How To Take Charge of Change

changeBen Franklin once wrote that in this world, nothing can be said to be certain but death and taxes. I beg to differ. First, you probably could hide in a cave for a very long time and not pay taxes. Death is indeed certain but meant for a different blog post.

The “certain thing” I think he left off was change.

Change can be a celebration or a catastrophe. It is almost always a challenge. But I believe the most important thing about change is this: it can happen to you, or it can happen because of you.

The definition of change is “to make or become different; transform.”

On the positive side, change is what keeps us alive and thinking. It gets you out of your rut and helps you see things in a new way. I believe we should always be looking for ways to mix it up. It’s amazing how making small changes to your daily routine can give you a new lease on life. Don’t believe me?  Take the room you’re in most often and paint it a different color. This year I went even farther than that and swapped out the uses of two rooms. I made the living room into the den and the den into a second bedroom. We painted the den a light blue with an accent wall of a deeper blue on which I hung a favorite painting.  To tell you the truth, there was a moment of surprise every morning when I came into my newly blue room. It was a bit of joy every day.

b new bowlThe change can be smaller than that. Do you often have oatmeal or cereal for breakfast? Buy a new bowl that you love. Is there somewhere you go often? Take a new route. Eat at a new restaurant. Find a new television program—these days there are thousands! Make a list of old friends you don’t hear from often and call one every week.

Life can throw some pretty big changes at us that seem almost overwhelming. You have an illness or accident. You lose loved ones or lose a job. These are all things that happen without your permission. They are indeed changes that happen to you. But how life goes on, how that change reverberates through your life, is where you step in and take control. You can change the aftermath of the change.

This year there came a larger change than I was originally expecting. I was offered the chance to move into Assisted Living.

Just the fact that it was a question meant there had been a change, a diminishment in my capabilities. There was a mourning that came with that diminishment.

I loved my apartment in Independent Living. It was large and beautiful, and perhaps you’d heard I recently painted my living room blue! My apartment was close to the dining room, which was handy, and when I walked (or rode my motorized wheelchair) through the halls, there was always a happy chorus of “Hi, Bill!”

And yet…I was getting stuck in my apartment more and more because I didn’t have the energy to go down long halls or to lengthy dinner seatings or prolonged meetings or activities in other buildings. I had three wonderful aides who came in, but often I was eating alone in my apartment and watching tv with the aides. That was it. My world had gotten very small.

Yet, moving, at my age, would be a challenge. First, I’d have to admit my capabilities were diminished.

Second, I’d have to leave everything that was comfortable and well-known. I’d be going into an apartment in a new building where no one knew me. I wouldn’t know my way around. I wouldn’t know how things worked. And my mind isn’t as sharp as it once was. Would I just go from being stuck in one apartment where I felt comfortable to being stuck in apartment where I didn’t know anybody?

However, when I looked at what was offered in assisted living, it seemed the right move for me. It provided 3 meals a day and activities that were  closer and more manageable, time-wise. It has aides on call 24 hours. With my family’s help, I decided it was time to move.

I know people whose families moved them into assisted living, and they decided this move had been done to them. The aging of their bodies was also done to them. These people are miserable to this day. They sit alone in their apartment, angry, running over a list of whose fault their current situation is and who they’ll never forgive. When they come out to eat, they sit in a chair and don’t say a word to anyone. They’re unhappy and proud of it.

I vowed I would not let this happen to me. I would take charge of the aftermath of the change.

The first weeks were indeed tricky. I didn’t know what time to eat and I couldn’t always remember where the dining room was. I wasn’t sure who did what or who to ask for help, or how often I could ask. I didn’t know anyone’s names. There were activities, but I needed help getting to them. Would people even come to ask? Without help, I would indeed be stuck in my apartment.

For the first two weeks I was miserable. At once point, I told my daughter I thought I’d made a terrible mistake.

But then I began to get the lay of the land. The aides who work here became my friends, also. I knew when the meals were and how to get around. I decided that I would take every opportunity that I could, given my pain and energy levels. And the opportunities were wonderful! They held church and hymn sing on Wednesday mornings and choir club on Wednesday nights. Every day has so many opportunities that I have to pick and choose so as not to do too much. I discovered new activities like a short story discussion group and there are wonderful holiday meals and activities. The table of 4 with whom I eat is a group of wonderful women who have become friends.

And yes, now when I go down the halls, there is indeed a chorus of “Hi, Bill!”

So yes, change is always a challenge. I wouldn’t even say, “try to pray about everything,” like it was a task to be accomplished. Instead, keep a running dialogue with God about the changes every day. Remember God is in the midst of change, right along with you.

All our lives, we need to change and grow.

Dad wedding photoThe final change I made was this. My wife Marilynn wanted to be married to a man with a full head of hair. It was important to her that, after I became bald the same way my dad and brothers did, that I wore a hairpiece. After Marilynn died and as I got older, it became more and more of a nuisance. When I moved to assisted living, I decided enough was enough. I was going to make this change on my own.

Now I am balding and it’s great. It’s much easier to get up in the morning and go to bed. I’m a happy camper. If you die before I do and see Marilynn, you can reassure her I’ll wear it again when I arrive at the Pearly Gates.

So, we can decide to instigate change or take charge of change.

But the best thing, I think, the most important thing, is to be the reason good changes happen to others.

And the world will be a much better place.

swedish supper
My son Stephen and me knoshing on the leftovers of the Swedish smorgasbord in my new (not blue) living room