The good fortune of forgiveness – Chapter 8

A Time to Heal… focuses on a critical & challenging topic – – forgiveness.  This chapter has deep personal meaning for me.  It took me a long time to get to forgiveness, to letting go perceived slights hurts injuries.  To accept that in even the worst situation, I knew far less than there was to know.  That I barely knew my motivations.

It helps having been taught since a child that we can judge the actions a person takes but never their motives.   We cannot judge intentions.  The person might not even know the reason he or she did something, we certainly can’t.  Once that’s accepted, getting to healing forgiveness is a lot easier!

Rabbi Friedman’s words are in italic’s.

Rabbi Friedman shared the story of her friend, Kathy, who visited a fellow synagogue member who had been living for several months in a nursing.  Every visit brought out the woman’s litany of grievances, largely against her daughter, who had “dumped” her there.  No matter how Kathy tried, the woman  could not be pried off of her hurt and anger.  Kathy was surprised when she crossed paths with the daughter to see her genuine concern and devotion for her mom.  She learned that the daughter visited several times a week and that she earnestly tried her best to make life as good as it could be for her mother. – – Oh my gosh – this reminds me of a woman John & I interviewed as a potential client.  Her daughter, a busy doctor with a crunched schedule with a loving spouse, contacted me for help.  She was worried about her recently widowed mother, who seemed increasingly isolated & unhappy.  She lived in the same continuous care residence as other clients of ours & we’d been praised by all.  We’d seen some nice layouts there, but this woman’s living space was a total knock-out – – beautiful views, a lovely flow of three social areas, two large bedrooms, a stunning living room, a wow kitchen.  But the woman was like the Kathy’s mother, possibly worse.  She knew her daughter was hoping to team us up so we could alleviate her mother’s loneliness, but her mother was having NONE of it.  She was clear that would do NOTHING that might alleviate her daughter’s worry about her being alone because SHE should be there, at her mother’s beck & call, not anyone else.  Neither John nor I could ever have imagined a mother being so… words fail.  She didn’t want our help, which was good because we never would have offered it.


Evelyn was consumed by her grievance against her family.  Her anger left no energy to engage in the community in which she was living or in relationships that might have nourished her.  As we grow older, we are inevitably confronted with unfinished business from the relationships we have built over the years.  Resentment and hurt can fester and even grow.  This poisonous emotional baggage from the past can burden us just when we most long to be free.  It can block the way toward growth and wisdom. – – For most of my life, I’ve worked on rancorous – to me – family issues.  About eighteen years ago – Mom was still alive – I was making significant headway in coming to terms with the rancor.  I was shocked to find it created a crisis – I’d always had these issues to work on, they were part of my warp & woof.  Who would I be if they were resolved?  Interesting to feel that, to acknowledge it as a powerful force fighting to keep me where I was, to maintain an unhealthy status quo.  I know people so consumed by anger at others, they haven’t any room left for the good stuff.


All of us have amassed emotional scars by the time we pass midlife. Our wounds, even if in the background, are very much alive. – – Seriously?  Most of us have amassed emotional scars by the time we leave grade school!  And, yes – those wounds are very much alive.  By the time we pass midlife is when we finally have the experience & perspective to see the scars & acknowledge them & do what we can to promote emotional healing.


Many of us are nursing our grievances, perhaps even over decades, waiting for the other to take responsibility for the harm we have suffered.  Sometimes, the people who have injured us are no longer alive;  the grievance that we carry has outlived them. – – Talk about a grievance outliving its source – My oldest brother still rants about our maternal grandfather’s Victorian expectations of people remembering their place – it is REAL to him, yet our grandfather died in 1929, years before Peter was even born!  What a waste of energy!

