I knew the time would come, eventually.
Somehow, though, it showed up on my doorstep one day as a total surprise.
As an only child with two elderly parents, the clock was ticking more loudly with each passing day. By the time I realized what was going on, life had changed forever.
My mother had been ailing on and off for several years, but the last bout of illness had really taken its toll, lasting several months.
Still, it seemed like we had reached a pretty decent status quo. Both in their mid- to upper 80s, my parents were relatively healthy, and except for driving, completely independent.
Then, one day, it all changed in a matter of a few minutes. That morning in early July of 2015, I put my girls on the bus to sleepaway camp for two weeks.
After lunch, my husband and I went to Costco. I stopped in to check on my folks. It was the last time I would see and speak to my dad as I knew him.
Less than two hours later, he was lying in the driveway, having suffered a massive stroke. After months of rehab that went terribly awry, he died in hospice care at home.
Six weeks after we buried my dad, my husband suffered a mini stroke (which turned out to be at least his second one) while on a family trip to his native West Virginia.
He needed emergency surgery to remove a free-floating thrombus. The day we returned home, my mother was hospitalized with pneumonia. She would be in the hospital three more times in the coming months, finally returning home on the 4th of July, needing several months of constant care.
In the meantime, life with 11- and 13-year-old girls continued. There were swim meets, ball games, scouts, school plays, music lessons, birthday parties and playdates.
There was grief, loss and stress to deal with, along with the drama of middle school and all of the growing pains associated with this age.
There were meals to cook, laundry to wash and fold, bills to pay, messes to clean.
I’m no superhero.
I’m just a regular girl with a regular life, trying to do it all.
Yes, there are friends to lean on and my little family to offer support and encouragement, but, in the end, it’s all on me. I am the one to go, to do, to make the hard decisions, to make things happen and make things stop happening. And it’s heavy; so very heavy sometimes that I feel like it will crush me.
“How do you do it? I have no idea how you’ve managed all of this on your own.” I’ve often heard this. My first thought is, “because I don’t have a choice.”
But, I’ve also, in many ways, chosen to be here now. Because, for me, this is what you do. And, life happens. To all of us.
Years ago, when my husband took me to visit West Virginia, we took a drive to Kentucky, just over the WV border. As we drove through horse country, I marveled at the long, white fences that ambled, it seemed to me, for miles and miles, up hills, down valleys. Always strong, always sturdy.
I remember asking him how they made those fences stay upright over such a long distance without breaking. He responded, “Fence posts. Lots and lots of fence posts.”
Fast forward 20 years and it dawned on me one day – fence posts. Remembering to keep myself in the picture. It’s not allowing myself to fade into all of the to-dos where I just become the facilitator.
It’s loving myself first and most. It’s realizing that the best way to care for others is to care for myself in the most basic ways always, adding extras when I am able. It’s remembering that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and I need to pace myself. Just like the horse fences that ramble for miles in the Kentucky countryside, I need to be able to go for the long haul, remaining strong and sturdy … and joyful.
Because joy and happiness and fulfillment aren’t for some day down the line when there aren’t any crises – when the folks get better or are gone, when the kids grow out of this tough phase, when we have more money, when we’ve redone our house or moved. It’s today. It’s here. It’s now.
As women, caring for ourselves is a real process. We are the givers and sustainers of life. We hold it all. Somehow, we forget to hold ourselves in the process, which leads to the Land of Bitter and Sour. When we don’t succeed, we often end up feeling angry, resentful and less than. Don’t you deserve better than that?
You don’t need to be in crisis mode. Daily life with children, a job and a home is plenty to manage and enough to take down any strong person. Our days are filled with what must be done. These are the non-negotiables of life.
But what about the non-negotiables for ourselves?
WHAT ARE YOUR NON-NEGOTIABLES?
For every to-do on my list each day (I always start with ONLY the must dos and then add if possible), I schedule in a “fencepost of self care.”
These range from 15 minutes of downtime, to a workout, to a nourishing, calm meal at the table, to a nap if that’s what I need.
I never give up my morning and evening routines – bookends of the day are what set us up for success each day. BUT I also make sure to nurture my soul everyday, as well.
This could be meeting up with a friend, connecting with other women in a loving, supporting group (I love our Peace Circle community!!), journaling, actively working on myself as an Abundant Mama – doing the WORK while DOING the work. And grace. Lots and lots of grace. Because life happens and sometimes, as human beings, we miss the mark.
Every time I add a fencepost to my day I am stronger and more ready to do and be what is needed. In the process, I have become more joyful and have been able to move towards being the best version of myself. It’s living the life while living YOUR life.
WHAT FENCE POSTS OF SELF CARE CAN YOU ADD IN TO YOUR LIFE?
Adrienne Nagy is our healthy mama moderator inside our Abundant Mama Group Coaching program … she writes and leads discussions around being healthy, eating well and keeping our minds and bodies strong and energized. She is the mother of two girls and she still is care-taking and trying to find that elusive balance every day.