Releasing the tight hold of the well-placed sneer

There are things I was raised at my sister’s knee to despise – competition,  wealth, the petite bourgeoisi (almost anyone not us).  Praise be, I never was in sync with shunning being part of a greater whole (one of my most fervent, unmet, longings – until John) or just simply connecting.

There is a lot of power in an adored, much-older sister’s well-placed sneer.  Am 65 & Mim’s been gone two full years & that smirk still makes it hard for me to get pass certain low expectations of myself & others.  I can understand that she had inner demons egging her on, can feel a deep sense of compassion for her pain, but she had, it must be admitted, the skills of a well-trained psychologist in leaving their imprint on her baby sister, on the entire family.

It was this past December that it fully registered that every positive image she presented the world outside our family was twisted it into a dark specter for me.

Creepy.

And something so totally worth putting behind me.  Loosen its grip, peel it off, pull it away.

Growing older, going back to nature

As in going back to my natural state, which feels diametrically opposite to what was my lifelong nurture.

The difference between what I feel in my gut & what was ingrained in my habits was brought home today by two very different friends.  Cass Forkin is action personified – when she thinks something scathingly brilliant, her next move is to sketch out how to make it so.  Kelly Lucero is her kindred spirit – when someone lays down a challenge, her adrenalin kicks into overdrive.

Where they sprint to the fore & set out to prove their mettle, my response – for 60+ years – was to go to ground.  Or at least to THINK that’s how I respond.

Listening to Cass this morning & reading about Kelly’s jaw-dropping accomplishments as a leading Rodan+Fields consultant, thought to myself, “I wish that was my response,”  immediately going into “that’s not me” mode.

What a bunch of hooey!  One of the terrific things about being 65+ is being able to pause (5-4-3-2-1) & assess the years.  It’s no wonder so many people have been so massively frustrated with me over the decades – my default was to blow off all the great things I’ve accomplished & focused on the long-ago disappointments.  Duh! When I consider all that I/we – separately & with John – have accomplished over the past nine years, when I look at my achievements at USHealthcare & Prudential HealthCare & BISYS Financial Services, when I remember the note I  received last week from a woman I taught almost 40 years ago – ” You were one of my fav teachers! It sounds wonderful what you are doing now, but I thought you were a fantastic teacher as well” –  it’s hard to see how my self image got so thoroughly gunked.

My reality is that shrinking instead of leaping IS ingrained in my dna.  As Bill Murray shouts out in STRIPES,  That’s a fact, Jack!  That being so, take to heart how Sgt Hulka’s men – a bunch of actual (okay, fictional) slackers if ever there were – responded in THEIR moment of crisis.  Commit & get with the program, producing results while doing in a unique style with stunning verve.

Trisha Gallagher, Edie Weinstein, Tom James,  Cass Forkin, Kelly Lucero, Yvonne Kaye, Janie Lemole – – look at the ASTONISHING people who have touched my life in just the past three weeks.

Somebody said that as we age, people become more of their true self.  I think of my mother, who in her late 80s & early 90s, came into (if I may be so bold as to make a judgement) her true self, a build on the person she was when Dad was alive, but from within herself instead of through him.

With examples like Cass Forkin & Kelly Lucero before me – and Mom always leading the way – here’s looking forward to nurturing my true nature, drawing out (dragging, if necessary) my rise-to-the-challenge inner action figure!

 

How important IS showing up?

Woody Allen says it best – “70% of success in life is showing up.”  Showing up is what sets you apart, provides the opportunity & setting to DO something of value.  But it’s what you get DONE that’s the other, essential 30%.

The older I get, the more clear this becomes.  I think of my Dad, someone my oldest brother tags a work-aholic because of the long hours he put in working at a Philadelphia lumber & millwork company.  Peter remembers a childhood ruined by a father who was calling on customers & making deliveries when he should have been with his family, or who dragged his wife & children with him.  My brother swore to never be like that, that he would be present in & focused on his children’s lives.  Which he did.  My brother showed up.  But what did he do with the other 30%?

Our father was forever changed when the Great Depression devastated his life expectations.  His dreams on graduation in June 1929 crashed five months later, as his father lost his fortune & his step-mother lost her’s trying to save Gar’s.  Instead of studying engineering at Haverford, he went to work for the father of his best friend from prep school.  Dad was notoriously late coming home for his children’s events & he did invariably go into work “for just a few hours” on the day we were supposed to leave for a week at the lake – I can remember, as a very little kid, keeping my eyes glued on the end of the road for the sight of his company car coming into view.  It’s true he often wasn’t present, but, for me, he showed up in how he provided for his family.

