Sadness is On Me

Most people enjoy April 1 because of April Fool’s Day. I used to think it was at cool day because it was my Gramma’s birthday. Now, it’s not a day about jokes or celebrations; it’s a day of grief.

You see, three years ago, my mom fell in my garage and fractured her skull. By the end of the day, she was no longer responsive. The second CT scan several hours after the first showed the brain bleed had not stopped. Mom had a health directive. She made it clear she did not want to live in a diminished capacity, so I invoked her directive. The hospital staff thought she’d die during the night, but she didn’t. She hung on for 5 more days. I swear it’s because one grandchild has a birthday on April 2nd, and another on April 4th, and there was no way she’d die on, or between, their birthdays. She waited and died the morning of April 6th.

For me, April 1 is a harder date than the 6th. I lost my mom on the 1st. It was the last day she spoke. The last day she looked at me. The last day she was truly with us. I was with her the morning she died. I watched, and heard, her last breath.

That first year, I likened grief to the waves of the ocean. Sometimes, the waves were small and lapped at the shores of my mind. The waves would increase in intensity until they’d crashed against me and I’d be reduced to body-shaking sobs. There were times I swear I was losing my mind with grief. I never understood its power until I lost Mom.

The waves have become calmer over the years. I think of Mom often. She’s been visiting in my dreams and leaving me dimes. Yesterday, however, I experienced a tsunami. I cried all day. Sometimes, it was subtle. My eyes leaked. Other times, I had gut-wrenching sobs. I really missed my mom.

Why does grief make people feel so uncomfortable? Friends sent virtual hugs. My partner rationalized why I was feeling so low. My son gave me a hug. No one offered to simply sit with me in grief, to simply be.

I felt very alone. I felt overwhelmed. I felt that no one understood just how raw it was for me again. I sat with it myself. I didn’t try to “jolly” myself out of it. I felt the feels.

I guess the Irish saying is true. Yesterday, sadness was on me for awhile. Today, it’s gratitude. I’m thankful for the years I had with Mom and know that she will always be part of me.

11:11

During our trip to Maui, and ever since, I’ve encountered the numbers 11:11 quite frequently. I knew there was significance to this, so I did some research. This is what I’ve learned.

  • It’s a clear message from the universe to become conscious and aware
  • It tells me I’m on the right path and my actions are aligned with my soul’s purpose
  • I’m being guided to grow and expand
  • I’m being asked to tune into the present moment
  • I need to engage more deeply in the mystery and wonder of existence
  • It’s indicative of a spiritual awakening
  • It’s about new things and new beginnings
  • It’s time to start manifesting what I want in my life

If I’ve learned anything in the past year, its that the universe gives me what I need at the time. Seeing these numbers now is no coincidence.

Hawai’i, and Maui specifically, is a place where I truly resonate with my surroundings. I become very reflective and introspective. It’s where my soul speaks to me. This time, I spent my time there with someone who also marvels at the mysteries of the universe and I think it made the experience even more profound for me. I was able to expand my thoughts rather than have them ridiculed and diminished.

I also received a clear message from my Mom while there. Ever since her death, Mom has been leaving dimes for me. I hadn’t seen one in quite a while. I was at a store and saw some salt water taffy. I immediately thought, “Mom would love this”, before I remembered she’s dead. When I walked out of the store, a shiny dime was waiting on the ground. Mom heard me. She’s been a frequent visitor to my dreams lately, too. I know she’s trying to tell me something but I haven’t figured it out yet.

In some ways, it’s odd to be getting signs of new beginnings now. You’d think I’d have received them last year when I moved out of the marital home and bought my own place. What signals a new beginning more than a home purchase as a single person?

Apparently, for me, it was the purchase of a new-to-me vehicle. I traded in my existing vehicle two days ago. It was the last physical tie to a toxic relationship. I pick up my new car tonight.

