LESSONS FROM A 2″ by 4″

It was a cold, dark New Year’s day.  The end of another holiday season. I took the tree down a few days ago, and stashed all the decorations away in the attic. I was ready for life to rev up and begin again.  Over the years I’d come to feel that Christmas was just another dull holiday that had lost its meaning amidst our human need for more, more, more.

It was way back when personal computers were just beginning to flood the market. My kids were playing on the “Trash-80,” we’d picked up as a family Christmas gift at Radio Shack. I wasn’t taken with this new Thing that would soon begin consuming our lives. Yet I sat behind Mark and Lisa watching them giggle and shout as they took each other out in whatever silly game they were playing.  It was fun watching for a while, but I was tired and ready to get away from such nonsense. 

I had just proclaimed that New Year’s Day was the most boring day of the year when I looked up and out the window into the pasture just beyond our driveway. Our dogs, Chippy and Mildred, were fighting and looking as though they were trying to kill each other.

I popped out of my chair and ran outside to break them up.  As I sprinted down the driveway I could hear and see the seriousness of what was happening, Both dogs were snarling and beginning to draw a bit of blood.  I picked up speed, forgetting that there was a cattle guard between us.

Before I could stop myself, I landed with my right leg caught between two of the steel bars of the guard. I heard a snap as I went down, and began shouting for help. The dogs immediately stopped fighting and Bill came to my rescue. He carried me to the car when I told him I thought my leg was broken.  

 I spent the next  few days having a pity party all by myself, going through the list of why this was the most unfair thing that had ever happened to me. I would spend the next four months recuperating, as both my tibia and fibula healed.

I didn’t know that those months would be a time of learning or that sometimes the universe interrupts our insane, shake-a-leg world so that we can learn the importance of slowing down and enjoying life.  I’d been rushing around in a workaholic kind of way, raising two kids, teaching natural dying and spinning, cooking, cleaning, and going to bed each night totally exhausted.

 Then a few friends came to visit, bringing books, flowers, and chocolates. I began to rethink my situation.  I couldn’t rush around experiencing overwhelm because I had too many things to do and not enough time to do them. I’d forgotten about the simple things in life that we all need in order to live happily. 

Reading good books took over my time. I remembered being a ravenous reader when I was a kid, but since then books and reading had taken a back seat to being a wife, mother, teacher, and housekeeper.  I missed the feel of holding a book, turning its pages, and the flow of words that so often had filled my heart. 

 I started to keep a journal.  Along with my leg bones, I wanted to heal my thinking and the anger I was carrying around with me. I’ve kept a journal ever since. It’s a place where I explore my thoughts and feelings, and eventually led me to write and publish my instruction book on Australian Locker Hooking, and then to my memoir, Scattering Ashes. 

I learned that slowing down and being mindful was the best medicine for any kind of healing, whether it be physical or mental.  The Universe had whacked me over the head with a 2” by 4”, reminding me that I was on a downhill course and out of control. 

Since then that merciless piece of lumber has been following me around, and when I see it approaching out of the corner of my eye, I hastily slam on my brakes.   

Over the past two years pain began developing in my shoulders, especially the right one.  My husband has been diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment, which means he might or might not develop dementia. Uncertainty has become the watchword of our lives.

As a result, we decided to downsize and find a place where we might be more comfortable and less responsible for things like shoveling snow, keeping the garden looking as beautiful as it was, and mowing the grass. The move took a lot out of us, but for the time being at least, we’re happy and comfortable where we are and continue to explore our options as our bodies and minds continue to age.  

After having the rotator cuff in my right shoulder surgically repaired in mid January, I spent six weeks in a sling unable to do much other than sit and relax. It has now been put away on a high shelf in my closet. I still  must take it easy, using my right arm very carefully and have about six more weeks until I’m able to drive.

I’m once again reminded of the most important and simple things in my life. I’m using this time as a retreat as I nourish my  body and mind. That in itself will help me to be a good caretaker for my husband of fifty-three years should it become necessary. It is also inspiring me to be think creatively. I continue writing, reading, making art, and simply enjoying life.

