What’s a Full Life? Quest to Living FULLY Despite the Pain

White text for the title on a background of a purple night sky filled with stars and black pine trees at the bottom.
Gazing into the night sky always brings
a sense of wonder and reflection for me,
What is it that I’m aiming for?
What exactly do I mean by living FULLY?

There was a serenely clear, winter night sky this past Sunday in Michigan. My husband and I dashed through the chilly air to soak our aching bodies in the hot tub looking over the lake. As we sat down, we tilted our heads to view the brilliant stars through the pine trees that looked like they’d been painted on the deepest of black canvases. (The free-to-use photo above, while beautiful, does not capture the large, bright stars from that sky.) We sat there in still, hot water so that the jets’ noise did not disturb the serenity. This is a FULL moment that lingers in my memory as I write this.

As a FULL life Draws to a Close

Last week, I spent in Arizona, with my husband and his mom. I tease him because her first name is Katie (and so is mine). His response to the “momma complex” insinuation is “Her name is MOM to me!”

We flew from cold and snowy Michigan (19o F or -7o C) to sunny, blue skies of Sun City, Arizona where she has lived for half of her life. It was a Christmas present, us coming for a visit and taking her to a play. However, it ended up coming at a particularly sad time. Her baby sister passed away two weeks before, leaving Katie the last of her nine siblings.

Talk of what now and the future of her finances, home, possessions came in and out of our thoughts and conversations all week. Talking about the past, her life with Ed and their children in Michigan, her life with Paul and his children in Arizona, memories of her sisters who all had moved to Arizona one after another, these all have made Katie’s life FULL. So many stories, experiences, troubles, joys, and accomplishments in her nearly 83 years of life.

While thinking about a life coming to a close is not comfortable, I have come to think that it must be talked about with those we love. Reverie and reflection are gifts for all those who take part. These memories link us to one another, the past to the present to the future. The hurt and the happiness, the hopes and the fears, the weakness and the strengths are all things we share and can learn from.

A table with sepia toned family photos.

Boxes FULL of Life

One thing Katie asked me to do is to help her go through the photos she had gathered, loose within several boxes stored in her cupboards. There were hundreds and hundreds of photos. Many very faded and most not labeled for who, where, or when. I’m doubting many had been seen beyond the one time after shuffling through the stack out of the developer’s envelop.

I’ve always been the curator of family memories. I inherited my mother’s photos, then my grandmother’s photos, then my father-in-law photos, and now I’m organizing my mother-in-law’s photos so that her children each get these special moments in time. Going through photos makes me think of all these moments that so often we don’t even recognize as important. Especially in this day and age when we snap photos constantly, never to be printed or even viewed by anyone.

A box of old photos.

When I was an impressionable teen, I watched the iconic play Our Town by Thorton Wilder. If you’ve never seen it or read it, it’s a must in my opinion. In the scene after her death (spoiler), the main character Emily says, “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?” With the response from the Stage Manager a very raw but real, “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.” This hit me hard at the age of 14 and has played again and again in my thoughts as the past 42 years have scrolled past.

So What is a FULL Life

What is it I’m aiming for in this life with fibromyalgia? Just to have less pain? No pain? To have energy and clear thinking? To have accomplishments? Money? Fun? Tastes? Travels Experiences?

I have come up with this and am putting it down here for me to remember: A FULL life, KATIE, is to REALIZE your life WHILE you’re LIVING it. (As much as humanly possible.) While I won’t have a photo to capture Sunday night’s perfect starry sky, or of the ache in my heart when my daughter tells me she’s struggling, or the joy I have when my son pulls me under his wings for a hug, or the love I have when my husband reminds me to grab my coat as we leave the restaurant at which we just had a wonderful meal and conversation, or the warmth of my granddaughter’s hand in mine, or my mother-in-law’s eyes as she lovingly looked through her precious memories, I can stop at each of these times and see, touch, hear, smell, and feel, taking a moment to recognize this FULL moment-full of life whether happy, sad, good or bad.

Despite the Pain or really WITH the Pain

I am living a FULL life. Truly realizing and experiencing each and every moment as much as I am able. The work I’m doing, through meditation, therapy, yoga, writing, etc. is helping me to be more aware and more reflective. Next week, I’m starting a special type of therapy to help those with complex trauma, EMDR. I hope to bring my past difficult moments that gave me many qualities of strength into perspective, reframing them for what they are-a piece of this FULL life. Living FULLY with the pain and everything else in-between.

I wish for you a FULL life, too. What does that mean to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.