Letter from Felixstowe: When Events Collide, Trusting One’s Inner Compass

AA Compass w globe

In recent days, the following events have occurred:

1. Clive’s had surgery on his hand and finger for Dupuytren’s contracture. Because this was the second time for the hand, it also required skin to be taken from his upper forearm and grafted onto his finger. The hand, finger and skin graft are healing slowly but well. For various awful reasons, the wound on the forearm is taking forever, causing pain, and still requiring frequent hospital visits.

2. Clive’s father, in a local nursing home, is near death. Every time the phone rings, we think it is the end. As I write this, his father is hanging on, but it’s likely Clive will be in charge of planning a funeral very soon.

3. One of my dearest friends in the US was diagnosed with an aggressive, inoperable brain tumour. She has lost the use of her left side and is already in a wheelchair, facing specialist appointments and treatment decisions.

4.  My US stepson will soon have surgery to remove both kidneys, followed by several weeks of dialysis and then a kidney transplant from a living donor.

5. Another of my dearest US friends has had a mastectomy and learned the disease spread to multiple lymph nodes. She too faces oncology appointments and treatment decisions.

In the broader context of Clive’s and my life at the moment, we’ve been anticipating our Aussie family’s long-planned visits. Clive’s daughter arrives in the UK in early September. His son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren will be with us in late September and early October.

Clive’s son is also facing work challenges Down Under. We’ve wished we were there to provide practical support at a stressful time.

Trusting One’s Inner Compass – What I’ve Learned
AA Compass confused

Distance complicates the challenge but at times events collide for everyone, even if loved ones live within minutes of each other. In the 19 years I’ve lived away from the US, I’ve developed a few ways to find and trust my inner compass.

First, I try to get a ‘total picture’ of everything that’s happening. For me this means slowing down for a few minutes, just long enough to write a physical list – of people, places, dates, prior commitments and everything else that’s worrying me. Then I look it over and asterisk items that seem most urgent or ‘call out’ to me in some way. Nothing formal, just an instinctive ‘this is really important’ or ‘this seems most urgent’ feeling.

Next, I talk it over with Clive. He somehow manages to express his own point of view, which I ask him to do, and simultaneously put on his coaching hat and ask me non-judgmental questions such as, ‘How would you feel if you don’t go?’ or the one that resonates most, ‘What is your heart telling you?’ Having a valued ‘sounding board’ helps me so much (though if a trusted confidant is not available, you can find lists of coaching questions online).

Finally, I think the most important thing is to take a few quiet moments to get centred, close my eyes, focus on breathing and prayerfully reflect upon the questions in my mind. I try to listen for the little voice inside, to hear what my heart is telling me.

Why is it so hard to physically and mentally pause for even one minute? To be mindful instead of reactive is a constant challenge, and I no longer have young children. The location doesn’t have to be glamorous or peaceful. I sat in my desk chair this week, leaned back, closed my eyes and tried to still my mind for more than 10 seconds.

What Is Your Heart Telling You?

It’s rarely easy, rarely black and white. This time, I’ll go to the US and Clive will stay in England, to continue his arm and hand treatments and remain on call with his father’s situation. Not the way we like to travel, but it feels like the right decision. I’ve booked flights for mid next week, to coincide as best I can with events on both sides of the Pond.

Within an hour of making the reservations, I received a call from my mother’s assisted living home in New Jersey. She is deteriorating, and they need to meet with me. I will be there. I took this as a supportive sign from the Universe.

AA Compass w heart

Unless our plans change again, next week’s letter will be from the US.

Thanks for visiting and cheers until next week.

8 Responses

  1. Thinking of you during the difficult time. I hope that Clive’s hand and arm will be better soon.

  2. Good gracious, Carolyn … you must being feeling terribly overwhelmed despite having such a great sounding board and companion in Clive.

    I’ve been away in America for the last eight weeks dealing with a few stresses of my own including the sudden death of a dear friend and none of what you are facing sounds easy.

    I feel terrible for you and hope you can find a way to have a somewhat peaceful emotional center. I’d be a wreck, I’m afraid and I worry a bit about finding myself in similar situations in the future. I was just talking to my stepmom about it when I was home … having concerns for a time when I might be needed in two places on different sides of the world as you are (three distant parts of the world really in your case really) so your writing about it now is a help for me.

    I hope you can find ways not too become too depleted. It sounds as if a wave of hard emotional events are destined for your immediate future and the physical challenges of trying to be there for each of your loved ones will be difficult to balance.