We all live in a world filled with uncertainty. Take care of yourself.  Give yourself time and love all of the little things that make you happy. If we’re not careful that 2″ by 4″ could be headed your way!

The Lessons of Aging

I’m taking some time out to heal after successful rotator cuff surgery last Friday. Here, in my stead is my friend and fellow memoirist, Kathy Pooler, who like myself is taking the time to spread the word that the aging process isn’t as bad as many others lead us to believe.

 

Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life—it has given me “me”. It has provided time and experience and failures and triumphs and time-tested friends who have helped me step into the shape that was waiting for me. I fit into me now. “~ Anne LaMott

 

I don’t think anyone really relishes the thought of getting older. Visions of incapacitated, crumpled bodies in nursing home wheelchairs is enough to set anyone on an age-defying track.  Unfortunately, many things are not within our control. While we still have our mental and physical function, I’d like to offer a perspective on the aging process, gained from my own lived experience.

Anne LaMott’s wise words remind me that the challenges that confront us can serve to mold us and make us stronger. And we all have our stories of conquering mountains and slaying dragons, especially as we age.

Is it any wonder that we relish our quiet time in our “Golden Years”?

At seventy-two and with a lot of chronic medical issues, I am embracing this time in my life where I can sit in solitude and stay out of the fray of daily life. I recall those days of frenzy when I rushed off to work after getting two kids fed and going. That was after refereeing their kitchen table debate, “He’s looking at me”, Leigh Ann screamed while Brian sat quiet and smug across the table. By the time I got to work, I felt I had put in eight hours.

So, I’m looking at all the ways that aging is good. I’m still here for starters and that wasn’t always a given. I remind myself often of the night I was diagnosed with Stage Four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in December of 1996 and wondered if I would survive.

Twenty-three years later, I am here—aging, dealing with limitations, and grateful for the second chance at life. So, as the hot breath of aging breathes down my back, I’m finding reasons to embrace the passing years…

Here are some of the best things about growing old

Grandchildren—I am blessed to have ten grandsons and one curly-topped, feisty three -year old girl who all bring much joy to our lives. They pile in for pizza after playing paintball in the woods then gather around the table for laughing and sharing stories. Or I watch one grandson stealing the show at his basketball tournament and another winning his cycling race.

Studies show that seniors are among the happiest groups of people. Perhaps that’s because we finally develop better coping skills after being tested and we feel better about ourselves.

The Gift of Time with loved ones or time to pursue dreams.

Some people choose to volunteer. The point is that you can do whatever you want and need to do as long as you are physically able.

Wisdom. Don’t you feel you have gained wisdom in the fine art of living and being?

Because we have been through so much in our younger years, we can develop better social skills and endure hardships better. There’s no time or energy for drama.

Guaranteed Monthly Income, Medicare, Social Security. There’s a sense of security in getting that monthly paycheck.

 

Given this perspective, it’s time to embrace the lessons of aging. Let’s face it, some days are better than others but if I keep a spirit of gratitude for my second chance, I can make the most of the time I am still here.

 

When I think of aging with grace, a vision of my eighty-eight-year-old father pushing a walker and hooked to a portable oxygen tank as he walked around the track at the YMCA pops into my mind.

 

Or I think about my ninety-five-year-old mother who always made sure she was dressed to the hilt until the end—with make-up, matching silk scarf and jewelry.  Oh, occasionally, she would say, “Aging is for the birds” but the next day she’d chirp about how grateful she was.

If we’re lucky, we’re all going to age and with that comes the onset of major and minor maladies and declining function but let’s keep moving forward and make the most of each day.

***

How about you? Do you have any thoughts to add about aging?

 I’d love to hear from you. Please join in the conversation below~

 

Follow Kathy on her blog, “Memoir Writer’s Journey.” 

Her first memoir, Ever Faithful to his Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse, is available where ever fine books are sold.

She is currently at work on her second memoir, Just the Way He Walked: A Mother’s Story of Healing from Cancer and Her Son’s Alcohol Addiction. 

