By Tessa, 65. Somers, VIC
I am slowing down. My lifestyle, not my brain or my body — though ageing does reduce the pace at which one can run! It’s been a gradual process I’ve been coming to, particularly as I (and others) have struggled through the last few years in a pandemic. At one end, the demands of work through the increasing mental health needs of a world in crisis. At the other, isolation, working from home, and the relentless churn and fatigue of it all.
I knew that I couldn’t sustain it — none of us could. Taking my life force, as it was, but willingly I obliged because I am a nurse and because I care. And because, through the wretchedness of it there were others to support, debrief and supervise. There was work to do. It was my livelihood. Programs to write or review. Policies to be written, COVID Safe Plans and Outbreak Management Procedures to work out and guide others through. Services struggling in the wake of responding to and managing the chaos. Timelines, deliverables, staff workshops and more supervision and support to the frontline, and those holding them up.
There was an energy to get caught up in, but it couldn’t be maintained. It was hard to replenish. Sleep and time made little difference and the demand grew, the work kept coming, there were no breaks. So many people got sick and died along the way. For others, the pandemic unveiled the turmoil lying dormant beneath.
Midway through this year, out of the blue, my sister died. She was in good health and had more to do on this earth. It was shattering. In all the work that had to be done here, I lost the elder, the matriarch, the big one who has always guided and been present in my life, in my home country. We were close. Only 8 years between eldest and youngest sisters in a family of nine. But she was no longer. It was shocking and I still feel angry she is gone. So, her death decided it — my slowing down, that is. My life was growing shorter, not longer. What the hell was I doing working so hard still at 65, pandemic or not? I no longer had her to tell me I was working too hard, so I had to tell myself.
Her loss has knocked me and some days I find myself still stumbling around in the dark, wondering where the hell I am. Other days, like the sky outside my window, the way ahead looks clearer. Next minute, it rains, it blows, its cloudy and the path is strewn with fallen branches and driftwood washed up from the sea. I know I am grieving and apparently it is meant to get easier. But it isn’t.
Some days I make my way to the shore. I hear her calling my name through the wind across the water. She is singing, beckoning me to come. I run like the clappers to find her, hoping for a glimpse, convinced she’ll be there swimming the waves or bobbing in the water, waiting. I am devasted when I cannot find her.
But then she washes up the most beautiful gifts from her waters, at my feet. Urchins as red as her heart, or small, stripey, miniature and perfectly rounded. She lays them on the sand, untouched by another, smoothed by her hand, ready. As only a sister would do. Those days, I am reminded of the fragility of life and the world. But I am lucky, blessed with what I have and grateful. She is watching over, making me slow down, still giving me advice, telling me it really is time. Showing me the beauty, which I have been longing to see, is right at my door. I have been blind; too busy. She understands though, she’s patient as she laughs and sings, cajoling me in her loving way and reassuring, “It will be okay.”
So, I tell everyone I am having a five-week break and then going into semi-retirement. But who knows, there might be no return to work at all. For now, I’m walking a new path and following what makes my heart sing. I’m discovering the writer in me that has yearned to be free. Recovering from the wear and tear of service for others. So many years in the healthcare industry has left my tank empty. Though rich with experience, memories and lessons, there is no fuel left for me. Now it is time to practice what I have taught others. Time also to speak the stories of the past and the wonders of the present.
On Christmas Day, I rang an old school friend I hadn’t spoken to for at least a year. She told me she’s retired because she’s had enough of making her job her life focus, and putting others’ needs before hers. She and her husband are off to Edinburgh in a week to see their first grandchild. Yes, they’re boarding a plane and flying in a pandemic. Though her son and daughter-in-law are a little anxious about them coming, she told me she’s laying the path the way she wants it now, not them. It’s her time.
Yesterday, I went for a walk along the beach. To just be and discover what was there, without the need to find my sister. I kept going until I found a spot to sit … that looked like it was just for me.