Guest Author: Susanne Skinner
It feels like winter has been stretched to never-ending. It is officially Spring — two days before Easter — and our heat is on. The early morning temperature reads 26 degrees, the cars and yard are covered in frost and two days ago it snowed. I am desperately seeking forsythia and ready to move anyplace that does not have the season known as winter.
The remnants of winter are all around me. The days are longer, but continue to be gray and cold. The roads are full of cracks and axle breaking potholes. The backyard is brown where it should be green and the fence is sagging and in need of paint. I am feeling the same way.
Why was this winter so difficult? I have always been able to meet winter head on. I look forward to the magic of the first snowfall and the hope of a white Christmas. The pristineness of winter, when things are sleeping and silent, has never been at odds with my emotions. This winter felt hollow, depressing, and cold. It reflected the stress and uncertainty that comes with change.
It was winter outside and winter inside. Unemployment stretched behind me and before me. My Dad suffered a ruptured gall bladder with the very real possibility that he would not recover. My brother-in-law, out of touch for many years, died alone in a hospice telling his care givers he had no family. Our youngest son joined the military and the word deployment filled my heart with fear.
It felt like a lot of bad juju was hanging over our lives. My ability to find good in each day was on shaky ground and I spent a lot of time wondering what would happen if I could not find a job. Things I used to control were completely out of control and the sadness that comes from change and loss was felt by all of us.
Not having a job meant a lot of time on my hands. That has never been a good thing for me – I am a 100% Type A Overachieving Leo. I do not have the ability to sit still. I do not know how.
But I am learning.
Everything that happens to you is a teachable moment. There is pragmatism in this statement. It presumes you are in a difficult situation, have the presence of mind to accept it and ask what you are supposed to learn while you are there. As in “I have no job, my unemployment has run out, my Dad has a life-threatening illness, but let me take a moment and find the meaning in all of this”. That is not what I am suggesting; but in fact it is exactly what I did. I did not know what else to do and had no other place to go. What if I was exactly where I was supposed to be, with all this fear, sadness and uncertainty? The answer felt like yes.
I believe my feet have always been put on the path they are meant to walk and each step leads to awareness and learning if I am open to it. There is no promise of easy answers and happy endings. The outcome I wish for is not guaranteed. But the person it helps me become means there is something for me to learn.
It began with learning to sit still. I sat by my Dad’s hospital bedside. I wasn’t working, he was very ill, and I am the only child within driving distance. I moved to Maine and sat with my Dad. At 93, he came through surgery that had a high probability of “no meaningful recovery,” which is hospital speak for death.
So there we were. Dad and I together in a hospital room for a week. He slept a lot. I read and watched an entire season of Game of Thrones, and we talked. We had great conversations. He’s had an amazing life and his memory is sharper than mine. Once he was out of the hospital I stayed two more weeks. He shared stories about my Mom, World War II, his family and me as a little girl. We talked about books, writing, cooking and how much change he had witnessed in 93 years of living. By the time I returned home I appreciated the gift I had been given.
When we learned of my brother-in-law’s death we were heartbroken. We couldn’t change what happened – he was gone – but as a family we came together to bring him home and celebrate his life as a brother, father, husband and son. We were able to affirm what being a family meant and through the gift of time, rebuild and reconnect, keeping his memory alive through his children and grandchildren.
Our son’s decision to enter the military was made with conviction. His Dad and I had the honor of driving him to the recruiting station and I cried as he left for basic training and Officer Candidate School (OCS). It was a bittersweet moment. If I had been working I would have been in Spain at an annual conference. Five months later I cried again as he was commissioned and placed my mother’s lieutenant’s bar — a gift from my Dad — on his beret. He is where he wants to be.
Finally, I took out my bucket list. Not everything on it requires money but all of it requires time. I had plenty of time and rediscovered the things I wanted to do when I actually had some. Things that had been shoved aside due to work demands suddenly had breathing room and I had time for myself.
The winter of my discontent taught me something. I am right where I am supposed to be. No salary on earth can buy that feeling. Sitting still is a work in progress but it’s coming along nicely. Especially when I’m with my Dad.
“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”