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).

Dominic Campbell & Creative Aging International – creating a new old

How do I break it to John that I’ve fallen head over heels for an Irishman?  Can only hope he’ll understand.  But DOMINIC CAMPBELL has stolen my heart.  Understandable.  How could I not feel swept off my feet by someone who speaks my heart when he says, “As people live for longer societies need to adapt. Creativity is key to adapting. (At Creative Aging International) we celebrate aging through various activities, programmes (definitely Irish) and festivals whose culture gently questions expectations of aging.”

Please note that I found Dominic AFTER planning A Creativity Jam for Age Justice as my way of showing solidarity with the big 05/15/18 Radical Age Movement rally in NYC.  I reached for something that would go beyond a protest – a celebration showcasing the creativity of olders elders ancients, that unites & uplifts, that shows the wow rather than woe of aging.

Together with Bea Kelleher, Dominic founded Creative Aging International, headquartered in Dublin, a group that pricks holes in expectations of aging by producing festivals that celebrate creativity in elders.  As they put it, “Our Festival series … showcases the creativity of older people. Here you can encounter world famous older artists alongside those starting to express their lifetime’s experience. ~ Celebrations bring people and organizations together. Challenging subjects addressed through entertainment become easier to engage with. Our festivals and events offer places for collective encounter.

Collective encounter – am stealing that phrase to help describe the Creativity Jam!

Dominic & Bea seek to bring the giddy fun & entrepreneurial spirit of entertainment to opening up perceptions of growing older in societies around the world.  Their events pair revenue-generating activities with ones that are open to all.  A win-win all around.

It quietly freaked me out, reading on their website the very reasons I opted to go with A Creativity Jam for Age Justice rather than something potentially laden with angst & agita to show solidarity with the 05/15/18 Central Park rally.  Art & performances by creatives who are 65+ teamed with discussion that recognizes the impact of age injustice on our society & ways to counteract it while presenting ways to approach “getting up there in years” with wonder instead of woe.

NextAvenue  has a dandy article on a conference Dominic helped organize last month right here it the USA  – – Creating a New Old San Francisco was a 1-day event devoted to considering ways to bring a fresh approach to aging in the City By The Bay.  The 200+ people who flocked to the Contemporary Jewish Museum for the event took a deep dive into issues around contemporary aging.

The reality is that we are expected to live significantly longer than our parents & grandparents, but precious little attention is being given to that reality by the powers-that-be.  And it’s small wonder – government & organizations tend to look at what is, to spin projections from present-day date, make forecasts of what they believe might be based on what currently is.

The solution lies not in our governments or institutions, but in our creatives, in our innovators, in the people who see potential, who spark innovation, with the vision to look beyond today’s reality to tomorrow’s possibilities, with imaginations that leap frog problems to solutions.  In people like Dominic Campbell.

Praise be for Creative Aging International’s  experience bringing together companies, organizations, individuals to create innovative programs that inspire & nurture new approaches to aging, that gathers together – as happened last month in San Francisco – best practices in contemporary aging & powers up the influence of thought leaders like Dominic.  (Be calm, my beating heart!)

Dominic & Creative Aging International are dedicated to transforming how people view & approach aging.  Not as a dire dilemma nor as an anxiety-laden issue, but with joy & celebration, with a light heart & committed vision that brings together creatives & others, individuals & companies, societies & governments.

As noted on Creative Aging International’s website, “Living longer is changing the way we live, where we live, and how we care for our aging selves and our beloveds. Older populations include the wealthiest and most fragile in society.  Change is crossing sectors from finance to transport, tech to fashion, housing to healthcare. ~ Creative approaches are rewriting the traditions of ageing, providing vision, connecting institutions and communities, nurturing well-being.”  Amen & hallelujah!

What’s not to love?!

The concept of self-neglect hits home

Yesterday, Paula Span’s New York Times article on elders’ self-neglect hit home, big time.  My sister, my older brother & even I struggled with self-neglect.

My sister almost died – twice – due to ignoring her own care; perhaps the tumor that killed her could have been treated had she let people know the pain she was in.

My brother ignored his own symptoms, fearing cancer, not seeking care his body clearly needed until others intervened.  (It wasn’t cancer.)

