I’m still learning from Mom

Java Joint 4-11-17While we were out for a walk on Monday, May 15, my Mom fell and fractured her hip. We found out later that, during the fall, she also had a heart attack. After 24 hours in the ER she was moved to the ICU, where she stayed for 5 days as the medical team worked to stabilize her heart, lungs and kidneys. May 15 was another example for me of how quickly your life can change and how important it is to never take anything for granted.

For the first 6 days I spent 8 hours a day at the hospital – 4-5 hours in the morning and another 3-4 in the evening so that I could go home and let Liberty out of her crate for a couple of hours. Mom was in a lot of pain but could not be cleared for surgery on her hip because of her heart and overall condition. By the middle of that week I was afraid she was going to die and then, miraculously, she slowly began to rally. Her strong character began to surface and her condition improved to the point where she was moved to PCU and was finally cleared for surgery, which she had on May 23. Three days later she was moved to a rehab facility to begin the long process of recovery. She has been there for 10 days now and has made amazing progress in her daily physical therapy sessions.

Mom at Jump Off Rock, Hendersonville 5-2017

Mom on a recent trip to the mountains

Throughout my life Mom has taught me a lot, not only with words, but also by her example, and I’m continuing to learn from her in this new situation. She is an independent person who prides herself on being in control of her life and she lost all of that in an instant. Aside from a couple of rough patches, she has shown cheerfulness and gratitude to all her caregivers and to me. She has kept her good sense of humor. She has accepted her current situation but, is not resigned to it – and that’s a big difference. She has shown determination in her physical therapy sessions and, as a result, she is growing stronger and more confident each day.

As soon as she’s ready, she’ll be coming to my house for the remainder of her recovery. I feel very blessed to still have my Mom and be able to care for her but, I know this new situation will be a challenge for each of us. She will be dependent on me for many things and I know this will bother her because she doesn’t like to be a “burden” to me. We’re both people who need to have our own space and alone time so I’ve been making my guest room into a comfortable escape for her. It will be a big adjustment for me, not only being her caregiver but, also sharing my home with her because I’ve been living alone for so many years. I’ve become accustomed to doing whatever I choose and coming and going as I please. I think the best way for me to deal with this change is to follow Mom’s lead – with cheerfulness, gratitude, humor and strength of character.

Youth is a gift of nature. Age is a work of art.

Liberty & Nanny 4-11-17

Liberty and her “Nanny”

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Mothers Day

Thank you, Mom_edited-2On May 20, 1977 my only child, a son, was born. This event changed me and my life forever in ways I had no way of knowing when I first held him in my arms and looked down into his little face. After that day I always thought of time as “before Zac was born” and “after Zac was born”.

My son was a challenge from the beginning – I was in labor for 22 hours and he weighed a very healthy 10lbs. 2oz. at birth! He was a happy baby and toddler, with a bright and curious mind but as he grew older he exhibited a single minded will that often bordered on stubbornness. Once he set his mind on something it was near impossible to deter him! When he was four his father and I divorced so he didn’t have the childhood I had envisioned for him. I know the divorce and his relationship with his long distance and neglectful father had a long lasting effect on him. His feelings of anger and disappointment were eventually all directed at me and, by the time he reached his teen years, we were constantly at odds with each other. His attitude and behavior worsened to the point where I had no control over him. Unfortunately, when I think of those years all I can remember is me yelling and him being totally disrespectful in every way possible. I hope he can remember at least some good times with me!

 

Meanwhile, I plodded on. When my marriage ended I was a 31 year old college drop out with no real marketable skills. I was scared and had no idea how I was going to support myself and my son. I got the only job available to me – retail sales.  Between the failed marriage and the crappy, low paying job I felt like the biggest loser on the planet! My self-esteem was at an all time low. I was starved for approval and affection, which naturally led me into an unhealthy relationship. Fortunately, I had enough inner strength to work my way up into a management position, get a loan to build a small house, change to a career in social services and finish my college degree. Every time I accomplished a milestone I felt a little better about myself.

24 years ago I moved to Florida and forced my then 16 year old son, who had insisted on dropping out of high school, to go with me. I desperately wanted to get him away from some very negative influences and I thought a big change was needed in both our lives. He only stayed for 6 months but, they were productive months for him and our relationship also improved – before I moved I had thrown him out of the house and we were barely speaking so, almost anything was an improvement! He got a full time job, finished his GED, got a drivers license and a car. He shared an apartment with a friend who had moved to Florida with him. He was only 17 when he moved back to New Jersey but he had experienced so much more of life than his former high school classmates. I didn’t want him to leave but, as usual, he already had his mind set.

