January 1, 2012

A change of focus.

Each new year, many of us use the opportunity to take stock of ourselves, our accomplishments and our lot in life. The idea is to celebrate the good things and make a commitment to at least try to make some changes. In my case, I don't look back as much any more. My focus has changed in many ways but is very much on the future.

It seems obvious to say that a terminal prognosis changes your focus and I guess it is when you look at the big picture. Cleary, I am going to focus more on my health, on preparations for "the end" and on making the most of every day. But it's interesting to look at the little things, the day-to-day changes that collectively define this new life, my "new normal".

Here's an example. I overheard my daughter telling her dog that her vacation was over this weekend and that she had to go back to work. I don't think about things like that any more. Christmas used to be a happy time where I took vacation, hoped I didn't get called in to work over the holidays, and counted down the days until I had to go back. I don't work anymore and I don't even think about work. It would be nice to feel that every day is a vacation for me, but it's not. Every day, for me now, is an opportunity to do something positive but is also one day closer, one day less....

My daughter looks at her weekends and vacation days as opportunities to spend with her puppy, while I see my two dogs every day and have developed a close relationship with them. They are my sleeping buddies, given the amount of time I spend in bed every day, and they give me a lot of joy.

When you're working, you spend a lot of time thinking about your career, where you're headed, is it time to move on, building a network of contacts. Much of your social life seems to revolve around people you work with. When you stop work, all of that peripheral stuff disappears too. I no longer have to please anyone (except Dianne, of course) and the whole idea of a career just disappears. Also, I don't have to worry about clothes as much. Yesterday, I got rid of most of my ties and dress socks, and even a couple of suits. In fact, I can't even forsee myself going clothes shopping for anything except the odd pair of jeans, some shirts and new underwear. I haven't had a haircut in over a year (partly to grow back what I lost) and I wear an earing now because I always wanted to and I don't have to look a part anymore. I wear glasses permanently now (it happens as you age), and while I usually get my eyes checked each year and get new ones, I hardly think about it. Why bother?

I used to think a lot about how to better myself mentally. I spent a lot of time trying to understand the power of thought as a way of becoming something more (whatever that means) or being more successful. Now I think about what I can do in the time I have left to make sure my family is okay, how I can get some enjoyment out of each day, and what I should be doing with the rest of my days that could help others. I have become a writer and a blogger. I used to be a patient advocate and spoke at conferences but can't really do that anymore. When I think about the power of the mind and the scope of the universe, I'm focusing on the meaning of life and my place in the universe. I wonder why I have to die prematurely and whether my death can have meaning beyond just the fact that I have lived. And I wonder a lot about what comes after.

Other things have changed as well. I have always enjoyed watching television shows and movies but if I start watching something and don't like it, I just stop. Why waste my time? The same with books. I could never, ever put down a book without finishing it. But now... I don't have the time to waste. I'm not interested in politics and current events any more because they have little impact on me. Maybe I should care because these things will effect my family, but I guess I feel that there isn't much I can do to influence them anyway. I only really care about what is happening with my family, my friends, my dogs, the weather each day and the opportunities we have to make some good memories.

I used to worry a lot about image. Not as bad as some people I know, but I liked to dress well, look young, do interesting things and certainly appear healthy. But as my health has deteriorated, I just don't worry about these things. If I need to use a cane to get around or a walker, well.... that's just the way it is now. Women hold doors open for me now and my dear wife carries in the groceries. And I just accept it. Really, what else can I do? What use is pridefulness to me now?

As for the network I built during my working years, what of it now? I met so many people - coworkers at several different companies, customers, suppliers, consultants, headhunters. During eight years volunteering in child welfare I met many good people, social workers, politicians, other volunteers. And when I became active in healthcare issues I added doctors, administrators, professors, nurses, fundraisers, more politicians. But now, my "network" is much smaller. I still maintain my LinkedIn profile and list of contacts but my focus is on my immediate family and a small group of very loyal and caring friends. I don't see many of the other people in that old network, although every once in a while one of them will reach out to see how I'm doing and I know that many of them keep tabs on me through my blog. And I have been blessed to add a new network of volunteers, hospice workers and others in my situation who have added so much to my life and to Dianne's. While my larger network may have been important to me in earlier days, this new, smaller network surrounds me with enough love and support to brighten my days. In this regard, I am a very lucky man indeed!

There are so many other ways that my life has changed and so many different things that I focus on now, but this will give you some idea of what my life is like now. It's different. It's simpler but also much more complicated. Too complicated at times.

There's an expression - "Sometimes life gets in the way". I know what that means now. But life doesn't get in the way for me anymore. And while I can't avoid death, I try not to let it get in my way either.

Happy new year to all of you. Thanks for listening to me. The journey this year should be interesting!

18 comments:

B. said...

Happy New Year to you too, Doug! At the very least I hope it is a positive experience for you. Please continue to share your insights for the benefit of the rest of us.

All the best.

lsroberts said...

Doug:
Thank you for your life insight.

Even though I don't know you personally, I have been inspired and have become more centered by reading your blog. I have no doubt that your life has had meaning beyond living. I know that it has for me. I, my family, my friends have all been positively impacted by the wisdom that you've shared with me. We have become more present by understanding that presence is the gift. Not since reading Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn have I been able to find peace in the middle of my own personal chaos.

Thank you for sharing, inspiring, and impacting lives beyond yourself.

l.s. roberts

Nora Miller said...

Thanks Doug for this very articulate and introspective post. Your ability to share such fundamental thoughts is a gift to all who read your blog. My husband experienced many of the same changes during his terminal illness, but you have put it all into such clear perspective! In fact, I found myself thinking that anyone could benefit from understanding what you are discovering: that in the long run, a lot of what we stress ourselves over probably doesn't add as much benefit as the time it consumes. In many ways, each day is one day less for all of us. Why not start now to bring life into a sharper focus and let go of the obsessions that distract us from what we most care about? I hope this post gets maximum exposure! Best wishes.

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