Drawing sustenance – final chapter (sigh)

What a remarkable experience, sharing my favorite bits & pieces from Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older over on Rx for Caregivers, then adding my responses to them over here.   Rabbi Dayle Friedman’s words are the best sort of friends, ones who are always with me.

Same old – same old ~ ~ ~ Rabbi Friedman’s words are in italics, mine are in plain type.

Rabbi Friedman talks about her friend, Cherie, who is coping with several serious challenges yet manages “remain vibrantly engaged in her work and to give her kids enough of whatever they need. … When I asked her how she finds resiliency in this time of immense difficulty, she says, “The only way to get through this is to have an inner life.”  For Cherie, having an inner life includes spiritual practices such as meditation and yoga, which offer her solace and grounding. – – This would not have resounded with me on the first reading, because I’ve only started developing my own spiritual practices over the past seven months.  My head would have understood the potential of their power, but now my heart soul spirit do, too.  I am more capable of BEing, thanks to my daily namaste & meditation practices.  Even on this read, this hit me as, “Cherie made space for herself,” but it’s so much more – she made space for emptiness.  She made space for no-thing.  THAT is where the power lies.


In the complex experience of growing older, we can draw on spiritual practice as a wellspring of resiliency.  Developing regular practices can support us as we encounter pain.  Practice can serve as an anchor to ground us as so much changes in and around us. – – An envisioning how prayer & meditation & other mindfulness practices support us in challenged moments.  Developing regular practices support us because we first supported ourselves by developing them.  That self-care karma rebounds back.


In Jewish tradition, the practice of blessings offers a way to elevate the mundane, to draw our attention to the present moment, and to connect us to ourselves and to others.  Here we will focus on three specific spiritual practices related to blessings ~ ~ SAYING blessings to mark and give thanks for the experiences we have;  SENDING blessings in meditation to develop heightened compassion for ourselves and others;  OFFERING blessings to others to invoke goodness and deepen connection. – – Amen!


Like Jacob (who struggled move a heavy stone covering a well) we often find ourselves blocked from accessing that which can sustain us. … It feels difficult to carve out time for spiritual practice. … It is challenging to put aside our mobile phones and computers, to step away from the incessant stream of news, social networking, e-mails, and external distractions. – – For years, decades, I knew in my bones that meditation would make an incredible difference in my life, which might be the reason I never gave it a whack.  A couple months ago, I decided to not overthink, just give it a try.  Now, I meditate twice a day, morning & evening.  Clearing out provides space for whatever to be whatever.  Impossible to explain.


Busyness and distraction are powerful barriers to engaging in life-giving spiritual practice. – –  They are powerful & determined.  With good cause – when we embrace a whole, healthy balance of spiritual practices, there is suddenly room for the wondrous.


Researcher Brene Brown observes … that we are terrified by vulnerability, which she defines as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.  Paradoxically, she notes, it is precisely by recognizing and sharing vulnerability that we can forge connection to others and live most fully. … – – For most of her adult life, my mother did whatever she could to keep the feeling of vulnerability at bay.  At 88, she finally put & left herself at risk of being hurt & was shocked to discover that she WAS hurt -and- she was able to handle it, to feel all the emotions & didn’t crumple, that she could feel churned up emotions toward others & remain emotionally intact. One of the first things I shared with John when we fell in love was my fear of vulnerability;  fifteen years later, teaching biology to at-risk high school kids, I learned that a cell HAS to be vulnerable to survive.


Through spiritual practices, such as blessings, we can touch and use our vulnerability to make greater wholeness. – – They bring things together.


Gratitude is the opposite of taking life for granted.  Intensifying our sense of gratitude draws us more and more into the here and now.  … Gratitude draws our attention to what is good, right, and dear.  It guides us away from boredom, dissatisfaction, and despair. – – It opens our eyes & hearts to what IS.


Gratitude is cultivated through the practice of saying blessings throughout the day’s activities and experiences. – – I love this!  Consciously give blessings throughout the day.  Can see the power in this.


We often are so caught up in the stuff of our lives that we don’t actually notice what we are doing or experiencing. … Pausing to offer a blessing draws our attention to the fact that we are eating, or seeing a flowering tree. … We become more aware, more aware, more present, more grateful. – –  Moments of expressing gratitude provides space & light to see what is around us, rather than being blind & clueless because it’s all crushing up around us.


Reciting blessings directs our attention to goodness, even in the midst of challenge or struggle. – – Two blessings that help me in such times are “This is the day the Lord has made;  rejoice & be glad in in it.” -and- “But for me & my house, we will serve the Lord.”


Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that our souls long to feel grateful:  “Gratitude rejoices with her sister, joy, and is always ready to light a candle and have a party.” – – Great line & visual!


Loving-kindness is understood as boundless, overflowing love, unfettered by conditions or restraints. … Our aim in this world – and maybe even beyond – is to grow love and compassion … expanding our hearts, making more room for kindness. – – It is a pity that some people feel loving-kindness leaves them at risk.  To me, it is the greatest of empowerers.


Sending blessings to ourselves and to others can deepen the well-spring of compassion within us. – – A blessing practice is astonishing in how it benefits us as much or more than it does the objects of our blessings.


Wishing another well, even someone whom you find difficult, can soften the heart and awaken understanding. – – It is the ultimate in liberation.

