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This is a transcript from episode #30 of the Let the Verse Flow Podcast.

I tried to tuck the corners in so nice and neat, I thought I had the perfect fold, but when I turned my back the corners bunched and crinkled. I’d clean up all the rooms, start with one, and cycle through, but when I’d return to the first room done, it was untidy again, like deja vu. I tried to set things right with this person or that one, but somewhere over time it would begin to unravel and we’d start over or leave each other behind. Why did this happen? I did not know why for many years, until I glanced the answer in a mirror. Reflections of strife I’d left behind. It was because I was living in the illusion that I controlled the way of life, that I could order things around and make them so. It was because there was so much I didn’t see, couldn’t see, and when I did, I shut my eyes and didn’t want to boldly go where I had seldom been. I didn’t look for the untidy corners, the rumbled rooms, the hurtful things that happen between friends. I lived in a bubble, the kind a child would make, but one day the ground was bound to shake. And it did. It shook and shook and woke me up. Where did I land? In the world of adulting, a strange and venomous land. Where the rules seem to change from one day to the next, where order is null and void, where yes means no and no means yes sometimes, where you walk alone, it’s cold at times and seldom know where your safety lies or where the hell you’re bound to go.

I’m 59 years old, and in the last few years, the dress rehearsal for adulthood came to a stretching halt and I became a full-fledged adult with a capital A. All day long I do what adults do, I call it super adulting. No more illusions of control, no more comfy support system, I am making decisions, working till I’m exhausted sometimes, and living in an uncertain place where anything can happen. What resources am I going to find and use during this phase of my life? That’s what I want to talk about today.

I walked around living under the illusion that I controlled my life. If I followed the rules and played the game of life (of course I thought I knew the rulebook) I would get what I wanted or at least some semblance of it. If I took action to get something I had always wanted, there was a good chance that I would get it. I would move the needle. My belief in this way of the world was in play from around my late teens to somewhere in my forties, until I realized, really realized how little control I had over things that happened to me, things that made up my life.

Photo of a wooden table with letter blocks that spell out "new rules/"
The rulebook changed in my 50s

Awakening from a Comfortable Life

My early years had quite a bit of chaos and even trauma, but from 13 years onward things settled down and I lived in a rather comfortable, controlled environment. I was very fortunate in a lot of ways. But in exchange for that comfort, I felt like I had to play by some rules that I thought were woven into this calmer state. If I did my part – went to school, did my homework, and later got a job and cultivated friendships, I could have a happy life. I could move from one stage to another in a calm, orderly fashion. What I didn’t realize was how sheltered I was from the realities of chaos. There would be instances in my forties and early fifties that set shutters through those ideas, tremors that told me I had things all wrong, but it wasn’t until my mom’s first stroke that I realized I had been living in an illusion, and that reality was coming for me big time, and so was adulting. 

Don’t get me wrong though, I’ve been adulting in some form or another from a young age. I run a very tight ship and from the outside, it may look as though I’ve got this adult thing down. But there’s a whole other side of adulting that happens when you lose someone you love as much as I love my mother. In some ways, my life before my mom’s illness was a dress rehearsal, a well-run, tidy one at that, and not the “real” world I’m in now. The old world was real too – one type of reality, but it was comfortable because I had the ongoing support and love of my mother. I’m having a bad day – I’ll call my mother. I’m bored and want to take a walk – I’ll call my mother. I feel sick and need something – I’ll call my mother. When everyone relied on me, I relied on my mother, and since she lived three blocks away, she was never too far. You can see that I was bound to have my world completely altered when she got sick. The writing was on the wall, as it is for all of us. We all lose people we love at some point or other. 

This life without my mother to lean on is much scarier. Everywhere I look things are scarier, but when I search inside for the things that impact the fear and sadness that I feel, what ultimately comes up is that since my mother’s illness, I know full well and without a doubt that I can’t hold onto the illusion that I control my life’s destiny. Cracks in the veneer of that belief were slowly coming on for years, but my mom’s health crisis shook that belief to its very foundations. What was left after that rude awakening? What do we do when the reality of adulthood and the lack of control over life events, smack you right in the face?

