I woke up thinking about what we'd have been doing 10 years ago, and then I looked back through my journal from 2004 to be sure.
I was off by a day: I thought that tonight 10 years ago, my mother-in-law fell and broke her hip. But it would have been last night in 2004 that my mother-in-law fell. My cold/flu was just clearing up, and I was just sinking into the second hour of sound sleep when the call came. I struggled to consciousness and to the phone. It was almost incomprehensible, but I managed to get the details from her boyfriend. I put on my clothes and headed to the hospital.
I feel like I didn't sleep again for a year. Her fall and hip break catapulted us into 2005, so far the worst year we've ever had, either as a couple or as individuals. My mother-in-law had a variety of complications and finally died in April of 2005. We had not one but two destructive hurricanes to close the last half of that year.
Looking back through the paper journals I was keeping then is a trip through a nightmare world. I'm still not sure how we managed to muddle through--sheer stubbornness is part of it. And what alternatives did we have?
We kept our eyes averted from some of them. Other people who suffered through that year got divorced or moved away. We did not. We were lucky in that we had our tragedies spaced out a bit. We had some resources--the insurance came through when we needed it to do so to get the repairs on the house done. I had a tenacity when it came to dealing with settling my mother-in-law's affairs, and my spouse had a different kind of tenacity before she died as he dealt with the medical-industrial complex. We were also lucky in that we had a network of family and friends who helped keep us sane. And I was always aware that it could have been worse. It could have been better, but it could have been worse.
It's sobering to realize how many deaths begin in a fall and a hip break. One of my mother-in-law's doctors said, "We come into the world through the birth canal, and we often leave it through the femoral neck." It's those hips that hold us when we're in the womb, but it's those same hips that leave us vulnerable as older people. Half the people who have a hip break will be dead a year later--and those who survive don't face good odds for survival in the next 5 years.
Psychologists tell us that most people aren't motivated to do what will pay off years in the future--which is why we have trouble quitting smoking until we're facing a dire diagnosis, why we can't really change our eating, why we aren't motivated to go to the gym by the thought of being agile in old age.
Once again, I find I am not the norm. Once I worked out because I wanted to lose 10-50 pounds. I wanted that fleeting chance at fleeting beauty.
Since watching my mother-in-law's struggle, I know that I want to age well, and that aging well means exercising. There's always more that I could do--more agility training comes to mind. I'm stronger than many women my age, but I could do better on that front too. But my heart is in great shape, as is my endurance level.
It was interesting to read my journal from 10 years ago. Even then, I wanted to write a book of memoir/essays that followed a liturgical year. And now I have. I wanted to write a book of devotions. I haven't exactly done that, but I've been part of those projects. I would not have anticipated blogging or how it changed my life by opening up all sorts of opportunities. The memoir manuscript that I have is a result of that blogging.
Interesting to think about how the manuscript would be different if I had written it the traditional way, from blank pages and memories. To be honest, it likely would not have happened at all, at least not at this time of my life.
I'm trying not to feel despair at the projects I envisioned 10 years ago, the projects that I'm only just completing now. I want to believe that the work will take the amount of time it takes--I want to believe that I haven't missed opportunities. I want to believe that even if I have missed opportunities, that there will be others. It's not like I'll be punished by having no more opportunities ever.
Most days, I'm good at believing that the opportunities will come, the work that needs to emerge will emerge, that if I show up and keep doing the work, then I have done what must be done. That optimism and faith in the future are the same traits that got me through the horrible events of 2005, and I expect them to see me through old age.