Redefining and Reimagining my life through Caregiving my Mom…
This is a sponsored post by AARP-
Three summers ago, at age 57, I stood before a pounding sea as the morning sun made its appearance. I pulled up a skin-tight wet suit, put on a purple swim cap and set out on a journey that was part of my life RE-DEFINING and RE-IMAGINING itself, right before my eyes…
I thought my mind would be blank with fear as I had imagined this moment in my months of training for this Half Ironman, but all I really kept hearing over the loudspeaker and my heart beating were the words of Walt Whitman, from a poem I had taught many times over during my 30-year teaching career…
Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout,
and laughingly dash with your hair.
I stepped into the water, dove headlong into the first big wave and changed my life – boldly.
My journey to that moment in my life didn’t begin with years and years of swimming, cycling and running. Heck, I hadn’t done any of these things since I’d been a kid.
That moment was, rather, inspired by my very, very active and independent Mom, whom in early 2007 (at age 82), had become sidelined, blindsided really, by a debilitating physical problem that resulted in multiple hospitalizations, experimenting with pain medications, loss of independence, and ultimately a move to an assisted living facility; a life-changing situation for my Mom that changed everything for me, as well.
My life went from retired-teacher Grandma of 6 to Caregiver to my Mom. My days and nights became consumed with my Mom’s physical therapy and physician appointments, trying to balance medications, keeping my Mom positive-thinking and eating properly; and a profound sense of loss for both my Mom and me.
I remember the day everything changed. It had snowed the night before and the morning sun was making the snow and ice glisten like millions of tiny gems. I just wanted to go outside, to soak in the beauty; like when I was a kid living in New Hampshire. I wanted to feel the cold, slide on the ice, make snowballs; PLAY with no cares in the world. I put on some old boots and the first coat, hat and gloves I could reach and headed outside. I felt instantly alive; childlike almost. I remembered from somewhere in my head the words Be Inspired by the Art of Living. That is exactly what I did. I began re-living that day.
My boots took me for a walk; downtown, then to the harbor and back up the hill to the playground and basketball courts in my town. Kids were already out there, shoveling snow from the blacktop to find patches of ice for ice-skating. I remembered doing that as a child. I remembered a lady in an old farmhouse in New Hampshire who flooded one of her fields each winter for us kids to skate on. I remembered being a kid and I wanted that feeling back.
I thought of my grandmother and her farm in Michigan and how I loved her acres of strawberries and her apple orchards and wondered if she ever flooded her fields for kids in the winter. She had died when I was young, but I thought of her that day and I wrote a story in my head about my grandmother flooding her fields for kids’ ice skating. I surprised myself with the story that grew in head. I had spent my childhood and college years and even when my own 4 kids were young writing little children’s stories and poems, but hadn’t done that in a very long time. I smiled on both the inside and the outside at the freedoms of that morning- the walking and the story writing itself in my head.
I returned home that morning changed. Redefined and Reimagined changed. I decided to make time for a walk each day after that; PLAY, if you will. I decided to find some of my old story manuscripts and share them with my grandchildren. Later that day, I shared my little morning adventure with my Mom and she smiled; thankful that she was not taking my time, as she called it. That sunny winter gem of a morning and my Mom’s reaction was a great epiphany. She wanted to me to live while taking care of her, not live to take care of her. Brilliant. And simple.
I haven’t stopped my Art of Living since. My daily walk became running (something I had never imagined doing). My story ideas became words and then pages and pages and pages, reworking very old manuscripts and writing new ones for my grandkids. In 2008, my daughters Audrey and Jane and I launched our our website, MomGenerations.com, and I became the “grandmother voice” with my own blog, a diarist format that allowed me to capture in writing beautiful, funny, heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking moments of my life with my family, my grandkids and my Mom. Writing each day was something I had only dreamed of until then; and to have companies come knocking with sponsorships, campaigns and partnerships with MomGenerations was a tribute to the hard work, determination and reimagined dreams of Audrey and Jane, too. I had a brand new career, this time around with my daughters.
Over the next year, my Mom’s condition improved significantly and I moved her to an independent senior facility that has allowed her to regain some independence, albeit with me checking on her daily, cooking most of her meals and providing lots of visits to my now 10, going on 11, grandkids and a few granddogs, too.
