Sparking discussion – Rotary breakfast

Enjoyed giving a breakfast presentation this morning to the Abington Rotary. a group worth joining! Jenkintown Kiwanis last month, Positive Aging lunch in Philadelphia this past Tuesday, Rotary today.

It is a pleasure & an honor to spark discussions on issues around aging, about the NEED for countless wide-ranging conversations about the myriad angles, dynamics & impact of growing older & upward in America.

And it’s another example of synthesizing our experiences & know-how into something tangible, valuable, worthwhile.  Something that takes our loves & interests & purpose and creates a visible, viable – real – outcome.

surREAL

John & I are happily caught in surREALity  ~  facing down financial challenges that would daunt our earlier selves, confident in the knowledge they’re the ONLY things weighing us down.  Every other aspect of our lives gives us wings to soar over a tangled landscape, discovering new vistas & overgrown paths;  beckoning others to find the ancient, too-often forgotten awareness that ALL of our life is designed for wholeness & joy.

Quite the turn around from earlier this week, when I was uncharacteristically bummed.  Our newest client decided that, at 90+, she wasn’t up to the rehab we whisked her to & from. What stung, more than feeling the loss of income we NEED, was the loss of connecting with a remarkably active older woman.

We’ve lined up three clients since May; each one has said good bye (in addition to our most recent opting out of rehab, one family decided that enrichment, not covered under Medicare, was too $ while another went with a service offering more care options).

The Universe is sending a message – move on, this option’s been shut down.

I’m used to the Universe’s modus operandi of introducing me to new experiences, new lessons by throwing my life into an uproar.  If it means tossing me out of a job – teaching, public relations, marketing support – so be it.

Learned long ago that the Universe focuses on the end, not a fleeting moment.  The third time it happened, being tossed out of comfort no longer fazed me.  That time, the shock lasted a scant hour before it hit me that something BIG was in store, so best to get with the unknown program.

That’s how it feels now.  Yes, there are moments it feels scary.  Face it – most people under value what we offer; a shocking number flat-out dismiss the importance – at all ages – of spontaneous play, of experiencing joy.

We understand.  The average person caught up in the speed & stress of the age can feel dubious, even daunted, by the idea that playfulness is as essential to a healthy life as vitamins & other nutrients.  What was true when we were kids, when play came as naturally as breathing, is still true today – a sense of unfettered, open playfulness is  essential to our well-being.  Way too many adults have gotten so used to the base note of stress underscoring modern life & don’t realize how dangerous a lack of regular FUN is to their  health well-being prosperity

Our society focuses on work, on production, on racking up tangible results that can be measured calculated quantified.  Aka, the opposite of play, which requires a sense of the unfettered, the freely done & freely received.

Someone has to stand for getting more play into everyone’s lives, to infect our older friends with glee & laughter & a light heart.  The Universe tapped us.

My reality is that every time I find work that provides personal satisfaction, a decent income & serves others, the Universe ultimately yanks me out, tosses me into a void awaiting structure.  “Okay, you learned the lessons this work can provide – onto the next,” it seems to say.

The first time, I went from a teacher to a balloon seller to a editor/public relations maven.  The second, the shift was from public relations & advertising to account executive.  The third lead me to elder care.

None of them were places I would ever have predicted, ESPECIALLY the last.  All of them provided essential lessons that will serve me – us – well in being eldercare (r)evolutionaries, set on disrupting the current woeful culture society uses to straitjacket too many oldsters elders ancients.  I didn’t set out to do this work.  If I’d had my original druthers, I be winding down a wonderful life as a junior high teacher.

The Universe has other plans.

While that sounds whackily New Ageish to a lot of people,  experience taught me long ago that there is reason to what could appear calamity.  Surreal?  Yes.  As in phantasmagorical.

Phantasmagorical – “changing or shifting, as a scene made up of many elements.”  Yes, that sums up how my life has turned out.  “As something in a dream or created by the imagination” – that works, too.  I’ve come to have complete faith in the unforeseen, the out of left field.

When it comes to stuff – to school tax & ancient cars, cat food & weekly groceries – we admit to being in a temporarily dicey place.  When it comes to everything else, all is awesome, beyond the beyond.  In ways other than the material, the here & now, the temporal, we push pursue put the REAL in surreality!

