An Ode to the YMCA: Exercise to the rescue

I HEART the YMCA.  It has been a lifesaver.  Following the conclusion of our 5-month post-retirement travel blitz, my subsequent mini-meltdown over what to do with myself, and my husband’s almost tactful suggestion that I get a life, I turned to the YMCA for refuge.  Regular exercise is one of those activities that previously fell into my “Something I’ll Do When I Retire” category.  I’m finding many of those pursuits were not ignored solely due to lack of time.  They are still not appealing now that I have time.  Exercise classes at the YMCA, however, have proven to be a godsend.

Every weekday morning I now spring out of bed, excited about walking the short block to the YMCA.   I comb the schedule and try a variety of classes.   Before retiring, I was never able to make it to classes after work so I was thrilled to try some. Admittedly, I got off to a rough start with my first exercise class, on a Monday morning, called Body Works.  The class description read “The ultimate muscular challenge. This class uses hand held weights, bands, step, body bars, and resistance balls. The focus is muscle strength, endurance and body definition by using proper alignment.”  Now, at one point in my life I was an aerobics junkie, which I credit with getting me through the summer of my Bar Exam.  Obliviously assuming I have the same stamina and abilities I had in my twenties and remembering my doctor’s suggestion that I incorporate weight training in my regimen, I decided this class would be perfect.

For the livelier exercise classes, the room is brimming with mostly female energy

The Body Works class – a room full of women and barbells

The class was not perfect. It started off well enough. The room was full of women, several I knew from around town, and bustling with vivacity.  I was absurdly giddy to be out of the house, surrounded by females and the loud beat of music.  For the first 10 minutes, I jumped and hopped and lunged and ran in place with the best of them. But it soon became clear I had bitten off more than I could chew. I was gasping for air.  As the class progressed, I felt like I was going to die. I decided to dial back and go at my own pace.  I replaced jumps with toe taps and lunges with baby steps. Fortunately for my ego, there was an 80-year-old woman (who I think wandered into the class by mistake) that was having more trouble than me.  If nothing else, it was a class in humility.

Next I checked out Yoga.  I’d never done yoga, which was another thing on my Retirement List. So that Tuesday I decided on the Yoga Stretch class – mainly since, after my class in humility, it had an “E” for “Easy” next to the title. The class description read “Emphasizes physical and mental relaxation, controlled breathing, balance, proper posture and alignment and flexibility. Develop a keen sense of body/mind awareness.”  Great!  It was certainly easier than that damn Body Works class, but it was still challenging to achieve and hold the poses, particularly since I am one of the least flexible people on the planet.  But, after just one class, I could feel improvement in my joints, posture and relaxation.

My set-up for Gentle Yoga class at the Y.  Ninety minutes of bliss.

My set-up for Gentle Yoga class at the Y. Ninety minutes of bliss.

Then I tried Gentle Yoga  (“Focus on releasing tight muscles, increasing range of motion and stress relief”) with an instructor named Diane.   OMG!!!!  It was an hour and a half class, which flew by, of pure bliss and when it was over, I felt like I’d had a spa weekend.  It was divine – Diane’s soothing voice, the focus on breathing, the gentle stretching and poses, aromatherapy with lavender oil, culminating in an extended time of relaxation and mediation.  The worst part was when Diane said it was time to get up and leave.

I also tried two Zumba classes.  One was a regular Zumba class and the other Zumba Gold, which is supposedly lower intensity. The class description read “Zumba fused hypnotic Latin rhythms and easy to follow moves to create a cardio experience that is exhilarating and energizing.”  The description I would’ve written was, “Impossible to follow moves, requiring too much hips and swiveling and coordination, excessive jumping around and a cardio experience that was alarming and exhausting.” I’m certain my heart rate reached 300 and at one point I glanced around for a defibrillator.  I knew I was in trouble when I noticed women wearing Zumba belts, which are apparently designed to accentuate all that hip swiveling.  The Gold class was less jumping around, but had more complicated dance moves, and I wondered how the Zumba instructor was able to watch me without laughing.  I was that clumsy aging celebrity who is the first to go on Dancing with the Stars.

