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Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category


It started most recently at our Thanksgiving gathering of 22 members of my husband’s clan and celebrating the 33rd birthday of one niece, the 2nd pregnancy of our niece-in-law and cajoling my 93-year-old father-in-law out of a recent bad dream. There was that nagging sense that time is flying by. That we are now the age of our parents when they hosted these family get-togethers, back when our nieces and nephews were the infants and toddlers.

Back then my father-in-law played the invisible stair game with those little ones as the rest of us went looking for the “missing” kiddos, searching the house and carefully stepping over giggling youngsters on our mission to find them on the 2nd floor. Today they’re grown and invent games for their babies at this holiday gathering while we “oldsters” prepare dinner. Whew!

Left to my own internal clock I’m in my late 30’s with a healthy body and exuberance for living and no children to mark the passage of time. I’ve discovered yoga, hiking, biking and healthy eating and, so far, my body hasn’t betrayed me. My 60th birthday left me scratching my head and thinking about time. That more of it is behind me than ahead. When did that happen?

We’re now entering 2015. Friends and siblings are grandparents! GRANDPARENTS? My dearest childhood friend died from cancer last year. A woman in my jewelry class just suffered a massive heart attack that ended her life. She was 66. Other close friends are experiencing serious health challenges. Three of our pets are senior citizens. My father is 91 with health issues.

These are things that weren’t part of my world in my 20s, 30s and 40s. Life had so many years ahead. I was ensconced in a vibrant pulse of daily tasks with no thoughts about the beginning of the end.

Is a changing perspective part of the aging process?

Today I’m called ma’am everywhere. Ads no longer target me, neither do TV shows. Everyone at work is younger. My idea of social media is Facebook. Have no idea about the myriad other ways younger folks communicate. Evidently not much happens face to face anymore. And my silver hair is no longer novel. Now it’s expected!

And guess what? I don’t care. I DON’T CARE!  Now life is so much richer with understanding how precious each day is. Everyday I wake up and feel good is a day to celebrate and appreciate. Friends are more important. Work is much less important. I don’t have a yearning to acquire and strive to greater things. My testiness threshold is greater, I’m more easily satisfied and I’ve discovered how hobbies foster creative growth.

I’m joyful, content and at peace – most days. And I know I’m gonna die at some point. And that’s why each day, with its inherent challenges, is to be appreciated and lived without regret. It’s a miraculous gift to live this human life. That fills me with awe.

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Dear Marilyn,

PWHatPointing

I’m at your house sitting on the lanai and watching an impressive thunderstorm whip through the palm trees and create a rapid water flow down the canal. Just the kind of thing you love to watch. But you’re not here with me, and won’t be, ever again. In fact, these next few days will likely be my last moments with this particular view. I soak it in and think of all the hours we’ve sat here together over the last 17 months, your favorite place to whittle away early morning hours and cool afternoons. I’ve seen sunsets and sunrises right here. And watched an alligator amble lazily down the canal. Today the summer bushes bloom with vivid pink flowers and your orchid soaks up the moisture from the rain.

Today’s summer storm finds you in bed, breathing down your final days on earth, with family at your side.  Today your hard fought battle to stay alive ends with your diseased pancreas and liver winning the war.  60 good years Marilyn and 17 months intensely aware of the gift of life.

Marilyn&MeDinnerDuring those 17 months I’ve been hyper-tuned to living too – coming down to Florida to play, commiserate, share confidences, reminisce and to re-energize a friendship that began more than 50 years ago.  Every few months we’d resume our ongoing conversation, as though our past years of periodic contact were mere minutes apart. Our friendship was as easy as always with intimate conversation developing within moments of walking in the door. You’ve always been the perfect blend of friend and sister – frister?  You’re my Byer and I’m your Richey

 

M,Bob&MeSushiGeeze – was it really 50+ years ago when I’d run two doors down to your house every Christmas morning? Sometimes still in my pajamas, never wanting to be late for presents.  And there was always something under the tree! And a big family dinner to anticipate.

KidsWeekdays we’d rush home from school to watch General Hospital and Days of Our Lives with a giant can of Charles Chips between us – sometimes barbecued, sometimes not. You loved the burnt curled ones, which was perfect because I wanted the big flat chips!  Then during commercials we’d grab a cup of coffee and whatever wonderful something your mother had baked. Or a piece of white toast, butter, sugar and cinnamon. Your house was the only place I ever had that concoction.

Your family summer vacations down the shore always had me in tow. We’d walk the boardwalk looking for cute boys and singing Beach Boy songs. You’d wear short shorts to advertise your beautiful, tan legs.  Mine were covered but I’d display other attributes (wink, wink).  Then we’d talk the night away in bed til your mother  – achem – “asked” us to go to sleep.

