a -ifetime-journey

Adjusting to Physical Loss – a lifetime journey.

I am always perplexed when I read or view stories of unbelievable courage in the face of physical loss. What is almost always missing is a longitudinal view of the process of adjusting,  not only to the initial loss but the lifelong ongoing process of adjustment (or lack thereof), that successful living requires if one is to maximize their capacity in this life.

My life is just one example of that ongoing challenge. My first major knee surgery took place at age 20 in the Marine Corps and was hospitalized for 5 months. Currently I am scheduled for my 14th surgery on that leg. As I have aged (currently 70) I have experienced other challenges to my physical capacity. I was diagnosed with asthma 28 years ago. Double cataract surgeries were 6 years ago. Three hernia surgeries took place over the last decade. I was diagnosed and treated for cancer twice (prostate and skin).  These all forcibly got my attention to one extent or another. Rheumatoid arthritis has come to visit me slowly over the last few years and demands my attention especially each morning.

Yet today I still handcycle (not much touring or racing anymore) and I am the head gardener for Dick’s Organics where we grow veggies and fruit for homeless and needy persons. The orchard is over 400 fruit trees. We grow organic plants for ourselves and others. We maintain a home for rescue animals for their manure and their wool. We rescue bee swarms and retrieve them from buildings where they are not welcome (and yes an occasional sting does help my arthritis).

Given the lifelong process of adapting to physical loss it requires that  I am aware of myself. I must know myself and know my limits even as they may change. I must take good care of myself. This sounds so easy when in fact it is one of the most serious and difficult ongoing responsibilities in this life. Success requires positive management and good solid self care. I have maintained a plan over the decades of a plan that is balanced taking into consideration mental, emotional, physical and spiritual strategies. Each of those 4 categories have 15 coping strategies within them with no duplicates across the categories. The strategies may indeed require changing over time due to added losses and/or changing physical capacities that occur or accumulate. Reviewing this plan every few months is critical for success to be realized. The outcomes we are seeking are balance and the capacity to adjust on the fly as we experience life. We don’t ignore or pretend our losses don’t exist. We come to terms with them and embrace them and we are even thankful each extra day we have been granted.

Hopefully we can be a beacon to some who are in the midst of the storm. The longer one lives the more the losses accumulate and they don’t have to control my response to them. I work hard to proactively take them on daily. Peace

Rick Ritter MSW, Advanced Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, AXA World Ride participant Stages 10 and 14, Handcycling Gold Medal World Wheelchair Games 96


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