When I saw the Zumba belts I knew I was in trouble

When I saw the Zumba belts I knew I was in trouble

I have since stayed with the Body Works class on Mondays.  I’m determined to get better, and this week I kicked butt the first 20 minutes, which gave me a false sense of competence. Then the [drill] instructor barked orders to go from plank position to standing to plank position to standing, over and over, until I saw stars and heard birdies. I literally came within a resistance ball of passing out in the middle of the class.  The first week I learned humility.  This week I learned to eat breakfast before class and not show off.

What I have really fallen for is yoga.  After I get through Monday and the damn Body Works class, I love, love, love going to my yoga classes.  Yoga relaxes me, helps with my stress level, posture and flexibility.  It feels so much kinder to my body and psyche than the faster aerobic-style classes.   The meditation included gets me centered and calm. I really wish I had discovered yoga when I was working!

The YMCA provides a welcome haven brimming with positive energy.  My exercise classes give me incentive to get up and go, get me off to a good start and they impart structure to my day.  They offer a social experience where I see friends from the community and I’m meeting new ones.  Most importantly, I notice my higher energy levels, improved disposition and a decrease in various aches and pains.  I feel better, both physically and mentally.  I leave the YMCA after one of my workouts and I’m ready to take on the world. Interestingly, my husband has taken my lead and he is back at the YMCA, too.  He even came to a Gentle Yoga class with me.  Why didn’t I do this before?  When I REALLY had stress in my life?

Help Wanted: Sisters to Get Me Through Life

The sweet Valentine my niece Megan sent to her sister Tamra

The sweet Valentine my niece Megan sent to her sister Tamra

Oh, how I wish I had a sister!  This has been a life-long refrain.  A recent Valentine post on Facebook between my two nieces, Megan and Tamra, stirred my envy embers anew.

As a little girl, I regularly begged my mother to make one more trip to the hospital to bring home a little bundle of pink sister joy.  Getting no results from her, one Christmas I elevated the request to Santa, still to no avail.  As the youngest of three siblings and the only girl, I tired of the never-ending rough and tumble of boys.   At home, my brothers used me as unwitting pawn in their sinister boy games, setting booby traps and ambushes that left me in a perpetual state of suspense. One brother abducted my paper dolls, snipped off their heads, and hung them on the clothesline.  And when they did invite me to play with them, it was usually a physical game in which I invariably turned up injured since they were so much bigger than me.  One game of ball tag ended with a head-on collision between my older brother and me.  He remembers the sensation of being momentarily slowed by some minor turbulence.  My recollection is of being flattened by a Mack truck. That same brother enjoyed fabricating and telling chilling stories designed to scare the bejeezus out of me.  One particularly complex tale told of the origins of a mole over his lip, recounting a terrible accident in which his lips were pulled off his face after they froze on a car door outside, and ending with the startling revelation that the mole was anchoring his lips.  (He did get in trouble for that one after I ran screaming to Mom begging her never to remove Tom’s mole lest his lips fall off.)

Me with my brothers and Mom.  Notice how my mother seems to be protecting me from harm.

Me with my brothers and Mom. Notice how my mother seems to be protecting me from them

My brothers especially enjoyed the nights my parents went out and left them in charge of babysitting me.  They were then free to wreck havoc unfettered by parental interference.  I still remember my attempts to fall asleep looking pained, sure that when my parents returned they would look in on me, see my look of torture and then give my brothers hell.  That never worked either.

Of course it wasn’t all bad having brothers, and one benefit was that I had my own personal goon squad.  My brothers could torment me endlessly; however, if someone else looked at me cross-eyed, my older brother wanted the name and address of the perpetrator, and he was off to take care of business.  There were few repeat offenders.  But I was convinced my life would have been perfect, or at least calmer, had I had a loving sister as a companion.