Rabbi Friedman has an extensive section describing the steps of a Buddhist metta practice – something I was taught to call tonglen – which takes a person through extending a blessing to a person who is unambiguously good to us, to a neutral person, to a dear friend or family member, to someone with whom we are currently in confict.  Check out pages 130 & 131.  Don’t worry about whether this blessing is entirely sincere.  Just try your best for this person’s well-being.  Doing this regularly may help you feel more kindly toward this person.  Out of this warm sensibility may emerge greater understanding and even forgiveness. – – A powerful practice.


When I worked as a chaplain in an eldercare community, I noticed over time that my congregants almost always offered me beautiful wishes as we parted after a visit.  I came to treasure these spontaneous blessings, which were varied and abundant:  God should let you live to be my age, and well. ~ I wish you everything you wish yourself. ~ May God grant you all the happiness I have known. ~ May we live and be well and be here together next year.  – – This practice needs to be revived!  Win-win-win!


Some elders used the language of faith, others simply offered loving, sincere hopes.  However they were articulated, these blessings were powerful.  They made our encounters explicitly reciprocal; we were each giving to each other in a holy way.  These elders fulfilled a precious dimension of aging, the capacity to be a source of blessings.  – – “They made our encounters explicitly reciprocal.”  Beautiful.  Will be pondering – and using – a parting blessing.  Could be as simple as “Peace be with you.”  Swept away by the power of such a practice.


Oops – skipped Sactuary in Time!

Yikes!  Forgot to add my own musings to Rabbi Dayle Friedman’s eye- & spirit-opening Sanctuary in TimeSpending Our Precious Time Mindfully!  Where WAS my brain yesterday – also misplaced my daily journal!  At least I can make amends by tagging my favorite bits & pieces from Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older’s Chapter 13.  Better late than never!

Reb Zalman was vivid and eloquent, intellectually brilliant, but physically somewhat frail.  He had survived cancer, he lived with the chronic illnesses typical of a person in his ninth decade.  … He felt a tension about this time in his life. … (He felt) impelled to do more of the teaching and creative redefinition of Judaism that had been his life work, … (yet) he was also feeling what he called “mitochondrial tiredness”; he recognized that his energy was more and more limited.  In the couple of years before his death at nearly ninety years old, he felt drawn to confine his involvement to what was most essential. – – As one of the countless who revered Reb Zalman, I was well aware of his physical condition & clear mind at the time Rabbi Friedman describes.  He was so much like my mother, not wasting time thinking about how he HAD been, focused on what he could do in the present moment.  And, like Mom did unexpectedly in her Mindwalker1910 shares, leaving what was passed along as a torch for younger others to take up. ~ ~  I was blessed to have in my mother someone who embodied what Rabbi Friedman describes as feeling “drawn to confine his involvement to what was most essential.”  In her closing years, Mom was drawn to consider something she’d ignored all of her life – “Who is ME?”  That question became an adventure, a quest she stook from the comfy confines of the big chair that Brenda describes as “in the Stickley style.”


He allowed his students to carry his work forward to the future. … He said the key question we must all answer as we move forward to the future is … have we made sure that we have passed on the wisdom, learning, love, and memories we wish to out live us? – – This is a challenge in today’s culture, at least in the USA.  It seems that having both parents working has become the norm, as has crazy busy schedules for kids – especially in middle & upper middle class families.  When is there the time for olders elders ancients to pass “on the wisdom, learning, love, and memories” they wish to out life them?  Saddest of all, I’ve experienced olders who brush aside giving those very things any value, so they make no effort to share them.  And when would they?  How many grandfathers teach grandchildren how to work a lathe or hook a worm?  How many grandmothers have the opportunity to pass along sewing or gardening skills, love of learning or old movies?  It’s no small thing to make chocolate chip cookies with grandchildren, to teach them how to make & fly a kite.  We need, as a society, to figure out how to restore the intergenerational connections that have been increasingly lost over the past 50+ years.  Their value might be underrated & their importance shrugged off, but I fear the loss will have unexpected, dire consequences.


As we grow older, we are more and more acutely aware of the finitude of our life.  We know that this present moment will not come again. … Every day offers a special purpose for each person; there is cosmic repair that can only be done by this individual, and only on this day. – – Sadly, it feels like most people experience this reality as ominous rather than as a priceless opportunity.  How to get others to embrace that every day offers a “limited time” opportunity to make daily cosmic repairs?


We must be aware of what draws us, and to clear space to make it possible for us to respond. … How do we manage this discernment?  Personally, I struggle with this constantly. … So, I prune … (and) swear I will never become overprogrammed again.  But then … new commitments crop up. … I, like so many of us, suffer from geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas calls in his book Second Wind, “time poverty and hurry sickness.”  – – How does American society cure itself of the “time poverty & hurry sickness” that seems to becoming epidemic?


Another common struggle is the sense that time is too empty, what author Florida Scott-Maxwell called, “a desert of time.”  Some of us find it difficult to think of what it is we want to be doing.  Or we have physical limitations that get in the way of our desires.  – – People who have a purpose are less affected by empty time – their capabilities might lessen in one area, but their purpose (not goal) adapts.  Too many people have goals that aren’t rooted in purpose.  The concept of purpose typically came out of a spiritual grounding, or at least an ethical one.  “What are we doing that’s useful to others?” is very different from just asking “What’s a useful thing to do?”  I don’t know of a major faith that doesn’t give great value to being of service, to serving a purpose.

