Tag: midlife transition

Finding Courage

Finding Courage

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”  ~ Anaïs Nin 

3823782148A few years ago, a couple of friends and I bought matching silver “tree of life” pendants for our necklaces.  I love the tree of life and it’s representation of a healthy life with strong roots holding to the earth, and healthy limbs reaching for the sky.  Later, I added a small charm with the word courage carved into it, and another love charm later from a friend.  I treasured my jangling trio, until one day recently, I reached down and they were gone.  My necklace turned up at a place I had visited earlier in the day, but all three charms were gone.

I was thinking about my missing charms a few days later while talking with my daughter who was home on college break, and how everything is constantly changing.  It is the transition, the actual act of changing from one thing to another that is often the most difficult part.  At 19, my daughter is transitioning from child to adult and her 22 year-old brother, graduating from college soon, is doing the same.   Managing this transition is a turbulent, unsteady time for me, a time of missteps and discovery which can be exhilarating and a little scary.  I would imagine it’s similar for them.

As my children transition and step up to their adult lives, my mother with Alzheimer’s disease, is stepping out of hers.

When I was pregnant with my children, I was in awe of the women who had given birth before me.  It seemed I noticed the mothers in the world for the first time.  Her and her and her.  Mothers.  They were suddenly everywhere and they became holy members of the “mother club.”  How had I not noticed them before?  It’s like this for me now as I notice women whose children are long gone and who have surely lost their mothers by now.  Her and her and her.  Empty nesters, motherless daughters, carrying on, laughing, living.  I’m intrigued and curious about their lives, now lived without their mothers walking this earth, their children far away, and with smiles on their faces.

As my daughter shared her thoughts on growing up and the changes this will bring, we talked about how the only constant thing in life is change, and how we can DSCN0393_2 (1)open our hearts, unclench our grips, and flow with, not fight the changing currents that come our way.  As we talked about letting go, she shared her realization of how difficult it must be for me to lose my mother to Alzheimer’s.  In this moment, with a pensive look on her face,  I knew she was talking about me — that she was imagining ME with Alzheimer’s and HER saying the long good-bye.

It hit me then — my daughter is watching me navigate my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease just like I watched my mom with her mother.  What kind of message was I sending my children in my struggle to let go of my mother and of them? What were they learning from me about accepting change?  Perhaps more importantly, what message did I want to give them?  In barely a breath, a subtle shift took place and I told my daughter that letting go and embracing change is what we must do if we are to live in peace.

I realized that letting go and embracing change is what I must do if I am to live in peace.

Maybe it’s peace that I see on the faces of the motherless daughters with faraway children who seem firmly planted in their next chapter.   If that’s the case, I like to imagine theirs was a hard won peace that began with a valiant struggle against the strong tides of change, tossing them about, churning up muck, then spitting them out into calm waters once they accepted the flow — and finally let go.

A little lighter, and later in the day, my daughter joyfully tracked me down and announced, “Dad found your courage on the driveway!”  We shared a knowing look, then laughed at the fullness of the moment — my courage had been found!  It was beat up but intact, along with my tree of life and love charms which were also on the driveway.  It turns out, we had been driving and parking on them for a week.

Sometimes I miss things that have been in front of me all along.

**********

Joanne Leonardis
Joanne Leonardis

Joanne’s most recent occupation was as a stay-at-home mom to an active son and daughter.  But due to the recent fledgling flight of her children to college, Joanne’s full-time job was recently down-graded to part-time, with most of her duties occurring during the summer months, Christmas break, and through frequent texting.

When she’s isn’t tending to her far away children, or contemplating what her next chapter will be, Joanne spends a fair amount of time as a long-distance caregiver for her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease, and her father who is bewildered by living alone after 50+ years of togetherness.

Joanne has a B.S. in Human Services Counseling, and has worked as a Social Worker with the elderly and at-risk-youth. She currently volunteers in her community in various capacities including as an Alzheimer’s Advocate.  When not traveling between Virginia and Minnesota to visit her parents, Joanne enjoys gardening, meditating, running, and spending time with her husband.

