Falling into Myself! Identity and NO crisis! is a powerful, must-read article which will shape the way you accept challenging life circumstances and maintain a healthy, positive outlook for the future. Guest author Jodi O’Donnell-Ames shares a deeply personal account of her life journey. Life doesn’t always work out the way we hope or plan. By staying true to our identity, accepting what is and embracing change, we can live a truly blessed life.
by Jodi O’Donnell-Ames
I have always been “open” to new things and ideas. There’s no better way to appear strange as a kid then to be open. When growing up, most kids thought of fall as I time to kick leaves or jump in a mammoth leaf pile, while I observed the metaphor that leaves are most beautiful in their death- that the colors are stunningly vibrant before they fade forever.
Fall is not my favorite season because it marks several things that are difficult for me. It begins the wait of an impending doom- Winter, and the bad weather to come. I am not a snow bunny and I’d much rather sweat than freeze. I hibernate in weather below 40- and walk around like the abominable snowwoman- barely seen with so many layers to keep warm that it’s assumed I am a bear, fat for the winter. My late husband Kevin’s birthday is Oct. 20th, and so begins all of the birthdays, holidays and sad days without him until the anniversary of this passing on February 21. My birthday is on Christmas day. I’ve never minded having a Christmas birthday- except that the more Christmas gets out of control, the less I enjoy the holiday.
But this fall, for the first time in my life, I helped all three children head to college and thus became an empty nester.
Knowing that all three of my children were safe and happy- I felt permitted to take a well-deserved deep breath and moment to day dream.
What will this SCHOOL year have in store for ME?
I thought of how my journey started …
I began falling into myself in 1973 when I received my First Holy communion. I was a skinny eight year old with hair that refused order and preferred hanging in unkempt strands. My dress was delicately and lovingly made by my proud mother; it was simple yet pretty, but lacked the sequence and glamour that surrounded me. I was not a sequence and glamour girl. I would have preferred to arm wrestle, dress and all, “those” girls or better yet, their older brothers!
Although petite, I somehow felt taller than my CCD peers. Father had told his Catechists that we might feel a light enter us and maybe feel different after receiving communion. I was only a child but my life changed forever that day. God’s light did enter my soul as Father said. Both His energy and will ran through my seventy-five pound body and nourished my soul as imperatively as the blood that nourished my being. I remember singing our closing songs in church with renewed strength and belief that I had possessed the abilities and energy to be or do “all things through him.”
That day, in St. Peter’s church, sitting in a pew between my mother and father, filled with God’s love, I felt empowered. In my child’s mind, this meant “famous.” I was certain that this vision included a glamorous role as a celebrity dancer, actress or possibly, writer and I vowed then to never settle for anything less.
I remember telling my family (and anyone who would stop to listen) at my communion party that I was now truly blessed. Few understood my excitement, hugging me with a check in hand- thinking that was the impetus for my epiphany. Others stared blankly as though, this weird kid before them, had finally lost it. With a milk mustache and remnants of roast beef between his two front teeth, my uncle muttered his support, “Good for you.” Whether they believed me or not, that blessing and that day still remains the core of who I am now.
My Journey to Fame?
My mother was a dancer before I knew her well. Before she raised five children and worked as a waitress and spent her days cleaning, cooking and wiping noses, she was most at home on the dance floor. She made ballroom dancing look easy to romantic spectators with two left feet.
When I was nine I began my trek to become a famous dancer. I would put on my mom’s fancy gowns, her high heeled sparkling stilettos and do the foxtrot like the glamorous women of professional ballroom dancing that my mother and I admired. For many years I diligently took dance classes. But in my college ballet class, I came to the difficult realization that my legs are far too short to dance gracefully. Tree trunks with feet at the end are how they looked in ballet slippers. There was nothing long or lean or elegant about me.