The following years had many ups and downs for each of us and for our relationship with each other but, thankfully, we both came out okay. I was able to build another house, in which I still live. It was one of the best decisions I ever made and has been my sanctuary. I was hired as a social services director in local government, from which I retired after 16 years. When my father retired, my parents moved from NJ to a house right down the street so I’ve been blessed to have them close by for many years. I still haven’t been blessed with a good man to share my life but, I’m happier with myself and with my life than ever before and that in itself is a great blessing.

My son earned a degree in audio/video management and worked for 10 years in that field but, throughout his 20’s he drove me crazy with worry over all his impulsive decisions. I bailed him out of so many financial crises that I still feel the effects to this day! He lived in several places over the years and finally decided three years ago that northeast NJ is where he “feels at home”. While living in Boston he completed a second BS, in Web Design and Internet Technology – Dean’s List every semester and National Honor Society! – and has been employed as a web developer for the past 2-1/2 years. He recently got married and his first child, a boy, is due on August 1. He & his new wife are in the process of buying a house. It was a long and difficult road but, it does my heart good to know that he has finally grown up and put all the pieces of his life together.

When I look back on my experiences as a mother I see all the mistakes I made and all the things I could have done differently but, I no longer have the heavy burden of guilt that I carried for so many years. I also don’t compare him anymore to the “good” sons of people I know and wonder where I went “wrong”. I just accept him for the unique person he is and appreciate his good qualities – after all, some of them come from me! I know I did the best I could for my son and, no matter what, I always loved him. I think he knows that. So, on this Mothers Day, forgive your mother for whatever wrong you think she did and, even more importantly, forgive yourself.

Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

Cherokee Lake Park Thomasville GA 4-16

Love is everything

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Long distance

How are things on your endI know that most people have some long distance relationships but I feel like they have been a central theme in my life. Some of them were caused by moves I made and some were caused by moves other people made but, it all began when my parents immigrated from England when I was 5. For the rest of my life I was 3,000 miles away from my father’s side of the family. Many times I’ve been restless and felt as if I didn’t belong anywhere and I’ve wondered if that is where those feelings started.

When I got married we moved 600 miles away from our family and friends. My marriage itself was a long distance relationship because my husband was a truck driver – he was away for 4 months of our second year of marriage and, for many years, was only home on weekends. We were married for 9 years and, in hindsight, I think the marriage would probably have ended sooner if not for all the time apart! Sometimes distance is a good thing!

After my marriage ended I moved back to my home state of NJ but, to a different area about 90 miles from where my parents lived. Believe me, that’s a long way when you have to drive on the Garden State Parkway to visit – especially on summer weekends! One of my reasons for moving back was because my ex-husband had moved back and I wanted my son to be closer to him and the rest of our family. Unfortunately, my ex-husband decided to move again just a couple of months later, which created a permanent long distance relationship between him and his son.

My next serious relationship was with a man who lived about 100 miles away so, we only saw each other on weekends. I’m sure this didn’t help to strengthen what was already a troubled relationship. After being back in my home state for 12 years I moved to FL, which, of course, placed me 1,000+ miles away from family and friends. My son was 16 and heading down a very bad path in his life. The move pulled him away from bad influences and forced him to make some changes for the better. At the time, I was in a relationship with a man who spent part of every month in FL and part in NJ – another relationship negatively affected by distance!

Thankfully, my parents decided to move to FL about 4 years after me – they built a house right down the street – so we’ve been able to make up for the years we lived far apart. My father enjoyed 9 years of living here before he passed away and I’m grateful that we were able to share so many good times together.

My son decided that he wanted to go back to NJ after 6 months in FL, which created a long distance relationship between us that has lasted, with the exception of a couple of brief periods, for many years. Over the years he has lived in Denver, then NJ again, then Boston and, for the past 3 years he’s been back in NJ where he’ll probably stay. He has an erratic work schedule and sometimes works long hours to meet project deadlines so I usually leave it up to him to call me. Unfortunately, he is not good at keeping in touch so the phone calls are infrequent and the visits even more so.