Then I grew up and married a guy who came with a son.   I later gave birth to one more male and no females, and again found myself grossly outnumbered.  Further, none of the males in my nuclear family are particularly sensitive types. There are no art lovers or musicians or writers.  My husband’s favorite pastime is watching sports, any sport, preferably contact.  My son played just about every sport, and in his free time enjoys grisly video games, like Call of Duty and Halo, that I can’t even watch without getting nauseous.  There were many days I came home after work to find football on one TV, COD on the other, and dirty sweat socks hanging in every bathroom. I did insist my son take piano lessons, but his complaining was so incessant that I finally let him quit and he never went within six feet of the piano again. But my upbringing was good training for this environment, as I know the rules to just about any sport and I know how emotionally simple guys really are.

Throughout my life, my mother was a calm island of estrogen in my vast ocean of testosterone.  She and I were close, and we did girlie things together as time and money allowed, although neither of us was overly girlie, and probably out of convenience I developed into a tomboy anyway.  She told me repeatedly how happy she was to finally get a daughter after being surrounded by males the first 8 years of her marriage, and as I grew into my own version of token female, I understood the sincerity of that statement.  I really miss her. Since she passed away, I find myself the only surviving female from either my family of origin or my nuclear family.

Oh, how I wish I had a sister!  I know people who have sisters they wish they didn’t.  I know sister relationships can be rocky and emotionally fraught. But some shining examples of sisterly love abound in my extended family.  They have an emotional bond and deep DNA understanding that seems fundamentally different from the brother-sister connection.  Women tend to be more natural caregivers and nurturers, and when you have a best friend who is also your sister, what a blessing!

My friend Sue and her little sister Kathie

My friend Sue and her little sister Kathie

One early “sister act” that made me think I was missing out was my childhood friend Sue and her younger sister Kathie.   I met Sue in 6th grade math class and before long I was spending time at her home.  The Warrens’ house, unlike mine, was clearly matriarchal with a definite female sensibility.  Sue’s mom ruled the roost, along with Sue’s grandma (Sue’s mom’s mom lived with them) and there were no brothers.  I only vaguely remember Sue’s dad  – usually sitting in the living room watching football games by himself.  Sue and Kathie adored each other and their house was like a sorority.  If I had a problem I need to talk over, I could go to Sue’s and have a ready female support group of four available for consultation and advice.

My lovely nieces.  Clockwise from left, Alyssa and Kelsey; Genoa and Carey, Megan and Tamra

My lovely nieces. Clockwise from left, Alyssa and Kelsey; Genoa and Carey, Megan and Tamra

My two nieces, Megan and Tamra, probably love each other more than any two sisters I have ever met.  My husband’s sister Judy, their mother, once told me that Megan fell in love with her little sister Tamra the day Tamra was born and they have been best friends ever since.  They have supported each other through thick and thin, and are now facing a serious health issue together.   But in the midst of everything, they laugh, they talk, and they love being together.  My husband’s brother Rich also has two daughters, Genoa and Carey, who share a similar bond of love and affection.

My brother Jim was rewarded with two girls of his own.  Besides his two daughters, he has a severely disabled son, which has complicated and challenged their family life.  Yet my nieces Alyssa and Kelsey are growing into gorgeous, gracious, capable young women who support each other and their parents and who inspire me with their adaptability.

Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t trade my husband, son or brothers for anything.  I love them all to death.  I adore them.  I enjoy hanging out with them.  I love sports!! I just wish I could inject a close female relative into my nuclear world.  I often crave that female perspective and hug in those situations where the guys either want to “fix” me or just get that clueless befuddled look.

