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Scientifically, a bee hive is a single living organism. Yet, inside the hive, there are hundreds of individuals, all with important “jobs” that help support the overall health of the organism. 

The hive’s population is fiercely loyal and protective of the queen and her growing brood. A small contingency has the specific task of guarding the queen while others care for babies, collect pollen and nectar, or fan their wings to cool or warm the hive. It is a vast working system made up mostly of female bees. 

With every hive opening, I was dumbstruck by the beauty, sounds, and scents of the hive.

These are among the many things I learned while keeping bees. Bees are a powerful force to be reckoned with – so my job as a beekeeper was to be respectfully observant as well as alert to changes in the health of the hive. I had to be aware of changes too, in the way the bees sounded as I moved through the hive inspection process. Bees were easily agitated if I didn’t take my time, and move with attentiveness and care. 

Here’s the thing, though, as much as I loved beekeeping, I was finding it increasingly challenging. As I aged, it became harder to lift hive boxes that could weigh 50 pounds when full of bees, honey, pollen, and brood. I certainly did not want to drop a box full of bees! 

For a time, I used adaptive strategies. Rather than unstacking the hive boxes onto the ground, one on top of the other. I began stacking them in my wheelbarrow. This way I didn’t have to lift them as far. While it worked, I still had to lift the awkward box over the edge of the wheelbarrow. This strategy let me stack the boxes into the wheelbarrow and then return them to their original position on the hive platform. 

Another adaptation strategy I was wearing my readers while inspecting the hive. 

During the hive inspection, I was looking for eggs, brood, and emerging baby bees. When first laid by the queen, the eggs are tiny. Smaller than the head of a pin and nearly invisible at the bottom of the comb cell. 

And then there were my increasingly intense responses to bee stings. 

All of this to say that I eventually gave up beekeeping. While it was something I dearly loved doing, it was no longer easy or healthy for me to continue. I had a choice to make – continue or stop. Because my allergic reaction was worsening, I risked a full-blown anaphylactic response that would create an emergency for myself and perhaps those around me. To stay healthy, it was time to retire. Retiring from beekeeping was when I began to realize that aging included choices, sometimes sad and difficult decisions, about risks and health. 

Here’s the rub – as I age, I find that there continue to be choices I must make in favor of good self-care and aging.  Some of these choices mean surrendering to the reality that my body is aging. In that surrender, is the act of choosing to no longer do things that have, in the past, brought me great joy. A surrender it is, for I know I will never keep bees again. I won’t keep chickens either. Or maintain a vegetable garden or quilt or play the banjo with arthritic hands either. 

Yet, in choosing, I get to remain focused on my health and well-being. I get to ask myself, what is important now? What are the things I still want to do – for as long as I can?

If this resonates with you, let’s chat!​

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