Declaration of INTERdependence – Chapter 9

Was in my twenties when I first thought of my sister, Mim, as like the opening illustration for The Cat That Walked By Himself –  by herself, on her own solitary path, the wildest of all wild creatures.  I admired her fierce independence.  She was like the semi-feral cat that lets you stroke it – when it likes – and feed it – when it likes – and let it into the house on a nasty night, but who always makes it clear that there are no mutual obligations, that when it’s ready to be gone, gone it will be, without a backward glance or a nano second thought.  I doubt she ever lost that wild sense of walking alone – when she was in her early 50s, Mim made a point of saying to me, “I bet you think I talk about you (our relationship) with my psychologist.  Well, I don’t – your name never comes up.”  Her pronouncement took me by surprise, but not for the reason she thought – – it had never occurred to me to think that my wild, semi-feral sister EVER brought up the topic of me (our relationship) because it was clear throughout her life that she had no interest in making it better.

My parents admired the appearance of independence.  As far as I could tell, they always saw my sister & oldest brother as adamantly independent, which was weird since both of them fell considerably short of financial independence.  That said, I grew up with the image of both as paragons of independent spirits.

Can still remember the rush of joy that whooshed through me when, in my early thirties, I first learned the word INTERdependence, a whole new concept to me & one which swelled my being from the moment we connected.  Which explains why Declaring Interdependence, Chapter 9 of Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older, was such pleasure to read!

You know the drill – Rabbi Friedman is in italics, I am in plain type.

Anthropologist Jenny Keith and her colleagues had studied elders in several urban, suburban, and rural communities around the world.  When they asked the question, “What scares you the most about growing old?” to elders at a suburban American community, the most frequent answer was, “Having to rely on others for help.”  – –  How to respond to this?  From an eldercare pov, or from my personal experience?  My own experience might help, so will go from there.  My sister HATED relying on others for help, especially when she needed it most.  So, like a lot of older people, she asked without asking.  She’d phrase a request in a round-about way that got people to do what she wanted without her ever directly asking, therefore never having to feel obligated to return the favor.  Mom did a form of this, as did other clients – Mom’s request “If you’re anywhere near the pharmacy, would you pick up...?” is still an inside joke with John – – she invariable was out of her must-take meds, but didn’t want to put herself in the position of a) having to ask & b) possibly being turned down.

My independent & proud of it mother-in-law had her own way of showing dread of asking for help.  She would NOT let us help after she broke her hip (was mugged!) & she had been told NOT to walk up & down the stairs in her cozy house – – she got up & down the steps on her butt!  But having John move in with her while she fully recuperated or – a thousand times worse – moving in with us was unthinkable to her “I can handle it myself” spirit.

 

Elders in an African village had a very different perspective.  When they were asked, “What are you most looking forward to about old age?” many of them answered, “Having someone kind to take care of me.”  For them, the experience of connection in being cared for was to to be cherished, not feared. – – Oh, to have more elders feel this way, to have more kind youngers eager to take care of them.  It is the #1 quality that John & I bring to our eldercare – we are kind.  Not patronizing, not fussing, not (worst of all) treating like a child or invalid – – simply kind, cherishing the opportunity to connect, not because they are relatives or friends, but because they are fellow travelers who’ve taken the long road far longer than us.  We reach out from hospitality as much as to provide aid.

 

(In that African village) interdependence is a lifelong and community-wide way of life, so that need for care is not clouded by fears that dependency will threaten personhood. – – Here in the USofA, independence is glorified & busyness is raised to high art.  Too many people define themselves by job titles or being a wife, a mother.  Losing their roles typically leads to losing a sense of self.  For them, dependency doesn’t threaten their personhood – it obliterates it.

 

Our North American (I’d narrow down to the USA – deev) culture views dependency as a disease. … Our culture exalts independence.  We admire people who manage for themselves.  We lionize those who ask nothing of others. … We like to imagine that we can continue to be totally independent as we grow older.  – – see above

 

In the context of such an idealization of independence, those who find themselves “counting on kindness,” as social worker Wendy Lustbader puts it, find that they have failed , that they are somehow deficient.  – –  Both my mother & mother-in-law were remarkably independent – Mom M. got by quite well on her own, with a teensy bit of help every week from her one & only child;  aside from the broken hip, she was healthy until the moment she was felled by a massive heart attack, in the snugness of her own home.  As for my mother, multiple hospitalizations, her own broken hip & a torn rotator cuff that demobilized the full use of an arm meant she needed our help & support, always given & received with a light touch & tender heart.  We were blessed to read – together – Still Here, by Ram Dass, which describes his experience of caring for his father & his own dependency after a stroke in his 60s – – the concepts he covers were already familiar to us, but he gave a language to wrap around them.  They helped Mom feel like a partner in her care, which I’ve found to be key in helping clients feel a sense of control & empowerment.  It’s why I never use the term “caregiver” with them – it’s always “care partner.”