And more than just wanting a close sister/friend I can talk to at Thanksgiving, there’s a practical side to this problem.  One that is picking up more urgency the older I get.  Who will take care of me in my old age?  One thing I learned, in caring for my parents during their decline, was that either a sister or, more commonly, the oldest daughter in the family is typically the caregiver.  That was me for my parents.  Who will be that for me?  My son wanted nothing to do with visiting grandma in her assisted living facility and he found her rather disturbing once dementia claimed her mind.  One day, during my Sandwich Years, when I had him as captive audience while driving to school, I went on an embarrassing (in hindsight) rant that went something like this:

 Me:  [out of blue]  “When you meet a girl that you think might be The One for you, I want to meet her right away.  Right away!!!  You need to understand – this girl is going to be very, very, important to me.  Why?  Because when I’m old and Dad is dead and I get dotty like Grandma, who do you think is going to take care of me?  Not you!   No, hopefully your wife!   She’s going to tell YOU where to go and what to do, and she’s going to decide what to do about ME.  If she doesn’t like me, I’ll get parked in some God-forsaken Looney bin, and nobody will even visit me.  If she likes me, maybe it’ll be a nice place and you guys and my grandkids will come visit.  If she loves me, maybe I’ll even live with you.  So, [picking up steam] I get veto power over this girl that you are getting serious with.  Understand?!!”

Son:  “Mom, I’m only 14.”

Me:  “I know that!   Future reference.”

 Oh, how I wish I had a sister to discuss all this with! But the sad fact is, I don’t have a biological mother, sister or daughter.  I do have wonderful sisters-in-law, nieces, cousins and aunts, but they mostly live in other cities. I have noticed, particularly in the past few years (once I started slowing down in anticipation of retirement) that I have instinctively put more energy into friendships, particularly my female friends.  Furthermore, I’ve increasingly reached out to long-standing friends and family members, in some cases renewing connections that had been dormant for years.  I am finding these relationships to be deeply comforting and rewarding.

What is it about sisters and close female friends that are so impactful? For answers, I did a little research, and my findings confirmed what I’ve already discovered from my own non-scientific experience.    The need for community with other women is biological.  In The Tending Instinct, by Shelley E Taylor, (as described in the article “The Girlfriend Instinct – The Value of Female Friendships” by Debbie Haupert) a variety of studies lead to the following findings:

 Longevity – Married men live longer than single men, yet marriage is not a determinant of life expectancy in women.  Rather, women with strong female social ties (girlfriends) live longer than those without them.

 Stress – Women don’t have the same ‘fight or flight” response to stress that men do.  Rather, women under stress have the need to ‘tend and befriend.’  We want to be with our young and our friends.  Time with our friends actually reduces our stress levels.

 More stress – When we’re with our girlfriends, our bodies emit the “feel good” hormone oxytocin, helping us reduce everyday stress.  By prioritizing our female friendships and spending time with these friends, we take advantage of a very simple, natural way to relax.

 Even more stress – One study show that prairie voles, a monogamous rodent, have a similar response to stress.  When a male vole is put in a stressful situation, he runs to his female partner.   Female voles, when stressed, immediately run to the females they were raised with.

 Health – Women without strong social ties risk health issues equivalent to being overweight or a smoker!

So, now it all makes sense!  I have instinctively been assembling a close network of “sisters” that will support me and nurture me, friends that I can talk with and laugh with, who know me well, and that I can discuss my feelings with. My lunches with friends are actually inexpensive therapy sessions and important emotional work.  (In fact, I wonder if I should write them off as medical expenses?  I’ll ask my CPA – who’s a man. Never mind.) And hopefully, someday my “sister-friends’ will visit me at the assisted living facility (in case that future daughter-in-law thing doesn’t work out.)

Cleaning out the Closets

I’ve been mulling over the term “spring cleaning” lately.  I’ve decided it’s a helpful metaphor for me in my current life stage.

The phrase connotes a seasonal aspect, like my new season of life, as I leave behind a 25-year corporate career and begin early retirement and my next life phase.   Spring suggests renewal, a time of new life and new discovery.    The expression also refers to a process of cleansing – washing, scrubbing, scouring, and dusting  – that is necessary after a winter of neglect.