Why is this purchase so liberating? I believe it’s because:

  • I did it on my own
  • I bought what I *wanted*, rather than what I *needed*
  • I’m paying cash

There’s a sense of freedom with this. It’s been over 30 years since I’ve made a big purchase on my own. This time, I didn’t have to factor in cargo room for dog showing or hauling kids around and settling for a vehicle that fits the need. It’s the first time I’ve had the resources to pay cash and not be tied to payments.

In the spirit of new beginnings and listening to my soul’s purpose, I have reclaimed my birth name. As of today, I am no longer Sharon Doyle, but Sharon Papish.

It’s time, as Sharon Papish, to take my life in direction I’m guided. I need to pay attention to the opportunities presented to me and stay grounded in the present. I am full of gratitude for everything I have – family, friends, relationship, home, job – and feel I’m on the cusp of even more abundance.

The universe is asking for my attention. It has it.

Nouns and Verbs

I’ve spent time reflecting on the meaning of words. I started with the word “partner”. I refer to Martin as my partner. We’ve agreed we will never marry, and it seems awkward to call a nearly 60 year old man my ‘boyfriend’. “Partner” fits.

But, it’s more than a noun. What we do is partner – it’s an action. We join together to spend our free time, make decisions, travel, play games, share our lives. It takes effort. I wondered if getting labeled “husband” or “wife”, and forever being a noun, is a hinderance. How do you ‘husband’ or ‘wife’? They aren’t verbs. Partnering is an action and something we choose to do.

It’s the same as “love”. I think, too often, things go wrong when love spends more time as a noun – a thing – rather than an action. When we stop the practice of loving, the noun ceases to exist. It takes effort to keep the noun alive.

This week, I’ve been reflecting on the word “network”. I’m at a stage of life where I have a large, supportive network both personally and professionally. Again, to get to the noun, “network” was first a verb. I had to make the effort to meet people, talk to them, and find a connection.

I know there are some who ‘collect’ people to add to their networks. With social media and LinkedIn, they try to get as many people following them as possible. It’s more about the numbers than the connections.

For me, I need to know the people. There needs to be connection – however tenuous in some cases. Maybe I met them at a conference five years ago and we’ve never seen each other since. Still, we shared time and space. We had a conversation. We had to “network” to become part of a network.

I guess, what comes from my reflection (another noun/verb word), is a reminder to actively work towards the things that are important to me – my partner, my loves, and my work.

My Happy Place

Daylight Saving Time started today, one of the first harbingers of spring. Even before today, the days were getting noticeably longer and the temperatures warmer. I saw gophers on the golf course yesterday (I drove by, I don’t golf) – always the first sign of spring for me. All I need to “bring it home” is to see a robin.

I live in a place that has cold, dark winters for up to 7 months a year. To combat this, I take yearly tropical vacations – usually to Hawai’i – every February. That way, when I return home, winter is mostly behind me.

It was great to be back on Maui after being away for three years. There is *something* about those islands that speaks to me. I can spend hours watching the waves and listening to them crash on the shore. It’s almost hypnotic…meditative.

I also choose February because it’s when the humpback whales are there. The whales, the turtles, the waves – its bliss.

The trip was extra special this time because it was Martin’s first trip to Hawai’i. I loved seeing it through the eyes of someone who hasn’t experienced it. I also loved spending time there with someone who connects with nature. I find Hawai’i to be very spiritual, and to have someone to share that with made it even more so.

I found it interesting to get a text from Vanessa while I was in my happy place, to learn she was going to hers. We both find peace and personal growth in areas filled with natural beauty next to water. We come home rested, relaxed, and rejuvenated.

It’s important to have places that give us space and time. Some might find that in the busyness of a city. Others may find it climbing mountains or hang gliding. We all need a happy place – a place where our spirits sing.

Where is yours?

Retirement Planning

I’m sitting on the lanai of a rented condo in Maui on the eve of my 55th birthday and wondering how I can make it happen so I live here.

