New Chapters…

On October 10, 2021, the page turned, mid-sentence, and a new chapter was started.

And as some chapter transitions, this one has been as abrupt as Dawn and I have ever experienced… And we’ve experienced a few.

We are not unfamiliar with abrupt new chapters. Most of you who know us know that both Dawn and I were widowed 22 and 19 years ago (respectively). Being widowed was undoubtedly the most abrupt new chapter that neither of us was anticipating…

In fact, most chapters of life seem to be surprises rather than direct choices.

In 2009, we found out I was laid off after nearly 23 years of loyal service. This layoff lasted 16 months. It was a different kind of test than when we were widowed. When our spouses died, we knew what we needed to do, as difficult as it was. We needed to pick up the pieces and continue living life. But with unemployment, particularly with children to take care of, just getting up the next day and going through a routine was not enough. We had to face serious questions about whether we would (eventually) lose the house we were building, and consider what drastic measures we might need to take in order to care for our family.

Then, only a few years ago, Dawn found out that her Mom has a particular type of dementia (Frontotemporal Dementia) that is not “forgetting”, but it primarily shows itself over time as a profound inability to communicate. Both her expressive language (speaking and writing) and her receptive language (auditory and reading) have both been deteriorating over time. This has been accompanied by mood changes and sadness because her Mom has become increasingly “locked” inside of herself. Knowing what she’s thinking, but completely unable to put ideas into words and completely unable to understand words spoken to her. And, Dawn’s sister has become their Mom’s primary care-giver, and is dealing with the bulk of this new chapter pretty much on her own.

And, then in February of this year, my Mom died, after struggling with deteriorating lung issues for several years. And only 4 days later, on Feb 6th, my brother, Dan, died after having COVID, but he died when his kidneys ultimately failed after two extended hospital stays. Once again, a chapter has turned, though it is arguably very different.

Yes, we could go into the details of each of these turns of the chapter, but that’s not really my purpose today. My purpose is to recognize that new chapters in life are part of life. Some new chapters are decisions we make, such as getting married or having children. Or even consequences of decisions we make. Or consequences of decisions others make that impact us. But we don’t see those as turns of a chapter in the same way as we see when the end of a chapter is written totally outside of our control.

There are many things in life that turn the chapter, outside of our control. Sometimes we can live for years, even decades, without an imposed turn of the chapter. And sometimes, the chapters seem to turn every year or faster.

You have those page turns in your life as well, where the next page abruptly begins a new chapter. Or more precisely, where the turn of the page closes an old chapter, abruptly.

This brings me to October 10, 2021. Dawn and I had been sick here at home, and working our way to health, but that Sunday, Dawn suffered a left-brain stroke in the language processing center that has left her somewhat physically challenged (though functioning pretty well), but it is aphasia, her inability to speak or write the words she wants to say, that has forced a sudden and rather harsh turn of the chapter.

If you read back through the blogs she wrote in these past years, you’ll see she loved to write, to share her thoughts. She loved to work with children especially those with special needs. To speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. These things are Dawn’s passions.

Yet today, it is Dawn who cannot speak for herself. Yes, she continues to work to recover ability to speak, and I am confident that given enough time, Dawn will be able to speak much more fluently again. But we are definitely living out a new chapter.

I’m writing today not to solicit sympathy, but because I’ve learned some things through these turns of the chapter.

  1. God has provided for us in unexpected and indescribable ways through each turn of the chapter. Though these changes have not been without immense challenge.
  2. These changes, with the challenges they bring, have not left us unchanged. They have challenged who we are, what we expect in life, and who we trust.

I write this blog today because these are some of the major turns of the page that have shaped Dawn and I. And, because I plan to write more in the future to address some particularly challenging questions that I (we) have seen others struggle with. Questions that could have been challenging to us; however, most of these did not turn out to be the questions we asked or at least the ones we struggled with.

Many wise people have observed, it is not the difficulties you face in life that determine who you are. Rather it is your response to those difficulties. Actually, those difficulties directly force a response, and so they are much more active than passive in the shaping of character.

Dawn and I are living out a new chapter, together. It’s not an easy road, but it’s the road we’re on. And while she is unable to speak for herself, I must speak on her behalf…

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