life changes


It’s been a queer couple of months since my last post. I feel lethargic. Tired. But agitated at the same time. Disinterested in my normal activities. An odd feeling of disassociation with the things I usually do. I feel myself pulling inward, spending more time alone than usual. Not really caring about much. 

During the first year after I lost my mom, I wrote a lot about grief being like a roller coaster. There were huge vacillations in my emotions - one day I was riding an almost manic high, while other days I was in the depths of despair. I kept extremely busy, scheduling social activities with friends, trying out all my mom’s recipes, gardening like crazy, looking for ways to stay close to her, to keep her presence alive in my life. 

With the passage of the first anniversary of her death, it’s as if the roller coaster has come to an abrupt halt at the bottom of the hill, leaving me strapped inside the carriage, motionless. 

Gut Instinct

Someone once told me that I “live in my head a lot.” She didn’t mean it as a compliment, although I was inclined to take it as one anyway. What was so bad about being thoughtful? I wondered. Why shouldn’t I ponder and weigh possibilities in the privacy of my own mind? Aren’t we always being advised to “think things through”, to “weigh all the possibilities?” To “give it some thought?" But I’ve finally begun to realize the value of following my instinct rather than my intellect. And I have my digestive system to thank for that.

Dont worry, I wont go into graphic details - suffice it to say my gut hasnt been in the best working order. I wasnt giving it much thought, other than being annoyed with feeling less than my best, until I read something that started me thinking my gastrointestinal system might be sending me a deeper message than one about changing my diet.

“Thoughts can spin our reactions to whatever we encounter,” writes Martha Beck, “while the gut-deep impulses we get from instinct are usually more honest.” Instinctual behavior is thousands of years old, while complex thinking patterns developed during more recent stages of evolution. Yet most of us rely on complex thinking to govern our lives. We let logic and social training talk us out of (or into) situations where instinct might lead us in another direction.

For those of us raised to contemplate, to consider, to cogitate, the big question is how to discern what our instinct is trying to say. That’s where the gut comes in.

good-food-gut-heart-400x400“Trust your gut,” says that folksy phrase I’ve heard but rarely heeded. My left brain has become super effective at blocking my instincts, feelings that not only help us decide what to do in any given situation but preserve us from danger and distress.

“If you’re having trouble tapping into your instincts,” Beck suggests, “recall a positive situation from your past or a person who’s proven to be a positive presence in your life. Recall moments when you realized you were doing the right thing at the right time, or moments when you felt love and trust for that person you’ve identified. Notice your physical sensations - did you smile, relax your shoulders, feel a warm glow in your solar plexus?” Conversely, when you consider a negative situation or relationship, what happens to you body? Does your heart race? Does your stomach lurch?

I began paying closer attention to the ever-present tightening in my physical gut. Was this really just indigestion, or could it be my primitive instinct talking? I applied Beck’s litmus test to some of the situations in my current life with interesting results. Listening to my instinct is helping me determine what really matters to me right now. 

“Your life is waiting to help you choose what’s right for you,” Beck says, “even when other people tell you that their code-red desires should take priority. It does this by making things taxing when they’re not important and delicious and relatively effortless when they are. If you tend to include others’ priorities in your decision making, you must untangle yourself to know what’s important."

I know life can’t always be “delicious and relatively effortless.” But identifying the areas of life that are “taxing” your heart and soul (not to mention your intestines!) is the first step to changing what can be changed, and also to feeling good about making those changes. Most of the situations that tax my happiness resources arise from my need to please people, to help them in their endeavors, to be the “good girl” who always does what’s expected, often at the expense of my own plans and desires. I always think I have to do what people ask of me, think that once I’ve agreed to a course of action, taken on a responsibility, then it’s mine for life whether it proves to be rewarding or not. It’s taken almost 58 years of living to realize I don’t have to live that way, that it isn’t indulgent or selfish to want what I want for a change.

Now I find myself itching to get started living this life I envision for myself, the one my gut tells me is right for this particular moment. The one that has me spending more time in the sanctuary of my home, with the people that mean the most to me, doing the things that satisfy my spirit.

Picturing this scenario makes me feel all warm and fuzzy - peaceful and relaxed from the inside out. It’s definitely a gut reaction, and one I’m excited to follow.  

Locking the Door for the Last, Last Time

Today I left our old house in Redford for the very last time. Tomorrow (finally) we will finalize the sale of the home to a young couple with a two-year old son named Jackson. The circumstances of the sale were made in heaven (thank you St. Joseph, patron saint of homes).  During the final stages of the major clean-out process, our next door neighbor came knocking at the door.  "Are you getting ready to put the house up for sale?" he asked.

Yes, we answered, already filled with trepidation about dealing with realtors and regulations and mortgage companies.

"My son and daughter in law are really interested," he replied. "If they like it, we could do the deal without involving the real estate."

Wonder of wonders, they took one 15 minute look and they were sold. And so were we.

Easy as pie.

How blessed can you get?

So now we are about to relinquish the Rowan family homestead - the property my father in law purchased in 1948 and the brick home home he built in 1952. And today, I took one last walk through the empty house, and said my goodbyes.

To the living room where I walked the floor with a cranky baby, played my piano for hours on end, unwrapped Christmas presents for 36 years, and drank my morning coffee while I watched the sun come up.

To the bedroom where we slept night after night, where our son was conceived and where we lay, sleepless,  waiting for the sound of his car in the driveway when he was a teenager.