I lucked out, due to fate & birth order. The baby, I was eight, ten & fourteen years younger than my surviving sibs.  The advantage wasn’t the spread of ages, but the big gap, left when Ian died, between myself & Mim.  That space freed me to notice things that would probably have gotten past me had we been closer in age.  Something that still stands out is how often & deeply they nursed grievances, holding them close, almost using them to weirdly define themselves.   From what I can see, my brother, Michael, isn’t so much this way, but his wife, Kerry – – she openly acknowledges never forgetting a slight or grievance.  Again, what a waste of energy!  As for the people who continue to hold on to perceived injuries, even after person has died – very sad to have a grievance become part of the person holding the grudge.  Creepy.


The problem is that the noxious ooze of anger and pain does not hurt the person who hurt us.  Rather, it is we who suffer.  When we hold on to our painful emotion, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi taught, we too are imprisoned, for “the jailer spends as much time in prison as does the prisoner.” – – see above


Many elders I’ve known have held resentments so long that they seem to expand, to grow so big that they have crowded out any goodness in their here & now lives. – – see above


What if we could be liberated from the poisonous burden of resentment?  What if we could be the agents of this release?   – – It was NOT easy to let myself be “liberated from the poisonous burden of resentment.”  But once it was clear I was holding onto ill-will because it had become part of my personal identity – a scary thought – it became essential for my best interests to let them go.  They were just stories that I believed.  Those toward who I held ill feelings had their own stories.  So let them go.  Once I learned to do this, particularly once I learned to think of perceived grievances as stories, it really did feel liberating.  It felt & feels GREAT to be an agent of such release!


“Acid corrodes the container that holds it.”  That’s what happens when we hold onto bitterness. – – We end up being the ones with the corroded spirit & pocked heart.


Forgiveness, … according to sociologist Donald Kraybill, is not about forgetting or condoning; it is not a pardon or justice or reconciliation.  Rather, it is “an act of self-preservation… because self-pity is toxic and makes you a hostage to the past.” – – Once it was clear that a sense of undeserved grievance was weaving its way into the very fiber of my being, it became imperative to shake it loose, to prick out the emotionally lethal thread.  What surprised me – and I experienced it for the first time this past fall – really & truly letting go of perceived past injuries freed me to feel, separate from unrelated baggage, when something that felt personally injurious was happening AS it happened & opened me up to responding to it in the actual moment, feeling shock & stunned hurt, letting it pass through me rather than storing it up as fuel for  later “poor pitiful Pearl” anger.


Forgiveness is a decision. … Forgiving is good for us, even – or especially – beyond midlife.  Forgiving allows us to soften our hearts.  Perhaps more concretely, forgiveness enhances our psychological, emotional, and physical health.  Forgiveness is the pathway toward release and ease.  When we release resentments and grudges, we can truly begin anew, regardless of the age at which we do it. – – Amen & hallelujah!

Thoughts on… Softening to Reality

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

Rabbi Friedman is in italics, my commentary is not.


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Brokeness… Chapter 6 – – facing the feared

My only negative experience with dementia or other cognitive dysfunction is 2nd-hand, through my mother, who had a gnawing fear of falling into senility, like her mother.  Mom’s memories of the years when Gran’s mental instability fell totally apart never left her.

Praise be, Mom experienced only the minor cognitive challenges that come with being closer to 100 than to 80 – a bit of occasional forgetfulness, the rare moment when she’d get a distant look in her eye & lean her head in a particular way & we’d know that she had lost the thread of conversation, our clue to repeat or reinforce what was just said.

John’s mother was a total wow, apparently as sharp at 87 as she probably was at 17.

I think of Mom’s compadres & older friends, my elder mentors & role models, and realize that they were apparently all in the same camp as my mother, with several of them even sharper than ever in their “sunset” years.

The two of us are forever blessed to have been graced with the privilege & fun of working with Anne Davis Hyatt – who’d been diagnosed with dementia a while before we started our glorious 7-year run of partnering up for good times – and with our beloved Richard, diagnosed soon after we met.  Both much-missed friends had their challenges remembering, but each focused on the joy each moment held.  We learned more about full-throttle living from each of them than we did the trials tribulations tragedy of dementia.  Neither friendship gave us any experience in what to expect from & how to respond to someone with serious to catastrophic cognitive impairment, just treasured lessons in how to look past lack to awe & wonder.