Alas, some have the whacked out idea that our sense of purpose dwindles as we age ever upward.  My personal experience is it intensifies.  Having a sense of purpose deflects the deleterious (love to get to use that word!) effects of growing significantly older – it is like a river that finds a way to flow around boulders, taking fresh energy from the challenges.


We need to be mindful of what is central to us at all times so that we will choose activities and projects that are harmonious with this moment’s core call. – –  see above


Perhaps this time of life is an opportunity for discovering new ways to inhabit time. … Perhaps we need… a “shomer” (keeper) – a friend or colleague who will remind us of the call we have committed to answering, perhaps gently challenging us if we have become distracted or too busy to attend or if we seem to be having difficulty mobilizing ourselves. – – I think of  “Aunt” Benita Odhner, of Hubert Synnestvedt, Sarah Headsten & so many other “up there” olders in my life who were as vibrant & engaging in elderhood as earlier, in spite of being confined by health or the vicissitudes (another fun word!)  of old age.  Each discovered new ways to inhabit time, had loved ones & friends who kept them amped up.


What may have drawn us last year or last month may not be the thing for today or tomorrow.  – –  Some people have a HARD time with this reality.   The people I mentioned & others who were like Mom didn’t.  Each shared the common trait of curiosity, freeing them to let go of what was & to keep a beady eye out for the new, the fresh, the waiting-to-be-discovered.


“Time is perpetual presence, perpetual novelty.  Every moment is a new arrival, a new bestowal.  Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy.  The moment is the marvel.”  ~ Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel1961 White House Conference on Aging    This brings to mind a posting Mom wrote on 05/09/01, as we geared up to celebrate her 91st birthday.  Energized is filled with moments of joy – a ramble home with Peter after an eye doctor’s appointment, phone calls from Mike & Kerry & from Mim, her delight at Whitney & Chad moving into their first home, bidding adieu to one online discussion group & joining a new one, looking forward to her birthday party which she is glad is in the afternoon (“more restful for my ancient bones”).  Mom’s openness to setting aside what she WAS drawn to & embracing the new – leaving one online discussion group as she joined a new one – was what let her fit so much into her day & life.

“Time is perpetual presence, perpetual novelty.  Every moment is a new arrival, a new bestowal.  Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy.  The moment is the marvel.”  To which Mom, “Aunt” Benita, Hubert Synnestvedt, Sarah Headsten & so many of my mentors & role models for flourishing whatever your age,  would say,  “Amen & hallelujah!



A day FILLED with purpose!

Thanks to KARI HENLEY for the link to an intriguing article on finding purpose later in life.  A topic on which I wrote earlier today!

From my point of view, I’d say it falls on youngers to wake up to the realization that olders elders ancients NEVER lose the hunger for a sense of purpose.  Am grateful for a Mom who totally hit that nail on the heading, writing (at 90), “This old biddy believes that the Lord intends us to live fully–whatever our physical or mental condition–right up to the moment we traipse across the threshold of our spiritual home.

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel noted at the 1961 White House Conference on Aging, “What a person lives by is not only a sense of belonging but a sense of indebtedness.  The need to be needed corresponds to a fact:  something is asked of a man, of every man.  Advancing in years must not be taken to mean a process of suspending the requirements and commitments under which a person lives.  To be is to obey.  A person must never cease to be.”

Three years ago, Rabbi Friedman wrote, “The state of obligation … offers a “sense of significant being.” This potential for meaning has no end point.  …  We are called to hallow our lives for as long as we live.  …  Our actions matter.”

Our actions matter.”  When we are children, when we are young adults, when we are middle aged, olders elders ancients.  The potential for meaning – aka purpose – has no end point.  I understand Jill Suttie’s enthusiasm for the scientific findings that indicate that older & “mature” adults ALSO gain benefits from having a sense of personal purpose, but discussions among the leaned & wise about precisely that are as old as the Torah – older.

My suggestion – read today’s Rx For Caregiverspost on Chapter 14 – – better yet, get the book & read it, cover to cover.  THEN read the article from the Greater Good Science Center at UC/Berkeley.  Don’t miss my comment at the end!

“Here I am” … a call to BEing – – Chapter 14

Yep, another baker’s dozen.  And, again, it could easily have been a score or more!  This time from Chapter 14 ~ Answering the Call … Saying “Here I am” ~ of Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older .  Rabbi Friedman’s words are in italics, mine in plain type.

The question of our life’s purpose and meaning can be acute beyond midlife. For many of us, changes in work or family will open up the possibility of new pursuits, whether vocational or avocational.  On the other hand, the absence of previous roles and engagements may leave us feeling confused about our identity or life’s purpose.  – –  There are the empty nesters & retirees who are busier in their 3rd act than in either of the previous two;  there are people who, having lost the external milestones & road signs of their identity, feel lost in the fog of “Who am I now?”


The central heroes of the Torah – Abraham and Moses – received their callings beyond midlife. … Each of them responded to the divine call with this word – – hinenin, “Here I am.”  Each of them dropped everything and turned toward challenge. – – Many people, especially the arbiters of American culture, see growing up their in years, stepping out of middle age into “retirement” age as the end of productivity.  I received my call to elder care (r)evolutionary at 62, am must revving up.  Friends of mine are enthusiastically starting second careers because they have the background they lacked in their early adulthood & the confidence they lacked in middle age.


