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!

Mom & The Ultimate Shattering

Reading from  Rabbi Dayle Friedman‘s uplifting enlightening inspiring book, Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older always leaves me with a sense of Mom close by.  In a heartbeat,  16+ years drop away & I expect to see her pouring a cup of coffee in the kitchen or sitting in the big chair that Brenda always refers to as Stickley, writing a letter on its wide arm rest.

Chapter 3 went straight to my heart with its quote from Deuteronomy – Be strong & of good courage.  – one of Mom’s favorites.  Small wonder I found her throughout The Ultimate Shattering…embracing our mortality.

In the following, Rabbi Friedman’s comments are in italics;   my commentary (or Mom’s) is not.

We’re all aware that we will not live forever.  By midlife, we’ve seen people we love leave this world. …  We avoid facing the reality of our mortality. … Paradoxically, confronting our own dying can be the opening to living fully for whatever days, months, or years remain.  – –  Death was no stranger to Mom.  An older brother – William, named for her mother’s father – died as a baby, long before she was born; his death, due to being lactose-intolerant, left a mark on her heart.  Her father died when she was just nineteen.  She was 49 when her youngest son was killed.  Dad died when she was 64.  Death wasn’t an abstraction for Mom & it was never a fear.  She lived what Rabbi Friedman writes & she embodied “so teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

Mom’s closing days were lived as fully as any that came before.  Her cheerful disposition & caring heart helped staff, nurses & even her physicians, both at INOVA/Alexandria & St. Mary’s.  Her week of hospice at home was spent having a wonderful time with loved ones & even answering e-mails from a local Psych 101 college class, asking questions on her experiences easing out of this life to what is next.  Just last year, a young man who confided in her that he’d met the woman he was sure he’d married & asked for any wise words told me that he uses what she shared every day.  (I didn’t ask what it was, he did tell.)

 

Vast medical resources are invested in futile interventions for patients who have no reasonable hope for survival, because physicians, patients, and families cannot talk about or accept death.  – –  When my parents were returning home from visiting her sisters out in California, Dad had a seizure as they were boarding the plane at SF International.  Rushed to Peninsula Hospital, he was blessed to have some of the best oncological care in the country.  At one point, doctors advised my parents that there was a test they could run, but that the tumor was rooted so deep in his brain, the test itself could be fatal.  I remember Mom saying how grateful she was they were so open about the dangers, rather than just recommending it – my first lesson that because something can be done doesn’t mean it should.  Fast forward 26+ years – Mom. at 90. is discussing an upcoming surgery with a specialist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.  She asks, “I understand that this surgery can be done.  Do you think it should be?  What would you advise your grandmother?”  The specialist paused, looked at Mom, and answered, “Mrs. Lockhart, I would advise her against it.  While the surgery might increase your shoulder’s mobility, it could also exacerbate the damage already done to your torn rotator cuff, significantly decreasing your mobility.”  She thanked him, declined the surgery & we headed out on a delightful drive home – she was so grateful to that specialist, she felt lighter than air.  And I was mega impressed she asked him to think of her as his grandmother – will remember that!

 

Many of us are profoundly afraid of how (we will die).  We do not want to suffer.  … We may also worry that we will lose our dignity. … We want to retain our power, yet it is highly likely that we will not. – – Mom knew all about suffering & loss of dignity connected to dying.  She experienced it first hand with her father, in her mid-late teens, and for decades with her mother, who was never mentally stable, who ultimately developed senility & was institutionalized, a period of care that sent Mom into an emotional tailspin, a nervous breakdown & being institutionalized for months.  She made sure that Dad did not have to experience the indignities that can come with being in a nursing home, however briefly, especially doing all she could to ensure he continued to have a sense of power, even when in a coma.  John & I took up the torch, making sure Mom retained a sense of power, right up to her final farewell.

 

For many of us, contemplating death arouses the awareness of all that we love about life.  We fear missing out… – – This never seemed an issue for Mom.  She loved every moment of her life, yet had a keener excitement about finding out what was going to happen next than she did a dread of missing out on anything happening back in the land of the living!

 

Like Moses (who never set foot in The Promised Land), we will die with one or many aspects of our lives unfulfilled. … Eventually we will be called to make peace with this, too. – – It will always be a point of pride that in her closing years, Mom & I were able to identify the issues that could have torn us apart, even if we weren’t able to address them all.  She would have liked that to have been true with all her children, but she had the satisfaction of knowing that she’d done her best to make that so.  The last few years of her life were filled with such unexpected fulfillment & accomplishment, relationships & her own sense of personal self healed, that my guess is she would have agreed she was leaving aspects of her life unfulfilled, but not for lack of trying.

