Archive for the ‘Aging’ Category

Sometimes life gives you the opportunity to receive more than what you think you’re paying for. 

I take weekly sculpture lessons with a wonderful and giving octogenarian. She provides sculpture lessons for sure, but she frequently weighs in on life matters. The sculpture studio is an intimate place. When a new person (male) was introduced into the group of female students, it was with the understanding that he “fit” into the group without disrupting it. (He met with her approval.)

Life, challenges of health, family and the world at large are discussed in the hours we spend there together. And our teacher, a wise, strong and loving person, continues to evolve and share what she has discovered.

I have always favored older friends. They have the wisdom of the older generation, like parents, but none of the baggage or judgement that accompanies blood relationships.

The latest lesson was how to slow down. She had recently decided to permit herself to do it and say “no” to even the most tempting activities. She listens to and respects her body, age-related limitations and trusts that it is OK to NOT do something.

I have been experimenting with this myself. I learned that the town I will be moving to has roller skating weekly at one of the schools. My eyes lit up as I remembered the fun I had on roller skates when it was back in style in the mid 70’s, when I was in my twenties. I pictured myself twirling around, skating backwards, dancing with a partner. I was pretty hot on wheels. 

Then reality sunk in. Having had a number of falls and breaking a wrist in the past few years, I realized the lunacy of even considering this. If I couldn’t figure out why I fell while standing in a supermarket line, how could I trust that I could move on wheels? “No,” I said to myself. Just “no.”

My teacher’s words came to me. “You can slow down. It’s OK.” And you know what? I am OK with it. Who needs another broken bone?

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Few people are comfortable talking about death. But those who are dying often long to talk about it. Most don’t because they know it is uncomfortable for their loved ones or because they sense it is a taboo subject.

I have been on both sides of the debate; in a position of being near death and longing for its release, and being with those who are dying, supporting their need to talk about it and be given permission to let go when they were ready.

My father suffered immeasurably as he died slowly and painfully with bone cancer. My brother made all the decisions: if he should take the morphine, if it was better to have him alert but in pain, if they should have a nurse help or if he would do it all himself, believing only he could take care of him, if they should disconnect his defibrillator/pacemaker before the day came his body gave in and it would keep shocking him. My sister and I were 1,300 away, so we had no choice but to defer to him, even when we didn’t agree with his decisions. My father privately called to talk to me about hospice, then after he unloaded his needs, made me promise not to tell my mother and brother that he called. They were insistent that he didn’t need it, because they were not accepting the reality of the situation as easily as my father did.

It was a year filled with anxiety. Traveling to where he lived when it looked like the end was near, then having him rally at seeing his girls and or grandchildren who accompanied us on some of the trips. Then a few months of the same and starting the cycle over again. It was a full year before he succumbed, and we were fortunate to be with him when he finally let go. But even at that moment, my mother was still in denial, trying to will my father into living as he drew his last breaths. And me, now the mother to the child, telling her to stop so his last moment on earth would be peaceful; not filled with worry about her. He had already sacrificed enough, holding on for their sake, in spite of excruciating pain. It was time to let him go.

I know how much he suffered because I was in his shoes. Not for as long, not suffering with cancer, but I was in a place of terrible physical suffering. I was not as stalworth as he was, rather begging to be let free of my life so the pain would stop. But my family would not hear of it. And because I was in and out of consciousness, I was sometimes in charge of my destiny, and other times it was ceded to my husband, who would never make the decision to let me go.

Hindsight is 20-20 of course, and now I am glad we all fought for my life, but the memory of that time is still fresh, even 4+ years later. I see every opportunity as a gift, every day as a bonus. My perspective is different. I am unwilling to put up with nonsense because most of it is unimportant. I am able to ask for what I need (most of the time) and say no when it compromises something else more important to me.

But back to the point of this post. Death comes to us all. sometimes willingly; sometimes not. Sometimes too soon, sometimes when we have lived enough and are ready. But it will come, one way or another. So we should consider that discussing death, our wishes for it if we do have a choice, and planning for the matters that need to be addressed, is actually the more practical and kind thing to do. Especially if it is known that the end of someone’s life is approaching. The gift of listening to the person who wishes to talk about it is comforting to both that person and to those who listen. It is a gift to those who must deal with the formalities of death, to grant the dying person’s wishes.