Why did the Divine not choose young, fresh heroes and leaders?  Perhaps because of the experience and accrued perspective these men were able to bring to their tasks.  As they said “hinenin,” they drew on their earlier life experience and declared themselves ready to embark in remarkable ways onto paths of wonder and significance as they were growing older. – – For some reason, this brings to mind the irony that I could not get beyond the 3rd interview stage of job hunts, due to my age.  A job hunt expert explained to me that today’s companies want employees who can easily pick up new ways of doing things, then just as easily forget them & move onto something new.  That is all well & good for managing the mechanics of a job, but where I excelled at US Healthcare, at Prudential Healthcare, at BISYS Financial Services was at winning back the trust & confidence of major clients & customers who were about to bail.  That is a gift finessed over decades of experience.  As the average 30-something to relate to a 50-something CEO who is irked over a problem & most will go down in flames.


We can understand the notion of callins in a Jewish context through the concept of “mitzvot.”  Mitzvot are traditionally understood as divine commandments, bur for our purpose, we might see them as invitations to holiness or opportunities to widen our horizons and deepen our connections.  – – Reading this again, at this moment in time, shifts me from looking at the things that I’ve tried to develop for olders elders ancients into things I’m CALLED to make so.


Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel suggested that it is through the experience of being obligated that one truly exists.  The notion that we continue to be obligated means we are engaging in the central human task of repairing and redeeming the world through observation of the mitzvot (calls to holiness, opportunities to widen horizons & deepen connections). – – This speaks to my heart.  I think of my mother in her final few years – by staying IN the larger world, making herself a vital part of it, engaging & sharing what she called her “mental meanderings” & the rest of us recognized a s her wisdom, she did so much that helped repair & redeem the worlds of many around her, of many she never met.


“What a person lives by is not only a sense of belonging but a sense of indebtedness.  The need to be needed corresponds to a fact:  something is asked of a man, of every man.  Advancing in years must not be taken to mean a process of suspending the requirements and commitments under which a person lives.  To be is to obey.  A person must never cease to be.”  ~ Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, speaking at the 1961 White House Conference on Aging. – –  This was engraved on both my mother’s heart & my mother-in-law’s.  I am forever grateful that their health & circumstances allowed each of them to continue playing a vital role in their families, their communities, to the last.  Rabbi Heschel would be horrified at the extent society has suspended the ability for a significantly older person to give back to family, community, even self.  When a person has nothing to do with his or her time, how can they feel any other way than that they’ve ceased to be?


The state of obligation to mitzvot offers a “sense of significant being.” This potential for meaning has no end point.  There is not retirement from a life of mitzvot…  We are called to hallow our lives for as long as we live.  …  Our actions matter. – – My calling, in one sentence.  A friend asked me this afternoon to describe what it is John & I seek to do.  Every time I tried to put it into words, the words seemed clumsy, more generalizations & platitudes than our heart goal.  Rabbi Friedman nails it –  To help everyone, no matter what his or her age, feel to the greatest extent possible, whatever their circumstances, the full “sense of significant BEing.”


We are always connected, always called, to hear and respond to the call of the mitzvah … called to perform the mitzvah as fully as we can. – – Again, how is this possible in a culture that seems removing obligations & duties as the ideal way to experience our “mature adulthood”?  And it is at the heart of what we set out to do – to give to as many olders elders ancients as we can a semblance of the purpose-filled lives both our mothers lived, braving broken hips & cancer & other challenges that come with being seriously up there in age.


The key question for us beyond midlife are thus:  What is the mitzvah I’m called to perform at this moment in my life?  What can I contribute out of or even in spite of my difficulties?  – – Amen!


We come full, not empty, to the callings beyond midlife.  Mary Catherine Bateson says that we bring with us wisdom garnered from experience, combined with energy, and at least some freedom.  She calls this rich accumulation “active wisdom.”  – –  Love that power trio that leads to active wisdom – experience, energy & some freedom.  My mother did have much physical energy over the last six weeks of her life, but psychic energies propelled her through her final days.


“The world stands on three things:  on Torah (learning), on avodah (spiritual practice), and on gemilut chasadim (caring connection).”  from Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) – – This is such a teeny snipped from an extensive passage that, all by itself, is worth the cost of the book.  Learning – spiritual practice – caring connection.  I think of Anne Davis Hyatt, who at the end of her life couldn’t remember from moment to moment the day or the date, but who NEVER lost her love of learning, her lifelong spiritual practice, her caring connections to family, friends & fellow continuous care residents.  Writing this, it hits me that those three are why she, to her last, was known throughout the large, lovely place she lived for her wondrous smile & emotionally generous manner.


The terrain beyond midlife is new to us and, in a sense, new to the world.  It is unprecented to have decades of life to engage beyond childbearing and career.  We don’t have any models – this is not your grandfather’s or grandmother’s aging.  So we need to be adventurers and explorers.  – – It is hard for youngers to understand that their parents’ experience of aging is different than for the millennia of elders who came before, that there is no guide book on how to navigate an older age that stretches long past retirement age.  We ARE adventurers & explorers, which presupposes we’re all going to take wrong turns & be lead down blind alleys that seem to have now exit.  We have to be both excited for the experience & compassionate for our fellow travelers.