 

Facing our own death sets the agenda for the rest of our life.  It helps us identify the unfinished business of the past and the callings of the future.  Facing dying enables us to grow older with wisdom & intentionality. – – Mom didn’t just quote, “This is the day the Lord has made.  Rejoice & be glad in it!” ~ she lived it.  I don’t think it was facing dying that enabled Mom to open up & share herself via e-mails (which readers experienced as wow wisdom), but being willing to face life as it actually was, not as she wanted it to be – “warts & all.”

 

Rebbe Nachman does not actually instruct us not to have fear (death) but rather not to be swallowed up by it. … We can hold awareness of our mortality without either obsessing or giving up.  – – Mom to a T!

 

(Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi) suggests that awareness of our mortality calls us to listen to “the voice of the authentic self,” to focus on that which we have left undone or unexplored.  If we fail to pick up these incomplete parts of our lives, he teaches, “our unlived lives are like ringing telephones that we refuse to answer.”  – –  It doesn’t feel like an awareness of her mortality called Mom to finally listen to the voice of her authentic, once rigorously denied, self, but it was certainly connected to being an “Ancient,” so perhaps it was.  I am pretty sure she would have agreed with Rebbe Zalman that her unlived life was like an unanswered ringing telephone.  How interesting that Mom’s moment of great courage involved picking up the phone!

 

The call of life in the face of death is to be honest, true, and present.  The unlived life invites us to embrace, to complete, to reach.  …  Should we not make this day, which could be our last, as full and rich as possible? – – Again, Mom to a T.

It strikes me that everyone will bring something uniquely theirs to & from reading Rabbi Friedman’s remarkably wise, tenderly written book.  What I share is so trifling compared to all she shares.  Again, if I could put this in the hands of all my friends, their parents & their children, I would.  And although I did not get to read this with Mom, who’d been gone many years by the time it was published, I certainly feel her with me as I read & reread each chapter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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! 

ONE BIG HOLE ~ ~ momified!

One Big Hole – confronting the broken heart  (aka Chapter 2 of Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older) speaks such wisdom to experience.  Over & over, I perceived within Rabbi Dayle Friedman’s words the sense, almost the sight, of my mother.

In her late 80s, Mom did what she’d resisted, from what I can tell,  for all of her life – – confronting her broken heart.  By the time she was an adult, Mom’s experiences of family relationships had taught her that the simplest way to stay on apparent even keel was to be intentionally blinded to reality, slapping a smiley face on heartbreak.

The most courageous thing I ever saw someone do was my 88-year old mother phoning a psychologist & saying, “Kevyn, I don’t have any idea who I am,” seeking counseling, with the self-trust that it was possible to plant her feet firmly on real ground.

As we grow older, we will lose physical capacities. … We may be stripped of roles we have cherished … perhaps (experience) lack of status, as well.  Sadly, we will lose precious relationships as dear family members and friends die or move away. … These losses of later life have been called the “little deaths of aging.” – – Mom commented on that very thing:  “Changing roles and changing identities can be rough, especially on children, no matter how old they are. Imagine the upset at finding that good old Mom is not what she used to be. That discovery could make even an adult feel like a kid lost at the department store.”  Mom was in her mid-60s when she experienced a cascade of events that changed how she & others saw her – Dad’s death, the loss of the inheritance he’d left due to a foolish financial adviser (NOT the person Dad selected), Scott’s birth, the need for her to bring in an income.  By the time she was a self-proclaimed “Ancient,” Mom was used to losing & gaining roles.

 

Rabbi Friedman uses the Biblical story of the aged Naomi to illustrate how she  “weathered an immense accumulation of losses … began again …. built a new life and a future.”  She uses Naomi as an avatar of resiliency.  – –  Mom didn’t see herself as particularly resilient, because she refused to acknowledge being knocked for a loop.  But she was, herself, an avatar of resiliency.  She totally rocked living.

 

Allowing Grief:  Naomi certainly does not whitewash the pain of her situation.  We can easily imagine that Naomi screamed and wailed plenty.  Feeling her pain and giving it expression are very possibly important aspects of her capacity to more forward amid it. – –  For most of her life, Mom’s survival was rooted in whitewashing the pain of her situation.  It was built-in, an immediate, rather than thought-out, response.  It was when Mom finally let herself experience a heart-wrenching situation that she gained what she termed  the “internal fortitude” to call Kevyn Malloy for an appointment.  It was a shock to Mom to learn that it was only when she was able to feel her pain & give it expression that she could move forward to better.