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Jill, how can this be? How could you have thought you controlled your life and that everything would continue on a relatively even keel? How did you not know how chaotic things could get, especially after the chaotic early years of your childhood? You knew chaos as a young child. How did you convince yourself that you were in control?” All valid questions, and I’ll explain because once I moved past some of the trauma of my early childhood, I felt really strong. I felt that I had made it, and I had, but (and this is a big but) I had also made it through with my mother. She was there with me every step of the way. She was at every major event of my life, and all the moments in between them. So, while I thought I was grown, and I was on some level, I was also heavily supported by my mother’s guidance and her presence in my life daily. I wasn’t the only one flying the plane of Jill’s life, and my mom’s support was vast. That’s why when she got ill, it sort of pulled back the curtains and let me see what true adulting was all about. Let me tell you, I didn’t like it. 

Photo of the author, Jill Hodge, standing behind her seated mother.
My sweet mom and I a few months before her first stroke.

A Mama's Girl Grows Up

I’ll take you back a bit to that time so you can understand. Life travels in clumps of 10-year intervals it seems to me after the longer years of childhood. When you are a child, the years seem to accumulate at a snail’s pace as you wait for your next birthday party. The younger years were long, but once I reached around 35, the years started to speed up. I know the physicists would say they don’t, but I know what I know. They speed up and it appears that you have less time, so instead of years, you start to count your life in decades. Do you do that, or am I the only one? 

Anyway, after I had my daughter in my late 30s, my mom continued to play a pivotal role in my life. As a working mother who was also a caregiver to my partner, I needed help raising my daughter, and my mother swooped in big time. She is an incredible grandmother to my daughter. If my daughter had a cold and couldn’t go to school, I’d call my mom (who only lived 3 blocks away) and she’d come and stay home with her while I went to work. If there was no afterschool on a given day, she’d pick up my daughter after school and bring her home until I got home after work. If I was sick, she’d come and help out at the house. 

She was also very involved emotionally. We’d go shopping together, meet for lunch, and talk on the phone for hours at a time. We never grew tired of each other, and for every major holiday, including our fabulously tradition-rich Christmases, my mom was an integral part of all of those experiences. So physically, emotionally, spiritually, in so many ways, I wasn’t living alone. I had this beautiful trinity of my mom, my partner, and my daughter. And while I had the illusion that I was steering the ship of life, I wasn’t. My mother and my family had shielded me from some of the harsh realities of life. I had known them as a child, but I tucked them away and focused on the order and peace of my adult life, until my mom got sick. 

Blurred photo of an emergency room sign (red letters on a blue background)
New Normal: Emergency Room Visits with My Aging Mom

Super Adulting Comes for Me

Within the first year of her first small hemorrhagic stroke, she had five more. We were in and out of the hospital 10 times in the first year and a half. A NYC emergency room is the opposite of an orderly, peaceful place. It’s chaos, and when you have been standing next to a bed for hours because you are afraid to leave your mother in that emergency room by herself, it is exhausting chaos. You’re surrounded by sick people, mentally ill people, overworked people, smells and sights that turn your stomach, and at the same time, you are so afraid. My fear was solid and chunky, I could feel it in my throat, around my neck, and through my back. It tried to bend me and as I cowered in fear about my mother’s life, as we rolled down the halls toward another CAT scan, it was like a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from.

Very quickly, I learned that I didn’t control things, I couldn’t make things work like a well-oiled machine. There were no patch-ins and fixings for this situation. If I left to go to the bathroom, the doctor or nurse was sure to come to my mom’s bedside (and I’d miss my opportunity to ask questions or tell them what I thought they needed to know about her medical history). If I sat outside the CAT scan room and waited for my mom's test to conclude, I couldn’t even sit alone. A stranger, perhaps a wandering patient, would invariably sit beside me and try to make a new friend. If I left to get a bite to eat, the guards would try to lock me out of the ER until I had to beg and fight my way back in to stay by my mom’s side.

Even basic things like helping my mom get to the bathroom were difficult. We’d have to do this dance, navigate a sea of people all in trauma,  and we couldn’t dance or glide or rush our way there because my mom could barely walk.

Faith Develops

There were so few things I could control, and over time I would give up the illusion of control. I did put something in its place, and it’s hinted at in this poem. This poem is about the faith that we develop when we can’t see the full course of the road ahead when we don’t know what’s coming for us and we no longer have the comfort of an illusion that we are in control. This poem is called Life Asks for Faith.