Your family picnics, years’ worth of them. Yep – I went to them too. Aunt Edie, Uncle Rennard, Mickey, the Dearys, Uncle Lee – weren’t they my family too?

And all the evenings I had dinner at your house and all the sleep overs where we’d whisper in bed til the wee hours of the morning – even on school nights.

And weekends playing Barbie dolls and as we got older, riding in your Volkswagon Beetle. And sometimes even liking the same boy. That wasn’t as much fun.

And choir practice and colored guard and Marble Hall Swim Club.

Marilyn, Bob, son Michael & family

Marilyn, Bob, son Michael & family

 

And then Michael was born. You’d just given him a bath and placed him on the bassinette to be diapered then – woosh – his water fountain started and landed in his ear.

We laughed so hard we could barely breathe!

Marilyn's grandchildren

Marilyn’s grandchildren

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down the road came Bob Kile. Oh, I remember hearing about that handsome farmer you met whose blue eyes made your heart melt. You found the one – you told me – and were off to become a farmer’s wife.

Eventually you brought him here, to this house in Venice, FL – where you’ve loved living for 5 years now?  Your beautiful home, beloved lanai, bright sunshine and warm community. It’s where you belonged. And it’s where Bob took very good care of you – in many ways – most recently as a selfless, devoted caregiver.

 

Marilyn & husband Bob

Marilyn & husband Bob

 

 

M&BobFormal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

M&BobXmasHat

M&BobBoat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MarilynBySwampArea

 

Byer, you put up a noble fight these past 17 months & lived well because of it. Your determination kept you going – and fighting spirit inspired everyone around you.  That insistence to hang on catalyzed me to consider some important questions about life.  Thank you for that.

You’ve always been so full of life & so strong – laughed easily, loved big, vivacious and an easy conversationalist. Those who know you would call you a big person – not in size, but certainly in presence.

 

All the different places you’ve lived, all the different phases of life you’ve experienced, with the same being true for me. Yet we always stayed in touch and up to date on each other’s lives.

M&MebikeYou’ve been an important friend to me Marilyn. And because we’ve had 17 months to talk, you know how and why.  As a kid, I needed you and your family and you were always there, as were your parents. I told them that before they died. And I’ve told you.

 

What’s left is to say goodbye, my oldest and dearest friend. I love you, I’ll think of you often and I’ll miss you.  Til we meet again …

MSmiling

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JanShell1This month’s shell is pristine enough to be sold in a beach souvenir shop instead of where I found it, lying among other scattered shell fragments on a beach somewhere in Florida.  Shelling is a favorite past-time for tourists in Florida, for locals too I think.  It’s what I seem to do when walking the beach with my eyes glued to the sand to avoid stepping on sharp things.  I can’t help but pick up pretty shells to later put in one of the decorative bowls in my house.

FullBowlShellsThis one came from a specific bowl that I filled with 12 shells, each one signifying one month of life.  My intention is to stay aware of each month so I can appreciate the relationship of time and my life.  With this one gone, there are eight months left to this particular year.  When looked at that way, it becomes rather glaring that my days of life continue to tick away.  My how a year goes by quickly.  And what do I do with that time?

 January, was occupied by friends, mostly, and if not being with them then thinking about them.  Maybe that’s because of the underlying thread of death and dying that confronted me this month.  Of course there was my ongoing hospice work, but also a very dear man I know dropped dead suddenly, and a different very important friend is facing health challenges that threaten her longevity.  During times of losing someone or potentially losing someone the importance of relationships take center stage.  Or rather, threatening times make you realize how important relationships really are.  When facing death people don’t wish they’d worked harder or longer hours.  They tend to lament the amount of time spent with people they love.  So I’m taking time with good friends while I still live in blissful ignorance of my eventual demise.

Marilyn&MeFor starters there was Marilyn, a friend who dates back to early childhood.  Was I five when we first played together?  She lived two houses down from us and her family was my second family.  I showed up every Christmas morning, as early as my mother would allow, sometimes in my pjs to catch everyone opening their presents.  There was always one for me and later I’d asked if I could stay for dinner.  Never knew about proper etiquette back then.  Actually, I practically lived at Marilyn’s house – spent several school day afternoons each week there, summer vacations at the beach with her family (mine never took vacations), family picnics, many family dinners and countless overnights whispering the nights away together.  Her house was my escape hatch when family wars in mine became overbearing.  Now Marilyn says we’re better than sisters.  I have to agree, and it started … 50 years ago?  Oy vey!

rainbow01Marilyn is facing a serious health challenge now; it might be the fight of her life – for her life.  She lives in Florida and though I’m in Tennessee the distance is not keeping us from our necessary friendship.  She needs me and I need her; I’ve always needed her.  And we’ll get through this together, one way or another.  The first week of this month was spent at her house just when we received her mind numbing diagnosis.  Serendipity?

