Tag Archives: grief

Turning Seventy is Sublime

 

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I am in the middle of writing an essay about how wonderful it is to be 70. I started it in January, but got caught up in other things and in writing a memoir piece. So now I’m almost half way to being 71. With luck and time, I will finish the essay before that birthday.

Meanwhile, I’m going to share some thoughts. On my 70th, I was determined to not look or feel my age. It was a lot of work! Now I’m purposefully slowing down—as a matter of fact, I took myself out of the race. I’m not so touchy about people holding a door open for me or asking to help me with my grocery bags. I don’t have to be in charge. I don’t have to be the responsible one. I don’t have to try proving that I’m as strong and capable as I once was. I can surrender to the aging. I can admit that I get tired. I can admit that I can’t lift my suitcase. I can admit that a swimsuit is not my best look, but I’ll wear one anyway.

One of the great benefits of aging is that I like being who I am. I say to myself when I’m doing something, “You know, that’s who you are. You’ve always been that way.” And I feel good rather than thinking I should change to conform to somebody else’s ideas. It’s true, for instance, that I rather write than play golf.

 

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I still think of myself as young. For instance, if I’m on a bus or train, I’ll stand up to give my seat to an older person. Only… what’s happening is that sometimes there is no older person. The first time this occurred was last summer when I went to DC to look after my grandson who was interning there. To begin with, that was a joke. Garrett, in reality, looked after me. He set me up with a Metro pass and with Uber. He made sure I was fine when he went to work. He’d call to check on me. He made the dinner reservations and showed me where the washer/dryer was in the building. The day we took the Metro to Capitol Hill, he made sure I got on the train without any trouble. I was standing next to him when a man asked me if I’d like his seat. I smiled and looked around for an older person to take advantage of his offer. Then I realized I was the oldest by at least twenty years. That was a “Yikes” moment!

I’m not denying that aging comes with a lot of loss. We have lost so many dear friends and family to cancer, heart attacks and strokes. Or they are suffering with the effects of their disease. There is a sadness now that really has no time to go away. Then there is the loss of taut skin, height and strong muscles, eyesight and hearing—but let’s not go there right now.

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I want to age gracefully, but I want to have fun too. Cindy Joseph’s make up tips for older woman have been widely distributed on Facebook. Here’s some of her advice around the eyes: “Women older than 50 tend to lose definition in their eyebrows. Just go with that. Don’t recreate the brows you had in your 20s.”

Really? I liked my eyebrows in my twenties, and if I don’t use eyebrow pencil now, I have no definition at all. I also tint whatever eyebrow hairs I have left. True, I don’t want to get to the stage where I’m drawing them on and entirely missing the eyebrow line. That is not attractive. But I figured out the solution to that: getting a stronger magnifying mirror for now and a trusted helper in my nineties.

Joseph also says: “Do not wear any eye shadow at all. …A little bit of mascara is OK.” Sorry, Cindy, but I plan to be wearing eye shadow in my coffin when I’m a 110. I love eye shadow. I’ve loved it since I was 13 and my mother wouldn’t let me wear it. So I’m not giving it up now or ever. I had a friend who got false eyelashes when she was 84. She loved them and they were cute on her! So there!

 

 

 

 

 

When Words Fail

I haven’t written a blog for a long time, but I’m back now. It’s ironic that I’ve returned to writing at a time when all I’ve been able to say this week is, “Words fail.”

 

As many of you know, my husband and I are living in Hawaii part time. We’ve been busy getting settled and my attention went elsewhere. When you come to stay at Hualalai, where we live, you experience the resort as a vacation paradise. And it is.But when you live here, it becomes home and the people around you become family, your Ohana. Part of Hawaiian culture, ʻohana means family (in an extended sense of the term, including blood-related, adoptive or intentional).” Being in the middle of the Pacific, far from any land mass and with an active volcano just on the other side of the mountains, creates an environment ideal for creating Ohana. So we have gotten to know people here and forged relationships that will be lasting.

