SWIM TOWARD THE LIGHT | 1010 Park Place
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SWIM TOWARD THE LIGHT

PHOTOGRAPH ©BRENDA COFFEE
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The other night I reread the beginning of Keith Richards’s autobiography, Life. Keith grew up listening to everything from Mozart and Bach to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. When he was 13, Keith used to walk around his bedroom, holding a tiny radio up to his ear, twisting the antennae just so until he could get an intermittent signal from Radio Luxembourg. He said the night he heard Elvis Presley, singing “Heartbreak Hotel,” was “like an explosion.” The next day he “was a different guy.” Whether he knew it or not, Keith Richards had just found his passion, that thing that gave meaning to his life.

One of the greatest gifts we’ll ever receive is discovering who we are and finding our passion.

Even if we know we’re a shark, a goldfish, or a guppy, we still need to find what gives meaning to our life. Writer and teacher, Joseph Campbell, said, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were walls.” Certainly that path held true for Keith Richards, but what about those who’ve gotten bumped off course, suffered a major loss or are recovering from a serious illness? Sometimes we have to find a new path and new meaning as well.

When I was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, some of the other cancer patients I met had disconnected from life so they could deal with their cancer. They lived, ate and breathed cancer which, admittedly, is hard not to do. When treatment was over, they struggled to integrate their “new normal” with the life they’d known before. Some were paralyzed with fear, waiting for “it” to return. If only they’d realized the real tragedy wouldn’t have been dying from their cancer but failing to live their lives without fear.

As Joseph Campbell said, “Sometimes we must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

So how do we go from wellness, to surviving a health crisis or the loss of a spouse, to thriving and squeezing everything we can out of life? For starters, we can use our misfortune as an opportunity to become healthier by adopting a better diet and exercise plan. We can also integrate positive mental, spiritual and emotional changes–we’re often forced to find–into our work and family life. I know this isn’t always easy to do, but we must try, otherwise we are lost. Truth be told, I’m writing this blog post as much for me, as I am for anyone who might find a kernel of truth here. I’m still taking steps–sometimes small steps–to build a new life after the death of my husband, which will be seven years ago this Christmas.

If you’re carving out a new life for yourself or creating a life with more joy and purpose, spend some time thinking about what makes you smile, what gives you purpose.

Bring more bliss into your life, one experience at a time.

Life is fleeting and unpredictable. Surround yourself with people, things and activities you love. And step outside yourself and think about ways you can be of help to others. It’s the best way I know to stop focusing on yourself.

Whether it’s an illness, the death of a loved one, or you’re suffering from depression, there is life after the darkness. I promise, because I’ve experienced them all.

Swim toward the light.

Love, Brenda

19 Comments

  • Reply Barbara Bergin December 2, 2017 at 7:14 am

    Well said!

  • Reply Beckye December 2, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Amen, sister! I appreciate your encouragement to re-focus toward the Light! Praying for you as Christmas approaches. I have been inspired by the strength and vulnerability you have shared in your journey the past seven years. I know the Lord is not done with you yet! Can’t wait to see the adventures He has for you in the future, and look forward to hearing the wonderful stories you’ll tell!

    You expressed the cancer and recovery experience so well, and I need to reapply what I learned in diet, exercise, and mindset. Thanks for the encouragement and reminder! You are a blessing to all of us in your extended sphere of influence! Hugs,

    • Reply Brenda Coffee December 2, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      Thank you, Beckye, but I know you are an encouragement to those you know as well. It’s easy to get far enough out from our treatment that we tend to forget to be vigilant in our efforts to keep cancer from recurring. Blessings to you, sweet friend. I always love seeing you here. xoxox, Brenda

  • Reply Sue Burpee December 2, 2017 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for this, Brenda. This week will be one year since a dear friend lost her 14 year old son. One day they were a happy, busy family, the next day everything changed.

    • Reply Brenda Coffee December 2, 2017 at 3:23 pm

      Hi Sue! Life has a way of throwing devastating curve balls we didn’t see coming. I’ve lost two husbands, but losing a child… How do you go on after that? Two of my girlfriends lost teenage daughters. I’ve walked with them along the edges of their grieving process, and stand in awe as they continue to find things to laugh and be happy about. Your friend is still grieving. Her loss is still fresh… I’m glad she has good friends, like you.

  • Reply Mithra Ballesteros December 2, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Thank you Brenda. Such excellent advice and you wrote this beautifully. I got a bad diagnosis last spring and after a few months of processing the new reality, i think I’m back to swimming toward the light. But it is HARD!

