Change. You either love it or hate it. For me, I can’t seem to live without it and I am not content unless I experience it on a regular basis. It pushes me to stretch and grow, whether I am ready or not. Most changes in my life have been planned or intentional, but certainly not all of them. Planned or not, many unexpected gifts are usually the result of change for me. As I get older, I realize that it was I who decided whether the results would be gifts or disasters. It’s a choice. I choose to make them gifts, not disasters. I choose to embrace change instead of running away from it.
I didn’t really experience much change as a child. I lived in the same house from the age of nine months to nineteen years of age. My parents stayed together and my dad had the same job as the co-owner of a family shoe business my entire childhood and adult life until the day my dad died. We had the same (Dimacchia) Christmas Eve family celebration every year. We went to the same church on the banks of Lake Erie, St. Anthony’s, and sat in the same pew my entire childhood. With the exception of a few, we had the same neighbors for nineteen years. I even had the same classmates, give or take a couple, from kindergarten through sixth grade. I don’t think this is the norm any more. I knew what it felt like to have consistency in my life as I was growing up. Is that why change was not a threat to me as a young adult? I now wonder if this is why my own two grown children never liked change. They had more than their share of change as children. None of it by choice.
Major changes in my life began happening in high school and they were all the result of death. My dad always said death was a part of life. My mom hated that he said that, but I am grateful to him for leaving me with that attitude. It’s true. Whether we like it or not, and whether we are ready for it or not, death happens. With death, comes change. That is inevitable. Ninth grade was a year of learning about death for me. One of my close friends, Michael, died at the age of fourteen, from Leukemia. Shortly after that, my favorite uncle, Joe, (he was a favorite because he was young and funny, really funny) died from cancer within a few years after returning from the Vietnam War. My Grandma Januzzi died a month before my Uncle Joe after suffering through a brain tumor for years. I was her first granddaughter and we had a special relationship, although it was limited due to her illness. At the age of fourteen, I missed all three of these people deeply, and life changed without them around, but my life also went on. These were all somewhat expected changes, even though you can never totally prepare for losing a loved one in your life. Oddly enough, I felt that they remained in my life, or at least in my heart.
At the beginning of my sophomore year in college, my long-time boyfriend, Terry, from high school died unexpectedly in a car accident. Obviously, this was not planned. I had to face changes that I was not prepared for and they came without notice, sometimes on a daily basis. I had to wrestle with neverending questions and thoughts inside my nineteen year old head. “Would we really have gotten married eventually? Was his death really accidental? Was it okay to go out with another guy? What do I do with all of the photos, his clothes that I had borrowed, his camera that his family graciously gave to me? Should I graduate from college in two years or four years now? (Two years was the original plan because he was two years ahead of me and we would then graduate at the same time)
Needless to say, I worked through these unexpected changes, but I never really knew if I made the best decisions. I was only nineteen. What I learned was that you need to go on with your life. It helped me to think about Terry as guiding me along the way. It was as if he didn’t really leave me, he just couldn’t talk to me directly. As other people I loved dearly died throughout my life, that was my way of handling it. I just kept them in my heart. And I still do.
As for other changes in my life, I had quite a bit of say in most of them. I was very intentional about having both of my children, and eventually, very intentional about divorcing their father after 17 years of being married. A divorce is a change that you cannot be totally prepared for either. You must go through the entire grieving process. So many losses to process and yet such a relief. It was a strange mixed emotional place to be. The changes were daily, but they were high and low for me. I vividly remember happily packing boxes of things to send with my former husband so he would move quicker and it felt like a huge relief that he would be gone from our home. At the same time, my heart ached for our children that they would not have their parents in the same house ever again. I had no idea what that would feel like for them. Of course, I was scared too. He was the bread winner and his work was the reason we lived in North Carolina, far from my family. I had just started running my children’s museum, so my job was extremely time consuming and emotionally demanding. With the help and support of friends and family, I ended up becoming stronger than ever. I learned how important it was to ask friends for help. That was a huge change for me! I put our big house on the market by myself, I figured out transportation for school and child care schedules and I moved to a new house and worked hard to make it the best home ever for the kids and I. I was changing, but personally, it felt like changes for the better. I could breathe again and I could laugh with my children authentically from the heart, with nobody watching and judging and criticizing me for it. I chose, intentionally, to make every effort to make sure my children were raised with positivity–at least while they were in my presence. Keeping true to that throughout the changes that happen in a divorce was definitely a push and time of growth for me. It was another time in my life when I did not really know if my decisions were the best ones, but I was giving my all to figuring them out.
Over the years, I also changed jobs quite a bit. While in my twenties and thirties, these changes were mainly from necessity because we moved from Cincinnati, OH to Charlottesville,VA to Baltimore, MD to Durham, NC all within ten years. I loved all of my jobs, my homes, my neighbors, my co-workers, and my friends in every city we lived in. I learned that the old saying “people come in and out of your life for a reason” was true. I became a better, stronger woman because of every single person in my life and all of those changes made that possible. I became a stronger teacher with every single student and the diverse school experiences I had. I learned that distance did not mean that you had to disconnect from people. I embraced these changes and my life became fuller and better with each one.
My most recent changes in my life are still developing. I am still adjusting to the change of my husband being retired while I continue to work. My grown children are becoming people that I lean on for advice, laughter and a listening ear, coming in and out of my life as they need to, but not necessarily on my time schedule. Lastly, I started a new job last week, which was not an expected intentional change, but a welcome one. One week in, and I can tell I will be growing and getting stronger again. Who would have thought that at the age of 57 I would be getting stronger?
I know deep in my heart that I may not always have choices about changes in my life as I get older, so I am going to make the most of changes in my life now. I still doubt my decisions from time to time, but I also know that I make the decision about changes becoming an unexpected gift or a disaster. It’s a choice. I choose to make changes a gift, a chance to stretch myself, and I hope that along the way I inspire others to do the same.