I am down to the bare bones.
Many of us want to minimalize our busy, crowded lives, but sometimes we are minimized by life’s circumstances. We’re downsized. Victimized. Marginalized.
Our experience imprints itself into our faces, our skin, our posture. It has certainly chiseled itself into my bones. In 2016, I began an unexpected journey. A journey of grace and grit. In January of that year, I lost my right arm – my dominant arm- to osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer. Later in the same year, I lost my husband of 37 years to pancreatic cancer.
I continued to work, teaching second graders for one more year before retiring early. My students and fellow teachers helped me as much as they could. Occasionally, I retreated to a friend’s room during planning time to cry. Just to cry, no words needed.
Church friends surrounded me with food, prayer, and hugs. I revised and adapted everyday tasks of writing, cooking, cutting, twisting, zipping, and more…all while grieving my husband.
Guiding and grounding me after retirement was my new granddaughter whom I babysat while her mama worked. I created all kinds of ways to change diapers, buckle car seats and strollers, and bottle-feed. My bond with this treasured baby strengthened me every day. She never noticed that Grandma was different. She just loved me as I loved her.
I thought I was getting used to my new normal when in 2019 doctors had to remove most of my sternum because of another osteosarcoma. This surgery was more intricate than the first and recovery was hard. In the months after surgery, my ribs became pronounced. The tips of them had been removed and some of my pectoral muscle used to cover and protect the sternum.
What do you do when you are being removed bit by bit? Caved in and carved out by rogue cells? Living life close to the bone?
You reach for the maximum life can offer. You take the minimal and expand it with every breath.
Perhaps you, too, have experienced loss…a relationship, a job, a home. You feel minimized without permission. I’ve come to believe that days can be full of thanks, meaning, and faith no matter the loss. I have found ways to overcome the sense of having no control, of feeling like you are down to the bone. Here are three ways to fill your days with thankfulness, meaning, and faith:
Gratitude journals are an old tool that has stuck around for good reason. They are simple and require no fancy equipment. All you need is a notebook from the grocery store or drugstore and a pen or pencil. Each day, write down three things for which you are thankful. The next day, write down three more. These things can be as simple as your sandwich, your dog, your chair. As your list grows you begin to see what is right with your life instead of what is wrong. Your attitude begins to change and life takes on a rhythm of breathing in and out with thanksgiving.
Every one of us can offer something to someone. A smile to the nurse. A visit to a senior citizen. A meal. A hand-crafted gift. An hour of baby-sitting. Paying for the next person in line. A 99-year-old friend of mine writes and mails 10 encouraging notes every week. This type of self-giving reignites the passion of living. The blessing reverses itself and becomes our own. We can maximize the minimal time and energy we have by giving of our very self.
Inside we can grow and learn and stretch ourselves, no matter what shape our body is in. Take a class, learn more technology, pray, call a friend, start a blog, listen to a podcast. Stretch that inner self. Renew that which does not waste away!
When taking care of my granddaughter, I started journaling, writing poetry, and doodling during her naps. It was part therapy, part a dawning of how I can flourish in a different way. I began learning to draw with my left hand. Soon I was making greeting cards for family and friends. After showing my oncologist my new hobby, he said, “Why not sell them?”
Yes, why not?
I improved my craft bit by bit, and with the help of my daughter-in-law, started a Facebook page to sell the cards. I tried a craft fair. My chiropractor offered to sell them at her counter during the holidays. I continued to embody the philosophy that my son carved for me with these words:
“Mama, losing an arm doesn’t change who you are, it just changes how you do things.”
Yes, yes, and yes!
Yes, I am living down to the bone. I’ve been minimalized as part of my life’s journey. But I am so very grateful to travel this journey every day.
I’ve just changed how I do things.
About the Author: Denise Smith is a cancer survivor, retired teacher, and proud grandmother. She is a self-taught artist and recently began a business selling greeting cards. She can be found on Facebook at GraceNotes by Denise.