No Ordinary Life

Finding the courage to be

A Year Like No Other

Grabbing Life from the Jaws of Death

As if it were not enough that, during one week in June, my husband legally died three times, our beloved therapy dog Whitby, passed away from old age that same June week. This combination of catastrophic events made 2012 a year unto itself. Even the year my 48-year-old late first husband was diagnosed with, and died from, melanoma, did not have the rollercoaster quality of the emotional whirlwind that moved me from despair to jubilance. The year 2012 has refreshed my deep awareness of the power of the self to know what is right and to do it. People seek meaning at all cost.

Active Wisdom is a time of harvest during second adulthood that allows people to refresh their search for meaning in their lives as they move beyond their first half century of life. In this piece we focus on the search for life meaning that propelled John to his current state of well being.

In June 2012, my seemingly healthy and robust husband slumped at the wheel from a sudden and unpredicted heart attack. We were driving home slowly from a beautiful family beach photo shoot when his heart stopped. Cape Regional Hospital helicoptered him to The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where our adult children and I monitored his bedside in intensive cardiac care for three weeks. Terror gripped our family for about six weeks, while this beloved husband, "Dad" to six adults and "Pop Pop" to four small children, turned around multiple system damage. John showed us that he intended to return to prior functioning despite all odds. The odds were great against his success so, to rebuild the damaged parts of his body, John needed to rearrange his life priorities.

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A man of Mensa intelligence, high moral fiber and extreme skill, John was 50 when I met him. He was running an 8-minute mile and working as a CEO in scientific publishing. But over the next fifteen years, John stopped running and working out in favor of building safe and rich lives for those he loves. On many days, John took better care of our multiple real estate investments than of himself. I learned that warning him of potential danger was of no use. Life had to teach John.

Last June, faced with what I call his “Coming to Buddha moment,” John had not one second of doubt: life holds great meaning for him so he decided to focus on excellent self care. “Nothing is more important than exercise,” he often states flatly as he maintains his rigorous daily program of cardiac rehab, walking, and nutritional discipline. As a result, John has beat the odds. He has just about regained his previously superb level of physical and intellectual functioning and is a more relaxed and self-focused version of the same John I married. He monitors each day, refusing to do too much of what now feels is extraneous to his best interests. At the close of this year unlike any other, the loving and super responsible John Anderson is reminded of what it means to love himself.

I also know others who extend their prime years by daily self discipline. Jack, an old friend, maintains agility in his 80s through swimming and walking regardless of the windblown winter. Diane, a courageous 64 year-old-client, maintains a superb program of weekly physical therapy, Pilates and walking, which has actually postponed the need for neurosurgery for four years to date. Despite the huge time and energy commitment, John, Jack and Diane take charge of what is within their capacity to change because their lives mean so much. Their courage, tenacity, and wisdom is inspirational. Cicero, pegged it when he said that “Diseases of the soul are more dangerous and more numerous than those of the body.“ Had my husband John, now healthy and sound in the room next door as I write this, been less focused on winning his battle to regain and maintain his health, he would not be in the room next door.

To consider: What would you do if a health catastrophe happened to you or your family? Do you have the personal resolve to rearrange your life to put your own care first? And who would support you in this effort?

Judith Coche, Ph.D., A.B.P.P. is an author, psychotherapist, and founder of The Coche Center.

 
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