Seven years ago my best friend moved 1,000 miles away to be closer to her family. This left a big void in my life, but we both put effort into keeping in touch and she manages to visit two or three times a year, which helps a lot. The good news is that she wants to move back to FL and is hoping to do that sometime this year! I’ve been blessed with good friends who live nearby but, sadly, some of the people who are closest to my heart are the ones who are furthest away.

Now I’m about to begin the most difficult long distance relationship of my life. My son’s girlfriend is pregnant and they are getting married. Although it wasn’t planned, they’ve been together more than a year and seem to have a good relationship so, in many ways this is good news – he’s almost 40 and I was beginning to think it might never happen! I always hoped I’d be a grandmother someday but, the reality is that distance will prevent me from having the type of relationship I’d like to have with my grandchild and that makes me sad. Between the physical distance and my son’s poor communication skills this is going to be a real challenge but, I know people who are in the same situation so I’m going to learn from them and do my best to be a good Nanna. I don’t like Skype, talking on the phone or flying but I’m willing to do all those things just to be part of my grandson’s life!

Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it inflames the great. ~Roger de Bussy-Rabutin

August 2014

Liberty’s always ready to hit the road!

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October Musings

Opal - October birthday for herThere are many things in my life for which I’m grateful. I thank God every day for my good health, the people who care about me, my four-legged best friend Liberty and my home. Last week we were fortunate to make it through Hurricane Matthew unscathed – power was out for less than two days and the only damage my house sustained was one shingle that ended up in the yard. So why have I been so down in the dumps this week?

It’s a combination of things – the awareness that time is passing by, I’m getting older, and I still haven’t met my soul mate, the feeling that everything I’ve accomplished in my life is in the past and now I have no real purpose, and just general concerns about my future and the future of our country. I knew this was a passing mood because it does descend on me every so often. Most of the time I’m content with my life but the other day I was wondering why love has always been such a challenge for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in these thoughts and someone who is reading this has also thought that, although their life is good, something is still missing. I believe there is a reason for everything and that God has a plan for each of us but that doesn’t mean I’m always able to patiently accept the unknown!

I decided I needed to talk it over with a good friend so I stopped at her house after my yoga class. I know she has experienced the challenges and disappointments of trying to find love and self-worth. She was divorced, and then spent many years as a widow. She tried online dating, fix-ups, blind dates and had no luck with them, just like me. She decided at some point to put it in God’s hands and just make the most of her life. It didn’t happen right away but, a few years after she came to that decision, she finally met the love of her life in a totally unexpected way. Actually, I came to the same decision myself several years ago but, every so often, the old doubts resurface and cause me to question “what is”.

It was good to talk with my friend because, having had many of the same experiences, she understands my feelings and offers just the right balance of reassurance, encouragement, and sympathy. She reminded me that, even when you don’t think you’re doing anything “important” you may be making an unseen impact on someone’s life. She said I have no way of knowing how much I may be helping a child when Liberty and I participate in PAWS to Read. Hmm. I just do it because I enjoy the kids and it’s fun for Liberty so I hadn’t thought about it that way but, as soon as she said it, I knew she was right. She suggested that I write two lists – one being 10 things I think are good about my life, the other being 10 things I’m not satisfied with. She remembered doing that in the past and feeling that it helped to put things in perspective for her. I know the positive in my life far outweighs the negative but I’m going to do the lists because I always like the idea of gaining new perspectives. Meanwhile, I already gained some perspective and lightened my mood just by sharing my feelings with such a caring friend. As I drove home I thanked God for the blessing of her friendship. Later on, she gave me another blessing when she sent an email saying that our conversation had helped her, too. She has been going through a significant health challenge this year and, in helping me with my concerns, she realized she needs to reassess some things in her life, too.

This morning the temperature was in the low 40’s – I’ve been waiting for a morning like this for two months! The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, Liberty was feeling very frisky and we had a lovely long walk on a wooded trail. As I walked along, saying my prayers, I could feel the last of my heavy mood lifting and blowing away on the breeze. I stopped to get a fresh baguette at the bakery then went home, toasted it and slathered it with butter and raspberry jelly. I sat in the screened porch and enjoyed the baguette, Starbucks Cafe Verona and the beautiful morning. Life is good 🙂

So, you may ask, what’s the point of this post? I guess I just wanted to share my thoughts about how I deal with down moods in the hope that it will be helpful to someone out there who might be feeling sad or alone. Some suggestions: 1) talk to a good friend whom you can trust with your feelings; 2) focus on the blessings in your life; 3) do something nice for someone; 4) adopt a dog from a shelter!

