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How a Can of Paint Helped Me Reframe My Life With Chronic Illness

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“Fond Memory” — that was the name of the color I had picked for the next project after the master bedroom was done. The master-bath desperately needed an update from the dark blue tone it had been for years. It was going to be the more difficult room to do because of the tiles… oh the tiles. Several years back I decided to add some tile work around the tub. It was going as planned until my then little girl decided to help me. The corner of the tub still sat with an unfinished tile patch that angled upward; we never had the heart to fix it because after all, she was so proud of doing this with Momma.  However, it was now time to update… but first the bedroom.

I spent the weekend painting my bedroom a pretty slate blue color, hung some new curtains and blinds for a nice refresh. I set the cans of Fond Memory paint by the bedroom door, intending to get to the bathroom in the upcoming weeks. I would have done it then, but the work in the bedroom had tired me more than I had expected. I would get to it soon, I told myself.

Soon… later… I will… These were constant utterances that I found myself saying more and more. Things I enjoyed or knew I had to do became chores of insurmountable effort. Keeping up with my job was suddenly exhausting instead of invigorating.

Then my life stopped.

I was hospitalized. I had been before, but this was different. This was the time my life changed forever. It would be months before I would walk through my front door again. So many things that I wished I had finished or gotten around to had just been suspended indefinitely.

Three months of life went on without me…

When I was finally able to return home , I was never more happy to be in my place with my people taking in the smells and the smiles, the laughter, the doggie kisses I missed for months, the familiarity of my life was embracing me. When my life hug loosened its embrace, something strange came over me. The familiar was somehow different, the new normal of my life was placed around my home like tacky clutter décor — the oxygen machine in the corner, stacks of medicine on the counter where the mixer once was, boxes of tube feeding supplies and dressings and a feeding pump set up in the kitchen as a harsh reminder that this room will never again hold the same enjoyment it once had.

As the hours passed, other new awkward observations were made. It was evident that those who had missed me while I was gone had figured out how to live without me. Don’t get me wrong — that is what I would and did want, but the din of reality was so loud it was hurtful. I went from caretaker to being taken care of, from an independent professional executive to being dependent. Mixed in between love and happiness in everyone’s eyes that I had actually made it back home, I caught glimmers of sadness when they looked at me. Their own reality that their lives had forever changed had hit, and along with happiness was a mixture of emotions like pity for my frailty and grief for the strong friend, daughter, wife and mother I was before.

Yet still, I was home with my people and the sounds of my home were dancing all around me: the hum of the old ice maker in the fridge, my daughter singing in the bathroom, my husband with his cheery voice on the phone telling people I was home and my fur babies barking and running around. My home was playing the soundtrack of my life and when I closed my eyes for just a moment, I could feel the old me still in there — it was just tucked behind the camouflage of my new normal.

I made my way to the bedroom to lie down after a short while. The day had been long but good; it was the first one of those in a very long time.  As I walked into the room, I looked down at the can of paint that I had strategically placed there so I would finish my project. I sat down and stared at it a while, and got emotional at the irony of the color name: Fond Memory. There were parts of my life that would now be just that — fond memories — and that made me sad for a bit. I was sad at what I didn’t get done that I might not now be able to do, I was grieving the loss of who I once was and afraid of what my new normal would become.

Just as the paint can and all it symbolized was swallowing me in, I was snapped back to the present as I laid down and listened to the soundtrack of my life still playing around my home. I felt not only love, but a little hope for the first time in months that I might figure all of this out because I am still blessed with an amazing life despite all that has been taken away or altered. I just have to change how I live it, change how I find purpose in it and find peace in the blessing still there to enjoy it. For that night I would allow myself to grieve the loss, feel the pity and be angry but when the new day rose up, so would my will and my spirit.

I decided to pick a new color for the bathroom because my life isn’t just a “fond memory” — there is a whole world of color I can paint my new normal with, and it is going to be beautiful.

Getty image via Anna Ismagilova.

Originally published: April 6, 2020
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