 

Love:  Naomi manages to thrive amid loss because she has someone to love and someone to care for, and because she dedicates herself … to the betterment of the future. … Giving our own love and caring can be (our salvation).  – – Straight through to the moment she slipped from us, Mom managed to thrive amid loss through being of service to others.  As she wrote, at 90+, in The Velveteen Grammie, “I can still shell hard boiled eggs and clean mushrooms!”  More than that, Mom knew that being here with us at Squirrel Haven was both an emotional & financial support.  John never had to fret that his hours in his studio left me alone.  Mom & I shared a common interest in current events, history, reading & classic movies.  The three of us clicked.  To her last, Mom’s love & caring made a difference – to the staff, nurses & doctors at first INOVA/Alexandria & then St. Mary’s/Langhorne, where a doctor pleaded with me as we prepared her for discharge, “Can’t you take one of the others & leave her?  Whenever I feel down, I know that all I have to do is stop into her room & I will feel better.”; to the family, friends & care partners who delighted in being with her during her final week, at home, in hospice; to a local college’s Psych 101 students who e-mailed her questions throughout that last week, which she answered up to the day of her death.

 

The Jungian psychoanalyst Polly Young -Eisendrath teaches that compassion is an antidote to suffering and counteracts alienation. – – Family & friends around the world will bear witness about how this personified Mom.

 

Our losses can open us up to deep empathy and make us uniquely available to others.  Remarkably, as we discover how much love we have, we are empowered to go on. – – With most people, Mom was remarkably empathetic.  I remember when friends lost a son in a tragic accident.  Mom & Dad joined others gathered outside the grieving family’s home, each hesitant to go inside for fear of intruding.  Mom finally went to the door & knocked – her dear friend collapsed into Mom’s arms, holding on for dear life.  As Mom explained later, “I decided I’d rather be where I wasn’t needed than not be where I was.”  Deep empathy & uniquely available to others – that was Mom to a T.

 

“Life can be walked with gently cupped hands that allow us to let go of outgrown or passing gifts and to receive new ones. …  Again and again, like the repeating cycles of passing seasons, we learn to let go.  And in the loss, we receive new gifts.”  Nancy Copeland-Payton.     We would not be alive if we did not feel the pain of our losses. – – see all of the above.  Or consider what Mom said – “My own awareness shifted when I suffered a small stroke late last September. That small stroke sped up the process. My mind feels strong, my spirit feels strong. As my body continues to head south, it no longer has the energy to kick up a fuss about being temporary or to even try to fake being permanent. My feet drag somewhat and I move a lot more slowly than I did, but most days my spirit soars, making itself felt more and more. ”

 

Jewish tradition teaches us to say blessings, to express appreciation, for all kinds of experiences, positive and negative.  As you ponder loss, take time as well to cultivate gratitude. – – Mom was all about expressing appreciation & gratitude.  At the whoop-de-do party after her memorial celebration, my brother remembered how she’d show appreciation & gratitude for a stretch of meadow or a patch of iris.  She appreciated places & people.  She had her occasional run ins with family, but could always tell you what it was about each of us that she deeply appreciated.   And, above all, she was grateful to the Divine for being raised how she was in the faith she was, that she lived in a small town with a big heart, that she forever held in her heart the inexpressible joy of being married to a good man & forming a deep 3-way partnership (the two of them plus God), that she was mother to five children she dearly loved, that she had interesting in-laws & the best grandchildren in the Universe.

 

Mom went through things in her life that I cannot begin to fathom, she did her best to keep herself up right (in both writings & meanings of the term), had the strength to see what she’d rather ignore & face what she’d rather deny.  She touched my life & many others by simply being Katharine Reynolds Lockhart, one big whole.

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!

Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older – from the bookshelf

Over on Rx4caregivers, I’m scoping out my favorite bits & pieces from the most well-thumbed, corners turned down, highlighted books in my library, challenging myself to pick my  Top 10 lines from each chapter.

There was never any question which book would be first – –  Rabbi Dayle Friedman’s Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older – finding your grace & grit beyond midlife  lit up my lift as soon as I read the first page of her introduction.   Beyond her book’s  eye- & soul-opening messages, chapter after chapter brings up memories of Mom & so many older friends, of how they aged upward in ways that bestowed on my like so many blessings expectations of being a true elder, approaching life to the last of my days rooted in the past, open to the now, with an expectant eye on the future.

So, over on Rx4…, I’ll be sharing just the Top 10 quotes or phrases, BUT over here, I’ll be looking at the ones that bring Mom or others to mind & fleshing them out with my memories thoughts feelings.