 

(People who need care, who have) lost their sense of self-worth because of seeing themselves as only dependent have bought what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out is a way of judging people based on what they DO or PRODUCE rather than the value inherent in who they are. – – It feels like a lot of people have a very hard time wrapping their heads around the concept of anyone having value simply by sharing space on the same planet at the same time.  It we aren’t doing, aren’t producing, then why take up space?  This sense is going to get stronger as few & fewer people have contact with olders elders ancients in natural settings – around dinner tables in homes, at celebrations, doing fun things.  When generations mingle on a regular basis, they have a chance to feel appreciation, enjoyment, pleasure in each other’s company.

I was blessed to live in a community where the majority of adults – from high school to ancients – gathered every Friday for supper & socializing.  That was the norm, a generation ago.  All ages rubbing shoulders, recognizing each other by sight even where there wasn’t a family or friend connection.  Impossible for me to imagine what it’s like to grow up in today’s increasingly age segregated society.

 

“Just as the grandeur of the sun or an oak tree is not reducible to the functions it fulfills, so the grandeur of the human life is not reducible to the needs it is capable of satisfying.” ~ Rabbi Heschel ~ – – Am reminded of driving Mom up from INOVA/Alexandria (Virginia) to St. Mary’s/Langhorne (PA).  Still paralyzed on one side, she’d been transferred to get additional care close to home.  Once in the car – she did NOT want go by ambulance (she was claustrophobic) – she wouldn’t get out until we arrived at St. Mary’s.  Mom wanted an ice cream cone & although we took the back roads home, there was nary a place for ice cream anywhere along our ramble.  FINALLY, in Avondale, PA, we spotted a place, amidst farm fields, with a big sign “ICE CREAM.”  I parked the car, windows up, air conditioner on, and went into get Mom a vanilla cone.  As I waited, a young woman came up to me & asked, in a peculiar tone, “Is that your mother sitting out there in the car?”  Thinking I was about to get slammed for leaving her alone, I was about to explain she was comfortable & all was well, when the woman continued – “I spotted her when I got out of my car & she smiled at me.  Oh my gosh, I got such a strong sense of specialness!”  THAT was someone seeing & appreciating & being awed by “the grandeur of the human life.”

 

We are all interdependent all of the time. – – Children need to be taught this & to see it in the lives around them.  My mother & I were as interdependent at the end, when she was at home in hospice, as we were when she was making me lunch & brushing my hair.  The acts changed, but the dynamic remained the same.

 

If it is true that we are enlarged by being in relationships of caring and giving, then we might well reexamine our denial and dread of dependency. – –  And it has to start in our earliest years.  Again, I was blessed to see seriously old people who could no longer do some things as well as they did, but they focused on what they could & appreciated the things that opened up because of their age.  There are no easy answers for how to do this in today’s silo-ized society, but it is imperative that we do – quickly, because the window to turn things around is limited.  It’s not a matter of “If not now, when?” but of “If not now, you can kiss it goodbye.”

 

We can change ourselves and our culture when it comes to interdependence.  We can make conscious choices about searching for help.  We can weigh the price of avoiding dependency.  We can consider the possibility of living into a vision of an interdependent, interconnected world.  – – While this nation started with a Declaration of Independence, it became a reality because thirteen separate colonies decided to band together into an interdependent whole committed to a common goal.  We, as human beings, start out as dependent little ones, gain our independence, then mature into interdependence.  Let’s start with that image as we lean into the vision of interconnection that is the highest state of human experience.

 

This chapter in  Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older brought up memories of  brilliant, funny, often acerbic Benita Acton Odhner, bed-ridden in her 80s by osteoporosis, who opened her home to her grandsons & their friends – her “boys” adored her & only seemed delighted to be at her beck & call.  “Grandma”/”Aunt” Benita had the large house & the groceries, they had youth & a willingness to repay her hospitality in any way they could.   The memory of that quite elderly lady in her beautiful bed jacket having a gab with a gaggle of young men – – an image I carry with me, 30+ years later.  A sweet tableaux of wondrous interdependence.

Thoughts on… Softening to Reality

The first six chapters of Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older focused on Facing Shatterings As We Grow Older.  The next seven – Searching for the Sparks… Beginning Again (and Again).  Chapter 7 – Softening to Reality, finding sweetness & suffering – speaks to the pain & blessings of a pierced heart.

Rabbi Friedman is in italics, my commentary is not.

 

Rabbi Friedman’s sister died at sixty-one.  Jill was forty-four when she was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer, a reminder that illness fragility dependence are not limited to the old & elderly.  Rabbi Friedman says she never doubted that the cancer would kill her, accepted that -and- sought palliative treatments.

