Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Things I Learned This Summer

I can't begin to count the number of times Randy and I looked at each other these past few months and said, "This is the weirdest summer ever." Here are a few things I've learned this very strange summer.

1. You can make it through your daughter's wedding (the most perfect wedding ever) without sobbing uncontrollably.
When I imagined my daughter's wedding day, I was sure I would have these moments throughout the whole day when I would not be able to stop the tears. Happy tears, tears of melancholy, tears of joy—all the tears that come when your child transitions to a new season. Because we all know that a new season for a child changes the shape of the family. But when the day really came, I was filled with joy. Sure, I had moments when I got choked up, but I never wept, never had mascara-running tears. I distinctly remember smiling as my handsome sons walked me down the aisle, looking at all the guests and loving each one of them, appreciating our village, our family, our new friends. I made it through with joy and gladness, from these first moments to the toasts to the father-daughter dance. What a beautiful evening it was.

2. I was not having anxiety attacks.
When I first went to the ER with chest pains back in late April, I was assured that I was not having a heart attack. A follow-up visit with my doctor confirmed this. She suggested that I was most likely having an anxiety attack, which made total sense with all the huge things in my life in the past year: planning a wedding, planning a graduation ceremony for our homeschooling group, Laurel's graduation, Duncan's graduation, coming to the end of 19 years of homeschooling, all three kids starting new chapters, caring for my aging parents as well as Randy's mother, becoming empty nesters, and on and on. Anxiety made sense. But, I told her, I am really not an anxious person. I am relaxed, laid back. Even though I certainly feel stress, I've never been incapacitated by it. I've always been thankful for this gift of optimism and trust that things will work out. My doctor explained that sometimes the most relaxed people could experience the worst cases of sudden anxiety. Again, that made sense.

So when it happened again at Laurel's graduation, I attributed the pains to stress and moved on. When it happened a couple weeks later, between Duncan's graduation and Laurel's wedding, it made sense. I prayed that I would not experience that searing pain on Laurel's wedding day, and I did not. I breathed easily, enjoyed every minute of the day, and hoped that, with all the big stresses now done, the pains would be done, too.

And then a week after Laurel's wedding, I had another episode, and this time the pain didn't go away. I went back to the doctor, really seeking reassurance that this was anxiety. This time she ran another blood test and the results prompted her to send me to the hospital for a possible blood clot. A WHAT? CT-scan, x-rays, a heparin drip, and finally the diagnosis: pericarditis (in short, inflammation of the pericardium). Pericarditis feels like a heart attack, or, as one friend put it, "torture of the torso."

{Y'know, I should have trusted my gut more. I just couldn't get on board with the anxiety attacks, but it really did make sense. TRUST YOUR GUT. Will I ever learn that lesson??}

And so, after being in the hospital for a couple of days, I was released for my long recovery: some anti-inflammatory meds and 6 weeks of rest.

3. A whole summer of reading and watching Netflix isn't as blissful as it sounds.
No housework, says the cardiologist. No heavy lifting.  No yard work. Sounds like a dream, right?
No working out. (Like, none?) Nothing that will raise your heart rate.
No hiking. No walks with friends in the park. No anything.

I sat on the couch all summer.
I read a lot of books (17 between June-August). I watched many hours of Netflix, Hulu, and Prime. (My favorite: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Oh, how I love that series!! Also, I only watched season 1 of Outlander but I really hated the last episodes so much that I couldn't watch but one or two episodes of season 2.) And that's about all I did, for real. I thought I would use that time to do a lot of writing, catch up on photo albums, publish lesson plans, etc. but I was just so tired all the time. Brain tired. Heart tired. I napped a lot.

4. It is wearisome and worrisome to be sick.
I have developed tremendous empathy for people who are chronically ill. I have friends who struggle with this, and I will admit that I have been annoyed sometimes, thinking "Just get out and DO something and you'll feel better!" I have learned that, even as you begin feeling physically better, it is just hard to get back into the swing of things. You feel lonely, anxious, and just not yourself. I can see how my sick-self could take over my "real" self, how I could succumb to choosing a nap over coffee with a friend, even when my body says it is okay. When you are sick all the time, you live way too much in your own head. We need friends to shake us out of that, to remind us of what we have to offer the world. I have been re-entering the world these past 4 weeks—going to church, walking with a friend, even going on a short trip with another friend. Those things have been so healing for me!

