In the fall of 2017, I had two significant “life events”.
You know, the kind that psychologists rate on a scale to tell you how much stress they can cause.
I took early retirement, rather unexpectedly.
And my youngest daughter died. Very unexpectedly.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management, but never really used it to climb the corporate ladder.
I’ve held many jobs over the years, all of which pretty much sucked the soul out of me. I was never cut out to be somebody’s employee. I get bored too easily.
So in the fall of 2017, I was working part-time at our little post office, located in the back corner of the family-owned pharmacy in our town. It was a nice little place to work and make a few bucks.
Until CVS bought them out.
That’s when I decided I’d had enough of working for someone else and took my retirement. I had conveniently had a significant birthday a few months earlier.
A few weeks after I left, I got up one morning and started my usual routine. The dog and I went out on the deck, and while she did her thing, I happened to notice a beautiful tree across the lake.
It had turned completely red, and was shaped like a heart. I had a thought about everyday miracles that most of us miss, and then I went inside.
I could hear my husband on the phone and he didn’t sound right. He kept disagreeing with whoever he was talking to.
A minute or so later he came into the kitchen to tell me that our daughter Caitlin had died early that morning.
She’d been married for 14 months and was living with her husband in California. She was 29 years old.
She had been on her way to bed and collapsed. She was dead before she hit the floor.
Somehow I managed to get through the next few months.
Thanksgiving and Christmas, with her memorial in between. A week before her birthday and two weeks before Christmas.
I made all the arrangements. Saw a therapist.
I even joined the board of a charity that specialized in providing portraits to people who had lost a loved one tragically or unexpectedly.
I thought I was doing all the right things.
I thought I was OK.
It probably took me about a year, but at some point, I began looking for more. More from life.
Suddenly I knew how short it could be. How important it was to make your life worthwhile.
I had a desperate need to feel useful and productive. I couldn’t waste a second more of my time watching tv or getting lost in silly social media.
My life needed to mean something. I needed to matter.
How do you figure out what your purpose is? Your path in life?
You know what?
You can’t Google it.
Sure, you get results; websites and quizzes and well-meaning articles.
Listen, I was sixty-some years old. I’d been a wife for forty, a mom for almost that, someone’s employee for even longer.
Questions like, “what are you passionate about?” or, “what would you do even if nobody paid you?” didn’t help.
I lost myself a long time ago, and I just didn’t f-ing know.
I’m not a religious person, but I prayed to God and asked for a sign. I railed at Him and yelled, and yes, I probably cursed.
I mean, if He put me here for a purpose, you’d think he’d have the decency to tell me what it was, right? Why make me guess? I’ve never been good with subtlety. You’ve got to spell it out for me.
Needless to say, it didn’t work.
Maybe that was the point.
Now while I don’t consider myself to be religious, I am spiritual.
I don’t identify it any more than that.
The timeline gets jumbled up in my head, but at some point, I started doing several things.
Journaling is as natural as breathing to me, but I began writing morning pages again too.
If you’re not aware, Julia Cameron wrote a book called The Artist’s Way and she proposes a practice called morning pages: three handwritten pages of whatever comes to mind first thing in the morning.
It’s a way to clear your head and make room for creativity and new ideas.
I started meditating as well. Again, something I had done for years but had stopped somewhere along the way.
And I discovered shadow work.
Shadow work is a concept put forth by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist. He referred to it as the shadow self: that part of you that your ego doesn’t want to acknowledge.
Shadow work, as I did it, involved examining not only the darker aspects of myself but parts of my life that disturbed me in one way or another.
I used journaling and meditation here too, to help me go deeper, deal with, and try to resolve some of the things I discovered.
So did all of this work? Did I find my “life purpose”?
I’m not sure.
Because I believe that a person has more than one purpose in life. I was just looking for my next one. Mind you, I’m not sure I know what the previous ones were, but I needed something worthwhile to fill my days.
Then I rediscovered art. And writing.
And there was joy in my life again.
You know, I believe that a child’s purpose in life is to learn and grow and have fun.
I think maybe we all ought to make those things a part of our life’s purpose as well.