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Grieving Life’s Diverse Losses

Today I am realizing that when our children or couples we love divorce, there’s a mourning period involved. Particularly with friends that we only knew when they were married. We have to mourn and let go of those we have loved in relationship. It has nothing to do with thinking they should or shouldn’t divorce. It just involves coming to grips with the differences.

With a child we knew and loved long before they married or divorced, we at least have something to look back to, but not with the spouse that we only knew as a unit with our child. They simply aren’t the same person now that we have only known. There really is a necessary time of mourning, particularly if we truly came to love them as part of that unit. And mourning involves the stages of grief…..denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I think recognizing this can help us not bog down hopelessly at any point in the process. I am also beginning to reflect on the possibility that we have to go through a similar process when either people we love or we ourselves change because of aging or illness.
I realize now that I need to cut myself some slack and take time to reflect on the effects of this recent period in my life that includes my own losses of abilities and joys through age and illness, my husband experiencing losses from these also, one of our adult children and a spouse that I loved deeply as a couple for many years now being divorced, and friends that I have loved and only known as a couple divorcing.
The last year and a half have simply been overwhelming and I have been bogged down in emotional denial of some of these things and in anger over others.
Hopefully, recognizing this  and my need for grace will help me move through to the peace of acceptance.

The Winter of Age

Bare boned skeletons
no extras, not a bit of fluff
nothing hidden, just the basics
the black and white of it
simplified and stark
light and dark
beauty in contrast
truth in paradox
no more pretend
what is………is.

The Reason for Old Age?

I just spent two weeks in a convalescent home for therapy for a badly shattered shoulder.
After a few days I felt good enough at eating with my left hand to eat lunch in the dining room.
Being there temporarily, I had just brought exercise clothes.The others were all dressed quite elegantly, even with matching jewelry. I felt a bit shabby until a helper put baby blue terry cloth bibs on all of us. Somehow bibs are a great equalizer!
I have wondered often why God allows old age to be so humbling. Having some pride seems a virtue of sorts. But now I think that is what old age is about. Recognizing that we are all equal in God’s eyes and loved just as we are without one plea or status symbol. Over and over Jesus tells us that His way is not the world’s way, that our value is based on the love of God,  not achievement, riches, nationality, religion, image.

More and more I realize that only when we either let go or are stripped of those, do we discover not only our human brotherhood, but our oneness with all, including  Jesus, the human expression of the unconditional love that is God.

What was the “Way” of Jesus?   It was to witness to the Love that is God by healing the sick, feeding the hungry and calling us to do the same. How did it end in worldly terms?  In helplessness, unvalued by the world, identified with the lost, no longer even able to help himself, never-the-less others, abandoned by almost all of those closest to him.

I can tell you from experience with my mother’s dying by inches with Alzheimer’s and friends who spent their last years in nursing homes or even alone most days living with their children who work, Jesus’ last days describe many peoples’ last years.

We leave the world the way we came into it: naked, helpless, equal, of infinite value, and loved by God because of whom God is, not whom we are.

And the challenge of life is to become able to love ourselves and others the same way.

What Does Love Mean?

Some 4 to 8 year olds were asked:
‘What does love mean?’
Here are their answers. (Don’t know if this factual, but good anyway.)

‘When my grandmother got arthritis , she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.’
Rebecca- age 8

‘When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. 
You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.’
Billy – age 4

‘Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne
and they go out and smell each other.’
Karl – age 5

‘Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries
without making them give you any of theirs.’
Chrissy – age 6

‘Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.’
Terri – age 4

‘Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip
before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.’
Danny – âge 8

‘Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and just listen.’
Bobby – age 7
(Wow!)

‘If you want to learn to love better , you should start with a friend who you hate. ‘
Nikka – age 6
(we need a few million more Nikka’s on
this planet)

Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.’
Noelle – age 7

‘Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.’
Tommy – age 6

‘During my piano recital , I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.’
Cindy – age 8

‘My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.’
Clare – age 6

‘Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.’
Elaine-age 5

‘Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.’
Chris – age 7

‘Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.’
Mary Ann – age 4

I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and  has to go out and buy new ones.’
Lauren – age 4

‘When you love somebody , your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.’
Karen – age 7

‘Love is when Mommy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn’t think it’s gross..’
Mark – age 6

‘You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot.  People forget.’
Jessica – age 8

And the final one was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an
elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.
Upon seeing the man cry , the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard , climbed onto his lap , and just sat there. His Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor , the little boy said ,

‘Nothing , I just helped him cry’

************************

Dementia and Pinched Nerves? or Boredom and Loneliness?

