I tried it. I tried to take it easy, to return to my old ways. After my Physical Therapist suggested I take it easy as I was leaving the session last Thursday, I backed off by not doing the morning backpack hike Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. It didn’t go well. I had some good experiences during that time, the dinner out, the Manheim Steamroller concert. I got a few household tasks done. I also flirted with the idea of backing off on the rest, swimming, horseback riding, maybe even the trip. It all seemed like so much to try to maintain.
I don’t think I have the option any longer of returning to former ways. Returning to sitting in the house, watching television programs, eating large portions of rich foods, being involved in as little as possible, no longer seems possible. When I was caring for Mary Ann, the activity was constant, going out was getting more and more difficult. There was a valuable purpose to each moment of each day at home. Now that she is gone, that life is gone also.
The new pattern of activities is beginning to seem necessary if I actually intend to choose life. By this afternoon (Sunday) I finally had to head over to Cedarcrest, put on the backpack and start walking. Then I went over to the YMCA to see if I could make a little progress on the challenge of learning to breathe while doing the front crawl.
It was actually a major victory that I headed over to the YMCA, changed into the swim suit and got into a lane at the pool. I tried to do it last Friday but could not bring myself to actually do it. There is an underlying panic that seems to kick in when I am trying to swim the length of the pool doing the front crawl. Some conversations with Horse riding Instructor Kira have helped crystalize my thinking on the difficulty I am having with the swimming. The only way to deal with that panic is to name it, face it, get in the water and do the rythmic breathing to the extent I am able often enough to desensitize my panic muscles and habituate to the task. The days I did not do the backpack walk, I found myself unable to face that challenge. I guess the endorphins that come with the exercise have come to be a necessary motivator.
All this may seem very trivial in the grand scheme of things. For me it is not trivial. Dealing with those fears is a metaphor for the larger issue of the need to choose life as I negotiate this transition from life with Mary Ann to life without Mary Ann.
This morning was revelatory for me. First of all, singing in the choir in worship today was profoundly satisfying. The piece of music was meaningful and easy enough to sing that I could sing out with a degree of confidence. There certainly is no doubt that singing in some form or another needs to be a part of the new life that is emerging. As the years go by, the control needed to sing well diminishes. The singing needs to be done sooner rather than later.
Another revelation is just how important the community at the church is to my negotiating this new reality. I spent a good portion of the morning, through two service times and the fellowship time in between interacting with all sorts of people. Those relationships are not just a pleasant diversion. I feel valued and accepted. The connections fill a portion of the empty space created by Mary Ann’s departure. There seems to be a level of substance to the relationships that takes them beyond the casual.
One of the challenges that comes with the role of “Former Pastor” is the need to avoid anything that might draw attention away from the current Pastor. In many denominations when a Pastor retires, he/she is not allowed to remain at the parish from which he/she has retired. Our branch encourages leaving the congregation but does not require it. In the last two parishes, I followed a Pastor who retired and stayed in the congregation. In both cases, the Pastor I followed gave me room to become the Pastor functionally. By doing so they each gave me a valuable gift. I now understand how hard it was for them. I now need to do the same for the current Pastor. The two years of full time care of Mary Ann moved me completely out of the picture at the church. All we could do was attend, and sometimes that wasn’t even possible. Now that the new Pastor is established, my hope is that the strong relationships continuing for me will not have any negative impact on his ministry.
“Take it easy.” There is nothing easy about this. Letting go completely of a career, then losing the central human relationship, the one that has given meaning and purpose to each day (and night), in need of constant attention, moving into a completely new reality, is even harder than I imagined it could be. With that said, there are blessings upon blessings that have accrued to me as this transition has gone on. I am humbled by people’s concern and willingness to do whatever they can to help.