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On The Fridge #1
Beyond The Comfort Zone
I got some cool affirmation stickers with a shipment this week and was eager to share them with my friend KC. As I looked at them I thought about all the stuff I have to catch my eye on the front at the side of our refrigerator, and how much of an impact it all has on my day to day life, or doesn’t. So the idea was born - Stuff on the fridge and what it can teach me.
Our fridge is a modest thing, stainless steel finish but nothing fancy. The biggest thing it does on its own is make crescent shaped ice cubes, which I will say are the perfect shape and size to plop down the neck of a bottle of Snapple that has gone warm and needs drinking right now. There are just the two of us, my husband and me, in our house and so the audience for the elements that appear on the carapace of our bastion of coldness is pretty specific.
The first magnet in eyeshot at the top of the freezer door reads “Life Begins At The End Of Your Comfort Zone.” Back in the day this magnet was placed there to remind me and poke my husband about not staying too comfortable. But speaking just for myself, how does this speak to me now? What is defining my current comfort zone and what lies beyond it?
First I must say that my comfort zone at the moment lies at home. For the past 7 years I’ve been working from home doing remote work full time during the school day from my computer. After thirty years as an interpreter for the Deaf I felt pretty burned out, and kind of sure that I didn’t want to continue on that career path. Then I was head-hunted for a job with VocoVision working with school kids, one-on-one on a video platform. These Deaf students were in classrooms with hearing school mates but in an area where on-site interpreters were not available. Enter “Miss Carole” in an iPad, traveling through the school day with just one student and serving as his interpreter. It was a medium that was pretty new to me, but I found that I really enjoyed the challenges the work presented, enjoyed the student I was with, and was good at creating a satisfying working environment for the student, the class, and all the educators on the team. Oddly, when I had been away from all but college educational interpreting for decades, and felt sure that if I had to walk into a primary school everyday my head would explode, I truly liked this work and fell in love with my job all over again. For three years I worked with one student from third through fifth grade, and later worked with two other students in third grade and then in fifth grade. I am so lucky to have had this chapter in my interpreting career.
But my job was deeply affected when Covid 19 struck and we went into Quarantine. Incorporating an elementary school student with deafness and other limiting factors into online-only education was more than just challenging, but we got through to the end of the 2020 school year without completely losing momentum.
That student moved on to a different education model in fall of 2020 and I was without another student until fall of 2021. During that time, as did so many others , I became used to being at home. I had been someone who was a performer, singing and acting in theater productions, and a public speaker, as well as interpreting in a countless number of situations both private and very public. Picture it - 2008, a balmy evening high on the front steps of a large high school and standing next to and interpreting for Former President Bill Clinton as he campaigned for Hillary, with more than a thousand people below us waving their lighted cell phones in the air. And the performer in me thought “What took so long to get up here??” I was not a homebody, I was out, and about, and social, and big and brassy and sassy in personality.
Shift ahead to 2020 and the Quarantine - after having spent the past 5 years working from home and curtailing all the things that had been keeping me out and about. I discovered the quiet pleasure of reclaiming my living space for my small family, and creating some pools of peace and comfort. The pull to go out and be social faded and disappeared. If this quiet pattern of the days was what retiring would be like, then I was all for it. My comfort zone ended at the end of our property line, and more than that was not something I was actively pursuing.
One thing I was pursuing was my calling into death care. My training as a Death Doula in 2019 was with INELDA, the International End of Life Doula Association (Inelda.org), which has a wonderful support system online and many courses and programming I was able to take advantage of. There were other really good courses and trainings I was able to take part in, including with The Institute for the Study of Birth Breath and Death (birthbreathanddeath.com). I trained to be a course educator as well as a Holding Space Consultant, working with people processing grief, transition and loss. I took a course in shadow work, looking at the difficult things in life that I may ignore, try to keep hidden, and avoid. In Buddhist tradition these are called Hungry Ghosts, and learning to acknowledge and accept such dark elements of life allows me to deal with them in a healthy way. I am also better able to set my shadow stuff aside when I need to work with someone else on their own stuff.
I had taken my Death Doula Training in May of 2019, and in the summer of 2022 I was finally able to begin visiting people as a hospice volunteer. During Quarantine and the slow return to our new normal, it was so easy to tell myself it wasn’t yet time to be doing death care, I wasn’t ready to be out working with people yet, and to doubt whether I had the skills and was qualified to be a doula. My comfort zone had shrunk so far down that I felt safest staying home. But having done the 2021 -22 school year and now without another assignment to interpret for a student, my time had opened up and I was not in a position to just stay at home doing nothing. The comfort zone needed to expand and I had to take the leap of faith.
As scary as not working full time is, I have to believe that not getting a new assignment last fall was the proverbial one door closing and another opening. Once I was visiting patients as a hospice volunteer and listening to their life stories and creating a safe space for them and their families to process all that comes with dying and grief I realized that I was drawn to death care for a reason. Around death I don’t feel uncomfortable, and because of that I am able to help people sit with their own discomfort. I can create a sort of comfort zone for them in one of the most uncomfortable times in their lives. When the father of a friend was imminently dying that friend called me to be their doula and I was so profoundly grateful to be able to walk that walk with them. In the process of supporting them I discovered that my abilities and training were right there for me to draw upon, and I made a real difference for them as well as the staff working with them. Earlier this year I was called upon to serve a family at the hardest time of their lives and again I was made aware of how the things I bring to the dying and those they love create a space for the good death they wished for.
I have gotten back out and done some theater this year, and have retired from interpreting which has been freeing. That chapter is closed and I am now doing death care. I would still love it if I had the means to just be at home and retired from the grind of earning to keep going, but I honestly would still be doing the work I have chosen, and which has chosen me, regardless of earning a living. In my expanding comfort zone I know I am making a difference in educating people in the variety of things around death and grief, and facilitating a good death for those I am blessed to work with as a Death Doula.
What defines your comfort zone? Is it serving you well, or does it limit you in some way? What lies beyond your comfort zone, where life might begin?
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