“What can we do, those of us who have survived to this advanced age?  We can remember.  We can give advice and make judgements.  We can dial the phone, write letters, and read.  We may not be able to butter our bread, but we can still change the world.”  ~ Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers – – Ah, but Maggie wrote as a woman born in 1905, as someone steeped in talking to friends on the phone, on writing letters to family, on reading all sort of books magazines newspapers.  She wrote as a woman with a long attention span, who continued to her last breath to connect with all ages.  Today’s youngers -and- olders are not so blessed.

The very things that forged genuine connection – the sound of a voice, the sight of a certain handwriting, the well-worn pages of a book – are all too unknown in this day & age.  Every time a letter arrived for Mom, her heart took her to Missouri & Sydney, to California & Bermuda and so many places around the globe.  Seventeen years ago, she wrote to them & they to her.  She had her own e-mail handle – Mindwalker1910 – but nothing made her heart soar like the sight of a loved one’s handwriting on an envelope.  She loved the immediacy of e-mail & the joy of the sound of a beloved’s voice, but a letter…  a letter could be held in the hands, looked at over & over, over & over days months years.

Today, it’s a sign of progress that schools no longer teach cursive writing, that texting & Instagram have replaced phone calls & letters.  I believe we will, as a society & individuals, rue the day they fell into disrespect & disuse.

Yikes!  What a chilling note with which to close these ruminations!

No light matter – Chapter 12

Traveling Lighter… winnowing stuff woke me up to the progress I’ve made over the past four years, the progress waiting for me up ahead.  Pretty darn wonderful!  It maybe Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older’s shortest chapter, but it sure rocked my world!

Sheryl and Marty have lived in their gracious home in a northeastern city for over forty years. … (They) love their home but look forward to letting go of some of the demands of caring for it. … This desired move is about letting go. … of burdens and clutter but also of countless precious memories. – – One of the great things about consciously winnowing through possessions is being able to give each due respect & honor, knowing that the item is gone, but what it truly is has a place within us.  If you are helping someone with a move, don’t assume that you know what’s value, what isn’t – – the smallest, most apparently inconsequential thing can have the biggest pow.  Take the time to appreciate, release it from our grasp, hold it in our heart.


It can feel daunting to downsize property.  Relinquishing things that hold memories makes us feel at risk of losing our connection to the past. – – My experience is that a slow-paced, conscious winnowing holds the most rewards.   It helps to have done several serious sortings long before a BIG transition.  Taking the time to honor a special item, share its story, hold in your hand, can help forever cement in the imagination & heart the link it has to the past.


What do we make space for when we clear out years of piled-up papers, give up snow shoveling, or let go of that collection of dolls from around the world? … When we shift from acquiring things or people, we can attain an to acquiring wisdom & well-being. – – If we haven’t learned this by the time we’re middle aged, it’s going to be tough to catch onto the fact that things are static, with the only value the one we assign it.  Letting go of what we’ve collected over the years – the very act of doing that – provides the opportunity to honor what each means to us rather than as a possession.


You’re not just giving up, you’re getting. … You’re allowing for the possibility of enriching your life, not diminishing it. – – True, but only if done with the right attitude, in the right way & – hopefully – with the right person.  A slow savor rather than an impersonal packing.


“Now, consciously or, more likely, not, we set out to find out for ourselves who we really are, what we know, what we care about, and how to be simply enough for ourselves in the world.”  ~ Sister Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years  – – Gosh, I love Joan Chittister – she speaks my heart.  The unintentional consequence of – inspired by Marie Kondo – doing a big clear of my wardrobe was that have a greater sense of peace & calm with my environment extended to a unexpected stronger sense of peace & calm with myself.


Set all of your actions and possessions in order.  Assure that every thing is in its place and time, and your thoughts are free to engage with what is before you.”  Rabbi Menachem Mendel   – – Marie Kondo to a T – and 200+ years before her!  Reading this triggered the realization that the more orderly my surroundings, the more effectively I work, the more I enjoy what I am doing, and I am more constructively creative.


The process that (Rabbi Menachem Mendel) suggests involves clearing out anything that distracts us from the work of the present moment.  This arduous reflection and winnowing is the way we can open the door to liberation and creation…  This is a path of discovery, of what matters now. This is a process of connecting to the past through memory, not just through keepsakes.  This is a powerful way to begin again.  – –  Rabbi Mendel & Marie Kondo would absolutely be besties!  Clutter as a distraction “from the work of the present moment.”  This passage also pierces my heart, remembering a beloved older friend who was moving in with his daughter & her family from the home he’d lived in for virtually his entire adult life.  While he was on a trip abroad with two beloved grandchildren – a lifelong traveler’s last hurrah journey – she, in the name of efficiency, disposed of his entire, extensive record collection & 2/3 of his library.  Impossible to imagine how he felt returning from a glorious adventure to find his music room walls lined with empty shelves, the yawning shelves in the family room that had held a lifetime of reading.  Especially the records.  He would have given away most of them, I am sure, but he would have had the chance to hold Tony Bennett in his hand one more time, to hear Ray Charles in his mind, to experience the sounds in each sleeve & album without ever slipping it out to play.  “This is a path of discovery, of what matters now. This is a process of connecting to the past through memory, not just through keepsakes.  This is a powerful way to begin again.”   It is a time for reflection & farewell, for making the connection to heart- instead of hand-held, to say goodbye & begin again.

