For most of my adult life, my career as a publicist and my yoga practice were the bookends that gave structure to my life and defined it. I knew how to be successful at both — and was. I got married in my 40s and inherited three pre-raised, lovely stepkids. I was living in a world where I felt safe and in control of my own destiny.
Then one day last fall, as if startled awake from a pleasant dream, middle age arrived — not as some vague awareness of the fading of my youth but as a series of sharp and clear realizations that this orderly and somewhat predictable phase of life was coming to an end.
Time for a New Beginning
Over the previous year, I had started to feel crushed by the spiraling stressors of a long-unemployed spouse, my changing role in the family as my parents navigated life-altering situations, and the sad recognition that it was time to walk away from a 20-year business relationship with the country's largest retreat center for yoga and holistic health. What made it even tougher was it that had been not only a big chunk of my financial livelihood but my spiritual and emotional haven.
Last October, things were building to a head. All my analyzing, planning and problem-solving left me feeling overwhelmed and spent. It was like a never-ending game of emotional Whac-a-Mole. Just when my parents sold their home and were set to move into a retirement community that would provide better care for my dad’s progressing Parkinson’s disease, lung cancer was diagnosed in my mom and she required surgery a month before their closing.
I craved a break to think creatively about what steps needed to be taken, but I was too worried about expenses and too busy managing all these transitions to give myself the necessary space.
With my immediate kin living a thousand miles away, in Alabama, over the years I’ve developed deep and familial ties to my friends. Although many are now sprawled across the globe, we’ve always been there for each other. For example, a number of years ago, friends convinced me that I should leave my three-year home in the Berkshire Mountains, where I'd lived to be close to my yoga community, and move to Boston to improve my love life. One of them even flew up from Dallas to help me unpack and get settled.
Another showed up at my door with a puppy when my dear 13-year-old dog, Peavi, died. Still others were there for me with legal advice and supportive shoulders when, having successfully improved my relationship status, my caterers backed out of their contract two days before my wedding.
So it hit me like an emotional tsunami when, in the midst of all these personal upheavals, one of my surrogate sisters, Robin, received a cancer diagnosis and was bluntly told by her doctors to get her affairs in order. She and I had met at the retreat center 13 years before, when we were hired as consultants. Back then we were both single, small-business owners striving to live a more integrated and authentic life. I admired how she successfully juggled a career and motherhood.
Over the years, Robin became my bedrock and go-to person for wise advice. Hearing her news, all my other concerns shrunk like Alice down the rabbit hole.
I realized that I could live without a lot of things, but I could not live without my family of friends. And I needed to make sure I never took them for granted or let excuses get in the way of spending time with them. It occurred to me that connecting with loved ones might be exactly what I was supposed to be doing in the midst of my new midlife juggling act.
Hatching the Tour of Love
I recognized that I needed a strategy to feel in control again, one that would also help me grapple specifically with the news about Robin, who went off the grid to deal with her health crisis privately. But whenever I’d try to create one, I’d get stuck on the obstacles: "I’m too crazed." "I shouldn’t be spending money." Ultimately, the plan revealed itself to me.
My dear friend Joanie, who lives in Australia, emailed to say she was coming to the States and asked if I could meet her in Dallas. (That’s where we first met, in the 80s and the glory days of our glamorous careers — she was a celebrity hair stylist and I was a PR director for Neiman Marcus. But we both quit our jobs once we discovered yoga. She became a yoga instructor and I took on more "healthy ilfestyle" clients.)
I didn’t need an expensive airline ticket; I could use frequent flyer miles to get to Dallas — plus two additional stops, to see my folks and friends I hadn’t seen in ages. I decided that this wasn’t going to be your garden-variety “multiple-destination open-jaw trip”; this would be nothing less than my Tour of Love.
The sole criterion for my choices along the way was simple: I would spend time only with people I loved deeply, who loved me equally well. And the only ground rule was that I would do everything in my power to let go of my sometimes paralyzing sense of obligation to clients and family members and trust that the less I did, the better things would be.
On the Road
I blocked out two weeks and arranged for things to be taken care of in my absence. First stop: the Berkshire Mountains, where dear colleagues had planned an intimate appreciation dinner on the very day I bid goodbye to my big client. I soaked in their acknowledgements and kudos for a job that had been so much more than a mere job. I took deep comfort in knowing these people would always be in my life.
The next stop was Dallas. In the state whose unofficial motto is "bigger is better," I got a larger-than-life-size dose of pampering. My friends picked me up at the airport, chauffeured me around and took care of everything. Long dinners and late-into-the night conversations wrapped me in a cocoon of love, positivity and safety.
Then it was time to visit my folks in Alabama. My parents, who wish I lived closer, loved “showing me off” to their new neighbors and boasting on my behalf. Even in retirement my parents keep busy, which is a reflection of the value system they raised me in: Worth comes from how much we accomplish, how much we do. It was a relief to see my mom managing her health issues and living a full life again and my dad going through his days with a better support network.
While with them, I really got how their values molded me as a child and affected who I would be in adulhood during times of high stress. It dawned on me that one of the reasons I pursued yoga in my late 20s was to learn how to just be. I saw how of late, I’d shifted out of the “being” mode and back into hyper “doing” mode as a coping mechanism. The busyness had gotten me through a rough patch, but now my soul was craving emotional reconnection.
I was finding it with some of my best-loved friends, but it was killing me to not know what was going on with Robin.
Postcards From the Tour of Love
It was only after I got home and stepped back into my life that I started to see the full benefits package of my trip. For that fortnight, I was able for the first time in a long while to be fully present. By slowing down and being in the moment, I started to feel release from the things that had been weighing me down, and I was able to stop rushing around.
For New Year's, we had accepted an invitation to celebrate with my brother-in-law in Philadelphia, close to where Robin lives. I had had one email from her in the intervening months — not talking about her health; just letting me know I was in her thoughts — so I took a deep breath and emailed her happy New Year's greetings. I was thrilled when she emailed me back, inviting my husband and me to stop by for a few hours on New Year's Day.
When I rang the bell, I didn’t know what to expect, but when she opened the door, her head hidden under a baseball cap, I burst into tears and as I hugged her tight felt so many different emotions I couldn’t begin to analyze them.
For two hours, we sat glued to each other’s side on the couch. She told me a little about what she’d been through, including radiation for tumors in her brain, which affected her speech; and the insertion of a rod in her leg because of surgery to remove a tumor there. It was hard to hear such painful stories, but she was alive, she was fighting for her life, and we were together. I cried a lot and told her repeatedly how much I loved her and that I would always be there for her.
When I got home, there was an another email from Robin, which reframed the entire tour for me. For the previous few months I’d been focusing on what was missing from my life and what I needed. I now understood how strong connections are never one-way streets. I finally grasped the full power of love. She wrote:
“Cathy, I was genuinely touched when you cried the other night. I think this is the first time in my life, seriously, that I’ve been willing to let that kind of love in (though I'm still not comfortable with it). It takes almost nothing for me to get choked up, particularly when people express concern. I don't quite know how to take the outpouring of love. It's life-altering. How strange, considering how depressed I’d been prior to my diagnosis. I now wake up every day happy, and with that has come (slowly) at least some certainty that all is OK.”
Things are OK here, too. Without my having to push or prod, my husband got a sales job he loves, and my parents are thriving in their new home. Slowly I am filling the hole left by the longtime client, and discovering that after two decades of being a publicist for others, I have my own stories to tell. It always takes me a while to process major life changes, so I'm still learning the lessons from my tour. But one thing is clear: love really does trump all.
Cathy Husid-Shamir is a national media relations specialist and principal of Husid Media.