Retiring is like dying. If you are very lucky, you have a few practice runs before you go. I’m transitioning out of my professional life. With every, good-bye, I reflect on what have I have learned.
I’m a seeker, a would-be philosopher. It’s a vagabond’s life, the gypsy of the soul seeking meaning. But there are always stand-out moments, a person, a situation, a life. Most importantly there is a lesson.
Here are mine, five people who touched my life changing my thinking forever. (Names and some circumstances have been omitted for client confidentiality).
- Barry had lived in country Victoria with an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), for many years. He’d been injured 30 years before, his rehab long over. Slurred voice booming, he booked in, drove his car close to the front door of the clinic and lumbered in. Walking had become increasing difficult, so he loped from one side to the other dragging his weaker side along. Hard work a part of life, he got down to it. We became friends. As a young therapist, I was appalled to learn of his initial exhaustion after therapy. It was 1980 and he showed signs of improvement. I’d just graduated, neural plasticity unknown.
Lesson: Keep an open mind, nibble at the edge of the unknown.
- Phyllis came to our slow stream rehab centre after a devastating stroke. Her husband, neatly dressed, erect and slight always wore a tweed sports coat. At 93, he still visited her every day. Therapy proved difficult and unsuccessful. Despite our best efforts, she could not return home. Physically she wavered, swaying like a palm in the breeze every time she stood; mentally she moved on, accepting life’s curved ball. They moved into a nursing home together honouring their 65-year marriage.
Lesson: Deal with hardships through gracefully. With a gracious attitude comes great strength.
- Sharon wanted to dance. I’m not the best dance teacher! She had a goal to dance in high heels at her son’s wedding. There was one catch, a devastating brain bleed that left her partly paralysed. We began conventionally. It didn’t stay that way. Who’d heard of doing physio in heels? For her it proved exhausting on all fronts. Physically, unstable shoes wiped out her balance. Emotionally, she had to face her past. She’d been a princess but now her body had radically changed. Mentally, she had to trust me to take her through the wall of fear that separated her from her goal. She danced.
Lesson: Fear impedes progress. Move through the fear.
- Lydia came to me on RUOK day. She’d lost hope in therapists, medicines and worst of all herself. Her story unfolded erratically, traipsing from here to there and then somewhere else. I put my note pad down and listened. My mind raced searching for the best way to help her. Chronic pain patients can be hard to reach. They are tired, sore, fearful and have often given up. I spoke to her about her pain and we explored some strategies. I felt I’d made contact but hen Lydia didn’t come back. My bubble burst. During a follow-up call, she sounded bright. On her next consultation, Lydia moved much more freely and smiled.
Lesson: Have courage to touch the persons pain, reach into the red, angry cage. It’s worth it.
- Betty came in with her new knee. There was a lot to do to get her back on her feet. Right from the start she shared little bits of her life. It had been hard, caring for her soul mate with dementia, it was hard having the boys (adult men) living with her and living on a pension. But she got it, worked diligently and improved. Betty wanted a better life than this and walked, did her exercises and stretched that knee into submission. They didn’t have much, she didn’t want much. ‘What do I need more clothes for? People give me stuff, I have plenty to choose from.’ I won’t see her ditch that wheelie-walker but I know she will.
Lesson: Your health is more precious than any possession.
So for now I’m writing again, taking my neglected manuscript out, honing my skills.