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.
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.