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Death and Knee Surgery

Today marks 365 days since I had knee replacement surgery!

And as I sat down to write something about it, I realized I had learned a few lessons.

Not big lessons.

Not life-changing lessons.

But a few lessons that changed my thinking in 2023.

One of them was that I went in understanding, on a soul level, that I may not come out of my surgery alive.

I know, dramatic, right? But is it?

But that one thought changed about 30% of my life in 2023. (Sorry, this story isn't about a complete "life transformation after facing death" story.)

Between my thoughts of "tomorrow is not a guarantee" and "I am going to run again, dammit," that surgery made me live differently in 2023.

So I thought I'd share them. Will they be important to you? Don't know. I hope one of them touches you.

But as they say in 12-step programs, "Take what you like and leave the rest."

Lesson #1 Plan for Death

I know. Nobody wants to even talk about death, let alone plan for it.

But here is what happened when I realized there was a chance (very tiny indeed) that I would not come out of surgery. I realized that my fear of death was more about a superstitious belief than it was about death. I thought that talking about death would call it into my life.

And here is the wild thing: Art and I only talked about death two times when he had cancer, once three days after his first diagnosis when the cancer was enveloping his lungs and once after the second diagnosis three weeks before he died. If the superstition had been true, he should be ALIVE based on how little we talked about it! (And so would a lot of other people!)

I realized the fear of talking about death was more intense than actually talking about death.

And in January, just 30 days after my surgery, I made the decision to focus the business on death and not cancer and death. It just felt right.

Now, don't let me fool you. I'm about 65% comfortable talking about my death, but I talk about it with 30 - 40% greater ease than I had pre-knee surgery.

The fear of the idea of having a conversation about death, mine and others, no longer holds me hostage. That feels good.

Lesson #2: Get and Accept Help

I've written about this before.

But I know I'll write about it again since it's a running theme in my life and many others. I suspect.

Accepting help is hard.

And it's one of the best things you can do for yourself and those around you.

I'm still practicing.

I honestly thought that I wouldn't need that much help after having my old knee removed and having a new one cemented and hammered into me!

My mother, worried about my denial, offered to pay for a private nurse.

My oldest son is a nurse. I signed his FMLA papers so he could come to take care of me begrudgingly. I paid extra so he could change his ticket to fly back earlier if I needed less help than he thought.

I was so sure I wouldn't need that much support.

My oldest son came, my youngest son came too, and all three of them (my daughter included) took care of me. I needed it.

I could not have done it without them.

In 2023, I accepted, below skin level, that I was help-able.

I accepted my vulnerability. My favorite phrase this year was, "I don't know how to do it. Can you help me?""

The other thing about not wanting help was causing stress for my kids, mom, friends, and extended family.

And that is the point of this lesson. My NOT accepting help caused my family stress.

Your people love you.

Your people want you to be OK.

Your people want to help you. It makes them feel good.

Let them help. If for no other reason, it will reduce their blood pressure.

So yeah, I basically helped my kids live longer lives by allowing them to help me.

They are welcome!

Lesson #3: Have a Plan

Five days with the pain pump. 30 days of in-home physical therapy. Knee exercises three times a day. Post-op doctor visit. Then, driving again. Then, physical therapy outside the home.

That was all I cared about for 30 days.

I used to struggle with planning - I still do a bit. I connected not following a plan with failure and ineptitude. If I couldn't follow a plan, exactly, I was inept. PERIOD. Sounds harsh, right? Being kind to myself does not come naturally.

Not following plans reminded me of my own frequent failures.

Having knee replacement surgery changed the message for me.

I had a goal (to run again) and a plan to, hopefully, get there. But being able to run wasn't the point of the plan; it was a benefit of it, and that changed the way I thought about planning.

I now follow plans.

And while the long-term goal is essential, the plan is more important. And if I missed part of a plan, there is a forgiveness that I had not known before.

"Start again" became my joyful mantra this year.

Now, 365 days later, I'm still planning.

Lesson #4: There is Grief in Recovery

Being a widow, I know this lesson, but it merged with me this year.

Letting go is, umm, hard? No, that's not the word. Letting go is ... done in pieces.

I was grieving how badly I treated my knees; that got me to a place where I needed surgery 15 years sooner than most.

I was grieving the loss of part of my body. I was grieving that I might not run again.

After surgery, I was grieving my vulnerability. The change of guard, even if momentarily, where my kids take care of me.

I was grieving Art and wondering if the fear and helplessness were how he felt while the chemo surged through his body, regretting that I never thought to ask.

I grieved the slow recovery. The pain. The frustration with a body that could not do what my mind wanted it to do.

I grieved for not recognizing the small strides I made before I had surgery.

I'm still not fully healed. I can not fully squat and have some numbness.

I did run for three months, but I had to give it up because of pain in other parts of my body. I grieve that I will probably not run again.

But what I find most surprising of all is there is peace behind the grief and in the recovery. I get to do and be different. I grieve the old, but I am excited for the new.

Lesson #5: I Need to Take Life Less Seriously

This is my more recent lesson.

I have had an Oura ring for over three years now.

Recently, they released a new function that shows your stress level.

I bet you know where this story is going.

I meditate twice a day. I write and workout daily. I meet with a group daily where I share about my day and own up to where I can do better. I sleep OK.

If you asked me, I would have told you, I am not stressed most of the time.

I was lying.

My daily stress level was OFF THE CHARTS.

It was so high that after two weeks of tracking it, I contacted the company to see if something was wrong with my ring. It couldn't possibly be me!!

It was me, and I had to change my lifestyle.

But it wasn't a big change like I anticipated.

Just knowing I was stressed made me "see" my stress. I now, almost suddenly, catch myself feeling stress in my body. And I am learning to release it.

Could the knee surgery have saved my life?

It definitely changed it.

I think the lesson here is that I am paying attention where I wasn't before. I feel grateful to have seen the stress now before I ended up with a heart attack!

So those are the five lessons. There are about seven more, but I need to get this post up, and besides, I think it's enough of me pontificating about 2023!

What lessons did you learn this year that have surprised or awed you? Please do comment! I love reading your thoughts.

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