Things don’t bother me as much as they used to. I used to be a lot more tense than I am now, more anxious about everything that needed to be done. I often woke up in the morning with a huge list of things to worry about, ready to jump out of bed and get going because I had so much to do. Life = stress.
As a child, I was a Nervous Nelly. I was afraid of just about everything, especially new things and change of any kind. As a teen in the 1970s, I didn’t do drugs to be cool. I did them because they made me feel some semblance of what it meant to be relaxed for the first time in my life. Then I became a single mother in my 20’s and I was pretty busy raising my son, coaching his sports team, going to college, working – stress was my middle name.
Bills also stressed me out for most of that period, then things improved financially after Rick and I got together, renovated a couple of houses, and achieved more in our careers. Life, in general, was pretty good, but I was still always stressed about something – work, web clients, home maintenance. You know, life.
Rick was my built-in stress reliever. His attitude was so much different than mine about what he considered “sweating the small stuff.” He was yin to my yang and had a calming effect on me in the midst of whatever my latest stressor was, and there was always some tumult or other. With a few well-timed backrubs and some encouraging words, my stress would melt away in Rick’s hands.
But then Rick got sick, and our lives turned upside down. My biggest supporter needed me to be strong and calm for him. I was inundated with medical appointments, keeping track of the doctors’ fees, correcting insurance billing mistakes, and all that folderol (which meant there was always something I had to remember to pay or straighten out or keep on my radar). Besides that, of course, at the top of my list, was worrying about Rick day to day and – later – hour by hour.
Would he die? Would he live? Would he make it through the latest medical crisis? Was he okay? Had I remembered to give him the latest pill or shot or supplement?
Was he happy? Was he in pain? Did he need anything?
And, always, that underlying theme constantly running through my head…
How long will the remission last? How soon is he going to die?
How can I live without him?
Well, I found out how, and it was pretty horrible, and that’s to be expected. But here’s the odd thing. All of that changed me in a way I never expected. The strife and the knowledge that the man I love was going to die, flipped some switch in my brain, and now so many things that used to be a big deal just aren’t that important anymore.
In “normal life,” there’s always something to potentially stress me out. There’s work, of course. Sometimes there’s just too much to do. Because my job requires me to write and edit for several project managers, I often have four or five different projects that have to be done today. And of course, they don’t get done today.
Then there are website issues with our clients – any WordPress update can throw something out of whack on one or more site: contact forms stop working, whole pages (or sites) are suddenly unviewable – and these issues can happen or be discovered at 11pm midweek, and – oh no! – I need to troubleshoot and fix this ASAP.
And all the home maintenance issues. Something is always broken. In fact, right now, my garbage disposal isn’t working correctly. My nephew has cranked it and gotten it going three or four times now. And then it just randomly stops.
So, there’s the normal to-do list, plus unexpected things that always come along that are stressful. The state of Michigan just sent me a warning because I didn’t pay my Michigan taxes in April. Except, I did. So, I had to find the electronic proof and send it to them. I received a bill for zero due last week, with no apology for implying I was a deadbeat.
And speaking of the unexpected, there was that night a couple weeks ago when some man broke into my house while I was sleeping. That caused a bit of emotional upheaval – for about a day. Things happen – things that normally throw you out of your equilibrium.
So here I am, with all the usual stress inducers (and more) and no Rick to balance it all out for me. No backrubs. No one to say, “Don’t worry, honey, none of that matters. Let’s take a drive through the park.” I am graced with the support of wonderful friends and family, so I’m not alone. But the most supportive partner in the world is gone, my world has shattered, and I’m still here picking up the pieces without him.
So the weird thing, the thing that just occurred to me the other day, is that I’m not stressed out by all this. I rarely wake up with that cloud of worry that’s been following me around my whole life. When stressful things come along, I just handle them, or shrug it off, figuring, meh, it’ll work out somehow. What’s the worst that could happen?
It wasn’t like this at first. In the first few months after Rick’s death, I definitely was a bundle of nerves, always at a high level of anxiety. My whole life was off balance. My equilibrium was shot. But, as time has gone on, I have become more serene about life than I have ever been in my entire existence. Things just don’t bother me like they used to.
