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A Mother's Optimism

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

In 2013, my mom wrote the story of my epilepsy diagnosis from her perspective, aptly titling it “A Mother’s Optimism.” I am excited to share her beautiful and loving words with you.

A Mother's Optimism by Karen Rariden Thorn

Early retirement came as a surprise gift to my somewhat older husband and me. Having worked in challenging careers for 25+ years, saving regularly, and investing wisely, we found our employers downsizing at the same time we became eligible for retirement. We looked at each other and said, “Why not?” Yes, we were still relatively young, but staying with the same company throughout our working years paid off. For him, it meant stepping away from the stress of managing others and returning to his career as a pharmacist. The shortage of pharmacists fit perfectly with his needs—working just enough hours to keep from getting bored (and in my way!). My retirement followed a year later; my company was cutting back and I had just turned 50. According to the magic “Rule of 75,” I would be eligible to retire and maintain my benefits. With Greg at home and 2 daughters finishing high school, I couldn’t sign the paperwork fast enough.

Friends worried about us. Are you crazy; won’t you be bored? What if you run out of money? What will you do with all of your spare time? Did you win the Lottery?

No, we didn’t win the lottery and, unfortunately, the stock market fell precipitously when Greg retired, and then again when I stepped down. We had always joked about our family “Curse,” but this timing couldn’t have been worse. Our financial planners assured us that we would be just fine, though, so we set our monetary worries aside and focused on how to fill up our ample free time. Unless you have experienced navigating a child through their senior year of high school, you have no idea how time consuming it can be. When I retired, our oldest daughter had just sent out her college applications and was taking a full load of honors and AP courses. Obviously, she was independent and motivated, and didn’t require a lot of parental assistance, other than the occasional nagging to complete the applications before the dreaded deadlines. She was Captain of the Golf Team, though, and we finally had time to watch her play. We could even be the Team Parents---holding sleepovers, arranging for snacks and team dinners---you can begin to see the pattern. Add in Homecoming, scholarship applications, Prom, and the needs of our younger daughter who wasn’t driving yet, and retirement became fun! Of course we enjoyed couple time and we had plenty of volunteer activities to keep us out of trouble, too. And nothing eats up time like planning a graduation party. In our small town there is a competition, of sorts, when it comes to graduation parties---much like the weddings you see on reality shows on TV, but, instead of “Bridezilla,” you have “Gradzilla,” and now I had the time to make ours the best! Retirement turned out to be a blessing.

You would think that when daughter #1 left for college I would have been sad, but I was excited for the future that was awaiting her…and I still had daughter #2 at home. Yes, #2 had just gotten her license to drive, but she would still need me; I was sure of that! And she was even more involved in activities that needed parent helpers. She, too, was on the Golf Team, and she was also in Student Council and Show Choir. There’s NOTHING like being a Show Choir mom! I filled up my time with activities that surrounded hers, but something strange happened; daughter #2 wanted more independence. All of those extra activities she was involved in came with extra practice time, meetings, and volunteer hours—for her. The next two years were a blur. She rarely even ate dinner with us; a family tradition that I swore we would always observe.

Finally, senior year was over again. The applications and acceptances for college were complete, dances were over, and the grad party received the best of compliments. As summer came to a close and we dropped both girls off at college, my husband and I contemplated our retirement plans once again. We both dreaded and cherished our empty nest, but learned to appreciate it, and each other, in a way we never expected.

Little did we know, the best part was yet to come. It didn’t involve just the two of us going to Disney World, though. It began with a phone call at the beginning of second semester, “Your daughter is in the hospital. She has had a grand mal seizure.” No one would consider those words a blessing; at the time, we didn’t either. As we made the three hour trip to the hospital near the college campus, our fears controlled our thoughts. Brain tumors, alcohol poisoning, illicit drugs, and strokes went through our minds. Luckily, all the tests came back negative and the neurologist told us it was most likely a random occurrence. Chances are it would not recur.

Ah, but for our family “Curse.” The seizures did recur, slowly at first, but increasing in frequency once she came home for the summer. The precious driver’s license that gave her independence was now a reminder that she was a prisoner to this new disease. Just when all of her friends were experiencing the freedom that college life brings, her doctors were telling her that she needed to have her parents near in case there was an unrelenting seizure. Diagnosis, but especially treatment, could not come fast enough. Is it a mother’s eternal optimism that she sees all of this as an opportunity rather than a problem, or is it that unwavering desire to be needed again?

In essence, over the summer, our daughter became a retiree with us. While her sister studied abroad, we looked for opportunities to have fun and keep her spirits high in the midst of all of the tests. Seizures take a lot out of you…for the person who suffers them and for the ones witnessing them. It can take up to 48 hours for energy levels to return after a 3 minute seizure. So, we began, slowly at first, with neighborhood walks; however, these soon evolved into a challenge to hike all of the trails in our vast park system. When the girls were younger, we had enjoyed Letterboxing, a treasure hunt of sorts. Now we attempted Geo-caching with our smartphones, and looked forward to each adventure. One evening we decided to pack a picnic—something we hadn’t done since before their lives were filled with school activities, sports, and friends. We visited car shows and museums, attended concerts and plays, went for long drives on hot summer evenings searching for the best ice cream, and, surprisingly, we found some of her friends wanting to join us. And we talked—not just about what we had done that day, but what we thought about issues and obstacles, what we hoped for the future and cherished about the past. The slower pace was an opportunity to reconnect and get to know each other again. It was frustrating at times—dependence doesn’t come easily…for the child or the parent. When we finally realized that we were having fun, we compared our activities back to the time when the girls were around 4 and 6 years old. There were no gymnastics meets, softball games, or dance lessons. Schedules were flexible and we would take off on adventures whenever we desired.

Since then, we have a diagnosis, and a treatment—although it still needs some tweaking. And, as our daughter’s health improves, those old growing pains of independence come creeping back. She yearns to drive again; something the doctor says she will be able to do in a few months. Just like before, I will feel the anxious fear of sending my daughter on the open road. The pain of separating will hurt again, but this time I won’t look at it as a loss, but as the start of a new adventure…for all of us.

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