Opening doors

An ironclad rule in our house is that the cats aren’t allowed in the master bedroom for thirty minutes after they’ve eaten. Not that they don’t try.  Lakota was looking at me beseechingly & crying mournfully from the top step – “Let me in!  Oh please please please let my in!  My happiness depends on it!” 

Well, it had been about 25 minutes & he is a very responsible cat who has shown himself steadfast in using the litter box instead of other creative spots.  So, I bent.  Slightly.

I went up the steps & opened the door, ever so slightly – enough to be push in-able by a determined cat, but not open enough for him to just saunter in.  Lakota looked at the door & he looked at me.  And continued his cries.  Stock still.  I pushed the door open a shade more.  The beseeching wails continued.

“Lakota, I’ve done my bit – the rest is up to you.”  He was literally unmoved by my explanation.

So, I turned & went downstairs.  As soon as I did, that sweet kitty pushed open the door & whisked into the kitties’ holy of holies. 

As I expected.

John & I have very different attitudes toward our cats.  He bends over backwards for them, I’m the one who expects some degree of independence.  Sky would still be spending all his time in our room if I hadn’t taken him down to the kitchen/dining room to eat with the rest of the Haven Clan.

I grew up with parents who were at our beck & call.  To them, that’s what parents did BECAUSE it was never done for either of them by surviving parents.  They based their parenting on something neither had experienced & wished they had.

The problem with it was that unless we had back bone, a desire for some semblance of independence, there was little incentive to act like adults.  With my older sibs, the door was always opened for them.  Would have been for me, too, if Dad hadn’t died when I was in college & my oldest brother hadn’t done a wretched job of stewarding Dad’s inheritance.  Even another brother, a paragon of independence, knew that he could flit away for long stays abroad & there would be a job waiting for him at Lockhart Lumber. 

I like to think I would have opted for being independent – will never know.

As a wife, friend & mother of cats, I know nurturing independence is super important.  Extra so with little kids, who are just learning to be independent, and olders elders ancients, who too often are treated like they’ve lost it when the only challenge might be it takes them a bit longer to do what once came with ease – in most cases, they are still capable of doing them.

Lakota would have been perfectly happy for me to open the door for him, but once I turned tail & went downstairs, he functioned just fine. There’s a lesson in there for us all.

A different mother, a different take from her death

Last week, Sarah Dunton wrote a beautiful piece for the Washington Post on the grief she still feels over losing her mother ten years ago, when she was 21 & her mother was 57.  It grabbed my attention because her experience was/is so different from mine, losing Mom at 91 to my 49.

Mom had been a widow for 28 years when Dad died, at 63.   It was easy to be happy when she passed – she’d turned being widowed at such an early age into a triumph of a resilient compassionate strong spirit.

Was it less than a year after Dad’s passing that Mom went to Australia to help Mike & Kerry with the birth of their first baby, Scott?  It was the best thing for her – an exciting adventure, with family & friends & a host of people waiting to become friends of “Grandma L.”   A few years after Dad’s death, we learned that the person Mom appointed executor of Dad’s estate (NOT the one he had selected) lost every penny of the money she’d been left – it meant she had to put her shoulder to the wheel & find work.

Over the next 25+ years, Mom went from being a pleasant person universally liked to one who earned the awe & admiration of all who knew her.  In her last few years, she took quantum strides that left the rest of us gobswoggled with wonder.  Mom lived fully, left a full-hearted legacy, and was looking forward to being reunited with her O Best Beloved.  There was poignant rejoicing when she passed.

Sarah Dunton’s experience was so different.  I can’t imagine losing Mom at 57, just as we would have started connecting as contemporaries rather than parent & child.

As Sarah writes, “The cruel irony of losing your mother is that right after her death is when you will need her the most.”  I’d never fully thought about that, it being so far outside my own experience.  Like Sarah with her mother, I was 21 when Dad died.  Although I would not have thought to put it in these words, I saw myself – along with my sibs – as Dad’s hands on this earth;  I focused on Mom’s loss, not my own.