New Ways of Loving – staying open to WOW

New Ways of Loving… growing up as we and our parents age ~ ~ what an awesome chapter, putting the mega wise into Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older.  As always, Rabbi Friedman’s words are in italics, mine are standard. Oh, and there’s a baker’s dozen of favorite passages & snippets, not the usual ten – could have been even more!


Great opening to an awesome chapter in Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older!  And Rabbi Freidman jumps right in, sharing her visiting mother asking her astonished daughter if Dayle had anything she wanted to ask about the family.  All topics were on the table. “Mom listens.  She is not defensive.  She does not argue.  She does not apologize either.  She just receives and acknowledges.  –  –  Rabbi Friedman was stunned by her mother’s offer because it was so outside their previous experience with each other.  My own mother seriously opened up in her final few years –Whoever is ME is changing so fast it is hard to keep up at times. It feels like more is bubbling up to the surface than ever before — well, since I fell in love, married and became a mom for the first time. As I write this in July, we are even thinking about putting together my very own web site, which seems … well, I do not know what it seems, but it does. Talk about “the times today are a-changing” — I would not have dreamt that I would set foot anywhere near a meeting of people considering the role of women within the General Church, but there I was on July 8, feeling right at home, sitting front and center, and enjoying it immensely.”

Rabbi Friedman could have freaked at her mother’s offer.  A lot of people would have or even lashed out.  Peter did, when Mom offered to open up – “I needed you to do this years ago” was his response.  My mother changed after 87 years of simply not seeing me – trust me, if anyone had cause to say “too late” it was me, but I chose celebration over inflicting retribution.

Bravo to Rabbi Friedman for keeping her heart open, for matching her response to her mother’s offer – “I plunge in, mostly telling, not asking, giving voice to hurts I’ve carried for decades…” – rather than shutting her down.  She kept an open heart that welcomed wonders she never thought were possible.


The encounter made Dayle wonder – what happens to relationships between parents and children as we both age?  One consequence of expanded life spans is extended years of relating to parents in mid-life and beyond.  – – It made a difference, being able to interact with Mom in my middle middle age, as she inched toward & into her nineties.  We both saw life differently than ten years earlier -and- we’d experienced things that didn’t happen until that wrinkle in time.  At 87, Mom was embraced thinking about personal growth – through Stephen Covey & Nathaniel Branden & Marianne Williamson et al.  At ninety, the two of us were part of the Women’s Retreat at Tonche – Mim was, too.  That same year, Still Here came out & the two of us read it – together. Mom couldn’t have made the same leaps she took in her late 80s any earlier, because the triggers that fueled her leap didn’t yet exist.


While hundreds of volumes have been written about the demands and difficulties of caring for aging parents, relatively little attention has been paid to the developmental opportunities and challenges of the bond between aging parents and children outside of that dimension. – – see above


Clinical social worker Vivian Greenberg suggests that relationships between adult children and their aging parents “can produce a balm powerful enough to heal generational wounds.”  This “bonus” time can offer an opportunity for transformation.  – – As incredible as it would have seemed five years earlier, by the time Mom slipped from us in 09/01, the two of us had identified the core issues that raised a ruckus between us & had taken steps to address them.  At the same time, my siblings had cut off close connections to Mom, in part, I think, because the evolved person was so different from the Mom they knew & distrusted the transformation that others applauded.  Mom grieved that they kept their distance,  yet took comfort in making attempts to reach out & draw in, intentionally/mindfully using her memorial celebration as a final connection.


Indications of our parents’ aging “are intimations not just of fragility, but also mortality.  We start to grasp, and not just in an intellectual way, that our parents will not be here forever.  – – It’s a shock to realize after the last parent is gone that WE are the grandparent generation.


We bring our histories with us into this new stage of life, including conflicts, tensions, and expectations. … As we and they face change or crisis, old, negative patterns may surface, as Vivian Greenberg suggests, “like tire tracks that have been driven on over & over again, with deeply rutted patterns and details of every tread etched in sharp relief.” – – Both Mom & I saw  those deeply rutted tracks & took different routes.  My sibs stuck to what the familiar, however rutted.


As we approach our most primal connections, those with our mothers and fathers, there is often a great need to break through to the heart.  Growth and healing are possible, but we need to make ourselves ready. – –  We need to keep our hearts open, which translates into voluntarily leaving ourselves vulnerable to people who trigger our deepest darkest places.  It is NOT easy, but unless we make ourselves ready, if the opportunity to connect in new, wondrous ways presents itself, we won’t recognize it or we will & ignore it or throw in their face with what we consider well-earned contempt.  Glad I chose the former approach.


Truth is the very ground on which a mature life is built.  The trait of truth is concerned with our ability to see and acknowledge reality.  Practicing truth means letting go of illusions and distorted thinking, meeting the world as it actually is.  – – It seems to me that what rings true as reality is different for each of us.  Are my sibs maliciously twisting the truth when they call me a liar – to them, I am.  Having heard what they based that belief on, see how it seems true – at least in their eyes.  I was available for Mom when she was open to change because I’d accepted my way of seeing things as inherently distorted, ditto hers. Once we let go of being the ONE who was right, things were easier, letting go of seeing with a single eye, accepting that we each meet the world as it is for us.  I accepted both of us as flawed AND doing our best, she did the same, and that made all the difference.