“(Jill) did not dwell in a place of regret.  She said over & over, “It is what it is.”  She counted her blessings, focusing on gratitude rather than on disillusionment.  She delighted in visits from relatives and colleagues from near and far.  She reconnected with old friends and deepened her connections with newer ones. – – How blessed am I that this has been my experience with both my parents -and- my sister.  Dad was only 63 when he died;  while he had concerns for his wife & his daughters (I was still in college) & regretted leaving those he loved, he did not dwell there.  He was all about “It is what it is.”  Mom died at 91, counting her blessings to the end.  My sister was, if anything, relieved that after years of poor, disabling poor health, she was diagnosed with a condition that would kill her in ten days.  She was so at ease with her fate, my older brother didn’t process that she really meant she’d be gone in ten days – when she died on Day 10, he was shocked.   From the first phone call with her, from the emergency room waiting to be admitted to her passing twenty minutes before we arrived for a visit, to Mim it was all about “It is what it is.”

 

Jill said her illness was not a death sentence, but a life sentence.  She  faced a devastating reality, and heroically squeezed unimaginable goodness out of the last years of her life. – – I hope that someone can write that about me!

 

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, outlines three dimensions of responding to suffering in a way that will ultimately prove redemptive ~ ~ yielding to the darkness; discerning sparks of light, and wrestling sweetness. – – I love how Rabbi Friedman gives us not only a sort of map for navigating growing older, but also landmarks to help us know where we are.  “Yielding to the darkness, discerning sparks of light, and wrestling sweetness” – – Jill had seventeen years to experience those three dimensions;  the longest I’ve experienced from the onset of a medical crisis to death were the six weeks between Dad’s diagnosis of a brain tumor & his death in nursing home.  Mom had about two weeks from her decline at St. Mary’s/Langhorne to her at-home death; Mim had ten days; Mom Murphy had a massive heart attack in her home & was gone in moments;  Ian was killed instantly.  How different would be my experience of the three dimensions set out by the Baal Shem Tov if one of them had been diagnosed years or even months before their death, had gone through extensive & extended periods – years – of pain?   It gives me pause, realizing how inexperienced I am with a lengthy dying process.

 

In responding to suffering, the first, immense step is to accept reality. … We can stiffen and resist the truth of our lives, or we can soften to it. – –  Again, I go back to my experiences of the dying process ~ Dad, Mom, my sister Mim.   Mom eased into the awareness that she was near death – she transferred from INOVA/Alexandria to St Mary’s/Langhorne for continued care & rehab, with the expectation she’d be returning home somewhat her old self.  From the first solid diagnosis, both Dad & Mim knew they were on their way out.  All three gave every indication of accepting their reality without fear.  My sister went beyond accepting reality to expressing whole-hearted gratitude that her end would be swift, the pain would be managed, that she wouldn’t be doomed to her greatest fear – a long dwindle.

 

When we resist painful reality, we add to our suffering (and often to that of the people around us).  – – I have seen this with friends of our older friends.  They are rare, but always heartbreaking.  Clear to see their resistance bringing greater, deeper pain.  We’ve also seen it with families who resist the painful reality of a loved one’s deterioration.

 

This business of yielding to unwelcome reality is so hard.  It is natural, reflexive, to deny, to stiffen. … But a strange thing happens.  Instead of feeling better, now you are not only sore, but also stiff.  …  Stretch, move gently, your doctor tells you, and you will heal.  This is yielding. – – Our reflex is to resist, but just like with an injured muscle, tightening up only makes the situation worse.  “Stretch, move gently, your doctor tells you, and you will heal” – when I was a little girl, no older than nine, I went along when Mom had an appointment with her back doctor.  I still remembering Dr. Veek telling me she was one of his star patients – when Mom push-toshed him, he explained, “Your mother is one of the few patients I have who actually follows through with the exercises I prescribe.”  And Mom did, to the last – a daily walk, a daily nap, a daily set of exercises.  It could be a bother, a nuisance, but she did all three, every day, at home or away.  It would have been easy to blow off his advice, but she took it to heart, followed through & was remarkably fit in her antiquity.

 

To soften to reality, we need to allow ourselves to feel hurt and grief.  In this yielding to what is, we are liberated from the burden of resisting. …  Once we know the terrain of our sadness and we can let go of resisting it, we can begin to open ourselves to growth. – – I’ve seen the heartbreak & mega problems caused by refusal to feel hurt & grief.  The people who REFUSED to yield to what were/are imprisoned, shackled to the pain.  Refusing to examine the terrain of their sadness, they are never able to be open to growth that takes them beyond the hurt & grief.

