The Work Of Living

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Scattering My Mother's Ashes, October 2012. oakdale, New York

Scattering My Mother’s Ashes, October 2012. Oakdale, New York

Every so often I’m called to get back to work on myself. Old issues, that I thought I was done with, come popping back up. I find myself feeling lost, or that a piece of me is missing. Over the last couple of months that’s how I’ve been feeling. My book, Scattering Ashes, A Memoir of Letting Go, was finished and published in September. The writing and publishing had taken three years. But in reality I had been working on it, since 2001, when my mother came to live with my husband and me. It was a fifteen year odyssey of learning about myself, life lessons, and finding a way to continue moving forward.

Holding the finished book in my hands, doing a reading and book-signing here in Charlottesville, on September 20th, was the joyous finale of those long years of contemplating a particularly difficult time in my life, writing, rewriting, sharing it with others, and rewriting it all over again.

The morning after the reading, I drove to a local radio station at 7:45 AM, where I did a live interview about the book. I went home and crashed. I was exhausted and was ready for some time off. I didn’t want to think or talk about the book or my mother. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was no longer myself. I had become the book that I had spent all those years getting out into the world.

I spent hours examining that idea as if it were a a Zen Koan. “Does the dog wag the tail, or does the tail wag the dog?” It lasted a week or so until I got myself back. I wasn’t the book and I could now go on with the rest of my life. I began looking for a new pathway.

The election happened and then the holidays came along. I was distraught over the results of the election and then Christmas arrived. Not my favorite time of year. Although I was with people and busy day and night, I was depressed and lonely. I snapped at Bill when he said something that I deemed silly, and discovered I was back in an old pattern of not thinking much of myself. While other sister-authors I knew were moving ahead with marketing and promoting of their just published books, I was lagging behind, and feeling ashamed of myself for not having the energy or the desire to move in that direction.

I took time off from writing and started taking care of myself. The book would have to move along on it’s own. I read. I cooked. I slept. I took walks. I cried. I realized that Bill and I were entering what very well could be the last chapter of our lives. My aches and pains were multiplying and watching my sweet husband struggle with healing from two surgeries in one year made me sad.

Deciding to take advantage of whatever time I had left ahead of me, I came to the conclusion that it was time to celebrate us … Two old farts still full of piss and vinegar, who don’t want to waste time on unimportant things. I still have my brain. Although I can’t run a marathon or plan on skiing down an expert mountain slope, there are still things I can do to make my final years fun, important, and interesting while accepting that we will be slowing down and eventually moving on. Finding a way out of the muck of the last few months and making peace with myself seems like a good start.

Last Saturday, I went to an Insight Dialogue Meditation retreat taught by one of my favorite teachers and began finding my way back to myself. For those who don’t know about Insight Dialogue, it is learning to be aware of our own feelings, both physical and emotional, while speaking and listening to another person. One of the first things we learn is to pause, take our time when we speak, and become a better listener while being aware of our own feelings. The theme of the day was Living Peace, and as the outside world spun around me, I found Peace, at least for the moment. In early April I hope to attend a 5 day Insight Dialogue retreat, “Working with Difficult Emotions.”

Hopefully Bill and will also begin making some future travel plans and find ways to make life with our aging bodies more easeful.

Do you find yourself moving backwards at times? What do you do to begin moving yourself forward again?


  1. Joan — Insight Dialogue is new to me, I’m definitely going to learn more. I’m excited for you regarding your plans for a five day dialogue retreat in April!

    • Insight Dialogue is really wonderful. Check out Gregory Kramer on Amazon. He has a book on the subject. He is who my teacher learned it from. I’ve been doing these 1 day retreats once a year for about 5 years and am looking forward to the longer one in April.

  2. What an interesting post, Joan! You know, to answer your question about “moving backwards” (which has made me think), I realize that often when I believe I’m moving backwards, what’s really happening is I’m making a judgment about where and how I think I “should” be moving. And sometimes I’m actually “circling back” to retrieve something I need — it’s often related to self-care and rest (as you discovered). And once I’ve taken care of myself in whatever way I need to, I find myself in motion again. Thanks for this — I always enjoy learning from your journey!

    • Joan Rough says:

      Oh my gosh, Jill, you’ve said it and I understand it better than I did before. Thanks so much!

  3. Insight Dialogue is also new to me, but any program that helps us take responsibility for the reality we create is of value to me. Increased awareness of my emotions, beliefs, reactions, and expectations is a constant for me. Kudos to you, Joan, for climbing back on this train (journey).

  4. My take: You are having growing pains, Joan, a good sign even in our elder years.

    Obviously, you have just gone through a very challenging time and feel depleted. And your energy “tank” hasn’t had time to refill. As you say, “I still have my brain.” All signs point to an eventual rebirth of springtime, even if it’s two months away. Hang on to that!

    • Thanks, Marian. The energy tank is being refilled slowly. It may take a while. But I’m okay with that. Yes spring is coming. It is currently 59 degrees here, but the weather people say we will pay in February! I bought myself flowers today!

  5. Joan, my sweet father was a role model for “growing old gracefully” and when I read your post, it reminded me of him. You look at yourself with honesty and acceptance, knowing when to step back and take care of yourself. Brava! Your retreats sound wonderful. Insight Dialogue is a new term to me but very intriguing. From what you say, it sounds like an effective way of increasing self-awareness and developing positive self-talk. Thanks for another enlightening post. Keep up your great work!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Kathy. I’m honored to be compared with your dad. Growing Old Gracefully is one of my goals. I’ve witnessed too many people fighting it, making life miserable for themselves and everyone around them.

    • Thank you Kathy for your kind words. Growing old gracefully is my goal. I’ve witnessed too many fighting age and health issues and only making themselves miserable.

      For me, You are one of the best examples of doing it gracefully!!

  6. I’m sure others can relate to some of what you wrote here Joan. Last year was a trying time for many of us. I too felt for every step I took forward I was being dragged back in the next instance, but managed to persevere. Health is the scariest setback and I do know as a fellow memoir writer, how writing about painful memories can suck the living lights out of us at times. Everyone needs there own tine to regroup from their angst. I’m glad you’ve found Insight Dialogue. Peace to you. 🙂

  7. All of what you say, Debby, is true and most of my friends tell me that 2016 has been the worst year they’ve ever had. I do believe that the energy of what is happening in the world around us effects us all.