Friday, January 21, 2011

What Really Matters

My mom, dad, sister, and me at my cousin Ingrid's wedding in 2008

For the last five days, I have been in Iowa with my mom. She had a stroke last week just before leaving for North Carolina for the winter. Luckily it happened before she and my dad left and not while on the road. All things considered, she is doing well. She has been out of the hospital for a few days now and is recovering at home. Recovery includes a host of new doctors as well as ongoing speech therapy. My mother’s stroke is actually a bit of a shock. I never imagined that she would have a major health issue at 65 years old. Generally speaking, she takes care of herself pretty well. I have no idea how long it will take her to get back to a new form of normal, but I would venture to say many months. And normal life will be different. It will include even more vigilance about health-related matters and living life at a slower, more relaxed pace. Perhaps of all the lifestyle changes, the slowdown part of the equation will be the most difficult. After all, we all say we will slow down then life gets in the way. Soon the “to do” list is a mile long. My mom definitely has a long list and tends to be very busy.

When someone close to you suffers through a traumatic health event, it generally triggers many thoughts. It definitely forces that long pause so badly needed to reflect about how you are living your own life. After all, life is finite to begin with and none of us know how our current life might change along the way. For some people, something like this is a wake-up call or a call for dramatic change. For others, it is more of a gentle reminder to live each day to the fullest. For me, it is somewhere in between. In reality I think about how I want to live my life frequently, but day-to-day realities and choices I make are sometimes counter to this long-term vision. So today is a new day and with recent events, I have a renewed commitment to improve things moving forward. In the meantime, here are some related things I have been thinking about.

  • No one cares more about your health than you do. Never take your health for granted.Your life can change drastically at any time due to a major health issue. While there are some things you can’t control, so much of our health and well-being is directly related to the choices we make every day. I now have a higher risk for having a stroke. You better believe I will be paying even more attention to my own blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Your life is not defined by your stuff, what you check off on your list of things to do, or your job. The quality of your relationships is much more important as is the impact you have on other people. For me, it is also discovering what I am passionate about and trying to leave this world knowing my actions made something better along the way.
  • Don’t put off doing what matters to you. Too many people are counting on retirement to provide the opportunity to do all those things they have always wanted to do, but never did. This strategy is a big gamble. While planning for tomorrow is a good thing, you still need to live for today.
  • The impact of chronic stress on our bodies is understated. I know; I spent much of last year addressing medical issues (now resolved) that I have come to realize were related to stress. Being busy all the time has become almost a badge of honor in our society. If you actually have down time or try to relax, you feel guilty about it. It is a huge challenge to try to stop and smell the roses for a few seconds. It is all pretty darn sad!

It’s a lot to think about. In the meantime, I am planning on a nice, relaxing weekend. I could use a break.


  1. Good thoughts Erika. It is a very delicate balance, all of these things, especially the live for today/plan for tomorrow part. I struggle with that one a lot. And watching your parents age is a very surreal experience. I recently saw some pictures taken of my mom and couldn't believe it was her. Who was that "old" lady? It takes you aback. Thanks for sharing--I'm glad your Mom is on the mend.

  2. Erika,
    I am so sorry. My mom had one this year at age 68. I was totally surprised also. I hope your mom's recovery goes well. I will keep you in my thoughts.
    ~ Heather