Re-envisioning Life

By NANCY PATRICK

The holiday seasons that include Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s evoke many emotions from many of us.

As a child and young adult, I felt excitement and anticipation as I waited for the holidays. My family had many aunts, uncles, cousins, along with our parents and grandparents. These early occasions provided the few times we all had the opportunity to all be together.

My husband Mike and I often hosted the family gatherings that included home-cooked meals and times for our son and his twin cousins to play and get into mischief. I absolutely loved those years.

During what I call my prime years, I was known as the Energizer Bunny. I have always moved in Fast Forward mode. Mike didn’t even like to go on walks with me because he preferred strolling at a slower pace. I biked, walked, swam, did all my own house work, yard work, cooked thousands of meals, and loved every minute of it. 

On top of that, I had a thirty-five-year teaching career and relished my busyness. I had great health, strength, and stamina, and I felt on top of the world.

In my fifties and early sixties, I took care of Mike’s and my own parents in various ways. I retired from teaching early enough to have plenty of time for caregiving and volunteer work. I loved delivering Meals on Wheels and leading senior adult fitness classes. I even attended a seminar on senior adult fitness at the Cooper Institute in Dallas.

In 2015, my life began to change in regard to some health issues. I inherited my parents’ arthritis and added to that osteoporosis and degenerative spine issues. Age and health often prompt people to view the coming of a new year in a very different light from their youthful years.

My first major medical issue was six months of excruciating back pain that included various treatments that did not work. Finally, my doctor sent me to a neurosurgeon who performed the successful laminectomy that gave me back my mobility and normal abilities.

Shortly after that, my knees began failing. I dealt with that by receiving steroid injections every few months. That relief worked for a couple of years, but it finally failed to provide relief. 

In 2020, my skilled orthopedic surgeon performed knee replacements on both knees on the same day. As anyone who has had knee replacements knows, the surgery is traumatic and takes many months of therapy and exercise to regain a semblance of original knee function.

Even though I had to adjust my lifestyle somewhat to accommodate the new knees, I was grateful to my surgeon and satisfied with my progress. About the middle of 2021, my back began giving me problems dissimilar to the pinched nerve of 2015. 

Again, I went through a series of injections to help with my pain. In April of 2022, my back completely gave out. I couldn’t stand up straight or even walk around the house without a walker. I could not disguise the agonizing pain with smiles or pithy sayings.

In May of 2022, I did what I said I would never do. I consented to a back surgery in which my neurosurgeon fused my L3, 4, and 5 vertebrae. The choices were to become a homebound invalid on prescription pain pills or have the surgery. I chose the surgery, which successfully released whatever prevented me from standing straight. 

My residual problem, however, is that my recovery has some significant limitations. At the age of seventy-two (nearly seventy-three), I find myself having to redefine my identity. I am no longer an Energizer Bunny, nor do I work my normal chores—cooking, cleaning, yard maintenance, fitness program—as I once did.

I recall a method of revision I once used with my composition students. We called it re-envisioning. As teachers, we told our students they needed to consider the first paper they wrote as a draft or collection of notes.

In other words, the raw material of the first composition needed to be re-thought and re-shaped into a new form. They needed to take a fresh look at their papers and redefine them, reform them into a new product.

I now find myself at this place in the composition of my life. My life needs much more than surface changes. Because my skeletal issues present life-altering possibilities, I no longer rush around in Fast Forward mode.

 I walk deliberately and notice my surroundings. I do not ride my bike anymore because a fall could cause permanent injury. I pace my housework, avoid lifting heavy objects, and spread my housework across several days because my stamina has a span of about thirty minutes. 

After living seven decades as a johnnie-on-the-spot personality, I must accept a difficult truth. Rather than resenting my limitations, I need to focus on what I can do and be grateful for that. I need to appreciate how difficult some people’s lives are and learn from them to live within the margins of their lives. 

I have admired many people who had to re-envision their lives: my sister-in-law who lived graciously with multiple sclerosis for thirty years, athletes whose spinal injuries have ended their dreams and changed their realities, service men and women whose bodies were devastated by war, as well as those whose birth defects have made their daily lives so much more difficult than others. 

These people didn’t give up on life. They adapted to circumstances so they could live productively. God allows us the opportunity to grow in grace and maturity when we face challenges.

 I confess that my challenges seem trivial when compared to those of many other people. Rather than moaning about my limitations, I hope to make a New Year’s resolution to redefine my later years as a more thoughtful, more careful, more grateful, and more appreciative human being. 

Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing

2 comments

  • Oh Nancy…how I can relate to your article. Although my limitations don’t even compare to yours I know exactly how you feel about having to slow down and do things at a different pace because our bodies are wearing out. I cannot do the things I used to do and enjoyed doing and it’s very disheartening to come to that realization. I think this is one of your best articles ever! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I love you and hope someday soon we will be able to visit again. I love you!

    Like

  • So good, and yes, it is difficult to give in to the changes our bodies are coming to and the realization that we aren’t as strong nor balanced as we once were !

    I too need to re-focus and be grateful if the things I can still do!
    So thankful to be alive and moving……..be it slow …. I CAN move‼️

    Like

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