As many of you know, my husband loves playing golf. And he loves playing with the younger generation—our son and his friends, our grandsons and their friends, and the young guys around here—one of them being Tom Callero. They were going to play golf this last Tuesday morning—Moe has it written down. But Tom was killed in a head on collision last Thursday driving home from work. Some guy crossed over the centerline and plowed into him. Forty-eight years old. Three small kids. Now a highway statistic.

Tom was such a kind soul—one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. Five minutes earlier—five minutes later—this sweetheart of a guy would be coming to work this morning and going home to his family tonight.

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I’m not a lover of funerals or memorial services but Monday’s helped start the healing. The words spoken by Uncle Earl were healing, as were the tears he encouraged us not to hold in. Being with three hundred other people helped. Talking to Tom’s parents and seeing their courage helped. But as I stood at the ocean’s edge and tossed orchids into the water in Tom’s honor, I felt no relief or understanding. All I felt was the fragility of life. All I know is this could happen to anyone at any time. (I want to grab my children and grandchildren, nieces and nephew and hold them close so nothing can hurt them.)

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I posted these pictures on Facebook yesterday in honor and in memory of Tom Callero. I wrote Rest In Peace because I want Tommy to be at peace. But really, I want him here.

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In Praise of Crying

There’s a lot of sadness in this world, my dad would say. I think I could write a book with that title—each chapter talking about a time when his words would resonate in my life. He started saying it when we were young and complaining about something trivial, but he continued saying it into his nineties. He said it so often that I hear it in my head all the time. My kids, grown up now, say it too.

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There IS a lot of sadness in this world. Sometimes my world becomes so sad that the weight of it fills the room—like when my brother-in-law got throat cancer and died. And we didn’t know whether to tell my mother-in-law—whether to disturb her dementia with truths. Whether to pull her out of the nursing home to take her to his funeral. You’d want to go to your son’s funeral, right? Or maybe wrong. That was a sad time, but you didn’t have time to dwell on it. You had to make decisions—you had to argue with siblings about what to do. That pushed the sadness away.

I don’t know why I am so sad this morning. Is it the world situation, which terrifies and saddens me? Is it that wonderful friends have been diagnosed with cancer and brain tumors? Is it because I’m now just beginning to process that we moved away from a place where I had twenty-five happy years? Is it that I have been looking through photos of my life with my granddaughter as she prepares to scan them into the computer? She is already twelve—no longer the three-year-old who loved to play Goldilocks on our front steps. Don’t get me wrong. She is a lovely girl, inside and out. I wouldn’t want it to be any other way, but how did it happen so quickly?

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And how have the years flown away since my own little family looked like this?

 

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Or is it just plain melancholy I’m feeling? In our society, we’re not allowed much space for sadness. In the nineteenth century, there were spots in gardens set aside for people to sit and examine their melancholy. It wasn’t seen as an illness. Now we say these people are depressed and we should find a cure for it; medicate in some form. I usually medicate by overdoing. I’m so busy that I don’t have time to think let alone cry. But this morning was different.

I took a walk along the lake, listening to an audio book. This kept the mind busy, giving me no time to think. Then I happened on some dead bushes. I idly wondered if they were victims of the drought. My attention was caught by the original tag on one of them, waving in the breeze. Someone had placed it on the plant when it was healthy and blooming. Now the withered plant was dead. The hopelessness of it hit me and I began to cry.

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I pulled myself together and kept walking. I didn’t start crying again until I was in the kitchen cleaning out the pantry cabinet, throwing out food that had passed its sell by date. One side of my mind told me to cut it out, eat my breakfast and get on with it. The other side told me to let go of my sadness—to let some of it, at least, seep out of me. It was when I was cutting up celery that I began to keen like some banshee. I put down the knife and leaned against the sink. I was alone in the house and could make as much noise as I wanted. It was only the dog I scared. He looked at me with alarm, then ran to get a toy to drop at my feet. I sat on the floor and hugged him. Normally I would have told him I was okay to reassure him, but not this time.