I am seventy-eight, but though forgetful, I’m reasonably functional and can still drive. I have a friend who is ninety-two, another who is only seventy, and one who is seventy-seven. All live either with a working daughter or alone.

None of them drive anymore and the seventy-seven year old seemed to be sinking into severe dementia the last couple of years. She lives an hour away from me and I have been knee deep in grandchildren with school out, and when I finally grab some time to call her to see if I can take her to lunch, she says she is too tired or feeling badly. But, I saw her today and she was as sharp as a whip. She has a care-giver now and had played bridge yesterday and was very excited about playing in a tournament tomorrow. She explained all the challenges to the brain from playing bridge to me. She didn’t need to just get out, she needed something that challenged her and gave her a sense of accomplishment.

At sixty-five the seventy year old was mistakenly diagnosed as having inoperable lung cancer and told she might have only five years to live. She is a talented artist. But, she lives alone and the last few years she has gone from depressed to the point of being suicidal to having frequent panics about her health that involve trips to the ER. Her only daughter is a very successful career woman and is often out of the country.

The ninety-two year old broke her hip two years ago and sits home alone out in the country about twenty-five minutes away from both town and me, because all her children work. She struggles with depression, but has no interests or talents to keep her mentally stimulated. She reads some, but her eyesight is failing and makes it difficult.

I have spent the last four or five years either visiting with them or taking them in pairs out to lunch, shopping, to museums or to women’s study groups. But as each has become more unsteady, using canes or walkers, I have needed to take them each separately because of fear of one of them falling. My life includes a husband who still works and has health issues, and eleven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, some of whom have handicaps, so I try to spend quality time with them. I have a blog with posts that I hope to turn into a book. At seventy-five I started doing some very small gigs as a stand-up comic. I lead worship services once a month and several times a year give presentations to women’s groups I’m in. What I am seeing is that when I am busy elsewhere, often there’s no one to help these women get out of the house, and they go down hill rapidly both mentally and physically.

Sadly, since my husband and I have a chance to travel abroad this fall, and there are a lot of preparations and planning involved, lately I have less and less time for my friends. I feel both guilty and resentful. The women were there for me in earlier stages of my life and I want to be there for them. But often I have to neglect home, husband and my writing trying to be there for them.

Our small church women’s group has one member dying with ALS, another with early onset dementia, several are shut in’s with debilitating physical issues, two women are newly widowed, another woman’s husband has Alzheimer’s and a couple of women are nursing their husbands back to health after major surgeries.  There are more women needing help than there are helpers.

I was all for women’s freedom to have careers and get equal pay for their work. I don’t think all women are designed to be mothers anymore than all men are designed to be plumbers. But now even women who have no desire to have a career need to work because the economy has adjusted to two paycheck families. There are simply no family caregivers anymore.

Sadly my three friends didn’t see a need to become computer and internet savvy and now it’s probably too late for them to feel brave enough to try. I think this is the easiest way for the women coming along right behind us to prepare for a day when they may be home-bound.

Even the buses created to take the elderly to doctors, grocery stores and Senior Centers are challenging. Some have backs that let down for wheel chairs, but are not really easy for someone on a walker or using a cane. In rural areas the fees can be an obstacle, particularly for taking people to a more urban area for medical care. The timing for people going different places often leaves sick or crippled people waiting literally hours to get home.

Our medical miracles are keeping us alive, but our options and quality of life are diminishing. This is the challenge the fifty year olds of today will soon be facing.

The Gold in the Golden Years

From the poem Time on the blog: poetry, photos, and musings, oh my –  by lea

Whatever time is left

Use it up

Wear it down

Regardless how thin

The fabric becomes

It is rich with the sounds

Of laughter

Salty with tears and

Friends.

This excerpt from Lea’s poem describes my life at seventy-nine perfectly.

On Wednesday, my ninety-one year old friend Barbara, who is on a walker from a painful hip surgery, admitted her despair from feeling useless. But as we shared lattes with a younger friend, who lives with a slow growing cancer, we laughingly imagined walkers like baby walkers and crinoline skirts to hide them, perhaps even small secret porta potties built in. Then, in the parking lot as we attempted to help Barbara into the van, somehow she got stuck bent over half way in. We tried to gently boost her backside without hurting her hip, until the giggles overtook us. Frozen in place, the three of us laughed helplessly, humor overcoming even our fears of age weakened bladders. When I called Barbara the next morning to make sure she hadn’t been hurt, she started laughing all over again, insisting she had been laughing all morning just thinking about it, and even wished we had a photograph.