It’s now been six months since I retired.  The first few weeks were akin to waking up in the Recovery Room after surgery.  I was ecstatic to be done, but felt groggy and needed rest and time to heal.  In mid-September we embarked on a hectic (some say manic) travel schedule, including a dream trip to Paris and multiple visits to the east coast.  Then came the holidays and one more trip east in January.

Now we are home for a spell.  I’m rested and relaxed.  I can’t imagine returning to my former corporate job.  And it feels like springtime – besides the unseasonably warm weather we are experiencing on the west coast, it’s as if my sensation of the world around me has sprung back to life, after what I now realize was a prolonged period of stress-induced numbness.  I’m enjoying the exploration of new activities and hobbies.  Every morning I wake up excited to experience the events on my calendar.  On weekday mornings, I walk to the YMCA, filled with gratitude, and participate in exercise classes.  I’ve particularly fallen in love with yoga.  At my first yoga lesson, I could barely touch my toes and had no clue what a downward facing dog was.  Now I do a kickass cat/cow pose and I find it unbelievably relaxing. On Wednesdays, I go to golf lessons.  Sure, I hit the guy next to me on the driving range (ball to shoulder) with an errant swing, but then I occasionally drive a shot straight and clean and bask in my moment of awesomeness.   I’ve joined a Women’s Bible Study on Tuesday evenings and we are doing a study on the book of James.  I like the women in the group and the Beth Moore curriculum feels like it was written just for me.  On Wednesday evenings I plan, cook and serve dinner to my husband.  I’ve had not one culinary disaster and we are both enjoying this new tradition.  I’ve reconnected with my good friend Cissy from my women’s prayer group 20 years ago, and I’m helping her start a nonprofit corporation.  I see this as a good way to learn the nuts and bolts of nonprofits, while having regular lunches with my very entertaining friend in the process. Finally, I’m still getting kicks out of all the adult education classes I signed myself up for.

But in the midst of my excitement and renewed energy for my current and future life, I’ve realized there is some “spring cleaning” needed following a long winter season.  When I stopped and really thought about it, I was stunned to realize I endured a 12-year-long winter, that only just ended with my retirement.   It started in 2001 when we put our townhouse on the market and then bought a fixer-upper house in a new town  just a few miles away.  In the midst of the moving process, we suffered the death of my stepson.  After we moved to our “new” house, I returned to a full-time work schedule (I’d happily worked an 80% schedule for 10 years beginning when my son was born).  Soon after I went full-time, I was offered and took a challenging new leadership role with my company. I was given 2 big promotions and increasing responsibilities in the next four years.  Within a year after taking the leadership position, my father was diagnosed with cancer, which was especially tragic given he was the caregiver for my mother, who was suffering from dementia.  My father’s cancer diagnosis began an incredibly challenging five-year period (my Sandwich Generation years), ending with the death of first dad and then mom.  I was strained to navigate end-of-life issues with both parents (with minimal help from my siblings who lived afar) while balancing career and my own family.  If there was ever a time in my life I came close to cracking, it was during my Sandwich years.  And somehow, somewhere in the middle of all this, we remodeled our house, requiring us to move into a rental for 14 months, and my uncle and father-in-law also passed away.  I am shocked now as I write all this, but at the time I just tried to put one foot before the other and not think too much about what was happening in my life.

Following my parents’ deaths and the conclusion of our home remodel, I was left feeling completely disorganized and very out of control.  We moved many of our things to off-site storage during our first move in order to clean out the townhouse for showing, and then decided to just leave belongings in the storage shed until after our remodel.   Over time, possessions of my stepson and our parents were added to the mix.  Our garage was increasingly filled with clutter.  But, I still had a very stressful work life that was sapping my energy, and I was too weary and beaten-down to address the mess.  At some point, I just decided to defer cleanup to retirement.