The Anatomy of Trust – Brene Brown

Okay, it’s a Friday & this is NOT a podcast.  But it is something I need to post BEFORE the end of this remarkable week, one that has been all about trust.

Trust is, in my understanding, THE most important sense that there can be within relationship, whether with others, our self, or the Divine.

My thanks to Brene for her wisdom over the past few years.  Am posting this in place of a Friday podcast because TRUST is where I’m at.  You come too!

 

Trust was a major, unspoken issue in my family.  My parents had a similar strong, almost supernatural sense of trust, apparently in full bloom with their introduction.  But with everyone else, especially me, Mom had trust issues.

Mim had the most serious trust issues.  It might have been based in part in her nature – or not.  Whatever deep terrible trauma she experienced when she was very young – which was never acknowledged within the family – left her distrustful of even her nearest & dearest.  I think the only people she never spoke of as “against” her were Penny, Gray, Lark, both Beths & a couple cousins.

It seemed to me that Mim cloaked herself with snide comments & slighting observations because she felt it was better to get the thrusts in first before someone did it to her.

This was brought home to me after Mim’s death.  I was planning on making cupcakes for the long-term care facility where she’d lived.  My oldest brother warned me off, sharing that she’d told him that the staff despised her so much, “she doubted anyone would notice if she died.

That went straight to my heart – not because they were so callous & unfeeling, but because I knew from personal experience & from talking to her closest friends that the staff adored her, expressed in ways that can’t be faked to people of heart.  More than that, I’d heard Mim use either the exact same words or a variation to describe how many people – including my oldest bro – felt.

Mim could not feel accepted by people she did not trust.  No one can.  Mim wrapped herself in a straight-jacket of distrust & could not be coaxed out of it; the more she felt love from someone, the more she distrusted him or her.

I was also wrapped in distrust.  Until recently, my greatest belief was that no matter how much you seemed to like me, I would disappoint you & turn you away.  I certainly can point to the relationships in my family that went ka-blooey because of others feeling a deep lack of trust in me.  I think about my oldest brother’s children, who had terrible experiences with me because of my conflicts with their dad – they were caught in the middle & I was too short-sighted & emotionally dumb to notice.  They have BIG trust issues with me, which I respect & grieve.  My oldest brother considers me a mega liar, my sister experienced me as toxic & my s-i-l once described me as the most psychotic person she knew.  I respect & grieve their feelings, especially when they bar the way to any sort of healing.

Praise be, Mom worked her way out of some of her most entrenched trust issues.  We used a quirk of hers to create an opening to greater trust.  John or I would be headed out & she’d say, “If you’re anywhere near the pharmacy, would you pick up…?

That might sound innocuous enough, but it  drove me NUTS.  “Mom, if you need us to pick up a prescription, just TELL us.”  The next time, same thing – “If you’re anywhere near…?

It broke my heart that she didn’t think needing it was reason enough for us to want to get it.  John & I came up with a plan – when she’d ask, we’d ask her, in turn, to make it a direct request, like “Could you pick up my prescription at Bethayres Pharmacy?”  Then, we’d make sure  to pick it up,  without having to be reminded – and it was a pleasure.

To me, Mom’s reluctance to ask directly showed a lack of  her trust in our willingness to help her out.  Praise be, she developed a stronger sense of  assurance that we honestly enjoyed doing her bidding & that we would let her know if it was inconvenient & when we could pick up her order.  We used drugs to build Mom’s trust muscle!

Trust can be lost in little, middling or big ways, but it can only be restored in small ones & over time.

People we trust have been there when we needed them – stopping by Gretchen & Andrew’s at 3:30 a.m. in the morning because Mom had fallen & was being taken by ambulance to the hospital & I’d blown off getting gas hours earlier, so we were driving on fumes to a hospital 10 miles away – without a moment’s hesitation, we swapped car keys.  (The EMTs found it way bizarre that we left in a silver sedan & arrived in a blue suv.)  It’s knowing your niece & nephew WILL get to your wedding weekend, even though it’s outside Philadelphia & they’re in school in NYC & Delaware.  It’s the people who are there to give hugs when most needed, even if they haven’t the vaguest idea why.

Trust is built in the smallest of moments.”  Today was a big trust builder with John – we were heading out this morning & we couldn’t find the small purse the keys are in.  It’s really hard to misplace this purse, since it is the head of a cat.  John names EVERYTHING, so it is called Pursey.  And there was no Pursey to be found, anywhere.