Life Asks for Faith

By Jill Hodge

The road is winding
only corners are seen.
Like a twig swirling round rocks
floating down a cold stream.
Like petals encircling the sweetest of nectar.
Like a coiled snake cast round an emerald-topped scepter,
for a newly crowned king, perching up a noble hand.
The road is winding
only corners are seen.
Like the chimes of a clock interrupting your dreams.
Spread ahead, a patchwork of black and white tiles,
it goes on and on, the road for miles.
The road is winding
only corners are seen.
So, you can’t jump ahead.
Your next moment’s not been met,
and life asks for faith, and faith it shall get.

After a year and a half of these emergencies in hospitals and rehab facilities, I learned some things that have kept me slightly sane ever since. The first is hinted at in this poem. It is faith. For me, faith isn’t about prayer or structured religion, although I did pray a lot for my mother as a way of comfort. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I am a spiritual one and I do have a type of faith that I’ve rested on. I don’t believe that God intervenes to help us. There is too much suffering in the world for me to believe that God makes decisions for us on a person-by-person basis. I can’t believe that a benevolent being would stand by and watch the suffering of say children if it could intervene.

Photo of a sun setting from the vantage point of a Vietnamese temple
Leaning into faith during uncertain times...

I do have faith though, I believe in leaning into the source, whatever that may be, of our creation and collective good. When times are hard, I lean into the faith I have that my loving partner will hold me after a long hard day, that my daughter will send me a funny meme to cheer me up, that my best friend will send a daily check-in text to make sure I’m still hanging in there. These guideposts that faith is still alive in my life keep me believing that I will make it through hard times.

Mindfulness Meditation & Spiritual Practice

I also lean into my mindfulness meditation and other spiritual practices. I may visit a church to journal and connect with something greater than myself. I may go for a long, meditative walk in nature. I may rest into a body scan meditation to rest my body and treat it kindly. The Buddhist teachings surrounding meditation, which I am exploring these days, help me make small inroads into understanding what it means to sit with thoughts and feelings without attaching to them. This is one of the most important skills I’ve learned lately.

  • How to observe thoughts and feelings and recognize their transitory nature.
  • How to let them be without attaching or piling on other thoughts or emotions that don’t need to be added.

When you are managing medical appointments, finances, and heavy emotional burdens for a loved one, a myriad of thoughts and feelings will automatically flood your mind. You don’t need the added burden of attaching to those thoughts and feelings, so meditation has helped me create a distance between disturbing states of mind and my inner wellbeing. I have begun to create a more peaceful space deep in my body that I can call on when chaos comes.

So, having some faith that I have made it this far and will continue to put one foot in front of the other to get new things done, faith that while I don’t understand how the world works on a cosmic level, I do believe in our collective goodness as it manifests in my small community of family and friends, and finding solace through meditation, these have all helped me deal with the reality of reality, and the super adulting I’m doing these days.

Photo of a woman's hands placed on her heart and stomach in a meditation pose.
Lovingkindness and gratitude are supremely important for me to cultivate as I get older.

Agency & Action: Navigating Long-Term Care

Just as important here is agency and action. I guess you could say it’s about time that I faced my life as a full-fledged adult with knowledge and agency about my future. I’ve always been someone who takes action. I believe if you want something, you have to ask for it. That includes wanting your world to be manageable. While I don’t believe that my actions will mean I control the situation, I do think I impact it. For example, when I was looking for a nursing home or assisted living facility for my mom to live in, I didn’t know what I was doing. I talked to so many people – friends, social workers, rehab therapists, then I toured nursing homes across NYC. I remember thinking, if I go into this nursing home and the sad, dreary conditions in there don’t make me cry, then that will be the place for my mom. It never happened. I kept taking action. 

I finally talked to an Alzheimer’s specialist who educated me; she said my mom needed an Assisted Living facility that used a medical model, not a nursing home. She referred me to a broker who helped me find assisted living facilities. So I began to tour those. They were beautiful but outrageously expensive, and the medical model ones were especially expensive because you could age in place, meaning my mom could stay there until the end of her life and get medical care that’s coordinated between the facility and a hospital if needed.