Our garage, which is the most egregious, but emblematic of other messes in my life

Our garage, which is the most egregious, but emblematic of other messes that need sorting out

Now that I’ve retired, and our initial travel blitz is over, its time to start the cleanup!  My husband and I have taken some baby steps in the past couple weeks to attack the garage, which we’re finding a highly unpleasant and disagreeable job.  (No wonder people don’t clean out their garages!) But more than the physical cleanup, I’m discovering there’s emotional tidying to be done.  It seems I am now constantly opening closets and pulling up rugs and finding messes that I’d left for another day. The deaths of my stepson and parents recently bubbled up.  (See my  post about how these losses smacked me anew.)   As I was going through my parents’ boxes, I opened one containing my mother’s favorite china.  A rush of wonderful memories flooded me, followed by my still-confusing range of emotions surrounding my mother’s descent into dementia.  The other day I walked by my son’s empty room (he’s away at college) and felt a weighty sadness about our empty nest and my son’s absence.  Now that my husband and I are together 24/7, we’re adjusting to new rules of engagement and it’s harder to skirt those pesky relational issues we’ve artfully ignored for over 25 years. And then there are questions of my own sense of worth and ego.   If I’m not bringing home the bacon, am I still important?  My springtime renewal seems to include the entire range of emotions.

Make no mistake – this is all good stuff.   I see my heightened awareness as a positive sign that my heart, mind and body are engaged and ready to start taking on not just the good stuff but the messes.   God has faithfully placed incredible people and experiences in my path to guide me toward healing and I welcome the process, although I know I will never be “done” and I need to remember to pace myself.  I am blessed with a husband who is willing to slog through the mud with me.   I have wonderful supportive friends. It does make me wonder, however, if what I’m experiencing is common for those who slow down and experience a place of relative calm.  Could this be why some purposely stay on the hamster wheel – to avoid the messes? I believe I will be stronger and wiser as I get my house in order.  I just wish sometimes that messes weren’t quite so messy.

Honoring Losses

“Unresolved loss is cumulative and cumulatively negative.” I was recently struck by these words (from The Grief Recovery Handbook by John James and Russell Friedman).

Right smack in the middle of my current manic phase of retirement, as I was busy throwing myself into the pursuit of new and exciting opportunities for my upcoming retirement years, I experienced a profound and wholly unexpected episode of grieving for past losses.

It started a week ago on Friday, which was my stepson David’s birthday.   He would have been 43 years old, but he was killed in a snowboarding accident in 2002.  I typically don’t make any public mention of him or the circumstances each year on his birthday; rather, my husband, son and I quietly and prayerfully remember him.

David, handsome inside and out, near the ocean that he loved

David, handsome inside and out, near the ocean that he loved

This year, my niece Tamra (David’s cousin), posted a photo on Facebook of David (when he was around 7 or 8) with Tamra and Megan (Tamra’s sister), at their grandparents’ house celebrating his birthday.  Along with the photo was a touching sentiment about David’s birthday and how much he is missed in our family.   This simple act prompted an organic electronic outpouring of remembrances on Facebook, with Megan, Tamra and Kim (David’s girlfriend at the time of his death) my son and I all participating (each of us from a different city) with postings of more photos and memories.  It was a remarkable, deeply comforting and completely unanticipated community experience.

The next day I was scheduled to travel to San Diego by myself for the weekend to visit friends from high school.  I was looking forward to a fun ‘girls’ weekend, but I was still feeling raw from Friday and the long drive gave me time to reflect.  I thought about David and all he meant to me.  I was young (27) when I met my husband, who at the time was a single dad with custody of 14-year-old David (who played adorable match-maker during our courtship).  My subsequent marriage was therefore a package deal, and I became full-time stepmom (at 29) to a headstrong and spirited teenage son.  My relationship with David was one of the most challenging, but ultimately most rewarding, in my life.  With him, I learned to be a mom.  I learned about friendship and love. He could be a harsh critic, but also my most loyal steadfast supporter.   As he grew older, he became a cherished confidante. When my son was born, I wasn’t sure how David would react to a half-brother, but David loved him immediately and fervently. David couldn’t get enough of him and had great plans for the two of them. They would’ve gotten into such wonderful trouble together!