It’s true that I also neglected to get care for ominous symptoms, but I did not hide them  from John or even my doctor – I didn’t have health care coverage, so couldn’t afford the expensive testing necessary to diagnose my condition.  Both Peter & Mim were covered under Medicare.  (It’s a goiter & being treated.)

But I hesitate to call self-neglect a form of self-imposed elder abuse waiting to be addressed.  “We hear much more about other kinds of elder abuse and exploitation. Perhaps it’s easier to respond when someone is being victimized by others than when he is harming himself.”   Self as abuser & exploiter, someone to be held somehow accountable?  Hard to wrap my head around that.

I am a mega fan of Paula Span’s The New Old Age feature, but this one is just, for me, so far off the mark.  It seems absurd to bother writing, “People who neglect themselves have higher rates of illness and death, of emergency room visits and hospitalization. They’re more apt to suffer other forms of elder abuse as well.”  Duh – yeah, people who don’t take care of themselves ARE going to get sick more often & die when care could have saved them.  And they’re more likely to put up with abuse from others.  Not surprising.

I get that Paula is driving home the point that self-neglect can be as deadly as abuse by another person.  But the piece is all over the place.  For example, the person she talks about who wasn’t taking care of herself – – turns out she WAS being abused by her children, who were selling the OxyContin she’d been prescribed.  And restoring a person to good health isn’t necessarily solving the problem – witness the guy who got back to such good health after a month in the hospital, the courts declared him fit to make his own decisions & he restocked his home with the liquor that helped land him in the hospital in the first place.

Here’s what I would say, were I writing an article on the very real horror of self-neglect:

  • I want to write “If you are prone to self-neglect, seek help,” but I realize that most people who suffer from it are the last to acknowledge it.  But here goes, anyway – – If you think you are self-neglecting, seek help, starting perhaps with a counselor, with a pastor, with someone who recognizes that it is an emotional problem as much as it is a medical one.
  • It is very hard to loved ones & friends to spot, much less do something about it.  My brother was living in a van in the middle of a Pennsylvania winter, but the rest of the family didn’t know it.  (A lot easier to get away with these days, thanks to cell phones.)
  • There’s very little that others can do.  How do you force siblings or a parent, a neighbor or friend, to take care of themselves, short of institutionalizing?  Since family matters are often at the bottom of self-neglect, it can be dicey for family to try to address it.
  • Do all you can.  John & I had our hands tied, because neither Peter nor Mim wanted to have any contact with us, so we couldn’t invite him over to dinner or take her out for meals, which would have possibly have given us glimpses of how they were really living.  The two of them called each other regularly, but that was like the Titanic being in contact with the Lusitania.
  • Understand that self-neglect is far from limited to olders elders ancients.  Peter & Mim suffered from self-neglect throughout their younger years.  Could my parents, could I, could anyone have reached out & helped them?  While self-neglect is occasionally as simple as a lack of health care coverage, more typically it’s rooted in low or no sense of self-worth.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t able to turn the person around.  Do what you can, hold their well-being in your heart & look for opportunities to help, but understand that you don’t have super powers.

As one article notes, “One could argue that the damage we do by neglecting ourselves is far more substantial than whatever neglect we experience from others.”  I can see that in my two sibs, especially in Mim, who openly believed that she wasn’t deserving of happiness.  How better to deny yourself happiness than to deny yourself health?

In the end, I agree 100% that self-neglect is typically a form of self-abuse.  Where Paula & I part ways is in thinking it is limited to olders elders ancients, that family & friends can successfully intervene, that there are viable ways to handle someone who is destroying himself or herself through self-neglect.

AND  I think it is a topic that needs to be openly discussed far more than it is, for which I thank Paula Span.  Dear friend-I’ve-never-met yet long-admired, will take your topic & see what I can do to use your words to start a deeper broader wider conversation around  self-neglect – – how to spot, how to address, when & how to intercede, how to cope with helplessly not being able to help.   Thanks thanks & more thanks!

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! 

Live full throttle, because we don’t know

Friday’s New York Times included an article by a columnist sharing the news that he went to bed “seeing the world one way & woke up seeing it another.”  He suddenly went blind in one eye & has been told it could happen with the other eye, leaving him totally without sight.