So why am I telling you this? I’m not sure why I’m revealing so much. I know that when I got up and started cleaning up the kitchen, I stood outside of myself, wondering what someone would think if they saw me: is that old lady batshit crazy? I wondered how many other women did as I was now doing—cried when no one else could hear. Maybe fifteen minutes later, I realized my tears weren’t feeding my depression—my sadness—. Instead they were easing it. I was doing something I should have been doing all along—crying out my grief, not trapping it inside to fester. The phrase, “It’s All Right to Cry”, that Rosie Greer sang on Sesame Street began to play in my head so I looked up the words. Here are some of them:

It’s all right to cry
Crying gets the sad out of you
It’s all right to cry
It might make you feel better

Raindrops from your eyes
Washing all the mad out of you
Raindrops from your eyes
It’s gonna make you feel better

With Robin Williams’ death, there has been much talk about depression. Maybe that’s why I’m sharing my experience. Because you know what? I feel a lot better. My chest doesn’t hurt and I can take a deep breath. Yeah, it’s all right to cry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Gift

Only three of us showed up to my yoga class today so we downward-dogged and chatted a bit, too. Pat, the instructor was talking about a great new consignment store. “I have these Dooney and Burke purses that were my mom’s. They’re really nice, but I don’t think I’ll ever use them. I’m thinking of taking them into the store,” she said. “I hate to give them up because they were my mom’s, but you know, we need to clean out our stuff.”

“ I have John’s things all over the house,” a woman who had lost her son a little over a year ago said. “I’m not giving them up.”

“I can understand that,” Pat said. “You don’t have to.”

“I even have a whole area that’s kind of a memorial to him, “ the woman said. She might have even said, “shrine,” I can’t remember now. “I have pictures of him and candles.”

There was a small silence. “That’s nice,” Pat said. “It must make you feel good to see him everyday.”

“I’m not sure if it makes it harder,” the woman said.

Because we were inverted, I couldn’t see anyone’s faces to see their expression. Little emotion was coming through the voices.

“And we have his ashes, of course,” the woman said.

“Are they in an urn?” Pat asked.

“Oh, a big beautiful urn,” the woman said.

I morphed the image in my head of a small urn to a large one.

“That’s great,” Pat said, her tone now ultra cheery. “You can say hello to him every day.”

There was another silence, then the woman said, “Well, I just moved the altar near the urn downstairs.”

“Oh? Why?” Pat asked.

“Well, it’s almost Christmas and I need to have room for the decorations. My grandchildren will want the decorations,” the woman said.

Later as I drove home, I replayed the conversation in my head. As I said, all this was being discussed in such bland tones, but underneath we’d all felt the profound sense of loss. Hard to lose your mother—horrible to lose your son.

I’d been worried about this kind, upstanding woman—how she was going to withstand her son’s death. How she was going to keeping going?

But now I could see that Christmas and the grandchildren were going to be the saving graces. She was ready to move on for the next generation. And she could begin to heal.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. Happy New Year to all.

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Goodbye, Mr. Mandela, We Will Miss You

It is a sad day. It is a day I didn’t want to come. I wanted Nelson Mandela to live forever.

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I became familiar with him and his anti-apartheid struggles when I taught in the 1980’s. As a geography teacher, I taught some about latitude and longitude, but it was always the people (and the foods) that I emphasized.  In 1987, the movie, MANDELA, was broadcast on television. Starring Danny Glover as Mandela, it was great! I taped it and showed it to my classes when we studied South Africa. From then on, Mandela was my hero.

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When he was released from prison after 27 years, I was cheered. When apartheid was dismantled, I was heartened. When he became the country’s first black president, I was amazed. When he showed such integrity and forgiveness to the whites who had harmed him and his fellow people, I learned that goodness and power could reside in one person. He not only spoke of peace and equality, he put his words into action.

President Barack Obama spoke about this today: “We’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with,” Obama said. “He no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages … His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to.”

 

I knew that it was time for Mandela to make his final journey. He was ill and tired. A 45-year-old South African housewife expressed my emotions exactly.”I have mixed feelings. I am happy that he is resting but I am also sad to see him go,” Molebogeng Ntheledi was quoted as saying.

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Goodbye, Mr. Mandela. May you rest in peace. May the lessons you taught the world never be forgotten.