David with his little brother at their grandpa's birthday party

David with his “little bro” at their grandpa’s birthday party

When David died at age 31, he was just coming into his own.   I was looking forward with great anticipation to seeing him settle down, get married, have kids (grandkids!!!!!!!!).   People, trying to be helpful, said things like, “Feel better, he’s in a better place” or “Time heals all wounds” and there’s partial truth in those statements.  My Christian faith reassures me of his eternal life. But the dead don’t grieve; rather, grief belongs to the ones left behind.  And David’s death still hurts. My loss is a future without him.  My son, who is now 20, was 8 when David died.  I’m sad that my son grew up without his big brother – a big brother that would have been his biggest fan and so proud of his accomplishments.  For years after David died, I still looked for him to show up at my son’s sporting events, and when I saw someone that looked like David, my heart would jump and then plummet at the realization that it wasn’t him.  When the phone rang or the front door opened, I had a similar reaction.  At my son’s Induction Day at the Naval Academy, in the midst of intense pride, I felt intense sadness that neither David nor my parents were there.  I’m sad that I don’t have grandkids to help David raise.  He would’ve made an awesome dad.

My Mom, Dad and my Uncle Dick at my wedding in 1988

My Mom, Dad and my Uncle Dick at my wedding in 1988

The closer I got to San Diego, I also became melancholy about my parents.  I was starting to get annoyed at myself for all the drama, but it was rather involuntary and there wasn’t much I could do.   San Diego holds many memories, as it was there I spent my teenage years and where my parents remained until shortly before they both passed away.  For most of my adult life, my parents’ house (later condo) in San Diego was my safe haven – where I would return to visit, to rest, to drop off my son for babysitting.  My parents always gave me the space I needed, no questions asked.  If I showed up and spent four days sleeping upstairs, that was fine with them.  If I asked them to take us to Sea World, the Zoo and the Wild Animal Park (all in the same weekend), they happily complied.  When they both died, I lost my safe haven.

Fortunately, in the midst of my gloom, my visit to San Diego was exactly what I needed.   I am blessed to have close enduring friendships from my high school days that provide me with space to be vulnerable.  First I had brunch with my friend Kelly, whom I met in sixth grade, and who is one of the kindest, most compassionate people I know.  The rest of the weekend I spent with my friend Celeste, who has overcome great personal challenges with a grace and aplomb that I have long admired.  She is completely nonjudgmental and I’ve always felt comfortable talking to her about anything.  She opened up her house to me and gave me that safe haven I was missing. Being with friends who literally and figuratively embraced me for the weekend, who gave me room to talk and rest, who know me well enough to both challenge and support me, was life sustaining.

As I left San Diego for the drive home, I reflected again on loss.  I thought about how, as we get older, the losses begin to accumulate.  Throughout our lives we experience broken relationships, job loss, divorce, death, empty nest, and, most recently for me, retirement, which signals the end of a career.  I thought about how important it is to pause to recognize losses, to honor them and the attendant grief.   One of the benefits to me of this blog is that writing helps me to identify and process.  More important is the experience of being truly heard by others.  I realized how important the past three days had been, and how God placed key people and events in my path to help guide and comfort me through some unexpected but necessary grief.

I will never be completely “over” grieving my past losses and I will have new wounds to face.  As I head into retirement, I need to be aware of any grief over leaving my career and that phase of my life. But as last weekend reminded me, when I was slapped in the face with unforeseen and powerful grief, I have less to fear from sorrow and loss when I take the time to honor and recognize it, surrounded with people who know me and care for me.  Sometimes in my quest to charge forward, I need to stop and look backward.  And rest for a spell.  Time does NOT heal all wounds.