The first inkling I had that changes were coming was when I realized that my dying parents would never see the new home Tom and I had recently purchased. This was very disappointing to me but I didn’t realize how life changing this loss would be until after they had both passed. I know now, looking back, that it marked the beginning of the transition from a public life to a personal one.
For most of my adult life, my career had been interacting with the public. As a career chemical dependency counselor I developed skills of empathy and intuitive understanding, compassion and the ability to meet people where they were with acceptance and unconditional positive regard. As a public figure in residential treatment I was accountable for others’ well being and healing. I brought to this work creativity, imagination and my horses and I developed programs that were effective and life changing for addicts. That was my public life. There was much satisfaction in this work and I enjoyed the respect and admiration of peers and colleagues. I was too busy doing the work to spend time writing about the work or trying to legitimize it in some academic forum. I was not comfortable in the academic world anyway due to my own sense of inadequacy in that arena. The rewards for me were the moments of sublime inspiration when a human being, in a flash of brilliant insight discovered that they could connect to that part of themselves that was whole and untouched by trauma, shame or anger and could begin to heal the past. It was a beautiful career and I am more than grateful to have had the opportunities I have had to serve others in this way.
When I returned home to care for my parents I realized that I was “stepping down” from a public platform but the work I would be doing would require the same skill sets I had developed over the years. I needed the empathy and compassion, the unconditional positive regard, the teaching and mentoring skills to help my parents make their final transition. I was still living a somewhat public life as I had to interact with medical and hospice personnel, family members as well as assist my parents as they struggled with end of life issues and losses. I still had obligations and commitments outside of my personal life that needed to be attended to. Realizing how difficult it was that my parents would never see our new home was the hint of the changes that were coming.
My mother died on August 6th. Our move was planned for August 18th. Somehow I knew we had to be quick about completing this task so as to get it done before the next funeral. My father died on September 4th. There was that intuition again. The small voice inside that I had learned to listen to. Every piece of furniture I placed, every picture hung on a wall, every area rug that found its new home was done with the thought, “What would mom think of this?” or, “Mom would like this view.” The void in my life created by her death was a bottomless loss as I went about my unpacking.But there was work to be done and no time to ponder these things. I simply noticed them as they flew by in my mind. It stunned me to discover how much everything I had done in my life was done in the context of their happiness. I had spent my whole life playing to them, wanting them to be happy, proud of the daughter they had raised and satisfied that their lives had had meaning and had made a difference. I don’t know if anything I have done gave them any of that, but that is what motivated me.
I realize, of course, that in the beginning, I created a career for their approval and validation. It is just that the public life I had been given led me to my own deep healing. God knew what he was doing with me. He used me to help others, heal myself and care for my parents. The motivation to create for my parents’ approval was transformed into selfless motivation to serve others and finally them and now that is over. What is left is the opportunity to live the personal life. What is the personal life? Well, perhaps its long floats in the pool on warm winter days in Florida, or, walks along the beach, or, gardening. Perhaps it is much more than that, I don’t have any idea really, but I will miss those brilliant “ah, ha” moments of breakthrough with a client. I will miss the challenges of the addict’s mind. I will miss the friends I have made along the way and the horses. It is time, however, to embrace a simpler life. I know this as I watch my energy more responsibly. I clearly see what gives me energy and what takes it away and I’m OK with this today because I don’t have any more outside obligations that cause me to override my own needs. God has blessed me with a precious soul to accompany me on this part of the journey. Together we will discover what moves us and what inspires us. We will discover new limitations that loss of energy and aging are sure to bring and we will experience many more losses, but we will redefine ourselves along the way until we can’t any longer. Human beings are creative creatures. We are given an infinite number of choices daily with which to create a context for our lives that is positive, creative and freeing. The only thing that’s hard are the transitions; acceptance, surrender, letting go of what was for what can be. I need Faith in a power greater than myself and the unconditional love of friends and family to help me through my transitions. God has given me both.