Let’s take the discussion of death out of the closet. It will reduce the fear it instills. It puts death into the category of one of life’s stages to be experienced, in all its complexities, vulnerabilities and honor.

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As I sort through the incredible volume of possessions accumulated over 40 years of my life, I am ready to let go of more than I ever have before. Maybe it’s the practice I got emptying my mother-in-law’s home, which had more years of accumulation than I have. Maybe it’s the “clean start” one wants when moving to a new home. Maybe it’s the realization that I will never learn guitar, I will never need 2 shredders, I’ve long since replaced the china closet with another, my kids have taken or stored everything they want to take from my collections, and the overwhelming feeling of organizing and packing what I want to keep.

As I put my guitar into the hands of its new owner, she admitted she might never have the time to learn, what with a job and a small child and all. I smiled and nodded in recognition of my 35 year old self. The kids didn’t want the furniture, so it was time to move it out. And all those duplicates? Time to reduce to one of anything, sell some things online, some through local tag sale sites and prepare for one helluva tag sale.

The difficult thing is that some things are attached to dreams. The guitar for instance. I always wanted to play it. Now I forfeit that opportunity because I no longer have the instrument to play. There are others. It doesn’t really matter what they are; I let go the dream of doing, with the disposal of the object.

The great thing is that every time I shed a piece, I feel lighter. I am freeing myself of something that needs care, cleaning or attention. I am replacing money in the coffers for the incidentals that will be needed in my new home. It’s all good. Lightening my load, lightens my head and heart.

Except for art supplies. I am parting with but a tiny percent of an entire room full of things that could create art by combining them, when creativity strikes. Yeah, that stuff is going to take a whole truck by itself. I’ve already identified the beneficiary of all of it when I die, so all it will require is one phone call by the family.

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Why do we get more sentimental as we age? Is it the feeling (and reality) that our time is growing limited? Is it a yearning for days gone by? Or is it a combination of these factors?
I am joyful beyond measure for the time we get to spend with our family. It is so rare now to have them all together at the same time, and usually not all to ourselves. With friends in their lives, we are sharing our boys with other people. I am happy about the kinds of people they choose to be in their lives, and enjoy the young adults sitting around the dinner table having mature conversations. I love the amazing meals my son and his friend turn out for us to enjoy. I love the physical closeness phone calls can’t provide.
Then why am I also sad?
It’s because I know this time is limited.
It’s because they will be wretched from us once again – each parting as difficult as the first.
It’s because I do not know when we will next see each other.
It’s because we will be moving away from where they grew up, and when they go “home” maybe it won’t be where we are moving to.
It’s because all parents carry guilt about what they didn’t do even though the outcome was good and there is no logical reason to feel that way.
It’s just because sometimes.
So, now I will put it aside and go back to enjoying the time I DO have with my sons and their friends. They need help in the kitchen!

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I work in a hospital as a Registered Dietetic Technician. I screen patients for nutritional risk, provide education for  theraputic diets and food/drug interactions. But that isn’t the greatest part of the job. The most rewarding times are those when a deep connection is made with a patient or family member. I’ve tried to analyze how or why it happens when it does, and concluded that it isn’t so simple.

Human connection is obviously found in lifelong friendships. But it is those fleeting, temporary connections that intrigue me.

A patient with Parkinson’s disease struggled to communicate with me. His tremors were so bad, speech was excruciatingly difficult. Time slowed as I stayed with him, watching him painfully, frustratingly, trying to say something. Word by word, I was able to discern that he was very intelligent, educated, lucid. And that he wanted to die.

When I asked if he wanted to speak with a member of the clergy or a counselor, he struggled to say, “I’d like to speak with you.”  There is a fine line professionally, between doing the job I am employed to do, and providing patient care, in the full sense. And I am drawn to those who need to talk about their feelings about their wish to die when they are suffering, and their families can’t hear them.

So I pulled up a chair, took his hand in mine and listened as he shared his wish to end his suffering with a terrible disease that has trapped his agile mind in a crippled body. I returned to visit him a number of times, even though he was not on my daily list of patients. I listened to his younger wife, who seemed still to believe he should be fighting for his life.

I heard his suffering. I could do nothing to ease it, but listen.

