My Emotional Earthquake
By: Opal Gee
Several year ago, I was seated at the piano in our church sanctuary working on some choir music, when, suddenly, everything started shaking violently.
“There must be a huge truck going by the church,” was my immediate reaction. Then, reality hit! “There’s no truck THAT big! Sure enough, news flashes soon began appearing on TV that Springfield, MO had just experienced an earth tremor not unlike a tiny earthquake. We had been spared the upheaval that a real earthquake can cause when, with great force, the ground suddenly opens into giant deep cracks, huge enough that tall buildings can topple into the chasms and cause unbelievable destruction.
I had not remembered the Springfield tremor until this last year when I have experienced what I’ve called “my emotional earthquake.” Compared to other big shake-up’s during my 90 years, how could I call this present trauma an earthquake? After all, I had experienced a huge change with the death of my beloved husband to whom I had been married for nearly 59 years, when cancer took him away 11 years ago. However, his death was no sudden surprise. We knew it was coming and tried to prepare for it.
I had experienced big challenges to my sense of hope and security since then but I had been able to face them with hope and a certain peace based on my faith. I had lived five years after his death in Louisville, KY, After giving much thought to my future, with the help of my daughter Rosalie and her family, I sold my house, and moved across the country to Longmont, CO into a small apartment that I liked very much. After about a year and a half here, one of my hip replacements, done in 1986, needed to be redone. During the surgery, my pelvic bone cracked and it was necessary to spend four months in Life Care before I recovered enough to return to my apartment. Eighteen months later, a heart doctor informed me that unless I had a heart valve replaced, I likely would not live even two more years. To the hospital I soon went and got a new valve! The doctors told me my surgery went well. One teased me by saying I was their “patient of the century”! Although it took several months to regain my strength, I was getting there when my “earthquake” suddenly began. I had stooped over, doing some cleaning in a corner of my bedroom. When I backed up, intending to sit down on the seat of my walker and back on out of that small space, it happened! The walker slipped out from under me. I fell very hard on my bottom. I was unable to get up. I called my daughter-in-law Cheri. She came over and got two firemen to come and lift me to my feet. I crippled around for days with significant pain. Then, one night after a week of struggling, I was getting my coffee ready for the next morning. Something suddenly just gave way in my lower body. I fell very hard, again on my bottom, with my back slamming against a lower kitchen cupboard. A big bump developed on the back of my head under my hair. The pain was excruciating in my lower back and right hip. I crawled to the phone a few feet away and called my son Bill. He and Cheri came over and helped me get to bed. Pain kept me from sleeping most of the night. I went to a Physician’s Assistant the next day and she immediately ordered X-rays. They did not show any broken bones so I tried to cope with it for three more weeks. However, my pain was so intense that, at times, it caused me to sweat and shake. Bill then took me to an orthopedic doctor. He ordered an MRI. It showed two fractures in my tail bone. He told me that tailbones, when cracked or broken, can cause some of the worst kind of pain. I certainly could verify that! He also said that it could take up to eight months to heal.
What was I to do? I could not afford to pay apartment rent on an empty one for so long but I was unable to take care of myself. I would have to go to Life Care until I was better. My daughter Janie who lives near Seattle, WA flew back and supervised the packing and moving of my things from my apartment into storage. Many of my wonderful Christian friends assisted.
I spent three months at Life Care. I had an agreeable room-mate there but it was especially difficult, over the holidays, with her extra company, when I could hardly maneuver my wheelchair into the bathroom located on her side of the room! I had therapy until I could get around fairly well with a walker.
Soon into the New Year, Bill wanted to show me Cinnamon Park, an Assisted Living facility. We parked in front of two attractive big brick adjoining houses. “Built in 1989,” a yard plaque said. They were situated in a quiet part of town, built by doctors. Bill pushed me in my wheel chair up a slight incline to the front door. We were greeted by Deb, the administrator, who was gracious and hospitable. She showed us two or three available rooms and informed us about meals and personal services, assuring us that I would be well cared for. I liked one room more than the others. It was small but had two windows, a big closet and a private bathroom. If I were to move in, it would be my choice.
