Full Circle – night capper

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

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

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

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

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

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

That drove me right up a wall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Care PARTNERS – night capper

There were as many times, right to the end, that Mom was as much a care giver to me as I was to her; we were truly care PARTNERS.

It is not easy, requires patience, communication & good humor as much as it does love. There were times that our friendship got us through, keeping us strong where our love for the other made us vulnerable.

And it was all worth it.

The grief, the aggravation, the hurt & sense of being alone – feelings we both felt at times – were as if nothing in light of all we gained through that partnership.

Thank you, AARP, for capturing it in thirty seconds.

“Spoon” – night capper

A lovely psa from AARP that shows a no-longer-100%  independent parent needing to rely on a child for basics that COULD be experienced as demeaning.

How does she avoid that insidious message?  Through humor.

Mom & I laughed so much.  Ditto with clients like Anne & Marg & Richard.  When things went awry & they could have felt like doddering dorks, we found the humor & laughed.

Changing roles doesn’t mean exchanging them – Mom didn’t become the child, I didn’t become the parent.  She was Mom in her late 80s,  I was her Schatzi Schultzenheimer in my 40s.  I gave her an arm to hold onto when she needed it, she did countless things to keep me in every sort of  balance.

While Mom was perhaps especially adept at seeing the transitions she was making into older age as natural, I like to think that her children – including John – played a role in helping her hold onto her sense of self & service.

EVERYONE should have a 90-year old mother comfortable enough in her own skin to write:   It is not all “beer and skittles”–there are some rough patches. 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!) 

Like this father, who has the grit & grace to laugh with his own beloved child.

Roles change, love is constant.


Straight to My Heart – night capper

This AARP psa goes straight to my heart – so many memories of helping Mom with her shower.  What you see is totally possible, the affection between two adults without a smidgen of infantilization.

Mom & I had the blessing of experiencing this, as I helped her shower, then briskly toweled her down.

By her last few years, an ancient injury to her left shoulder rotator cuff affected her movement in that arm;  she was unable to give her right side the thorough soaping in the shower that her other arm could easily deliver to her left side.

Mom & I wove a sphere of ritual around her shower time, in large thanks to an invigorating wash cloth, a luscious soap & her ahhhhhhh loofah.  We took special, honoring care washing & drying the scar from her partial mastectomy, always grateful that she’d never needed any treatments beyond the surgery.

As I washed every part of her body, the act served as a bonding rather than an invasion.  And how she loved the get-the-blood-flowing, revitalizing  rub down afterward with the big bath towel – we’d laugh as I’d briskly “buff” her back!

Mom’s attitude blessed both of us.  She accepted that there were things her body simply would not let her do anymore.  Instead of anger or feeling disempowered, she chose to experience it as a natural, albeit stinko, progression.

Mom’s shower time gave both of us the opportunity to honor her body, to give thanks for all it had done & been for her throughout a lifetime of jump rope & roller skating, high school dances, walking down the aisle with her O! Best Beloved, holding her five babies, tending their bumps & bruises, baking bread & rustling up batches of her mess ‘a fried tomatoes, holding Dad’s hand as he lay in coma, helping Mike & Kerry down in Australia, being present for so many of her Bryn Athyn friends & neighbors, helping me dress for my wedding, making dinner for the three of us here at Squirrel Haven on particularly crazed days at work, celebrating her grandchildren’s birthdays & graduations & weddings, answering e-mailed questions from local college psych students as she transitioned from this world to the next.

Showers were a time of blessing & bonding – I thank AARP for stirring special, long forgotten memories with this spot-on psa.



psa – public service announcement

“AARP! AARP!” – night capper

One of John’s favorite New Yorker cartoons shows a dog barking “AARP!  AARP!” as his human companion explains, “Old dog.”

This week, I’m honoring the real AARP, which has – under the leadership of the amazing Jo Ann Jenkins – zoomed way past being more than simply an association representing retired persons.  Every night capper will feature an AARP ad, because they so nimbly & nobly capture the pain promise progress of aging – across the full life spectrum – in America.  Thank you.