Which leaves me unable to give much in the way of insights to Chapter Six of Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older Making Sense of Dementia’s Brokeness.  Will share what I can & welcome others to share their own experiences & insights.

You know the drill – Rabbi Friedman’s words are in italics, mine are in regular type.

Dementia will touch us – – if we are lucky enough to be spared personally, we are still likely to encounter it in our parents, partners, or friends – – and our fear of it colors our perspective on our own aging.– – In my experience, the great joy killer of dementia is the fear people have of it.  Thanks to working with Anne Hyatt, I know that dementia need not lessen or shrink or diminish the human spirit.  When she had waded into her dementia, already struggling to remember the day & date from moment to moment, John & I would take her every Wednesay night up the River Road to a country inn above New Hope for dinner & to hear the jazz stylings of the great Barbara Trent.  We’d sit where Anne, herself a trained jazz pianist, could watch Barbara at the keyboard.  We could never decide who enjoyed those Wednesday evenings more – Anne or Barbara, who reveled in our friend’s joy in her music.  There was a group of regulars at the bar who took particular delight in Anne, which was explained by one of them, a woman in her mid-60s – – “I used to fear growing older, but now that I’ve gotten to know Anne, that fear has flown.”   An interesting twist on Rabbi Friedman’s comment – those lucky enough to know Anne found themselves released from fear of a dismal, heartbreaking old age.


Educator, scholar, and artist Anne Basting … argues persuasively that we need to transcend our fears of dementia.  We need to be empowered to open our hearts and minds to a reality more complex than that suggested by the “fear machine.” – –  I am blessed to know Anne Bastings.  I was sitting next to her at a major conference on aging expansively when it was announced – to the roar of the room – that she’d been named a MacArthur Fellow just a day or so before.  Anne’s Timeslips work is about helping people with memory challenges connect to moments rather than specific memories.  OUR challenge is to let the person be as fully within their moments rather than constantly doing all we can to get them to share memories to which WE can connect.


Rose was a Eastern European woman with quite advanced dementia.  She could no longer speak but she could sing, and sing she did, all day and all night.  She had an amazing ability to take up any melody you started in any genre. …  She didn’t sing the words, only ‘la, la’ with great gusto.  Teenage volunteers in the nursing home adored being with Rose.  They lovingly called her “the la la lady” and competed to sit next to her in the synagogue. – –  Anne to a T!  I can’t remember how many times people – especially men – at her very nice continuous care residence marveled to me how much they appreciated just being in her presence, that she always had a smile & never said an unpleasant word about anyone else.  I chalk it up to Anne caring her music within herself.


I once heard another caregiver explain to a fellow elevator rider, “There’s nothing I can do for him, and I am doing it.” – – This speaks volumes to the challenges faced by family care providers – our natural inclination is to feel like we should be doing SOMETHING tangible to help a loved one dealing with dependency, perhaps layered with fragility & maybe dementia, perhaps with Alzheimer’s or some other serious-catastrophic condition.  When they can’t do something clear cut with tangible outcomes, people can stay away when what they need to be doing is just be present.  “There’s nothing I can do for him, and I am doing it” – there’s great wisdom love tenderness in that insight.


We might think about the family caregiver’s spiritual challenge in terms of the oft-stated biblical command to love the stranger.  We must treat the stranger with care, “for you know the soul of the stranger.”  (Exodus 23:9)  …  Can you let go of the expectation that the person will behave or appear as she used to, and appreciate her for who she is now?  In loving the stranger, can we learn from his person & her journey? – – I’ve never worked with or even known someone who was so deep into dementia they did not have a sense of their surroundings, of those around them, of themselves.  I love the King James phrasing of Hebrews 13:2 – “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  Yes!  If only we could hold onto this, remember it when most needed, when a loved one looks at us with the eyes of a stranger.

