How did I get here? Is this really my life? It’s certainly not the one I had planned out.
This is how I thought it was supposed to happen:

  • Awesome career
  • Strong marriage
  • More happily engaged career until children
  • Stay-at-home mom for a bit
  • More rewarding career time
  • Joyful retirement
  • Travel with husband of close to 40 years by then
  • Eventually settle close to home and grow contentedly old with husband while playing with our grandchildren

Naïve, I know.

 

What I did not plan or even conceive of was:

  • Awesome career
  • Strong marriage
  • More happily engaged career until children
  • Not being able to afford the stay-at-home mom dream
  • More rewarding career time but profoundly stressful
  • Layoff resulting in slide into ill-fitting jobs
  • Husband diagnosed with cancer at 44 – trying to save his life every day
  • Husband dead at 46

(Insert record scratch sound here.) What, now?!

 

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”
~ Allen Saunders, writer and cartoonist

No, this was not the life I had planned. But here it is and it is still mine to live even if it is not proceeding according to my original design. So what do I do with it? What do any of us do when faced with an enormous life challenge? You keep moving: one breath at a time, one heartbeat at a time, and eventually one step at a time.

The salt marshes of the Carolinas are known for their pluff mud: a mixture of fine sand, silt, water and plenty of organic matter. It’s pull-your-shoes-off thick and the smell – perfume to me now – can turn most people’s stomachs. For a while all I could do was slog through the grief, up to my thighs in it, my shoes long gone and me beyond caring about small things like the odor on the wind. But there is something about this mud that is special. It is rich in life-supporting nutrients. Though it does remind us of death and decay it also holds and supports life: crab, shrimp, oysters, wildlife, plants, etc.  Grief is a lot like that mud; the full circle of life in contained in it and though it definitely “stinks” there is something to be gained by moving through it.

I grieve because I love (present tense intended). The death followed the life; a life that did not go according to my plan but was rich and for which I am profoundly grateful. I’m not finished here, there are still possibilities. I’m not finished grieving and I’m not finished loving. I can do both…at the same time.

I can be grateful for all that was and all that is right now. As for the future, instead of a plan I have hope.