It’s funny how retirement planning takes on different meanings throughout our lives. My son will be 20 in a few weeks. I’ve been talking to him about saving money for retirement. His attitude, “Mom, if I haven’t made enough to live on by then, I don’t want to live”. Ah….the arrogance of youth, but I get it. At his age, 30 seems like forever.

When I started my teaching career, I imagined I’d be three years retired at this age, maybe with a grandchild or two to keep me occupied. I’d have a teacher’s pension and would likely do some substitute teaching to keep myself busy.

Little did I know, I’d give up teaching and work through being an educational psychologist before landing in instructional design. I have a small teacher’s pension, but not the one I planned on because I don’t have 30 years in the profession.

I’ve got RRSPs and investments, so I know I’m in good shape for retirement. I won’t be retiring in 4 years as was planned 10 years ago because I’m now on my own. My ex had significantly more RRSP savings, and the agreement was I’d support more of our life while we were working because I made more money, and he’d support more of our retirement. That worked so long as we were married. When your husband realizes he’s gay, that plan changes.

I’ve gone through my travel journals and have noted, many times, “All I want to do is live in a yurt with wifi, indoor plumbing, and volunteer for the Pacific Whale Foundation.” There was a time I looked at purchasing property on this island, but it wasn’t feasible. My financial advisor pointed out that – besides all the taxes, laws, estate issues – I could do a LOT of renting for the same amount of money.

He was right, of course. There’s so much world to see – why limit myself to just one spot? Well, because I love Maui. I feel at home here. I’ve been to the islands 18 times, and every time, I feel inspired, creative, at peace. Until the pandemic hit, I was planning my vacation for the following year as soon as I got home.

My 20 year old self had no idea the dream of living in Hawai’i would be something in my future. My 30 and 40 year old self saw it as something I’d very much like to do, but couldn’t afford. Twice, I’ve been approached by Hawaiian Airlines to interview for a position with them, and twice I had to turn it down. A family of three cannot live on an instructional designer’s salary down here (and truth be told, I much prefer Maui or the Big Island to Oah’u).

My 50-ish year old self now has a boyfriend who said he’d happily come visit me if I chose to be here part of the year, and an adult son who loves it here as much as me. I have a job I can do from anywhere in the world as long as I have a strong wifi connection.

My retirement planning doesn’t look the same as it did 20 or 30 years ago. I have the means to live as I’m currently living until the ripe old age of 98 – at which time I will run out of money and become my son’s problem. 🙂 Given my genetics, that lifespan is very likely. It didn’t factor in a love for travel in general, and a specific love for Maui – which has gotten more expensive to visit year after year.

To those who are just starting out, retirement age will come faster than you think. Plan for what you need, and add more for what you might want but don’t realize yet.

For those who are my age, we can still achieve our dreams. We may have to get creative in how we get to them, but it can happen. Maybe living here full-time isn’t achievable, but maybe 3 months a year is realistic. I don’t want to buy a timeshare, but maybe there’s a way to rent a two bedroom place and sublet the second bedroom for additional income and keep it free when people want to visit. Maybe I can rent out my condo at home for people who want to be close to the mountains for skiing during the winter months to help pay for me wanting to be close to the ocean during winter.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? I’ll be 55 years old tomorrow and I’m still planning my retirement. I guess the take-away is to remain open; you never know what life is going to throw your way, and you need to be ready for all of it.

Perfection is the Enemy of Done

I don’t know who originally coined this phrase, but I heard it for the first time today from one of my coworkers. It stuck with me for the remainder of the day.

How many times do we get stalled, sidetracked, or defeated because of a need for perfection? I know I do. On one hand, I’m a “Type A” personality who likes to get things done. On the other hand, I’m a perfectionist. If something is going to be done with my name attached, it needs to be the best of which I’m capable. It’s quite a dichotomy.