It can be truly heroic to experience impatience, grief, and frustration and still compassionately do what needs to be done.  Perhaps we can begin to make peace with dementia, so that should we experience, this illness, we will bring compassion toward ourselves and those around us. – –  I believe that by experiencing the impatience, grief & frustration that is typical of any caregiving situation, not just with dementia, we are gifted with deeper compassion toward others, toward ourselves, toward all life brings us.  What comes to US, especially from truly heroic efforts to be present in the face of great challenge, is the greatest give a loved one can give his or her beloved – the one receiving the care becomes the one responsible for gifts whose worth are beyond description or imagination.


I am convinced that the tzelem (image of God in man) is not defined by cognition or capacity.  Amid all the changes of dementia, the tzelem remains;  it is our very humanity.  If we are always living in God’s image, the perhaps we need to question the assumption that the person with dementia is always suffering of living on a lower plane of existence. – – I believe this is the very thing that friends of mine who provide maintenance support (John & I are strictly social enrichment) experience & why so many of them feel their work has a deep spiritual connection.  “Tzelem is not defined by cognition or capacity” – perhaps the person with dementia has fewer barriers to feeling a oneness with the Divine than those of us rooted in minutes & memories.- – I believe this is the very thing that friends of mine who provide maintenance support (John & I are strictly social enrichment) experience & why so many of them feel their work has a deep spiritual connection.  “Tzelem is not defined by cognition or capacity” – perhaps the person with dementia has fewer barriers to feeling a oneness with the Divine than those of us rooted in minutes & memories.


Even when we are mired in the moment, bereft of all perspective on our lives, God sees more, in boundless compassion.  God holds ALL of who we’ve been.  We may forget, but God does not. – – I love this thought.  Will inscribe it on my heart.


We can emulate God by remembering for those who cannot remember for themselves.  We can connect them to memory.  – – YES!  This is what John & I do with older friends & clients.  We help connect them to memories.  We cringe, hearing youngers implore loved ones with cognitive problems, “Mom, do you remember…” or “Dad, you know who this is…”  We set up the memory, like teeing up a golf ball, so the friend or client can swing, connect & loft it high into the air. Emulate God – remember for those who cannot.    


Our challenge is to address the divine within individuals with dementia.  As Rita Bresnahan writes:  “It is not Mom who must remember who I am.  Rather, it is I who must remember who my mother is.  Who she truly is.  Not merely ‘an Alzheimer’s patient.”  Not merely ‘my mother.’  It is up to me to (continue to be)… keenly aware of her spirit, honoring her soul-essence.  Meeting her with caring and love and respect in that sacred place of wholeness where nothing can diminish.” – – Speaks for itself.  I love love love this passage.


Read, re-read, then read #10 again.  That snippet, within its full context, is worth the price of Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older & the time it takes to read the relatively short by full of inspiration & insight book.  To read with others, preferably your children and your parents, your loved ones and your friends.

Wandering… with Mom & other elders

There was not way I could pick out a ten essential passages from Chapter Five of Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older,  Wandering in the Wilderness … caring for our fragile dear ones – – needed a baker’s dozen.

In this commentary on my Chapter Five pickings, Rabbi Friedman’s words are in italics, mine are regular type:

The caregiving role will likely be profoundly challenging; it will also begin our preparation for our own aging, as it will place us in intimate relationship with aging.  – –  In a nutshell, this describes why I wish everyone had the opportunity to have connection with, especially help care for, loved ones as they age upward.

I was blessed to have olders in my life from babyhood to present day.  Elderly friends like “Grandma” Rose, Viola Ridgeway, Cornelia Stroh, Benita Odhner & a host of others were part of my world & life, thanks to living in a community where all generations mixed & mingled.