The right place to put the purse is in the key basket, but I’ve been known to put it next to the coffee pot or next to the laptop.  I searched my book bag, the pockets of my pants, checked out in the car – could not be found.  The appointment of John’s we were headed to was a wash.

And it took him a full hour before reminding me that HE had been the last one to drive the car.  At this point, I could have gone ballistic.  “Why didn’t you remind me of that earlier, as I was searching places where I might have left it!

It would have been such a good vent, but like holding a balloon when I was a kid – – something I really really really wanted,  quickly left me disappointed, dissatisfied.

I kept my mouth shut & left him to his search.  He called the friend he’d visited yesterday, the gas station where he’d stopped – nothing.

After two hours, we talked about how we approach situations.  I step back, calm my mind & wait for whatever to show up, either in front of me or in my mind.  Until this morning, John has bunched up, which only drives the energy of what’s been lost deeper & deeper into the dark.

Instead of getting snippy, I suggested he go through part of the meditation practice we do at Pura Vida – after a couple minutes, he realized that an even better activity for him would be to get in his daily walk, which he used to do listening to A.M. talk radio but now is music for the chakras.

A couple hours later, he came down to the Basement, where I was working.  He held out his right hand – there was Pursey!  “I was snugging with Sky (our small tuxedo kitty) up in the bedroom & was walking past the stuffies on the top of my bureau, when the brown shape of a cat’s head caught my eye.”  Bet it caught his heart, too!

Yesterday, instead of waking me up from a nap to ask, “Do you want to come with me to Bernie’s?” – code for “Would you drive?” – he drove himself (very rare), letting me sleep on.  When he came back, I was still zonked out.  My guess is he thought to himself, “I’ll just put Pursey right here,” tucking him in with the stuffies, “And she will be surprised to see him when she walks past!”  Except I didn’t see my purse, it had flipped over from its cat face to its brown back & John clear forgot his clever surprise.

After finding the missing Pursey, John rescheduled his morning event to late this afternoon.  All is well & I will be picking him up in about 45 minutes, at 9:00 p.m.  He will come home to a dinner of mac & cheese, a chilled Goslings Ginger Beer & a slice of pumpkin cheese cake.  Not exactly nutritious, but it will be spot on with my Hubster.

John & I have done post-mortems on our fracas since our earliest days.  The last couple years have been especially testy, probably because we’ve been on the cusp of making some mega serious breakthroughs on the cause of my still surfacing trust issues.  Today was one of several triumphs of relationship over fear.  It would have meant little without the other small but mighty victories that came before

Trust can be lost in a heart beat, but restoring it takes a long time & many moments of putting relationship – with the other &/or yourself – over ego.

If I had blown up this morning, gone ballistic over the irksome niggly bits & pieces that pester & fester relationships, tonight’s served-with-love dinner would have been an empty, albeit it tasty, gesture.  But this morning, when the moment of reckoning arose, we aced it.  So bring on the mac & cheese, the ginger beer & pumpkin cheese cake, served WITHOUT  a snide of  discordant undertones!

 

Our gifts, our bliss – writing prompts

Today’s writing prompts, spot-on for all ages, are from David Richo’s Coming Home to Who You Are, a Baby Bear-sized (“just right”) book with super short chapters.

When I think about this book, it feels like one read many years ago, before Mom slipped from us – it hits so many home truths & hard-won lessons that the two of us came to together.  But it was published in 2011, my first read was early 2013!

Coming Home to Who You Are is a book Mom would have kept by her bedside, been a good companion when she’d wake up at 3:00 a.m.ish, when reading something that spoke to her heart helped tumble her back to sleep.

As Mom worked her way along her quest for a stronger, more cohesive sense of her 90+ year old self, the following are the sort of  questions she’d pause to ponder.  In her earlier years, she would have journaled them; by 1999 she avoided hand-writing due to a severely arthritic right shoulder & probably would have mulled these over in her mind, maybe shared her thoughts with her online circle of friends, or with me, kept them to herself.

The questions are from the brief chapter, Our Gifts and our Bliss.  As David Richo introduces the chapter, “It’s important to appreciate our innate talents.  It is never too late to begin using our gifts, an it is always too early to give up on them.”

The following questions are set out to help us reflect on or discover the gifts that lead to deeper happiness satisfaction contentment – bliss – whatever our age, stage or state of being:

What are my gifts & talents?  How does my current life include & advance them?