Joanne writes about preventing Alzheimer’s, navigating mid-life, and letting go of her mom on her website Racing Alzheimers
You can also find her on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RacingAlzheimers and twitter at https://twitter.com/RacingALZ

The Ageless Wisdom of Childhood

The Ageless Wisdom of Childhood

Childhood is a magical time. In spite of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, innocent beings see life differently. A child has an enormous curiosity, endless good will, hope that won’t quit and complete faith in life. The years may whittle away our innocence and undermine our confidence in life, but I have come to believe that the gifts we were given at birth remain with us far beyond childhood. They have simply gone underground for safekeeping until such time that we can once again appreciate them and put them to good use.

As a child, I lived in the magnificent state of Maine. It was pure heaven for a kid like me. Building snow forts and sucking on icicles were among my favorite pastimes in winter…catching polliwogs and climbing to the top of an enormous rock with my best friend or a picnic in the woods were my summertime delights.  I was too young to realize it was the freezing cold back woods of hell for my mother. It was home to me and I loved it.

I didn’t brood on unpleasant things, such as the very real health issues I had, that I would today, nor did I give them much import.  Nor did I reflect on the drudgery of day-to-day life in school or how difficult it was to be painfully shy. I didn’t lose myself to self-pity, or pay too much attention to the sadness I later recognized at being relegated to the least important member of my family of eight. I found my peace in the woods and by drawing enormous yellow suns on the whitest paper I could find. I created what warmth I could and allowed it to shine down upon me from its thumb tacked position on the wall where it kept me warm despite the coldness in my days.

Children are amazingly resilient creatures. We would benefit from taking a moment to get acquainted with the one that still lives inside of each of us. Perhaps if we take a few moments to look back upon our younger years and roust that innocence from its long winter of hibernation, we might find the remnants of our authentic selves and the strength and wisdom that still reside within us. The hope and joy that comforted us then might just be what we need to face life’s challenges today.

As a child, I knew the face of God, though He did not have a name. I trusted implicitly the outstretched arms of protection that held me securely when I rested in the hollow of an enormous tree. I soaked up the comforting aroma of peace from the woodsy smell of nature and I was inspired by the force of hope as I watched day after day as an enormous icicle grew steadily on the corner of our little house, until it reached the ground. I soaked up with amazement the charity and benevolence of nature as I watched mesmerized by the continuous drip, drip, drip of maple syrup as it flowed from the little tube my Dad and inserted into our Maple tree. I rested in the unending peace that comforted me as I lay in my mother’s lap on Sunday mornings, listening with my whole being to the echo of reverence as it seeped unannounced into my soul and the sweet scent of flickering candles lulled me to sleep. I knew God then. Only I have changed.

Every Accomplishment Begins with the Decision to Try*

Every Accomplishment Begins with the Decision to Try*

Winter Scene by Peder Monsted

Too often fear stops us dead in our tracks. Too often we give in to negative thinking that takes our dreams and turns them into a hundred and one reasons why we really don’t want to do the thing we think about doing. I’m the queen of negative thinking and fear, so I know what I’m talking about.

Fear and lack of confidence come from a variety of childhood experiences that carry forward year after year, morphing and compounding so that even with the help of therapy it is easy to remain stuck. As our birthdays pile up and we see our days on this earth coming to an end we either feel the pressure of our dreams yet to be accomplished or give into despair. There really is no more time, or need, for therapy, thinking and trying to get the confidence to proceed.

Fortunately, living our dreams is still within our reach and easier than we think, because all we have to do is make the decision to try. Take the leap of faith. Just do it, one step at a time. There are no mistakes in life. There are only experiences from which we learn and move on. And every accomplishment begins with the decision to try.

* The title of this blog is taken from a quote from Neil Wood’s Optimist Island Daily Quotes on Facebook by an unknown source