Falling Leaves

There’s a lot going on in the world these days both politically and environmentally.  Most everyone I talk to is struggling with their personal lives, as well as how to live in a country that is being led by a madman who isn’t making life easier for anyone, including himself.

Change is a constant feature of life, leaving many unable to find their way back to where they were, whether it’s because their homes have been swept away by vicious storms, they have lost life-long jobs, or they’re living in fear of the raging fires that  sweep through parts of our country on a regular basis. 

Both my primary care physician and my therapist have said that since the election in 2016, they are working more and more with people trying to come to grips with the politics of our time. I have several acquaintances who are so traumatized that they find it difficult to go out.  It doesn’t help that Charlottesville is frequently mentioned in the evening news.  There are many who are still trying to heal from the damage that was done here in August of 2017.  

I’m feeling particularly grateful that I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge, a lovely place to call my own, and that for the moment at least, my mental health is good. But aging has moved into my home. Both Bill and I are trying to stay on track as aches, pains, and increasing forgetfulness become more and more a part of our lives. 

Bill is scheduled to have his left  knee replaced on November 5th,  just days away.  He had his right knee replaced along with a shoulder several years ago and we’re hoping this surgery will be the last.  

I’ll be having my right rotator cuff sewn back together on December 14th.  I’m praying the procedure will cancel out the chronic pain I’ve been living with for over a year. The cuff is apparently torn in a number of places.  Though I’m looking forward to being able to have the pain gone, my arm will be in a sling for 6 weeks and I will not be able to drive for 3 months. YIKES!

I’ve been preparing for a month now. I  practice using my left hand to type, stir pots of delicious chicken soup I’m freezing for later when I can’t cook, and to perform certain sanitary tasks.  I’m gathering clothing that will help me to get dressed and undressed more easily. Getting painful arms into tight sleeves does not feel good.  I’m also gathering a pile of books to read, looking forward to having more reading time than I’ve had in ages. So let it snow, or do whatever it’s going to do. I’ll be fine!

This is where I lead up to tell you about my new writing project.  The working title is, Elder Lessons, and will be a collection of personal essays on aging and about my sometimes fumbled attempts to get through the final chapter(s) of  my own life with grace and humor.  

I’ll be giving you all a taste of what I’m doing, reading, and thinking as I move through the process. I am counting on the writing to keep me moving forward through my own struggles and the slower pace I’ve embraced. 

I’m also hoping to add the voices of others who are dealing with the same issues and how they handle the ups and downs of later life. 

Until next time,
I’ll take time to rest and walk
through the great outdoors,
watching how nature does it.
As autumn leaves fall,
they change from green into the most magnificent colors,
leaving a canopy of cold, dark branches.
But I know they’ll  be back again soon.  

    

Retirement Anyone?

“Wholeness does not mean perfection … it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”
Parker J. Palmer
On the Brink of Everything

Our move last fall into a townhouse has changed my life in many ways … some good, some not so good.  But I prevail and am not allowing the chronic pain that began during that challenging time to take over my life. After working my way through two orthopedists and a neurologist who didn’t help much, I’m back to my usual “fringe medicine” ways of taking care of myself.

I’m working with a physical therapist, a chiropractor, and doing egoscue. Several months ago I joined our local YMCA and am working on getting there three times a week to use the recumbent bike and the indoor track. My workouts are short, but get a few minutes longer each time I go. I’m feeling much less pain now and plan on going back to my favorite yoga class in the next month. I also plan to in the future to try water aerobics and get back to pilates.

I’m not sure that the pain will ever completely go away. Some say that with time it will, but I’ll not count my chickens just yet. I’m in pain management mode and we’ll see what happens.

The other very helpful thing I’m doing is taking CBD oil twice a day. It not only helps to control the pain, it also helps to reduce my anxiety which has been a life long problem. It’s an oil made from cannabis flowers and is lacking the element that gives you a high and is not addictive.  It is legal here in Virginia and is getting great press all over the country for those with cancer and helps people who suffer from seizures. 

