Hubris

Sometimes in Winter

Kathryn E. Livingston, Weekly Hubris banner

Without spilling the personal details of a dear friend’s recent health crisis, I’ll just say that serving as health care proxy is not a walk in the park. For several months, my mind has been consumed with decisions I’d rather not have to make, my thoughts centered around hospitals, rehab facilities, health aides, bills, medical supplies, medications, forms, diets, physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, lawyers, physicians, and nurses. Oh, and lest I forget . . . death.”—Kathryn E. Livingston

Words & Wonder

By Kathryn E. Livingston

Cape May winter sky.
Cape May winter sky.

Kathryn E. Livingston, Weekly Hubris

CAPE MAY New Jersey—(Hubris)—January 2024—Without spilling the personal details of a dear friend’s recent health crisis, I’ll just say that serving as health care proxy is not a walk in the park. For several months, my mind has been consumed with decisions I’d rather not have to make, my thoughts centered around hospitals, rehab facilities, health aides, bills, medical supplies, medications, forms, diets, physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, lawyers, physicians, and nurses. Oh, and lest I forget . . . death.

Fortunately, my friend (I’ll just call her Olivia here) is still with me, but her unexpected health dilemma totally changed the focus of my life (not to mention hers). In the midst of it—juggling appointments, calls, supplies, etc.—my husband became concerned. He was impressed that I’d managed to resolve a series of medical conundrums with dogged persistence, but worried that in so doing I was unable to sleep and seemed able to discuss one topic only: Olivia.

The author’s husband at the off-season beach.
The author’s husband at the off-season beach.

We all know how swiftly life can change, and we know, too, that little can be done about it in many situations. But in this case, once I had set the various wheels in motion, my mate suggested that my 24/7 focus was over the top. After nearly two months, he insisted I take a break, that I quite literally remove myself from the scene for a day. He made a call, took me by the arm, and led me to our vehicle. Destination: Cape May, a quaint town on the Jersey Shore less than three hours from our home. Filled with historic bed and breakfasts and colorful “painted lady” homes, it’s a popular summer destination for scores of vacationers. It’s a favorite place we visit primarily off season when rates are slashed, traffic is nil, the beaches are abandoned, and many restaurants are closed. Did I mention that it’s cold? 

I never care, for within a few hours of sky and surf, my thoughts always wander to breezy, inconsequential topics. Should I reserve a table for two at the upscale Peter Shields Inn? Was that the song of the Cape May warbler? Could I walk for two miles in my leather boots or did I need to change to sneakers? Was it too windy to sit in beach chairs watching the ocean (yes, but so what?). We talked of our grown children, imagined future vacation plans, debated whether to splurge on a bottle of Bordeaux, or stop for a peanut butter hot cocoa at the Cape May Peanut Butter Company. After honing in on medical issues for weeks, my gaze shifted to sunset, sand, seagulls, and festive seasonal lights on the historic houses. I felt a sense of peace. And gratitude. Not only for my ailing friend of nearly 40 years, but for my husband, who had the sense to get me away from her travails for a spell.

The author at the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge.
The author at the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge.

Though I kept in touch with the medical team in the two days we were away (we opted for a second night since my condition was vastly improving), I realized how important it had been for me to re-set. With some distance, I recognized my inability to control every detail, and I admitted (to myself) that I didn’t have the power to solve every crisis. But being away also strengthened my resolve: I knew what Olivia would want and I stood my ground.

The experience revealed that occasionally the best solution isn’t to “lean” or dig in but to step away. That very withdrawing may lead to a state of clarity that couldn’t have been achieved without the sun, waves, cold air, a different visual focus, unusual sounds, some solitude, nature, rest, and/or fancy food. It helps to have someone (friend, spouse, colleague, sibling?) who recognizes the futility of obsessive managing (if we can’t see it ourselves) who will take our hand and instruct, “Go!” 

This isn’t always possible, of course. But as a caregiver for someone who is seriously ill it may be wise to heed the familiar reminder that it’s not selfish to allow yourself some space, emptiness of thought, and a surrendering to the healing power of time. And, if this can be achieved in Cape May, New Jersey, all the better. Sometimes, even, in winter. 

It turned out that time and a change of scenery (in her own home) was exactly what Olivia—now out of the hospital and improving daily—needed as well. Together, we defied some rather grim predictions. Of course, as friends of 40 years, we’ve seen each other through some rough patches. This sure wasn’t our first rodeo; I do hope it’s not our last. 

Seagulls on a contemplative, chilly evening.
Seagull on a contemplative, chilly evening.

Kathryn E. Livingston was born in Schenectady, New York and lived there in a stick-style Victorian house until she left for Kirkland College (the short-lived women’s coordinate college of Hamilton College in small-town Clinton, New York). In l975, with her BA in English/Creative Writing, she moved to New Paltz to become first a waitress at an Italian restaurant, and then a community newspaper reporter. A few years later, she married a classical clarinetist she had met in high school and moved to Manhattan (Washington Heights), beginning a job as a trade magazine editor the day after their wedding. A few years later, after picking up an MA in English/Education at Hunter College, she became an editor at the visually stunning American Photographer. Motherhood (three sons) eventually brought her to suburban New Jersey, close enough for her husband to moped home for dinner between rehearsal and performance at the New York City Opera. Between baby diaper changes and boys’ homework assignments, Livingston toiled as a freelance writer on the topic of motherhood for numerous mainstream magazines. She also co-authored several parenting books, several photography books, and eventually wrote a memoir of her anxiety-ridden but charmed life and her path to Yoga: Yin, Yang, Yogini: A Woman’s Quest for Balance, Strength and Inner Peace (Open Road Media, 2014). With the kids now grown, and the husband still playing notes, Kathryn enjoys fiddling with words, writing her blog, puttering in her garden, and teaching the occasional Yoga class. (Author Photo: John Isaac/Author Head Shot Augment: René Laanen.)

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