The other day I overheard an acquaintance commenting that they were retiring from their job in a few months and wondered what they would do once they stopped working. I'm sure many people have the same initial concern. In fact, when I decided to take early retirement from teaching at the age of 55 (because I qualified to do so), my daughter said, "so what will you BE then---you've always identified yourself as a teacher?" So, I guess the feeling is that retirement could be a jumping off place down into the depths of whatever, or an awesome opportunity to climb to new and better heights!!!
In a bizarre way, I was given the opportunity to make a new life when I had a stroke a few months after retiring. Everyone said, "Gosh, what caused it?" We've all seen the lists of common stressors and I had a bunch of them, more than the psychiatrists had even thought of, i.e. I retired, both of my parents died within a short time-span, my oldest son suddenly got married, and my youngest son and his wife gave birth to a premature baby with very challenging medical needs.
My brain and the rest of me just shut down. I was given a unique gift---I had lots of time to regroup as I to learned talk again, read again, and of course walk again! My friends were there with moral support and, for me, far more importantly---endless teasing. I don't think I could have handled sympathy and certainly didn't want pity. I gradually gained most of my faculties (some friends still claim I haven't gotten everything back yet) and slowly re-entered a new world. I worked as a gardener at an exclusive golf course, but was terrified if I actually had to get down on the ground because I wasn't sure how I'd get back up! Interestingly, many of the skills that I developed post-stroke have been needed again after my two hip-replacements and other osteoarthritis surgeries.
Yes, I've found that many of my movements that involve challenging joints are accompanied by grunts and groans. I don't know if that's supposed to help psychologically, but it still happens. Of course, I've noticed that those lady-like noises come out of me at other times too, like lifting a heavy grocery sack or box. Have you EVER pounded a nail with a hammer without making a noise?
So actually, in spite of much that I've been through physically, such as my stroke and the myriad of OA surgeries---they have honestly been blessings. Not that I'd rush out and ask to have them again! At this point in my life (I'm less than ½ year from my 65th birthday) I'm working harder than I ever have in my life! Many of you are aware that I will be flying in to a tiny village at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro in East Africa to do volunteer work this summer for three months. I will be teaching English as well as helping set up a cottage industry making Batik fabric for export. Because this is a volunteer experience, I need to make the funds to pay not only for my flights, but also for housing and other expenses. With the help of my friends, we are making hundreds of handmade photographic greeting cards using my pictures to sale. I've also had two professional photography art shows and will have at least one more before Christmas.
We've custom framed almost 80 of my works as prints for sale, and I will soon have a new Web site to sell more work. Yes, there have been plenty of grunts and groans as pieces are carried into shows, boxes of new materials are re-arranged and new frames tapped into place (remember the hammer noises?)
For me, this hard work is part of a long celebration---I CAN and WILL do the work. I've started two companies with the support of wonderful and caring friends. I DO have a God-given gift with my photography and I love sharing my world with others. I wanted to return to Africa as a way of giving back to a continent that has shared so many unique things with me. What an incredible place to be for my 65th birthday---on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, East Africa---in SPITE of my stroke---in SPITE of my artificial joints---in SPITE of the lingering pain of osteoarthritis---I Can and Will do it!
A friend recently asked why I have such a passion for Africa. I replied- "ubuntu" -it's a feeling, but more a way of life in Africa---it's an all-encompassing spirit. I am incredibly grateful for lots of things, but mainly the special feelings with caring friends and family, and unique experiences and opportunities; UBUNTU.
Visit our partner site, MyHeartCentral.com, to learn more about the warning signs and symptoms of stroke.
Learn more about the basics of osteoarthritis, including diagnosis and symptoms.
Learn more about different osteoarthritis treatment options.
Published On: November 13, 2007