I started with Rabbi Friedman’s intro ~ Births Out of Brokenness, growing whole as we grow older ~ which opens the reading with considerable heft.  If Mom were still with us, we would have read it in tandem, discussing parts that touched us deeply, sharing favorite passages.

Am imagining Mom sending Dayle a note & suggesting connecting over a cuppa & nibbling at The French Bakery –  there’s no doubt the two women would have found mutual delight in each other.

And so, let us begin…

“The challenge of aging isn’t to stay young;  it’s not only to grow old, but to grow whole – – to come into your own.”  Connie Goldman – –  Rabbi Friedman opens the intro with this quote, which goes straight to the heart of the eldering Mom.  Mom COULD have entered her “young old age” shouldering the primary role of relatively fresh widow – she did not.  On the second anniversary of his death, she was experiencing the first week of autumn – in Australia, where her chief role was as Nan-nan to her adored 3rd grandchild, Mike & Kerry’s first child, caught up in the wonders of a new country, a new continent, a new hemisphere, in becoming friends with Mike & Kerry’s chums & neighbors – who adored her – and in making & renewing friendships in their church circle.

Mom wrote of that time – – “When Kerry and Mike brought their bouncing baby boy home, I was there to be a delighted chief cook and bottle washer. For a month, Kerry could just take it easy and let me take care of the house. It felt so good. I had not been needed like that since Pete died and it nourished my soul. I remember one of her friends dropping by and asking her what she was planning for dinner. Kerry tossed off her reply – “I haven’t had to think about a meal in a month.” The friend looked at me and said, “When you’re through here, will you come over to my house?” And I think she meant it!”‘

Within a year of returning home, Mom – at 66, which was considered considerably more “out to pasture” than it is today – had to find work, after the person handling Dad’s estate (NOT the executor he had appointed) lost every penny of her inheritance.  That turned out to be a blessing on all sides – Mom kept a loving eye on a young family whose mother was physically & emotionally fragile, folded laundry for another family whose kids loved sitting & talking with her, acted as able-bodied companion & side kick to an 80+ friend on multiple annual trips to Bermuda, and for many years hiked down Woodland Road – UP Alden Road – UP “The Black Path” to South Avenue – across a narrow path between houses to Alnwick – over to Benita Acton Odhner to make dinner six nights out of seven for a brilliant mind trapped in a bed-ridden body.  She made that trek no matter what the weather – neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hale stayed my determined mother from getting there.  Those first 10+  years pf her widowhood showcased Mom’s grit & grace (two of Rabbi Friedman’s favorite words!).

When we get to midlife & look ahead, mos of us do not have a similarly clear picture of what we hope for, much less what we expect…  How will we cope with new roles & the loss of old ones?  How will we go on when we lose those dear to us?  – – see above!

It is not a straightforward trip but rather an unfolding path full of twists and turns, of shocking surprises and, if we are open, perhaps unexpected delights.  It is probably more helpful to see this unfolding as rich, complicated, and challenging. – – Because we lived in a close-knit community, the sort where you can guess a child’s heritage because he looks “like a Gladish,” Mom had seen through the many olders elders ancients in our little hometown that aging ever upward is “not a straightforward path but rather an unfolding path full of twists & turns...”  Because of them, she approached her 80s & 90s with a sense of anticipation, even excitement.  And she remembered her own lessons learned that surprised her – like how the forties were exhausting but her fifties felt liberating.  She hadn’t seen that coming, so anticipated similar happy surprises ahead!

We need guidance to find our way with resilience, courage, and blessing – – to develop grace and grit in facing what lies before us.  – – Mom was deeply affected by  Benita Acton, seeing how she was bedridden by severe osteoporosis but never let it affect her humming brain & love of people;  “Aunt” Benita’s bedroom was a literary salon, where friends & visitors from away gathered to discuss books & music, theology & other intellectual pursuits.  Mom saw her older friend’s resilience & courage, taking it as a blessing on her own life, an insight on how to rise to a challenging situation.

When things shatter in our lives, we are, in the words of health and wellness expert, Elizabeth Lesser, “broken open,” and in this way we become available to begin anew, with the capacity for deeper-than-ever learning.  – –  Until her last years, Mom did everything in her power to keep whatever was shattered from being seen as broken, applying emotional glue as fast as she could to maintain the appearance of whole.  I saw my father cry when my brother was killed – not Mom.  She sat in a semi-catatonic state in a lounge chair in the living room – for months – after Dad died, but I never saw a tear fall.  Praise be, she realized in those last years that she hadn’t a clue WHO she was, sought counseling – at 88! – and was whole enough within herself to let shattered things be in pieces around her.  It was a happy shock to her, discovering for the first time that when things fall to pieces, we are able to break open, to make a fresh start, to learn from what happened & move forward with a deeper understanding.