What has consistently brought me happiness & a sense of fulfillment?  How can that be present today & across my tomorrows?

What in my life arises from my choice?  What arises due to obligations OR from other’s choices?

What do I admire or envy in the lives of others?

What would I like to see happen for those I love?

What am I being encouraged to do or be by those I trust?

What am I afraid of risking if I “step out of line” or “act outside the box” of what I think others expect from & for me?

What are the loves & longings I am afraid to tell anyone about?  Why?

If I am not already there, what will it take for me to believe that it is my turn to make the choices that reflect who I am & what makes me happy?

These are a lot of questions, but they are natural companions, each welcoming the next & each offering a greater appreciation of what my “ancient” (her term) mother actively sought over those final few years – a clearer, more cohesive sense of our self, whatever our age.

 

 

Coming home to where I am

Until the other day, seeing the title in a list of books by David Richo, had forgotten about Coming Home To Where You Are (2008).  And although the name hit a deep resonating bell, could not for the life of me recall WHY that book rang so true with me.

Even after coming across my copy & reading 1/3 of the way through, still couldn’t figure out why seeing the title for the first time in three years had stirred me so deeply.  Fell asleep last night thinking, “Must have been another book.”  Then, early this morning, got to page 77.

This book illuminates & lightens.  It shines light into undiscovered or dark corners of my relationships within my family & within myself; it lightened any sense of sadness regret recrimination connected with any of us.  In David Richo, in Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle-Melton, Michael Singer, Jen Sincero & so many others, I found others, especially my mother, described in beautiful, tender terms.

It was the commitments at the end of the chapter on Respectful Assertiveness that stopped me cold – I am learning to ask for what I need without demand, manipulation, or expectation.  I honor the timing, wishes, and limits of others while protecting my own boundaries.  I am open to a radical transformation of myself so that I can be free of malice.  I look for ways to be kind for myself while not letting myself get away with anything.

That was published seven years after Mom’s 09/6/01 passing, but it is SO what she learned over her closing four years.  Especially the opening words of each commitment – realizing it was okay to DO these things, period.

It was just this morning, just a few moments ago, that it occurred to me why doing these very things were never an issue with her & Dad.  With the two of them, asking ~ honoring ~ being open to change ~ looking for ways to be kind to their relationship was as natural as breathing.  She never had to strive to do it, it just happened naturally. Once Dad died, so did the ease or even the expectation that doing these things would be acceptable.

Mom’s post-her father’s death & pre-Dad experience was that it was NOT.  Her widowed mother – someone my brother describes as an utter Gorgon – expected Mom to completely dance to HER tune.  Gran’s middle daughter learned that she was expected to have no needs, to not deserve honor, to accept things as they were, that her mother was the only one worthy of kindness.

When Dad came along, doing the once impossible was an immediate norm.  She never had to learn it or get permission to do; from their first serious connection, in a kitchen during a New Year’s Eve party, mutual respect-honoring-transformation-kindness was part of everything they were. When Dad died so young, at 63, so did the comfort, the natural cadence of expectation & fulfillment.

And that drove me crazy.  For all of my life, I needed a Mom NEVER stood up for herself with her kids, not even when Dad was alive.  Dad stood up for Mom, but she couldn’t.  The only time I ever knew my father to seriously lose it with me was a time – I was around 5th grade – when I sassed Mom & refused to apologize;  he came after me with a hair brush, ready to tan my hide, Mom beseeching him in the background, “Pete, don’t…”  He ultimately did her bidding & didn’t lay a hand on me, but I was verbally scorched & grounded.  Dad stood up for Mom, but she couldn’t.  Until the closing years of her life.

Reading the commitments on page 77, was filled with such pride that Katharine Reynolds Lockhart was my mother. Because, in her mid-late 80s, she did learn to do all those things.  Learned that asking for what she needed was not demanding or manipulative or even expected a YES.  That it was honoring the timing, wishes & limits of others AND her own boundaries was an essential part of sound emotional health.  That she was capable of radical transformation, setting her free from self-malice.  That it was not only okay to be kind to herself, it was a necessary starting point for being kind to others.

Mom learned all those things on her own, once she realized it was okay to see things differently than she always had, something that dawned on her at 87.  Never say never!

