Just as you reach middle age and think you have “it” all together, a major life change can happen in a blink of an eye. While you can plan for some of these changes (such as an empty nest or a move), other types of change – being fired from a job, a diagnosis of a terrible disease – come so suddenly that you are left just trying to catch your breath.
While I’ve experienced a few changes from both of these categories, I have never encountered the type of whiplash that just occurred over a six-week period. This major life change left me dazed – and facing the challenge of charting a new course sooner than I anticipated. Let me explain.
Big Dreams in Big Sky Country
I left in mid-August for a two-week vacation. This trip marked my first trip of any substantial length or distance in over a decade due to caregiving duties. My brother graciously agreed to stay with our elderly father so I felt comfortable traveling more than a few hours away from home.
My destination was Montana so I could visit my friend, Kaye. She put together an agenda that allowed us to explore two states (Montana and Idaho) that I had never visited. Our itinerary offered a wide range of new and old experiences: touring Glacier National Park, glamping, hiking, kayaking, contemplating the meaning of life at a Buddhist garden, visiting a museum dedicated to bugs, exploring galleries filled with area artists’ work, watching sunsets over the mountain range, stargazing, stopping at a roadside attraction called The Vortex, attending outdoor concerts and experiencing a Celtic festival.
What I loved most about this trip was the feeling of being so alive, thanks to the diversity of these adventures. I left Big Sky country feeling very rested and rejuvenated. I also contemplated how I could incorporate the trip’s intangible gifts – the feeling of exploration and a sense of deep engagement in life – into each day.
A Seismic Change
I returned home on my brother’s birthday; the next day was Dad’s birthday. We celebrated both of their special days with a small family luncheon attended by several relatives. It was a lovely afternoon filled with stories, laughter and conversation that both birthday boys – and especially Dad — treasured.
My brother left to return home the following day, a Sunday, and I settled back into my caregiving role. By 3 a.m. Monday, those caregiving responsibilities started becoming increasingly serious when Dad had to go to the emergency room. He was discharged later that morning; however, three days later he was back in the ER and then admitted to the hospital for a 72-hour period.
Discharged again, he bounced back a bit but ended up being taken by ambulance to the emergency room three days later. He was hospitalized for 11 days before being discharged to Hospice care. Less than one month after I returned home from that glorious vacation, Dad was pronounced dead.
I’m now experiencing the ebb and flow of grief. I remain gobsmacked about the life change that played out during that six-week period. I am sad by Dad’s passing, but also have a sense of relief that he died peacefully, without pain and surrounded by the people who he loved and who loved him.
I’m not sure exactly what’s next in my own life, but I realize that my 11-year odyssey of caring for elderly parents is now behind me. I also find myself in awe of the vista full of possibilities and opportunities that is emerging in front of me. I want to make intentional choices in relation to these life changes so I can create the type of life I glimpsed during my vacation.
A Time of Change
With that said, I also have been doing a lot of thinking about I Start Wondering. My trip to Montana helped me start to consider what the next phase of this website should look like. Then just as Dad’s health was starting to decline, I took some steps toward making those thoughts a reality.
Little did I know at the time that what I was planning for this website would dovetail so quickly into my own personal evolution. Therefore, I plan to serve as I Start Wondering’s beta test subject for how the combination of wonder and intention along with remaining open to whatever life throws at you can expand the quality of life for an older person.
To make that happen, I’m adding some contributors to this website who will write on big topics that spark my own curiosity. The first columnist coming on line is Brenda Nettles Riojas, who will be contributing a regular column on creativity. Brenda always thinks outside the box and likes to push the envelope; I’ll always remember her telling me at a restaurant in Seattle that her philosophy of life is to eat dessert first – and last! She’s definitely a multipotentialite — a mother and wife, woman of faith, humanitarian, writer, poet, photographer, public relations professional, cyclist and adventurer. Brenda continually seeks out ways to follow her muse and encourages others do so through leading a number of different types of seminars and workshops.
More new contributors will be announced in the future. In the meantime, I will continue to share my own experiences related to this most recent life change. Also watch for stories about people who are engaging with their life in new ways and resources that may help stoke your curiosity. In going forward, I hope you’ll join me in a renewed sense of wonder and embracing the possibilities, even when faced with a major life change!
Other Posts You Might Like: