There was a sitcom that came out of the ‘70s titled, “One Day at a Time.” It followed a divorced single mom and her two teenage daughters as they started a new life together in Minneapolis. Don’t ask me why, but the show popped into my head last week. My guess? Life as I know it, has ended. Nowadays, I am attempting to pick up the scattered bits and pieces (apropos to this column) and put my life back together again.
During the brief time that my husband was ill, I thought I was living one day at a time. In retrospect, I was living in suspended time. Now that Frank has been dead for over two months, I am making a huge attempt to live one day at a time—and it ain’t easy.
“One day at a time” is a recovery phrase that has been around for ages. Sounds simple, right? And I suppose it works for some. But I am not a one-day-at- a time type of gal; I’m a several-days-at-a-time gal; I always have a plan, a backup plan and possibly a backup to my backup plan. Oy!
Most of us live by our calendars, purchase life insurance, and have charted long-term goals. Many of us are compulsive list-makers: daily, monthly, or even yearly lists are commonplace. A few folks even entertain a 10-year plan. (I wouldn’t advise it!) And this is all good stuff; it keeps us on track and saves us from procrastination.
Then one day, life puts us into the path of a runaway steamroller. We may experience pain so invasive that leaps into the foreground while the other aspects of our life move to the background. At this juncture, we are brought to our knees and implore the universe: “What now?”
A myriad of things can cause the “steamroller” effect. Take your pick: death of a loved one; a marital death called divorce; illness; unemployment; financial woes or… (fill in the blank). We may find ourselves adrift in a world that we no longer recognize.
Yup, one day at a time seems like a good idea, in theory.
After we have been mowed down, we can become preoccupied with trying to glimpse into our fuzzy future or fixate on the past. “If only” becomes our favorite obsession—and anything can turn into “if only.”
We may teeter on the edge of an unknown future and fear may grab us by the throat, choking the life force out of us. We may wish that a genie would pop out of a bottle, blink, and transport us to “back then” when the landscape was familiar.
So where are we living? Certainly not one day at a time. Then again, perhaps living in present is too painful and fixating on the future or past is preferable. But is it smart? Nope!
On our knees, we are forced to bite the bullet and accept things exactly as they are—unchangeable. And let’s face it: There are no bumper-sticker slogans for how the loss has impacted our lives or what to do about it.
While trying to navigate through my personal loss I’ve come up with a few “bumper sticker” slogans that I will share with you. These yellow sticky notes are posted all over my house. Because I tend to argue with myself, I recently added accompanying statements to enhance my spin. Funny, if my friends have noticed the aforementioned notes, they haven’t commented—yet.
So here goes:
Breathe. (Shallow breathing will do you in.)
Accept. (No magic genie in sight.)
Allow time to mourn. (Time is your friend. Well, maybe.)
Tears heal. (Forget the running mascara.)
I am journeying from hurt to healing. (A slippery slope, for sure.)
Acknowledge the loss (I didn’t choose this; nevertheless it’s here)
No if only. (Yeah, but if only… .)
Fear is normal. (But is it necessary?)
This shall pass. (When?)
Keep busy. (Too busy; I do it all now.)
And the biggie: Take it one day at a time. (Sometimes all that can be managed is one hour or one minute segments.)
Loss comes to most of us, and if it hasn’t steamrolled its way into your life, you are lucky — lucky indeed. Painful though it is, it can be a time to reclaim who we really are. Digging deep, we may unearth inner resources that up until now have not manifested in our lives. (Hellava way to discover our inner resources!)
What needs to be done is to live past the uncertainty, continue to move forward, and trust that we possess the wherewithal to pick up the pieces. Once the gathering is done, we may behold a rich tapestry stitched together with our tears and strengthened with true grit.
Whether we are undergoing a mountaintop experience or drowning in a valley of tears, investing in the eternal now is paramount. And, really, folks, at the end of the day, life can only be lived one day at a time.
At least, that’s what I have been telling myself.
Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in ‘retirement’ — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.
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