As I move forward with this work of digesting, synthesizing all I’ve read over the past years, am expecting more & more precious moments thinking of Mom, my sibs, not so much my Dad (didn’t know him all that well) & the glory of tender-hearted relationship).

Good times ahead!

Full Circle – night capper

Kudos to Jo Ann Jenkins for a remarkable job making AARP relevant across the generations!

That said, I’ve noticed, having posted numerous inspiring AARP-produced TV spots celebrating care partners, ‘that no one ever seems to be actively dealing with the stress & strain of balancing family–parent-job-personal life or all the care falling disproportionately on one child (happens all the time) or with ancient personal or family issues resurfacing in present day.

Over & over, friends & pleasant acquaintances told me, “If I got along as well with my parent(s) as you do with your mother, I’d have her/him/them live with me, too.”

As I’ve written before, Mom & I were NOT a natural match.

SHE thought we were – Mom saw me as an almost carbon copy of herself.  And she had NO interest in seeing it any differently.  When she was on her 6th of 7 trips to Australia & left during a particularly dicey time in our relationship, I commented in a letter to her that she hadn’t a clue who I was.  She responded in outraged indignation – “NO ONE knows you better than I do!

The fact is that I took after my Dad, which worked out well for Mom; by his nature & nurture, Dad LOVED being there for others, putting them in a setting where they could shine, helping them out financially & (although my brothers might disagree) emotionally. We differ in that I believe it’s essential to help put others in a place where they can grow more than simply shine, that there are times when it is better for them if you step back & let them take responsibility for their lives.  That difference caused serious friction with Mom, who forgave her children any hurtful thing they did to her as long as they remembered to say, “I love you.”

That drove me right up a wall.

You don’t see anything close to that sort of exasperation in these AARP spots.

Mom handled her conflicts with her own mother by closing her eyes & telling herself that everything Gran did (whom I never met but is described by my oldest brother as the “most evil woman on earth”) was somehow explainable, it was HER (Mom) fault that she didn’t understand it.  It was a struggle for her to live with someone like me, who prefers to face situations,  seeing people as they present themselves, always remembering that how I see them might not be what actually is.

Mom hated confrontation, so accepted chronic conflict; I hate conflict, so accept occasional confrontation.  When I’d blow up, trying to move Mom to respond, she’d just freeze, like a deer caught in the headlights.

Praise be for her last six years, from her mid-80s to early 90s, for her calling a psychologist when she was 88 or 89 & confessing “I haven’t a clue who I am” & seeking counseling, for the two of us working together to respect the other’s differences – especially the ones that drove us around the bend –  for identifying our core issues even if we didn’t resolve them all.

Smiling, remembering a time that Mom irked me by something she’d said & I flashed with upset, only to have her say, “You TOLD me you wanted me to tell you how I feel.  Well, this is me, DOING it.”  She was right – she was doing exactly what I’d urged;  I hadn’t counted on how it would FEEL having her follow through.

While Dad asked questions & delved, Mom did not, nor did Peter, nor did Mim.  It worked quite well for them to have people accept the surface impression rather than trying to figure out what was actually being said.

Once I asked Mim what she meant by something she said; exasperated, she responded, “I meant what I said.”  So, it was fairly earth shaking when, in the closing years of her life, she asked Peter WHAT it was she was doing that was so upsetting to him & the others.  She said he drew himself up, looked her in the eye & answered her, “You ASK questions!

For my first 37 years, I had a relatively smooth relationship with Mom.  It had its ups & downs, especially when it can to how she treated my older sibs like little kids instead of adults, but things went relatively well.  They began to fall apart after I married John, when it was brought home to me that all the things I thought I’d always wanted that seemed to me simple to give – openness, caring, giving a sense of personal worth, fair mindednesss, loyalty to the relationship – actually were.  It was when I started to fall apart, being caught between my family’s dysfunction & John’s healthy spirit – that Mom pulled herself together.

We had family-based disagreements straight through to her final days, but we never doubted that the other loved us & had our best interests at heart.  Mom had some fascinating quirks that drove me nuts that I only came to understand over those final six weeks.  When she was at her most physically vulnerable, Mom showed awesome emotional strength & ability to discuss things she’d avoided for all of my life, maybe for most of hers.

AARP should produce a spot showing THAT reality; it might make it easier for a parent or child or care partner dealing with tough times to realize there is tremendous power in handling the soul-wrenching, even more than the heart-warming.  Maybe someday…