I Am Victorious -- and So Are You!
This is being written not simply to share my story, but to give hope and encouragement to those who are already victorious—but who erroneously believe that victory requires transformation, or who don’t see the impact of their accomplishments. I could talk about overcoming a particularly miserable childhood or an unhappy failed first marriage (which I did), but the message I want to share is about finding meaning and joy in the simple things in life.
Until four years ago, I worked long hours for more than 20 years running a business with my husband, volunteered most of my free time holding leadership board positions in several nonprofit organizations and enjoyed the “good life.” At one point I wonder how I would extract myself from over-commitment and, if I did, what I would do with my time—and, more importantly, would my life have value?
Then tragedy struck and life changed forever. In late July 2008 my husband woke up and discovered that he could no longer stand. After 55 days in the hospital, he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis which left him a paraplegic. We are fortunate that no brain damage occurred, but he is no longer independent in terms of getting out of bed, or into a car, or dressing below the waist. Immediately my primary job became one of a care-giver. Work shifted to what could be supported by phone and internet, and nearly all volunteer responsibilities ended.
Life, while radically different, is still meaningful and full. I don’t feel resentful, or that I’m a martyr, and there are too many undone things on my plate to be Super Woman. That does not mean that there aren’t times of sadness or stress (even occasional panic), but I believe that my past difficulties prepared me for this new normal. We have a long list of “wants,” but frankly our needs are met. The amazing thing is how much pleasure we get from the simple tasks of life and how rewarding they’ve been. Things like a shower—pure delight for Bob and relief for me after 3 years of sponge-bathing (can you imagine sponge-bathing hair!?), a good workout, dinner with friends, visits with family, time in the garden, cooking and the like. Looking back, it seems as if the demands of the world allowed me to lose sight of what’s truly important and that I’ve been forced to see life for what it was meant to be.
Happiness is found in finding the gift in each day and being satisfied with what we can do, not what we can’t. While juggling personal care, work and other responsibilities, some energy every day is focused on quality of life activities. That means doing at least one small special thing each day—simple stuff like baking bread, trying new soup recipes, seeing the garden come to life, watching a movie, playing Qwirkle after dinner, enjoying “Friday Date-Night,” taking a “walk” around the neighborhood, etc. The biggest lessons for me are that I’ve learned to focus on the positive, refuse to indulge in negative emotions (well…at least not for too long) and let go of the little annoying things that used to drive me crazy. Of course, I wish things were different and get upset, but I bounce back.
For these I am grateful. I’ve become a better person. And I’m proud that I’ve been able to help the two of us remain independent without outside help other than the indispensable encouragement and support of family, friends and neighbors. I hope that I can adapt as well when we get too old and frail to live without assistance. And I hope other women see that their persistence in the face of difficulty is victory.