Spirals: Dropping Back, Pushing Forward

It’s been ten months since we moved Mama to assisted living. She has spiraled downward on the same trajectory she was on before she moved, and at about the same speed of decline. She is more visually and mentally impaired, she sleeps more, she wallows in misery and works overtime to find things to complain about, even if she has to make it up—which she excels at. I can wonder all I want about why doesn’t she work just as hard to find things to be glad about—elusive as I know they are—but it’s not who she is.

I’m angry. Why does she have to be subjected to this loss of life before death? Why do any of us? We live in a “right to die” state; but that right is only extended to those with a terminal illness. Being 101 is not a terminal illness. Those trapped in the wicked grasp of “decline by natural causes” have no rights.

Meanwhile, my life is exploding up the same spiraling loops Mama is descending.

This summer I went on eight amazing hikes—all but one to new places—and had two beach days. I rejuvenated my soul on two camping trips. I opened space in my home for guests to enjoy this beautiful property. My Airbnb was booked solid. I spent the summer doing laundry, cleaning, and baking. Now the bookings have fallen off to near nothing and the unpredictable weather has curtailed my weekly hiking. It’s time for new Bold Ventures.

It rained yesterday. Really rained, for the first time in three months. (In June, we thought it would never stop raining. Be careful what you wish for.) The rain on the roof early Wednesday morning was the most glorious sound I have ever heard. As we drop into autumn tomorrow—my favorite season—I am energized, ready for the space this season of introversion brings for new things to happen in.

I’m making muffins, scones, and quick breads at the local deli; next week donuts! It gets me out into the world with other people, engaged in the organic tasks of measuring, weighing, and stirring, in stark relief to the solitude of fingers on a keyboard. It is the fulfillment of a pie-in-the-sky fantasy based on one of my favorite women’s fiction themes: middle-aged woman finds new life baking bread. (I never thought it would actually happen! Don’t forget to wish for what you want.)

I registered for ukulele lessons; they begin next week. My mother gave me a beautiful ukulele for my birthday more than a year ago, and I have yet to learn to play. Also next week my Circle of writing women begins. It’s phase three of my VentureBold plan. (First building my garden, then the Airbnb.) I won’t lie, I’m anxious about it. Front and center is not where I am most comfortable. But mostly I’m looking forward to being part of this circle of women meeting their stories through words. It is those stories that will really play the staring role. Writing has gotten me through some difficult times; there is power in the words that flow from a pen moving on paper. To help others unearth that power in themselves is privilege.

At the end of June, I completed my second school year traveling to Seattle weekly to care for first one grandson and two years later for boy number two. Like the space released following my mother’s move last Thanksgiving, I am more in control of my life now. With the expanse of time comes a responsibility to use it wisely. Other than my commitment to weekly hiking adventures, I have mostly gone to bed each night feeling like I accomplished nothing on my long to-do lists. Just having time doesn’t mean you do what you always wanted to do before retirement (whatever that word means). It doesn’t mean the yard work and cleaning get done either.

I visited the grandboys this week, keeping first one then the other home from daycare for some special hours that made my heart leap up. While the little one napped the first afternoon, I sat in the sun and worked out a practice for my days. For those of you familiar with the Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory, I am an INFJ. That I have been freewheeling through my life lately like a P rather than a J has wreaked sluggish havoc. Time to get back on track.

My flowchart includes everything from time for housecleaning, canning my tomatoes, and pulling the damn Himalayan blackberry vines out of the forsythia (lumped as house and yard work) to reading and learning (about memoir and old age, and figuring out how to use Instagram that several people have told me I need to be on). It includes time with my mother and for paid work. I’ve scheduled time for writing, art, and practicing my ukulele.

And there is plenty of white space for flexibility, napping, and pleasure reading. There is nothing scheduled after 6:30, because I turn into a pumpkin then. To fill it in would set me up for failure. Social media, the big time gobbler, is restricted to before 6:30am and after 6:30pm, and will be the biggest test of my will power.

My hope is to make a habit of balance in my life. Like yoga and writing practice, my “schedule” is not a perfection, but an intention, so I’m calling it like it is: a practice.

I color-coded the chart categorically (did I mention I am a “J”?), and was gratified to discover time is weighted toward writing-related activities. Perhaps I have finally discovered what the word “retirement” means: not life without activities that may not be our top choices, but weighted toward that about which we are passionate.

The day will come when my mother’s downward spiral will require more of me again, and the colors on my chart will shift. But only subtly, because time with her is a faded shade of purple, the color of my writing activities. She is, after all, the inspiration for my writing.


And the sunrises, absent in summer, are making a comeback.