A Year to Work on Balance

Photo by Travis Wheeler

I haven’t blogged since October 2020. I’ve thought about it, felt guilt about it, and then released the guilt because, well, the turmoil of these last 6 months has been both national and deeply personal. I have felt on the edge, out of balance, out of control.

I’m 62. Until the end of November, my children had all four grandparents alive, along with three of their steps. What that means is that we have several elders in our family, beloveds who are in their 80’s and 90’s now. And almost all are shifting noticeably closer to death. The first


, my feisty and funny mother-in-law, died on November 30.

Anne Hotchkiss Wheeler, always curious, unique, beloved. d. 11-30-20

It had nothing to do with COVID. She was 87 with more internal garbage going on than anyone should have. But she’d fought cancer and severe diverticulitis. She had jumped back from death so many times in the past, part of me had stopped thinking she could die! And then she had a fall, which didn’t even seem so bad, but which killed her. Just like that. My husband rushed off to be with his siblings, two of whom had been with her at her death (and I know what a huge blessing that is, especially in this era). It was very important for him to do that; their time together was bonding and healing and my being there would have been an unfortunate addition.

But, left alone in my own grief, I didn’t know what to DO with myself, with those huge emotions. And this is from someone who, because of my volunteering with Threshold Singers,¬† has made a study of grief, who deals with death and the emotions it reveals on a very regular basis.

Since then I wanted to write about “Balance”–it’s the word I chose for 2021–but I haven’t. I haven’t felt any drive to write at all, let alone add to this poor occasional blog of mine. Instead I have been visiting parents, trying to help out as they struggle to live and maybe struggle to die at the ends of their lives. I want them to have joy in their lives. Sometimes it seems as if they still do. My mother, in a nursing facility with her husband (who is on hospice and now unable to communicate verbally), points out that she gets huge pleasure at looking at flowers.

Thank God for them.

I too take enormous pleasure in the beauty of the natural world. I love the fact that I almost always have a camera with me in the form of my cell phone. I take photos that sometimes knock me sideways, like this one.

Outside of Taos, NM

This January my father had a stroke which, on top of his Parkinson’s, made him face Death in the eye and basically say, “bring it on!” But with excellent care, he’s recovering some independence. I visited to help my stepmom out for a couple of weeks (basically provide some support), and I learned how very important my father’s dignity is to him. He wrote a very specific letter in August saying that he never wanted anyone to feed him. It’s in his health care folder. That was the line he was drawing. He got very close to that place.

Dad perked up with daughters visiting (and great support from his wife and visiting professionals)

And it’s his choice. My stepmom (bless her!) totally honors the fact that my father’s choices are his. With her strength modeling that for me, I hope I can stop myself from my knee-jerk response to voice my own opinion at a time when that is not wanted or asked for.

We adult children think we know so much. And I’m not just adult. My own children remind me quite regularly that I am old! Oh, if only that age came with assured wisdom, but I have so much growing still to do. The world keeps rocking under my feet–pandemics, politics, divisiveness, climate change, worries about just about every aspect of life. How do I stabilize?

At my Threshold rehearsal in January I asked my fellow singers to share what strategies they had to re-ground or find balance. So many mentioned self care: Breathing with Chi Gong, Tai Chi, walks in nature, noticing little details, or focusing on a task as a kind of meditative practice. For me, I’ve been so blessed to have my family of sisters and moms to connect to. I have my rock of a husband. And I have my dog and friends, and a new practice of self forgiveness.

I think of the song by the Byrds, To Everything Turn Turn Turn:

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

There is a balance to everything. Good heavens, I have everything to help me balance! Just got to pay attention.

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4 Responses to A Year to Work on Balance

  1. Welcome back, Mattie. Loved this. Time for coffee?

  2. Mary Byrne says:

    Lovely Maddie. so many challenges added to life this year.

    • WW says:

      Thanks, Mary. Your presence in my life (along with Gracie and all the other pups who make me laugh on a daily basis!) has been a huge gift to me. Definitely a steadying factor.

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