    Sending you warm thoughts and wishing you and Clive the very best right now. E xx

  3. Dear Carolyn,

    You certainly have an awful lot on your plate right now. John has the same issue with his hand and finger as Clive, tho not as extensive. I think it runs in families, as both his father and grandfather had it. Iam sorry to hear about your mother. Please tell her I say hello and wish her my very best..maybe she’ll know me better as Betsy’s daughter.

    I wish Clive peace in the coming days, and safe travel to you on your trip to the US.


  4. Carolyn, your letter shows what a kind and thoughtful person you remain after being a friend for 40+ years. Safe travels, and I can’t wait to see you. Love, Mary

  5. Hi Carol,

    You certainly have a lot of folks who need you just now. It is hard to see dear friends of long standing forced to battle such serious illnesses especially when treatment itself is so difficult and draining. One of my good friends here in State College was diagnosed with ALS about a year ago, and she no longer is able to talk or swallow, so she has a feeding tube and speaks through a computer. She is also beginning to have weakness in her limbs. I and three other friends went with her on a short trip through northern PA, known as the “endless mountains” area. The description is apt, and we had a nice time, although it was worrisome to see her push herself, but with the knowledge that things will not be getting any better, only worse.

    When I was ready to start chemo, you sent me such an interesting book (which is probably someplace in my basement) published in Australia that inspired me to look into juicing, esp vegetables. I have always thought, although this is only my own opinion, that doing this allowed me to tolerate chemo fairly well. I also particularly enjoyed the many interesting and supportive emails you sent during that year. Even though you won’t be here in the U.S. that long, your ability to maintain personal contact via email will be a help to your friends and family.

    While the phone is great, I think email is better because people can print and reread if they want or reread on computer or tablet.There is something so tangible about the written word however it arrives, even an “old school” card and note is just as lovely as it always was.

    As my mom says, “getting old is not for sissies.” While reaching 90 is quite a milestone, there are so many complications that go with it. This summer I noticed more than ever how hard it is for my mother to manage her short term memory, although she can still name every person in her first grade class! She also gets so tired, so I am only thankful that we got her out of her house when we did, even though she routinely complains about not being at home. It is good that you will soon be on your way to the United States and able to meet in person with your mother’s caregivers. Good luck to Clive with his healing. The last two surgeries I had, the incision was very reluctant to heal, and I was both unhappy and frustrated, so I know how he feels.


  6. Thank you all for your kind comments.

    Rosemary, the arm is a worry but this morning the surgeon said it’s coming along. He thanked Clive for his patience — a well-deserved recognition.

    Elizabeth, welcome home to Cornwall 🙂 My experience is so much that we can never know ahead of time what’s around the corner and how we’ll feel/what we’ll do, but need to trust that if we slow down and try to get centred, we will know what step(s) to take when the time comes.

    Martha, interesting about John also having the hand/finger condition. We’ve been told by many (including Clive’s surgeon) that it’s quite common in East Anglia. Have also learned there’s a Dupuytren museum in Paris! We may have to check it out someday. I’ll pass on your nice greetings to my mother. She does still remember your mom and family.

    Mary, I’m so looking forward to seeing you and our beautiful friend. You are a treasure to her (and me!). Enjoy your mini-holiday and your presence when you return will lift both our spirits.

    Eleanor, appreciate your thoughts — my mom also quotes (Art Linkletter? re ‘old age is not for sissies’) — I’m finding it harder and harder to witness the indignities of old age with my mom and Clive’s father. It is all so sad, and I’m one of the lucky ones in that my mother is still more or less happy in her daily life.

    Thanks again for lovely comments.

  7. Hello Carolyn , I cannot believe all this that is going on in your life, I am so sorry to read about all the sad events concerning all your family and your friends . I cannot think how I would cope with it all , but you do , your always are there for everyone , Bless you. Thinking of you as you take your trip to the USA. Funny that the surgeon said that about Clive’s condition being common in East Anglia , I have never heard of it.

    Take care of yourself Carolyn, x

  8. Annie, hello and thank you. I think this happens to everyone from time to time and we just cope the best we can in the circumstances.

    re Dupuytren’s, it’s been amazing how many people have told us they or their relatives have/had it. Or they just hold up their hand and show us. An interesting (to us) sidenote: when Clive had this operation in Sydney in 2008, the young woman who was his post-surgery hand therapist had done her training in … Ipswich Hospital, here in East Anglia. The team now working with Clive remembers her. 🙂

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