We still have traces of that lifestyle, although it has gotten less & less over the past forty years.  Olders elders ancients now sell their homes & move into retirement residences; if I was in college today, I’d never have the opportunity to clean house on Saturday morning for Miss Phoebe Bostock (born 1887) or Friday afternoons for Solange Howard (born 1882).

Today, it’s rare when youngers have the sort of regular connection that I enjoyed through weekly community suppers, where young folk & grey-haired grandparents passed the platters of Dave Roscoe’s roast beef & bowls of peas & mashed potatoes.  I grew up in a town where elders were respected, grandparents & older relatives honored,  and old age wasn’t considered a fate worse than death.

As for  caregiving placing us “in intimate relationship with aging” – – absolutely.  From watching Mrs. Howard, in her 90s, care for her beloved Wilfred, to helping “Aunt” Benita, bed-ridden with severe osteoporosis, to having Mom with us from our first year of marriage to the last moment of her life, seeing how each of them rose to their occasion with courage, strength &, above all, a great sense of humor, each – and so many others – gave me role models & mentors should I trip my “old”-o-meter into my 80s & upward.


We will learn from the examples of those we care for, positive and negative, about how to cope with dependency, frailty, and dying.  We will confront our own fears and very possibly discover strengths we didn’t know we had. – – Death is easy, dying is hard.  Some people do it with grace, others make life hell for their caregivers & loved ones.  All provide the lessons to which Rabbi Friedman refers.  The more challenging the person, the deeper, greater the lesson can be.  My first experience with death was my brother’s, when he was eleven & I was seven;  I was forever marked, in a good way, by my parents’ response to the tragedy, particularly by Dad’s, who – unlike my mother – was able to show his grief.  My father greeted his diagnosis of terminal cancer with deep sadness to be parted from his family, from his O Best Beloved, but was resolute in his trust that all would be well.  Mother showed similar grace during her last seven weeks, with an added sense of excitement – – she was absolutely sure she would be, after 28 long years, reunited with her Own True Love.  A reminder that I am not well versed in the sort of heart-grinding situations that so often occur – – both my parents were gone within eight weeks of their diagnosis.  But I have heard from friends who cared long & in some case for extremely difficult loved ones who felt that, after time, they came to see a blessing in their experience.


As in the wilderness through which the Jewish people wandered for forty years after the Exodus from Egypt, there are few landmarks in the terrain of caregiving, and there is no map. – – All too true, especially for the majority of caregivers, ones providing care to a loved one, who stumble into caregiving.  There’s shelf upon shelf of books at Barnes & Noble on what to expect throughout pregnancy & delivery, on effective parenting.  Where are the books on childing, on how to prepare a fragile loved one – of any age – for possible dependency, on how to support them as they approach death?  It’s not just that “there are few landmarks in the terrain of caregiving, and there is no map.”  There aren’t many books on aging & dying, and they certainly don’t attract a wide readership.  There are some wondrous books on death & dying that should be – but aren’t – read by people of all ages, from young adults to elders.


There is vulnerability and sometimes deprivation.  We may be stretched beyond our limits – of physical strength, of emotional equilibrium, of finances. – – We went through our savings during Mom’s final hospital stays, which included weeks of hotel stays, meals & rental cars during her stay at INOVA/Alexandria.  But the toll can be just as brutal on physical strength & emotions.


When we care for a parent or partner who is chronically ill or disabled, it is hard to know when enough is enough.  We can never do for our parents what they did for us. … Often there is no easy way to be or to give “enough.”  Of course, we may sometimes – or often – feel guilty.  We feel guilty when we need to leave a parent’s side to go to a meeting, when we can’t stand the idea of going back to the nursing home to visit an in-law, when we resent the demands placed on us, and when nothing we can do will make it better for our dear one. – – This reality is why I wish every caregiver would get someone separate from the situation, someone who is not a personal friend, to confide throughout the care.  Because it is so easy to feel that even giving everything is not enough.  When we care for a baby, we know the end is a independence.  With loved ones, it is death.  Enough is never enough because the outcome is what it is.  It is essential that caregivers have someone with whom they can fall apart.  By the say, the same is true of the care receiver.