At work, my analysis and storyboards need to be thorough enough to give the client a picture of what the training will be, detailed enough for the development team to put it together, and have a flow that is easy for a learner to follow. I’m working on something now that I’ve written and reorganized several times. Every time I look at it, I find something I want to change. If I want to make it perfect for others, it needs to be perfect for me. At some point, I’ll get tired of reworking it and simply want to get it done.

When I was a dog groomer, I had a hard time thinking a dog was ‘done’. There was always a stray hair, wonky curl, or some part needing “just a little more” attention.

When I clean house, I may set out to simply vacuum and wash the floors, and find myself washing baseboards, door frames, and windows.

Many years ago, when stuck in yet another rut because I couldn’t get something as perfect as I wanted it, someone said to me, “Sharon, you have to realize your 80% is someone else’s 100%.” Yeah, but…

It’s one thing to hear and another to put it into practice. I am driven to always produce, what I perceive to be, my best work. Imagine how it felt when one workplace started to use agile methodology. I had to learn the concept of “good enough” and get things out the door quickly so it could be tried and reiterated upon. It was uncomfortable…at first.

It didn’t take long before I started to see things didn’t have to be perfect. In fact, perfection impeded progress. Clients preferred regular updates and offering feedback during development, rather than waiting to see a finished product at the end. It made them feel part of the process and it helped us, ultimately, produce a near-perfect product.

I groomed a dog just last night and didn’t think I was finished after two hours of work. The owner, however, loved how much better her dog looked and walked away happy. If I’d wanted it to be perfect, I may still be grooming it – he was 190 pounds of dog!

When I competed in my first CrossFit Open, I knew I was not (in any way, shape or form) close to perfection for many of the movements. There were some I couldn’t do at all. Yet, perfection wasn’t the goal. Getting it done was. Being able to say I did it, for the first time at 50 years old, was enough for me. If I’d waited for perfection…well, I simply wouldn’t live long enough!

Think about your own life. When is “done” enough? What things need to be “perfect”? Is it realistic to want to achieve perfection? If so, at what cost?

When is perfection the enemy of done?

The Difference a Year Makes

Our blog has been around for a year. Vanessa and I started this when we were both let go from our jobs and had nothing else to do. We’re meeting this weekend, in a small town that’s half-way between where we live, to talk about where we’ve been and where we want to go.

In January 2021, I was still living at the house. My husband and I had separated, but still living together. I knew, by this time, he was gay. After we’d opened our marriage the year before, and I met someone, he invited my partner to stay with us on his days off. So, I was living with my husband, my boyfriend, my son, and my dad. How many people can say that?

I’d started a new job last January. I was happy, and ready, to be working again after three months of unemployment.

Little did I know what was about to come.

By March, my dad had lost enough sight that he asked to live in assisted living. Once we got him into a home, I was realized I was free. After yet another argument, I looked at my husband and said, “Give me <this amount of dollars> and I’m out of here.” I didn’t want the house; I only wanted my share of it.

He couldn’t buy me out, but his parents could. Once the wheels were set in motion, I started to look for my own place. When I found it, I was gone. The stars aligned and I think it was 3 weeks from start to finish. My banker and lawyers didn’t believe a transaction could happen so quickly!

It was the first time in my (nearly) 55 years that I’d bought property by myself. My son elected to stay at the house where he’d spent the last 10 years of his life. I was truly on my own. I had my dog, and I had my boyfriend, but he was (and still is) away at work more than he’s home so it was – for the most part – just me.

By the end of the summer, I knew I couldn’t keep my dog. He was not adapting to condo life. He is a very smart dog and he knew I wasn’t the leader he needed. I hired trainers to give us 1:1 instruction, and nothing improved. In the end, I had to rehome him. For the first time in 30+ years, I was living without a dog. I thought it would be harder, but it wasn’t. There was a weight lifted not having to revolve my life around the needs of a dog. It gave me even more time and space to work through my own issues.

I had a great vacation with my boyfriend at the end of the year. It felt like things were starting to settle. I knew I’d be starting a new job, again, in January and was very much looking forward to it.

