Delayed reaction

Sometimes I just can’t tell when or how something is affecting me. It’s just truly a challenge to be in touch with your feelings all the time. Who has time for that? I’m too busy working full-time, taking care of the dog, taking care of the house and yard, taking care of my physical needs, etc., etc.

The past two days have been rough for me, and I’m only starting to figure it out now. My aunt is dying. This is upsetting to me on multiple levels.

See? It should be so simple to figure out. Why has it taken me the better part of a week to get to this realization, though? And even now that I’m understanding my reaction better, what can I do about it?

I first found out about my aunt’s condition in February. She had noticed some odd neurological problems a few months earlier and so the brain tumor was discovered. The neurologist recommended chemotherapy and radiation, and she completed the treatments in early June. Last week she returned to the hospital with new symptoms and they checked the tumor again. It had gotten larger. She was offered hospice and told she had two to six months to live. Those are the facts.

My aunt is in her mid-sixties and has lived a blameless and clean life. She’s a nun in the Dominican order, and entered the convent after high school. She has devoted her life to her god and for many years she worked in the convent’s mother house running the kitchens. My family used to visit her there and I found the spacious buildings, park-like property, and dozens of doting women a wonderful treat. One summer I spent several weeks staying at the mother house with her, and my parents were thrilled that I returned with a photo of me wearing the head-piece of her habit. I guess they thought I may join the convent, too.

I have an issue with dogma and am not religious, but when I was traveling through Spain in March I visited several churches and cathedrals. In each one, I stopped to reflect on my aunt and her condition. I can say that I even prayed for her a few times, although my prayers were more exhortations than humble requests. In Cordoba I recall kneeling in the Mezquita cathedral, staring at the altar and thinking, “She’s devoted her life to serving you because she believes in you so much. The least you can do is not treat her like shit.”

Next Monday, Independence Day, I’ll get to see her. Most likely it will be the last time. That’s what she’s planning, anyway: a final visit with all the nieces and nephews and grand-nieces/nephews, and grand-grand nieces/nephews before she dies. (Catholic families are typically large; I have nine cousins who each started families young. I’ve lost track of how many second and third cousins I have, quite frankly.) She’ll travel through Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Tennessee to visit the clan. My other aunt — her twin sister, and also a nun — will be driving and watching over her.

I haven’t even lost her yet, but I’m grieving. I’ve been feeling exhausted and reactive the last two days and had no idea why until today.

It’s not just that I’ll be losing an aunt that is stirring me up. I also can’t help but project myself into her situation. I think about how cheated I would feel to have wasted so many years. Life is finite; why am I not spending my days doing something I really love and am passionate about?

During my long drive last weekend I had some time to talk with Ellen about how drained and unmotivated I’ve been feeling. My garden is pathetic this year, and I haven’t been doing as much cooking as I’d like. I’m not writing very much, either. When I get home from work at night, I just want to collapse on the couch or into bed. This is because I’m not getting any energy back from my work. I’m not enjoying myself, or feeling a sense of accomplishment. It just seems to suck the life out of me every day, and I spend the evenings and weekends trying to restore myself to some balance.

I’ve decided to seek out a career counselor and start figuring out what to do with myself for the next few years. Hopefully when I reach the point that I need to say good-bye to my friends and family I’ll feel good about what I’ve been doing with my limited time.