This badass is in serious pain. I know that this too shall pass, that surgeries are common everywhere, and getting older does in itself come with some challenges. So let me tell you right here to eat organic, get some exercise and maybe try to realize earlier that we are not in fact invincible! Take care, do what you love, cherish your health and be so very grateful. But we can talk about this more later.
I am now one week out of surgery and I can say that being utterly and completely incapacitated for these days and likely weeks has taught me so much. In many ways the most important lesson for me has been to embrace vulnerability and to let go. It may sound quippish to some, like some bumper sticker slogan, but for a single mom who has had to do Every. Goddamned. Thing. Every. Day. for years, “letting go” in the past has represented a kind of relinquishing responsibility or somehow exposing my child to unknown dangers due to my own desire to “relax”. It never felt like a good option. Now I’ve been thrown into a medical situation that, once I made the choice to go under the knife, put things truly beyond my control. Short of paying for round the clock home, child, and animal care – which is certainly nothing I can afford – there is very little choice but to ask for help. And that’s something I’ve never felt comfortable with. In fact, at a health care strategy meeting organized by a queen mother here in San Miguel I started weeping, partly out of shame for having to ask for help and out of sheer gratitude that I was being offered so much love and support I could hardly take it all in.
While I suspect friends rally for their loved ones the world over, I have found a circle of expat friends – mothers, so warriors all – who I truly and entirely feel have my back. We share the commonality of making radical life changes, of choosing to insert ourselves into other cultures and ways of living with no real knowledge of what the future holds. And that’s ok. We share our life stories, our burdens and joys, stories of flirtations and more (just me, husbands. Promise.), alert each other of potential dangers, of events we may all enjoy, of any possible way that we can all share company again soon for a laugh and a meal.
Some of us are children of immigrants, so we’ve never felt entirely at ease in any society, whether, in my case, in American, or in my birthplace of France. For my friend it is China, and for both of us now here in Mexico. But we navigate new experiences and ways of being, ways of connecting and sharing, and reaching out to one another and becoming a network of support. Back home we may have our childhood friends who we turn to in times of need. But in new and foreign communities we rely heavily on each other, so we more quickly become close and organized.
When it became more inevitable that I would be facing a major surgery in Mexico, so many people asked if I would return home. Perhaps it felt the obvious choice; in fact, when I discovered my pregnancy in Thailand, there was little question I would return home to Santa Fe. But with my mother now gone, my chosen family had grown elsewhere. I’ve had to choose my new family every day. Plus, my faith in the medical system has never really existed anywhere. So why not in Mexico?
Here are a few other things I’ve learned through this medical adventure, not only about this specific event in my life, but about living in communities away from your traditional “home”.
- Health care has its challenges in every country in the world, and the insurance racket is a destroyer of lives. I feel so grateful to have found a skilled and kind oncologist to lead me through this latest round, but nothing is easy… I’ll just leave that there until I detail this procedure in more detail. It will make you laugh.
2. People want to help. We will always have challenges in life, some large and some small, and helping someone in need reminds us not only of our own vulnerability, but of the support we do have. We just have to ask.
3. Letting go isn’t that hard. Once you accept that things really will be ok if you step away for a bit, then you can be exactly where you are. Sure, my son will likely play a few more video games than usual, or accept even more sugary treats than I usually allow, but in the end it doesn’t matter. The world goes on and we choose our battles every day. I now get to focus on the big ones.
4. When you fall down, people care enough to pick you back up. In this case I mean it literally. During one of my most difficult healing days I was dizzy and lightheaded. I went for a walk in my front yard and collapsed on the grass. I literally couldn’t get up until my son and dear friend could pull me up and walk me back inside. From the moment I woke that day I knew it was going to be bad so I had asked for a spotter. My friend was by my side for hours despite having only a few remaining days with her son visiting from out of town.
It also reminded me of so many times I’d fallen emotionally and reached out to these same beloved friends for support. We all agree that because we aren’t devoting ourselves only to work and survival, we actually have time to be there for each other, often within minutes. The reality is that we chooseto make time for each other because we have come to know its value. Time, or lack thereof – for love, for friendship, for family – is what sent many of us to foreign lands in the first place.
5. You choose your family every day. Many of us have deep roots and extended, loving blood relations. Others of us don’t, or are very far away. As I’ve gotten older, I have chosen to surround myself with extraordinary individuals and to spend less time with anyone who makes me feel less than, whether family or friend. Life is way too short to have negative, uninspiring or unloving people in your life.
6. Find what makes you really happy and excited and go do it, because you never know how long you have. Before I had surgery I wrote a love letter to my son. It talked about his father, our love story and its eventual dissolution, and the incredible love I had for my boy and why. I reminded him of the support and love he had the world over, and the incredible resilience he had already built inside himself. It wasn’t a goodbye letter, per se, but clearly I had in mind the very small chance that I might not emerge from surgery. Plus, it had been something I’d been meaning to do each year since I had heard a friend tell me that every year she wrote each of her children a love letter. It took me 11 to get this one done. It won’t take another 11. So don’t put things off until its too late, and that includes doing what you love.
7. Write your own love letters! Take time to tell the people you love how much they mean to you and why. It’s an amazing and deep practice.
My healing progress is slow and painful, and when I’m not trolling for the next Netflix series to binge watch, I am forced to sit still and quietly and contemplate just how blessed I am. Thank you all for being such a loving and supportive community of friends and family, both near and far. I certainly don’t wish this procedure on anyone else, but sometimes it is when we fall that we see how readily those around us are there to get us back on our feet. And being shown thatgift is something I do wish on anyone.