And I honestly think it’s because I know that nothing is as bad as losing Rick. Nothing is worse than losing the man I loved and the entire future we had planned together. As we tried to live life to the fullest in his last months on earth, I was slapped in the head by what really matters in life, and it’s not any of these paltry day-to-day issues that used to matter so much.
I just don’t care anymore.
So the garbage disposal doesn’t work. Who cares? These first world problems aren’t worth worrying about. Who the hell cares if I can grind up food in my garbage disposal or scrape the plate into a garbage can instead? These little annoyances and difficulties will never, ever compare with losing the love of my life. That put everything in perspective.
The state is threatening me because of a mistake THEY made? Take a hike state! Have at me! Do your best! What are they going to do, kill me?
So that project at work gets done tomorrow instead of today? It’ll get done. It’s not brain surgery. We offer training to engineers; we’re not saving lives or anything.
Some man broke into my house? So what? He didn’t kill me. He didn’t destroy all of my belongings. In fact, he got very little cash and he got Rick’s cell phone, which I had finally forced myself to return to Sprint. Who knew that some man would steal it out of the envelope before I could get it to the UPS store?
And yes, now I have to fight it out with Sprint as to whether I have to pay $200 or they’ll accept the police report. And yes, I’ve put some more burglarproof alarms and locks on my doors, because I really don’t want another night visitor. But, compared with the fact that the person I loved with all my heart will never speak to me or touch me again? A little home invasion and some time on hold with Sprint is nothing compared to that.
After 14 months, I don’t know if it’s some kind of psychological numbness that just hasn’t left me yet, but I really care very little about most of the things that used to drive me crazy. Whatever it is, I can still hear Rick’s voice in my head telling me not to worry about it. It’ll all be okay.
So, now, my current response to just about any (former) crisis, is…
Hopefully, this is a good thing. Hopefully, I now know what’s important, the things that really count in life. And a whole lot of those nagging problems and anxiety-producing issues are just some petty stuff that aren’t worth wasting my hours worrying about.
Finally, after years of reading platitude upon platitude about how I should learn to focus on the important things, the things that matter – finally, I think it sunk in! Being with the people I love. Spending quality time with my kids, my grandkids, and my wonderful friends. Using my time wisely. Not fretting about tomorrow, because I can’t control it anyway. THAT’s what’s really important.
Rick’s death was the knock in the head I needed to really see what living means. I learned that I need to quit worrying about the job, and the endless chores and bills, and be present IN my life, just as I was with Rick in the last months of his life. I need to tell those I love how much they matter to me. I need to love them NOW, make time for them NOW. Appreciate them, praise them, tell them how special they are.
With Rick’s illness and subsequent death, I truly learned the truth about stopping to smell the roses.
Every day now, I take the scenic route through the park on the way to work and home. Last weekend, I ignored the looming household chores and worked on my jigsaw puzzle. (Thanks, Facebook friends for your encouragement! You know who you are.) Lately, I’ve been very busy, but it’s not doing chores, and it’s not worrying about those pesky life foibles.
I’ve been very very busy taking long drives and evenings off. I’ve been busy going to dinner and movies with friends, playing with my grandkids, and going to concerts. I’ve been taking trips – revisiting our favorite place in Florida, hanging out with my childhood besties in western Michigan, and enjoying family vacations and girls’ game weekend up at the cottage. I’ve been busy reading books and doing puzzles and writing poetry. I’ve been spending evenings in my recliner with my cat in my lap listening to music, and – sometimes – just sitting under the wind chime in the gazebo, with a glass of wine, talking to the spirit of my deceased husband. (I never said I was normal.)
At this late stage of my life, I’ve finally learned to chill.
Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today? Nope. Always put off whatever you can so you can ENJOY today.
The annoyances of life will always be there, the chores will eventually get done, but I no longer really care much about them, and Rick’s death put it all in perspective for me.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Make every second count.
Stop and smell the roses.
Yes, I know, these platitudes really can be annoying, but, meh, whatever, I plan to live by their wisdom.