 

Dr. Bill Thomas suggest we need to embrace aging in order to live into the potential of our elderhood.  …  He calls us to consider new roles and dimensions of our lives, including departing from busyness and allowing for being and reflection.  – – BIG grin!  My mother was a master of living into the potential of her elderhood, was joyfully open to considering new roles & dimensions of her life, took deep delight in “allowing for being and reflection.”  Or, as my dear old mother put it,  “Nature brings us, willingly or not, into more meditative states and slower tempos. Am I bored to tears sitting in the big chair in the living room or in my soothing rocking chair? No, it is surprisingly rewarding. The problem is that young kids – looking through the eyes of a still preening self — feel sad and think, ‘How dull her life must be.’ Too many Ancient and near-Ancient Ones fall for that line. Truth be told, growth keeps right on going, ideally right out of the ceilings of our cramped opinion.”

 

Once we have allowed ourselves to dwell in darkness and we have opened our eyes wide to sparks of light within it, the Baal She Tov teaches that we are ready for wrestling some sweetness out of a bitter experience. … Ultimately, what we can hope for is to harvest something of sweetness, something redemptive out of our most anguishing life experiences.  – – Back to The Velveteen Grammie for my response:  “For whatever reason, growing feeble, infirm and even forgetful is part of the Lord’s grand scheme. As I edge closer toward triple digits, it is easier to let go of time-bound prejudices and expectations.”

 

Even the most wrenching agony may also contain goodness if we are able to be open to it.  We may, like Jill, grow closer to those who love us or find our faith deepened.  Perhaps we will learn from our suffering and be able to share that wisdom with others. – – Back to The Velveteen Grammie:  “A friend urged me to write about old age and make all the younger folks envious of us Ancients. Growing old, even some of the sadder aspects of it, is part of the Lord’s grand scheme. Let go of time-bound prejudices and fears of growing older. ”  Mom had no idea when she started sharing her thoughts online, as part of an online discussion about welcoming women in the priesthood of a male-only ministry.  From being part of that online-only discussion ~ she was active on both the pro-women in the priesthood discussion AND against, because each made points that hit home ~ she came to accept that just by living as long as she had, as well as she had, as aware as she was, people valued her opinions, enjoyed her recollections of long ago times, basked in her online company.

 

Writing these reflections on Softening to Reality, a chapter I’ve read at least twice before penning these commentaries on favorite snippets from Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older,  am hit with how inexperienced I am with any extensive death process.  In a nutshell – none.

How different my responses to Rabbi Friedman’s wisdom would be if I’d faced the challenges of a loved one’s lengthy death or if they’d resisted yielding to reality, had chosen to clench their eyes shut to what was happening, who braced themselves against the very things that could loosen & liberate their strife.  And I find myself wishing that EVERYONE could have such glorious inexperience bless their lives!

Finding Wholeness… – Chapter 4

The chapter heading ~ Finding Wholeness As Our Bodies Break Down ~ IS the very essence of Mom’s experience inching upward toward triple digits.  At 90, she wrote – “As the years tick by and my fixtures and fittings become unglued and the ‘fur’ is loved off, a stronger sense of being Real has moved forward.”  Am quite sure she would have written out the Maya Angelou quote that kicks off the chapter – “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”  – to keep on her night stand.

What a blast she would have had, sitting down with Rabbi Dayle Friedman, sharing her thoughts on Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older, mixing in some of her Swedenborgian wisdom on becoming an “Ancient”!

Rabbi Friedman is in italics, my comments (or Mom’s) in regular font:

While we cannot realistically dream of escaping physical limitations or suffering as we grow older, we can hope for wholeness. … Just as we can grow to appreciate the preciousness of each stage of the rose, we can come – with effort – to greater peace with our aging bodies. – – I’ll let Mom take this... “A favorite saying of mine for many moons is ‘Old age ain’t for sissies.’  Actually, managing to get to 90 relatively sound of heart, mind and body (or  any one or more of those three) indicates some grit.  As I inch closer toward  triple digits, being old has gotten a lot easier.  Somewhere around my late  80s, I began to see the humor and humanity more in things, to take upsets  less personally and put them more easily into perspective.”

 

The spiritual teacher Ram Dass, who suffered a devastating stroke in his sixties, works to great each pain or physical discomfort with tender compassion, saying, “Ah, so, even this.” – –  Handing it again to Mom…  “For whatever reason, growing feeble, infirm and even forgetful is part of the  Lord’s grand scheme.”

 

We can try contemplative practice to help us be with a pain or soreness, opening to what exactly the experience is like instead of bracing ourselves against it. – – Yep, back to Mom… “Moving out of that hanging-on state to one of accepting that the  body is a temporary shelter designed to house our eternal soul could be  compared to moving out of darkness and confusion toward lightness and the  light.”

 

We are more than our bodies. … What may help us is to let go of anger at ourselves, or at aging itself, and honor our bodies for doing as best it can under the circumstances.  This letting go may need to happen again and again as our bodies and abilities continue to change.  – – More Mom…. “Ideally, the concepts of physical being, of time and relationships,  are liberated as we get older and older.”

 

It may help us as well to turn our attention toward others who are suffering, to use our own experience of pain to develop empathy and connection. – – So much of Mom’s life focused on putting her attention toward others.  In the mid-1950s, Mom had a nervous breakdown & was hospitalized for over a month, undergoing every sort of horrific “treatment” that was the norm back then; unlike other people of her day, who would have never talked about it, even with close friends, Mom was open about what brought her to that point, helped countless people by talking about her experiences, letting others know what brought her to breaking – her refusal to seek or let others help with two family medical emergencies that piled on, one after another.  ~ When her youngest son was killed, Mom got through it in part by putting her focus on his best friend, who was with him when it happened, and on his family.  From that tragedy on, if a friend lost a child, Mom was among the first to show up to comfort & just be present.  ~ In her last weeks, Mom’s hospital rooms were centers of good humor, interesting conversation & healing peace for the hospital personnel.  She gave as much comfort to the friends & family who came to see her at INOVA/Alexandria, then at St. Mary’s & finally at home as they gave to her. ~  Mom’s greatest desire was that each connection be reciprocal & she did all she could to make it so.

 

We live in a culture that lionizes activity, productivity, and independence.  … We have accepted the notion that our worth is determined by our level of activity or by what we generate.  – – And we are back to Mom…  “The changes  that come  with old age are scary, especially changes in life roles.  I have  not enjoyed the hands-on role of wife for over 26 years.  At ninety, I cannot  even manage the role I played as a parent.  The resources just are not there.    I cannot provide massive emotional or even minor financial support.   I  cannot wash a floor or do the grocery shopping or even dust my own room. (I   can still shell hard boiled eggs and clean mushrooms!)”

 

In contrast, Jewish tradition teaches that our worth is not conditioned by any external measure.  We humans are ultimately worthy simply because we are beings created in the divine image. – –  Mom… “Growing old, even some of the sadder aspects of it,  is part of the Lord’s grand scheme.  Let go of time-bound prejudices and fears  of growing older.”

 

As Ram Dass observes, limits and fatigue “may … be a message to attend to the moment – to be with it … to taste it … to embrace it, a way of making us take time, finally to see what’s here now.” – –  Mom… “Today. my body constantly clues me in that it is merely temporary.  It is  breaking down.  That is in the order of things, however rotten it is to  experience. … Lots of things I loved to do are just memories.  Instead of gearing up into  depression over what is no longer, I find it simpler to shift perspective.”

 

So, what can we hope for?  We can hope for healing … for the capacity to feel whole even when the body that carries us is broken. – – Who else? Mom, of course…  “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 our bodies experience the illness and decline that are normal elements of aging, we can strive to expand our field of vision – – remaining awake to the present moment but also seeing beyond the moment and beyond ourselves. – – Letting Mom have the last word…  “Dependency has not turned out to be as bad as I thought it would be.  There is a wonderful passage from the book Still Here that expresses my experience over the past year – “When there is true surrender and service between people, the roles of helper and helped, and the boundaries between those in power and those who are powerless, begin to dissolve.”  That has been my experience with my daughter and son-in-law and with, it seems, most of the other people in my life – the boundaries have begun to dissolve.”

It may seem lazy of me, letting Mom respond instead of me (how astonished she’d be), but it’s pretty amazing that someone who was THERE can share her experiences.  Thank you, Rabbi Friedman, for this special way to reconnect with the amazing Katharine Reynolds Lockhart (aka Mom).

Expressing our truth

Confession – I’ve been wildly in love with Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) for WAY over 25 years.  And I’ve done my best to set other people’s hearts aflame with wild love of her spirit, inspiration & wondrous artwork that sets souls on fire.  If I could fill this post with her whip-up-energies creativity, it would be single line – artwork – single line – quote – single line – art….

Maya Angelou expressed it perfectly – “We, in this world, and this weary world itself, have a great gaping need for SARK.”  Amen & hallelujah, sister!

Enlargements of SARK’s ecstatically colorful drawings turned Mom’s hospital rooms into outbursts of WOW – some time at the local office supply store making big & BIGGER prints followed by loops of blue tape (doesn’t remove paint or wall paper – usually) can transform even a grey room into healing JOY.

As I stumbled out of bed this morning, headed to the bathroom, I spotted Living Juicy: Daily Morsels for Your Creative Soul,  opened it up & was stopped in my tracks by the April 13th page, a shout out to “Express your truth.”

What is true for you? Your experience of the truth is dramatically important and needs expression.  Only you can reveal your truth.  Aha!  The truth can sometimes feel so terrifying – especially to listen to those inner voices that speak the loudest.  I am still learning a lot about my truth in so many ways.  I can now allow my truth to become known…”

The amazing Lori Soneson Odhner (surely a soul sister of SARK’s) recently shared the following –  “Some people suggest that there are only two options. Get divorced or stay in an unhappy marriage. We promote the idea that you can make your marriage better,” inspiring ME to post, “during my first conversation with john – – lasted five hours, or still ongoing, depending on your pov – – we tsked-tsked about people who seemed to throw in the towel when relationships got rocky rather than work on them. 28+ years into our marriage, we still have moments when it feels like our relationship is crashing, but we use the arrgghh like a flashlight to spot problems needing attention. we choose the third option – make it better.

Reading SARK, thinking about Lori, created the aha moment of realizing that the great gift given to myself & my hubster is our ability to express to each other our truth.  John said it, soon after our engagement, spoken with awe & amazement – “I can tell you ANYTHING.”  At the moment, I was undone with the awwwwwwe his comment stirred in me.  It took until now to realize that he felt safe being open to me with HIS truth.  Even if it disagreed with mine, it would be respected & honored, even when it wasn’t shared.

We didn’t need to learn to do that, it came as naturally as breathing.  Maybe it was because, at 37 and 43, we’d learned a thing or two about human nature & divine spirit.  Or maybe we would have been that way had we fallen head over heels at 17 & 24.

Expressing our truth is what I mean by using the arrgghh to flash light on problems that need attention.  Take John & the cushions – his truth is that he likes to sleep with his feet atop a tower of cushions & pillows  (it’s good for circulation/blood pressure).  That’s both his truth & medically sound.  BUT my truth is that one of the things that served us well in our marriage is twining untwining retwining our feet as we sleep through the night.

Not realizing that the lack of podiatric intimacy was becoming a canker in our relationship, I collapsed recently into a heap of wet soggy frustrated tears punctuated by yelps of despair.

After John settled me down, drying my tears & kissing away my yelps, we used my arrgghh as a flashlight, discovering that well over a year of John heaving his feet atop his pile of pillows also kept the two of us on our separate sides of the bed.  I’d tried to solve the quandary last year, putting MY feet up at the same elevated plane, only to find it caused painful problems with my lower legs (due to weirdly jointed knees).  An unhelpful bit of truth.

By last week, it was clear that what might seem like the small problem of no more feet snugging was having a big effect on our core emotional connection.  John decided it was healthier for our marriage to stick with the elevation after I get up (at 5:15 a.m., long before John).  He was astonished at how more soundly he sleeps with his feet back at bed level, often snugged up next to mine – the elevation that helped his BP played havoc with his REM sleep.

We came to a solution thanks to listening to & respecting each other’s truth.  That doesn’t mean it always turns out that way, but it’s pretty astonishing how many times we get there.

Am smiling, thinking about going to church.  I was raised by parents who put faith & church at the heart of our family.  Going to Sunday services became an important part of expressing my beliefs,  powerful as a connector to teachings, rituals & community in ways that went way past doctrine.  John was raised by parents who did not steep him in religion, but his strong yet tender grasp of spiritual principles exceeds mine – they just lack the language to describe them, making them all the stronger.

Because he loves me, my Keet went with me to Sunday church services.  Trying to find one that clicked with both of us, we tried this one, then that.  Each was okay, but something wasn’t… something.  Then this past summer, just before our 28th anniversary, for reasons neither of us recall, we started going to services in a place that I’d never attended, not once, in all my 65 years.  It CLICKED.  Clicked with me, clicked with John – our different spiritual truths now intertwine as beautifully as our feet!

Expressing our truth is the bedrock of our relationship.  After 29 years of loving John,  28.5 years of being married to him, I am able to truthfully tweak his words, loudly proudly thankfully – I can tell him ANYTHING! 

Momified SEEKING WISDOM…

Ah, the first chapter of Rabbi Dayle Friedman’s remarkable book, Jewish Wisdom for Growing Olde~ ~ Seeking Wisdom – transcending destructive ageism.  And with reading it comes many thoughts of my mother, Katherine Reynolds Lockhart:

Alongside the societal ageism that surrounds us is our own internalized ageism. … We cannot enjoy the present moment because we are filled with fear about what will come next.   ~ ~  Mom was blessed with a very different view of being elderly than what’s described here.  She maxed every day.  As she put it in The Velveteen Grammie, “When I was a young whippersnapper of 50 and 60, I did not think much about  what life would be like if I lived to be a ripe old age.  If I had, it would  have fallen short of the mark, nowhere near what my experience has been,  especially as I tripped the “old”ometer into my nineties. … Managing to get to 90 relatively sound of heart, mind and body (or  any one or more of those three) indicates some grit.”   My mother was able to appreciate the present moment because THAT was where she lived.