And then I came home to a text message from a former colleague and friend with the news about Jerry, how his wife discovered him the next morning and surmised he died in his sleep.  59 years old.  Friends, family and colleagues were stupefied by the news.  Say what?  Really?  How the hell … ?  And now Facebook is littered with photos of him and memories galore.  His wife, shell shocked.  And yet – what a way to go, huh?  One day you’re here living your life – and he lived his with gusto – and the next day it’s all over.  No pain, no suffering, no dreadful diagnosis that makes you evaluate your life.  If I got to choose, I’d make sure I enjoyed the living while the living was good – then checked out, Jerry’s way.

Well I do get to choose – at least the first half of the equation.  I do have the power to enjoy my life, love my friends and family and live with no regrets.  And so far – I’m right on target…

best_friends_sketch_by_0ouo0-d45uu73Which brings me to Judie.  She and I worked together many years ago in Pittsburgh during our radio days.  She was a reporter I was a producer and we were tight friends.  35 years later we still are – though we’ve lived separately in a few different cities since then.  Still do – she in California, me in Tennessee.  But when we catch up it’s as though our last conversation was yesterday.  Thanks to Facebook we stay in touch and just had one of our catch up phone calls the other day.  We talked about needing to get together soon and play because … you just never know, now do you?

I have a couple very dear friends here at home that I haven’t seen in a while – they moved recently and have become caught  up in their lives like I have in mine.  But that’s not a good excuse especially since we now live five minutes apart.

OK then – February will bring time together with them.

What have you done with your life in January?

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Friends


It’s been a couple of months since I spent the weekend at Jan’s new retirement home in the beautiful mountainous region of Asheville, N.C.  Before that it had been maybe six years since our last visit, that time at my house in East Tennessee when she and her husband were passing through the area.  Other than that — a couple of periodic visits back to Pittsburgh constituted our time together since the years we were colleagues in that city.  And no matter where or how infrequently we visit, our conversations pick up as though it’s been just a few days since we last spoke.

My friendship with Marilyn is just like that.  We’ve been friends since we were kids, growing up just a few houses apart in the neighborhood where we both spent our childhoods.  We’re as close today as then, though we both went to different colleges, have been through different life experiences and lived in different states since those days.  Each time I see her we start talking and don’t stop until it’s time to leave.  Our bond is as strong as ever and the friendship has grown with the years.

Marianne, my college room-mate, is another life-long friend.  We pick up where we left off and continue from there, each updating the other on the trials and tribulations in our respective lives.  The two weeks I spent at her home last summer were just like the old days, except she went to work each morning and I played in my old stomping grounds of Pittsburgh, visiting other friends and former colleagues accrued during the 13 years living there.

It’s amazing the different roles friends play in our lives.  These days I continue to stay in touch with life-longers while also enjoying my theater friends, bicycling friends, neighborhood friends, work friends, spiritual friends and now email, Facebook and blogging friends.  And of course, my husband, who’s probably my best friend, and my sisters who’ve become close friends over the years.  All of them touch different parts of my essence, exercising various intellectual and emotional muscles within.

A recent piece in the New York Times by Alex Williams challenges our ability to make friends after a “certain age” when a busy life tends to preclude the time necessary for real connections to be established.  He identifies the conditions that sociologists find important in forging friendships to be proximity, repeated and unplanned interactions, and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.”  Perhaps that’s true; friendship does seem to rely on shared experiences of some kind, though proximity can now be established through the miracle of digital interaction too. I’ve made new Facebook and blogging friends whom I’ve never even met in person.  And bonds with former work friends have grown stronger on Facebook than they were during our work days together.

Two friends

Two friends (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What we all seem to crave is connection.  For me, friendship is about authenticity.  When we are free to be ourselves with someone else and that someone else still wants to maintain connection, a friendship can be born.

A former hospice patient, for whom I was a companion during the end stages of his life, was described as one who never met a stranger.  What a poignant description of a person who loved to love.  And he was well-loved in return.

Reach out and a new friend can be made.

What do you say about friendship?

