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Posts Tagged ‘Family’


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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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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christmas 2007

christmas 2007 (Photo credit: paparutzi)

The small condo is loaded to capacity with family members who live scattered down the south-east coast but are now reunited for Christmas.  Their presents are stacked under the tree in an arc that protrudes well into the traffic lane between the living and dining rooms.  There’s no choice but to pass single file around the mound or to step carefully above the lowest packages stacked.  And there is a lot of movement between the two rooms seeing that the food is in one and the TV and seating in the other.

In the crowd are twin babies whose smallest moves transfixes all eyes on them.  There is lots of ahhing and oohing over the infants by relatives who are either meeting them for the first time or have waited weeks for the special occasion.  The family has waited a long time for these babies to be born and they are most definitely the stars of the show.

SantaHatMy husband and I were invited to share the celebration because this family’s patriarch is caregiver to my hospice patient.  I call her my patient because I volunteer my time in her home.  But  I’m not a medical person and she and I have no relationship and have never shared a conversation.  Her brain has been ravaged by Alzheimer’s and her basic functions of breathing, eating and sleeping is what defines her aliveness these days.  She’s confined to a bed and is even blind now.  Nobody knows how much or how little she understands of her world and her family.  She’s been living like this for years, sustained mostly by her husband and through visits by various hospice professionals.  My role is to give her husband time out of the house to do as he pleases.  And we’ve maintained this routine for close to two years.   My relationship is with the husband who, for me, embodies the meaning of “noble” and who ranks close to the top of my “most admired” list of people.

Almost a decade ago his wife received her lethal diagnosis.  He promised to care for her for the rest of her life and never waivers a moment on that pledge even though it renders him housebound  until someone can relieve his vigil for a few precious hours.  He’s lived like this for years and there’s no forecast of how much longer this lifestyle will continue.  He and I visit once a week but the effects of his selflessness lingers with me.

PartyHatChristmasToday he’s decided to have her join the party.  After-all she’s a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother to everyone gathered.  He didn’t like the idea of her languishing in bed while everyone was carrying on.  So into the wheelchair she is placed (with great effort) and rolled into the living room where all the action is taking place.  Her husband plops into the chair next to her, and with his arm around her shoulder, tells her everyone who’s there. He feeds her.  He opens presents for her.  “Shows” them to her.  Tells her how pretty everything is.  And each daughter and grand-daughter come to hug and kiss her, wishing her a Merry Christmas.  One of them brings the babies and touches their fingers to her arms to say hi.  She hadn’t met them, in fact nobody knows if she understood that her grandson’s wife had given birth.  But none of that matters.  They talk to her as though she’s still a vibrant member of the family and its matriarch.

Such love and devotion with nothing given in return.  I’ve never heard the word “burden” uttered.  And there’s nothing about their actions that remotely hints that.

Merry Christmas to that family.  May those among us who are healthy realize it and be grateful for it.

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We say yes, he insists no.  What’s a child to do?

Right now my 89 year old father is in a rehab unit hoping to re-gain the strength of his body.  His legs don’t work that well anymore, particularly his left leg that’s grown weaker in the 20 years following his stroke.  The same is true of his arms; the right does the lion’s share of work while the left hangs limp at his side.  He desperately wants to return home where he was about a month ago before this current crisis took place.  There he was able to move ever so slowly using his walker and also to perform the daily rituals of living.  Now he can’t get in or out of bed by himself, bathing and dressing himself is impossible and he requires the help of an aid to move even more slowly and unsteadily in his walker for yet shorter distances than before.  And yet he’s convinced himself that he’ll get strong enough to go home and continue life as before.  It doesn’t look promising, though he is improving.

The food there is good; we’ve tasted a bit of all his meals as they’re delivered.  He’s receiving excellent care, has a private room and is in a very cheerful, bright community of people with a similar cultural background as his.  He’s been accepted into their long term care household which is where we want him to live.  He refuses, complaining about the regimented lifestyle and business-like attitude of some of the nurses and aids.  They have schedules to adhere to regardless of whether he agrees.  He likens it to life in the military some 70 years ago and says he wouldn’t wish it on his worst enemy.

We’re in a stalemate.  Once his physical therapy is finished we’ll have to make a decision.  What do we use as our guide?  Our judgement, as his children, about what’s best for him?  Or his emotional insistence on the way he wants to live out the rest of his life?

Based on history, we think that if he goes home he’ll “fire” the aids after a short period of time because he thinks they’re no longer necessary.  It’s happened before.  He hates spending the money; he considers it wasteful.  He wants to die with his money intact “just in case.”  “Just in case” what?  we probe.  “I don’t know” is the answer.  He can’t grasp the idea that NOW is the” just in case” he’s been saving for.

Life at home consists of sitting solitary in a room and watching TV all day.  His only company is my sister when she returns from work and my other sister when she visits.  On many Thursdays he hobbles to his car and drives to meet his buddies for lunch at the nearby deli.  He shouldn’t, but he does.  I doubt he’ll be cleared by a doctor to continue driving.  He’s convinced we’re wrong.  He must keep his car.

When I was a kid I went to hebrew school and took piano lessons because my parents insisted they were beneficial.  I disagreed.  It didn’t matter.  I went and I practiced — for years.  And years.  And years.  Now, as an adult, I’m a richer person for the experiences.

He doesn’t see the analogy.  He sees himself as the parent who knows best.  We disagree.  Who wins?  And at what cost?