POWerful Convergence

Karen Sands notes in her wondrous book, THE AGELESS WAY, that this is a crucial moment, one that “reflects the convergence of two historical trends:  the evolution of psychology to include humanistic, trans personal & lifespan development theory;  and the widening impact of population aging in all post-industrial societies.”  (p. 45)


From purely personal experience rather than based on any empirical findings, I’d add  two additional converging trends, making one mega POWerful moment ripping up a stunted “aging” status quo, freeing space for radical evolution & change:  thanks to technology flattening entrenched hierarchies & democratizing information, more people like ME can establish businesses without going through the financial hoops or limited data access that kept many earlier entrepreneurs stuck in the visions stage;  and the economic/societal upheavals that hit early in the millennium created an unprecedented need for people to reboot careers, sparking a continuing wave of entrepreneurial thinking & innovative new enterprises.

In short, technology & disasters tossed the old rule book out the window.

My mother’s life shifted because of the two trends Karen notes, plus the third, a shift she happily acknowledged:  “I have heard that timing is everything and the issue of aging is no different. From the mid-1960s to recently, the culture in the USA did not give much value to older people. The times today are a-changing as the generation of revolutionaries who declared “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” now find themselves eligible for AARP+ membership. I have found that the voice of wisdom is increasingly sought out by a generation that has no intention of becoming invisible or going softly into that goodnight.”  (The Velveteen Grammie)

Mine shifted through the convergence of all four, creating a singular, timeless yet time-bound moment.  Past & future draw together into a surrealistic now that reminds me windows of opportunity are open for a brief span; that while getting to NOW could not be rushed, THIS moment will not linger long.  The Universe looks to ACTION for affirmation of its out-stretched opportunities; make the effort to seize the golden moment, or feel it brush past in search of someone who will.


Let’s take a look at the two trends Karen notes, plus the two I tacked on:

1st trend:  the acknowledgement that we live successively, in a continuum stretching across a spectrum of development, NOT in set stages staggered across segments of separate spans, delineated epochs.

2nd trend:  developed countries’ 2-edged sword of longer life

3rd trend:  flattened hierarchies & increased access to data create practically unlimited opportunities..

4th trend:  liberating economic/societal disruption resulted in unprecedented entrepreneurism.

Take a long last last look, then ask yourself – which trends have I left off?  Which ones will develop tomorrow or next week month year?  What will be the WOW at their point of convergence?

Ignition, Take Off

Yikes!  Launch Day has arrived!  Am still a total novice at WordPress, but decided to let my rocket take off, even if in very primitive shape & stage.

Am very much partnering in this endeavor – as I do in all my work with older friends – with all the awesome oldsters elders ancients whose paths I’ve been blessed to cross.  First & foremost, my mother, Katharine Reynolds Lockhart.

Friends & pleasant acquaintances would often say to me, “Well, I’d have my mother live with me, too, if we got along as well as the two of you.”

The reality is that we did NOT mesh well.  Among our many challenges, was our similar dissimilar natures:   we were ALIKE in very visible ways – love of family & friends, love of church school community, love of a good party & always ready for a celebration, BUT when it came to things that lead to peace in the home – how we defined family, what we expected from ourselves & others, how we interpreted the similar terms we used – we were poles apart.  It was difficult, challenging & I came darn close once to a breakdown, BUT WE MADE IT WORK.

My deep personal belief about families – we are created to be tribal.  Sadly, it feels like everything in our current culture works against that, leaves us separated, not receiving the support we are meant to be giving & getting across the ages.  It’s not meant to be easy – it’s meant to draw all of us closer to wisdom.

What a forever blessing that John & I were able to pair up to give both of our mothers the sort of aging upward that suited them best.  My O Best Beloved & I were as well-suited for providing care & support to our long-widowed mothers as we are for doing the same with each other.   FYI ~ you can’t plan for that sort of connection, like there is some secret sauce that will cook up the sort of connect that made it possible to pamper the Moms;  we both acknowledge it’s in Greater Hands than ours.  (My not-organized-religion hubster blew my socks off when he told me, “You didn’t plan this & I didn’t plan this, but SOMEONE planned it!!”)  Praise be, we knew at the time it was a blessing, never ever took it for granted, never forgot to say & offer up our thanks.

Since Mom is my most active, albeit in Other Realms, partner, am sharing this launch post with her.