Back out to the car we went. My “emotional ground” began shaking violently! I seldom cry, except privately, but I couldn’t hold back the tears.
“I feel like I just can’t do this, Bill,” I said, “But I will try.”
I was thinking, “Give up my independence and live in one small room the rest of my life? At ninety-one, after seventy years of making my own decisions, can I ever adjust to being treated, perhaps, like a mental invalid? How can I give up easy access to my books, my computer and printer, my music, pictures and even my diaries in which I have recorded each day’s happenings since 1948, not to mention my iron, sewing machine, etc, etc.?
About two weeks later, I moved into to my new room. It was freshly painted and my bed, desk and recliner had been brought in and arranged by Bill’s family. Even the bed was beautifully made! Days later, they brought over favorite family pictures and hung them. My son Julian bought a bed-side table in and helped me place it.
A little later, they brought in my one painting. It was beautiful to me as were the memories of buying it years ago. My husband and I were shopping and saw it. We were both especially drawn to it. It pictured a lighthouse on the ocean shore. Don, who had been a Merchant Marine officer during World War II, loved the sea and I had been intrigued with lighthouses. To me, they were especially significant because they guided ships to shore through blinding storms. Of course, such a work of art deserved a worthy frame and it, too, was expensive. For many years, it had, however, given us pleasure. When it was brought over and hung, my room felt more like home. Another very thoughtful thing was done for me. Some close friends got new curtain rods, installed them, and put up some “exactly-right” curtains I had had in my apartment.
The hospitality of the people who worked here has helped me adapt these last months. I appreciate every one of them. Each of them seems especially patient and compassionate. (I could sincerely recommend this place to anyone seeking an Assisted Care facility.} However, two or three weeks after I moved in, I did have a confrontation with one of them! She kept urging me to participate in more of the social activities. I did not need such nagging. I didn’t explain to her how tired I was from the unbelievable physical stress I had undergone the previous months, nor the extreme emotional upheaval caused by this adjustment in my life. One evening, she was especially over-bearing. I had had enough! I called her by name and said “Turn around and look at me! I will decide what activities I want to participate in. I am not the least bit anti-social and I am plenty capable of choosing what I want to do.” I didn’t add, “NOW BUTT OUT!” I think she got the message though! I did not mention that incident to anyone else here. A short time later, she was gone from here– to another job, I assume.
I have rarely had deeply troubling dreams but one night, soon after I moved into Cinnamon Park, I had a nightmare. Suddenly, I dreamed I was being attacked by a big, masked man. My screams woke me up! To me, they seemed loud enough to arouse everyone in the building but, apparently, had not! After I was fully awake, I tried to figure out why I would have such a nightmare. I concluded that my subconscious mind had been struggling against what felt like helplessness. Somehow, after that, I could better accept my new situation. After all, I was not being attacked by anything vicious. I was just in the process of needing to accept this new phase in my life. Of course, it was what seemed like the SUDDENESS and PERMANENCE of it that troubled me so deeply.
As usual, I found comfort in the Bible, from my conviction that “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) I believed that there must be some reason for me to be in what seemed like my probable final change in life on this earth.
“What can that purpose possibly be?” I keep asking myself. Is it to, somehow, comfort and encourage other old people who live here? Is it to challenge me to attempt writing again? Maybe there is a market for encouraging articles about faith, especially as we get old. Come to of think of it, I have not read much about faith written by old people, themselves, through the tough challenges we face as our years add up.
My emotional tremors have quieted down somewhat. My treasured books and other valuables did not disappear down into a giant chasm! They are still available– if I can figure out where to put them! I will continue to remember and appreciate the blessings of my earlier years. However, with the help of my supportive and giving sons and daughters (two of each), I am determined to rebuild spiritually with whatever resources and time I have left.
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