 

We need a more complex way of holding what for most of us will be a long journey beyond midlife.  My teachers, the elders I accompanied as a chaplain through the terrain of frailty and dependency, have taught me that their territory is about more than loss and sadness.  They’ve taught me, and I am suggesting here on their behalf that we can experience growth, blessing, learning, and contribution, even as we contend with illness or disability.   ~ ~ Or, as Mom states, “There are many things that my physical condition  keep me from doing, but there are a lot of new experiences just waiting to be  given a whirl.  On the physical level, life stinks.  On almost every other  level – emotional, mental, spiritual –  the world is my oyster and every  month has an R!”

 

We can transcend ageism and false dichotomies by embracing aging.  We can greet the long, complex post-midlife period with curiosity and compassion instead of dread and despair.  We start with ourselves and then, fortified by acceptance, we can begin to transform the landscape of growing older for our communities and our world.  ~ ~ Mom’s point of view on the bodacious aspects of aging – “Looking back, the toughest years were when my energies were beginning to flag  and my body started slowing down.  The proprium – sense of self –  feels  threatened  as it becomes clear that an individual is far more than just the  sum of physical parts. …  Ideally, the concepts of physical being, of time and relationships,  are liberated as we get older and older.”

 

Rabbi Judah Loew, a 16th-century sage, suggest that aging offers a unique opportunity – – “As we age, we become wiser…as our physical faculties are weakened, our spiritual faculties gain strength – spiritual independence, or exalted intellect, which flows from the Holy One.” ~ ~  Back to Mom – “Dependency has turned out to have unique blessings.  A passage from the book Still Here by Ram Dass expresses my experience over the past year  – “When there is  true surrender and service between people, the roles of helper and helped,  and the boundaries between those in power and those who are powerless, begin  to dissolve.”  That has been my experience with my daughter and son-in-law and with, it seems, most of the other people in my life – the old limiting  boundaries have begun to dissolve.”

 

Our bodies may change and face limits, but our souls become unbounded.  ~ ~ Mom – “Moving out of that hanging-on state to one of accepting that the  body is a temporary shelter designed to house our eternal soul could be  compared to moving out of darkness and confusion toward lightness and the Light.  ”

 

Gaining wisdom is, according to Theodore Roszak, “what the elder mind seems especially empowered to do.”  ~ ~ “A friend urged me to write about old age and make all the younger folks  envious of us Ancients.  Growing old, even some of the sadder aspects of it,  is part of the Lord’s grand scheme.  Let go of time-bound prejudices and fears  of growing older.  Marianne Williamson says that to get to the light, a  person has to work through the darkness.    In middle and early old age, life  can seem dark and scary as we move out of the familiar into the unknown.   Work through it toward the light.”   KRL

 

If wisdom is a way of relating what we have experienced and learned to the reality we face, then how does growing older allow us to hone wisdom?  … we gain wisdom as we challenge ourselves about what it is we think we know, both about our past and about our present.  The qualities of curiosity and humility help us remain open to this evolving process of gaining perspective. ~ ~  “A key lesson learned over the past few years is that even unhappy events can  bring unexpected opportunities.  Going back to Margery Williams’ book, if the Boy had not gotten sick, if the beloved but germ-infested Rabbit was not doomed to be burned, if he had not been able to wriggle a bit to get out the sack,  if great sadness had not caused a real tear to trickle down his shabby velvet nose, the Rabbit would  not have come at that time into the fullness of being REAL.”  KRL

 

Roszak suggests that health crises can be a rite of passage in later life because they impose a “suspension of the ordinary.”  …  As unwelcome as these challenges are, it is precisely in facing them that we can deepen our wisdom. … In the heightened reality of a health crisis, we have an opportunity to be transformed, to enhance our appreciation of the simplest blessings in our lives, and to shift the way we relate to ourselves and others.  ~ ~  “For whatever reason, growing feeble, infirm and even forgetful is part of the  Lord’s grand scheme.  As I  edge closer toward triple digits, it is easier to  let go of time-bound prejudices and expectations.”  KRL

 

Oh, to make Cyber Access for the Technically Timid more than just a wish!  But people respond to my pleas the way Mom would have – with self-deprecating derision.   sigh…

Mom would NEVER have shared her memories, her long-ago experiences, her thoughts & even opinions if she hadn’t inadvertently slipped into it through being involved in an online discussion about her church – she HAD to go online (via me) or be left out of the conversation.  But as more & more people expressed appreciation of her insights, her experiences, her personal knowledge of long past events, Mom became more & more accepting that maybe she DID have something of value to give to others, even things as simple as telling tales of long-gone friends or present-day family.

Thanks to those blessed last 18 months of her life, I can share not only how Rabbi Friedman’s writing puts me in mind of my mother, I can use what MOM herself wrote that seems relevant to passages.