Sarah recalls that while her mother had told her it would take five years to get over her death, it’s now ten years out & she’s still grieving.  My eyes did pierce with tears reading that, remembering what Mom said about the years after my brother, Ian, was killed at eleven – there came a day when the sky was blue again, but it was never the same shade as blue.

Sarah’s mother was literally “a consummate sage” -a certified life coach.  Sarah clearly inherited some of her mom’s wisdom – – today, if people approach her as another who’s gone through heartbreak, she advises, “Losing your mother is like training for a grief marathon you never signed up for. You’re best served if you start out slow and steady. With time, you will strengthen and condition your heart and mind to feel unpleasant and unwelcome emotions. Once you’re ‘through it,’ you’ll be able to fit the most unwieldy, foreign feelings into your brain.”   My thanks for that tender description of an experience I never had, but so many do.  I get it in my head, if not fully in my heart.

To help people get through, Sarah offers some suggestions losing a close parent:

Life without your mother will never be what it was, but she promises it will get easier.  (aka – the sky will once more be blue, just never the same shade)

Start out slowly & steadily – “It’s like training for a grief marathon you never signed up for. ” – to strengthen & condition your heart & mind to handle challenging difficult wrenching emotions. 

Take care of yourself  ~  Stay connected with people around you; when we are grieving, it feel natural to cut ourselves off from others, for lots of interesting reasons – one of the worst things we can do, right up there with letting bills go unpaid & our eating habits go to pot. If you’re seriously going to pieces, seek help from a spiritual and/or mental health professional.  “Grief is hard work. Don’t forsake your physical and spiritual well-being in the process. Above all, follow your instincts: If that means spending the day crying under your covers and eating cookies, that’s okay. But tomorrow, take a shower, put on some fresh clothes and meet a friend for a walk.”

It’s okay to fight with a ghostAmen, sister!  Sarah talks about spending “a good deal of the past 10 years arguing with my mother when I’ve felt angry, sad, confused or heartbroken. The fights are one-sided, but these imaginary conversations – which have taken place in journals, in my head and aloud in the shower – have been vital to working through the unresolved issues I faced after my mother’s death about myself and our relationship. Guilt has been a recurring theme for me. Could I have done more when my mother was alive to be a better daughter? Would she be proud of me or disappointed in my choices? As I’ve wrestled with these complex emotions, I’ve realized the value in allowing myself to process whatever feelings bubble up, however normal or absurd they may seem.”  Been there, do that.

Let it all out (and carry a pack of tissues, always) –  This has only rarely, maybe a couple time, happened with me, but I have friends who lost their mothers years & years ago who still find themselves bursting into tears at the sent of her perfume or the smell of freshly baked pumpkin bread.  “Crying is cathartic. I still carry a pack of tissues for these moments. Don’t worry, your feelings of sadness will become less acute over time. The sights, sounds and smells that initially made you bereft of happiness will eventually bring you joy.”

Doing what I can NOW – lessons from Kathleen Dowling Singh

My life is being infused with light understanding insight through reading Kathleen Dowling Singh’s wondrous The Grace in Aging.  The book’s quiet wowness touches & connects with my deepest places.  Blessing on Bethany for lending it to me!

My world shifted last night, reading before turning out the lights & slipping off into sleep, reading, “Striving to awaken is the action of self-cherishing & will keep us trapped.”  In an instant, I went from groggy to fully attentive.  Striving to awaken is a dead end?  “Ego’s strategies are incapable of moving beyond ego.”  Her words truly sang to me, then she totally zapped me – “To create the causes of awakening, on the other hand, is the wise action of a lightly-held functioning self, spurred by essential longing.”  (p. 32-3)

Kathleen doesn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know – I just didn’t know that I knew it.  She drapes language around the shoulders of something already in my heart but hadn’t connected with my mind.  Striving sounds great, but creating is what matters.

Feeling WOWed by what she wrote, I wanted to connect with Kathleen, let her know.  Discovered this morning that she died last October.  She died.  At 71.  Yet instead of wanting to howl at the moon in sadness, her death registered as a reminder to DO now, not to postpone until some nebulous later.  To live fully & productively, compassionately & tenderly.