    • Reply Brenda Coffee December 2, 2017 at 3:27 pm

      I didn’t know that, Mithra. I’m sorry. It IS hard, because it’s never far from your consciousness. No matter where you go or what you do, you can’t outrun the knowledge of what you’re dealing with. As long as you stay on the right side of the beast, you will get to the point where it’s not all consuming. Keep swimming. xoxox, B

  • Reply gayle December 2, 2017 at 9:38 am

    I am a 22 year ovarian cancer survivor, 4 surgeries, 6 mos. of chemo. I always was able to swim toward the light. I sometimes question how I was able to do this….faith, good friends, supportive family and doctors must have contributed. This was pre internet so I may have been protected from the sad stories and medical failures that overwhelm us today. I did go to a therapist to learn bio feedback once a week for months, I think Dr. P was invaluable to my mindset. I think my cancer was easier to get through than the loss of a mate or child. I love your writing. Thank you. Gayle

    • Reply Brenda Coffee December 2, 2017 at 3:50 pm

      Thanks for your kind words about my writing, Gayle. Brava for getting through ovarian cancer! It has a scary rap, but it sounds like with God, family and your physicians, you’ve put the beast in it’s place. You’re right about the internet. I was diagnosed in 2004, hardly the dark ages of the internet and yet, the misinformation was alarming. After I recouped from treatment, I started a breast cancer survivorship site and was a stickler for FACTS! I don’t know how long you’ve read my blog, but I frequently mention Belleruth Naperstek, who’s considered the founder of Guided Meditation. Anything like biofeedback, hypnosis or guided meditation is so important, even after you’ve done with treatment. I still do my guided meditation breathing every single night. It helps me decompress, clear my mind of everything but sleep. This week I read where Clint Eastwood has done Transcendental Medication twice a day for the last 40 years. I wouldn’t have guessed that. Sending you my best, Brenda

      • Reply Gayle December 2, 2017 at 8:50 pm

        Thank you for these words, I will check ‘guided meditation’. Clint, hmmm., always respected him, now more so.

  • Reply Haralee Weintraub December 2, 2017 at 9:49 am

    So true Benda! Wouldn’t we all want to go through life without death of those we love or major health issues but that isn’t life. You are setting an example of life with dignity! XXOO Haralee

    • Reply Brenda Coffee December 2, 2017 at 3:54 pm

      My goodness, Haralee! Thank you! Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m conducting myself with dignity. In fact, last week was not my finest hour, and I would do anything to go back and have a do over, but as you said, that isn’t life. I hope all is well with you and your family. xoxox, Brenda

  • Reply Kona December 2, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Brenda, your words of encouragement touch us all. I have “refound my passion for oil painting” to help me though the days when “my head is my worst enemy.” For myself, I have to remember something an old surfer taught me. “Waves are like life, sometimes you ride ’em with joy, sometimes you feel pounded by their intensity. All ya gotta remember kid is never stop paddling. Only bad stuff happens when ya quit…so paddle like your life depends on it. Cuz it does.” That old man’s words have been a life mantra and remains long after my body would no longer let me continue to surf. Strange isn’t it how we never know who will be impacted by something we say or do. Brenda, your personal vulnerability makes contact with all our hearts and is so appreciated. Keep swimming kiddo. We need ya!

    • Reply Brenda Coffee December 2, 2017 at 4:44 pm

      You’ve said something so profound, Kona… “My head is my worst enemy.” Even when we look like we’re healthy, happy and everything’s together, our brain has trouble letting go so we can find peace. Your friend who said the bad stuff happens when we stop paddling gave you great advice. After James died, I drove 40 miles, one way, three times a week to the gym, because I knew if I didn’t, I would drown. xoxox, Brenda

  • Reply Donna December 3, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    Not only did I enjoy all of the great reminders in this article, I love all of the comments and your beautiful responses. Thank you Brenda, for this wonderful conversation!
    XO Donna

    • Reply Brenda Coffee December 3, 2017 at 8:19 pm

      I appreciate you, Donna. Thank you for reading. xoxo, Brenda

  • Reply LA CONTESSA December 4, 2017 at 9:55 am

    THANK YOU!
    A BEAUTIFUL WRITTEN POST!
    I Left my business 4.5 years ago…………….can’t believe its been that LONG!STill searching for that NEXT CHAPTER!
    DAYS go by FASTER………..
    I have been doing what you suggested…………..” Surround yourself with people, things and activities you love”.
    IT WORKS FOR ME………………..XX

    • Reply Brenda Coffee December 4, 2017 at 3:09 pm

      As someone who’s just getting to know you, Elizabeth, from where I sit, it looks like you’re ALREADY writing your NEXT CHAPTER! You’re using your style and humor to reach so many women of a certain age. You’re giving them confidence and offering new possibilities for THEIR NEXT CHAPTER! The details of your journey will continue to unfold. xoxox, Brenda

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