But I couldn’t shake the PLAY feeling of that winter morning in 2007; so nearly four years ago, on my 57th birthday, I decided to step up this Art of Living thing a notch or two… or 57. I made a list of 57 things that I wanted to accomplish in 52 weeks. The first thing on my list was Skydiving on my 57th birthday. My Mom’s reaction? Can I do it, too? My husband and I took my Mom along for the adventure, and I even asked if my Mom could do it. When the instructors assessed her physical condition, the answer was a resounding NO, to which she answered, “But President Bush was allowed to do it and I’ll bet I’m in better condition!” That’s my Mom!
Caregiving my Mom has given me insight into my own life, my health, my family, my mortality, my dreams. Caregiving my Mom has given me a great opportunity to IMAGINE and then live possibilities that enhance my life and that bring enjoyment/fun/interesting conversations to those close to me, including my beautiful grandchildren… like Skydiving, Pole Dancing Lessons, Winter Surfing, training for and completing a Half Ironman, posing topless (Grandma, what?! – for the Estee Lauder Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign & why), entering a baking contest (who, me?!) and a whole bunch more. Challenging, outside-the-box, frightening, exhilarating, daring, over-the-top, under-the-radar, revealing each layer to find yet another layer of imaginings beneath each… each adding to the definition and imaginings of a life never too old to imagine one more layer.
What I learned in my year of 57 in 52 is that many wonderful things we do in life must be organized to the last detail, and that many wonderful things happen quite spontaneously. I learned that we must be readying and ready all at the same time. I learned that people all around us are supportive, happy and wildly encouraging… even when a challenge seems almost impossible. I learned that the happiest moments in life are sometimes the loudest, and sometimes the quietest. I’ve learned that people are passionate about the things they teach; that joy is multiplied in sharing. If you having something to teach, teach it, multiply it, offer it to the universe. I learned that my body follows my mind and spirit, and that my mind and spirit follow my body. I learned to celebrate each challenge, because with the greatest challenges come the greatest insight and the greatest rewards.
I learned that my layers would go on to include something I thought unimaginable- 2 marathons, Cox Providence at age 58 and 2012 Marine Corps Marathon at age 60… and currently sailing lessons with my husband (where I have the dubious distinction of being the only student who ever crashed into a moored sailboat.) And I’ve learned that reporting to my Mom after each adventure or race and showing her all the photos brings joy to her as if she had done them herself; like partners on this great journey.
How would your life look if you began to reimagine its possibilities, even when faced with dramatic life changes? AARP’s new tool, Life Reimagined, is made for such circumstances- Adjusting to New Family Roles, Life Stages, Work Changes, Health Issues and much more…
LRI houses the world’s leading experts in personal development, aging, transitions, and reimagining life. These advisors help create the ground-breaking Life Reimagined programs, services, content, tools, and further innovations.
I’m all in. And if anyone needs me, I’m not the one timidly waded, holding a plank by the shore. Rather, I’m the Grandma doing headstands with my grandkids in the back yard…
… and 3-legged races with my husband-
Playing. A life Redefined and Reimagined through play, discovering new paths to new possibilities each day; knowing that the art of playing and the art of living make me a much better, healthier Mom, Grandma and Caregiver, too.
My role of Caregiver for my Mom continues, of course, with great rewards and sometimes great challenges. As a Caregiver, I turn to AARP.org/Caregiving for every question I have in the care of my Mom, from daily care, housing options and legal advice to medical features; including the Caregiving community and the important topic of caring for the caregiver. Those of us who Caregive are not alone, even though it may sometimes seem so; and sometimes the best days turn in a heartbeat to the most challenging days. AARP has provided us with a strong, vibrant community of experts for all of our Caregiving days, as well as those of us trying our best at common sense, with lots of welcomed help and advice…
And for those attending BlogHer ’13- be sure to visit AARP at Booth #1218 and follow the hashtag #AARPBlogs –
Sharon Couto is a member of AARP’s Blogger Kitchen Cabinet on #caregiving, #caresupport, #carekc issues. All opinions are her own.