Background:  Mom became active on the internet in the late 1990s.   She started because there was a lively discussion taking place in our church organization, with Mom agreeing with points held by very different camps.  Born at the very tag end of the Gilded Age, she was pretty daunted by computers but she really really really wanted to be part of the to & fro.  So, since the computer studio was right next door to her bedroom, Mom would haul a chair into the room, sit next to me & dictate as I transcribed.  As she would say, “It war a pleasure!” to help.  Mom was open to accessing the wonders of the internet because she’d gone through major MEGA changes since 11/97 & going online; connecting with scores of women & men of all ages who thought she was absolutely the cat’s pajamas, took her stunning evolution zooming into the stratosphere!

The following is an article Mom wrote in 2000 – at 90! – for an alumni journal.  It cobbles together a bunch of e-mails she wrote to a devoted & ever-growing dist list (her version of blogging, which was still basically unknown – she would have taken to it like a duck to water).  Enjoy!



Margery Williams’  classic story, The Velveteen Rabbit+, includes an exchange  between two nursery toys, the Skin Horse and the Rabbit, who has asked the horse, “What is REAL?”  The Rabbit wants to know if it happens all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit.  

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.  “You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t  happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your fur has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and  very shabby.  But those things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real  you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

 I relate to that passage.  I turned 90 in May.  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.

 It’s said that timing is everything.  The issue of aging is no  different.  From the  mid-1960s to recently, the culture in the USA did not  give much value to older people.  The times today are a’changing as the  generation of revolutionaries who declared “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” now  find themselves eligible for AARP* membership.  I have found that the voice of wisdom is increasingly sought out by a generation that has no intention of becoming invisible or going softly into that goodnight.

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.

 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.

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. To get to the light, we have to work through the  darkness.  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.  Ideally, the concepts of physical being, of time and relationships,  are liberated as we get older and older.

 My own awareness shifted when I suffered a small stroke late last September.

That small stroke speeded 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.

Just as little children look at their parents as really old, not-so-young  people can see their own parents as shutting down as we age, gong into some  sort of benign hibernation  It is true that 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. This old biddy believes that the Lord intends us to live fully – whatever our physical or mental condition – right up to the  moment we traipse across the threshold of our spiritual home.

 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 timebound prejudices and expectations.  Many women of my generation  anchored our identities on others,. those we took care of and nourished.  Personally, I balked at sparing time or energy to think and act for myself.  Luckily, I had taken some proactive strides toward becoming more aware well  before the stroke.

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.  I take two strong pain pills a day and I have excellent and open  doctors.  I live in a supportive household with two “youngsters” who love me.  My daughter badgered and brow beat me to think for myself rather than  constantly trying to mirror back what I thought she or others wanted me to  say or do.  She was the burr under my saddle for change, but the catalyst was  my son-in-law, who is remarkably gifted in the ways of healthy communication.

My online “family” brings unexpected and incalculable blessings, fulfilling  in this life the promise that “with thought brings presence,”  all at the click of a mouse.

It is not all “beer and skittles” – there are rough patches. 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!)   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.

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 I write this in July, we are even thinking about putting together my very own web site, which  seems … well, I do not know what it seems, but it does.  Talk about “the times today are a’changing”  ~ I would not have dreamt that I would set foot  anywhere near a meeting of people considering the role of women within the General Church, but there I was on July 8, feeling right at home, sitting  front and center, and enjoying it immensely.

Of course, there is the fear of dependency.  In January, I was diagnosed  with acute degenerative arthritis of the right shoulder.  Nothing can be done  to alleviate the condition.  It will get progressively worse and worse.  Luckily, aside from the pain, the only effect at the moment is that I cannot  get out of bed without a helping hand.  Still, instead of being a custodial  parent, I am the one needing care.  That took me down a peg at first, but  dependency has turned out to have unique blessings.  A passage from the book  Still Here ++ 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.

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.  Picture going to a favorite restaurant and ordering a favorite dish, only to  told it is no longer on the menu.   There are two choices – get in a funk  over what is not availabIe or grab the opportunity to check over the menu for something new.  My personal menu of possibilities seems like one of the  oversized diner menus.  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!

 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. 

A key lesson learned over the past few years is that even unhappy events can  bring unexpected opportunites.  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.   

You could say my eyes come close to dropping off (cataract surgery is scheduled this fall) and my physical appearance is certainly getting  shabbier.  Take heart!  This Velveteen Grammie holds the happy hope of one  day being reunited with her O! Best Beloved and – together – seeing the REAL light.


 +     The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams  1922

 ++   Still Here, Ram Dass   2000 

 *     American Association of Retired Persons (open to people over 50 years  old)