I’m about to admit something that’s very difficult for me, but maybe it will help someone else.
Four years ago my husband and I lost everything. Well, almost everything. Like so many of you, we’d been struggling with servicing our mountain of debt, and were quickly losing the battle. It wasn’t that we weren’t trying to pay our bills, or were reckless with our spending. After thirty years with the same company, my husband was informed that he, along with scores of others at his company, were being moved into early retirement. We weren’t prepared for such a huge financial hit. We told ourselves we’d be fine and started treading water.
I had written my first novel, and was working in a salaried sales job that was transitioning to a straight commission job within a few months. Knowing that my job really wouldn’t provide me with anything close to a regular paycheck, panic struck. We kept paddling faster and faster, hoping something would break for us, but with me at fifty-two years of age and my husband approaching fifty-seven, the prospects for full-time work were looking dim. After sitting down for some long, hard talks with a financial trustee, we were told our only reasonable option was to declare bankruptcy and walk away from our house. We simply weren’t bringing in enough money to pay all the bills, and even if we both got minimum wage, full-time jobs, we’d only continue to dig a bigger hole. This was devastating news.
That January we walked away from our home that we’d so lovingly put a great deal of time and money into. It was the place our children and grandchildren came home for Christmas to. It was a place of hopes and dreams now hopelessly smashed. By declaring bankruptcy, it meant we wouldn’t qualify to rent a decent home in a decent neighbourhood, so we moved in with my parents. My mother his highly allergic to cats, so I handed my beloved Charlie over to my sister to love and care for. That really tore me up, because losing my home and packing up most of my personal belongings to put into storage was bad enough, but to lose my cat?
My parent’s two bedroom, two bathroom home is a good size, and we were extremely grateful for their generosity in allowing us to move in, but it was certainly never designed to accommodate two couples – especially two women in the same kitchen. We made it work for a full year before realizing that if we wanted to salvage our close relationship, something would have to give. Throughout the bankruptcy we’d managed to hold on to our 40′ x 12′ trailer by continuing to make the small monthly loan payment. That trailer became our beacon of light. We moved it to a park that offered twelve month lot rentals and made it home. At a little less than five hundred square feet, it was a tight squeeze, but it was our own space. No, I didn’t have a dishwasher, or even a washer and dryer. If I wanted to blow-dry my hair, I had to first turn off additional lights and the furnace/air conditioner. The small tub came equipped with a shower, but wasn’t big enough for an adult to use as a bathtub, so I gave up the luxury of taking relaxing baths.
Now, I know that many, many others struggle with far more than I did, and I don’t mean to make light of people who are. My heart, thoughts, and prayers go out to those people, and I never lost sight of the fact that I wasn’t completely destitute. We still had a place we could call home that was safe and comfortable. We still had family, friends, enough food to eat, and decent clothes to wear. I knew I’d be okay.
I continued to write, and began meditating to help me deal with the anger and depression I was feeling over the situation (self-inflicted and otherwise) I found myself in. I became extremely embarrassed by the fact that I was living in a trailer in a trailer park, and other than close family, I invited no one over, and told even fewer people. Pride was strangling me. The truth is, I thought I deserved better, or more, or something. I knew I shouldn’t, and I knew I had a lot, so much really, to be thankful for, but it was going to take some work to get me back to where I needed to be.
Slowly I began opening my eyes to all the beauty of nature that was all around me. We lived in a beautiful, wooded area of the park surrounded by other full-time mobile homes. The neighbours were lovely and kind – many of them seniors, and our grandchildren loved coming to swim in the heated pools, play at the playground, and try their hand at the on-site mini-golf. I was still battling, but I was winning the war. One day at a time, more light came through my filters.
Then I was hit with an exacerbation of my Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes extreme dry mouth and eyes, among other things. Up to that point I’d been dealing with it pretty well, but in the spring of 2014 I began to experience severe light sensitivity. I eventually went to an eye specialist, who said an ulcer – a hole – was forming in the center of my right cornea. If it wasn’t corrected quickly – like within days, I’d lose that eye completely (not just the sight, but the eye itself!)
Over the coming weeks and months, I wore eye patches and took various eye drops and medications to help stop the hole from growing, and eventually repair itself. You know, it’s amazing; the left eye actually compensates for the right one. Due to some scarring of the cornea, my eyesight in that eye never fully recovered, but it’s about 90% of where it should be, and to look at me, you’d never know. It’ll never get any better, but I can see, I can type, I can read, and yes, I can drive just fine. Throughout this entire time I continued to write, because writing is where I can lose myself. I wore the damned eye patch, I gave myself the necessary breaks from the computer screen, I put in the drops, took the medication, and I paced myself, but I never stopped writing. I was reminded that I am a fighter, and that writing mattered to me. It was worth fight for. I am worth fighting for. I became determined to keep doing what I could, when I could. I refused to be a failure.
Oddly enough, having come that close to such a serious health issue, I began to actually feel more hopeful and grateful for all I had. My meditations became more about giving thanks for what I have than asking for things I don’t have. I started to laugh more, and lost my insecurity regarding my living circumstances. I was finally at a place where I could see light at the end of the tunnel again. We still didn’t have much money, but my husband’s very small company pension and his willingness to go back to work seasonally helped fill in some of the gaps. Another blessing is that we were closer as a couple than we’d ever been. His willingness to go back to work at a time when I couldn’t work at all, reminded me how much I trust and admire him. In order to indulge my love of travel, we began house and pet-sitting for others throughout North America. We discovered people and places we never would have in the days when we went to resorts and hotels. We discovered a mutual love of history, museums, and unique places that cost little or nothing to visit and explore. We re-discovered each other and ourselves. There were so many small, unexpected blessings taking place all around us, that I couldn’t help but be moved to a place of gratitude.
Recently we moved into a three bedroom, three bathroom townhouse back in the city, and are in the process of selling that small trailer. We’re closer to the majority of our children and grandchildren, and I’m reveling in the small things I no longer take for granted; things like taking a long, hot bath, a dishwasher, my own washer and dryer (no more lugging laundry to the community laundromat at the park), real space to display my beloved personal items, unpacking favourite things that have been in storage for years now, and welcoming family and friends to our new home. The other night we put up the Christmas tree for the first time in four years, and I marvel at how far we’ve come. Our townhouse isn’t a fancy home, not nearly as grand or beautiful as some of my family and friends have, but it’s warm and welcoming, and home. As we approach a new Christmas and a New Year, I’m grateful for so many things. Whatever the coming months bring, I have more hope, more joy, and more daily gratitude than I have for a long time. Through the grace of God, life is good.
I guess all the good things have always been there, I just had to let in enough light to see them.
Just Enough Light
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
What have you learned this year, and what hopes do you have for the new one just around the corner?
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