Thursday, I visited with my friend with dementia in a nursing home in Nashville. She had once again dreamed of her parents’ death as a present day event, and waked up frantic about funeral arrangements.  Each time she grieves anew, I can only hold her hand and ache for her endless losses. But later, seeing the wonder in her eyes, when she listens as I tell one of the caregivers about her courage and faith and her kindness to so many in her life, I recognize a moment of grace even in the now worn fabric of our lives.

Friday, my alarm went off two hours early at four a.m. and I had the coffee made before I finally noticed the actual time. Later, I realized on my first stop of the day, that I had my coat on inside out. That night at a my sister-in-law’s birthday celebration in an upscale restaurant, I managed on my second trip to the bathroom, to go into the men’s room.  Then, somehow I lost my coat check number in my tiny purse. Unfortunately, I don’t drink, so I can’t even blame it on something temporary. At least it’s fodder for blogs.

The Gold in the Golden Years are our friendships and shared memories, but perhaps most of all, the freedom to laugh at ourselves.

Laughter is carbonated grace.

He Who Began a Good Work in You, Will Be Faithful to Complete It.

In old age, the life question, “Why am I here?” becomes, “Why am I still here?”
In the past fifteen years scientists have discovered that the natural human life span
may be one hundred and twenty years or more. I’m not sure if this is good news or bad news!
Does the Gospel message have any good news for the challenges of later life?
Many people have conscientiously lived the Gospel message, that it is better to give than to
receive all their lives, so they find it difficult to figure out how to answer the call, “Come, follow
me,” when they are flat on their back, stuck in a wheelchair, in pain, and dependent on family
or nursing home care.
I’ve become convinced that following Jesus in our later years is a completely different
call. Jesus does not limit the “Come Follow Me” to his years of healing the sick, feeding the
hungry, and taking the Good News of God’s love to others. It includes following Him, like loyal,
doubting Thomas to Jerusalem, where we know that in worldly terms, things will not go well.
Jesus was in God’s accelerated class. What He learned from His experiences on Good
Friday may take the rest of us years.
Through my years in a wheelchair, I experienced things that I never would have, if I
were walking under my own power. Painful and challenging as these were, they were learning
experiences. Shocks do get our attention.
Shock One: was being imprisoned. I could no longer go either when or where I wanted.
I was helpless and dependent on others.
Shock Two: was that my church community pretty much went about their busy lives without
me. I felt abandoned even by my Christian family.
Shock Three: Though blessed with free air travel abroad, I discovered that the handicapped
are literally hated in many countries. (Note: Many people were kind in these countries, but the negative experiences were a shock.) In the Czech Republic, I was hissed at and we were forced
off the sidewalks into the streets and even out into the rain by middle-aged, middle-class
looking women. In Lucerne, Switzerland a taxi driver with a trunk easily spacious enough for the
wheelchair, vehemently and arrogantly refused to take us from the airport.
In a two story museum in Paris, we were told that the elevator was out of order, though we
could see workers using it. In Vienna, the manager of our small hotel refused to help
us find a safe place on the ground floor for the wheelchair that wouldn’t fit into the tiny
elevator.
The first few times I experienced this kind of rejection, I cried at night realizing that it didn’t
matter to these people, whether I was a good person, smart, talented, or had even achieved
things. I was rejected, because in their eyes I was defective, and that probably threatened to
force them to recognize their own vulnerability as human beings. These experiences made me
feel terribly naked and vulnerable out on the streets among hostile strangers. In fact, we would
go blocks out of our way, when we spotted groups of young skin heads on the street.
Shock Four: When we had to struggle to get me and the wheelchair up long flights of stairs
while hurrying to make a connecting train, no one offered any assistance, some even
angrily pushed past us. Those days left me with both a great deal of physical pain and the
emotional pain of feeling so universally rejected.
But grace came in Prague in a huge ancient cathedral. As we toured the cathedrals of Europe
several things struck me. One: the only people actually using them for prayer were the old,
mostly women. Two: The Catholic ones were filled with gold and silver ornaments and
elaborate tombs of Popes and Bishop, the Anglican/Episcopal ones were filled with gold and
silver and elaborate tombs of Kings and Queens and other nobility. The Presbyterian one in
Scotland was a little less gilded, but no less ornate and filled with the tombs of warriors.
In Prague the cathedral not only had many gilded angels, ornaments, and tombs, but one
room with walls almost completely covered with embedded semi-precious stones.

My son wanted to climb to the top of the bell tower and my husband was taking photos of all the

glitter. It was jam packed with tourists, so they parked me in a dim unadorned corner without
any people in it. I was newly wounded by my experiences of rejection and when my son and
husband were gone a long time, I began to feel depressed and sorry for myself. I started
looking around for something that represented the love of God, not the silver and gold in
honor of men. Finally, I looked up at the wall behind me. There was a life size wooden crucifix
with the body of Jesus right over me. We were alone together in the darkness, since the crowd
was entranced by the silver and gold and the famous. I remembered a quote from Paul Caludell,                                        “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it.  He came to fill it with his presence.”

