I am Listening.

It’s been two years. Today is the second anniversary of my second open heart surgery.

On the heels of thanksgiving, gratitude is the first thing that comes to mind. Or maybe I know it’s the first thing I should feel. Grateful.IMG_0063

Grateful to be alive.

After all, all the doctors have told me I should not be here. That it is a miracle. That I’ve been given a gift. The gift of life. The gift of being allowed to love my family longer. Better. Harder. The gift of being given the opportunity to be a better person. The gift of getting more time to leave my footprint on the world, in whatever small way I can.

Trust me, I am very thankful for the opportunity to be here. To have another chance. To continue to love and be loved. The need for and thought of gratitude always plays through my head. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I grieve what has been lost.

Yes, I know that it could be much, much worse. That there are people struggling with challenges that look bigger. More difficult. And maybe that’s the problem.

Almost every day, people, whether doctors, friends, family, neighbors, read my medical records, ask my story, or know my journey, and look at me and say… I am so glad to see you’re doing well. That you’ve fully recovered.  Very few actually ask me how I feel.

They look at me, assess, and determine my physical and mental well-being, by my looks alone, and then make a statement imposing me with their belief of my health.

In less than a minute, a conclusion regarding my health has been determined, without me uttering a word.

I get it. We all want our friends, loved ones, patients to be well. We’re looking and watching for signs that they are no longer ill or struggling. We draw conclusions and share stories that give “us” relief. That allow us to tell ourselves that our beloveds are healthy and strong.

I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that their grandmother, father, or neighbor had bypass surgery, stents, or a valve replaced. The fact those don’t resemble my journey doesn’t matter. The story goes something like this… “I’m so glad to see that you’re feeling better and you’re healthy. You know my grandfather had bypass surgery when he was 78. The surgery went really well and he was home out of the hospital in four days. He went on a trip with my grandmother two weeks later and is just like new.” Or “my neighbor had four stents placed and was out mowing his yard five days later”.

In our attempts to make ourselves feel better, and to share stories that make us feel like we can relate, we often, in one or two sentences, completely invalidate the person and the journey others are walking. We are so busy talking, trying to convince ourselves that everything is just fine; we truly forget to show concern, ask questions, and really listen. I know that I have been guilty of this myself. Many times.

We do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.

The second open heart surgery sucked the life out of me, while at the same time giving me life. Today, at 53 years old, it’s hard to not be the person that I thought I would be. It’s hard to hear the stories of others which just highlight what has been lost.  It’s frustrating to not be full of energy, of endurance, and to be plagued by so many physical challenges, ones that can’t be seen. It’s heartbreaking to know you’re not going to be the grandmother you envisioned, while at the same time remaining grateful that you’re still here. It’s hard to be compared to 80-year-olds and to know that many are stronger than you. And yes, I won the ultimate prize, the gift of life, while at the same time having many things stolen from me and being saddled with many physical burdens and challenges.

My exterior appearance has almost killed me, twice, while at the same time it protects my struggles.  It helps me to appear physically stronger than I am, while saddling me with expectations from others, and from myself. The fact that I appear healthy and strong compels me to do more. To try harder, and maybe it keeps me accountable. Yet, at the same time, my appearance does not allow me to rest and takes away my permission to do so.

Today, in my reflecting, it dawned on me that there are many people that are physically and mentally unwell, yet to the outside world look perfectly healthy. They are silenced by their appearance. They are invalidated by their presentation. Their attempts to speak and to share their struggles are often met on deaf ears  – because the eyes can create false illusions and conclusions. Deception. Their appearance makes them unable to be heard.

You cannot always determine whether someone is struggling with mental or physical illness by looking at them. You must listen.

My husband reminds me often that I have a new normal. That it’s up to me to give myself permission to rest. To recognize my physical needs and limitations, and act accordingly. He encourages me to keep speaking. And maybe that’s why I started writing this blog, one that he doesn’t even know exists. 🙂

As a mother, that has run her own business for over 30 years, worked in excess of 60 hours a week most of her life, was the organizer of every fundraiser, Gala, walk, March, backstage manager, soccer mom, homeroom mom, PTA, and tireless advocate for others, maybe I am on this journey for other reasons…

Maybe I am on this journey…to learn to be an advocate for myself.

Maybe I am on this journey … to keep speaking, so that others may listen. So that others may be heard.

Maybe I am on this journey… to give my daughters permission to not be their perfect selves.

Maybe I am on this journey… to teach others that you can be a survivor and still struggle.

Maybe I am on this journey… to learn that my imperfection will give strength to others.

Maybe I am on this journey… to learn to shed tears for myself, as I’m shedding tears for others.

Maybe I am on this journey… to learn to raise my voice for myself while I am raising my voice for others.

Maybe I am on this journey… to learn to put my own oxygen mask on, before I put it on others.

Maybe I am on this journey… to learn that I can only be strong for others if I’m strong for myself.

Maybe I am on this journey… to learn that if I don’t care and nurture myself, I won’t be able to care and nurture others.

Maybe I am on this journey… to learn to speak my truth in the hopes that it will free me and compel others to do the same.

….But I truly believe that I’m on this journey to learn to listen. TO TRULY HEAR.

Through our family struggles I would like to think that I have become pretty good at validation, compassion, advocating, supporting, and responding.  But today it dawned on me that maybe we have our own struggles and journeys to really teach us to listen …whether it’s to ourselves or others.

Maybe it is listening that teaches us to have true understanding, compassion, love, and gratitude.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

So today, on the anniversary of my second open heart surgery, I am grateful to be here so that I can learn to listen in a way that truly helps me understand the journey… whether it is learning to hear my own voice or soul, those of my family, or the voices of others.

I am here. I am listening.

Grateful for both.

Thank you for the honor of listening to me as I walk my journey through this blog.

Much love.

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