After I found a place, the next obstacle was figuring out how to pay for it. The stress of my mom’s expenses is a daily burden, but I think I’m lucky to have that burden while she gets good care, to even be in the position to afford this care is a comfort. Along each step, and it took months, I learned new things and took new actions until I patched together a system of care that works very well for my mom. I can sleep at night knowing she is well taken care of. Not only do I take action, but I have gratitude. I know that we are abundantly cared for and we have resources that have helped us get to this place. Part of the reason why I do this podcast and write on these topics is to give people who don’t have the information and resources that I do a chance to build them, learn about them, and see them as possible. 

Graphic of a group of white stick figures running behind one red stick figure; arranged in the shape of an arrow
Keep moving in the direction of your dreams.

The trick with taking action is to make small moves in the direction you want to go, and slowly build actions on top of each other. And don’t be afraid to pivot when you need to. While you are doing all this, don’t judge any mistakes you make along the way. Self-judgment is a waste of time you don’t have and it won’t serve you. You also don’t deserve to hurt yourself in that way, especially when you are hurting. Take action without judgment and don’t second guess your decisions. You are making the best decision you can make at this moment, and that’s good enough. You don’t control the consequences of your decisions, so let go of the perceived control you have about how your decisions and actions influence the world. It’s a burden you don’t need to carry.

The first step forward might not work. Just like the first nursing homes I saw didn’t work. But from that first step, you learn something, and you move to another place. You keep taking in the new information and adjusting course until you find a solution. That’s when you look around and say to yourself, “I helped make that happen. I do have some agency in my life even if I don’t control everything.” Too many people don’t take the first step, they talk about it but they don’t do it. Or if they take the first step, they get discouraged when it doesn’t work out the way they want.

It may take 10 steps to make some headway. I saw some 10 facilities before I found the right one for my mom. If I had stopped at three, I wouldn’t have met the doctor who helped me understand her needs better. While living with me, my mom felt isolated during the day when I was at work. In the new assisted living apartment she had a solid year of socializing, bingo-playing, movies, and good food before her condition worsened. It was a good year for her given the circumstances, and I helped make that happen. You can make things happen too.

Ultimately, when life gets turned upside down and super adulting comes for you, I hope to inspire you to see that you still have options. Even if they are limited and you are exhausted, scared or angry. You have found this trinity of support: faith, spiritual practice, and taking small actions. I hope one or all of them are present in your life when you need them. I sometimes wish I had a more grand answer for dealing with the out-of-control world that can be thrust upon us, but then again I think these basic pillars of support are beautiful in their simplicity and that’s why they are the perfect antidote to chaos and fear. 

Journal Prompts to Explore Faith, Spiritual Practices & Taking Action

Here are some journal prompts to explore your faith, spiritual practices, and motivation to take action when life feels hard.

What does faith look like to you? When times are hard, how do you draw on that faith to comfort yourself?
What spiritual or mindfulness practices might you explore now to help you handle times of struggle that may lay ahead? Can you explore them now so you have a process in place when you need it?
Think about one problem and write 2 small actions that you could take as the next steps to work to untangle that problem. After you write, take one of these actions and reflect on how it went.

One of the advantages of getting older is that we can figure things out. We are grown, and even when we feel small or scared, we are more powerful than we know. Take small actions, build momentum over time, and find a spiritual or faithful practice that grounds your life when the unsteadiness of earthquakes and tremors starts to jostle you. As always, I hope you find your way back to the bright side of the beat.🌞

Podcast Music: My thanks to all the musicians who make incredible music and have the courage to put it out into the world. All music for my podcast is sourced and licensed for use via Soundstripe.

Songs in this podcast episode: Mellow Bloom by Lunareh; Slide by GEMM; Palm Springs by Nu Alkemi$; Pyaar Kee Seemaen by Cast of Characters  

Related Episodes:

Creativity Connects Us to Hope (episode 25)

Mindful Living Through Meditation (episode 26) 

Sitting with Shitty Feelings (episode 4)

Positive Shift: Meditation for Your Glow Up (episode 3) 

LTVF Season Two Music Playlist: Check out the songs that inspire me, and connect with artists from many genres who add to our collective, human soundtrack.

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Journaling Resources

30-Day Journal Challenge (Writing Prompts to Get Started)
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Journaling 101: An Inspirational Guide to Start (or Revive) a Practice
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