Caregiving can be relentless.  With all of the compelling demands we as caregivers face, it is easy to forget about our own needs.  

The caregiver … must attend to his or her own well-being.  No one else can do this.  If I do not nourish myself, I will be unable to care for anyone else.  (We need to) put ourselves on the “to do” list – for the sake of those we care for and for our own sake. – –  These two hit home, thanks to personal experience.  My mother had a nervous breakdown following the double whammy of two family medical crises that she tried to handle on her own.  And my beloved Aunt Mollie died after wearing herself out caring for her sister, Aunt Margie, who lived on for several more years.

We are required to attend to ourselves, but ultimately, we are meant to be there for others.  We are fulfilling our human potential when we offer compassion and support to the people around us.  – –  The reason I was there for my mother throughout her final years & especially her final weeks was because that is what we are supposed to do – be there when we are need, offering compassion & support.  What else is life about?


As caregivers, we need, in each moment, to discern what is most important right now.  … Perhaps the most essential thing is not any instrumental task, … but being there, if we are able, with the person in our care. … We’re called to tolerate frustration and exhaustion and show up with as much tenderness as we can muster. – – I don’t know why this makes me think about Mom & the blueberry muffins, but it does.  I think it was late Thursday night that Mom asked to have a blueberry muffin.  Naturally, I did not want to deny my dying mother any request she might have, but I was pretty tuckered out by that point & sure that the local supermarket wouldn’t have blueberry muffins at 11:00 p.m.   I asked if it was okay if I got one for her in the morning.  Mom smiled & agreed.  The next morning, I was at the market by 7:00 &  by 7:30 a.m. my mother was happy as all get out to be having a few bites of a blueberry muffin.

Many people are greatly tried to move past their frustrations with aged loved ones, whether they are fit & demanding or frail & in need of endless support.   When we dig down to pull up all the tenderness we can muster, it does something to us, leaves us tenderized in a special way.

Edith Wharton wrote a story that I loved as a high school freshman – “Afterward.”  The storyline was that you’d only know something happened after it had, when it was past.  That’s my feeling what the gifts of caregiving – – they might not be present at the time, but when the care is given with a loving heart & caring spirit, they will be experienced…  afterward.

Prayer enables us to bring the language of holiness and blessings to our spiritual distress. … Even if all we can muster is a simple word or phrase, such as “help me,” that, too, can bring connection. … Prayer (& other) sacred moments … (help us feel) connected to past and future. – – Even the non-religious find themselves asking for God’s help in times of trial.  There is a reason – it helps.


Caregiving is often invisible – the people we work with or live near have no way of knowing that we race at lunchtime to do the nursing home to pick up Mom’s laundry or that we spent our vacation with a brother undergoing chemo.  We may have no one with whom to share the stress, grief, and confusion we feel. … We can find grounding, inspiration, and support when we are in a barren place by being in relationships, in community.

Many of us have great difficulty expressing vulnerability, asking for or receiving.  If God is to be found in community, then allowing others to help us be a path to holiness.  – – It is in times of caregiving that we need our community of friends more than ever, yet it’s also the time we tend to shut down & to shut them out.  Especially today, as more & more people have online communities, while fewer & fewer belong to faith communities or organizations that nurture a sense of community.   My various communities were what got me through a serious illness of John’s, Mom’s various hospitalizations, her death.  Do the difficult to do – reach out for help.  And, when you can, give it to those thrust into caregiving – I cannot express the sense of comfort received from a friend dropping off a quart of soup & a great loaf of bread.


Again, I urge you all – – get, read, devour this remarkable book, Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older!

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.








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.