My son stayed at my place while we were gone. Without the stress of everything going on at the house, he realized his stress and anxiety were gone. He didn’t want to go back.

So, he and his 12 year old dog have moved in with me. I’m now undertaking my first home renovation to give him a bedroom/bathroom of his own on the first floor of the condo.

There is no way I could have predicted so much change. When you look at the major stressors in a person’s life, I had quite a few – marriage breakdown, new home, new job, (sort of) empty nest.

A year later – here I am. My own home, my dream job, my son is living with me, I have a dog in the house again, and a caring, supportive boyfriend.

The difference a year makes.

Missing…but in Action

I have good intentions about blogging regularly, and then…life.

My son, Nathan, stayed at my place while Martin and I were in Mexico. After two weeks, he realized his anxiety was non-existent and his hypochondria was greatly reduced. He asked if he and his dog could move in with me permanently. Nathan had enough of dealing with his step-dad and living in a toxic environment. The ex’s boyfriend made it clear he wanted me and my son out of HIS house a few months ago (I wasn’t living there!).

Little did we know, having Nathan “out of sight” also meant he was “out of mind”. My ex had his family over for Christmas and didn’t invite Nathan. He’s always said helping to raise Nathan is his proudest accomplishment – but, no Christmas? Not even a gift. My ex gave his cleaning lady a gift, but not his son. When Nathan talked to him about it, the response was, “Oh, I didn’t think we were doing that this year.” He never asked. He didn’t want Nathan there because the truth might come out. You can bet his boyfriend and the boyfriend’s dog weren’t at the house the same time as his family.

Sorry, I tend to rant when I think of that man…

Nathan is now wrestling with, “I thought he cared about me.” He will be getting counselling to help him deal with it.

So, to give me and my son some privacy, I’ve decided to finish the downstairs room in my condo. He will have his own bedroom and half-bath. I reached out to four contractors. Two came to see the place, and only one came through with a quote. We’re now in the waiting game of getting a development permit from the city. I spent last week developing drafting skills as the basement plans had to be drawn to scale. Grade 8 math came in handy!

Then, I started a new job at the start of January. I absolutely love it. It challenges my brain in a way it hasn’t been used in a long time. The work day passes very quickly. By the end of it, I’m exhausted. Mentally exhausted. It’s all I can do to get to the gym 4-5 times a week. When I get home, I barely have the energy to make dinner before falling asleep on the couch.

I’ve decided to learn Spanish this year, so spend 15 minutes a night using Duolingo. I’ve got a 42 day streak going and am determined to see it grow to 365 days. Learning Spanish has been on my “to do” list for a few years and the recent vacation reignited the interest.

There’s been more dealings with the ex regarding his lover’s dog biting Nathan, dealing with animal control, deciding what to do with Nathan’s car, getting the divorce finalized and organizing our trip to Maui in February. There doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.

I’m confident things will settle down this year. Nathan’s bedroom will get finished. I can arrange my living area the way I want. The divorce will be finalized (hopefully!) and the ex will be forever out of our lives. I’ll build the endurance so a full day of work doesn’t make me want to nap at the end of the day.

So, yeah…I’ve been missing from here, but am still definitely in action.

On the Cusp

Here we are – New Year’s Eve 2021 – the cusp of a new year. For me, that’s only one.

I’m on the cusp of a new job. I start on Monday. A year ago, I was in the same position – starting a new role in January. It was never my intention to leave it so soon but, when the Universe hands you a dream job, well… what can I say? I wasn’t actively looking for work, it just kind of happened. I like to think of it as the Universe’s gift to me for all I went through last year.

I’m on the cusp of a new relationship with my son. While I was in Mexico, he stayed at my place with his dog to get out of the house. He’s never left. He’s chosen to live with me full-time. Even though “Mom” requires him to help with the housework, he has a much smaller bedroom, and he needs to cook the occasional meal, he’s happier here. His anxiety is non-existent and he no longer has a variety of aches and pains in this body. I knew my relationship with my ex was toxic for me; turns out it was toxic for him after I left.