As a result I’m much more relaxed and find it easier to accept my health issues and aging dilemmas. That alone is a major change in the way I spend my days. All of the things I thought I’d get done in the last few months including getting back to writing are still on my to-do list and are slowly getting done, but now when I feel I need to take a nap I just do it without feeling guilty or anxious that I’m not completing the tasks on that list. 

This relaxed way of being is what I’ve been longing for all along.  Before our move I was on my way toward being more mindful, listening to my body, and taking care of it. But the move crushed the boundaries I’d built up to protect myself and once again I became a raging Type A, insane workaholic, bashing myself to death for not being able to do the amount of work I used to do.

My anxiety was off the charts. I was holding myself to very high standards and expecting the same from others.  Bill was exhausted from the move and couldn’t keep up with me and my perfectionist ways.  The boat was rocky for a while, but we’re happily enjoying life again and feel the move was necessary and well worth the struggles.

I recently proclaimed that I’m officially retiring. That means no more speeding through my days. I’m allowing myself plenty of time to swing in a hammock, read a book, write a story, make art, be grateful, and simply enjoy every single day for its gifts.

I may swing back and forth occasionally and become crazed with anger and impatient with the ways of this very frightening world.  It takes a lot of practice, but it’s a process well worth the effort and brings me peace and lots of hope.

Adjusting To What’s Next

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin

Bill is 78 and I’m 75 year old. We both have arthritis and these days we talk about aging a lot. As many of you know Bill has already had one knee replaced along with a shoulder. The other “good” knee is now giving him trouble. It isn’t bone on bone yet and he’s taking his time using a brace and gently working on it until he feels he wants to have it replaced. He’s also been having a bit of trouble with memory loss. We haven’t yet heard of brain replacements, and even if that were possible, how do you download 78 years of memories into an artificial brain and still be human?

Although joint replacements never work like the real deal, artificial knees help make those suffering from pain continue to move about comfortably. Our Orthopedist says that those who tell us that we’ll be as good as new after a replacement are full of you know what. And when it does happen it’s extremely rare, especially if you’re of a certain age. But we go for being comfortable and spending our senior years continuing to go on adventures. Bill’s recent week on board a ship with 700 joyful Irish musicians was a wonderfully fun time him and he got around happily using a cane or a wheel chair when he had to.

I myself have just been diagnosed with bone on bone arthritis in my right knee. Although I move around most days comfortably there are days when it’s too painful, especially during this stormy winter when I can predict a tempest coming well before it arrives. I, too, will be trying a brace for a while, and use a heating pad or ice to lessen the pain. Our good doctor does not want to jump in with his knives. He’s conservative and doesn’t like to be overly invasive. So we’ll spend a while seeing how it goes before we enter an OR.

The other complaint you often hear at our house is how long it can take to get things done. We’re moving much more slowly than we used to and completing tasks that used to take an hour can now take up to one or two hours more, depending on how complicated it is.

I’ve just discovered how addicted I have become to schedules and time. It seems to be how the world operates these days. Everyone is in a rush to get somewhere. We wait in line overnight just before a new electronic device comes on the market so that we can be one of the first to own it. And big box stores open their doors on Thanksgiving day giving all the “must haves” a chance to get whatever it is they want before the store runs out. They forget that spending time doing something relaxing with their kids and other family members is essential while the world spews more and more stress our way.

I may not know what to do about my knee right now, but I do know what to do about this newly discovered schedule addiction of mine. Firstly, I quit wearing a watch a few weeks ago. Silly me used to check it constantly to see if I had plenty of time.  Secondly, I’ve discovered that by taking more time to do things, I notice all of things I used to miss when I was in such a hurry. What I sometimes considered distractions, like watching the birds at the feeder or a flower slowly opening its petals in the garden, help me to be at peace with myself and the world around me.

Aging may be something that many people don’t look forward to, but I’m discovering that it is delightful to allow myself to go with a much more slow and gentle flow than the tornadic activity that too often accompanied my younger days.  It’s all about adjusting to what’s next!