This was taken 3 years ago on the beach – Anna Maria Island, Fl. – my last Vacation before moving to Florida full time. It’s very strange when your life just stops as mine has; kind of like a full control / alt / delete reboot that makes me think I can predict and navigate my life. But when you add wind and waves (and currents and tides), navigating anything isn’t always easy.
“See the wave, be the wave” – right now this is my coping strategy; going with the ebb and flow of whatever comes my way.
My position at the hospital where I worked was eliminated. I quickly started looking for another career endeavor but after a month or two of not being successful, my mom called and asked me to come to Florida to help care for my dad who had been battling cancer and other autoimmune illnesses for the last several years. I agreed and, with the help of very good friends, placed every thing I had in storage and left for Florida a few days later.
I was here for three weeks before dad died, upending our little family.
As he had been sick for quite awhile, we knew this day would come. But here’s the thing: even when you know in your heart that autoimmune illnesses do not end well, death is not easy to prepare for. Thankfully, we had a great hospice team and a lot of faith – which did not let us down.
After dad’s death came the transition of “mom and dad” to just “mom” – and all of the paperwork and changes that go with it. Slowly – very, very slowly, our lives fell into a routine that became more manageable over time.
And, over time I noticed that Scott, our outdoor lawn and pest guy would start talking to me more frequently about our overly dry lawn. As I still had a little anxiety about trying to keep up with things that Dad used to take care of, I drove to Ace and picked up a nice sprinkler and started doing what I could to keep our lawn green, then slowly worked with him to fix our watering system.
A few months turned into a year, and my life had transcended from helping suicidal, anxious, depressed and / or addicted patients in our very busy ER to strategizing the repair, pressure and “zones” of our watering system and hanging orchids in baskets from the trees in the back of the house so that they could grow better outside and get watered naturally.
I thought there was no hope to ever see things grow – let alone be green again, but in the ebb and flow of our lives, we developed a routine and after awhile (a long while), the green grass returned and our orchids bloomed. I was totally shocked at how beautiful they were and how they seemed to blossom overnight.
Seeing their beauty took me further away from the grief I felt and the overwhelming emotions that accompanied the life changes that have continued to evolve.
In addition to that was having to let my twenty year career in emergency psych go as I realized that staying with it would not work as it would blanket the grief and emotions I felt and the healing that needed to follow. But letting go of this part of my career also meant letting go of all of the patients and families I had met and the many insights and lessons that accompanied them. It’s not that I would forget them – because you don’t / can’t forget the immense experiences and challenges that patients face every day.
And you don’t forget the surpise of your Emergency Department colleagues when they ask if you really think a 5 y/o patient can be suicidal with a plan to kill himself with a gun that he says he has access to or the 8 y/o who tells you she doesn’t want to go to school because she’s afraid the same terrorist group that flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon are going to come for her family so she would rather stay with them instead of go to school. You don’t forget the teenager coming into the ER who overdosed on pills after being bullied at school because she was gay – and who now needed the understanding and support of her mom who was holding her hand and crying having just listened to her disclose her emotional pain.
You don’t forget patients coming into the ER talking to you about wanting help for drugs and then dying in front of you minutes later.
Patient after patient, day after day, month after month, year after year for twenty five years, you learn life is short and very fragile – and that there’s an ebb and flow to it. You learn that the more grounded and congruent you are, the easier it will be to navigate all of it.
But then everything comes to a full stop, as it has with my career. And suddenly I’m looking at beatiful orchids blooming, a nice green lawn and feeling the warm sun on my back as I pull the weeds from the flower beds and I realize this is what dad used to do; which makes me miss him more while at the same time wanting to make everything better and more beautiful in celebration of the legacy he has left for us.
There is an ebb and flow to life.
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