To Brian's room, where he played and drew pictures and wrote stories and made recordings, where he littered the floor with stuffed animals and books and vinyl record albums and Hot Wheels cars.

To the kitchen - oh the kitchen, where I cooked countless pot roasts and casseroles, made innumerable pots of coffee (first in Corning Ware percolators, and then in those new fangled Mr. Coffee machines), washed hundreds of dishes, unloaded tons of groceries.

To the back porch, where I sat in the mornings listening to a symphony of birdsong and watching rabbits play across the grass, rushing to squeeze through their escape hatch under the fence as soon as Magic or Molly would take off after them.

And to the clotheslines, where each week I hung sheets to whip dry in the summer sun and brought them in warm and fresh to put on the bed. I miss the clotheslines a lot.

I even said goodbye to the basement (although I always hated the basement), and the laundry tub where I washed my hair and bathed my dogs.

I have to believe it's a rare thing in this modern world for people to live in the same home their entire married lives - even rarer still when that's the house where you were born.  I don't think life in these United States lends itself to that kind of longevity or continuity. It's expected that you will want more than the "old things" your parents had, that you will continually strive for bigger and better houses, and cars, and vacations. People move all over the country and even the world, traveling wherever their relationships and jobs might take them, looking for the next big thing.

Perhaps it's part of our oddball nature, but we never felt any particular tug for a bigger or better home. Our little house suited us fine. And with every passing year and every increasing ache or pain, it became more and more difficult to imagine the rigors of moving two family lifetimes worth of stuff to another place.

But there are times in life when the need for change becomes palpable, when the yearning for something fresh and new insistently clamors for attention and can no longer be ignored. It took a long time for that to happen to us, but finally it did.

And here we are, saying goodbye to the house.

We've lived in our condo for almost a year now, long enough to feel like we belong, long enough to know we love it, long enough to feel confident we are in the right place. There were no tears today as I walked through the hallways, turned off the lights, and locked the door for the last time.

Just my spirit saying a quiet thank you  for sheltering me and the people I love.

Worth Keeping

My husband and I were having a late breakfast yesterday morning on the patio at George’s, the restaurant located in our new condo community.  The weather has turned slightly cooler, with a definite tinge of fall dampness in the air, and our conversation naturally turned to the regular routine of fall activities that would soon be starting. “I don’t know,” I said. “Somehow I’m not in the mood for going back to the same old stuff.."

“You’d like to just start fresh?” he asked.

I laughed. “In case you haven’t noticed,” I said, “I’m really in the mood for getting rid of things, for wanting to make a clean sweep of EVERYTHING."

He looked slightly askance at me. “Just as long as that doesn’t include me,” he said. “Just don’t get everything the way you want it and then tell me to get out too."

I laughed. “Not much chance of that!” I told him.

“I don’t know,” he replied, more seriously this time. “Your dad did it, you know. I hope you aren’t going to take after him."


It’s true - my father really did walk out on my mother after 42 years of marriage. He really did run off with his secretary, just like a bad Lifetime movie, moving out of state and out of our lives for what seemed like forever. It was a horrible time for our family. But over the past 22 years we’ve all made our peace with it.

At least I thought we had.

Friends have asked me if my fathers actions make me uncertain about my own husbands fidelity, less trustful of men in general. But I’ve honestly never felt anxious about my husband’s loyalty, at least not because of what my father did.

It never occurred to me that he might feel anxious about me because of it.

The “midlife crisis” is an old joke by now, but there are some things about it which are fatefully true. When you advance into that “second half of your century on earth” (as I call it), it’s not unusual to start thinking about all the things you haven’t done, the feelings you haven’t felt. You pine for the excitement of youth, the delicious anticipation of romance, the thrill of dreaming big dreams.

And you realize that time grows short. Every day you hear of another friend in your age group with cancer or heart disease. Someone dying or already dead.

It’s depressing.

It’s frightening.

Looking back on it, I understand how my father became a victim of all these feelings, how he allowed them to override not just his common sense but his moral character and sense of responsibility. So his actions definitely had an effect on the way I look at my own midlife experience. I understand the longings, but I also understand how easily one can get carried away by them and make huge, life altering mistakes.

It’s possible that my burning desire to get rid of all this “stuff” that’s been accumulating for the past 35 years, and this huge impetus I’ve felt to get settled and squared away in a new neighborhood that will last us into our old(er) age, is my own personal reaction to the kind of middle-aged crisis that struck my dad so hard.

Perhaps I do take after him, do need to make some big changes in order to move forward at this time of my life and not feel like I’m being buried by the past.

“Getting rid of stuff is one thing,” I told my husband firmly. “But getting rid of your life’s companion is something else again. I only have one of those, and I intend to keep him.”

I hope I reassured him.

I hope he’s feeling some of the same excitement about our future that I am.

Because I want to go forward into the second half of our century together.

And he’s definitely a keeper.

Where I Am

Days are flying by, filled with plotting and planning for the big move ahead. I wake with a flurry of thoughts - furniture placement, colors for walls and drapes and bedding and towels. My imagination wonders where my favorite places will be in this new house, where I will hunker down to read, to write. Where I will spin in happy circles when life is particularly good, where I might curl up to shed those inevitable tears. Meantime, the regular everyday things continue to call. Puppy dog walks, trips to the grocery store, clothes that need washing, floors that need mopping. But all come with an extra edge of excitement, for the promise of change is in the wind.

And I am enjoying the breeze.