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It was a beautiful bright day riding my bike through Key West, much like yesterday’s cycling trip.  The sky was a vivid blue and the wind was blowing gently masking the sun’s searing rays.  Once again I slathered the sun block on all exposed skin, wore a hat and continued my exploration of this small and tightly packed party island.

I love my bike trips, many of which are solitary experiences.  My husband doesn’t ride and my friends who do aren’t here. It’s just me, my bike, the scenery and my thoughts which flow unencumbered by conversation.  Sometimes so many ideas flow through my mind I need to stop and record them on my phone for evaluation at a later time.  Other times it’s meditative to ride at an even pace and coast when something grabs my attention for a closer look.

Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your won presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.
Alice Koller

I also find myself receptive to new people and while it’s usually true that strangers tend to keep to themselves, they’re unusually responsive to friendly repartee when I’m alone.  The art gallery manager from Michigan explained how he and his wife stopped for a day in Key West during a cruise and decided to move here.  That was in 2002. We talked for probably 15 minutes.

Fort Zachary Taylor

Image via Wikipedia

Somehow the idea of being alone became equated to loneliness and nothing could be farther from the truth.  Loneliness surfaces from a depressed state, one which rises from a sense of lack.  Being alone lacks nothing.  There is no void, just a contentedness for being where you are, doing what you’re doing and enjoying your own company.

Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.
Theologian Paul Tillich

In fact I do many things alone, always have.  I’ve never required a companion to see a movie, theater, shop, have a restaurant meal, attend an event, visit a city, take a vacation – you name it and I’ve done it alone.  I get together with friends when I want to see them and share experiences.  My husband comes along when he’s interested in doing the same thing at the same time, but in truth our interests are overlapping circles that share about 20 percent of the same space.

What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.
Ellen Burstyn

Mostly I’m a loner who also has friends.  I’ve never identified with people who deny themselves experiences if they can’t find a companion.  Frankly, I know a lot of people who have felt very lonely in the company of others, and that includes some married couples.

Solitude

Solitude (Photo credit: Lady-bug)

I don’t live in solitude but I seek its experience everyday.  Alone feels good, it percolates with a vibrancy that strengthens intuition. And intuition is the juice that powers wise decision-making. I always allow it to have pre-eminence over my mind because it speaks the truth.

Read below for many delicious thoughts about solitude.

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People are usually wowed by my revelation that I’m a hospice volunteer, more than likely following that reaction with “boy I could never do that.”   They ascribe all sorts of saintly attributes to me which is uncomfortable, because they’re not true (ask my husband).  What is true is the following list … in no particular order … at this time of lists.

I receive much more than I give.

Time and receptivity is all that’s required and in return I learn about life and what it means to be human.  There is no other time in a person’s life when the need for true connection is greater.  To be invited into someone’s ultimate personal journey is a gift not to be taken lightly.  It holds great responsibility for truthfulness and vulnerability with its attending need for confidentiality.  Life’s lessons can be transmitted in just a few final months and I’m awed by the opportunity.

Hospice care givers are selfless heroes.

After a certain point a person in hospice care can no longer go and do.  All that’s available is to Be.  It’s the caregiver who is their loved one’s wheels, hands, utensils, hygienist, eyes, ears and task accomplishers.  They become housebound, leaving only when someone’s there to sit vigilance in their stead.  Life can exist that way for months, depending on the nature of the illness.  And it’s they who experience the deterioration of the person they knew and loved who’s no longer the person they remember.  They give selflessly without complaint – the greatest gift of love.  They lead invisible lives until theirs can once again resume.

Live life the way you’d like to be remembered.

This lesson can be sobering for someone on a deathbed.  One of my patients was postponing her death as long as possible even though its extension caused her suffering to be prolonged.  When we learned that she was afraid to die because of her shame about the pain she had caused others in her life, and her subsequent fear of retribution after death,  we called in her pastor to pray with her, allowing her to ask for the forgiveness she believed she needed.  And that included a necessary plea to her husband.  The next day she died.  No-one wants to be haunted on their deathbed.

Two friends

Authentic relationships are the only kind to have.

Once I experienced a true human connection I realized that it’s the only type I want.  Life is so short, putting on airs and pretending to be someone you’re not is foolhardy and a waste of precious time.  Being invited to peer into someone’s soul can be profound.

Friendship

It’s gratifying and enriching to be of service.

My time, until now, has been paid for by a number of companies who determined the value I brought to their organizations.  Doing what I did had market value and its commensurate performance standards. So most of my waking hours were spent performing to expectations – theirs and mine, tying my definition of value to size of paycheck.  Today I know differently and it’s had a profound effect on my life.