We have a chance beyond midlife to become the person we were truly meant to be. – I would loved to have seen Mom on her seven trips to Australia, to watch her being the person she was Down Under, when she was just down the hall from two grandchildren, in the heart of a community that adored her, with a son & daughter-in-law who appreciated all the wondrous little & big things she did for them.  To have seen her without myself being seen, because as soon as I entered the picture, the way she was with them would have altered.

At the same time, I wish that they could have experienced Mom in those last years of her life, as she learned to ask questions instead of  taking everything at face value, as she started using the internet as a communication & community-building tool, as she learned to know her own mind & to speak it – – alas, they had no interest in that side of Mom, who was just fine the way she’d always been, in their opinion.  Mom not only took a chance on becoming the woman she was truly meant to be, very much the woman Dad loved, she had the courage to go for it, even though she knew it could – and did – sour some family relationships.

In traveling on the path beyond midlife, it’s not jerky or trail mix that you will need, but perspective, guidance, and practices.  These are the things that will sustain you as you grow older.  – – Oh my gosh – Mom & Dayle could have talked endlessly about the importance of perspective, guidance & practices.  For the first 87 years of her life, Mom believed to the very fiber of her being that the problems she faced in life had to be solved by her & God.  Period.  As she understood it, she was to pray to God & God would, in some way, give her the answers.  It took her until she was 87 to discover that God had – in the form of Stephen Covey & Nathaniel Branden & Marianne Williamson & John Bradshaw & countless others.  She devoured their books & listened to their audiotapes, she tweaked her perspective & followed their guidance & felt incredibly massively stupendously bless by God.  All of them, under God’s aegis, helped sustain her through those last astonishing years.

I have seen grit and grace, bitterness and brokenness.  I have witnessed hearts breaking open and also spirits shutting down in the face of growing older.  My desire is to help others grow wiser and more resilient beyond midlife.   – – Mom said that when something happens that breaks your heart & rips apart your spirit, it can strengthen a relationship or shatter it.  She felt blessed that Ian’s death at eleven drew her & Dad closer together – she had seen marriages destroyed by less.

Mom learned at a very early age to get through the most unimaginably terrible situations by slapping  a smiley face on everything & acting like it was all just okey dokey.  Although she married someone who gave her the confidence to be vulnerable with him, her emotional force fields were still up with everyone else, especially with her children.  When a horrific trauma happened to my older sister, it was “forgotten” – I never have learned what it was & only guessed at it because of the emotional debris I saw still left in its wake decades & decades after it happened.   My experience of my family was & is of people holding their hands over their eyes, saying “We are NOT going to look at or think about what happened to a very young Mim,” which became my family’s unspoken but powerful mantra.

I bring ALL that up to show what a radical leap of faith it took for Mom in her late 80s to allow herself, for possibly the first time in her life, to see what was right in front of her & not be swallowed up by fear.

When Mom stood up for herself & asked for support from her children in gaining a clearer idea of who she was, she knew that it could drive a wedge between herself & her three older children & Kerry.  Wonders of wonders, she put her well-being ahead of the possibility of their condemnation.

And condemn her they did.  As Mom put it, she risked the worst thing she could imagine – and it happened, the older family distanced themselves from her – and, in her words, she discovered she didn’t die.  And she discovered that all those years she’d throawn me to the wolves because she knew I’d still around & feared they’d leave if she disagreed with them, all those years weren’t wasted – -when she finally asked them for an itty bit of help, they did all take off.  If it was any consolation, at least she had the comfort of knowing she’d read them right!

This might seem like a very long meander, but it’s the shortest way I can express how much my mother picked up the pieces of her shattered self & pulled herself together.  It’s interesting, looking back at it almost twenty years after the first tiny crack in her emotional force field, at how all it needed was a little bit of courage on her part to open up a world of unforeseen love & support from forces she believed in yet didn’t seem to think existed.

By the time of her death, on September 16, 2001, Katharine Reynolds Lockhart, the love of her husband’s life & a most awesome mentor/role model to many, openly personified grit and grace, bitterness and brokenness. hearts breaking open.  She chose to leave a “safe” numbness behind, to begin anew, with the capacity for deeper-than-ever learning.  She opened herself to being birthed out of brokenness, growing whole as she grew ancient.