5. This is a BIG one: Preparing to be empty-nesters was one of the smartest things we have ever done.
Last year, Randy and I looked at our very tall baby and realized that he would be leaving the nest soon. Your baby leaving home is traumatic enough, but I have been homeschooling for 19 years—and that meant that I would essentially be out of a job. Retired. We have been blessed with an incredible homeschooling community, and my ties with that would essentially end. (But we have an amazing group of friends—a whole village—we've cultivated from that group over the years. That certainly hasn't ended!) So we started getting ready. We began embracing our soon-to-be empty nest rather than dreading it. Our son was working 25 hours a week and finishing his senior year of high school, so he wasn't around much, providing us with a perfect practice year. We joined a hiking challenge group. We called friends to meet us for drinks at a local brewery. We started being regulars at a Wednesday night music event. We kayaked and walked and went on a few weekend trips, just the two of us. We were intentional about moving into the next season of our life with anticipation and joy, rather than feeling lost and lonely. Our son left for college nearly three weeks ago, and this has by far been the easiest transition. We miss him, of course. We have moments when we look around our house and hear the voices of our children shouting to each other, imagine their laughter and their little feet. But we DID it! We raised three beautiful human beings who are kind, compassionate, and truly enjoyable adults—people that we love to hang out with.

This is taken right before we left our youngest at college! We're not crying!

6. "Normal" is elusive.
Oh, it is so very, very slippery.
For months now, we've been saying "After the wedding, things will get back to normal." Hahaha! Hello, pericarditis. Or after I'm feeling better, things will be normal. Yeah, well, I forgot to mention that we ("we" being Randy) launched a massive renovating project right after the wedding but before my pericarditis diagnosis. I mean, I was planning to help him, but instead I watched as he prepped and sanded and painted. We slept in our attached apartment, ate dinner with boxes of books piled all around us, and said goodbye to 19 years of carpet and wallpaper. Our living room is livable now and, while it's not quite finished, I absolutely adore it, by the way.

But things cannot be normal when your last child is leaving home. We purchased and packed and had a goodbye party or two and then dropped our sweet boy off.

We were ready to embrace our new normal. But wouldn't you know it? Just as we pulled out of his college and got back on the interstate, we got a text from my Dad saying that Mom had fallen and was in the hospital with a broken arm. That's a big deal when you're 92. Normal slipped away again. The next couple weeks were a blur of overnights in the hospital and then the rehab center with Mom. My brother, father, and I took turns sleeping in the room with her, as we were afraid she would get up at night and fall. Also, she just really loved our company.

She is home now, and I hesitate to say it but... life is feeling a little more normal this week. We are developing a rhythm to our new life, just Randy and me. I know, I know. It's only been a few days, but somehow life seems just a little slower this week, and I can almost feel a sense of normal. Almost.

7. My kids have grown up.

I mean, look at them.
One started college. Our baby!
My daughter and her husband (HER HUSBAND! My baby girl is married!) started graduate school.
Our oldest (he was our little Jesse Bear, our first little love!) is now in law school—and planning a wedding!

Duncan and his girlfriend, as he moves into his dorm room

Hunter, who began his MDiv, and Laurel, who began her master's in marriage and family therapy
Our future lawyer!
And also, Jesse and his future wife!

They are grown, and they are such wonderful people. We like them SO MUCH! We are still adjusting to having adult children, but I am really liking this concept.

What a crazy summer this has been. What a blur, what a time of transition! Things have just been weird, and I have to say at this point how incredibly grateful I am to my husband. He has been an absolute ROCK through all of this. He's made me laugh, cooked nearly all our meals, sanded and painted like crazy, held my hand, encouraged me and our kids, taken care of his own mother, and so much more. He is the kindest, gentlest, and funniest man I know, and I am so glad he is mine. I learned that a LONG time ago, though.

And so, that's what I've learned this very weird summer. I'm joining lots of others at Emily Freeman's blog, sharing what they've learned, too!