Nina met the truth of her mother’s life, and it transformed their relationship.  What made it possible for Nina to open herself to her mother’s truth?  She brought curiosity and compassion to her new encounter with her mother.  This approach allowed her to appreciate her mother’s life as she had not before.  When we meet our parents with curiosity, we come to a deeper understanding of what they have undergone – – the suffering, the struggles, as well as the triumphs. Looking at the truth with compassion allows us to see that our parents are flawed human beings.  – – Yes! Yes! Yes! This captures exactly what both of us did that made us able to speak with, instead of past, each other.  I absolutely love this passage because it speaks directly to my experience with Mom over those final years.


Facing our parents as real people helps us to grow up, to let go of grievance, and to relate as best we can to the here and now.  Vivian Greenberg write, “Children… who see their parents as imperfect, vulnerable human beings can forgive them, discover ways to encourage intimacy with them, and live their own lives free of crippling guilt.” – – A book rests in my brain like a good stew, its flavors settling in before being served up to the world.  That Your Days May Be Long… our sacred calling to nurture a 5th Commandment mindset is all about honoring our parents as vulnerable imperfect flawed human beings who carried their own burden of past damage & their own stories that we don’t know.

When we are able to embrace their humanity – neither elevating them to peerless icons we place atop a pedestal to worship ~nor~ as demonic villains condemning themselves to the lowest hell – we are freed at the same time we free them.  When we draw closer to our earthly parents in their fullness, we draw closer to ourselves in our fullness, and are then able to draw ever close to the Divine.


Accepting the past is not easy.  One of the reasons that people hold onto anger and grievance is the deep-seated fantasy that it might yet be possible to get what they never had.  – – Oh, to have learned that years ago!  I was manic about figuring out what made my family tick because deep down I wanted all those earlier confusing hurtful damaging moments to miraculously transform themselves into different, whole & happy moments & memories.  The endless cycle of full-hearted yet doomed attempts kept happening because my unrecognized end could never happen.  Once I realized what I really wanted to happen, how strangely satisfying it was to endlessly & futilely pursue the could-never-happen fantasy, it could be seen & brushed away.  These two sentences are BIG BIG BIG!


If we let go of unreasonable hopes about our parents, according to Virginia Morris, we might “actually enjoy what is rather than constantly feeling cheated by what isn’t.  Like Nina, we might come to appreciate our parents as we were not able to before.  We can look for shared ground and savor the time we have.  If it happens that our parents’ difficult traits remain challenging, we will gain peace by surrendering the quest to change them.  We relate to them as adults, with as much openness as we can muster. – – Because I got to the point of being able to look for common ground & enjoy the time that was left to us, I can now do the same with my oldest brother, whose traits are just as challenging as ever yet bearable thanks to giving up my old unspoken but always there “Why can’t he change?” reaction.


With softened hearts, we can grow more compassionate.  This compassion will land not just on our parents, but also on ourselves, and it can help us grow and deepen as we grow older. – – This describes the blessing promised us within the 5th Commandment.  Says it all.  In keeping our heart open to new ways of loving, we remain open to the ultimate WOW – a relationship with our own self & with the Divine that surpasses imagination.



Wise Healthcare Choices – Chapter 10

Making Wise Choices About Medical Care at the Edge of Life ~ long title, short chapter in Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older, lots of important material.  Was TOUGH keeping my choices to ten.  Now for my personal takes on Rabbi Friedman’s wisdom – she’s in italics, I’m in plain type.

As we grow older, we inevitably encounter a paradox:  medical science is continually developing more marvelous capabilities to extend life, but the results of this treatment technology too often impose suffering on the person receiving it.  We are caught between our love of life and of our loved ones and choices that are unprecedented and vexing.  Are we obligated to do “everything” to prolong life when we or someone we love is ill?  How do we know when enough is enough?  When does quality of life trump the quantity of days lived? …  Morrie, the most dapper, most life-loving ninety-six-year-old ever, suffered from an ever-spiraling decline due to congestive heart failure.  On one of his many hospitalizations, his heart stopped and staff administered CPR.  When he awoke some time later, Morrie said with fierce anger, “Don’t ever do that to me again!” – – Morrie’s story is a common one – an older who is okay with dying being cared for by a hospital staff or doctors who see death as a defeat.  Reason to have a DNR – Do Not Resusitate – on the chart.  Although doctors & staff have been known to disregard due to principles, it should be honored.


Ours is an unprecedented reality.  Unlike any generation before us, we have access to ever-expanding life-extending technology for ever-older people.  For example, octogenarians are the most rapidly growing group of surgical patients in the United States.  …  (Having so many procedures available) makes it hard to realize that there are even choices to be made –  – and creates enormous guilt if a patient or family member even contemplates saying NO to treatment.  – – Mom was one of those octogenarians receiving surgical services – her retinas were replaced in her late 80s.  Was it necessary?  No.  Is it the sort of unnecessary care that drives up costs for everyone? Yes.  Should I have I have recommended she thumbs down her doctor’s recommendation, accept poor eyesight as a natural outcome of living so long?  Probably.  Would I have?  NEVER!


