We met when we were 12. We got married when we were 19, and we shared the goal of aging well - spending the rest of our lives together. But that was not to be. Alzheimer’s Disease raised its ugly head and ravaged his brain. He died recently from complications of COVID.
During his disease and after his death, my world changed. Habits built over the years no longer applied. We couldn’t share chores, snuggle on the sofa, or take little trips together.
Beliefs about my role needed revising. I was no longer a wife, but a caretaker, and then a widow. Our relationship changed from married couple to parent and child to only memories.
Perceptions about my health changed, as well. Sure, my weight was fine, I walked a lot, took no prescription drugs, and ate no chips or ice cream. Yet, I was out of shape, emotionally depleted after four years of care-taking, and socially limited given the pandemic and his illness. I was going downhill and needed to catch up.
Except catching up didn’t work – my base was gone. I’m an 82-year-old woman. We had a good life together. Was I going to continue going slowly downhill ‘til death or figure out who I want to be now and move forward?” I was at a crossroads!
The words of Lecrae, the Christian rapper, helped me answer the question. He asked “Are you going to let the person you used be, overtake the person you want to become? I answered: NO.
Given that answer and after a year of soul searching, I am discovering a new me. The first step was to determine what my new normal is.
This new normal replaces a person’s expected, usual way of being after change occurs and encourages him or her to deal with current situations rather than moaning about what might have been.
A person needs flexibility and skill to bounce back from life changes - redefining and adapting to what is. So, an important step is examining what is now true minus excuses, avoidance, denial, and resistance. My new normal looks like this:
After 62 years of living with someone, I am on my own for the first time.
Bella and Bailey, my two rescue cats, share an apartment with me.
My support system is strong.
I am in charge and responsible for all decisions.
I am healthy, financially safe, and capable.
Previous habits, beliefs, and perceptions are no longer true.
My husband is sorely missed and life goes on.
My new purpose is being determined.
The literature describes two ways of managing one’s new normal. The first way is to accept what’s happening, see the positive, and choose a peaceful state of mind, as suggested on the Tiny Buddha website. The second way is to fight it, be miserable, and struggle against reality.
This new life is difficult for me to accept, but two points help. The first point is that acceptance doesn’t mean liking, wanting, or choosing the situation. The second point is that acceptance doesn't mean I can't work on changing things. While I can’t change the fact that he died, I can choose the way I respond.
After identifying my new normal, I was ready to create a personal development plan. This plan outlines my goals and strengths, points out changes needed to achieve them, and acknowledges skills requiring improvement. It is a detailed roadmap guiding me throughout the journey of reaching the goal. My plan is based on the following questions, which are a compilation of readings on the web.
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN
1. What would maximum happiness look like? I am healthy and have a purpose. Health includes the six dimensions of wellness. The purpose includes doing things with my family, writing a newsletter, learning to paint, and traveling.
2. What is my simple motivating goal? To age well – be my best for as long as possible.
3. What criteria are necessary to meet my goal? The first is to accept reality. As Dr. Phil, the motivational speaker and author says:
The second was to determine what normal is now and to create a plan based on it. The third is to build a healthy mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical foundation. Finally, the fourth is to maintain a positive attitude.
4. What gets in the way of meeting the goal? Procrastination, excuses, and discouragement. I am easily distracted by watching television or reading and letting others do the planning.
5. What are the current resources? The strength and courage developed the past five years, 80 plus years of life experience and education, a strong support system, and the willingness to move forward.
6. What are the risks? Talking myself out of doing things and not following through. The journey sometimes seems overwhelming and too difficult. There may also be things not yet considered.
7. What are the rewards? My family will be happy and they won’t have to take care of me. I will be independent, healthy, and able to enjoy the rest of my life.
8. What daily actions must be taken? First, make and follow a daily to-do list and schedule to keep me on track. Other actions to be taken are adhering to the six dimensions of wellness and pushing myself when there is no motivation.
9. What is the first step? Making a plan.
The 6 dimensions of wellness are the foundation. However, I think more in terms of functional wellness rather than environmental wellness - meaning how well a person exists in the world.
The plan calls for the following adjustments:
Physical Dimension - consume fewer sweets, cut down on portion sizes, and more closely follow the Mediterranean Diet. Exercise by stretching and walking daily.
The Intellectual Dimension - continue to learn. I am working on Spanish, acrylic painting, and writing.
The Social Dimension - reach out both online and in person.
The Emotional Dimension - accept the situation and find ways to say goodbye.
The Spiritual Dimension - rely on my inner resources.
The Functional Dimension - put the pieces together again and make a new life for myself.
Another part of the plan is to get out regularly: run errands, volunteer, get together with friends, and go for walks. Finally, I want to develop a daily to-do list and schedule to keep me on task.
These are the initial steps in adjusting to my new world. However, the plan is a work in progress and may change over time.
Whether you are recently divorced, widowed, or recovering from a broken relationship, habits, beliefs and perceptions change and you too will have to adjust to a different life. I can guarantee that it isn’t easy and it is painful - but the options are less inviting.