What do you say?  What would you do?

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Growing Old


Health

Health (Photo credit: 401K 2012)

It’s a bitch to get old and feeble.  None of us thinks about it while we’re busy with our lives managing careers, family, friends and the daily mundane chores of living.  Nobody anticipates the day when we can no longer take care of ourselves, relegating decisions about our life to others.

That rude awakening landed square between my eyes while now playing the role of parent to my elderly father.  He’s always been a ferociously independent, active man who supported a family of six, sent his kids to college and provided the religious education he considered to be important.  He ran a business and answered to himself about all matters.

As a renegade, my father felt rules were guidelines that he could follow or not.  He could run red lights if he determined there to be no traffic, but God forbid any of his kids do that if he’s a passenger in our cars.  If his customers were tardy on paying him, his bills could wait until cash flow improved.  Any imposed penalty for lateness didn’t apply to him because of his extenuating circumstances.

Now he sits in a wheel chair while his body defies his craving to walk and go and do.  Now he has to listen to us.  And his therapists.  And his doctors.  And eat food they want him to eat and drink liquids that are unappetizing.

Life is incredibly difficult for him these days and at 89 it’s damn near impossible to become a different man, a deferential man.

My heart aches for him and I wonder whether he will be me someday.

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oh christmas tree, oh christmas treeThrough the front door there’s a great view of a decked out Christmas tree basking in  white lights, covered with snow and dripping with big sparkly white round ornaments.  A white Christmas is definitely being celebrated in this house.  But the mood is somewhat blue.

My hospice patient and her caregiver husband live here.  They’re both seniors and have spent most of their lives together –  working their family business and traveling in the RV in which they expected a multitude of road trips during their retirement years.

NEW MEXICO 2006 RECREATIONAL VEHICLE plate

Image by woody1778a via Flickr

Four years ago husband sold the RV; wife could no longer negotiate the steps to assume her role as navigator in chief.  That act signified an admission of his wife’s fatal disease and the death of dreams that had been years in the planning.  That was also the last year she spoke; she hasn’t uttered a word since.  Not because she was disappointed, but because her Alzheimer’s had advanced enough to rob her of voice.  Now husband spends his days taking care of her.

Decorating the Christmas tree is something they always did together.  In fact, she bought this very tree and the ornaments.  It came adorned with white lights and snow. This year they decorated together again.  He set it up, he added the balls, covered the tree base, wrapped the presents and carefully arranged them at the bottom.  Wife slumped in her chair, sucked her lower lip, wrung her hands and nodded off.  That’s this year’s Christmas, at least until his children join them in a couple of weeks.

Husband cherishes wife.  She’s the love of his life and when she was diagnosed 8 years ago he promised he’d care for her until the end of her days.  He meant it, despite the sacrifice it entails.

Being housebound is one of those sacrifices, except for my weekly visits to socialize with him and sit with her during the couple of hours he goes where he wants.  His spirits are high, he laughs easily, he loves big.  He embodies the true spirit of giving.  And when he allows himself to think of how things were supposed to be, the twinkle in his eye grows dimmer.

He inspires me.  He fills me with admiration.  What inspires you this season?

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It’s Thanksgiving and we’re visiting my father-in-law and the rest of the clan on his side of the family.  The yearly tradition brings between 16 – 20 of us together to catch up on the year’s events and see how old the kids are getting – now that many of them are starting to have children of their own.

My father-in-law spends the day beaming as he visits each of us.  He loves watching his brood grow and he takes his place at the head of the assorted tables cobbled together to make one long dining space that stretches from dining room to living room.

For him it’s bittersweet.  It’s the one time of year we all come to visit and feast together.  And in years past he would catch the eye of his wife seated at the far end of the table and blow her a kiss.  This is the second year that chair will be empty.

Dean was married to Susie for 63 years before she died, leaving him alone and unprepared to continue life without her.  For some reason he was blindsided by her passing, even though his kids had been expecting it for years.  He assumed she’d  come home from the most recent hospitalization just like every other time.  This time, though, she didn’t.

He’s been grieving for more than two years now, still heartbroken over losing his one great love. He tells us he talks to her every night to tell her of the day’s events.  He says he apologizes to her for not doing enough for her all those years they were together.

Myrtle Beach, SC Spring Break 2007

Image via Wikipedia

That confession astounds me.  I can’t imagine him doing anything more for that incredibly fortunate woman.  He created and maintained a beautiful garden in their backyard so she could see it through her kitchen window.  Bought a condo in Myrtle Beach to winter there because she loved being near the ocean.  Bought the house she loved in Pennsylvania because she loved it.  To me, their marriage was what fairy tales are made of, built on love and mutual respect.  And now – he bemoans what he thinks he didn’t do.

What he didn’t do is say goodbye to his wife of 63 years.  For him, she suddenly died.  While she was living he never said…

Thank you for a wonderful life together.  Thank you for our four wonderful, productive, achieved kids.  Thank you for working and supporting our household while I was earning a Ph.D in metallurgy.  Thank you for moving where my jobs took me.  And thank you for your never-ending support, friendship and love over the years.

Had he realized she was on a dying path for the last three years of her life, perhaps he might have taken the time to say to her then what he says to her every night now.

The lesson my father-in-law is teaching?  Don’t ever wait to say thanks to the people you love.  And tell them that you love them.  Today, tomorrow and future tomorrows.

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