Go to bed with the world as its always been, awake with into a new reality you never saw coming.

His share made me think of two young friends – parents with little children – who are facing dire medical crises.  One knows her condition is terminal – she greets each morning with the joy of the 24 hours just spent in the arms of a loving family & a fiercely protective circle of friends, looking forward to the day.  The other is doing everything in his power to get his once-robust, now frail body to the point where it can endure a life-giving procedure.

Both are amazing examples of living each moment, of taking nothing for granted, of being in the now.

The author & my dear young friends are reminders that our minutes hours days are wasted without full-throttle living.  Those two young parents are wringing everything out of every moment they have right now, doing what they can to ensure many more while putting their trust in God.

We are not created to live half-lives, to stay close to the shoreline, to play it safe & risk as little as possible.  We are created to be bold, to unfurl our sails & set out for wondrous destinations.  Our journey may be short, it may be long, but – to switch analogies – we will fare well if we live each moment with full awareness, at full throttle.

Don’t send flowers – send ME!

Have you ever been hospitalized, for even just a couple days?  Even an overnight stay can make 24 hours feel like a week!  Having a friend, friendly acquaintance or even a complete stranger stop by for a visit can seem a godsend.

Sadly, a variety of factors have reduced the number of visitors that stop by to see a family member or friend who’s in the hospital – fewer families live near each other, friends scatter to different parts of the country, many are tied down by work hours & family obligations, to name a few.

A lot of people hesitate to make hospital visits because they’re not sure what to say, maybe they rub each other the wrong way, while some folks won’t step foot into a hospital unless they’re wheeled in from an ambulance.

I am blessed to come from a community stocked with friends & pleasant acquaintances who regularly swing by area hospitals for visits; my church’s pastoral staff has terrific hospital out-reach.  With Holy Redeemer Hospital a 15-minute drive from the heart of my little hometown & other friends hospitalized at the same time, my hubster & my mother got visits from community folk who popped in because they were visiting someone else.

Hospital visits are old hat for me, with both Mom & John having major hospital stays.  Mom’s were age-related, while John was hospitalized for life-threatening pneumonia & twice for treatment of  Zenker’s Diverticulum.   Praise be, unlike a lot of people who have  conflicting responsibilities, I could be at the hospital whenever I wasn’t at work. A  brother in the area wasn’t able to get by to see Mom as often as he would have liked – and she didn’t expect him to;  like most Greatest Generation women, she looked to her available daughter -me – for care & emotional support, not her son.

Having visitors stop brings more than social benefits.  Studies show that people in nursing situations who receive visitors typically also receive better care from the staff.  As true in hospitals as it is in nursing homes.  Visitors help staff get to know patients better, they are able to alert staff that their friend or relation would like something, they are someone patients can talk to about how they are feeling.

Not to discount the social aspects of a friendly visit!  Mom could get through the nastiest of tests or boring hours knowing that someone would be visiting in the afternoon or evening.  John’s face lit up when I’d walk through the door but it was a boost to his energy to see Jeremy or someone else from the pastoral staff, to get a visit from someone there to visit another patient.

Visitors matter.  Studies indicate that the level of care received from hospital staff rises with a patient’s number of visitors.  And having regular visitors lifts the patient’s spirit, even feel pampered.  A visitor can help the staff get to know the patient as a person someone who focused on THEM & their likes.  The benefits of having visitors go on & on.  Which is why I say that friends & family shouldn’t send a loved one flowers or balloons during a – – they should send me, The Friendship Doula!

I am NOT a patient advocate, although I do suggest & can recommend some excellent ones.  My gifts & graces have a softer focus.  Thanks to Mom & John & countless friends &  who’ve been hospitalized, I am an old hand at setting up music players with their favorite pieces, facilitating facetime visits with far-away & home-bound loved ones, cheering up their rooms with photos or colorful pictures.  (Gotta give a shout-out to Holy Redeemer’s soft-hued rooms.)  With regular visits from me & mine (John), all of the advantages listed in the previous chapter can be checked off.  And once discharged, am happy to swing by for friend-to-friend visits.

The Friendship Doula – “family friend” hospital visiting services.   Don’t send flowers – send me!