This week I gave my class a writing assignment which asked them to discuss an instance how a personal tragedy turned into a strength. Most of them were having trouble with the writing assignment because they couldn’t come up with an example. They’re too young to have “hit the wall,” and worst of all, they have no idea how they will act when personal tragedy strikes.
If I had to write this assignment, I would tell the story of “Barbie and Ken” in middle age. I’d walk my reader through how we’ve worked together with the help of friends and family to face a few “biggies” with a smile.
When Ken’s health turned bad in 2000, neither of us cried. Instead, we looked at his cancer diagnosis as a project that needed to be managed. He faced the pain and suffering of the disease, as I stood by his bedside as his advocate, making sure good decisions were made for his care. Our friends stood by both of us with support and visits. One woman in our church group arranged a committee to take transportation issues off of my shoulders. She helped get Ken to his intensive chemotherapy. His infusions went on for five days, lasting about four hours everyday. This course of treatment was done every third week for four months.
After his diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in 2006, I was told his memory loss was worse than many Alzheimer’s patients, and for the first time in our life together, I cried. Somehow, I got through the cancer without tears, but this load was too heavy. Once again my dear husband had to face a tough battle, but the effects of this war would endure forever. But somehow, we both got it together as the diagnosis set in, and once again we reshaped our lives to deal with the cards we were dealt. He had to learn how to be alone all day, while I went to work. He decided to handle the household chores, so we could have our weekends together to do some fun things. I had to assume the outside duties of grass cutting and weed pulling.
It wasn’t until 2009 that things got really tough. I lost my job, and little did I know this was the beginning of my “retirement.” I was too young in years to really retire with parties and fond farewells. Instead, I faded into oblivion. The economy was in the tank, and nobody wanted or needed a person my age around any more. But once again, Ken and I pulled together with the help of our supportive friends and family, and somehow we saw our way through three years without enough money, creditors calling, and days filled with each other 24/7.
Now as his MS progresses, he needs me home all of the time. Am I ready for this? Probably not, but I’m making the necessary changes. I’ve decided to stop teaching to become his caretaker–both jobs are too much.
Yesterday was our first experience with this group called “Harmony Club.” Ken was the youngest guy in the group and probably the most handicapped of all of them, but everyone welcomed him with open arms, and I could leave him, knowing he was in good hands. I went to one of my favorite breakfast places and enjoyed an omelet, while enjoyed watching people go about their daily business downtown.
I guess the point of this discussion is to say no matter what happens in life, everyone has a choice. You can whine about how the world has done you wrong, or you can look at what has happened and be creative. Finding new ways of doing things can be fun. Discovering new abilities is exciting. I finally had a chance to let out my creative side through producing novels, paintings, and jewelry–all of which people tell me they enjoy. Perhaps my novels won’t make the best seller list, and my paintings are not museum quality, but all of these endeavors is an outlet for my many emotions.
It takes strength and creativity to face disappointments in life with a smile, and if you’re lucky you’ll have a support system to carry you when you think you can’t go on. If you must have a pity party, make it a short one. Then go and defy the disappointment bully and punch him/her in the hose. You’ll feel better for it!