Somehow in that moment, I experienced a oneness with Him. We were in this together. I
was not alone and never would be.
God chose, through Jesus, to experience our loss of purpose, imprisonment, falling
under the weight of the cross, needing the help of strangers, being
stripped of image, being rejected by the world for vulnerability,
being abandoned by friends, suffering physical and mental pain that makes the minutes
seem like hours and the hours like eternity, and even finally feeling abandoned by God.
Yet, still saying, “ God, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
I knew then, that He is not only with me and all of us, but He is in us, experiencing
everything through us. Right then, right now, and always. He told us that whatever is done to
even the least of us is done to Him. And in the helplessness of old age, we are finally freed to
accept being the least, those totally dependent on God. We are not alone, ever. And
when that becomes more important to us, than all the losses we mourn, I think we get to go
home.

Gifts of Age (Part Three): Milestones, Kidney Stones, and Cobble-stones

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Of all the birthday milestones such as: school age, driving age, voting age, and drinking age, the most unexpectedly celebratory one is Medicare age. Because without Medicare, just trying to stay alive would take an NFL star quarterback’s salary and bonuses. It also needs to coincide with retirement age, because we are suddenly averaging at least three doctor appointments a week. Since these often involve MRI’s, CAT scans, ultrasounds, treadmill tests, and more, this leaves a work week of about fifteen hours. My husband counted recently and discovered that he actually has one internist and sixteen specialists. I think that’s at least one specialist per body part. On the way to appointments with these, we find ourselves humming, “Getting to know us. Getting to know all about us” (our colons, our kidneys, our prostates, and mysterious moles in places that have never before seen the light of day). I suggest forgetting credentials and looking for specialists that are young and good looking, because believe me, we don’t know the ultimate in physical intimacy until we reach the age of sixteen specialists.

For some of us, a more positive aspect of retirement age is the opportunity to travel. We were blessed with thirteen years of free air travel, while one of our sons worked for an airline. So we got to travel abroad much more than we would have otherwise. Unfortunately, even in my best years, I was athletically challenged.

So my travel experiences often became unexpectedly medical:

a broken pinky finger while playing miniature golf in California,

a sprained ankle from a missing sidewalk tile in Spain,

an Achilles tendon screaming in protest when chasing taxis in Paris,

a gaping hole in my smile after a crusty bread roll removed the crown on a front tooth in Portugal,

traveling stoned on Benadryl after an English castle tour revealed a severe allergy to mold,

and finally loose dentures from riding in a wheelchair over cobblestones almost everywhere.

Pecs and Buns

Breathes there a woman, from age so dead, who never to herself has said, “Now, there goes a nice set of buns.”

I was asked recently, “When did you realize you were getting old?”

Realizing and feeling are two very different things. At seventy-eight I still don’t feel old, because all the people I’ve been at different ages are still part of me. Remembering is not like imagining. Remembering takes me back. I don’t have to imagine what it feels like to be young, because I’ve been there, done that.
But, I also remember clearly the day in my fifties, when I first realized I had reached the age of invisibility. I went into an auto repair shop for some help and though several men glanced my way, no one came forward to ask what I wanted. It was a wake-up call leading me to notice that men’s heads didn’t turn anymore when I came into a room or passed them on the street.
That was a traumatic entrance into an angst filled change of life.

Rites of Passage

Grieve with us for youthful beauty lost,
remembering our vibrant gracefulness
bright’ning eyes and turning manly heads.
Mourn it with us. Keen our woman’s loss.
A strange invisibility is now our aging fate,
like graying ghosts, unseen, we walk.
Beat your breast. Shred your public garment.
The maggot of our egocentricity
leaves a hollowness of empty vanity.
Wail. Keen. Howl. Beat the ritual drum.
Celebrate the death of youth until it can be borne.
EoN  1993
However, as I moved into my sixties, I discovered there actually was an upside to becoming invisible. This stage of my life involved a lot of travel, so I was spending many hours waiting in airports. There I discovered the fun of watching the young men walk by. I worried that someone would notice and consider me a dirty little old lady, until I remembered that I had on my invisibility of age cloak. After that, I spent many enjoyable hours comparing buns and deciding whether I was a pecs or buns woman. Someone needs to write a ‘Pecs and Buns’ song, similar to ‘Tits and Ass’ from the musical, Chorus Line.