Dr. Dennis McCullough, a proponent of “slow medicine,” writes:  “Modern medicine has complicated the situations of elders’ late life by offering better and more technological means of extending the length of human life while not necessarily greatly improving its quality.  Often this has meant turning what used to be a brief, acute, life-threatening illness into a kind of prolonged decline or attenuated dying. “ – – Oh, the truth of that last sentence.   How many olders are saved from death only to be doomed to a prolonged dying?


In other words, the array of possible treatments may prolong life but take away from the quality of life.  And there should be decisions to be made, since use of all of this medical technology cries out for discernment.  There must be decisions made, since most deaths in our day are deaths-by-decision .  – – Few, if any, individuals & families are aware of, let alone prepared for, making the life or death decisions that are increasingly today’s norm.  I strongly recommend that every adult read read or listen to Atul Gawanda’s outstanding, Being Mortal for a sense of what can happen & to plant a ponder of what YOUR response might be.


Five key values from Jewish traditions can guide us when we find ourselves or our loved ones on the narrow bridge between life and death.  ~ the preciousness of life ~ there is a time to die ~ care of the person’s physical and emotional needs ~ preserve dignity ~ healing for the spirit.  – – Every year, my church coordinates small group discussions around a topic.  What conversations would flow from considering these five, from a Swedenborgian perspective!


When death is inevitable and imminent, no longer must we fight for every moment.  Instead, we must refrain from burdening the person by the things we do for them and allow them to depart in peace.  – – Letting go is impossibly hard for a lot of people.  My only experience with this comes from my mother, who told the story of an older sibling who died as a baby – he was a perfectly normal baby, except he was lactose intolerant, could not get nourishment.  As he was coming to the end of his tragically short life, my grandfather could not tear himself from sitting by the wee baby’s cradle.  Finally, my grandmother came in, placed her hand on his shoulder & said, “Ben, let him go.”  They left the room & when they returned some while later, Willy was gone. Sometimes the family leaving the room when someone is so close to death is a kindness, providing space for them to leave, too.


Hospice care can focus intervention and activity on maximizing comfort and on creating as much quality of life as possible.  Sadly, too often denial or resistance, either on the part of the family or the physician, get in the way of beginning hospice early enough to have maximum positive impact. – – When Dad was being treated for terminal cancer, there was no hospice care.  Mom’s wonderful physician, Dr. Bernal, was totally on board with arranging hospice care, while Mim’s hospice care was delivered in the same room she’d been in since being admitted.  A lot of people don’t realize that advanced forms of palliative care can’t be delivered UNTIL a person is officially on hospice care.  Alas, too many families balk at acknowledging there will be no getting better, that an end is in view.  And way too many doctors see death as a defeat & dig their heels in rather than release a patient to hospice.


The simple value (care for a person’s physical & emotional needs) can get lost amid the swirl of high-tech treatment.  We might ask:  Will a proposed treatment advance the person’s comfort or well-being?  How well are we really CARING for her?  Does he have a pillow with a soft cover?  Does she have her perfume?   Is there music that he likes?  Is whatever food she can eat really delicious? – – If I wasn’t already crazy about Rabbi Friedman, she’d have me at this passage.  It brings to mind the covering doctor who convinced Mom that she should have a full blood transfusion, something she loathed.  Praise be for the nurse who – against policy & procedures – called to give me a heads up.  I hot footed it over, talked with Mom, asking why she’d agreed to the detested procedure.  “The doctor said I would feel better.”  I pointed out that while she would feel better, she still would not feel well – and who knows what the outcome of the lengthy miserable procedure might be.  Bless Rabbi Friedman for her tender reminder about the importance of the little essentials – a soft pillow cover, a particular scent, favorite music.  With Mom, it was body lotion & good food; she loved to be massaged with lotion & she never lost her appetite for tasty food.


One of the instructions in the Talmud for preserving an elder’s dignity is “listening to his voice – not contradicting his word.”  We should make decisions based on the individual’s preferences, goals, and values. for ultimately only the individual can weigh the benefits or burdens of treatments.  – – This can be HARD, if what they want goes against what we see is best.  And it is essential.  It is also why I believe it is essential for patients in such situations to have an advocate, someone who understands the options & is totally focused on the patient’s wants & needs, not the family’s, the doctor’s or the hospital’s.   Mom had me in her corner & Mim had friends who stepped up in her’s.  Everyone needs one – if one isn’t available within a family or friend circle, check to see if the hospital has a social worker on staff to fill the role.


Even when it is not possible to cure, it is always possible to bring spiritual healing, the healing that is shalom, “wholeness” — we can always “do something” – we can sing, touch, bless, pray, forgive, fulfill a “second-wind” dream, or just be there.  … We can hope for clarity, compassion, and companionship as we make this journey. – – Earlier, Rabbi Friedman mentioned someone who said of an elder who was dying, “Nothing could be done & I did it.”  He did it by doing something.  Throughout those weeks that Mom was  in INOVA/Alexandria & then St. Mary’s/Langhorne, it was bringing in favorite cds to play on her boom box, arranging visits from friends, plying her with vanilla ice cream with pineapple sauce, picking up a cup of seriously good coffee from the kiosk in the lobby.


Definitely one of those chapters that I’d love to make assigned reading for everyone over eighteen!  A chapter as relevant to the teenager with a loved one nearing the end of life as the person at that far end.