A few months ago, my mom passed and I find myself adrift. Lost in the desert, I need to redefine my life. Unmoored at 57, where do I go from here?
Eight years ago after my dad’s funeral, I moved back to Tucson to take care of mom as she went through cancer (surgery, radiation treatment, pill-based maintenance chemotherapy and their side effects), dialysis and the gradual dwindling that is aging. All that time I stayed positive: believing fervently that she would live. Driving her to bingo and thrift stores, using interlibrary loans to order Japanese books and doing what I could do to make life pleasant so that cancer and end-stage renal disease (ESRD) did not define her life.
It is so weird. I never stopped being myself in caring for my mom. However, with her passing, I feel like I lost a piece of myself. You fight off death for years, staring him down and then when Death wins, as he must, it’s like, “Huh?”
Mom was ready. I know that. She said dad was visiting her in her dreams. Her last night I could hear her singing on the baby audio monitor. An Okinawan folk song that I didn’t understand. Eight hours later she was gone. And I lost the fight — even though rationally I know it was better for her. Her mind was starting to slip and she would have hated that. But knowing and feeling are two different animals.
So here I am. California had been my home for decades and honestly I never thought I’d move back to Tucson. I remember I couldn’t wait to get away and go off to college to find meaning and adventure somewhere else. This is home now, again, but I don’t know what that means. When both your parents die, they take home with them in some deep essential way.
What do I want to be important to me now? Where do I want to go from here? Like on New Year’s, I am making a list of what needs to be restructured.
Health is important, this I know. And it will become more important with age
- Organizing. Much of my stuff got shoved into the garage and back porch when I moved here and now it’s time to create space for it. It’s really hard to move decades of things into a house already filled with decades of living.
- Tucson. Explore Tucson. Find out what makes it special like I did with Oita and Koriyama when I taught English in Japan and again in Oakland/San Francisco when I moved there. Time to be a tourist in Tucson.
Budget / Income
- Living cheap. When you are a caretaker, you never have vacation. I need some time out. If I live frugally, I can buy myself a few months.
- Income. Explore other ways of creating income rather than the traditional 9-5.
Joy / Meaning/ Bucket List
This one I will leave open. While I know what had meaning in various points in my past, only by being open and exploring will I find what will have meaning for the second half of my life. Family, friends, relationships and work defined me a lot in the past. Actually they still want to define me but taking care of my mom, I’ve let go of the need to take care of them by buying into their expectations. It’s time to go to Walden’s pond.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep … and, if (life) proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. ”
— Henry David Thoreau in “Walden”, 1854
So I am assuming if you’ve read this far, you are re-evaluating your life. So what do you want to focus on? Where do you want to go?
I thought about adding books on grief/grieving but decided not to. Grief is both personal and individual so people go through it differently. I withdrew from everyone. I just really wanted to be alone for a few months. My sister cried on everyone. I felt like we were from different planets. So what works to help one person may not help another. I’ve decided not to make a list right now although I may later. Time sometimes helps to define later what helps the most. I am listing “Walden” as I like the quote which was helpful to me.
Disclaimer: I have signed up as an Amazon affiliate so I may get a small payment if anyone buys anything by clicking the Walden link. The sheet said 4.5% if it’s a book. They haven’t accepted me yet. I think this next quote is required but I’ve noticed on some sites they have written their own personal text so I’m not sure. “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”