As much as I regret never being able to tell her thanks, I am grateful for the sense of Kathleen that I have, thanks to her loved ones’ wonderful words after her passing six months ago:

On October 1, 2017, our beloved mother, Kathleen Dowling Singh, died surrounded by loving family…  She is survived by four children, twelve grandchildren, and innumberable loving friends.  

The world lost a beautiful soul, whose life was dedicated to the healing of those around her.  She was an author, therapist, teacher, mother, grandmother, sister and friend.  To her family & friends, she was always full of love & compassion, a trusted confidante, companion, mentor & guide.  She was a soothing presence to each of us and her home was a refuge of comfort and serenity.  We are incredibly blessed to have had her in our lives.

Kathleen was selfless, she never took more than needed & contributed far more as a teacher & healer.  Her memory lives on in the lives of her family and all the lives she touched, emotionally & spiritually.  Her family takes comfort in knowing there are many others who love her as deeply as we do. 

Even in death, we know she is always with us, she was a gift – not just ours to keep. Her wisdom will live in her teachings and books –  The Gift of Dying, The Gift of Aging, The Gift of Living, and Unbinding – the Grace Beyond Self.

As she so beautifully stated, “something of defeat, something of tragedy, can be a sacrament because it stops us & causes us to look deeper.”  That is her gift to us all.  ~ ~ ~ Herald Tribune, 10/10/17

Life is about doing, not about age.  Some people live to their nineties without apparently finding a purpose or leaving a legacy behind.  Some people live with grace & abundance from the day they are born.

Kathleen’s books & life are a light & spur to create, to do, to move from longing to acting  from a lightly-held functioning, spurred by an essential longing, never mistaking the yearning for action.

A lot of lessons learned & a couple already lived in less than twelve hours!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a CREATIVITY JAM for Age Justice – May 15

(originally posted on TheWholeElderCatalog.com)

What IS “A Creativity Jam for Age Justice“?  It celebrates the rich creativity that is natural as we age ever upward, our length of days & wealth of experiences opening up deeper awareness & fresh perspectives unimagined in our earlier years, especially in go-go mid-life.  And it sheds light on ageism, a cultural blight that sees olders elders ancients as winding down instead of gearing up.

Ageism restricts the natural flow of energies between generations & does its best to shut down the voices & views of elders.  I think of my 89-year old mother, responding to a pair of young nurses who were shocked & appalled at her admiration of a dashing doctor – “Hey, I might be old, but I’m not dead!

To the last, Mom’s life belied the stereotypes that tag too many American olders elders ancients (her term), but she was still acutely aware of the harsh prejudices that many in their “upper register” face every day.  Although generally blessed with remarkable doctors, there were a couple with whom she had to be VERY firm, or they would brush off symptoms as “what to expect from an old person.”  She’d be horrified that after I was bounced from the company where I was Employee of THAT Year, then locked out of the corporate world, in spite of a great resume & all sorts of current kudos, because I was 50+.

The Creativity Jam celebrates ALL creatives of the 3rd Age, from painters & sculptors to quilters & crocheters, dancers & singers, musicians & the storytellers, and welcomes children along with adults letting their Inner Child out to play.

An aside – – while it’s been fairly easy to line up art for the exquisite gallery space, getting performers on board is an unexpected challenge.  We are a month out & only three have signed up!  That surprised me.  Is it possible that olders with great voices & musical talent are reluctant to show off their stuff?  I have no fear that we will wind up with a terrific program, but it has been … interesting.  Along with wonderful artists who have declinedd because they “don’t do shows any more.”  Not that they haven’t created over the past years, but they don’t show.  Not sure what that says, but I feel it says something.

All will be FABULOUS in the end!  Love that we’re showcasing all manner of creatives – am ordering a loaf of bread, the show piece of a master baker, from Jennifer.  If Chara wasn’t still in her mid-50s, would include one of her gorgeous apple pies.  All sorts of creations & creatives!