Happiness is not the absence of problems; it is the ability to deal with them.

2016-halloween

Treats? Yes?

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Thoughts on aging with grace

Happy Birthday Old FriendLet’s start with two common definitions of grace:

  • simple elegance or refinement of movement
  • (in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and bestowal of blessings

I’d be quite happy if both of these definitions could be applied to me as I age but, since I’ve never been accused of having simple elegance or refinement of movement before I doubt that I will suddenly develop it. I should probably focus on the second definition.

When I think of someone who is aging with grace I think of a person who confronts physical changes and limitations with cheerful acceptance. They appreciate the difference between sharing troubles and whining and complaining about them. They smile often and take great pleasure in the simple joys of life. They are interested in people and events in the world around them. They find ways to offer kindness to other people. They do all they can to maintain an active and independent lifestyle but, when they are forced by circumstances beyond their control to depend on others, they accept help with gratitude. They filter out unpleasant memories and choose to remember only the good times they’ve had.

Wow, I have some work to do if I hope to meet my own definition of aging with grace! First, I do not confront the physical changes and limitations of age with cheerful acceptance. I hate how my muscles ache and my joints “snap, crackle and pop” when I work in the yard for a couple of hours. I hate how much my feet hurt when I’ve been on them a lot – I also hate bunions, corns, calluses and blisters! I do not like the wrinkles and sagging and other skin changes. On the other hand I am grateful that I made it this far without any serious health issues 🙂

Despite what you might be thinking after reading the last paragraph, I don’t whine or complain very much and I do smile often and appreciate the simple joys of life. I’m interested in interesting people but, I do not suffer fools or bores lightly so I struggle with being more tolerant and patient. I’m very interested in national and world events – almost obsessively. I’m pretty good at finding ways to offer kindness to people, through volunteer work and my everyday interactions. I think having good manners is simply treating people with kindness and respect and that’s the way I was raised. I’m very independent and don’t like to ask for help because it feels weak (I like to be in control) but, I hope I will learn to be more gracious about asking for and accepting help as I age. Pain and medications can greatly affect our mental state so I hope if I’m dealing with that I will be able to show appreciation to the people who are there to help me. As for unpleasant memories, I admit I used to dwell too much on mistakes I’ve made or struggle with feelings of guilt and regret but, I’ve done a lot of work in those areas and I’m happy to say that I usually focus on the good times. Forgiveness helped a lot – both of myself and those who have hurt me.

Old age is that foreign country none of us has ever visited and each of us will experience the journey differently. Just like every journey we’ve taken so far, much of how we experience it is up to us. I’ve had the opportunity to observe a lot of elderly people and I’ve seen a few who were wonderful examples of aging with grace but, not as many as I’d like. I don’t think it’s easy. It is much easier to focus on your complaints and fall into the habit of negativity, although I think that’s true of any age. As Bette Davis once said “Old age ain’t for sissies”.

To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent – that is to triumph over old age.   ~Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Liberty and new toy 9-22-14

Part of me will be young forever!

 

 

Expectations

HopeI’ve been working on the problem of having expectations for a long time – especially unrealistic expectations – but, I’m still not quite where I want to be. Expectations of myself, of the outcomes of situations, of other people, and expectations that others have of me. Expectations I have had of myself have led me down some dark pathways of romantic idealism, failed perfectionism (alas, all perfectionism fails), self-criticism and doubt. Expectations regarding the outcome of situations have often led to disappointment and unhappiness. Expectations of people have led to feelings of betrayal, disillusionment and sadness. I’ve made a lot of progress on everything except my expectations of other people – maybe the answer is to have very low expectations!.

I just finished a book by author, lecturer, and radio host Dennis Prager titled “Happiness is a Serious Problem”. He devotes an entire chapter to expectations so, I guess I’m not the only person who wrestles with this issue. He states that “in general, expectations lead to unhappiness” and I tend to agree. He defines expectations as “taking for granted that something will happen or regarding something as virtually inevitable”, therefore, with rare exceptions, where we do not have complete control we should not have expectations. And in just how many situations in your life do you have complete control? I don’t know about you, but I realized some time ago that the only things I have any control over are my thoughts and actions – and even that can be a huge challenge at times!

