Monday, October 1, 2012

On My First Day Of Retirement: "The Container"

This is my first day of retirement. That's me on the day I graduated, summer of 1967. Since then, I have "been a nurse", except for one year when our son was only 3 and I got to be a 'stay at home mom'. We had moved to a small town with cheap rentals, for my husband's first job, as a brand new Librarian. It gave me a taste for freedom that I've never forgotten: just being nothing in particular! All of us, of course, are much more than, "NICU NURSES". I've been mother, wife, friend, student, hiker, writer, dog-lover, meditator, vegetarian, and numerous other things--yet not inclined to identify, exclusively, with any one of them. 

Yesterday was my final day after 20 years in the same NICU. So, just like I've always done upon arrival, I scanned my badge to open the double-doors leading into the nursery. But this time I was doing it for the last time. It occurred to me that this badge would never again admit me into the hospital building, nor the Neonatal unit. In the act of that swipe, and with the sound of that buzz, some 'reactor site' was triggered within my being. 

The doors opened up; I stepped through; my stomach flip-flopped and something started to flutter inside my chest. Even though I've been ready and eager to fully inhabit my richly rewarding unemployed life, it became instantly clear that the cells of my being felt differently. They had their own ideas about what I was doing. As far as they were concerned, "I belonged" electronically and monetarily to this place. Some strange 'sense of bondage' has routinely roused me from sleep at 5 am on countess dark cold mornings, to drive over the mountain pass and step into a fast pace, high tech, critical care environment. 

I remain confident that I will not be someone who feels 'lost' after retirement, nor uncertain about what to do with herself. I rarely get enough sleep because of this cherished LIFE that constantly tugs at my skirt. I truly doubt its possible for me to ever feel bored or restless with 'free time'. But I hadn't even considered 'separation anxiety' and there was something else I did not expect, and for which, I was not prepared.  

After I put my lunch in the break room refrigerator and signed in at the front desk--feeling shaky and vulnerable--I looked up to see all of my coworkers gathered there smiling at me, warmly expressing their acknowledgment that "...this is your last day!" I knew they had all brought food for my farewell potluck. I tend to be a 'low-profile' person who works quietly in my corner, rarely expressing my feelings, unless casually. I did not even realize that my shields were down until the feeling of baffled disorientation occurred after that experience of 'passing through the threshold doors' for my final shift. It felt like I was being stretched between two very different worlds. 

I stood at the desk, looking from face to face. I tried to speak but the words choked over themselves. I knew a torrent of tears would burst forth. So all I could do was stare back with a strange smile and shake my head. This was NOT how I would have imagined my last day--if I'd given it any thought at all. I'd been too busy 'waiting for it'. 

I will genuinely miss the time spent with my coworkers and the privilege of caring about what happens in their personal world. We have forged bonds of caring. We trade intimate stories about mundane, and monumental, moments in our lives, which I will no longer share on a day-to-day basis. I will miss the families of 'our babies'. I have loved being able to usher them through their time of crisis at this important, emotional juncture in their lives. But it wasn't any of this that caught me--like getting the wind knocked out of your lungs--as I stepped through the mechanical whoosh of those automatic doors when they opened out to 'take me in', like they've done for countless mornings now.  

My last day was spent straddling realities--much like these recent months have been. Caring for my patients and their parents, going to the farewell potluck, touched deeply by the 'flower child' plates & napkins! The bouquets of fresh flowers, delicious vegetarian dishes, & thoughtful desserts. Gratefully receiving little gifts, cards, and hugs from those nurses and doctors who reached out personally (and who will always be fondly remembered for their kindness and TLC, while I was on the verge of tears--sometimes unable to hold them back) much to my ongoing surprise. 

I doubt that such sudden, unexpected emotion would have surfaced--laced with such sadness--if I felt certain that I'd be returning part time, as so many retirees have done. In fact 'the old me' would have prepared extensively for this day. Would have written farewell notes for my coworkers, and obtained phone numbers and promises of staying in touch. But current circumstances make it impossible to know what the future holds from week to week in a county hospital that relies upon funding at a time when it is scarce. Yet, none of that is the 'real' reason for being taken by surprise so often, yesterday.

Over recent months, along with all the necessary meetings, forms, office appointments, interviews and decisions, required to accomplish the feat of actual retirement, there has been an unprecidented onslaught of change and loss in my personal life. Plodding through, I have managed to accomplish the necessary tasks but it has taken a toll. Too often, we do not fully face, nor realize, the extent of depletion and stress, caused by our increasingly chaotic attempts to navigate the collision courses that we face in life today. 

Generally, I tend to meet such challenge with full awareness of the content, impact, and toll it takes. It's never easy to do this because--for starters--discomfort is seldom welcome and resistance is usually the first impulse to surface. Difficult as it may be, however, I'm well aware that the more closely we do look behind the scenes, the more we begin to notice. Doing this sheds insight upon our coping mechanisms to help us understand--and hopefully transform--our auto-pilot responses.

The real culprit, for me, was what led up to this day, and how I dealt with--or failed to deal with--everything that's been on my plate. When the time finally arrived to navigate the entire retirement enclave (existing like a high-needs child within the greater territory of 'my life') I had very little energy and few resources left. My brain has been spilling over with it all. Thoughts keep colliding as life is asking me to face too many dead-end roads, all at once.  

Concepts are containers, which 'hold' our thoughts together and keep them from spilling out. What happens to our concepts, when the content that forms them, is emptied out? Quite frankly, my 'concept containers' have been dissolving. Their crucial 'storage function' has been shrinking and melting. A concept creates a 'framework', and safeguards it until it is no longer needed. Then the container is either emptied, discarded or recycled. When the thoughts are removed from such a container it leaves empty space inside. What will that be like as the remaining bits of this clutter are set free? I'm so ready! 

Work is a container too (our profession, our job) and we inhabit it until we don't anymore. If "I" am emptied out of my 'being a nurse' container, it will be an interesting adventure to embrace the new space that becomes available in my life.

This turbulent time has shown me what occurs when we continue to hold a magnifying lens beneath a steady beam of bright light: it starts to burn. Our own Awareness is a powerful force. It shines upon the 'object' of our attention. Light and vision--when brought together will expose much more than we can imagine. Simply put, our shields and coping skills are safeguards against going to fast, or to far, all at once. Such exploration can bring transparency, within the midst of intense involvement. However, it can also reveal more material, than a particular instant might feel capable of handling. Timing is an important consideration. Whenever possible, we need to bite off only what we can chew. At the same time, I'm learning to trust that whatever Life does bring, is exactly what wants to be seen. Everything deserves it's moment to bask in the light of our full and undivided attention.

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