Peter showed up in his children’s lives, at sports events, theatrical performances, concerts, school programs.  At his children’s schools, he was the parent you could count on seeing in the audience, on the sidelines, cheering them on.  He showed up, but how did he do as a provider, as making sure their lives were financially stable, at providing for the basic needs that our Dad focused on, to the detriment of his time with family?

Jen Sincero notes that “the important thing is that you keep showing up.”  Show up & swing away.  My brother showed up; to him, our dad didn’t.  But I can tell you, without hesitation, which of the two made the best use of the remaining per cent, which one tackled the unglamorous grunt work necessary to help provide the basics for his wife & children.

Neither Peter nor Dad were ideal fathers, but both did the best they could to provide the life they thought their families deserved.  But that is not enough.  We can’t just show up, we need to both show up & deliver.  Show up in order to take our next best swing & then our next.  That’s when – whatever our age, stage or state – we connect with life & hit it out of the park.

Been there, gone through that

Certain problems have been a constant for John et moi.  Well, two in particular.  The first is that, since Day One, John would do ANYTHING for me… as long as it’s convenient.  Hasn’t changed.  The other is that he has no experience with digging down deep to know how he feels & what he’s thinking.

Those sound gosh awful, but are as much about him being a guy as they are about being clueless.  Guys aren’t raised to go out of their way for others, especially for women.  And they aren’t expected to be deep or aware of how others are feeling – – forget about proactively thinking about how they’re feeling.  In our case, a man raised in the heart of the ’50s had the misfortune to marry a gal who graduated in 1970, the heart of the ’60s.

I take that back – he had the good luck to marry that woman.  Because what he needs to do in order for us to be as outrageously AWESOME as The Universe clearly intends means he has to work with someone who’s been through the rigmarole of figuring out how to do things CONSCIOUSLY, how to know what’s important & what’s not, what’s worth doing & what’s worth a pass – not in anyone else’s mind but his own.

That’s old hat to me.  Been there, went through that.  And here’s the super sweet kicker – – I was able to do it because my John loved me.  When I looked at him, I saw myself reflected back.  Me.

Okay, I was also able to do that work because amazing people wrote books & articles & made cds & did PBS shows JUST when the time was right for me.  But they wouldn’t have mattered without him as my wondrous trigger.

So, I can do what I can to help John be able to move past his convenience block & his lack of personal awareness – – if he wants.  Doesn’t matter what I can do if it’s ho hum to him.  And that has to be okay with me.

And it doesn’t matter WHAT he decides or does or decides to not do.  Because I – Elsa Beth Lockhart Murphy, aka DEEV – wouldn’t be here in the waaaay better shape I am if JOHN hadn’t been right there, right as he is, right beside me.

Longer years, deeper sight

A friend commented about my just-written piece on the importance of LIGHT – – “What a great idea of a year long, celebration shifting tree!

In this case, creativity sprang from my mother’s spontaneous sighs.  And that hyper sensitivity to catching that sigh is the very thing that makes me good at providing elder support – I was trained to be attuned to a subtle sigh, catching the rolled eye or sagging shoulders.

Mind you, I learned to pick up such clues for pretty pathetic reasons:  Mom & my dominant sibs were non-verbal ~and~ both sibs were loathe to openly request anything; my happiness depended on picking up on vibes & the most subtle gesture so they didn’t have to feel they were in my debt.

Who knew that heightened sensitivity  would be exactly what’s comes in so handy in this work I love; as much as they get a bad wrap for being demanding, the truth is that most of the olders elders ancients I know are loathe to ASK for something, for fear of feeling at risk needy less.  Especially less.

It’s a cool thing about being 65 – so many things that seemed lousy in my life turn out to have been awesome training for my here & now!

Hooray for holiday lights!

A wretched aspect to the end of the December holidays, especially Christmas, is how the new year might start with neighborhood fireworks, but the bright & beautiful lights that sparkle our houses & properties are dimmed & darkened – – just when we need them most!  How blessed we are here at Squirrel Haven that our house is bedecked in Christmas lights year ’round!   Would that everyone – especially older, elderly people who, more than their youngers, especially crave light – kept them blazing all year.

January & February’s dim dark days are perked up by the miniature white lights that run along the upper reaches of our living room’s inner wall, while The Retreat still has tiny white lights at the window & my big Christina OrthweinFor peace has in it confidence in the Lord” bowl is filled with itty bitty colored lights, reflected in silver-gold-blue balls.

Christmas is past, but our lives remain lit with its lights & a sense of its love.

