The long and winding road

There is no way to predict outcome of your journey

By Barbara Pierce

elderly“When you come to the edge, you must believe one of two things: Either there will be ground to stand on or you will be given wings to fly.”

— O.R. Melling

I nearly died when I was 55. And again when I was 60.  It was definitely not what I expected.

I was a lot like my grandfather who lived until he was 103; I always thought I would have a long, healthy life like his. After all, I was in good health, did aerobics regularly, ate my vegetables, never drank much or smoked or did drugs, and had no family history of heart problems.

But that all ended when I woke up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and fell out of bed. Stumbled to the toilet and fell into the bathtub instead. I knew I’d had a stroke. I was 55 and had remarried just the year before. My husband and I had purchased a sailboat and were preparing to go cruising.

The cardiologist said, “You cannot go off on a boat. Absolutely not.”

So I did what any reasonable person would do: I found a cardiologist who supported our plans.

I’d had a bad stroke, but after a few years, most of the residue was gone. I was very fortunate, and we were able to leave on our sailboat.

Then suddenly, I became very short of breath. I got out of breath just rolling over in bed. A cardiologist did a series of tests, but couldn’t find anything wrong. So I learned more about congestive heart failure, which was my diagnosis, and returned to the cardiologist with an assertive stance. He did more testing.

I was wheeled from his diagnostic testing table to the operating room for immediate open-heart surgery. It was another close call. The cardiologist told my husband, “Good thing I found out what was wrong with her. Her heart was ready to stop pumping.” (But I sure didn’t give him any credit.) Again, I was very fortunate. I beat the odds twice.

Now, many years later, I am still doing well, though dealing with ongoing health issues.  But surely this wasn’t the life I planned for myself.

Obstacles to overcome

When I think of friends and acquaintances my age, very few of their lives have followed the lives they had planned. Some have lost a child, which must be one the greatest tragedies, whether the loss is to death, or from drugs or mental illness.

Many, perhaps nearly all, have faced health challenges of their own or those of a partner. Len’s cancer ate away part of his face. Carol, recently remarried, woke up bleeding from the rectum. Her husband couldn’t do cancer, so she’s struggling alone.

Julia is totally exhausted from caring for a husband with dementia. George’s wife had a stroke and required his care for years while she lingered in a debilitated state, until she died. That’s just a few; the list is long and few are spared.

This quote from DailyOM by Madisyn Taylor is relevant:

“As you trek into the wilderness and look around, you’ll see that the trees, flowers, even the rocks, have a tendency to flow. There is the curve of the branch that leads to the blossom, the smooth dip in a rock, the forking of shoots.

“As nature overflows with curves, corners, knots, and unexpected directions, so our lives are filled with unpredictable twists and turns …

“The journey of life doesn’t necessarily bring you closer to your goals. There is no way to predict the outcome of your journey, just as there is no way to predict the way a new bud will form. Simply living is in itself the path to wisdom.”

As we age, we must accept that things will change — sometimes in the blink of an eye, sometimes gradually eroding.

How to continue when you meet the cruel twists and turns? I think you take one small step at a time, like the South American tribe that travels only at night. As they live in a rugged area dotted with steep cliffs, their nighttime journeys are dangerous.

They carry makeshift lanterns that cast only enough light to see just one step ahead. By walking slowly, one step at a time, they keep from falling off a precipice.

Aging is like that. You take one small step at a time, learning with each step, carefully moving to take the next step. You go on living, one day at a time.

• Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at