Day Hospice

Love comes in many flavors…

and romantic love might be the most shallow.  Relying on a family member to perform hygiene needs can force the final release of dignity.  And yet it’s part of the dying process.  Attending to people during their greatest time of need requires true unconditional love.

Friendship, Göteborg, Sweden

Image via Wikipedia

Shedding a facade makes room for intimate connection.

There are no more airs during the dying process, only naked humanity.  When I walk through the doors of a patient’s home I leave my defensive walls behind and open my heart to anything that might transpire for the next few hours.  I was privileged to attend to one elderly patient during her active dying phase with her equally elderly husband by her side, over wrought with grief.  With fever raging and her husband helplessly watching, I applied cool, damp wash cloths to her head, chest and arms, speaking soothing words as her breathing changed.  I witnessed her husband’s tears and last words of love and kiss goodbye – an unparalleled moment of intimacy that I’ll never forget.  Even her children didn’t experience this exchange between their parents; by the time they arrived she’d lost consciousness.

Change is the only constant.

Spending time with the dying certainly drives this point home.  Photo albums, pictures on the walls, stories from family members – those are the only ties to who this person was – his likes, her dislikes, their careers, their passions. This new person only shares the same name.  Most of the time I’ve never met the person they describe.  Life represents one changing moment after the next.  Might as well embrace it and enjoy it.

Patient

Trust defines our human-ness.

When you’re dying all there is is trust.  Trust that those who are there will do what’s right and take no advantage.  The dying slowly lose all control over their lives, leaving it in the hands of those around them, trusting that their wishes will be honored.  It’s heartwarming to watch adult children assume the role of parents and caretakers.  And the process reveals the true character of people.

Original caption: Ne ties a friendship bracele...

Image via Wikipedia

Listening without judgement is vital.

My role as a hospice volunteer is to do whatever the patient needs at the time.  Some like to be read to, others enjoy playing games.  One patient just wanted to watch old movies.  And one gentleman waited until his wife left to break down and grieve that he wouldn’t be around to counsel his grandson into manhood.  This man’s son died the year before and now his son’s son wouldn’t have a grandfather.  It was more than he could bear and it took all his energy to stand strong in front of his family.  Many patients need the ears and hearts of people who come with no family baggage.  Holding hands and simply nodding provides comfort.

Hospice

Friends show their true colors in time of need.

And many walk away, never to be heard from again.  It’s easy to be friends when life is humming along; it requires much more mettle when there’s nothing to be gained in return.

Mother and Child watching each other

Image via Wikipedia

Recognizing mortality energizes living.

Working in hospice is not depressing.  It’s not morose.  It’s not morbid.  It ends in sadness but inspires vitality.  When we recognize that life will end – for all of us – then we’re compelled by an urgency to appreciate each day and be aware of it.  Awareness of the present is a Buddhist tenet and that lesson stands front and center in hospice.

Hospice

Hospice is a gift.

It offers the dying a chance to end their days in comfort.  Without pain.  Without tubes attached.  Outside the beeping noise of an ICU with its antiseptic smell and sterile walls.   And it teaches the greatest lesson to accept that which you can’t control.

Yes, hospice inspires living.  May be we all be so inspired.

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Christmas in the post-War United States

I love the Christmas holiday time, but only after Thanksgiving.  It annoys me to see Christmas upstage Halloween and Thanksgiving in all the commercial venues.

Halloween doesn’t do much for me now that I’m past the candy gorging years but I really enjoy Thanksgiving, what it signifies and the time spent with family.  Then I’m ready to move on to Christmas, playing my share of carols in the car and while decorating (a little bit) around the house.

English: Hanukkah menorah, known also as Hanuk...

The time span from Thanksgiving through Christmas is when I think a lot about friends, who they are and what they mean.  This holiday has no religious significance to me as a non-Christian with Jewish heritage, but it holds plenty of sentimental significance.

I don’t stay in touch well.  Not good on the phone.  Don’t entertain much.  And don’t really spend a lot of hang out time with people who are important to me. In fact, many of them live in different cities around the country. But they never lose their places in my heart.  My close friends, my “peeps” in today’s parlance, are people who date way back to childhood, college, early work years and later work years.  Each of them means something special and represents a certain kind of relationship, one that automatically resumes where we left off even it was a year or two or five or even 25 ago.  Our bond holds fast and strong and if any of them needed me, wherever they lived, I’d be there ASAP.

This is generally called a Christmas Cactus, b...

So it’s to them — you — that I wish happy holidays, whether it’s Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or nothing at all. It signifies the closing of another year. They go fast and furiously these days so enjoy every minute of them with those you hold dear.

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