Column: Planting your umbrella


Commentary by Valerie Weesner

Please take a minute to visualize something with me. Picture yourself arriving at your favorite beach. You have a big purple umbrella, you plant it in the sand, and you lay out your blanket with your picnic basket and favorite beach chair on it. The sky is blue, the water is inviting, so you decide to go for a swim. You make your way into the water with your beach ball, and your friend or family member comes with you. You play, you swim, you float, and you have a glorious time in the water.

When you come out of the water, you look around for your purple umbrella, but it isn’t where you think you left it. You finally spot it, but it is much further down the beach than you realized. Funny how that happened . . . you were so busy enjoying yourself that you lost sight of your umbrella.

I invite you to think about your life in this way: You are the you that came out of the water, but you are also the you standing beside your umbrella. Your umbrella represents you as you see yourself — it is where you plan to be, it’s where you think you are. Your umbrella also represents the people in your life who know you, who you trust and who are resources for you whenever you need them. Your umbrella is what grounds you; it helps remind you of your plans, your goals, your best you.

So, what happens when you find yourself down the beach from your umbrella? Well, you sit down and evaluate your situation. You trust your umbrella. You trust your friends, your family, your loved ones to give that vital information about yourself that maybe you’re not in tune with. You balance your perspective of yourself in the moment with the perspective of your distance from your umbrella.

Dr. Weesner, what the heck are you talking about? Well, I’ll tell you a personal story that may help you understand. My Aunt Ruth, may she be a blessed memory, had macular degeneration. As her eyesight worsened, she continued to drive. She wanted so desperately to continue her life as she knew it that she ignored the fact that she was not capable of doing the very thing that gave her independence. I was her umbrella. Somehow, I had to help her understand that while she felt her driving was just fine, it in fact was not safe for her to be on the road. Without perspective from her favorite niece (sorry Greta), she could have convinced herself that she was still fine and still capable.

My question for you is this: Who is your umbrella? Who loves you and cares for you enough to tell you when you have wandered too far from the self you think yourself to be; that you are not remembering things as well as you used to, or that you are confusing things that used to come easily for you, or that physically you aren’t able to manage things the same way? Who can tell you kindly, lovingly, and in a way that you can accept, that you may need to replant your umbrella, set different expectations for yourself, make changes in your life or your expectations of yourself?Who can help replant the umbrella, set up your blanket and carry your basket for you?

Building and maintaining a support system is essential in later years for many reasons, as you likely know. So, as you look around, please think about who you can count on to be your umbrella, how you can communicate your needs and wants with them, and how you are going to allow them to share their thoughts and concerns with you as well.

Valerie J. Weesner, Ph.D., health service provider for psychology, is a staff consultant, for Motion 4 Life Fitness in Carmel.