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There comes a point when we know a loved one is headed into the final chapter of his or her life. The hospitalizations become more frequent and the recoveries slower. The mind forgets what date it is, what foods one enjoyed eating, what objects are called. Adult diapers become necessary. Walkers, wheelchairs and physical therapy equipment, become our survival tools. Daily activities like dressing, bathing, cooking and laundry are no longer possible without help.

One can question the value or purpose of living like this. Indeed, I have, and know I don’t want to live in such a state. I don’t want to be a prisoner in my own body or mind. I don’t want whatever assets I have left to be obliterated in short order, by the enormous cost of sustaining my life in this manner.

My family knows my position on this. Only we can make these decisions for ourselves and it behooves us to share our wishes with our families and friends. It would be unfair and terribly burdensome to ask them to make these decisions for us.

My husband’s mother has been living for some time now, blissfully unaware of the rest of the world. She isn’t suffering physically, nor mentally. She is fortunate to be able to afford full time care. She smiles when anyone comes to see her and expresses pleasure to have visitors – even though she doesn’t remember who we are from one time to the next. She seems content, even in the face of her declining health. She never complains and is ever sweet. In her innocence, acting like a child, she agrees with our request to leave the IV in her arm this time, but soon forgets and takes it out again. Having forgotten her food preferences, she now eats things she wouldn’t have in days past. She takes our hand and tells us she loves us; something she never did before her dementia.

Her clock is not the one we all March to. She sleeps when she is tired (which is much of the day), and gets out of bed when she is restless (day or night). She is obsessed with the clock and remarks frequently on the time. She still compulsively feels the need to clean up her surroundings, albeit in a more physically limiting way now. Some traits remain while most of them have vanished along with her mind.

She is so different from the person she used to be, so it is bittersweet to be with her. For now, I find comfort in her apparent pleasure during my visits. But when I return home, I am deeply saddened that life has to wind down in such a manner.

While this isn’t what I want for myself and I can express this while of sound mind, I can only hope my family will have the strength to let me go when it is my time. Even if I smile at them and tell them I love them.

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I’m only 59. Yes, a dinosaur to my kids perhaps, but not technologically. Many of my peers certainly are computer savvy and carry smart phones (and know how to use them), but a surprising number are adamantly denying the need for technology. “I got along all these years with a pen and paper and a phone,” they say. I try to explain why it is important to their relationships with their children and grandchildren. They huff and puff and tell me why kids have no respect these days! I invoke Kahlil’s Gibran’s “The Prophet’s” chapter “On Children,” but they won’t listen. (It is printed below. A beautiful poem from one of the most amazing books ever written.) But I digress.

Some of the obvious reasons in the relationship domain are simply related to how things are done nowadays. Don’t have texting? You may never get that last minute notice that someone is running late. You’ll be standing out in the cold waiting and wondering if they forgot your appointment. Have a computer but you check email only once a week? You’re missing invitations to join people who do use it. Don’t have a smart phone? When you break down, you’re going to have to figure out where you so you can tell AAA. Have no cell phone at all? Good luck finding a pay phone to even call AAA!

I consider my smartphone, the most powerful computer in a tiny box, my auxiliary brain. It remembers far more than I ever could, and why should I tax my brain when I can look it up. What’s “it” you ask? Anything, everything, and more. Hell, I don’t even have to type in my question. I just ask Siri to find things for me, dial the phone, give me directions, find the nearest place to eat, gas station, or bathroom. I ask her to play a song, make an appointment, write me a reminder note, take a photo, post to Facebook, send a text or email. She looks up any address or phone number. Best of all, if I lose my phone, everything I put on there is backed up on my computer and my iPad. Making my plans, writing a letter, reading a book? I can put down my phone in the living room and resume reading/typing in the bedroom, on a different device. It knows where I left off.

If I’m in the store and see something we need and want to show it to my husband for his opinion? Bam! Take photo, text to husband, he replies and I buy it or don’t. Time lapsed – 3 minutes. Time saved returning to the store later; priceless!

And if you have grandchildren, you’d better get with it. If you ever want to see pictures of them or communicate with them when they get old enough to use mom’s iPad (at about one and a half years old) you better have some technological device on which to receive it.

I may sound like a commercial for Apple, and maybe it is, but I can’t deny that life is so much easier with an auxiliary brain in my pocket.

On Children
 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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