To me, Age Justice celebrates EVERY age, from just-born to soon-to-depart & everything in between.  It’s about seeing the best in others where they are now & doing what we can to help all ages be all they can all the time.  It’s individual & inter-generational.  It’s youngers respecting grands & grands respecting youngers.  It’s employers appreciating the value of 40+ employees – I wasn’t a techie like my younger co-workers, but I had the institutional memory & elder smarts to be the one top brass sent clients threatening to walk, because I’d listen to them, let them know they were heard, make them feel valued… and keep them in the fold.

Age Justice is about obliterating the dividing lines & creating alliances across the age spectrum.  It’s about waking young’uns in their teens twenties thirties up to their “elders” being their natural ally not their enemy.  It’s about giving mid-lifers a better sense of the bonuses & blessings of aging ever upward.  About helping all youngers prepare for a great & glorious 3rd act.  It’s about squashing the ageism too often embedded in the elderly, giving it the boot & replacing it with a keen new awareness of all the bounty the 3rd Age is eager to deliver.  It’s about collaboration, cooperation, connection & community.

Here in the Greater Philadelphia area, the evening we’re holding as a sister event to the 05/15 Rally for Age Justice in NYC’s Union Square is a Creativity Jam celebrating the amazing energies & output of men & women who are 60+  (okay – we have one who turns 60 in June).  Be there or be square!

A  CREATIVITY JAM for Age Justice   

showcasing  artists, singers, creatives  of the 3rd Age (60+)

One night – Tuesday, May 15    7:30 – 9:00 p.m.

1725 Huntingdon Road, Huntingdon Valley   (across from the June Fete Horse Show ring)

For information, contact DEEV at MurphArt@aol.com

This FREE evening is a sister event to A Rally for Age Justice, Union Square, NYC.  For information on the rally, check out the  Radical Age Movement on Facebook or radicalagemovement.org

Sam I am

Yes, I’ve written before about the voice that above all those experienced at last week’s Masterpiece Lyceum/Positive Aging Conference affected, enflamed me.  The fellow  from an organization I’ve revered for almost twenty years who approached me about getting involved in its marketing team. It wasn’t my almost quarter century in public relations he sought or my ability to help the invisibled feel seen.  He was enthusiastic about my energies. Put them in a new bright shining light.

STILL haven’t heard from him. Maybe he had second thoughts on returning to his home base, maybe he’s just super busy.  Whatever – simply talking to him about the possibility, about what the organization needs & what the world needs from the organization, shook me awake to a new view of  “aging,” a term that’s confused me for many decades.  We’re aging when we are eight months, eight years or eighty!

What’s meant by the word “young” is FIT, what’s meant by “aging” is UNFIT, which is weird because a lot of people 65+ are healthy & raring to go while a lot of folks under that age, under forty & thirty, are mentally & physically flabby.

We’re living years longer than our parents, many more than our grandparents, yet youngers seem to see those years are lacking a purpose that, sadly, too many of them don’t feel, lacking opportunities to live boldly, to have a hollowed out being shackled to a debilitated body & a demented mind.  YIKES!

Those of us living in these still United States of America circa 2018 find ourselves in a conundrum:  the apparent primary use of olders – to be the carriers of our history, the fount of family connection, the person whose fishing skills or apple strudel help keep siblings connected – is ebbing away, BUT their ultimate use – sources of a long view, of sage advice, of wisdom – remains as strong as ever, just increasingly harder to access.

The offer of a position in an organization I revere was one of those, “Your mission, should you chose to accept it...” moments, a unimagined major life purpose suddenly revealing itself – if I have the guts & audaciousness to catch hold of & run with it.  Expanding rather than changing my goals to include the broader audience, which makes total sense for someone writing a blog titled All Ages, All Stages.  That’s my audience demographic target-audience ~ ~ EVERYONE, from toddler to ancient.  Opening minds, expanding experiences, creating fresh awareness & appreciation.

Have absolutely NO idea what any of that means, but excited as I wade even deeper into a terra incognita I’ve gotten used to exploring.  I continue to feel like Sam Beckett in the last episode of Quantum Leap, where he learns that far from ending, the leaps will be getting even more challenging, something he didn’t think possible.