Still, as logical as all that sounds … does it mean we can never have any expectations of other people and our relationships with them? When we marry someone and take vows with them before God, should we not expect them to keep those vows? Should close friends not expect honesty, trustworthiness and loyalty? It is in the area of close relationships that I have the most difficulty in letting go of expectations. I’m not talking about forgiving honest mistakes or tolerating human flaws because I know that no one is perfect, certainly not me, and I always hope (or do I expect?) to receive forgiveness and tolerance from those who are closest to me. We all disappoint each other at times without meaning to, but I’m thinking of much more serious injuries like lying, cheating, betrayal, and other forms of disloyalty. Loyalty and honesty are very important to me. That is what you can expect from me if I’m a friend of yours and it is what I expect in return from you. Needless to say, I’ve had some crushing disappointments but, was it because I expected a certain type of behavior or was it because I trusted someone? Where is the line between trusting and expecting in relationships? Doesn’t a person’s character invite you to expect a certain type of behavior from them?

Another long-held expectation I had was regarding my relationship with my son. I always thought that once he was an adult he would honor and respect me. I didn’t invent this idea – remember the fifth commandment “Honor your father and your mother”? – and yet, this concept seems to be foreign to him. Perhaps I bear some responsibility for not instilling it in him at an early age but, whatever the reason, I recently had to re-evaluate my thinking and begin to let go of my expectation that someday we would have a warm, comfortable and friendly adult relationship. I would love to be able to just enjoy relaxed conversations with him without feeling like I’m walking blindfolded through a mine field. Recent events have forced me to admit that this may never happen and I need to stop waiting for something of which he may not be emotionally capable. I think I need to learn the difference between hope and expectation.

If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed. ~Terrell Owens

Liberty has Great Expectations!

Liberty has Great Expectations!

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Doldrums

Don't be afraid of storms_edited-1Years ago I used to spend a lot of time on sailboats and I became familiar with the doldrums. This is when the wind drops, the sails just hang limply, and, unless you turn the outboard motor on, you’re not going anywhere. This usually happens during the summer so, not only are you not going anywhere, it’s also very hot.

Dictionary.com also defines doldrums as: a dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits. The illness and death of an old friend brought depressing thoughts of aging and dying, missed opportunities and the swift passage of time. On top of that, the hot, humid Florida summer has sapped my energy and left me unmotivated. My early morning walk with Liberty leaves me exhausted and, after a shower, I usually don’t want to go out again. I push myself to go grocery shopping, run errands, and do household chores but, most of my time is spent reading, listening to The Blaze radio, and watching movies. I’m so tired by 3 p.m. that I have to take a nap! Occasionally, I meet a friend for lunch or dinner and a movie. I haven’t even been doing many pet visits for Haven Hospice over the past few weeks. Visiting Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is difficult for me under the best of circumstances and, when I’m already in low spirits, it drags me further down.

There isn’t much you can do if you’re experiencing the doldrums. It’s probably best to accept that you are stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for the wind to fill your sails again. Obviously, if you think you’re seriously depressed you should seek professional help but, if it’s just the doldrums then all you can do is ride it out the best way you can. Probably the most important things you can do for yourself are to focus on doing what you enjoy, be grateful for your blessings, and avoid negativity as much as possible. Pamper yourself. Seek inspiration. I feed my spirit by listening to cds by Rabbi Lapin and his new podcast on The Blaze, sermons online by Rev. Ken Lawrence of the First Baptist Church of Hampton Falls, NH (my friend, Nadine, turned me on to him-she spends July and August there. Lucky dog!)  As exhausting as it is in the hot weather, I continue to get out and walk every morning (thank God for Liberty!) because I know that spending time outdoors and getting some exercise is good for me – especially when it’s over!

All things must pass, including the doldrums, and eventually my spirit will be sailing again. If I close my eyes I can almost feel the cool breeze …

I often wonder if my imagination is one of God’s choicest gifts bestowed upon me to deliberately break me free from the frequent doldrums of my humanity. ~Craig D. Lounsbrough     

Hang in there, Mom! I think I feel a breeze.

Hang in there, Mom! I think I feel a breeze.

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