Soon after this disappointing epiphany, I decided to focus on my goal to be an actress. I got my head shots done as recommended. I crammed in acting classes, considered a nose job and went for open calls. A few agencies seemed interested. I learned to work my facial features that can be considered any nationality and practiced my best “Joisey” accent. But the jobs for me were few and paid fewer more dollars that I paid out to get them. Next plan for me.
Meanwhile, I became a teacher, married my soul mate and soon learned that I was going to be a mommy. As a new mommy with late hours, I began writing, hoping to be published one day. This was my last shot at doing something meaningful- something for which to be proud.
But the only published work I saw was at school. It was my job as a teacher of Language Arts to teach writing. For every assignment I gave my students, I got busy writing. They enjoyed my writing and in between grading papers and disciplining ruffians, I got to write too. We even worked together to create a school newspaper. This was all fun, but it paled in comparison to being sold at Borders!
And then it happened, I gave up trying to be someone and decided to be someone’s wonderful wife, mommy, daughter, etc… My dreams would wait.
Praying for the Best, Preparing for the Worst
And the journey continued. Plans for me were revealed in 1995. Soon after our daughter Alina had turned two years old, my husband Kevin was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). ALS is a neurological terminal illness that moves very quickly, leaving patients paralyzed and unable to speak. This news changed our lives forever.
I pleaded with God for a miracle. I prayed and asked for strength. I begged that my young husband would not die. But the miracle I requested could not be granted.
Instead of living my dreams, I watched them die with my husband Kevin. He went from a strong athletic hero of 184 pounds to a paralyzed, ventilated, speechless hero of another kind- MINE. When Kevin lay in bed, unable to move, unable to speak, I danced for him to make him smile. I wore a fancy cocktail dress, put a rose in my teeth and performed my best way OFF-Broadway solo rendition of Chicago. I was his talentless entertainment.
When Kevin spoke of hope for the future, of goals and dreams, of having more children and more time, I was an actress. I made us believe that ALS would not cut his young life of thirty years short. That all of the things we planned to have together would still be. I lived each of his days in total presence- focusing only on his comfort and joy and making them the best.
Kevin died on February, 21, 2001. On that day, in front of more than six hundred people, I became a published writer. At Kevin’s request, I wrote with pride both his obituary and eulogy. “Kevin asked me to write and give his eulogy. He told me that he wanted to see my beautiful face once again, making him proud. Even in his death, Kevin is still charming us.”
I did not cry. It was my last opportunity to honor the man that I loved; my last chance to make him proud. He, I hope, was.
As I reflect on my life and where I am heading, I am blessed to enter this new stage of unchartered waters. As my three young adults are finding their way, I will continue to find mine. I embrace a new year, new opportunities, new challenges and new goals as I fall into myself, fall hard and fall in love- again and again with the life I am living. My hair is still unkempt, I’d still rather wrestle a boy than to wear an embellished anything, and I still believe that I will be on a stage one day! There is no identity crisis here. I am certain of whom I am and am grateful for each and every quirk. After all, they have shaped my journey.
Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life — Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.TM Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.
What have you accepted in your life that took time, physically or mentally?
To be comfortable in my skin and to embrace who I am, quirks and all.
What do you appreciate about yourself and within your life?
As a child I was (and still am) very sensitive and generous. I was the peacemaker. Odd girl out. Now I love that part of me!
What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What goals do you still have?
Most rewarding is being a mother to three amazing children and being Kevin loving wife and caregiver.
What is your not-so-perfect way? What imperfections and quirks create your Identity?
I am a paperwork disaster! My mind works quickly and from one thing to another- leaving piles here and there. I can find anything though- in a snap.
How would you complete the phrase “I Love My…?”
Soul- it’s an old soul and it’s mine.
Jodi O’Donnell-Ames resides in Titusville, NJ with her husband Benton. She is the proud mother of three children, a massage therapist, B.I.G leader, writer and advocate. She is also the President and Founder of Hope Loves Company, www.hopelovescompany.com – a non-profit dedicated to supporting the children and grandchildren of ALS patients.