Oh, to be able to give the wondrous gift of having a loved one’s wisdom (how Mom would have scoffed at that word, yet how true it is) & presence with us always!

 

Check over on Rx for Caregivers for my Top Ten quotes or phrases from Chapter One!

Nan-Gocky-Gramster – babysitting grandma!

Mom did many things for pleasure that – we now know – are great ways to help stay fit & mentally nimble as we age upward.  Every day, she walked, she exercised, stayed in touch with near & far-flung family through letters visits phone, eat balanced meals & was never without the Inquirer crossword puzzle.  And she delighted in taking care of children, especially her grandkids.  Those seven trips she took to Australia to visit my brother Mike & his family were the highlight of those years.  She was there for both Scott & Karen’s births, helped out with housework & childcare on each of her extended stays.  I can only image those months felt like heaven on earth.

According to an article over on NextAvenue.org, data from a Berlin study on aging shows that olders who cared for children ended up living longer, even when the youngsters weren’t their grands!

Taking care of youngsters has another benefit ~~ the social interaction with kinder & their parents is great for brain health.  And developing caring relationships with olders elders ancients  yields awesome benefits for the youngers, providing greater stability & a stronger sense of having emotional support.

Makes sense that running often youngers keeps them on their toes & getting in the cardio, plus can help reduce stress.  But beware!  Without the right balance, olders who run themselves ragged & fret can find themselves exhausted – stressed – strained.

In caring for her grandchildren, in Ardmore or Berwyn, Coogee or Hurstville, Mom ~~ again ~~ put herself ahead of the elder health care curve!

 

Katharine Reynolds Lockhart, B.A.

Yes, my mother was the quintessential Bad Ass  – in the most celebratory sense* of the word.  It took her ninety years to come into her full bad assery, but it was always there.  When she was a little girl – eight or nine – workmen on her family’s Baltimore property tore out a peach tree sapling, which went straight to her heart.  She begged her father to let her replant the sapling, which – kind & understanding man that he was – he did, warning her that it would very likely die. The little girl put her heart & soul into tending that tender sapling, which did take root, flourished & bore fruit over years to come.

Mom was clearly a from-birth bad ass!

It’s understandable why it lay low for most of her life.  Her father died when she was 19, the same year as the Great Crash.  She was left as the primary care provided for her mother, who was as gosh awful as my grandfather was caring & tender.  Putting up her emotional force fields made sense, given the situation.  The problem was that putting them up whenever a difficult situation arose became her norm.  Except with Dad – with her O Best Beloved, Mom could be her truest self.  Except he died at 63, leaving her alone with a daughter still in college (me), another struggling to find her feet in the world & a rudderless oldest son.  Up came the force fields!

But I could always sense the inner bad ass, the woman who could stand up for herself.  Thanks to a combination of factors – none of them related directly to me – a wave of opportunity to step into her full bad assery swelled in her late 80s, crested just before she hit ninety.  Man, did she ride that wave!

In the wake of the Parkland High School shootings, a friend wrote about two very young boys who were killed – separately – in her childhood due to playing with guns.  It reminded me of my own brother, the youngest boy in the family, four years older than I, who was killed at eleven as he & a friend fooled around with a gun.  The friend commented on how that must have affected the family.  Which go me thinking about how Ian’s death played out so differently for each of us, opening up some & shutting down others.  And driving Mom deeper into denial of the inner grit that could have pulled her – all of us – through.  The force fields were up for decades.

How much more astonishing that Mom never lost her capacity to evolve, to become a very different persona at 91 than she had been just four years before but that included all she’d always been.

Mom saw a bad ass in me that totally escaped my awareness.  It’s why she colluded with the Powers-That-Be to shake me out of the corporate world, to strip me down to my barest emotional basics so I could rebuild my inner engine into something more in line with the original specs.  All I know is that Mom never saw me in the corporate world & six weeks after her death, two weeks after her memorial celebration, I was out, the door back closed.  Coincidence?  Sheer bad assery!

Am on my way up to NYC this afternoon for the monthly meeting of the Radical Age Movement – I founded the Philadelphia chapter.  Last week was the Positive Aging lunch in Old City.  I am a presenter at April’s Positive Aging/Masterpiece Lyceum Conference.  I am working on an Rx for the Caregiver page-a-day calendar, developing The Friendship Doula into a profitable business.  I am the person my total bad ass of a mother envisioned 16+ years ago.

Thanks, Mom!

*  Defining BADASS –  a person who is independent & competent enough to do what they want, regardless of whether it’s popular, or even allowed.  A badass is someone who rolls up her sleeves, knows what she wants to do, is open to the risks & flat-out goes for it.  Who can laugh at themselves while taking their pursuit seriously, love themselves & others. Who are wise enough to “rejoice in the cosmic ridiculousness” of it all.