by Diane Thrush
Life throws things at us that give us a choice: rage and rebel, become cynical and bitter, or accept and make peace. To me such instances are reconciling with the quicksand of life we sometimes find ourselves in.
Author and sportswriter Dan Jenkins, who writes with true Texas grit and wit, calls it “life its own self.” The longer I am in this life, the more I am learning to live with and be at peace with life its own self. Control is just an illusion. Reconciliation happens when I begin to find acceptance and allow circumstances to become a part of the fabric of my spiritual journey with God’s help.
On February 17, 2011,my life changed in the twinkling of an eye. My husband fell and had a brain injury; he was taken to the hospital where he went directly to surgery. Gratefully, he recovered but was disabled physically. He was still Jimmy as we knew him, but he would never walk again. I remember sitting with my dear friend and crying after the doctor said it could take six months for him to return to normal.
How naïve I was. There never was normal again. I kept waiting, though, for him to return to normal. In fact, I learned a new term for what would become my new life story — “new normal.” It took me many months to realize life would never be the same. I had a new role in our marriage — caregiver. It was a role I didn’t want or ask for and at which I was not very good. I raged against it for a long time. I said it was the determination I had for him to “get well.” This wasn’t how I wanted our remaining years together to be.
But with the help of a spiritual guide and wonderful friends and family, I came to an acceptance that I could never have understood before the accident. Jimmy came to see February 17 as “the day he didn’t die.” Eventually I came to that place too. I made peace with and reconciled to my new role. I didn’t love it, but it was an acceptance of the things I couldn’t change.
Through this change, the one constant was a job that I loved — being a chaplain at Methodist Children’s Hospital. I had a place to go every day and think about other things. I could feel fulfilled and find value in my day-to-day work. But in 2012, with the hospital under new management, I was forced into mandatory retirement. I quickly saw how much my work had been my life raft in the stormy sea. I had pictured myself working until I died! Retirement was not in my plans. Yet, here it was. I didn’t know who I was without my work. Again, I was in the “rage or accept” place. What I have learned about myself is that I have to work through the rage to get to the acceptance.
There were some really rough places during that time. Yet, with spiritual guidance and love from others I began to make peace again with another “new normal” that I hadn’t wanted or asked for. I had to learn to accept a life that included retirement as well as caregiving. It was a new step of allowing God to lead me into reconciling with life as it is, not as I wanted it to be.
Christmas of 2013 brought the sudden death of my husband. It wasn’t even related to his accident. This has brought the most difficult change to my life. In addition to the many facets of grief, I was faced with such helplessness. Jimmy had taken care of the finances, the taxes, the house maintenance, and most of all, the technology. I didn’t even know where to begin. How many times have I had to say to a technician “I don’t know” when asked a question about the house, car, yard, etc. Just last month, two and a half years after Jimmy’s death, I found I needed to upgrade my phone. I didn’t have a clue where to start. For the thousandth time I informed Jimmy he had no right to go and leave me in this helpless mess! At least the rage only lasted a day. As I laid myself at the mercy of AT&T, Apple, my children and grandchildren, I was reminded again how hard it is to lose a life partner.
We know what the big grief issues will be, but we are largely unaware of the little daily details of living with a person until we experience the loss of that person in those details. It is something that can’t be understood by those who have not been there. Once more the refrain of reconciliation with what is directs my life.
Reconciliation to life and all it brings can be a gift from God if we allow it and weave it into our journey. Rage and anger go only so far, and in the end will be our destruction. But God will see us through to the acceptance of life its own self and the peace that accompanies it. The choice is ours: to allow it to happen or close ourselves off from it.
For your own reflection:
Make a list of the things in your life that you perceive as unfair, or problems that you think are insurmountable. What would it take for you to release these to God?
Think about where or to whom you can turn for help when you need it. What keeps you from doing that?
Who are the people God has placed in your path who might need your help? What can you do about that?
Diane Thrush is a retired chaplain and a member of St. Luke’s, San Antonio. Reach Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org