trash, and the past year has nearly buried me.
Four years ago, we moved to Texas, and left behind a support network that felt like family. I watched my children struggle, feel alone, and come to know a new, damaging kind of loneliness. The kind that stays with you and leaves a mark. I, myself, felt empty and adrift, as I tried to plug in to our new life. It took longer this move than it ever has before, and the melancholy hung in the air like a thick fog. It felt claustrophobic and exhausting.
My health presented some challenges, as well. In addition to the Crohn's disease that sometimes can dictate my life for me, I faced new issues that were mentally and physically exhausting. I had two different types of skin cancer excised, broken ribs, a benign bone tumor, and surgery on my uterus.
In addition to that, my family began to take on a new, unfamiliar shape. My oldest child graduated from high school and went to college. After one semester, he then left on a two-year mission trip for our church in Rancagua, Chile. I only get to speak to him twice a year, and we communicate via email the rest of the time.
His absence affected us all in different ways, and I found myself struggling to help everyone cope, especially given that I was falling apart myself. I began to feel a sense of panic. With McKay's departure, I knew that Chase would follow in less than two years, and two years after that, Hannah would go. I felt these children slipping through my fingers and the despair consumed me. I was shocked that my entire life's work would have the nerve to just walk out the door and leave me behind. The unfairness of this prospect left me both depressed and rageful. I didn't feel ready to be done mothering so soon. I had sacrificed everything for these three beautiful creatures, and I had never given a single thought to what came after them. I figured that part of my life would take care of itself.
For an OCD-driven planner, I did a pretty poor job of planning my own future.
Instead, I turned to wallowing in regret. I found myself wishing for more children. I bemoaned my foolishness in not having a few more after Hannah went to kindergarten. I rattled on to mothers of young children that they really ought to have more children than they think they want now. It was my favorite soapbox, and I felt sure that I could convince others to avoid the mistakes I had made.
This past weekend, I was at bookclub. It's a new bookclub, and we're all getting to know one another. One of the women there, Nancy, is in her 70s and has faced more than her share of challenges. Life has thrown some pretty tough things her way, and each meeting we've had, I've found myself admiring her toughness and grit. We were discussing motherhood, its challenges, and joys. I shared my well-worn mantra and told the women how I regret that I didn't have more kids. Nancy turned to me and said, "Bullshit. You need to get over that and find out what the next phase looks like. Motherhood is wonderful, but it's not your entire life. Time to get busy and start something new."
The room was silent. I sat there somewhat dumbfounded, unaccustomed to not being coddled by a fellow mother. I expected sympathy, and understanding; what I got instead was the best wake up call of my life. I have not been able to stop thinking about what she said since.
Nancy's words to me were so simple and logical, and I feel foolish that I didn't see it myself. I think I have been looking back instead of forward. I have been so buried in the emotional turmoil that has come as a result of these changes, that I have been unable to look for any solutions. I have been mourning what I will lose when the nest is empty, instead of finding other ways to fill it. I have not dared to imagine a world without their daily presence in it because, quite frankly, having them around is pretty effing fantastic. But that doesn't mean it won't be equally fantastic in different ways when they are gone. I don't know what the next phase of my life will look like, but it's time to stop wallowing and start planning.
One of my favorite lines from the movie Shawshank Redemption is, "Life comes down to a simple choice: You're either busy living or busy dying."
Time to get busy living.