We were inspired to leave the holiday lights blazing by Mom, going on twenty years ago.  Mom loved to sit in her big chair in the living room, the one that Brenda always describes as “being in the Stickley style,” a massive chair with wide wooden arms perfect for writing on or resting your arms & settling back, the one that Jada, mama of the kitties, now claims as her own.  It gave Mom a great view of the big bay window, out to the street, our neighborhood, the world.  And, at Christmas, she sat right across from the tree.

While insisting on a freshly cut Christmas tree now horrifies me, it was firmly rooted in my family traditions.  Because the Murphy tree decorations were so different from the Lockhart collection, we put up two different trees – a wondrous colored, blinking lights with a flashing star atop a fake tree in the den, with the living room playing host to the my traditional tree, festooned with tiny white clear lights & topped with a paper angel Ian had made in elementary school.  It took us almost ten years to combine the two into one Murphart tree, in the living room, its place of honor catty corner to Mom’s chair.

For some long-forgotten reason, we decided to use the fake tree in 2000 – and our lives changed.  By then, Mom was 89 & keeping herself pretty confined to the house in the cold winter months.  That year, as I went to take down the decorations, the lights, she sighed & got a sort of distant look.

Now, my mother was NOT raised to ask for something directly.  “If you’re anywhere near the pharmacy, would you pick up...” is still used with loving humor by both John & myself.  AND she was, by nature, non-verbal.  The result is that I was trained from babyhood to pick up on sighs or shrugs or slight shifts as signs of what she wanted.

By 2000, John (who went nuts when I tried to “read” him) had shown me the errors of those ways, so instead of doing my best to interpret what Mom wanted, I did something radical for a Reynolds-Lockhart – – I asked.  “Mom, do you NOT want me to take the decorations & the tree down?

I will always remember the wistful look in her eyes & the longing tone in her voice when she answered, “Well, it does make a lovely light.”

And up it stayed.  That year, Gretchen & Andrew gave us tiny pink lights that his brother-in-law had purchased by mistaken & had no use for – – the Christmas tree became a Valentine tree, with hearts & Valentines replacing the angels bells stars.  After that, we decorated it with faux flowers, as a Welcome Spring tree – Brenda surprised & delighted us when she bought every stuffed rabbit at the Bryn Athyn Thrift Shop & created a bunny extravaganza.

The Spring Tree gave way to Summer – in May, we put a notice in our community newsletter, the Bryn Athyn Post, inviting anyone & everyone to send a postcard from their vacation to The Summer Tree, which was soon filled with their travels.

Mom especially loved the Summer Tree, so it stayed put until early December, when it was time again for the holly & the ivy to take pride of place.  Throughout the year, in biting cold & sweltering heat, Mom had her lovely light to comfort & sustain her.  It mattered, keeping that tree blazing away throughout the year.  I wish that everyone would do as we do, inspired by Mom, & keep them glowing year ’round.   

A closing note about The Tree – after Mom took a fall in Virginia, came back to PA for rehab that turned into a return home for a glorious final week, the tree continued to work its magic.  From where she was confined in her room in her bed, she could look to the right & down into the living room, could see the lights blazing away – as Mom described it, “The best night light ever!

When we had Mom’s memorial celebration on October 14, almost a month to the day after she slipped from us, it was front & center at the bash she’d requested following her tribute, filled from the tip top to the lowest branches with the stuffed animals that were always such a part of her – and of our – life, with place of honor given to Springerly, the large white rabbit who played a key role in her life over those last six weeks, first at INOVA/Alexandria, then at St. Mary’s & finally at home.

Hooray for Mom’s beloved holiday lights sparkling her way to the very end!

 

1st draft Lyceum proposal – YIKES!

1st draft of a presentation proposal at this April’s Masterpiece Lyceum Making Chronological Age Irrelevant:

Postcard from the Trenches ~ All I expected from July’s International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics 21st quadrennial World Congress was to be a fascinated fly on the wall, soaking up creativity at the IAGG’s first-ever Age Stage, being mentally challenged by presentations from some of the greatest minds in aging & eldercare.

I did not expect names that I respect & honor would come to feel the same about me, did not expect specialists & researchers to seek me out between sessions for my perspective on eldercare as experienced “in the trenches” – as one who stumbled into an eldercare calling through family, loved ones, friends. IAGG members were hungry for information on how people like me approach care, the creative ways we keep loved ones engaged, how we handle – or feel overwhelmed by – it all.

Most of those voices are silent, just doing their best to keep their heads above water. How do we share the creative approaches & innovative solutions developed by folks on the front line?

This presentation looks at that challenge, offers ways to give a voice & a presence to the silent & invisible, and open the floor for discussion & suggestions on how to get those postcards from the trenches rolling in.