He doesn’t spend all his time in his room anymore. Partly, I think, because I have a firm “only water upstairs” rule, so he needs to come downstairs to eat. 🙂 It’s giving us time to talk and get to know each other as adults. It’s a tough transition at times. In my heart, he’s always my little boy. I’m starting to reframe my thinking to see the young man before me. For him, he starting to see “mom” as her own person – who she is outside of the role of “mom” and “wife”. As much as I thought we could never live together harmoniously, I find I quite enjoy his company.

I’m on the cusp of a home renovation. I have an empty room downstairs that’s currently being used for storage and laundry. It’s going to become a bedroom with a 3/4 bath for my son. I’ve never undertaken a project like this on my own. All the decisions (and the expense!) will be mine. I’m currently at the stage of choosing a contractor.

I’m trying to think of anything else I’m undertaking at the moment. I think that’s it.

There’s excitement being on the verge of something. After so many endings in 2021, I suppose it’s only natural to be faced with beginnings for 2022. My corporate mind goes to Tuckmans’ Stages of Group Development – storming, forming, norming, performing. I feel it applies to individuals, too.

2020 was my year of storming. 2021 saw me forming and norming. For 2022, I am on the cusp of continuing to find my norm and truly start to perform.

Looking in the Review Mirror…Part 2

Yesterday, I responded to two of the the “10 Questions to Process Before you Wrap up 2021” posed by Nedra Tawwab on her Instagram feed. Today, I’m going to look at the next three.

What do I need to accept about myself and the other people in my life?

  • We’re all doing our best. Sometimes it may not feel like it and I need to accept it’s my best at the time. I need to accept that others are doing their best, even if it doesn’t look that way to me because, like me, it’s their best at the time.
  • I need to accept that it’s OK to lean on other people. I pride myself on being independent. Others see me as a strong, confident woman. In many ways, I have a toddler’s attitude of “I can do it myself!” This past year has shown me it’s OK to ask for help – whether it’s to move furniture or cry on a shoulder.
  • Similarly, I need to accept that others want to help. The people in my life support me. They’re here for the good and the bad. Just as I want to be there for them, they want to be here for me.
  • 2021 taught my life is never what I expect it to be. When it started, I had no idea I’d be buying my own condo and rehoming my dog. Yet, here I am – on my own and dogless. I need to accept the adage, “The only certainties in life are death and taxes”.

How did I cope with uncomfortable feelings?

There were SO many uncomfortable feelings in 2021. There was the end of my marriage, moving out, buying a new home, no longer being Dad’s caregiver and his decision to move into assisted living, realizing I spent the last 10 years with a narcissist…it was quite a year.

  • I cried.
  • I talked things through with, and sought advice from, my partner and my friends.
  • I read blogs and listened to podcasts.
  • I journalled.
  • I went back to the gym when Covid rules relaxed
  • I sat with the feelings and thought about the possible root cause. I knew if I could figure it out, I’d be able to work through the feeling.
  • I worked with a psychologist and started EMDR therapy.

How can I better manage my reaction to my feelings?

  • I can start by recognizing the triggers that cause a reaction. This has been the focus of the work I’m doing with my psychologist.
  • I can accept it’s OK to have feelings of joy, anger, grief and that these feelings are valid. There’s no need to repress them and pretend everything is OK.
  • I can examine the cause of the feelings. Are they a result of my personal values?…memories?…experiences? What can I do more of (for positive feelings) or differently (for negative feelings)?
  • I can give myself a time-out if my feelings start to cause I reaction I’m not ready or able to control.

This blog took a long time to write. There was a great deal of writing and rewriting as I processed the questions. I don’t think I’m done with them. I feel them working their way into my head and I know I’ll be revisiting them over the next few weeks. I expect that’s part of the exercise Ms. Tawwab has posed. 🙂

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